§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ THE CHIEF SECRETARY FOR IRELAND (Mr. G. W. BALFOUR,) Leeds, Central
This subject has already been brought before the House twice—once last year by myself upon the introduction of a substantially identical measure, and again in the early part of this session by my right hon. friend the Attorney General for Ireland. The changes which this Bill, if placed upon the statute-book, will make in the existing law fall into two classes—first, changes relating to the machinery for varying tithe rent-charge in Ireland; and, secondly, provisions which are designed to relieve the payers of ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge from certain grievances under which they suffer arising out of the Church Acts of 1869 and 1872. In dealing with the provisions relating to machinery for varying the tithes, we propose to alter both the standard of variation and also the procedure by which that variation is carried out. In order to make known to the House our reason for making these changes it will be necessary for me to very briefly describe the system hitherfore existing in Ireland. Prior to the Act of 1823 all Irish tithes were paid in kind by the occupier. After 1823 money compositions were substituted for payment in kind; and the amount of such compositions was arrived at by agreement between tithe-owner and tithe-payer, or was assessed by special Commissioners. Of course while tithes were in kind, the value of the tithe varied with the value and amount of the product. This character of variability was retained in the money compositions, the standard of variation being the septennial average prices of wheat or oats as the case might be, and the average prices were to be taken from the Dublin 1355 Gazette. Whether wheat or oats was used as the measure depended upon the particular corn mentioned in the certificate of composition for each parish. The Act of 1838 converted tithe into tithe rent-charge, and transferred the liability for its payment from the occupier to the landlord. It became, in fact, what its name implies—a charge upon rent; but this charge was fixed at 25 per cent. less than the previous money composition. The new tithe rent-charges, however, remained variable with the price of either wheat or oats, as ascertained from the Dublin Gazette, just as the old compositions had been variable, and the procedure by which the variation was to be carried out deserves special attention in connection with the proposals we make in this Bill. The first point that strikes one is that the Legislature took better care of both tithe-owners and tithe-payers in England than it did in Ireland. In England machinery was provided by means of which the rent-charge was varied automatically every year, according to the septennial average prices of wheat, barley, and oats for the preceding seven years. This is carried out without expense or trouble to either tithe-owner or tithe-payer. In Ireland no such machinery was provided. It was left to the tithe-owner, or to at least three tithe-payers (each liable to pay £3 yearly for tithe rent-charge) to move in the matter at his or their expense. Assuming that three rent-charge payers could be found in a parish willing to move in the matter, they were restricted in taking action to a particular year, once in every seven years, and to a particular time in that year—namely, between 1st May and 1st October. The particular year in which action could be taken depended upon the date of the certificate of composition, and this was an uncertain date, varying in every parish, as the compositions were established at dates ranging over the years 1823 to 1838. But assuming that these facts were not lost sight of by the rent-charge payers or the tithe-owner, no variation could be made unless the particular kind of corn to be followed as the standard of variation was greater or less by one-tenth than the price mentioned in the certificate of composition of that kind of corn. Assuming, further, that the parties moving in the matter were satisfied that they had a good primâ facie case, they still had before them the 1356 technical procedure of notices to be served and proofs to be given, and if in these their case broke down they had to wait another seven years. It cannot, therefore, be surprising to find, as the result of such legislation, that out of 2,450 parishes it appears, after careful inquiry, that only sixty passed through the formidable ordeal of variation between 1838 and 1872. There may be a few more than this number, but something very trifling. There are entire counties, and nearly entire provinces, in which the rent-charge remains to this day the same in amount as when it was established. Subsequent to 1872 the fall of prices has naturally stimulated payers of tithe rent-charge to make applications for the variation of the charge. But within the last two or three years, over and above the difficulties of procedure which I have described, a further and final obstacle has absolutely barred the way to the success of any such application. This obstacle has arisen out of a decision of the Appeal Court, the effect of which is that owing to irregularities in the publication of corn averages in the Dublin Gazette the payer of tithe is practically deprived of his right to have the charge varied, and variations actually carried out in the tithe rent-charge on the basis of those averages have been declared invalid. This is a manifest injustice. Finding ourselves under the absolute necessity of providing a remedy, and being further pledged to redress certain other grievances affecting the payer of ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, we judged it best to deal with the whole question of tithe rent-charge in a comprehensive spirit, and attempt a general reform of the system, which has always been exceedingly cumbersome, and which, in consequence of the change which has taken place in Irish agricultural prices, is now antiquated as well. The changes we propose are twofold. We propose to make the procedure automatic; and we propose to establish a new standard of variation. With respect to the first of these changes, I hardly anticipate that any serious objection will be offered to the principle. The complicated technicalities and innumerable legal pitfalls which the existing system presents make it really indefensible; and in face of the fact that in England an automatic system is in use, it will hardly be contended that this part of 1357 our reform, in principle at least, is not legitimate and desirable. As regards the new basis of variation, there may perhaps be more difference of opinion. It may be asked, "Why not be content to correct and make good the irregularities which have occurred in connection with the publication of corn averages in the Dublin Gazette, and go on as before." One answer to this is that if variation is to be made automatic, it is desirable to have some simpler measure of variation than average prices —in some parishes of wheat, in others of oats—as compared with the average prices of these cereals at dates differing with the date of the certificate of composition in each parish. But a still more important consideration is this, that in consequence of the changes which have come over Irish agriculture, and the wide discrepancy in the variations in the price of wheat as compared with that of oats, the old basis of variation of tithe rent-charge has become capricious to the point of absurdity. No sane man would dream of adopting it to-day, if a system of variation had to be established for the first time; and if we are to touch this question at all with a view to greater simplicity of procedure, the problem of reform in the standard of variation is almost forced upon us. It is to be remembered in connection with this matter that the original composition or money payments fixed for tithes in any parish were not fixed or agreed to by reference to the one cereal standard mentioned in the tithe certificate for subsequent variation. The compositions were for the value of ail tithes in kind in the parish. The ancient law was "of common right tithes are to be paid of such things only as do yield a yearly increase by the act of God," and not only included cereals but clovers, beans, peas, flax, turnips, potatoes, calves, colts, lambs, wool, etc. The cereal mentioned in the certificate was for variation only. At the time of the Tithes Acts in Ireland (1823 to 1838), before the days of importation, wheat and oats were widely grown and their prices were relative to other agricultural products and to each other. It was a comparatively reasonable standard at that time, but now the absurdity, I may say the irrelevancy, of the old standards of variation at the present day may be judged by the following figures relating to the provinces of Leinster and Munster. In Leinster, wheat is the standard in 60 1358 per cent. of the parishes, oats in the remaining 40 per cent. In Munster, wheat is the standard in 55 per cent., and oats in 45 per cent. But to day wheat has almost ceased to be grown in either of these provinces. The average annual acreage under wheat fifty years ago was, in Leinster, 195,000, in Munster, 160,000 (in round figures). The average annual acreage in the septennial period from 1892 to 1899 was, in Leinster, 14,748, and in Munster, 17,245—a fall in Leinster from 195,000 to 14,000, in Munster from 160,000 to 17,000! From these figures it appears that though wheat has practically disappeared as a test of agricultural products or their values in Leinster and Munster, nevertheless, if the old system for tithe variation was maintained, in more than half the parishes in those provinces the variation would be calculated on the standard of wheat, the price of which is now, owing to importation, American gambling, and other reasons, 60 per cent. to 50 per cent. lower than it was in 1821 or 1872. Oats, on the other hand, which rather more than held its price per barrel up to 1872, although it has fallen in price since then, has not fallen by much more than 20 per cent. The maintenance of the whole system would, therefore, in adjoining parishes in these provinces produce the most uneven, arbitrary, and capricious differences, which could not be justified by any present difference in agricultural prosperity between them, or in the power to pay the charge as tested by the alteration in rents under the Land Acts. In Ulster and Connaught the general result is the same, though the case is not quite so strong. These arbitrary discrepancies, resting on the mere accident whether wheat or oats was the cereal mentioned in the tithe certificate, might be tolerated under a system in which legal difficulties made the variations few and far between, but I venture to say they would no longer be thought tolerable under an automatic system, in which they would become patent and glaring. In these circumstances some change in the basis of variation appears to me to be imperatively called for. Other standards might possibly be suggested. But, having regard to the nature of tithe rent-charge, which in name and essence is a charge upon rent, I think I am justified in contending that our proposal to vary the charge in proportion to the average variations in 1359 judicial rents, is at once the simplest, the most equitable, and the most appropriate. I pass now from the question of procedure to the ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, as distinguished from the lay tithe rent-charge, and I am quite conscious I am treading on more controversial ground, or at any rate on ground which hon. Gentlemen opposite choose to regard as controversial. I presume it is to this part of the Bill that the hon. Member for East Mayo more especially objects.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Our proposals in this direction have been described as proposals for grabbing the Church Fund, and the hon. Member for East Mayo has described them as indecent and outrageous. During five years experience as Chief Secretary for Ireland I have frequently listened to similar descriptions of measures emanating from the Government, but I find some difficulty in taking the hon. Member seriously on this occasion. If, however, I could induce him to be impartial, I should not altogether despair of convincing even him that the provisions of the Acts of 1869 and 1872 imposed grievances on the payers of ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge which claim the consideration of Parliament, and that our proposals are really moderate and reasonable. The proposals in this Bill which will affect the resources of the Church Fund are four in number. First, to reduce the period of currency for the redemption of tithe rent-charge annuities from fifty-two to forty-five years; secondly, in the case of unredeemed ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, to restore with modifications its original character of variability; thirdly, to withdraw the right of redeeming such tithe rent-charge for the future except in the case of transactions under the Land Purchase Acts; fourthly, to make new provision with respect to the deduction of poor rate from tithe rent-charge. Which of these proposals excites the indignation of the hon. Member for East Mayo? It cannot be the third or fourth, because they will increase and not diminish the resources of the Church Fund; and it can hardly be the first, because every fair-minded man must regard that as unanswerable and irresistible. The annuities run at present for fifty-two years at £4 9s. per cent. on twenty-two and a 1360 half years purchase of the net tithe rent-charge purchased. Mr. Gladstone distinctly stated, when introducing the Church Bill in 1869, that the rate of interest to be charged on the instalment was to be 3½ per cent. But, as a matter of fact, a fifty-two years term involves a rate of interest not of £3 10s., but of £3 16s. 4d. per cent.; and conversely, if the interest is taken at £3 10s. per cent., the period for which the annuity is to run should be forty-five, not fifty-two, years. Objection to this provision of the Bill must therefore be made on either of two grounds: First, that a 3 ½ per cent. rate of interest is too low—which would be a bold assertion in the face of Mr. Gladstone's own statement, and of the fact that the rates of interest formerly paid by tenant purchasers of Church lands have all been reduced from 3½ per cent. to 3⅛ per cent. Or, secondly, that it is just that a terminable annuity for the redemption of a capital sum should continue to be paid for seven years after such capital sum can be shown by the rules of arithmetic: to have been repaid. In leaving the hon. Member for East Mayo the choice between these alternatives, I am forced to conclude that it is against the second of these proposals I have enumerated that he means to concentrate attack—namely, the proposal to restore the variability taken away by the Act of 1872.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
I will deal with that point before I sit down. Before the Irish Church Acts, ecclesiastical and lay tithe rent-charge were on the same footing. The Act of 1872, taken together with the Act of 1869, while fixing the amount of the ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, at the same time gave a right to the tithe-payer to redeem the charge. These two provisions are closely connected together, for it was apparently with a view to redemption, and in the belief that all tithe rent-charge payers would promptly redeem, that the variability of 1361 the charge was taken away. But as a matter of fact it has not so turned out, for although many tithe-payers have redeemed either by payment of a sum down or by means of terminable annuities, the Church Fund still derives an annual income from unredeemed tithe rent-charge of over £160,000. Since 1872 the price of wheat has fallen about 50 per cent., and the price of oats more than 20 per cent. Had it not been for the Act of 1872 the payers of unredeemed tithe rent-charge would have been entitled to go into court and get the charge correspondingly reduced. It is safe to say that this heavy fall in prices that occurred after 1872 was not foreseen by anybody in 1872, and that had it been foreseen the Act of 1872 would never have been passed. The arrangement has turned out greatly to the disadvantage of the tithe-payers, and in a way which it is certain neither they nor Mr. Gladstone ever anticipated. And, as if to give point to the hardship, while the charge has been compulsorily fixed, the rent out of which the charge is paid has been in almost every case compulsorily reduced. Is not this a legitimate grievance? Is it not a grievance which Parliament may fairly and properly be asked to redress? Why, if the grievance had been one that affected not landlords but tenants in Ireland, we should have had one hon. Member after another rising from the benches opposite, declaiming, denouncing, and clamouring for a remedy. But because it is the landlord class which suffers, and not the tenant farmers, we are told our proposals are infamous and outrageous. And, after all, what are these proposals? Do we propose to reopen contracts, to lower the rate of interest of annuities now current, or otherwise to facilitate the terms of payment? No; we simply propose to replace the payers of ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge in the position in which they stood before the Church Acts were passed, in the position in which the lay tithe-payer stands to-day. We propose to relieve them of a disability which those Acts imposed upon them, but at the same time to withdraw from them a privilege which those Acts conferred. Consider the case of the Church glebe tenants. By Section 23 (1) of the Purchase of Land Act of 1885 the rates of interest on the mortgages of the tenants 1362 who had purchased glebe lands were all reduced from 3½ to 3⅛ per cent. By Sections 25 and 26 of the Land Law Act of 1896, by the application of the decade system, the annuities of the Church glebe tenants were reduced by very nearly one half. No one suggested that the making of these concessions to the Church tenants by reduction of interest or by extending the mortgage terms was "grabbing" the Church surplus or "plundering" the fund. On the contrary, the principle was recognised that the burden of those whose payments constitute the Church Fund should not be unduly heavy, in order to maintain that fund at a higher level than broad considerations of equity would justify. If we had preserved intact the provisions of the Act of 1872, and made the same concessions to tithe-payers as have been made to the glebe tenants, the loss to the Church Fund would have been considerably greater than it is likely to be under this Bill. In this circumstance I am curious to hear by what arguments the opposition to these proposals will be supported. So far I have heard but one argument used against them worthy of the name. It is alleged that the stereotyping of the Church tithe rent-charges was the result of an arrangement with the then Government at the instance of the tithe rent-charge payers, principally Irish landlords, which they considered advantageous to themselves, as they were apprehensive that a variation of the tithe rent-charge on the prices prevailing immediately prior to 1872 would have increased their liability, and further because they expected that prices would continue to rise. The transaction is represented as a kind of bargain freely entered into by the landlords, from the effects of which they ought not to be relieved simply because events have turned out contrary to their expectations. I believe that for this allegation there exists no ground whatever in fact. There is certainly no evidence of it in Hansard. The Bill was brought forward in the House of Lords, and passed through both Houses practitically without debate or discussion. I have made inquiries of persons who would have been in a position to know if any such bargain or understanding had taken place, and they have no recollection of anything of the kind. Moreover, as a matter of fact, it is not true that if all tithe rent-charges had been varied in or 1363 about the year 1872, the result would have been unfavourable to the tithe payer. I have had the figures carefully investigated, and the examination shows that the contrary is really the case. There are 2,450 parishes in Ireland. In 682 parishes the tithes would have been reduced 19 per cent. In 504 they would have been increased 15 per cent. In 1264 no change would have resulted. On the whole, therefore, it appears that if all tithe in Ireland had been revised in 1872 the result would have been to reduce the total amount payable, not to increase it. Looking to all the circumstances of the case, there remains no doubt in my own mind that Mr. Gladstone's idea in stereotyping the tithe rent-charge at that time was to make more simple and definitive the calculations for the redemption of the charge, and that he expected all the payers of ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge to take speedy advantage of the facilities for redemption offered to them. On the other hand, the tithe-payers made no protest against the fixing of the charge, because they did not foresee its possible importance in the future. How should they, seeing the charge had remained unaltered ever since 1838, save in sixty parishes out of 2,450? I submit that it is not reasonable to hold the tithe-payer any longer in bondage to provisions which have ceased to be effective for their original purpose, and which have led to a situation that neither party could have been expected to anticipate. Now, I have nearly completed what I hare to say in justification of the principles of the Bill; but before I sit down I will make some reference to the effect these proposals will have upon the Church Fund in the way of impairing its sufficiency to meet the charges laid upon it. This is a practical consideration which we cannot ignore.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Some of the figures were taken from the Reports of the Land Commission, and some of the calculations I made myself from statistics placed at my disposal by the Land Commission. I may say, generally, that the result of the calculations has been most carefully verified both by the Treasury and by the Land Commission; and I 1364 think we may take it that, as far as possible, accuracy has been obtained. At least it is not for want of trouble taken by one side or the other. Now, the reduction of the period of the currency of the terminable annuities will have the effect of reducing the Church Fund by a capital sum of £1,140,000; but this loss will not begin until the year 1917, when the earliest terminable annuities run out. What effect are the proposals of the Bill likely to have on the resources of the Church Fund? By the first proposal, that fund will ultimately lose a capital sum of about £1,140,000, but this loss will not begin until the year 1917. The second proposal of the Bill will result in the immediate loss of an annual sum of about £33,000. This loss will continue for the first fifteen years and may increase in subsequent periods of fifteen years with any additional average reduction of judicial rents. The abolition of the right to redeem the tithe rent-charge will result in a gain to the Church Fund of a capital sum, the exact amount of which it is impossible to state, but which may conceivably be £3,500,000. This gain, however, will not begin to accrue for forty-five years from the present time.
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Yes, that is so. By the fourth proposal of the Bill there will be a gain to the Church Fund of an annual sum of £6,000. Thus it will be seen that the total effect of the alterations proposed by the Bill will be to inflict a substantial loss on the Church Fund, though the exact amount of that loss it is almost impossible to calculate. It is almost impossible to calculate chiefly because, in the first place, we do not know what the average reduction of judicial rents may be in the future; and, secondly, because we cannot say for certain in how many cases tithe rent-charge may be redeemed under the Land Acts. A memorandum I have had prepared shows that up to the year 1947 the Church Fund will not only be able to meet all the liabilities imposed upon it before last year, but will also be able to contribute to the new Department of Agriculture a sum of £70,000. And now I think I am entitled to take up the interruption of the hon. Gentleman, and say that I do not think we need feel 1365 very much alarm at an event which is not likely to occur for a generation, and when it does, will not involve a deficiency greater than would be covered by an annual Vote of £20,000 or £30,000. In any case the prospect of such an event is hardly valid ground for opposition to this Bill, which I now ask the House to read a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. G. W. Balfour.)
§ MR. DILLON
This Bill is alleged to be introduced to remedy a grievance. The Chief Secretary, in introducing a similar measure on the 12th May, 1899,* described it as—A Bill to provide remedies for certain grievances under which the payers of tithe rent-charge at present suffer, and which can only be dealt with by legislation.This Bill was introduced last year, and again this year, under the ten-minute rule, and no attempt was made by the introducers on cither occasion to establish by argument the proposition on which the Bill must be founded that a grievance exists. The only thing approaching to an argument in support of the existence of a grievance is contained in the speech of the Chief Secretary on the 19th June, 1899, when, speaking of the ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, he said—It must be remembered that the charge is a charge upon rents, and, while rents have been greatly reduced under the supervision of a State tribunal, the rent-charge can no longer be revised.A most amazing statement, and directly at variance with the facts of the case. Tithe rent-charge in Ireland is not a charge upon rents; it is a charge upon the land having priority over all other charges, except Crown and quit rents. It would be just as correct to describe quit rent, Crown rent, or a head rent under which a large middle interest existed as a charge upon rents, and to argue from that form of expression that there existed an equitable right to demand revision of such quit or head rents, because the rent of the actual occupier was revised in accordance with the fluctuations in the profits of agriculture. I desire to emphasise this point, because there is involved in this* See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. lxxi., p. 493.1366 argument of the Chief Secretary a most far-reaching principle, and a principle which I hardly think the House will be prepared to accept, namely, that all charges on land are to be treated as charges on rent without regard to priority, and that there exists an equitable claim whenever the rent of the actual occupier is varied to look for a variation of all the charges on the land without regard to priority or the nature of these charges. I do not propose to work out in all its possible developments this principle; but I maintain that if any force be allowed to this argument of the Chief Secretary the consequences I have indicated would flow from it irresistibly. The first ground, then, on which I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill is that, so far as the ecclesiastical tithe-payers are concerned, I deny the existence of a grievance. There is no grievance, and, as no grievance exists, there is no need for a Bill to remove it. And here I must protest in the strongest possible manner against the plan adopted in this Bill of tying up together in one Bill two utterly different and incongruous subjects. The case of the lay tithe-payers is a somewhat complicated one, but they have undoubtedly a plausible case of grievance. All that they ask for is a remedy for a disability under which they labour in consequence of a blunder by the Irish Executive, and for some slight simplification in the law by which they may be able more cheaply to assert their admitted legal rights. What, in the name of common sense, has such a demand as that to do with the demand of the ecclesiastical tithe-payers, which amounts to an outrageous proposal to plunder in the interests of a small class of landowners the last remnant of a public fund set apart by the pious care of our ancestors to provide for the support of the religion of the people, and for the support of the poor; and which, after it had been in course of time diverted from these uses, was solemnly devoted by Act of Parliament to purposes of general public utility? I would beg hon. Members, then, in considering this Bill, always to keep in mind that it deals with two utterly distinct and different subjects — the one the case of the lay tithe - payers, where there is some grievance, and which could be dealt with in a short, simple, and not very contentious Bill; the other, the case of the 1367 ecclesiastical tithe-payers—in proposing to deal with which great principles are assailed, propositions of the most contentious character are put forward, and in connection with which I maintain no grievance whatever exists on the part of the tithe-payers beyond that grievance common to a large body of the public, and even to some Members of this House—the failure of one's income to prove equal to one's desire to spend. My second objection to the Bill is that it assails and, so far as it goes, tramples upon a principle which appears to me to be one of the most vital importance in social economy—that a first charge on the land of a country constituting a fund devoted to public objects ought not to be reduced or encroached upon in the interest of individuals or a small class of the population. This is a principle which in theory would, I should think, meet almost universal acceptance in this country, and in practice it ought to guide the proceedings of the Legislature. Yet in this Bill we are asked to violate that principle in a most glaring fashion, without a shred of reason offered us for so doing; and, as I shall presently show, we are asked to violate it under circumstances which would make the violation exceptionally outrageous and indefensible. My third ground of objection is that this is a further step in a long process extending over 170 years—from the day, in 1735, when illegally and by intimidation they did away with the tithe of agistment, down to the introduction of this Bill, by which the Irish landlords have assailed and plundered this public fund, and have, on one plea or another, diverted these charges on the land of Ireland, set aside by immemorial usage for the service of the public, into their own pockets. Fourthly, I object to this Bill because the finance of it is obscure, and if there is one principle more than another which ought, I think, to govern the proceedings of the House of Commons in dealing with measures proposing to tamper with public funds in the interest of individuals, it is that a clear and definite statement of the financial effects of the measure should, on its introduction, be submitted to the House. In the case of this Bill no such statement has been submitted up to this moment, and we are still left in a state of doubt as to the financial effects of the proposals contained in it. Last year, when the Bill was introduced by the 1368 Chief Secretary, I asked whether he could give any estimate of the capital loss to the Church Fund which would be caused by the provisions of the Bill. To this question the Chief Secretary replied—It is very difficult to give a precise estimate, because it would depend upon a great many circumstances which cannot be foreseen. But, before the Bill becomes law, I will endeavour to lay before the House such an estimate as it is possible to make.Since then, on the 24th July, 1899, a Treasury Memorandum was issued in which no attempt is made to give any answer to the question, what will be the loss caused to the fund by the provisions of the present Bill? When the Tithes Bill was again introduced by the Attorney General this year, observing that he carefully avoided the subject of the financial effect of the Bill, I asked him again, by way of interruption—the only method by which it is possible to ask for information under the ten minutes system—what would be the loss to the Church Fund if the Bill were to pass in its present form. He replied, "About £50,000 a year." Here, then, we are called on to pass a Bill affecting a great public fund in the interests of individuals. The Chief Secretary finds it very difficult to give a precise estimate of the extent to which the fund would be affected by it. The Treasury refuses to try to make an estimate, and the Attorney General thinks the fund would lose about £50,000 a year. consider it nothing short of a public scandal and a total departure from all previous practice that we should be asked to-day to come to the consideration of the Second Reading of the Bill without, I may say, any information whatever on which proper criticism of the financial effects of the Bill can be based. It may be answered to me, "The Bill is in print, and you see its provisions, and you can make your own calculations." I contend that such a challenge would be entirely opposed to the practice of this House, and I maintain that when the Government introduce a Bill of this character we are entitled to have before us, first their estimate of the financial effects of the proposals in the Bill, and, secondly, such Papers and Returns as may be necessary to enable us to criticise that estimate. I have now specified the four grounds on which I oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, and I turn now to the question of grievance. I have 1369 searched all the literature connected with this subject and searched in vain for any rational ground on which the allegation of grievance is based. This charge of tithe is a very ancient charge. It is a charge on the land, and always has been a charge having priority over all liens and charges on the land except quit and Crown rent; from time immemorial all estates in the land have been held and sold subject to that first charge. To establish a grievance in connection with such a charge it is necessary to point to some period when the burden of that charge was unjustly increased, unless, indeed, we are to accept the definition of the landlords' grievance given by the Dublin Daily Express in May, 1899, when it said:The landlords suffer an injustice in being required to pay ecclesiastical tithes at all after the Church has been disendowed.What is that period in the present case? I assert that every change in the system of levying tithes, every new settlement, has been in favour of the land-owning class. How could it have been otherwise, seeing that for the last two centuries, and until after the settlement of 1872, the landowners controlled both Houses of the Legislature? What then, again, I ask, was the period at which this alleged grievance arose? Was it in 1735 when, by the infamous vote of agistment, the Irish House of Commons of that day, in defiance of the law, declared free of tithe the demesnes of the landlords and the pasture lands in the hands of rich Protestant graziers; and, in the words of Grattan, "sent the parson from the demesne of the gentleman to the garden of the cottager"; was it on the 21st March, 1800, when the gentlemen of Ireland, then cheerfully engaged in the work of destroying the liberties of their country for cash and honours, were horrified by Sir John Macartney, who reminded them that the exemption of pasture land in Ireland from tithe was not legal, and rested only on a resolution of the House of Commons and on intimidation; and that if the Union Act were passed, the clergy might sue for their tithe of agistment, and—horror of horrors!—the Protestant gentry and Protestant graziers might be compelled to contribute to the support of their own church. But this reminder proved more potent with these worthies than all the eloquence of Grattan, and 1370 Lord Cornwallis was obliged to report to the English Cabinet that the country gentry who were supporting the Union had warned him that they would no longer be able to support it unless an act were passed deing away with the tithe of agistment, and accordingly one of the last Acts of the Irish Parliament was a Tithe Act, setting free gentlemen's demesnes and pasture land from a tithe valued by Sir John Macartney at one million sterling per annum. The next great settlement was that of 1838, the one on which the whole modern system of tithe rent-charge in Ireland rests. Up to that settlement tithe had been levied in the most wasteful and harrowing manner that it is possible, and, as is always the case with such methods of levying an impost, the amount actually received bore a small proportion to the loss inflicted on the payers of tithe. After seventy years of smouldering civil war under the settlement of 1838, the tithe was made payable by the landlord to be levied by him from the occupying tenant as part of his rent. But the amount of the tithe-was reduced by 25 per cent. and, taking into account the saving to the occupying tenant of the enormous waste and ruin which resulted from the old methods of levying the tithe, I am convinced that the land-owners of Ireland in the long run benefited under the Settlement of 1838 to the extent of close upon 50 per cent in respect of this charge upon their lands. In support of that view I shall quote two brief extracts from the proceedings of the Commons Committee of 1831–32 on the question of tithe. Sir William Cox was examined before that Committee, and, in reply to question 4962, he stated—He had taken a lease of his tithes being impropriate lay tithes, and put the amount proportionately on his tenants in rent. The tenants most readily agreed and have paid more cheerfully since than they did before, so that they pay the rent and tithe together more readily than they paid the rent alone before.Question 4967: Then, if any deduction had been made to you you would have been a gainer by the transaction?"—"Certainly.And this is a short extract from the Report of the Committee—Your Committee do not doubt that a fair and liberal deduction from the gross amount of composition would be acquiesced in by the Church in return for the increased security and diminished expenses. It may not be easy to say what precisely the deduction ought to be, but it would perhaps be not unreasonable, looking to the very peculiar circumstances of 1371 Ireland, to assume that it may amount to 15 per cent.We know that it actually did amount to 25 per cent., and there was no material change in the position of tithe-payers till the Disestablishment of the Church in 1869, and it is in connection with the settlement made on that occasion by the Acts of 1869 and 1872 that the only real attempt has been made on behalf of the Irish landlords to construct a grievance. The settlement of 1869 and 1872 must be taken as a whole, and the question we have to consider is whether, in connection with that settlement, any injustice was inflicted on the landowners of Ireland. If it can be shown that the landowners were treated fairly and even generously in the settlement of 1869–72, and that they accepted that settlement as a generous one, then I say that no subsequent reduction of the rents of the occupiers has any bearing on the question, nor can be alleged with any greater force as a reason for upsetting that settlement than such reductions could be alleged as a reason for the reduction of quit rents or head rents or mortgage interest. Now, what was the settlement of 1869–72? It is contained in Clause 32 of the Church Act of 1869 and in Section 7 of the amending Act of 1872, and briefly stated, it is as follows—All the ecclesiastical tithe-payers were offered the opportunity of purchasing this first charge upon their land at twenty-two and a-half years purchase, and they were allowed, if they so desired, to borrow money from the Government at such a rate as would enable them to pay this purchase money in fifty-two annual instalments of the same amount as the tithe, which they were then actually paying. This arrangement was confirmed in the Act of 1872, and the tithe in the case of those who did not choose to redeem was made invariable.Now I shall deal first with the terms contained in Clause 32 of the Church Act of 1869. That proposal was universally treated in the House of Commons at the time as a bribe to the landlords to buy off their opposition to the Church Act. It was treated as such by their own leaders and by the spokesmen of their own party, and to show that I do not exaggerate in this description I shall quote from speeches delivered by some of the leaders of the Tory party who were then opposing the Church Act.* In a* For Second Reading Debates on the Irish Church Bill (1869) see The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vol. cxciv. For Debate on Clause 32, see Vol. cxcvi.1372 speech on the Second Reading, Mr. Disraeli used the following language—What do I see in this Bill? Why, that the whole property of the Church of Ireland, generally speaking, will go to the landlords. Well, the landlords have had a slice of that property before; for thirty years they have had £100,000 a year; they have probably had three millions of that property, and what good has it done them? Is the state of Ireland more tranquil or serene, or have they better preserved the institutions to which they were devoted because they for a moment accepted any share of that plunder. And what is it that is now proposed? Why, a scheme which, when we come to investigate it clearly, shows that the whole of the tithe rent-charge is to be absorbed in the land.In the debate on Clause 32 the Attorney General for Ireland, Mr. Sullivan, afterwards Lord Chancellor, said—The quit rent was redeemed in Ireland at twenty-five years purchase; why, then, should the tithe rent - charge not be redeemed at twenty - two and a half years purchase?In the same debate on Clause 32 the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Michael Hicks Beach) said—In his opinion the proposal of the Government combined sacrilege with bribery. These were strong words, but nothing less strong would express his feelings. He believed it was sacrilege because it was taking away from the Church property to which the State had no right, and devoting it to secular purposes and bribery; also because it was admitted to secure the consent of the landlords by handing over to them the property upon terms making the transfer a gift and not a sale.Sir Frederick Hey gate said—This discussion was a most humiliating squabble for Irish landlords to he engaged in. He quite agreed with his hon. friend Sir Michael Hicks Beach that the clause was nothing less than bribery and sacrilege. The Irish landlords were, in fact, asked to take a bribe and assist the Government to pass the Bill.Mr. Fawcett protested against the clause, and said—If this clause were passed, at the end of fifty-two years Parliament proposed to make a present to the landlords of Ireland of £8,500,000, provided they would commute the tithe rent-charge. He had consulted distinguished members of the House about it, and they said: 'We know it is making an enormous present to Irish landlords, but we must do something to grease the wheels, to conciliate hostility and buy off opposition.'Sir Frederick Heygate said what the Irish landlords were asked to do was to take a bribe and assist the Government to 1373 pass the Bill. Whatever may be said as to their assistance to the Government to pass the Bill, they had no hesitation about the bribe, for when it come to Clause 32 the Irish landlords were found solid for the clause, and the division is so interesting I must read out some of the names. For the clause there voted Bagwell, Ball, Viscount Burke, Lord Castlerosse, the Hon. Mr. Dawson, De la Poer, Lord Otho Fitz-Gerald, Colonel French, Lord Galway, Captain Greville, Colonel Greville Nugent, Arthur McMurrough Kavanagh, Pollard - Urquhart, Lord St. Lawrence, Rt. Hon. S. Sullivan, Colonel Vandeleur; while with Mr. Fawcett against the clause there voted, to their honour be it said, Sir Michael Hicks Beach and William Johnston. By the Act of 1872, as I have already said, tithes were made invariable in the case of those who declined to redeem under Clause 32. This change was made without one word of protest on the part of the Irish landlords, who, at that time, controlled the majority of the Irish representation in this House; and it is very easy to understand why it was so readily accepted. The right of varying tithe had never, I believe, been very extensively used in Ireland. In most cases the tithe had not been varied for a considerable time. Prices and rents had been, and were, rising, and the landlords very probably felt that a variation of the tithes would lead to considerable increases. But there was another reason for the acceptance of this settlement with-out protest. The settlement of the Act of 1872 must be considered together with that contained in Clause 32 of the Act of 1869 as one settlement; and part of that settlement was the right to redeem on such terms that without any increase of annual payment the tithe would cease altogether and become absorbed in the land after fifty-two years. This was the settlement which had been described by Mr. Disraeli as one under which "virtually the whole property of the Church will go to the landlords." Is it not, then, an almost inconceivable instance of audacity to set up a claim of grievance in connection with a settlement giving such advantages as were given to the Irish landlords under the Acts of 1869 and 1872? Yet it is solely on the provisions of this settlement that the attempt is made to establish a case of grievance and to justify the introduction 1374 of the present Bill. I have stated, as a second ground for opposing this Bill, that in it great principles are violated, and in support of that statement I refer to the Treasury Memorandum first published in June, 1895, and re-issued after the change of Government in August, 1895, and signed by the present Secretary to the Treasury. In July, 1894, Lord Belmore moved in the House of Lords for a Return giving answers to five questions, of which the fifth question reads as follows—On what grounds have the Treasury declined to act upon the recommendation of the Irish Land Commissioners that tithe rent-charge vested in the Irish Land Commission should in future be made redeemable at twenty instead of twenty-two and a half years purchase under the provisions of Section 15 of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887?It was explained to Lord Belmore that the information could not be given in the form in which he asked for it; but that an endeavour would be made to supply such information as the Treasury possessed in some other form. Owing to a misunderstanding between Lord Belmore and the representatives of the Government, no further action was taken in the session of 1894, but the question was revived in March, 1895, and an undertaking was given on behalf of the Government that an explanatory memorandum on the subject should be prepared for presentation to Parliament. On the 27th June, 1895, this memorandum was circulated, and here is the reply of the Treasury to the fifth question of Lord Belmore—The Land Commissioners have recommended that in such cases the terms of redemption of the perpetual tithe should he reduced from twenty-two-and-a-half years purchase, the rate prescribed by the Acts of 1869 and 1872, to twenty years purchase, but the Treasury have not felt justified in concurring in this proposal. The primary reason which led this Board and their predecessors"—I would ask the House to note that, as it is an all-important point—to that conclusion was the very serious loss which this proposal, and the consequences which might be apprehended from it, would inflict on the Church fund. The possible amount of that loss was estimated by the Land Commission in 1888 at £845,000, supposing the concession limited to the tithe only, without application to other portions of the Church property; and it may be taken as certain that no such amount could now be surrendered without serious risk to the solvency of the Church fund. Other considera- 1375 tions, however, affecting the proposal on its merits cannot be overlooked, two of which the First Lord may place on record:—(1) It is in effect a compulsory reduction of the (statutory) value of one particular charge on the land—namely, that held in trust for Irish public purposes, unaccompanied by any suggestion of reduction in other and less will-secured charges such as mortgages. Measuring the security of a charge by the rate of interest which it carries this proposal would treat the tithe as a 5 per cent. charge, and, therefore, as being no better secured than mortgages carrying 5 per cent interest, and worse secured than those carrying 4½ per cent. As all such mortgages are posterior to tithe the First Lord thinks that the statutory price of twenty-two-and-a-half years purchase, implying interest at 4½ per cent., is not illiberal to the tithe-payer in view of the ordinary rates of interest on mortgages on Irish land.(2) This proposal to treat the tithe as no better secured than a 5 per cent. charge is in striking contrast to the suggestion that loans from the Church Fund on precisely the same security should be made at a rate not exceeding 3½ or even 3 per per cent., which rates involve a high estimate of the security. It would be extremely illogical, apart from other objections, to apply simultaneously both these methods of relieving the tithe-payer at the cost of the Church Fund.In conclusion, the First Lord desires to remark that he has endeavoured in this memorandum to distinguish between the matters for which the Board is, and those for which it is not, responsible. In the case of the former, it is their Lordships' duty to defend their own decisions; but as to the latter, it is only necessary to state facts and figures for the consideration of the Legislature.From this memorandum it is clear that the Treasury, constituted as it was in June, 1895, and carrying out the policy of its predecessors in the previous Government, had refused to make this concession, and refused it on the double ground of public policy and economic principle; because, in the first instance, the loss to the Church Fund would be too heavy, and because, in the second place, the principle of reducing a first charge on the land while inferior liens were left untouched, was a principle vicious in itself. I know that I shall be told that this policy was reversed, and that within six months the Treasury did exercise its right to make the concession asked for in case of estates that were sold to the tenants by the Land Commission; and, furthermore, that this alteration of policy was confirmed by Clause 37 of the Bill of 1896. But in reply I point out that no justification for 1376 this sudden and extraordinary change of policy on the part of the Treasury was ever laid before the House, and when, in the spring of 1896, I asked the Secretary of the Treasury on what grounds he could explain this change in policy, he replied that the only ground was a change in the personnel of the Treasury, a reply which appeared to me at the time, and appears to me still, as most degrading to a great Department of the State, for it will be evident that the memorandum from which I have just quoted must have been prepared and issued with the full approval of the permanent heads of the Treasury; and yet, within six months, without any fresh statement of grounds for a change of policy, the action which is declared by this reasoned memorandum to be against public policy and principle, was sanctioned by the Treasury. Before I pass from the Treasury memorandum of 1895, I wish to draw attention to one statement made by Lord Belmore, and admitted in the memorandum, and that is that the recommendation to reduce the redemption price of tithe rent-charge was made by the Land Commission. Now this is not a fact. I find that in a judgment delivered by Mr. Commissioner O'Brien on the 10th June, 1896, the following statement occurs—But now by letter dated 5th May last, the Treasury has authorised the Land Commission to reduce the rate of redemption for tithe rent charge to twenty years purchase, and for tithe annuities to the basis of a forty-five instead of fifty-two years annuity. The Treasury letter is in answer to one from the secretary of the Land Commission asking for permission to make this reduction. That letter, however, was misleading. It purports to have been written by the direction of the Commissioners, whereas it was written by the direction of but one Commissioner. It naturally conveyed to the Treasury that this matter had again been considered by the whole Commission, and that the proposed change in the rate of redemption was approved by all or the majority of the Land Commissioners. On this, as on other occasions, a communication was made in the name of the Land Commissioners without my authority, assent, or knowledge, relating to an important matter which, in my opinion, should have been brought before the full Board.That is a monstrous thing. Here we have an important letter sent to the Treasury, without the knowledge or assent of the Commissioners, by one of the most important members of that Commission. But all the concessions made by the Treasury letter of 1896 and Clause 37 of the Land Act of 1896— 1377 enormous as they are in amount—apply only to the case of estates sold to the tenants under the Land Purchase Act. And I can conceive it being argued that, where so great a public object is arrived at as the transfer of the land in Ireland to the occupiers, it is permissible to hand over this large slice of a public fund to the landlords, by way of greasing the wheels, although I confess that the amount of grease required to keep the Irish landlords moving is positively alarming. But, whatever force there may be in that argument, it has no weight in support of this Bill, which proposes to extend similar concessions and advantages to those landlords who decline to sell as have already been given to landlords, by way of an inducement or a bribe, to sell their estates, and by doing so co-operate in carrying out what is now recognised by every one to be a great object of public policy in Ireland. The landlords are not to be asked for any concession or quid pro quo for the enormous sum of money which it is proposed to hand over to them. With my third ground of objection I have already dealt, and I now desire to say a few words more as to the financial effect of the Bill. I have already shown that we have got little or no light from the Government on this part of the subject. On the 12th May last year, in his speech introducing this Bill, the Chief Secretary said—Any attempt to strike the balance of gain and loss must be to some extent speculative, but on the supposition that if this Bill did not pass, full and immediate advantage were to be taken of the present right to redeem by all ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge payers, the Church Fund would probably be worse off than if our proposals were adopted.Commenting upon this, the Daily Express most truly says—As the tithes are paid to the Church Fund, it is absolutely impossible by any manipulation of finance to give relief to landlords without diminishing the fund.There could not be a better illustration of the obscurity in which this important question has been left. Now what is the exact nature of the demands made on behalf of the ecclesiastical tithe-payers, and to what extent are these demands met by the provisions of this Bill? As a statement of the claims of the tithe-payer, I shall read an extract from a 1378 pamphlet published on their behalf last year. It says—The injustice of the case, as affecting the tithe-payers in Ireland, who practically may be identified with the landlords, is beyond dispute. The tithe-payers demand that they should be treated fairly, and that the exceptional law passed in 1872 should be repealed, and that the tithes should be varied annually, and in the simple and inexpensive way that tithes are varied in England; and that credit should be given for those over-payments which have been made.Also, they demand that the artificial value of twenty-two and a half years purchase, established by the Church Amendment Act of 1872, should be reduced, and that tithes should be redeemable, when varied, at twenty years purchase.As to the tithes which have been converted into annuities, the annuitants complain that the bargain has been broken, and that in their case alone (as affecting land legislation) a contract, made when prices were high, has been considered sacred. Their rents, their rights, and their position have been altered by legislation, while they themselves have had to pay to the very last shilling the amount fixed in 1872. Added to this, the orignal bargain was unjust; where tenants who have purchased their holdings under similar conditions have to pay only forty-nine instalments, the tithe annuitants under the Church Act have to pay fifty-two.It will be observed that this claim is of a twofold character. First, there is the claim of those tithe-payers who have not redeemed to have their rent-charges made variable, and when varied redeemable at twenty years purchase of the reduced charge, instead of, as at present, at twenty-two and a half years purchase of the unreduced charge. This claim is partially met by the Bill, which proposes to vary the tithe rent-charge every fifteen years in proportion to the variation of the rent of the occupier, and to make that variable tithe irredeemable. But I do not understand from Clause 4 that it is proposed to take away from the Irish Land Commission the right which they exercise under Section 15 of the Land Act of 1887 to order the redemption of any tithe rent-charges. And one point on which I should like to have information is whether it is contemplated that, after the tithe rent has been varied, the redemption price in the case of sales in the Land Commission Court is to be twenty years of the reduced tithe rent-charge. The second demand is of an even more outrageous character. It is the demand of those tithe payers who purchased their tithes 1379 under the terms offered in Clause 32 of the Church Act, and have voluntarily changed the tithe rent-charge into a fixed and terminable annuity in terms denounced by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer as constituting a monstrous bribe to the landlords of Ireland. And this demand it is proposed in the Bill to meet by remitting seven annual instalments. There is not much obscurity about this proposal. In its audacity it stands naked and apparently unashamed. A feeble attempt has been made to make out that there was some miscalculation or misunderstanding by those in charge of the financial proposals of the Church Bill. There is not a shadow of justification for this statement. It has been completely disposed of by the Treasury Memorandum of 1895. The simple fact is that, having digested the sacrilegious bribe of 1869, these gentlemen are now hungry for another meal. In the Report on the Church Temporalities for the year ending 30th March, 1899, the revenue from fixed annual instalments on redeemed tithes is £163,688, so that under this provision alone it is proposed ultimately to present the landlords with over a million of money For a number of years the policy of British Ministers in Ireland has been to govern that country by a mixture of bribery and coercion, a policy which has naturally earned for them the contempt of all Irishmen. This Bill is simply a proposal to give another bribe to the so-called Loyalists of Ireland. If it is passed, the Government will receive neither respect nor gratitude for their gift. No Chief Secretary has ever obtained more money for the Irish landlords than the present holder of that office, yet we have all read in a recent copy of Lord Ardilaun's newspaper—the Dublin Daily Express—a communication in which an indignant Irish loyalist declares that—Never since James the Second sent over Dick Talbot to disarm the Protestant gentry of Ireland and leave them at the mercy of their enemies has there come from England so mischievous an administrator as Mr. Gerald Balfour.I would, then, advise the Government to abandon the futile effort to satisfy the ravening maw of Irish landlordism, to withdraw this Bill, and to prepare some scheme under the provisions of which what remains of the Irish Church Fund may be devoted to purposes of general 1380 public utility, such as reinstating the evicted tenants, endowing a university for the people of Ireland, and other public objects for which money is urgently needed in so poor a country as Ireland. I beg to move "that this Bill be read a second time this day six months."
§ MR. T. M. HEALY
After listening to the admirable speech of my hon. friend, I have great pleasure in seconding this motion. I do so substantially upon grounds similar to those put forward by the hon. Member for East Mayo, although my arguments will be somewhat different. I quite agree with my hon. friend when he declares that the Government have not really considered, in principle, the far-reaching character of their proposal. I assert that a greater blow to the principle of property or to the principle of the stability of financial institutions has never been struck than by the introduction of this Bill, which is as revolutionary as if it had issued from a backwoods Parliament, or from one of the newly erected institutions in Bloemfontein or Pretoria. The hon. Member for East Mayo has already shown by his historical retrospect that the Irish landlords have no grievance, but I will found my argument upon the assumption that they have a grievance, and that having that grievance this is the worst of all possible means by which it could be redressed. Let me first consider this point from the tenants' side of the question. The amount of reduction is to be based on the judicial rents, but what does that mean for the tenant? In future the Irish Land Commission, which is the guardian of the Irish Church surplus — and which is at the same time the axe of execution to the landlords—will have to consider in any reduction they make of the rents that the basis upon which they are fixing them will involve the destruction of the fund of which they have been constituted the legal guardians. Therefore, when Mr. Justice Madden was declaring that someone should have a reduction of 30 per cent., he must have been conscious that at the same time in giving that reduction he was | striking a blow at his own trusteeship. That is an immoral position in which to put a Judge of the Irish Land Commission. If you constitute a man the trustee of a given fund, and then make him the destroyer of that fund, you place 1381 him in a position which is absolutely irreconcilable if you make him guilty of a breach of trust. When you do that with a Judge in a judicial position, he is put in a situation in which no Judge in the land ought to be placed. In the county of Monaghan, which county I represented at one time in this House, and with whose daily life I was to some extent familiar, oats had not fallen in value to the same extent as wheat and other produce. What is the position of the recipient of the charge? He will find that whereas the rents in County Monaghan have been reduced 30 per cent., and oats have fallen only 15 per cent. in consequence of judicial rents, the result is that the landlords have been made a present of 15 per cent. more than they were otherwise fairly entitled to. What is the great basis of rent reduction in Ireland? We have never gone so much upon the question of price at all. We have stood upon this impregnable ground—which is admitted by every English statesman who has considered it—that the tenant of Ireland is the person who should benefit by improvements in the soil, and that the kernel of the land Act is that no rent shall be payable on any improvements effected by the tenants. The tenant himself puts up all the farm buildings, fences and gates, and makes all the reforms, and does everything that is necessary to make the farm profitable, and now, because his rent has been reduced, the landlord's tithe is to be reduced accordingly, although they have done nothing to warrant them getting this reduction, which is made upon the basis of the tenant's improvements. Therefore the landlord is allowed to walk off with half the swag because the tenant has made the improvements in the soil. Was there ever heard of in connection with a Bill of this kind so false and fatal a principle? How are we going to deal with the middleman? I should like to know where the middlemen are going to be left in this question. It is admitted that, if a man has a head rent of £50 a year and it is swept away, he has a grievance, but is he to remain under that grievance, whereas the payer of tithe—the spoiled child of both the Irish and English Parliaments—is to got a further reduction on the ground that his rents have been reduced? He may not be the head renter at all, and he may not be a person on whose estates fair 1382 rents have been fixed. Is this Bill to make no distinction in such cases? Supposing I, as a landlord, have been successful on various grounds in preventing my tenants from going into the Land Courts, is this Bill to make no distinction in such a case; and is its hyssop to fall both on the just and the unjust? I should like further to ask this question. Supposing a person has become a landlord since 1881, as is constantly occurring through the Landed Estates Court, where Irish and English insurance companies are foreclosing their mortgages, is no distinction to be made? Only the other day the Hand - in - Hand Insurance Company grabbed an entire estate out of the hands of the landord. Some of the mortgagees were the tenants themselves. One produced a note showing that he had lent £2,000 to the landlord, but he could not recover a single penny. Are the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company to get the benefit of this Bill, and to draw money from this impoverished Irish Fund, although they have only become Irish landlords in the course of the last few months? I do not think the Government have considered the very beginning of this question. I say it is a monstrous thing that an insurance company which becomes the landlord of an estate, against the wishes of the tenants, should have relief under this Bill. Now I come to another point. We had here two years ago a question in which the right hon. Gentleman the Solicitor General for England was deeply interested—and I am most happy to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon his elevation to his present position. We had the question of the Irish National teachers and the deficit which it was said had arisen in the Teachers' Pension Fund on account of a Treasury error. It was admitted that the British Government had held out to these teachers that if they paid sums out of their little salaries varying from £2 to £3 per annum they would be entitled at the end of long and laborious service to pensions according to their class, of £40, £50, £60, or £70 a year, to be charged upon this very Irish Church Fund. How did the Government deal with the National teachers, and by what methods were their grievances redressed? The Government fed the dog with a bit of its own tail. Why do they not give the Irish landlords a similar diet I Remember, the National teachers are men 1383 of whom it cannot be said that "they toil not, neither do they spin." They were told, "Oh, the Treasury have made a mistake." The Act was passed by the present Chancellor of. the Exchequer when he was Irish Secretary, I think in 1875, and he then said that the Treasury were so accurate that there was no possibility of a mistake. Yes, the Treasury is always accurate to-day—it is only yesterday it makes mistakes. At any rate, the Treasury made a mistake of a paltry million, and these poor teachers, who had been swindled for twenty years, were told that they could not have the pensions which had been guaranteed to them by statute. John Bull went back on his word, although we are told that British credit is secure all over the world, and the teachers were compelled to provide out of their own pockets for a mistake of the Treasury. And what was the comfort you gave them? They were told, "You will be allowed at your own expense to commence an action in the High Courts against Her Majesty, and we will defend it with all the resources at our command." The unworthy task was put upon the Attorney General for Ireland of having to defend the misconduct of the Treasury, with the result that the Courts in Ireland gave judgment in favour of the Crown, and the Irish teachers who were promised these pensions are now living witnesses to the fraud and bad faith of the British Government. They are working in Ireland to bring up the Irish children, and to teach them sometimes to sing "God save the Queen," and their reward is to be told by the Treasury, "You can borrow money from a bank, but we are no longer responsible." They were your faithful servants in Ireland, they were part of your machinery of progress and civilisation, and this is how they were treated. What, on the other hand, do you owe to the Irish landlords? Yet you rob the national teachers, and now propose to give a million and a half to the Irish landlords, to whom you owe nothing, and who turned Ireland at one time into a bloody puddle, and still keep it in a welter of confusion. We know, according to the landlords of Ireland, that the British Government is—not only in regard to themselves, but in regard to their Church—a government of spoliation, and they now want a little of the funds of the Church in order to make up for the robbery of themselves. Will 1384 they use this money for buying stained glass windows for Protestant churches? Will they put up spires on these somewhat dilapidated cathedrals in which they worship? Nothing of the kind; they will spend the money in horse-racing in England, or at Monte Carlo. That is where the sacrilegious plunder of the Irish Church is to go, and the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is responsible for this Bill, was the very Minister who declared that the conduct of the landlords in swallowing the Church Act of 1869 was a disgrace to their class. Now I come to consider what the grievances of the landlords are. Apparently they have one sole grievance, and I will make them a present of it. That is in reference to lay tithe. The Irish Courts have decided that because the Dublin Gazette did not continue to print columns of corn statistics, there were no means of revising the tithe. I have always sympathised with the editor of the Dublin Gazette; he is the one journalist who is always entitled to my sympathy, and I suppose he was so busy printing coercion proclamations that, in the language of Fleet Street, his columns were "crowded out," and he had no room for printing the corn returns. I admit the landlords have a grievance, but if there had been fewer proclamations there would have been more corn returns. We were deprived of the right of habeas corpus in Ireland by these proclamations, and the landlords were deprived of the revision of tithe. I think we were the worse off, but I think also that if these corn returns in the Dublin Gazette, and even if the Gazette itself disappeared, Ireland as a whole would not be sorry. I should have thought that if there were this intense grievance the Irish landlords would not have been content merely with the decision of the Irish Courts, and that they would have taken to the House of Lords—a somewhat sympathetic tribunal—the question as to whether this decision with reference to the Dublin Gazette was technically correct or not. But this grievance did not weigh upon noble Lords and others to such an extent as to induce them to find a couple of hundred pounds to lodge an appeal in the House of Lords, in order to test this question, and accordingly the landlords were deprived of the right of having this lay tithe revised. Again and again questions upon that subject were put in this 1385 House, not from the landlord benches, but from these benches; again and again we asked the Government to repair this error of the editor of; the Dublin Gazette, but the Government always refused. What do the Government do now? They harness to that undoubted, or at all events arguable, grievance this car of spoliation, and make what is merely the correction of a slight error in procedure the vehicle by which we are to be robbed of nearly two millions sterling. Do they suppose that a proceeding of that kind is likely to commend this Bill or their conduct to the general body of Irish tenants? How often have we pressed for corrected procedure with regard to the Land Acts, but that had to be wrung from the Government by bloodshed. I acknowledge that the present Government for the first time passed in 1896 a Bill without an appeal to disorder. But I am speaking of British government as a whole, and I say that never have the Irish tenants succeeded in winning any correction of any error of procedure through which they have been damnified except through the avenue of turmoil, agitation, and disorder. The Irish landlords now put up their claims, and not only say that this error must be corrected, but that they are to get a bonus of one and a half millions of sacrilegious plunder in addition. I maintain that if the landlords have a grievance in this matter, that grievance should be rectified out of the general Treasury Fund. Who will be paying by and by for the losses in Natal and the loss of the missionaries in China? We were told to-day that Indian troops had been sent to China at the Imperial expense. I want to know—when the general Treasury Fund is to be saddled with those charges—why the Irish Fund is to be saddled with charges which, from your point of view, are really part of your Imperial policy? It was your Imperial policy that abolished the Brehon laws, and that gave us as our masters the territorial aristocracy. Why, then, if they exist as the garrison in Ireland, should they not draw Imperial wages, and not seek compensation out of this Irish Fund? I have never forgotten the speech made by the present President of the Local Government Board on the Irish Land Bill of 1881. He said that the Government wore engaged in reversing an Imperial policy; he asked what had made Irish land worthless; and he 1386 added that it was the selfish policy of English manufacturers in Ireland, who destroyed Irish industries and left nothing for the people but the land, and now, he continued, the Government were making the Imperial garrison bear the expense which should fall on the Imperial taxpayer. I believe there is a great deal to be said for the Irish landlords from that point of view. Why do they not come down to this House in khaki? That is the position they ought to take up. Let them appear as members of the Imperial garrison in Ireland, and say, "Ever since the days of Elizabeth and Cromwell we have acted as your garrison in Ireland; now pay us our wages." That would be a fair and reasonable position. What was the initiation of this Bill? You abolished the Brehon laws in the days of Elizabeth—and to us the days of Elizabeth are as close as the days of Victoria. There is no yesterday in Ireland; and those times and consequences are as much alive in that country to-day, and as much a living reality, as what is passing in this country before your own eyes. You grabbed our churches and put them into the hands of Protestants, and you were not content with robbing our churches but you also slaughtered and banished our priests, and put upon us a ministry many of whom were perverts of the vilest type. When you had done all that, you declared that the Irish landlords in future should be made to pay these tithes, and that they should no longer fall on the Catholic tenants. What did you do then? In a series of statutes you took away from the tenants the nominal burden of the tithe, but you increased the landlord's power of eviction, and from that time onward the position of the occupier of the soil became more defenceless, because every effort that human ingenuity could devise was, as O'Connell showed in one of his famous speeches, put forward to deprive these tenants of any protection, and at last the landlord succeeded in adding the tithe to the rent. We have given you your religion free for three hundred years, and also your churches, almost every one of which was erected by Catholic hands and as the result of Catholic piety. I have no doubt that in Belfast and some other places in the north there may be Protestant churches, but for the most part the churches were grabbed from the Catholics. In several places the 1387 churches were burned, and, of course, if you burn a church you cannot have it, and if you did not burn the church you have got it. What was the final stage in this dismal history, this squalid mixture of religion and lucre? The final stage was the Act of 1869. The Poor Law Act was put into operation in the thirties, and an enormous burden was placed upon the occupier. Then followed the famine, when millions of our people were driven out. You provided as a boon to the tenants that half the rates should be paid by the landlord. The occupier was defenceless; he was a man without a lease and without tenure, and the half poor rate was added to his rent just as the tithe was added. Two years ago we relieved the landlords from the poor rates, and we relieved them from the county cess in cases of tenancies created since the Act of 1870. I myself have never regretted that, because it was part of a great system of domestic reform. The landlords have now escaped from all the burdens which accompany the territorial position in other countries, and how are you going to open this blessed new century? Having freed the landlords from every burden which accompanies territorial rights, you give them, as a final boon, 25 per cent. reduction in tithe rent-charge, amounting to one and a half millions. You do that at the very time when you are setting up an Agricultural Department in Ireland, the chief use of which, as far as I can understand, is to make rents in Ireland better payable than in the past, and to make the Irish tenant a surer mark for your demands. Oh, that is denied; and it is said that you are going to create new industries in Ireland, where you will not even buy the uniforms of your policemen or soldiers, or boots and shoes for a single one of the instruments of your own despotism. You admit that wheat has decreased, and with the absence of wheat milling has disappeared, with a number of other industries. Having abolished every industry by which the people of the unhappy country lived you have set up a new Department to make two blades of grass grow where one grew before, and to make every cow give three times as much milk as she ever gave before. What is the security for this new Agricultural Department? It is this very Irish Church Fund which is being robbed in advance in the interests of the landlord. These are the prudent administrators—the vigilant watch dogs 1388 of the Treasury! These are the financial gods whom the Irish must bow down to and worship! We have no Parliament in Ireland; but we come over here to learn the trade; and what an example! We find that the British Treasury, which should, above all things, be governed by fixed and rigid principles, is not only attacking the principle of property and the principle of finance, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had declared that any attempt to deal with this fund in the way proposed was sacrilegious plundering, and who put his name to a statement on one day that the British Treasury would find it incompatible with their financial principles to sanction anything of the kind, now as a mere sop to the indignation of the landlords has flung all these financial principles to the winds. It is said that there is a continuity in the. government of Ireland. That is true in one respect—there is a continuity of fraud. With regard to every other form of fraud that has been perpetrated there has been some attempt at justification, but here we are asked to swallow the nauseating dose wholesale, without even the usual spoonful of jam. I can well understand the Irish landlords and the Irish Government saying, "Look here, you naked Irish, there is a fund of two or three millions out of which the British Treasury is making some £50,000 or £60,000 a year. Here it is in our Imperial power, and we are going to grab it." I do not know what this Irish Church Fund is. I have never seen it. We would never know it if we saw it, especially after this Bill. I suppose it is, a legend, and that the Treasury has some enormous book, with an enormous clerk, drawing an enormous salary for entering enormous figures in that enormous book. That is the Irish Church Fund! I do not suppose it is anything else than carrying figures from one account in this ledger to another, and bringing in a debit to Ireland of £50,000 a year—the British Government being able to make a large profit out of the transaction. I can understand the landlords saying to the tenants, "Look you, we have been robbing you for a long time, and we have been robbed by the Treasury. We have a grievance. The Chief Secretary is not popular. We even gather that from the Daily Express; so he is called Dick Talbot the second. We have lost a great deal by these Land Acts, and you have not gained 1389 as much as you think. There has been a long eviction campaign. We have had a squabble with you over that. But let us both join and rob the Saxon Treasury. You give us half a million, and we shall give you another half." I understand that is the deal; but that is not the basis; on which it is put at all If the Government came and said, "Can you, out of consideration for Lord Ardilaun, and all those other interesting 'porter peers' whom we have got on our hands, see your way to agree to give them a share of the Irish Church Surplus Fund, and we will agree to give you some of the balance?" that is a reasonable proposal. But that the Irish people should be asked to give the Irish landlords, at the moment you are establishing a fund for agricultural purposes, a sum of £1,500,000 is, I think, the most audacious and impudent proposal that I have ever heard of emanating from a British Government. I therefore venture to suggest to hon. Gentlemen opposite to make a fair transaction in this matter. There are in Ireland—nobody denies it—a number of cases of unjust eviction, and of deplorable hardship. I go this length, that if you allocate, say, one half of this fund, and appoint a tribunal of, say, the hon. Member for Ennis and the hon. and gallant Member for North Armagh, I would be willing to leave the administration of the money in their hands, so that it went to these poor people. That is not the offer that is made to us. But here is a Government which has given us an Agricultural Grant—which went to England temporarily to one class, but half of it is going in Ireland for ever to the relief of one class—which is going to turn round and give that class an additional bribe in order that they may obtain their support. I say that a policy of that kind is not founded on reason. It is a policy which will re-act upon the Administration itself, and I certainly say that it should have come from a Government enjoying the unparalleled popularity which we are told is the result of their South African policy—an unparalleled popularity proved by the fact that it commands a majority of 150 in this House—shows that the British Constitution has been put up to a kind of Dutch auction. In former times you went to the polls, and you declared yourselves on certain great principles, like the ballot, or workmen's compensation; on questions 1390 which stirred mankind like the education or the religious question; but nowadays the policy of the Government is a policy of "shin-plasters." You find out a particular class which is aching to receive public money, and instantly you proceed to shovel out the public money to that class. Where is the demand for this Bill? From what avenue or canal has it proceeded? Who has asked for it? You have refused it again and again in the House of Lords, when it was pressed for by Lord Belmore, and others. I have never heard it urged for by hon. Gentlemen opposite, who ably represent their class. It is usually the case in this House not to put a question into Bill shape until it has been hammered on the anvil of resolutions and debate. This Bill appears to have sprung out of a headache in the Irish Office. Has the right hon. Gentleman got tired of being called names? He does not like being called Dick Talbot the Second. He wants the reputation of a judicious banker of the necessities of the Irish people. I can only say that a Bill which in reality attacks the finance and the principles of the Treasury, as laid down by successive Administrations for over forty years, is a very bad one with which to face a General Election.
Amendment proposed —
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day three months.'"—(Mr. Dillon.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
I certainly should have thought, after the two speeches which we have just heard from the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. Member who has just sat down, that the Government would have attempted at least some reply. I can see no answer, I confess, to those speeches. We have had in this country, certainly upon these benches, complaints of a policy of doles, but this is carrying the policy of doles to an extent almost of madness. I have never heard of a Bill which has filled me with more astonishment and, from a financial point of view, with more indignation, than the Bill now Tinder the consideration of the House. What is the meaning of this Bill? We have not 1391 had from the Chief Secretary for Ireland any statement of what he expects the landlords of Ireland are to receive out of this Bill; but it is quite plain that when that sum is ascertained, the amount which will be lost to the Irish Church Fund will be lost to the British Exchequer, which is ultimately responsible for the solvency of the Church Fund. The views of the English Treasury on this subject have been read out by the hon. Member for East Mayo in the minute for which I accept my share of responsibility. It is there pointed out that the proposal at that time might lead, and probably would lead, to the insolvency of the Irish Church Fund. But these proposals are not identical with that made at that time, although the principles involved are exactly the same. How can the Chief Secretary for Ireland undertake to say that this proposal may not or will not involve danger to the solvency of the Irish Church Fund? That is the point of view which at least the English Treasury and the English taxpayer care for. The Irish Church Fund is a national fund applicable to national purposes; and the Irish people have a right to look at all public funds from that point of view; and you have no right to appropriate such a fund to the purposes of one particular class. I do not care what particular form this question assumes; it is dealing with a public fund for the sole and exclusive purposes of one particular class. This first clause, which reduces the annuity from fifty-two to forty-five years, involves a certain sum of money, which I do not know to be accurately stated by the Chief Secretary for Ireland; but before this Fund is dealt with we ought to have in pounds, shillings, and pence exactly what the Fund is. That has never yet been stated, and the notion of seizing a public fund—which is a fund for the benefit, in the first instance, of the people of Ireland, and for which ultimately the English Treasury and the Consolidated Fund is responsible—without stating how far the solvency of that Fund is affected—
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but the statement was given in the memorandum of the Treasury which was laid on the Table of the House last year.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Is that the figure at which the Fund now stands? 1392 Is that the amount from which it is now proposed to make the grant to the Irish landlords?
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The memorandum shows the condition in which the Fund will be left if these proposals are carried out.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
But what we want to know is the actuarial value of the gift you make to the Irish landlords, and then we can judge of the amount of the dole, and what is the justification for that dole. In the early part of this debate I observed the Chancellor of the Exchequer was present, when the hon. Member for East Mayo quoted some very strong expressions the right hon. Gentleman had made use of in regard to the proposals in this Bill; but he is no longer here. I should like to know what are his views in regard to this Bill, and how he distinguishes it from those proposals which he formerly denounced so justly. It seems to me an extraordinary thing. We have heard of a policy of continuity, but anything more absolutely reversing the financial policy of the English Treasury it is impossible to conceive. The principles laid down in the memorandum of 1895 are, as the hon. Member for East Mayo and the hon. and learned Gentleman who succeeded him said, absolutely inconsistent with this Bill. It is quite unnecessary for me to repeat the arguments which have been so well put forward by the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken from below the gangway. I enter my protest against the Bill as utterly unsound financially, and as being a gross injustice to the Irish people, who have a right to the integrity of the Irish Church Fund, as far as it will go, for national purposes. That fund is not to be frittered away for the benefit of a particular class in Ireland, any more than the public funds of this country can be disposed of for the benefit of a particular class. I do not desire at this hour unnecessarily to delay the House, but I express the hope that this Bill will be fully debated before it is allowed to pass into law, so that its real bearing and character may be thoroughly understood. A more serious attack on the financial principles on which public funds ought to be dealt with has never, in my opinion, been made in this House. I regret very much the absence of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, as we should 1393 know what are his sentiments on such a departure from sound financial principles. There is another point of which I will briefly take notice, and that is the Bill as it affects property. I entirely agree with the hon. Member for East Mayo in what he said as to its effects on the security of all property. It is alleged that the Irish landlords have suffered from a reduction of their rents, and what is the remedy? To attack the first rent-charge on the property, to impoverish the fund belonging to the Irish people, and to impair the security of the British Treasury. I observe that there are other charges on the land that the Bill does not affect, and those are the second charges. We ought to know to what extent you are damaging the first rent-charge on this property in order to indemnify people simply because their rents have fallen. That is a most extraordinary, I might almost call it a communistic proceeding. I entirely fail to understand what is the justification for the whole of these proceedings. The Government have not been very fortunate in their dealings with the question of tithe. Seven years ago we fought them, and in two successive years they were obliged to drop the Tithes Bills which they had brought in. But we never before dreamt in this country of subverting the whole principle on which the tithe is paid. No doubt we made the landlord responsible, but we did not alter the quality of the tithe or the method by which it was valued, as was so humorously stated by my hon. friend behind me. This Bill rests upon the fact that the Government Gazette has not published the materials for estimating the tithe. Certainly, a more extravagant basis on which to rest a Bill I never heard. All I can say is that, for my part, I shall oppose this Bill in all its stages, because I believe it to be thoroughly unsound financially, and from the point of view of policy to be a very dangerous precedent. I cannot conceive why, at this moment, you should think it necessary, after all the grants you have made to the Irish landlords on one pretence or another, and simply on account of a defect in the publication in the Dublin Gazette, to bring forward a proposal which affects more than a million of money of a public fund which you have no right to deal with in the manner it is dealt with in this Bill.
§ MR. ARCHDALE (Fermanagh, N.)
I do not understand the attitude of the 1394 right hon. Gentleman and the other Members opposite who oppose this Bill, which is intended to remove an injustice from which many men in Ireland have suffered. I myself and others will not benefit from it by a single penny, but I know that others suffer from a monstrous injustice. My complaint, and that of many from my part of the country, is that the Bill does not go far enough.
§ MR. ARCHDALE
The Church has been robbed, but I am glad to say that we are supporting it well. As regards this Tithe Bill, it does not, in my opinion, go half far enough; and I only wish that those who oppose it had to pay tithe when they have not money to pay it with. I understand that members of the Church are being served with writs to pay the tithe by the 1st of May, although they do not get the rents with which to pay it until November. It is said that this Bill uses public money for the benefit of one class; but I do not know how hon. Members can employ that contention when they must know that up to the year 1824 tithe was payable entirely on produce; but in the year 1838, owing to the number of outrages committed during the collection of the tithe, the occupier was entirely relieved from the burden, and the owner was made liable, and the tithe was Collected in the shape of rent. In the year 1881, when the Land Act was passed, owing to the fall in prices, and foreign competition, the ownership of the land was taken from the landlords. In 1872, when the Irish Church was plundered, the ecclesiastical tithe was fixed by Act of Parliament to make the security for the nine millions coming out of the British Treasury. The value of the ecclesiastical tithe was fixed at 22½ years purchase, although at the same time the lay tithe was valued at eighteen years purchase. By that means the British Parliament plundered a million from the payers of lay tithe in Ireland. I think there could not be a more honest or just measure than this Bill, and I cannot understand how Members from Ireland, when they know that the Land Commission has reduced rents all over the country, when they know that the tenants do not pay tithe, which is a charge on land—the ownership having boon taken from the landlord and given to the tenant—should 1395 refuse to see that the tithe charge should not be reduced in proportion to the reduction of rent. I was pleased to hear some hon. Members say that a great relief was given to the tenants by the Act of 1898, but I was sorry to hear the hon. Member for North Louth sneering at the new Agricultural Department, and alleging that it was established to make rents more payable in Ireland. I was also sorry to hear what he said about the churches. In my own neighbourhood three or four churches have been built by members of my own family, and I do not think we are taking them from anyone. When the hon. Member for East Mayo was talking of the landlord class robbing Ireland at the time of the Union, I know perfectly well that my great grandfather was one of the strongest opponents of the Union—he was just as strong against it as I am for it at the present time. I am sorry that family history does not turn out more Members of my opinion. If hon. Members would only look at things in an honest light, and recollect that these tithes have been fixed at a higher value than was right, they would not oppose the Bill. The hon. Member talks about the grease given to the Irish landlords. I do not know many landlords who have got much grease, but I do know that out of the money given to the Church Fund by members of my faith, more than £7,000,000 has been given to Ireland. The hon. Members opposite say the landlords have taken all the grease, but the grease, so far as I know, has gone the other way. The grease that came our way had no substance. When it had any substance it went the other way.
§ MR. DALY (Monaghan, S.)
I am sorry that the hon. Member for North Fermanagh is not in his place. The story he told to the House is the one that every landlord preaches when a Bill is brought forward for the purpose of giving something to the landlords. It does not go far enough—that was what was preached by the hon. Member, and I am sure he is little more than the spokesman of his class in this House. If the whole of the Church Fund were given to Irish landlords it would not satisfy them. The Irish landlords are constantly preaching their poverty, and asking doles and bribes from this House. I hope the House will reject the proposal brought 1396 forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland. I think his argument this evening is not consistent with the speech he made at Leeds a short time ago, wherein he stated that the salvation of the tenant farmers of Ireland was the land purchase scheme. It does not seem to me that the right hon. Gentleman was sincere in his remarks, because it docs not look as if he was anxious to get rid of the landlords when he brings in a Bill to give them a part of the Irish Church Fund. The hon. Member for North Fermanagh mentioned that a million of money was given from the Church Fund to intermediate education, but he forgot to state that the children of his coreligionists received their share from this. A sum of £1,300,000 also goes to the school teachers of Ireland, and it must be remembered that the Protestant children in the National schools are educated with a portion of that money. Surely the hon. Member for North Fermanagh would not for a moment say that the landlord class should gobble the whole of this sum. If he does, I am sure the Members of this House would certainly not submit to any such proposal. That is the proposal the hon. Member brought forward here. I am opposed to the Second Heading of the Bill, when I consider the largo claims that are already made on the Church Fund for the purposes of education—£1,000,000 for intermediate education, £1,300,000 for National school purposes, and other portions for the Presbyterian Church, May-nooth College, and the Congested Districts Board. In view of those claims at the present time, it would be a very dangerous thing to make any further inroads on the Church Fund. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary stated that in the case of this Church Fund running out there would be nothing easier than to approach the Treasury and get a grant of £30,000. My experience is that the Treasury is a very doubtful source for the Irish people to rely upon for anything they want. The Irish Members have been asking some trifling grants to help the distressed people in the West of Ireland and I know the cold ear given to them by the Government when the proposal was made.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present (Mr. FLAVIN, Kerry, N.). House counted, and forty Members being found present,
§ MR. DALY,
continuing, said: The hon. Member for North Fermanagh spoke about the Church Fund being plundered. I think it is only a matter of justice that the hon. Member should support his own clergy. It is the greatest shame that in a country where the Catholic population is in the proportion of five to one Protestant, the Catholics have to support the Protestant Church and also their own clergy. I should also remark that in this so-called plunder of the Church Fund several millions were given to the church to which the hon. Member belongs. The landlords pay the tithes, but they raised rents enormously. I know one estate where 20 per cent. was put on the rents. Taking all these rises of rents into consideration, the Government come to this House proposing to give a dole of several thousand pounds to the landlords. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he had spoken to several people—I suppose they may have been Members of the House of Lords—in regard to the Bill which was passed fixing the tithe as a permanent charge, and they had informed him that it was not considered at all. I must differ from the right hon. Gentleman. I find that the price of oats in 1871 was 25s. 2d. per quarter, in 1873 it was 25s. 3d., and in 1874, 28s. 10d. The price was steadily rising, and to my mind the reason why the Bill was allowed to pass so quietly through the House of Lords was that the Lords thought the price would continue to rise. They took that for granted, and they thought they were making a real good bargain at the time. The moment they find that the bargain has not turned out as expected they come whining to this House to get a dole from the Church Fund. I agree with the hon. Member for East Mayo that the best thing the right hon. Gentleman could do would be to withdraw the Bill altogether. It is really a shame that the landlords should come to this House asking doles. When the poor people of the West of Ireland required relief there was no Bill brought in on their behalf. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way not to persist in going on with this Bill, which is not agreeable to the vast majority of the poor people of Ireland. My constituents are very anxious that this Bill should not become law, and so far as I am concerned I will vote against the Second Reading.
§ MR. HERBERT LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
This is a Bill that deeply affects the Irish Members and the people whom they represent, but it also concerns Members representing constituencies in other parts of Great Britain as well, and on that ground I venture to address a very few observations to the House upon the measure. In the first place I am surprised, after the very pointed appeal that was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Mon-mouth, who spoke on this matter with peculiar authority as an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not present. I hope that we shall see him in his place at all events at a later stage in the debate, in order that we may hear from his own lips the defence he has to offer for this extraordinary Bill, which, I venture to say, violates some of the most elementary canons of financial justice. The right hon. Gentleman, I am afraid, has been the unwilling victim during the present Parliament of more than one raid upon the Treasury, which he by himself has been powerless to resist. I was under the impression that we had got to the very end of these doles to favoured classes which have signalised this Parliament above perhaps any other Parliament that has existed during the present century. We are, perhaps, in our unctuous-rectitude, rather fond of pointing to the horrible misdeeds of Tammany Hall in America, and to the frightful corruption that existed in the Transvaal, but I venture to say that if Bills of this kind; were passed by Tammany Hall, and by the Transvaal Government, we should be the first to denounce them for political corruption. The landlords of Ireland are having this dole given to them to the large amount of a million and a half sterling, if we capitalise the annual grant. Any landlord may at once sell his property if he chooses, and obtain practically the whole of the capital value. It is practically a gift of a lump sum of a million and a half to the landlords, who are to benefit under these provisions. The hon. Member for North Fermanagh complained of the treatment the landlords of Ireland had received at the hands of Parliament. Why, take a single case. Under the Bill relating to the rating of agricultural land in Ireland, one nobleman received an amount by that so-called Local Government Bill equivalent in cash to £60,000 or £70,000. There was 1399 an hon. Gentleman—I see he is not in his place now—sitting opposite me when that Bill was passed, who went into the Lobby and voted for £500 or £600, indeed I think it was £700 a year, to be put into his own pocket. He had a perfect right to do that, but as a matter of fact if the Chancellor of the Exchequer, from his place in Parliament, had stepped below the gangway and handed that hon. Gentleman £15,000 or £20,000, or whatever the capital value was, he could not have made a more direct gift from the Treasury than was made to that particular Irish landlord. That is the kind of legislation which from time to time we have seen in the course of this present Parliament. I thought for very shame we had seen the last of it, but here we have presented to us a Bill which proposes to take from the national funds a considerable sum of money and hand it over to a particular class—a class perhaps which is not as wealthy as it used to be in the past, but which at the same time is not a particularly poor, nor, I would add, a particularly deserving class. We were under the impression a short time ago that something was to be done for Ireland by the present Government. We wore told that the golden moment had arrived in the sad and unhappy history that has for so long existed between that island and this country when we might expect something in the nature of a great measure of conciliation, and that expectation was given voice to not merely by those in Ireland who must have desired something of the kind, but by those who support the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the bill in this country. That expectation has been disappointed. Nothing of the kind has been done, but the very least I should have thought that Ireland could have expected from this Ministry at the present time would have been abstention from forcing through Parliament a Bill of this kind, the effect of which has been so well described by hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. It has been felt that the empire owes a debt of gratitude to Ireland, but Ireland apparently is not only expected to shed her blood, but to shed her money. I hope that this is the last of these measures. I hope that the common sense of this country will prevail over the system of giving doles and sops and bribes to wealthy and privileged classes. I hope that they will cease. We have had enough 1400 of it during this Parliament to make any sober-minded man feel that our finance is in dangerous hands indeed. We are piling our debt up by tens of millions, and out of our national funds we have made these grants time and again. We are allowing our own industries in our own country to languish—industries that might be profitably developed—like, for instance, the afforesting of the country. All these things are neglected for political support, and political support only is thought of. I trust that before long we shall have a Ministry in power which will have the honesty to deal with questions of this kind, not from the point of view of what political support it can gain from certain classes of the community, but looking at the interest of the community as a whole, and, particularly in the case of a poor community like Ireland, remembering to act in the interest of the masses, and not of the classes, who benefit by such legislation as this.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE (Antrim, N.)
It is hardly to be expected that a member from the Principality should know very much about the Irish question or the peculiar law in Ireland relating to tithes, or the peculiar claims in Ireland upon the particular fund out of which it is proposed to remedy this grievance, and therefore I was not at all surprised at the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. But I regret that the red herring of landlordism, which has been skilfully drawn across the trail, should have been introduced into this debate. If I thought for a moment that the passing of this Bill would take a single penny out of the pockets of the tenants of Ireland I should not be at liberty to follow the course I now take in supporting the measure. It shows the ignorance of the hon. Gentleman opposite that he should suppose that the Government would gain anything by administering a dole, as he calls it, to the landlords of Ireland in return for their political influence. Any hon. Member who knows anything about Ireland knows that in every constituency in the North of Ireland, the landlords, be it for good or be it for evil, have lost all political influence, and therefore, to put it on the lowest basis, it would not be worth the while of the Government to try to conciliate by a dole landlords who cannot, unaided by the democracy, return a single Member to this House. I have been re- 1401 turned as a neutral on these very acute questions between landlord and tenant, and I do not think any hon. Member can accuse me of having broken my election pledges in those matters. I have always declined to take any course in this House which could be described as anything hut neutral in regard to these acute questions, and if any hon. Member will convince me that in supporting this Bill I should be taking one penny out of the pockets of the tenants I will at once walk out of the House.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE
That is another matter. Wherever there is an Irish grievance, no matter which class may be suffering from it, I would like to see it remedied out of funds in the possession of the English Treasury. But the fact that the sufferers happen to be landlords, or Unionists, or Protestants is no reason why that grievance should not be redressed if we have an opportunity of doing it. What happens here? We all know the origin of tithes. The amount of the tithe was originally payable in kind, and nothing could more plainly show how dependent it was upon the value of the commodity. The tenant has had his rent reduced according to the price of the commodities, and if these people, who are called landlords—and if "landlord" means anyone whose great grandfather may have been a landlord, perhaps it is a good definition—are now paying an annual sum to a Government body, which exacts it to the day without mercy or scruple, which is in excess of the real value of the commodity on which it was originally based, it is the duty of honest men in this House to support this Bill if it will give those people relief. How has this matter arisen? If matters had gone on as the framers of these Acts at the beginning of Her Majesty's reign had intended, there would have been a variation, and that variation would have depended directly upon the price of the produce. The intention of the Legislature was that every seven years, according as prices went up or down, the tithe should be varied. How is it that that variation has not taken place? Simply because the proprietor or editor of the Dublin Gazette omitted to publish the 1402 statutory details which were required before a variation could take place.
§ MR. WILLIAM MOORE
It would have been only right and fair that every injustice occasioned by the suppression of those facts from the Dublin Gazette should have been included in this remedial measure before us. The hon. Member for East Mayo read from a memorandum that perpetual rents should be varied also, but they could only be varied by an award based on these returns which should have appeared in the Dublin Gazette. Therefore while this Bill, being a Tithes Bill, provides only for enabling the tithe payer on a new basis to vary his tithe, there is no provision whatever for these perpetual rent payers who pay to the same body, and whose rents should also vary with the price of corn, to have their rents revised. I say that if you are going to remedy this grievance of the tithe payers you ought also to remedy the grievance with regard to the rent, and confer upon the perpetual rent payers similar benefits to those contained in this Bill, but that is no reason why the grievance which is dealt with should not be redressed. It is proved that money was lent on certain terms at 4 per cent., and it is also proved that the instalments will repay capital and interest in forty-five years. If that is so, why should you spread the repayment over fifty-two years when the whole sum will have been paid in forty-five? That is not a matter of politics; it is a matter of common honesty. It is no argument against that that the people happen to be landlords. If I can find any Bill which will provide that where the Government, no matter how long ago, entered into a contract of this sort by which money was to be repaid, capital and interest, by instalments payable for a certain period, the Government will be prepared now, owing to the reduced price of money, to vary that contract, I shall be exceedingly glad. We ought really to welcome the principle of this Bill, instead of abusing it as being absolutely in opposition to all sound rules of finance. I think, on the whole, if this matter is considered impartially, it will be seen where the justice lies, and hon. Members will then be bound to support the Bill.
§ Mr. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)
considered that the Bill was one which, if the Irish Members allowed it to pass without the strongest protest, would mark a sad step in the decay of the members of the Irish party. The measure should be divided against, and every form of the House used to prevent the success of this attack upon the only fund which the Irish nation now had in reserve. If the right hon. Gentleman desired to do his friends a favour, why did he not go to that inflated fund known as the Local Taxation Account? According to the experts of their own Government, the British nation owed Ireland millions of pounds, and if the Chief Secretary desired to bolster up a class he should go to a fund of his own country, and then the Irish would say nothing about it. To come at this time of day, and ask the Irish Members to vote without protest another burden upon the people of Ire-land, was an outrage and a scandal. It seemed to be a favourite pastime to get the Irish people to fight one another, and when that could not be done to get them to rob one another, and now the landlords were to be allowed to rob the Irish Church Fund. This matter concerned the Irish people very seriously, and such a fraud would not be allowed to be perpetrated without decent publicity and protest. The Chief Secretary claimed that it was only an extension of a system already existing with regard to Irish tenants, but that statement was very wide of the mark. How were the Irish tenants treated by the landlords in days gone by? Was not every possible penny extorted from them? Were they not like drowning men who would clutch at any straw to save themselves from ruin? To place such men on a level with landlords with regard to tithe-rent charge was really asking the House to swallow a very large dose. The landlords had no claim on the people, and why should the tenants of Ireland be asked to contribute a grant of something like £1,500,000? The right hon. Gentleman had said there would be a loss to the Irish people with regard to one clause of £33,000 a year, and that that would go on increasing. That was a very serious matter, and the people did not intend to allow that money to be taken without receiving some corresponding benefit. The hon. Member was proceeding to argue that since the passing of the Local Government Act rates had 1404 been increased all over the country through the action of the Local Government Board, when—
§ *MR. SPEAKER
reminded the hon. Gentleman that the action of the Local Government Board was not under discussion.
§ MR. MURNAGHAN
said he was trying to point out that recent legislation had resulted in a very heavy charge on the ratepayers, and as the present Bill dealt financially with the country he thought it might have some bearing on that point. He would not, however, labour the point. The whole history of landlordism was one of the darkest pages in the history of Ireland. Thousands of people had been driven from her shores, and now the Chief Secretary wished to rehabilitate himself with this class at the expense of the Irish nation; but as long as they possibly could the Nationalist representatives would prevent him doing so. They admitted the lay impropriator had a grievance which ought to be remedied, but on to the real grievance were hitched provisions which would benefit a class that had no grievance whatever. He therefore strongly protested against this Bill, and hoped it would be rejected.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON (Armagh, N.)
We have had two speeches to-night, that of the hon. Member for East Mayo and that of the hon. Member for North Louth, in which apparently a common assault was made upon this Bill and the principle upon which it is founded. Both of those hon. Members agreed that ever since legislation had been passed in regard to tithe rent in Ireland unnumbered benefits and a vast amount of gold had been showered on the Irish landlords. But neither of those gentlemen attempted to prove their statements. I venture to make the assertion—and I should like any hon. Gentleman opposite who follows me to deal with it—that from the year 1823 down to the year 1872 the Irish landlords reaped no benefit whatever from legislation in regard to this matter. My assertion is based simply on the way in which I read the statutes and the effect they have had on the class to which I have the fortune or the misfortune to belong. The Bill of 1823 made the composition of tithe rent optional. Apparently that was not found to act well in 1405 Ireland, and so we had the Bill of 1832, which made it obligatory that the composition should be paid, and that the landlord should recover the tithe from the tenant, the landlord thereby undertaking what might be looked upon as a difficult operation. Hon. Members opposite are probably aware that in recent times the Land Commission has issued monthly Returns in regard to the rents in Ireland, and it has been shown by that body—who are not supposed to be extremely favourable to Irish landlords—["Oh, oh!"]—of course, that is a matter of opinion—it has been shown that in the majority of cases of Irish rents the rent has not been raised within living memory, and that no difference has been made owing to the fact that the tithe rent-charge had to be levied on the tenant. The Irish landlord in recent times has had quite enough difficulty to get his ordinary rent paid, and it would not be wise for him to alter his rental for the very small sums which these tithes usually represent. In the majority of cases, sooner than do that the landlord has paid the charge himself. Under the Bill of 1873 demesne lands were included in the payment for tithe, and it could hardly be said that that was a gain to the landlords. But the Bill of 1838 has been taken as a Bill under which great gain accrued to the landlords, 25 per cent. being taken off the composition. But the hon. Member for East Mayo forgot that the difference of 25 per cent. did not go to the landlord, because the Act only enabled him to add the rent charge, and not the composition, to the tenant's rent.
§ COLONEL SAUNDERSON
Mr. Disraeli was not the only Minister who knew nothing about Ireland. At any rate the hon. Member for East Mayo cannot deny that this 25 per cent. reduction absolutely did not go into the pockets of the landlords at all. The hon. Member for North Louth drew a picture of the Irish landlord which I only wish was true. According to him we are so full of money that if this Bill were passed we could go, of all places in the world, to Monte Carlo. I can only say that I do not think the difference it would cause to my income would enable me to go even to Dublin and back. It appears to me that these gentlemen 1406 have made one mistake. They attack this Bill mainly because it proposes to reduce the period of redemptions from fifty-two to forty-five years. That, to the right hon. Gentleman for West Monmouth, is a monstrous thing. What would be said if this House, supposing it had the power, proposed to make any subject of the Queen paya debt he did not owe? I can conjure up in my own mind the sort of speeches we should have in this House from the hon. Member for East Mayo, and the hon. and learned Member for North Louth, if it was proposed that an Irish tenant, after he had paid the instalments for his farm, was asked to go on paying those instalments for seven years more when he had already paid the debt. That is just what this Bill proposes to prevent. It proposes that the Irish land lords should not be asked to pay a debt which after forty-five years they do not owe at all. Is that a monstrous gift to the Irish landlords? The Chief Secretary for Ireland stated the case very plainly on the 13th April, 1896,* when he said—There is no doubt whatever that the landlords have been very harshly dealt with in this matter. When the landlords redeem the tithe rent-charge, what is supposed to be redeemed is the net tithe rent-charge, exclusive of the poor rate. As a matter of fact, the annuity which they now have to pay—namely, £4 9s. for fifty-two years—would, on the supposition that the interest is calculated at the rate of £3 10s. per cent., pay off not the net but the gross tithe rent-charge.This Bill simply does what any honest man and honourable House of Commons would do—that is, it provides that the Irish landlords should not be asked to pay a debt they have already settled. It is absurd to say that that is a gift of seven years instalments to the landlords; it is simply an act of common honesty on the part of the House of Commons. I do not look upon it as a favour or a dole, but as something which the landlords have a right to demand. I do not know whether any hon. Members opposite will deal with this point, but I do not see how they can prove that even the landlords, whom they detest so much, and whom they would like to expatriate and grind under foot should be the only men in the world to be asked to pay a debt which they do not owe. Then comes the question of the system upon which you are* See The parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. xxxix., p. 814.1407 to estimate the tithe rent-charge. As to the system on which tithe rent-charge was estimated, it is well known that before 1872 it was estimated on the price of wheat and oats. The Bill of 1872 swept that revision away. Undoubtedly that was an act of great injustice, for it took away from the landowning class that revision which all the tenants of Ireland possess. The revision on the price of wheat and oats had been swept away, but the Government have substituted for that revision the revision which takes place in rent, and the hon. and learned Member for North Louth calls that a monstrosity. The hon. Member stands up for high political principles, and he views with great suspicion anything that will throw the slightest shade or shadow of doubt upon those principles of statesmanship which have guided the country to which he does not wish to belong. You have now swept away those two articles wheat and oats, which I believe are used in this country; you have swept them away as a method of revision, and you have substituted by this Act an easy and a fair method of revising the tithe rent-charge. I would remind the House that the Irish landlords, whatever their faults may be—and I hope they are not guilty of all the things ascribed to them by hon. Gentlemen opposite—have been treated by this country in a way in which no other landlords in the world have been treated by a legislature. [Cries of "No, no."] I defy any hon. Member to point to any civilised country in the world where, by the arbitrary act of the legislature, a quarter of the landlords' income has been swept away. This House of Commons having decided that it was necessary for State purposes that the Irish landlords should be thus treated, I say that we have a right to ask in this House that they shall be treated fairly even in this small question of the tithe rent-charge. It is only a very small question, although hon. Gentlemen opposite appear very timid as to the effect this legislation will have upon the Church Fund. Surely anybody who reads the figures will see that there is no danger in the direction indicated. That fund amounts to £597,000, which will be diminished in the year 1901 to £250,000, so that there is no real ground for the fear entertained. I look upon this Bill as one which will give a 1408 certain amount of fair play to the Irish landlords, who have been treated by you as no other class in any other country has ever been treated. The landlords of Ireland have been dealt with as a sort of political commodity, and they have been badgered about to suit the political exigencies of the moment. By a sweeping Act of Parliament they have been deprived of a quarter of their income. This has been done by the State for State reasons, but I do not desire to go back on that legislation. That fact stands staring us in the face, and the Irish land-lord has never received a shilling for undergoing this painful operation. This Bill is intended to a very microscopic extent to extend a certain measure of justice to Irish landlords, and I hope the House of Commons will not be led astray by the interesting and amusing speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, or by the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouth. This Bill aims at doing justice to the land lords, and it is founded upon justice and fair play. I hope, therefore, that it will be read a second time by the British House of Commons.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
The hon. and gallant Member who has just sat down has described this Bill as an act of common honesty. My comment upon that is that it is very easy to be honest at the expense of other people. We have not observed that fine sense of honesty which the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite congratulates the Government, upon in their dealings with the much more ample resources at the disposal of the British Treasury. The hon. Member for North Antrim alluded to the loans issued in Ireland, and I think when the Chief Secretary heard him make that allusion he must have thought it singularly unfortunate. What are the facts about these loan borrowers? A year ago deputations from all parts of Ireland representing the clergy of all denominations, including Catholic priests, Presbyterians, and members of the Church in Ireland, brought before the Chief Secretary the case of the tithe-owners, so far as it relates to the revenues and the charges with which the Chief Secretary was then dealing, not in connection with an Irish Parliament, but with the British Treasury; but on that occasion the right hon. Gentleman found himself unable to administer that honesty 1409 upon which the hon. and gallant Gentleman has congratulated him to-night. That is exactly a parallel case. It is said in the case of these tithe rents that they were originally calculated on a basis which was unjust to the Irish tithe-payer. All I know is that the Act of Parliament prescribed the terms on which these tithe payers could redeem those tithes if they liked, and it was not compulsory upon them to come in and redeem. No tithe-payer in Ireland has taken advantage of the supposed benefits which the Church Act conferred upon them. It was a purely voluntary process created, as it was supposed, specially for the benefit of the Irish tithe-owner. They came in not upon any declaration made in the House of Commons with regard to the rate of interest, but to redeem their tithes on a basis fixed by Act of Parliament, which it was open to them either to accept or reject. It is under these circumstances that we are told to-night that because those terms were unfair and dishonest to the Irish landlords Parliament is now bound to perform an act of restitution. The loan borrowers made out an exactly similar case, and they pointed out that the rate of interest was unfair; but the interest was not reduced, although the rate which was fixed enabled the Treasury to make a large profit. The reply of the Treasury was that Parliament had fixed the rate of interest for the loans, and they would have to pay every penny. It is notorious that a very large number of local bodies who have borrowed money from the Treasury at the fixed rate of interest have applied to pay off the principal and interest of the loan because the interest was too high, and because they could borrow money much more cheaply. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer replies, "No, you contracted to pay this loan off in a particular manner, you contracted to pay it off by instalments payable over a certain number of years, and we should make a loss if we allowed you to redeem the loan at par." And consequently the Chancellor of the Exchequer bound these Irish local bodies strictly to the terms upon which they have borrowed. Where is the distinction between these borrowers and the case of the Irish landlords? The Irish local bodies have not a penny interest in the transaction, for they are simply public representatives defending public interests, such as boards of guardians and town commissioners. 1410 This is the measure of justice which is, meted out to this class of borrowers, while special terms are made for the Irish landlords. What is the distinction between the two cases? There is only one distinction—in the case of the Irish landlords you are dealing with an Irish fund, but in the case of the borrowers you are dealing with the funds of the British Treasury, and therefore they will exact the last farthing. I want to ask the Chief Secretary a question about another case which has arisen. He has told us that these tithe annuities will not expire till 1917. I draw his attention to the fact that some expire five years hence, and my knowledge of the fact is derived from the circumstance that I had some professional concern with a case which is at present before the Irish Courts, in which a gentleman who had sold his land was ordered by Judge Ross to pay. The position of that case is that if the proceedings had commenced two months ago or lasted a couple of months longer that gentleman would have been, forgiven every penny of this loan. Will the right hon. Gentleman make restitution in that case? Will he hand it back?
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon, I misunderstood his question. It was in the Landed Estates Court—but it was a case of ordinary land sale, and the gentleman has been ordered to redeem the land-charge. He has been ordered to pay this live years rent-charge, which it is simply extortion to take. The right hon. Gentleman is involving himself in no little difficulty by this piece of legislation. The Bill deals with two different subjects—it deals, with the lay tithe and the Ecclesiastical tithe, and as regards both its parts the Bill works the gravest injustice, in the one case to the tithe-owner and in the other to the tithe-payer. It does not go far enough in the case of the lay tithe and it goes too far in the case of the Ecclesiastical tithe. The right hon. Gentleman does not see the extraordinary consequences to which it leads. What are the facts as to the lay tithe? Hitherto it has been adjustable every five or ten 1411 years on the basis of the price, in some cases of wheat and in the other of oats which are grown in the district. It has happened in the case of wheat that wheat growing has largely disappeared in Ireland, and the right hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a sufficient justification for abolishing the price of wheat as a basis in all transactions. But what is his justification for a tithe fixed upon a basis of the price of oats? Does he know what the facts are in the county of Monaghan, where oats as a crop are largely grown? In that county, as in every other part of Ireland where oats are grown, the tithe-owners find themselves in this position, that if the right hon. Gentleman had left the law as it was, they would not have found their tithes reduced more than 15 per cent.; under this Bill they are reduced 20, 30, or 35 per cent. How can the right hon. Gentleman defend that? I am amazed that hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent Irish constituencies should listen to a proposition of that kind in this House. I am an owner of tithes of twenty generations; I hold them with a right to have them adjusted upon a certain basis; that basis will reduce my tithe 15 per cent., and the right hon. Gentleman brings in a Bill by which my property will suddenly be reduced, not by 15 per cent., but by a percentage varying from 20 to 35 per cent. How can hon. Gentlemen having an interest in property in Ireland, either land or tithes, defend such a proposition? Because the result upon the whole will be to give them a certain amount of money out of the public purse. That is why they come and justify this proposal. If that had not been the result they would have been the first to denounce it as spoliation and confiscation. There has been a wrong and an injustice done as regards both the tithe owners and the tithe payers. The fault has been committed by a public official. We do not know whose the fault was. Reference has been made to the editor of the Dublin Gazette, but I have been told that it was the fault of the Irish Land Commission.
§ MR. MAURICE HEALY
But whose-ever it was, owing to the blunder of some official, a wrong has been done to the owners of the lay tithe. Why not redress 1412 that wrong in a plain and obvious way by remedying the blunder? But no, the right hon. Gentleman, instead of remedying the blunder, makes an assault in the one case on the tithe-owners and in the other case upon the tithe-payer. I have shown that in the case of oats it is an assault on the tithe-owner, and in the case of wheat it is an assault upon the tithe-payer. I ask again what is the right hon. Gentleman's justification for making the landlord, who happens to be the tithe-payer, pay tithes at the rate of 15 per cent., when, if he had the law, his tithes would be reduced 50 per cent? Erskine once said that he had held many briefs, and though he sometimes had won cases which he ought to have lost, and sometimes lost cases which he ought to have won, on the average justice was done. That is the practice of the right hon. Gentleman in this case; so far as the lay tithe-payer is concerned this Bill is indefensible and un- just. What should have been done should have been to remedy the wrong which has been committed, and if the right hon. Gentleman was desirous of changing his procedure and wished to do that, we should be glad to assist him, even if his proposals went to the extent of entire revision; but to wholly revolutionise the procedure and the law, utterly disregarding the appeals of all parties in this manner, appears to me to be wholly undesirable. Another question is, what is the right hon. Gentleman going to do with the tithes lessees? In many cases these tithes are lot out, and the man who collects the tithes is a lessee paying a rent. The right hon. Gentleman proposes that the tithes of these gentlemen shall be cut down, sometimes more and sometimes less, but he proposes to make no alteration which they have to pay. But why, if the amount of the tithe for which he pays varies, should not the amount which he pays for the tithe vary also? That is another difference which the right hon. Gentleman has got himself into by this revolutionary procedure. Let me point out the last result of the extra-ordinary method adopted by the right hon. Gentleman. Take the case of the middleman, who pays a rent, and whose interest will cease in fifty or sixty years. His rents are cut down and he pays no tithes, his landlord pays the tithes and his rents are not cut down, and the right hon. Gentleman proposes that the landlord whose rents are 1413 not affected must have his tithes reduced because another man's rent has been cut down. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have considered the full scope of this Bill, and I think he will find when it emerges from the Committee stage he has involved himself in most extraordinary difficulties. I compliment him on the way in which he has mastered this subject, and the admirably clear and lucid statement in which he dealt with it, but I am sorry that the great intellect which he brought to bear upon the subject has not been more profitably engaged. Coming to the case of the ecclesiastical tithes, I ask what is the justification for the variation of ecclesiastical tithes. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh said that when the Bill of 1872 was passed nobody knew what had been done, and the suggestion was made that the tithe owners of Ireland were so negligent of their interests and so careless of their rights that they did not know what Mr. Gladstone was doing when he introduced that Act; but those gentlemen assented to that legislation because they thought that they were making a good bargain for themselves. 1872 was the prosperous year for Irish landlords; prices were rising, and rose to 1876, and the general idea at that time was that we should never see the end of Irish prosperity. The tithe-payers considered that under those circumstances, with increasing prices there would be an increase in the tithes. This right of adjustment was not an unused right, and accordingly there was a bargain by which each party thought he had got his way. Mr. Gladstone made his tithes proposal because large sums were being borrowed from the fund, and he wanted to make it secure. The classes which paid the tithes were all represented in this House at the time, and we on these benches cannot conceive that they would have let this Bill pass through this House almost sub silentio unless they thought they had a good bargain for themselves. From the time the Tithes Adjustment Act was passed right down to 1870 there were only sixty cases of adjustment all through Ireland, and when that right of adjustment was proposed to be taken away the Irish landlord thought it would not be used, and had not been used in the past, and that if it were used it would be used to his detriment, and he gave it up. It has turned out to be a bad bargain, but I have yet to learn that when a 1414 man has made a bad bargain he has a right to come to this House and ask it to get him out of it. I have witnessed in this House several English Tithes Bills passed. I understand in some towns in England this tithe tax is a most pressing burden, but my recollection of all those Bills passed for England is that they were Bills not to cut down the tithes and give the tithe-payer an easier term, but to facilitate the collection of tithes; but in Ireland, forsooth, when the tithe-owner raises a cry you immediately come to his rescue, and we hear again from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Armagh the old story of reduction and relief. Does anybody believe that these reductions are due to the Irish Land Courts? Were there no reductions of rent in England? I have always understood that the reduction of rents in England, where there are no Land Courts, was quite as great, if not greater, than was the case in Ireland. The landlords of Ireland only did under compulsion of the law what the English landowners did of their own free will. No doubt the Land Courts brought it about earlier than would have been the case. The Irish tenant would have had to wait and agitate for what the English landowner did on his own initiative as a measure of justice; but the rents would have fallen anyhow, and it is false to say that the Land Courts reduced them, and that therefore the State should now step in to lower the tithes by similar means. The burden of tithes is an obstacle in the process of land purchase, and I believe if in this Bill the right hon. Gentleman had made the purchase of land more easy he would have met with very little opposition. Instead of giving the Irish landlord who sells his property upon equitable terms a sort of bonus by dealing equitably with the question of tithes, and saying we are willing to part with this fund to ease the wheels of land purchase, he has brought in this Bill and sacrificed the whole of the fund to the Irish landlord. He says it will not make the fund insolvent, and that he has not taken a penny too much of it. His case now is that the fund is just sufficient for the purposes of this Bill, but that means that there is a substantial sum in hand for the Irish people, and that money the right hon. Gentleman is throwing away for no useful purpose. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not used his great ability to put progress into this Bill, and that he has not 1415 dealt with this question of tithes in a statesmanlike manner. I protest against this measure.
§ *MR. LECKY (Dublin University)
confessed that he was rather inclined to agree with his right hon. and gallant friend the Member for North Armagh that this measure was not a very big one. Before 1838 tithes were paid by the occupier, and if the tithe rent-charge had continued to be paid by the occupier to the present day there would have been a very different disposition on the part of hon. Gentlemen opposite. However, Irish landlords at that time consented to take over the tithe for a great public purpose, for the support of their Church, and for the pacification of the country, and it was universally said at that time that this was a mere transfer of collection, and that they would be able to recoup themselves out of the rent. I do not believe they generally did so. Many believed it was equitable that the Protestant landlord should pay for his own Church. In many cases the readjustment of innumerable small rents would have been very difficult. Sub-letting after 1838 was very common, which proved that competitive rents were not exacted by the owners of the soil, and it appeared in evidence before the Land Commission that, in hundreds or thousands of cases, Irish rents had been entirely unchanged since the period of the Tithe Commutation in 1838. What had happened since then? The Church was disestablished and disendowed, but the tithe was still to be revalued every seven years, according to the Tithe Commutation Act. That right of varying according to the price of corn, which was recognised by the Act of 1869, was taken away in 1872, principally, I believe, in order to give greater security to a loan of nine millions made by the Treasury on the security of the Church estates. At the time the change was made the price of wheat was about 45 per cent. and oats 22 per cent. higher than it was now, yet the Irish tithe rent-charger has still to pay according to the old price. The value of land was also then much higher than now. Then came the land legislation, which took away all power over his rental from the landlord. The hon. Member opposite said that there would have been a fall in rents if the agitation had never taken place. He admitted that the fall was partly due to economic considera- 1416 tions, but it was also due to political agitation. How far it was from corresponding with the market price of land was shown by the fact that in proportion as rent had fallen, tenant right had risen. All contracts were broken; the landlord, had no longer any power over the rental of his estate, and the leases which would have enabled him, when they fell in after a certain time, to make new arrangements were mere waste paper. If anyone were to take the trouble to read the Report and the evidences of the Fry Commission he would see how arbitrary and how capricious in a large number of cases this land legislation had proved. At any rate the landlord could not make his own arrangement about rent, although the tithe was essentially a charge on rent. Then there was the fall in prices of agricultural produce. Let the House bear in mind that the Irish landlord was the only tithe-payer who paid invariable tithes, as he was the only landlord who had no control over his rental. The tithe payers in England had their tithes-varied according to the corn measure, and accordingly they paid between 30 and 40 per cent. less than they did in 1872. Again, the redemption of the tithes was fixed by the Act of 1869 at 22½ years purchase, while the market value was little, if at all, above 17 years purchase. The object of the Bill was simply to rectify all this and to make the tithe rent-charge variable, not, indeed, according to the corn estimates, but according to the average of the judicial rents in the county. There was another class of ecclesiastical tithe-owners in Ireland—those who had commuted their tithes for a fixed payment extending over fifty-two years. This period was reduced from fifty-two to forty-five years. This, as the Chief Secretary had shown, was a mere rectification of "a manifest injustice," and in the case of land purchased under the Land Act of 1896, it had already been carried into effect. The fifty-two period bought not the net but the gross tithe rent-charge, and it was a mere matter of arithmetic that payments extending over forty-five years fully paid the landlord's debt. This portion of the Bill was a boon, but it gave no present relief to the commuted tithe rent-charger. It would have been much more popular if the Government had kept up the longer period of payment and reduced the amount of instalment. It 1417 would also have been fair if it had been arranged that all tithes must be redeemed at twenty years purchase, and that the Government might lend money to the landlords to redeem the tithes at the same rate as they had to tenants to purchase their holdings. Such a measure would have been a real boon to the greatly injured class. It would probably have tended to accelerate the sale of land to tenants, which was a great object of policy, and he did not think that any human being would have been one penny the worse. The lay tithes were never turned into invariable tithes, but continued, like the Ecclesiastical tithes before the Act of 1872, to vary even seven years according to the price of corn. The lay tithe-payers had a statutory right to this variation, and considering the great fall in the value of corn it was a very valuable right. By a pure blunder, due entirely to the Government and in no degree the fault of the tithe-payer, that right had been taken away. The variation was based on the price of corn given in the Dublin Gazette. Since 1879, Parliament had repealed a number of Acts which it was believed were quite obsolete, and among others, one obliging the Dublin Gazette to publish averages. Since 1887 the Dublin Gazette had published none, and the Courts had decided that no reduction could be given to lay tithe-owners, as, although they had a clear statutory right to it, the machinery for such reduction had been taken away; and they were therefore held responsible for the old rate of tithe. Many were paying 60 per cent. more than the Act of 1838 intended they should pay. He could not understand why the Government had not brought into the Bill the Church Perpetuity Rents. These wore based upon fee farm grants made by the Government to Church tenants in 1872. To get these grants the tenants had to pay heavy fines and submit to an increase of rent. The covenants of their leases reserved a certain rent to the Government based on the price of corn, and with a right to revision every seven years according to the price. By the same blunder that deprived the lay tithe rent-chargers of the right of revision, that of the perpetual rent payers had been taken away. He accepted the Bill with gratitude as an act of justice and a fulfilment of an old pledge. No loss than twelve years ago, when the present Lord Lieutenant was in another office, he acknow- 1418 ledged the reality of the grievance. The subject had been brought forward again and again in the Queen's Speech, and he thought it was quite time that the grievance should be redressed.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
This Bill has been attributed by hon. Members opposite to various causes, among them being the abuse which has been so freely poured upon my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary—[Mr. SWIFT MACNEILL: By the Daily Express.] Yes, the abuse of that peculiarly envenomed organ, and of others. It has also been suggested that the Bill was brought in to conciliate the political sup port of the Irish landlords, but I can assure the House that no such motive has at all actuated my right hon. friend. This Bill, which is merely a repetition of the Bill introduced last year, is a kind of accompaniment to the Agricultural Bill, and was introduced because it was conceived to be a just one. It is a part of the policy of my right hon. friend to do justice to all creeds and classes and parties in Ireland; although experience has proved that such a policy is no more likely to escape abuse from those whom it is designed to serve than to excite the gratitude of those whom it does serve. The hon. Member for East Mayo said that he objects to the Bill for four reasons. He said it was a dole to the Irish landlords. Further, he was almost painfully sensitive of any attack upon property. He next referred to the agrarian legislation of the Grattan Parliament; and finally he objected to the Bill on account of its financial results.
§ MR. DILLON
My objection is that we cannot ascertain from the Government what the financial results will be.
§ MR. ATKINSON
Well, the uncertainty of the financial results. The Government differ from each and every one of these contentions; and I propose to deal with them in their order. The hon. Member said that the Bill is a dole and a bribe to the Irish landlords, who had no grievance at all. We submit that they have a grievance, and, unlike hon. Members opposite, we think that that grievance should be redressed, although they are landlords. I am quite aware that some of our Irish friends are accustomed to speak on this matter as if the idea of doing justice to 1419 a landlord is as absurd as doing justice to Beelzebub. We think that the landlords have a grievance, and that it ought to be redressed; and we will not be deterred from that by the parrot-like repetition of the phrase "doles to the Irish landlords." They have a grievance, first as regards the composition that they pay for tithes. If anyone had come into the House when hon. Gentlemen opposite were speaking who was unacquainted with the question of tithes, he might have supposed that there was some inherent difference between ecclesiastical and lay tithes, and that whereas lay tithes were always subject to revision, ecclesiastical tithes never were, indeed, the hon. Member for Cork was eloquent on the iniquity of taking away from the tithe-owner the sacred rights of revision conceded by the Act of 1838. What does the hon. Member say to the Act of 1872, which took away all the rights of revision? And in order to justify that iniquity he invents a bargain. There was no bargain, not a trace of it, in Mr. Gladstone's Bill. Now, what was the position of the landlords after the Church Act was passed? I do not go back on the composition of the tithe rent-charge at 75 per cent. of the rent. I do not know whether that was a benefit or not. The witnesses on that point before the Devon Commission were almost equally divided. The Church Act of 1869 and the Act of 1872, making tithes, for the first time in the history of the world, not subject to revision, had nothing to say to each other. After the Church Act of 1869 was passed the person who paid tithe and he to whom it was paid were entitled to have the tithe rent-charge revised at a stated period on the basis laid down in the Act of 1838; but it was obviously Mr. Gladstone's desire that the tithe rent-charge should be redeemed, and he offered certain terms on which to redeem them. Here are his words—If there be here any hon. Gentleman possessed of land in Ireland—and there are many—they will not be very grateful to me for what I am going to state. It is that, we shall give to them unconditionally the tithe rent-charge at twenty-two and a half years purchase. That is, of course, twenty-two and a half years purchase, not of the old gross £100, but of the £75 a year. We make that otter because we think there may be landlords in Ireland who will be disposed at once to wind up the arrangement with us. But if gentlemen will listen to me they will see that we have another alternative for those who may not be disposed 1420 to purchase the tithe rent-charge out-and out in money down at twenty-two and a half years purchase. It is this: We make to them. a compulsory sale. I have not the least idea that anyone will object to that. We convey the-tithe rent-charge to them under the following, conditions:—We charge them in our books with £2,250 for every net £100 a year of tithe rent-charge. That is to say, we sell them a tithe rent-charge at a rate to yield them 4½ per cent. We then credit them on the other side with a loan of equal amount. We provide that we should pay off that loan by an annual instalment, with interest. 15ut the rate of interest to be charged on the instalment is 35 per cent. The consequence of that is that a fund of 1 per cent. will remain as a sinking fund to absorb the principal. The purchaser of the tithe rent-charge in that form—except that he will get rid of the fluctuation, for we must give him a fixed amount—will not be called upon to make any addition whatever to his annual payment. He will be liable to that annual payment for a term of forty-live years, and at the close of that term he will, under this arrangement, have the rent-charge, whatever it may be, for the residue of the time for nothing. That will be the financial effect of the arrangement, which I think will not be bad for the Irish landlord. I perceive by the buzz around me that this portion of the subject, at any rate, is not without some interest to a great many hon. Members.And Mr. Gladstone went on to say that—While in this manner we shall give twenty-two and a half years purchase and the tithe rent-charge of Ireland, the average rate at which that charge sells in the market is very little, if at all, more than sixteen or seventeen years purchase. On the other hand, it is not a bad arrangement for the public, because it may be safely taken as a general rule that the public, in arrangements reaching over a long period of time, are perfectly safe in undertaking to lend at 3½ per cent.*Now, on turning to the clause in the Bill as introduced, I find that it provides for the payment of £4 10s. per cent. for only forty five years—carrying out to the letter Mr. Gladstone's undertaking. But by some extraordinary change the clause in the Act leads, not forty-five years, but fifty-two years, the £4 10s. being reduced by a shilling only. It is arithmetically clear that at £3 10s. and £1 to the sinking fund the whole would be wiped off in forty-five years; but upon what principle was the landlord to be obliged to pay for every £100 he borrowed £4 9s. for seven years more than that For every £100 he was obliged to pay £30 more than he had borrowed or bargained for. Is not that a grievance? Is it not just and right and equitable to* See The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vol. cxciv., p. 45.1421 relieve him from that payment? We ask these figures to be tested, and let the speech of Mr. Gladstone be compared with the Act, and the mistake will be seen. I do not believe that it was done intentionally. It was evidently a mistake.
§ MR. ATKINSON
The truth of the matter is that the Irish landlords have many good qualities, and a good many vices; but I cannot believe that they desire to pay an annuity for seven years more than they need. It is impossible that the landlords should ever have assented to that. It is impossible that, having the matter put to them, they would have agreed to pay during the extra term for the debt which would be extinguished in forty-five years. On this point I submit that the landlords have a grievance which it is only just and right should be redressed. We are not going at all to disturb the terms, but we are anxious to correct a mistake which was a mutual mistake, and which would be almost redressed in a court of equity.
§ MR. ATKINSON
There can be no justification, because of an obvious miscalculation, in requiring the landlords to pay more than they are entitled to pay. What is the next grievance? The hon. Member for East Mayo dwelt upon the great boon confered on the landlords by allowing them to redeem at twenty-two and a half years purchase. That is a matter on which I know difference of opinion exists, and I will not attempt to decide which view is right, but I will quote an authority which I know the hon. Member will respect, who has laid it down that the landlords were considerably mulcted by the operation of that provision. Mr. Murrough O'Brien, in his evidence before the Financial Relations Commission, said:Before the Church Act the tithe rent-charge was not saleable in the market for more then seventeen years purchase. Since the time of the Church Act very few have been sold in the market, and the price fixed by the Church Act was twenty-two and a half 1422 years on the rent-charge, and twenty-five years on the perpetuity rents.Then he was asked, "What, in your opinion, was the excess value adopted?" and he answered that the excess value was about two and three-quarters or three millions. If Mr. Murrough O'Brien is an authority when he lays down anything against the landlords, I presume he is an equal authority when he lays down anything in their favour; and unless the selling of this rent-charge at three millions too much can be considered an advantage, the landlords did not get any advantage under that scheme. What is the next point? We say the landlords have a grievance, because the right of revision, which the hon. Member for Cork, regards as a sacred and valuable right, was taken away from them. It is said that that was done because prices were going up so fast. The hon. Member for East Donegal dissents.
§ MR. ATKINSON
Oh, I meant the hon. Member for South Donegal. In 1867 wheat was £1 15s. 8d. per twenty stone, and oats was 16s. 3d. per barrel. In 1869 wheat had fallen 6s. and oats Is.'3d., and from 1869 to 1872 there was a rise of 2s. 3d. on wheat and 2d. on oats. This is supposed to be the inducement which made the landlords not oppose the Bill of 1872.
§ MR. ATKINSON
I do not know. It is not for me to say why they did not oppose it, but rather for the hon. Member to prove that there was a bargain between the Government and the landlords.
§ MR. DILLON
My proof consists in this, that when a large body of landlords in this House and in the House of Lords accepted the Bill without one word of objection, I take it that there must have been a bargain.
§ MR. ATKINSON
That would not have occurred to me. There is no foundation for saying that there was any rise in prices. Since 1867 there had been a 1423 steady fall, and between 1860 and 1872, when the Act was passed, prices were practically stationary, so that the landlord got no advantage. On the contrary, he lost this valuable right of revision. We therefore propose to restore that right. It is said by hon. Gentlemen opposite that we propose to restore it because rents have gone down. We have restored it for no such reason. We have restored it because the right of revision is inherent in the character and quality of tithe.
§ MR. DILLON
The reason why we stated that the tithe was to be lowered because the rent had been lowered was because the Chief Secretary gave that as a reason when he introduced the Bill.
§ MR. ATKINSON
The right hon. Gentleman gave this reason, in selecting the variation of rent as the basis of the new system of revision he stated that as tithe was paid with rent, therefore, when rent was reduced tithe ought to be reduced also. We submit it is just and fair that the right of revision should be restored to the landlords. What system shall be given? Shall we restore the old system or establish a new system? What was the old system? It was the most costly, cumbersome, expensive, illogical and ridiculous system that could be invented, because tithes are payable not from, wheat and oats alone, but from all agricultural products generally. The selection of wheat and oats as the basis of the tithe rent was merely an accident, and the accident was that there was no record of prices for any other species of agricultural produce. Under Acts passed in the reign of George III. there was an elaborate system of ascertaining the price of wheat and oats in Dublin and the country, and that system being in existence was borrowed as a basis for tithe rent, but it really had no inherent relation to the capacity or productiveness of the soil. With regard to nine-tenths of Ireland it would be just as reasonable to revise tithes on the price of diamonds as on the price of wheat.
§ MR. ATKINSON
Therefore, when we had to revise tithe we said it was more rational and more reasonable to adopt a new system. The hon. Member for East 1424 Mayo said that it is not only fallacious, but almost wicked to say that tithes are charged on the rent. Tithes are not charged on the rent, but they are paid out of the rent, and are a charge on the products of the land. The best proof of that is that an owner of tithes can get a receiver appointed who will take the rent until the tithes are satisfied. The hon. Member for East Mayo said that he was opposed to us taking a public fund and applying it for the benefit of a particular class, but in that argument he spoke as if this were not a charge variable by its very nature. I pass now to the financial result. My right hon. friend has explained that first of all this fund is solvent and that it can meet all the charges upon it, including the £70,000 a year secured to the Agricultural Department under the Act of 1899, and that in 1917 there will be a loss on one side and a gain on the other. The loss will be this: the annuities at present amount to £160,000 a year, and they will be cut short by seven years. That will amount to over a million. On the other side of the account there may be a possibility in 1945 of three millions, because we prohibit the landlords from further redeeming. Beyond that it is impossible to go. There are so many problematical matters to be dealt with that it is impossible to arrive at definite figures, but as far as calculation and examination can go that will be the financial result. In addition to that there will be an immediate gain of £6,000 a year paid on the poor rate. Setting off these charges one against the other, as far as can be ascertained there will be no danger of this fund not being able to moot all the charges upon it, including the charge of £70,000 to the Agricultural Department, until 1945. It may be said that that is an uncertain calculation. I admit to a certain extent it is, but is the probability so strong as would prevent you doing an act of justice for the next forty-five years, and postponing redress because probably at the end of that period there may be a deficit? There will be no deficit as far as can be ascertained, and there is no reason whatever in withholding from these tithe-owners the redress to which they are entitled. Reference has been made to middlemen, and it is said that the landlords will get the tithes reduced and the middlemen will not. But the real object of this Bill is to give a system 1425 of revision, of which the tithe-owners were unjustly deprived in 1872. Everyone knows that the old system was cumbersome, expensive, uncertain in its results, and very often unsuccessful, because unless the applicant proved that the tithe rent-charge ought to be varied by 10 per cent. he got no redress, and was cast in costs. The automatic system we now propose is much fairer to the whole body of tithe-payers, and much more satisfactory generally.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW (Hawick Burghs)
The House has just listened to a most ingenious defence of a Bill the main principle of which I submit is essentially unsound. The right hon. Gentleman has manifestly been rather hard hit by the suggestion that has been made not once but very frequently in the course of this debate, that this is another instance of the legislation with which we are familiar as proceeding from a Unionist Government, under which moneys belong sing to the public and dedicated to public uses have been transferred from the public and from public uses to the benefit of a private class of individuals. The right hon. Gentleman denied that this was a dole, and he argued that it was a grievance that had failed to be redressed in consequence of a miscalculation which occurred in 1869. But the Bill of 1869 as originally framed was a Bill which provided for the redemption of tithe rent in a period of forty-five years, whereas as it ultimately became an Act of Parliament that period was extended to fifty-two years. Does the right hon. Gentleman really suggest that the Parliament of this country has been under a mistake of seven years in an Act of Parliament—that seven years having grown from forty-five to fifty-two, owing to something in the nature of a clerical error? Does he suggest for one moment that this Parliament in a large financial transaction of this kind, and receiving assistance from the highest actuary in the State, would have acquiesced in a blunder of that kind? For years the landlords of Ireland have been bringing forward this very suggestion of a miscalculation. In the Treasury Minute issued in 1895 it is stated that Lord Belmore asked in the House of Lords in June, 1894, whether the alteration made while the Irish Church Act of 1899 was in Committee was a result of a miscalculation, and he was 1426 informed, in reply, that there was no miscalculation. It was no miscalculation but deliberate action, and it is out of the question that the House should now be asked to revise a Parliamentary transaction which in the full knowledge of the Treasury at the time proceeded upon a correct calculation of the actuarial value of the transaction. I would ask, further, whether it is conceivable that a Unionist Government, which has been eleven years in office during the last fourteen years, should have allowed to continue a state of affairs in which injustice so gross was being perpetrated on any class of ratepayers, much less tithe rent-payers?
§ MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The injustice practically does not come into active operation until these annuities mature; but in the Land Act of 1896 it was provided that where annuities were redeemed they should be redeemed on the supposition that the charge must be paid off in forty-five years, not in fifty-two years.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
I entirely assent to that remark, but I observe with regard to it that it is no explanation at all. We have it on the authority of the Chief Secretary that he looks forward to 1917 as the year when these annuities will fall in. Again there was a statutory bargain in 1809, which was repeated in 1872. Was the miscalculation also made in the latter year? I wish to emphasise the point I make that Parliament proceeded with its eyes open in 1869 and in l872. The third point was that this is not a compulsory scheme of redemption. No landlord has been compelled to redeem under these terms, but the landlords accepted these conditions and declared that it was a bargain. I am not misusing the word "bargain." In the face of the terms I say it was a bargain. It was a bargain not only for the landlord and tithe rent owner, but a bargain in another interest altogether, and that is the Irish people, for whom the Land Commissioners, as the administrators of the Irish Church Fund, are trustees. That fund is now to be depleted by this rearrangement. I am not misrepresenting the position in the slightest degree. If I have shown that there was no grievance because there was no miscalculation, it follows necessarily that the 1427 attempt to create a grievance is a circuitous way of proceeding to justify the proposal now before the House. The next point stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland was that there was nothing bad in the introduction of the new principle of variability in reference to rent charges, because he says there is no principle in this at all. In one sense I agree with him, but I think you must have something to go upon if you are to introduce the precedent of variability. The principle of variability prior to the legislation of 1869 and 1872 was that there might be a reference back to the price of commodities by the consent of all parties, but that principle was found to be so circuitous in its operation, or difficult to appeal to, that in only a small percentage of cases—I think only one case per annum—during the whole period of this invariability was it ever appealed to at all. It is said that the principle is not bad, because something has to be restored. I have already dealt with that. I think nothing has to be restored, but if something has to be restored it should be in proportion to the reduction of the rent. In Ireland the tithe rent-charge is practically a fixed rent-charge. The rent-charge is now to be varied. I venture to say the principle now introduced is one of the most dangerous principles applicable to the charges and mortgages resting upon the real estate of this country that can possibly be conceived. The fallacy rests upon this. The Attorney General for Ireland states that tithe rent is a charge upon rent. That statement is an entire delusion in the sense in which it is used. When the rent on any property is reduced, the mortgagor on that property may look out for what was hitherto supposed to be an unimpeachable security, because his interest will be proportionally treated. I say this is a most dangerous attack upon the principles of sound finance applicable to real estate in this country. Another
§ portion of the argument just delivered was to the effect that it could not be understood that this legislation was for the benefit of a class. Well, it is difficult indeed to answer a suggestion of that kind. For whose benefit is it? That is what I want to know. "Whose pockets is it to go into?" said one hon. Member, and there was no answer given. It necessarily goes into the pockets of the landlord interest. It is to benefit a class out of public money which ought to be devoted to public interests, and to public interests alone. It has been the habit of this House in dealing with large financial transactions of this kind that we should have the most accurate and detailed information as to the financial results of the operation upon which we are being asked to embark. What is the situation as actually described in the speech to which we have just listened? In a sense, my right hon. friend says, we are in the region of conjecture. We are now, in 1900, to be asked to legislate in the region of financial conjecture, one of the data of the problem being the year 1945, with a possible gain, forty-five years after the Act of Parliament, of three millions of money. That is not sound and proper treatment of the House of Commons when dealing with the finance of the matter. The legal quality of this impost called tithe rent-charge remains what it did under the Act of 1838. Upon what ground is it proposed to alter a state of things which has long remained undisturbed? The ground was an alleged miscalculation. Parliament dealt with this open-eyed, and with the fullest information at command. It is altogether a mistake to say that there was a miscalculation in the matter. It was a bargain voluntarily made by those who cannot break their bargain without Parliamentary sanction.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 175; Noes, 92. (Division List No. 165.)1431
|Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F||Balcarres, Lord||Blundell, Colonel Henry|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Balfour, Rt. Hn. A. J.(Manch'r)||Bond, Edward|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Balfour, Rt. Hon. G. W. (Leeds)||Brassey, Albert|
|Arnold-Forster, Hugh O.||Banbury, Frederick George||Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John|
|Arrol, Sir William||Barry, Rt. Hn. A. H. S- (Hunts)||Bullard, Sir Harry|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Beach, Rt. Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol)||Butcher, John George|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Bemrose, Sir Henry Howe||Carson, Rt. Hon. Sir Edw. H.|
|Baillie, James E. B.(Inverness)||Bethell, Commander||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Blakiston-Houston, John||Cavendish, V. C. W (Derbyshire)|
|Cecil, Lord Hugh (Greenwich)||Hermon-Hodge, Robt, Trotter||Pilkington, R. (Lancs, Newton)|
|Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.)||Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich)||Platt-Higgins, Frederick|
|Chamberlain, J. Austen, Worc'r||Hutchinson, Capt. G. W. Grice-||Plunkett, Rt. Hon. H. Curzon|
|Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Jackson, Rt. Hn. W. Lawies||Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward|
|Charrington, Spencer||Jebb, Richard Claverhouse||Purvis, Robert|
|Chelsea, Viscount||Johnston, William (Belfast)||Rankin, Sir James|
|Clare, Octavius Leigh||Johnstone, Heywood (Sussex)||Remnant, James Farquharson|
|Coghill, Douglas Harry||Kenyon, James||Renshaw, Charles Bine|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William||Rentoul, James Alexander|
|Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready||Keswick, William||Richards, Henry Charles|
|Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||King, Sir Henry Seymour||Richardson, Sir Thos (Hartlep'l)|
|Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Lafone, Alfred||Kidley, Rt. Hn. Sir Matthew W.|
|Cornwallis, Fiennes S. W.||Lawrence, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson|
|Cox, Irwin Edward Bainbridge||Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney)|
|Curzon, Viscount||Lecky, Rt. Hon. Wm. Edw. H.||Round, James|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Leigh-Bennett, Henry Currie||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)|
|Denny, Colonel||Llewelyn, Sir Dillwyn- (Swnsea)||Rutherford, John|
|Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Santon, Viscount|
|Digby, John K. D. Wingfield-||Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Saunderson, Rt. Hn. Col. E. J.|
|Dorington, Sir John Edward||Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool||Seely, Charles Hilton|
|Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Lopes, Henry Yarde Buller||Seton-Karr, Henry|
|Douglas-Pennant, Hon. E. S.||Lowe, Francis William||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William H.||Lowles, John||Shaw-Stewart, M. H. (Renfrew)|
|Egerton, Hon. A. de Tatton||Loyd, Archie Kirkman||Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)|
|Faber, George Denison||Macartney, W. G. Ellison||Sidebottom, T. H. (Stalybr.)|
|Fardell, Sir T. George||Macdona, John Cumming||Skewes-Cox, Thomas|
|Fellowes, Hn. Ailwyn Edward||MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks)|
|Field, Admiral (Eastbourne)||Maclure, Sir John William||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Finch, George H.||M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Stanley, Edward J. (Somerset|
|Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne||M'Iver, Sir L. (Edinburgh, W.)||Stewart, Sir M. J. M'Taggart|
|Fisher, William Hayes||Malcolm, Ian||Stock, James Henry|
|Flower, Ernest||Massey-Mainwaring, Hn. W. F.||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Forster, Henry William||Melville, Beresford Valentine||Tomlinson, Wm. E. Murray|
|Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)||Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M.||Tuke, Sir John Batty|
|Galloway, William Johnson||Milner, Sir Frederick George||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Garfit, William||Milward, Colonel Victor||Warde, Lt.-Col. C. E. (Kent)|
|Gedge, Sydney||Monckton, Edward Philip||Whiteley, H. (Ashton-under-L.|
|Gibbons, J. Lloyd||Moore, William (Antrim, N.)||Williams, J. Powell- (Birm.)|
|Godson, Sir Augustus Frederick||More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Goldsworthy, Major-General||Morgan, Hn. Fred (Monm'thsh.||Wodehouse, Rt. Hn. E. R.(Bath)|
|Gordon, Hon. John Edward||Morrell, George Herbert||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. Stuart-|
|Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon||Morrison, Walter||Wylie, Alexander|
|Goschen, George J. (Sussex)||Morton, Arthur H. A (Deptford)||Wyndham, George|
|Green. W. D. (Wednesbury)||Mow bray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Wyvill, Marmaduke D'Arcy|
|Greene, Henry D.(Shrewsbury)||Murray, Rt. Hn. A. G. (Bute)||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Gretton, John||Newdigate, Francis Alexand'r||Young, Commander (Berks, E.)|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George||O'Neill, Hon. Robert Torrens|
|Hamond, Sir Chas.(Newcastle)||Pease, Herbt. Pike (Darlingt'n)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert W'm.||Penn, John||Sir William Walrond and|
|Hanson, Sir Reginald||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur||Mr. Anstruther.|
|Hardy, Laurence||Pierpoint, Robert|
|Abraham, William (Cork, N.E.)||Dillon, John||Jones, William (Carnarvonsh.)|
|Allan, William (Gateshead)||Doogan, P. C.||Kearley, Hudson E.|
|Allison, Robert Andrew||Douglas, Chas. M. (Lanark)||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)|
|Ambrose, Robert||Duckworth, James||Lough, Thomas|
|Asher, Alexander||Fenwick, Charles||Macaleese, Daniel|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Ffrench, Peter||MacNeill, John Gordon Swift|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||M'Arthur, William (Cornwall|
|Beaumont, Wentworth C.B.||Gibney, James||M'Crae, George|
|Billson, Alfred||Gladstone, Rt. Hn. Herb. John||M'Ghee, Richard|
|Blake, Edward||Goddard, Daniel Ford||M'Hugh, Patrick A. (Leitrim)|
|Bolton, Thomas Dolling||Griffith, Ellis, J.||Maddison, Fred.|
|Brigg, John||Hammond, John (Carlow)||Molloy, Bernard Charles|
|Caldwell, James||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Sir Wm.||Morgan, J. Lloyd(Carmarthen|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Hayne, Rt. Hon. C. Seale-||Morris, Samuel|
|Carvill, P. Geo. Hamilton||Healy, Maurice (Cork)||Moss, Samuel|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Healy, Thomas J. (Wexford)||Murnanagh, George|
|Cawley, Frederick||Healy, Timothy M. (N. Louth)||Norton, Capt. Cecil William|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)|
|Colville, John||Hogan, James Francis||O' Connor, James(Wicklow, W.|
|Daly, James||Horniman, Frederick John||O'Connor, T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Dewar, Arthur||Jameson, Major J. Eustace||O'Dowd, John|
|O'Keeffe, Francis Arthur||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)||Thomas, David A. (Merthyr)|
|O'Kelly, James||Robertson, Edmund (Dundee)||Trevelyan, Charles Philips|
|O'Malley, William||Runciman, Walter||Walton, Joseph (Barnsley)|
|Paulton, James Mellor||Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Pease, Joseph A. (Northumb.)||Scott, Chas. Prestwich(Leigh)||Wilson, Fred. W. (Norfolk)|
|Price, Robert John||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick, B.)||Wilson, J (Durham, Mid)|
|Provand, Andrew Dryburgh||Sinclair, Capt. John (Forfarsh'e)||Woodhouse, Sir J. T (Hud'rsf'ld)|
|Reckitt, Harold James||Steadman, William Charles|
|Redmond, John E.(Waterford)||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Redmond, William (Clare)||Sullivan, T. D. (Donegal, W.)||Captain Donelan and|
|Rickett, J. Compton||Thomas, Alt. (Glamorgan, E.)||Mr. Patrick O'Brien.|
Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.