HL Deb 07 May 1883 vol 279 cc14-7

, in rising to ask the Lord President of the Council, Whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government had been called to a letter which recently appeared in the Dublin "Daily Express," signed by Mr. Thomas W. Webber, showing the unjust effect of the Arrears Act on those landlords who were liable to the payment of annual drainage instalments; and whether the Treasury would consider the expediency and justice of remitting such instalments proportionate to the amount of arrears of rent cancelled? said, he had put the same Question to the noble Lord the Lord President of the Council last week, and was then told that further Notice of it would have to be given. He now ventured to put the Question again. The case he referred to was one of the greatest hardship. The statement by Mr. Webber showed that he was agent to a gentleman who had laid out a very large sum of money upon what their Lordships' House and various Governments had always encouraged in Ireland, the improvement of tenants' holdings. The total amount borrowed from the Public Works Department since the year 1863 for that purpose was £19,9931s. 6d., of which £8,69515s. 10d. was laid out on farm buildings and cottages, and £11,297 15s. 7d. upon drainage. That money bore interest at the rate of 6 per cent, amounting to £1,168 a-year; but as soon as the Arrears Act had passed a sum of £1,248 was at once wiped off. Of course, he looked to his rents to pay the interest; but the Government, while they deprived him, on the one hand, of the means of paying it, served him with writs with the other for the amount of interest due upon this loan. He could hardly believe there could be such a case of injustice, or that the report he had seen was true, so he brought it under the notice of his noble Friend the Lord President of the Council (Lord Carlingford). Since that time an answer had been given in the House of Commons which was most unsatisfactory. The answer was that the public charges referred to were not public charges under Section 17 of the Arrears Act. When the Bill was passing through the House they understood that the 17th section covered these cases. That section applied to "quit rent, tithe rent, and other charges."


Such other charges.


said, he thought that the words were intended to cover the case he put. It seemed, however, that such charges were not to be covered, and while the rent had been wiped off by the Government, the unfortunate landlord had to pay at the same rate. The practice of the Sub-Commissioners in Ireland had been to wipe off any increase in rent made under any circumstances during the last 10 or 15 years, so that the landlord who had spent money in improving his property, and put on an increase of rent to recoup himself, had it all wiped away by the Commissioners. He thought it a hardship upon those landlords who had laid out the money in the interests of their tenants that they should be compelled to pay burdens which the tenant was relieved from. He hoped the noble Lord would give them some information, as great interest was taken in these matters.


said, that before an answer was given he should like to ask the Lord President if the instalments of tithe rent charge payable by landowners in Ireland who might have commuted the charges on their estates under the Irish Church Act, 1869, would be treated as ordinary payments of tithe rent charge in connection with the section of the Arrears Act of 1882 which entitled landowners to a re- mission proportionate to the amount of arrears cancelled? He put this Question because it dealt with a kindred subject. There was the slight difference that the question to which his noble Friend referred dealt with the loans for improving the land and dwellings, while the charge to which he referred was the tithe rent charge commuted, and which had now become simply a public tax. He thought the case of those landlords who had not commuted their tithe rent charges should not be different from those who had done so.


said, that both Questions should, strictly speaking, have been answered by his noble Friend who represented the Treasury; but he had communicated with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and was glad to be able to answer them himself. He must remind the noble Marquess and the noble Earl of what the provisions in the Arrears Act on these matters were, because the answers to both Questions depended upon the actual wording of those provisions. The section of the Act quoted by the noble Marquess named the public charges which might be remitted under the Act in the proportion of the arrears wiped out, and those public charges consisted of tithe rent charge, income tax, and quit rent, or any of such charges—that was, any one of the charges thus enumerated. The words of the Act could have no other meaning. That was the sense in which the Treasury read the section, and it was the obvious meaning. The Treasury had no power, therefore, to remit any other charges than those mentioned. The answer to the noble Earl (the Earl of Belmore) was that the payments referred to by him were not tithe rent charges, but instalments of the charges into which tithe rent charges had been commuted under the Church Act. As to the loans for drainage referred to by the noble Marquess, they also clearly did not come under the terms of the Act, and no remission could, therefore, be allowed; but he (Lord Carlingford) was assured by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that so far as the time of repayment was concerned, no hardship would be inflicted upon landlords, nor undue pressure be brought to bear, in cases where arrears were still unpaid, or where grants under the Act of last year had been delayed.