§ Order of the Day for the Second Beading read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Chancellor of Ireland)
§ EARL SPENCER
said,hehad intended to make some remarks on this Bill; but looking to the lateness of the hour he would defer them till to-morrow, when the noble and learned Lord proposed to go into Committee.
§ LORD CASTLETOWN
said, that while expressing general approval of the Bill, and acknowledging the excellent motives of his noble and learned Friend who had introduced it,hewas surprised that that noble and learned Lord should have fallen into some of the pitfalls which were to be discovered in the Bill. The Bill, in his opinion, was too confined—it was not bold enough. He thought there should have been different sections suggested, or that there should have been an amplification of the different modes of transfer contained in the existing Acts relating to land purchase. Running roughly and rapidly over the Bill he wanted to know the exact meaning of Clause 2. Did it mean that all the different modes of transfer from the owner to tenant contained in the acts mentioned were to be governed for the future, if this Bill became law, by the new terms of advance, interest, repayment, and, above all, deposit guarantee? If so very serious complications would arise. Then there was the question of recoverable right. How was it to be defined? Surely if a farm was put up to auction, and was not bought by the owner or anyone else, then the original seller should have power to re-purchase it; otherwise his guarantee would be unnecessarily imperilled and in all probability lost. Such loose wording to his mind was very dangerous, and capable of producing very serious complications if improperly construed—in fact, it was even liable to render the Bill of no value. Coming to Clause 4, he thought there was surely an omission, as the Tramways Act of 1883 should have been inserted, inasmuch as it dealt with the same matter, and he should move an Amendment to that effect unless that was otherwise provided. In Clause 5 he thought the words "that a 1179 resale can be effected without loss" were unnecessary verbiage, and likely, as in the last case, to lead to a hitch in the working of the Act. If they had able and conscientious men to work the Act they would be held sufficiently in check by the Treasury without any of this unnecessary handicapping. After Clause 5, again, there was an evident omission of a very important character. Of course, if Clause 2 were to govern all past Acts it might be unnecessary to re-enact the clause from Mr. Trevelyan's Bill; but it seemed to him that if it was not inserted the owner would be left in a very different position. For example, an owner selling under the Act would first of all have to leave a deposit guarantee. Then there would be a mortgage of land as well. He would have out, therefore, one-fifth as a deposit guarantee, and take one-fourth as a mortgage on the holding. What was the possible result? By order of the Commissioners the debt was irrecoverable. The owner, therefore, would lose his one-fifth or deposit guarantee, andheimagined would find great difficulty in recovering his one-fourth or mortgage debt as it would be puisne to the recoverable debt. He knew many who had sold under the clause as it stood under the Act of 1881, and many who desired to sell under it at present; and he, therefore, attached great importance to having this matter cleared up. In Clause 12, which dealt with the registry of deeds versus the record of titles, they had what he believed to be one of the greatest blots in the Bill from a technical point of view. What did the Bill propose? They had a Registry of Deeds Office instead of a Record of Title Office. Surely the noble and learned Lord in charge of the Bill must be aware of the use that could be made of a Record of Title Office. In the case of the Registry of Deeds Office, they had to be content with an office where every deed of every kind was registered; whereas in the Record of Title Office they had an office specially created for the purpose of land registry, with special facilities for the transaction of such business. He strongly urged his noble and learned Friend to amend this clause by inserting "Record of Title Office" instead of "Registry of Deeds." He would also suggest the insertion of clauses to amend the scale of fees payable under the existing Act, and to authorize the establishment of local 1180 registries in connection with the Record of Title Office to enable people living at a distance from Dublin to satisfy themselves as to the title of any particular holding. This would simplify the working of the Bill enormously, would involve no extra cost, and was, in the opinion of some of the ablest lawyers who had investigated the question, of vital necessity to the rapid and clear working of the Bill. In regard to Clause 15, he thought it was a great mistake to place any charge on the Irish Church Surplus Fund. That Fund was essentially a local fund connected with Ireland. This matter, on the other hand, was entirely an Imperial question, and must be treated as such. He would oppose the clause most strenuously in Committee, and hoped that in the other House every effort would be made to remove it from the Bill. This surplus fund, although it was a paltry sum, could be well applied to local exigencies such as education, technical or otherwise; and as an Irishman he felt bound to resist the application of this local fund to an Imperial question. As long as Ireland contributed to the Imperial Exchequer she was entitled to assistance from that Exchequer on any matter bearing on Imperial questions. The solution of the Land Question by purchase was an Imperial matter, for as long as that question was not solved there would be no peace in Ireland, and every person was aware that a state of lawlessness and anarchy in Ireland reacted with great force upon the whole Imperial system. There was another matter—the appointment of Commissioners—whichhewould like to touch on. It was a very delicate matter, as everything would depend upon them; and all he could say was that if the rumour current in Dublin was correct, that a certain gentleman whom he would not name had been appointed, he believed his noble and learned Friend had better not indulge in great expectations about the working of this Bill. Neither tenant nor landowner could have confidence in a Commission ruled over by one who had hitherto, in the opinion of most people, rendered the present Act nugatory. It might be that his noble and learned Friend would be able to instil into his Commission some of his own daring and patriotism; but he had heard of the possible appointment he referred to with absolute dismay. Clause 17—the tenant- 1181 right clause—he welcomed as of great value. In conclusion, he wished to say that he believed the Bill, with some such Amendments as he had pointed out, would prove a workable measure. He believed the tenants would purchase their holdings as soon as they were impressed with the fact that this was the limit of concession which could be made to enable them to purchase. They would then see that it was to their interest to take advantage of the Act. He thought he might claim to take and to have an unusual interest in many of the provisions of this Bill; and he was sure his noble Friend would take the Amendmentshehad suggested into his consideration, and enable them to be thoroughly discussed, and, if possible, accepted. They would not in any way alter the main purpose of the Bill. He believed they would simplify its working, and would give different modes of transfer, which might be acceptable to different people, and in different parts of the country.
remarked, that it was impossible for the Government, after the Motion, in "another place," of the right hon. Gentleman, now Secretary of State for War, and after the Report of the Select Committee of their Lordships' House, to avoid bringing forward a Bill like that before their Lordships. But in the course of 49 years a tenant purchaser would have to pay £196 for every £100 borrowed; and it was a most difficult thing for a poor tenant to maintain himself, and for him to pay instalments for the purchase of his holding was almost impossible. It was far better for a tenant to be under a landlord than to be obliged to pay a fixed sum at a certain time on pain of forfeiture; and the happy agreements between landlord and tenant in Scotland had worked so well, that Lavergne, an author on agriculture, wrote that they never thought of possessing land as owners. So that the views of those who wrote that—In Ireland an universal desire appears to exist among the people to possess their holdings, and to he freed from the present system of dual holding, so irksome both to owner and occupier,and who acted upon those views, were visionary and unsound; and the objections of farmers, who thought it hard to be taxed to pay even arrears, to enable tenants to pay their landlords, would be 1182 far stronger as to a Bill like the present. He (Lord Denman) would have been supposed to have agreed to the principle of this Bill if he had not spoken; and he hoped their Lordships would excuse his pouring out, as he did, the thoughts of his heart.
said, it gave him great satisfaction that Her Majesty's Government had attempted to deal with this question, and he trusted they would be successful in passing a Bill which would be found workable. He regretted the Government had not proposed to hand over the working of the Bill to the Landed Estates Court, instead of to the Commissioners, for it was necessary to appoint extra Commissioners, while the Court had little or nothing to do, and it commanded the confidence of landlords more than the Commission did. There were a number of matters that would require consideration in Committee. He failed to see how the landlord could be kept from loss, unless the Land Commissioners, who were to declare the debt irrecoverable, were bound in some way to take proceedings against a defaulting tenant immediately he became a defaulter. It must be made clear that there would be no loss upon the advances. The money was to be lent for 49 years, and one-fifth would have to remain out 10 years. Companies, no doubt, would be formed to lend that money for 10 years, and in the case of a defaulting tenant all the landlord would lose would be the difference between the 3 per cent he would have from the Land Commissioners and the percentage which would be charged for the loan of the one-fifth for 10 years. He would lose, perhaps, 2or 3 per cent. The landlords of Ireland, he pointed out, had not a very favourable opinion of the gentlemen at the head of the Land Commission; and what they feared was that they would go down, and, where an arrangement had been made between landlord and tenant for a 25 years' purchase, might say—"Oh, we do not consider this to be worth more than 15 years' purchase." The result might be that a nominal purchase—say of 15 years—would be fixed, and that would be the rule in Ireland, as to the value of the land. An arrangement, he thought, should be come to, so that if the Land Commissioners were satisfied with the annual value of the land sold they should be bound to accept the terms which might 1183 have been agreed upon between the landlord and the tenant. Was there any special reason why some agreement of that kind should not be inserted in the Bill? It would give a great security to the landlord and tenant, and would make the Bill workable. If, however, their Lordships thought they were going to pass a workable measure, and left in it provisions which vested the power of fixing the price to be paid for land in the Land Commissioners, all he could say was that they were very much mistaken. It would not work at all. The independent landowners would not sell their land for one iota less than they thought its fair value, though, of course, those people whose estates were in the hands of receivers would be obliged to sell. He warned the Government if they tied the landlords up in such a way as to give them a mere nominal value for their land the Bill would prove a failure.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND (Lord ASHBOURNE)
said, he gathered from the reception the Motion had received from the House that there was no desire on the part of their Lordships to challenge the second reading. The noble Earl who had been until recently Viceroy of Ireland had reserved his right to criticize the Bill until the Motion was made to go into Committee. The noble Earl was entitled to speak on this Bill with great authority, from the position he had filled and the attention he had given the question; and it would be his (the Lord Chancellor's) duty and pleasure to listen to what he might say with the closest attention. Other noble Lords had spoken on matters of detail. It was not for him now to enter into a discussion of the details of the Bill; but he might say generally that when the time came he would deal with all the suggestions which had been made as fully and as carefully as he could. He earnestly hoped that only a few Amendments would be made, and that of those only a few would be pressed, as it was idle to suppose that a Bill of this magnitude could be recast at this period of the Session. Some of the proposals made by the noble Lord (Lord Castletown) were as to the machinery, and he should be very glad to consider them. Others had a wider range, and when the proper time came he would venture to appeal to the noble Lord not to press them or they might imperil the Bill.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.
§ House adjourned at a quarter past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Ten o'clock.