HC Deb 17 June 1903 vol 123 cc1277-84

Considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

[Mr. J. W. LOWTHER (Cumberland, Penrith) in the Chair.]

Clause 1:—

*MR. DUKE (Plymouth)

said he rose to move an Amendment which, while retaining the zones, which he thought were to be regarded as the prime characteristic of the Bill, would place in the hands of the Land Commission to be appointed under the Bill the power to extend the benefits of the measure in exceptional cases to classes of tenants of land in Ireland which were, as the Bill stood, prohibited from receiving its benefits. He proposed to add at the end of Sub-section (a) the following proviso: "Or if it will be more than thirty per cent., and the Land Commission are satisfied upon inquiry that the purchase price does not unduly affect the interests of the person entitled to the first estate in tail in remainder expectant on the estate of the vendor at the time of the proposed sale or any other remainderman or incumbrancer."

Amendment proposed— In Page 1, line 23, after the word "ten" to insert the words "Per cent. below the existing rent, but will be more than thirty per cent. below the existing rent, and the Land Commission are satisfied upon inquiry that the purchase price does not unduly affect the interests of the person entitled to the first estate in tail in remainder expectant on the estate of the vendor at the time of the proposed sale or any other remainderman or incumbrancer." (Mr. Duke.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


suggested that it might be more convenient if his hon. friend were to move his Amendment when they came to discuss Sub-section (b). If the hon. Member were successful in carrying this proviso, he would require to move another proviso on Sub-section (b), and the whole of the first Clause would then have to be re-cast on the Report stage.


said he thought it would be better if the right hon. Gentleman would draft a proviso in the direction of the one contained in his Amendment, and submit it to the Committee at the next sitting when the Irish Land Bill was under discussion?


said as there was now only less than half an hour for discussion, he did not think it would be at all proper to enter into the merits of the hon. Member's proposal. It would be only half an hour wasted.


said that under the circumstances, and in the interest of the progress of the Bill, he asked leave to withdraw his Amendment for the present.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


moved another Amendment. The purpose of this Amendment, he said, was to increase the minimum reduction of the first-term rents, just as he had already moved the increase of the minimum in the second-term rents.

Amendment proposed— In page 1, line 28, to leave out the word 'twenty,' and insert the word 'twenty-five.'"(Mr. John Redmond.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'twenty' stand part of the clause."


said that he must oppose the Amendment on the same grounds as he had urged in the case of the Amendment on the second-term rents. The object of having a minimum reduction was to give security to the taxpayer; and as long as they were satisfied that no bargain entered into between landlord and tenant would be prejudicial to the taxpayer, the Government held, rightly or wrongly, that the greater the latitude the better.


said that the right hon. Gentleman alleged that he desired to give the utmost possible liberty for bargaining; but it was a very curious thing that that liberty was always in favour of the landlord, and when it was proposed to extend that liberty in favour of the tenants, then the Government was all against liberty. This was only another illustration of the extreme mischief of the limits in this clause. He wished to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that this Amendment raised two vitally important questions totally different from those raised by the Amendment on the second-term rents. In the first place, since the first-term rents were settled, there had been an important alteration in the law by the Act of 1896, which had improved the position of the tenantry of Ireland. The Committee should remember that first-term tenants were different from second term tenants. The right hon. Gentleman said that the basis of the Bill was rent ascertained by a Court; but that was precisely what the right hon. Gentleman was not now proposing. He maintained that the limits as at present fixed in the Bill with regard to first-term tenants would have the effect of making the tenant, as had often happened before in the history of land purchase, pay for his own improvements in hard cash. There was another important point in which the case of the first-term tenants differentiated from that of the second-term tenants. Hon. Members would notice, on referring to the Bill, that as regarded the two classes of tenants there was only a difference of 10 per cent. in the limits fixed for each. The right hon. Gentleman and many hon. Members opposite were in the habit, during the debate, of referring to what were called Conference terms; but the provision in the Conference Report which appeared to him to be most vital in the interests of the tenants was that the whole system of purchase should be based on second-term rents or their fair equivalent. That meant that before the price of a holding held under a first-term rent was calculated, a fair equivalent to a second-term rent should first be ascertained. There were two ways of doing that. One was to submit the rent of the holding to a judicial inquiry; and the other was to apply to that holding the average reduction obtained all over Ireland on first-term rents, namely, 22 per cent. If justice were to be done to the first-term tenants the limits ought to be 22 per cent. greater than in the case of second-term tenants. In that case the limits would work out at about 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. instead of at 20 per cent. and 40 per cent as in the Bill. That was a bare statement of the justice of the case.

He objected to the principle altogether; and unless the limits were very much extended, he would vote against the clause. There was another alternative. A first-term holding might be inspected by the Land Commission, who would estimate what a fair second-term rent would be, and the purchase price could be calculated on that. That was a procedure which was actually in force at present, because sales under the 40th Section were carried out in that way. The holding was inspected by the Land Commission, who reported what a fair price would be to the Judge of the Landed Estates Court, and the price was based on that. He did not put that forward, however, as an alternative he would recommend, because undoubtedly it would lead to delay, and he did not think it would be quite as fair to the tenants as an investigation in open Court, because in most private investigations the improvements of the tenants were commonly overlooked and ignored. His proposal was that the purchase price should be based in the case of first-term holdings on a fair equivalent to what a second-term rent would be. The surest guide they had to that was the general average reduction obtained throughout Ireland. Further, there might be the right of appeal if either the landlord or the tenant thought he was hardly treated. What he wished to impress upon the Chief Secretary was that this was not a matter to be dismissed perfunctorily. It raised most important considerations; and there was no doubt whatever that the limits as they stood in the Bill would place the first-term tenants at a very great disadvantage.


said he had no intention of dismissing the matter perfunctorily, nor did he contend that first-term rents should be treated on an analogy with second-term rents. What he would say was that with respect to the minimum reduction, the Government held, rightly or wrongly, that all they had to consider was the security of the taxpayer. It was notorious that the standard on which first-term rents were fixed in the early stages of land legislation differed from the standard on which rents were fixed after 1887. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the general average reduction all over the country should be taken; but that would be a very cumbrous proceeding, and would involve delay.


said that, of course, the question of the security of the State was of importance as long as it was directed towards the reduction which the tenant would obtain; but the moment a sale was enforced the question of the security of the State went by the board. If the reduction which the tenant could obtain was increased from 20 per cent. to 30 per cent. the security he would be able to offer to the State would be proportionately greater. He thought it would be a very cumbrous system to give the Land Commission power to hear first-term cases. If such cases were to be heard at all, there would have to be the right of appeal, and he did not know where it would end. He repudiated the idea that the proposal in the Bill was in any way a fair equivalent to second-term rents, as proposed by the Land Conference. The language used at the Conference Report was advisedly vague; but the Confer-had before it the average reduction all over the country, and it was hoped that there would not be any doubt as to the meaning of a fair equivalent of a second-term rent.


said that undoubtedly the Land Commission had, since 1887, taken into account the fall in prices which they had not taken into account previously. What he desired to point out was that there had been no effort on the part of the Government to carry out the proposal in the Land Conference Report that there should be a fair equivalent to second-term rents. So far as the Conference terms applied in favour of the landlords they had been followed, but where they would apply in favour of the tenants they had been ignored. That was really what had taken place, and there was no use in attempting to disguise it. His right hon. friend the Attorney-General for Ireland would remember that the policy of Irish land legislation, with regard to improvements, was reversed by the Court of Appeal in 1882 in the case of Adams v. Dunseath, and for fourteen years rents were fixed on a totally false idea as to improvements. So false was that idea that the House of Commons reversed the policy of the Court of Appeal in 1896 but millions of money had, in the meantime, been taken from the tenants and given to the landlords by that decision. The Government in this Bill did not take the slightest interest in the case of those tenants; and to effect a settlement in those cases it was the duty of the Government to try, at all events, and get a fair equivalent to second-term rents. The case of those tenants whose rents should be very much reduced on the question of improvements alone should not be passed over. This question was more serious than the question of second-term rents. There were 250,000 first-term holdings in Ireland; and he was not sure, considering the importance of the question, that the Committee should pass away from it to-night. It affected such a large number of tenants that the Committee ought to be permitted to consider it further.


said several of his hon. friends desired a further opportunity of discussing the matter, and he suggested that Progress should now be reported. He asked the Chief Secretary if he could put on the Paper his proposed proviso or new clause dealing with non-judicial tenants before they took up the discussion of the Bill again.


said he thought the hon. Gentleman attached undue importance to the new clause, which, however, he should be glad to put on the Paper before the discussion was resumed. He would accept the hon. Gentleman's Motion to report Progress.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again." — (Mr. John Redmond.) Put, and agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.