HL Deb 23 March 1885 vol 296 cc198-207

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he regretted the absence of his noble Friend (the Mar- quess of Salisbury), because, on the last occasion that the Bill was before the House, the noble Marquess expressed the opinion to him (the Earl of Leitrim) that he would carry his point upon the next occasion. When the matter was last year before their Lordships, it was adjourned in the hope that correspondence and communications between the College and the tenants might probably be the means of arriving at some agreement. He regretted that that had not been the result, and the College had not arrived at any agreement with their tenants. The case he wished to present was that of the grantees and sub-grantees of leases by Trinity College, many of whom, residing in Donegal and Kerry, had no Representative in that House but himself. They had, however, sympathizers in the other House in Mr. Blennerhassett, Viscount Crichton, Mr. Charles Russell, Mr. Trevelyan, the Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Walker), and many others. The grantees desired an inquiry into their grievances; and that could be had by a Select Committee if the Bill was read a second time and sent upstairs. The College had stated that it challenged the fullest inquiry into all its proceedings with its tenants; and nevertheless the noble and learned Earl (Earl Cairns), who was Chancellor of the University, notwithstanding the assurances of Mr. Forster, when Chief Secretary for Ireland, had refused any inquiry into the tenants' case. The noble and learned Earl had alarmed their Lordships by saying the tenants were endeavouring to break their leases; but such a statement was absolutely incorrect. On the contrary, the tenants desired to retain the leases under the Act by which they held them; and they complained, not of the principle of the Act, but of its machinery, which compelled them to submit to a revision of the leases every 10 years. Such conditions were antiquated, cumbrous, and unjust, and needed to be reformed. All they desired was an inquiry. They were advised by high authority that the best means of obtaining it was by bringing in this Bill; and if their intentions were not clear, the promoters of the Bill would assent in Committee to anything being inserted that would make them clear. So far his opponents had never seriously attempted to argue this case on its merits; but they had maintained that those who broke a lease were trying to get out of their contract. The tenants gave a direct negative to the idea of the possibility of this ever having been accomplished. It was a maxim that no public Act of Parliament could contain a contract within its four corners. The Public Bill introduced in 1850 bore on it the names of Sir William Somerville, the Chief Secretary, and of the Solicitor General for Ireland. This was lost on technical grounds; but it was reintroduced in 1851 as a Private Bill, with the names of Sir William Somerville, and of the two Members for the University on the back of it, but not that of any tenant. In this form it was passed, and it was this Private Act of Parliament which was said to constitute the contract. He might observe, however, that although called a Private Act, it was really a Hybrid Act, and that it received the Royal Assent in the Public Act form— La Reine le veut. The Bill originated in this way—the original tenure of the leaseholders under Trinity College was for 21 years, with renewal fines of 5s. 6d. in the pound of rent, which, if paid every year, procured an extension of the lease for a year. Therefore, they were always in the position of having a 21 years' lease. By the College Statutes the renewal fines were bound to be paid to the Board of the College, whereas the rent was the property of the College itself for educational purposes. It was thus impossible for the Board to run out the leases without starving themselves for 21 years, and so the arrangement was practically that of a lease in perpetuity. Shortly before 1850, in 1849, in consequence of the hard times, some of the tenants were unable to pay the renewal fines, so the members of the Board, who were almost starving, went to the Government of the day, explained their anomalous position, and asked for a remedy. The Government investigated the case, and decided if the Board would grant its tenants perpetuity leases, to give the College Letters Patent, enabling them to pay themselves out of the general funds of the College, and that the renewal fines should thenceforward become part of the general fund of the College. That was the origin of the Bill of 1850 and the Act of 1851 to which he had referred. The tenants petitioned against that Bill on the ground that any compulsory change in respect to their tenure should be based on a fair consideration of the advantages they had hitherto possessed, and on the faith of which large outlays had been made. They could not have made a stronger protest against the Bill which now they were represented as having contracted; and although he did not in the slightest degree wish to represent that the Government of 1851 had done anything unfair—on the contrary, they had done all they could to be fair—in the matter, yet they inserted in the Bill a provision which was very unfair. It was to the Government of that day that the tenants owed their present tenure; but the practical working of the Act had proved to be absolutely unfair. The provisions of the Act had been proved by the College itself to be unjust. The College authorities said that they were entitled, under the provisions of the Act, to a rise of 47 per cent on the perpetuity rents; but they had not sought to raise them by that amount, because they could not, they would not, and they dared not. For the first 10 years they had raised those rents only 25 per cent, and that increase was still being paid, and it had materially affected the interests of the tenants. As things were at the time the increase was made, he did not know that the tenants had anything to complain of, for they were in hopes that, if the then state of things could be maintained, they would still be able to pay this 25 per cent. But, unfortunately for them, there came on a depreciation in the price of land, and the under-tenants were unable to pay the middlemen rents sufficient to enable them to pay to the College treasury the advanced rents which he had specified, and certainly incapacitated them altogether to make reductions to improving tenants, and the College absolutely refused to reduce the rents. Then another grievance arose out of the machinery by which the increase of the rents was to be effected. The Act of Parliament prescribed that the proceedings under an arbitration should be at the cost of the party who asked for it. The College asked for such an inquiry in the case of the late Lord Leitrim, and obtained thereby an increased rent of 25 per cent, upon the strength of which it induced the tenants to agree to an increase of 20 per cent without the expense of an arbitration; and yet the cost of the one arbitration was levied upon Lord Leitrim's estate. This, however, was incidental, and did not bear on the question before the House. He had no hesitation in saying that the College authorities had been most distinctly guilty of fraud in connection with some of the arrangements. The leaseholders, as he had said, had petitioned Parliament against the Bill introduced by the Government, and then followed a lot of correspondence, in which they threatened to withdraw the Bill unless the opposition was withdrawn. If that had happened, the Government of the day would have said that the Bill had been lost through the factious opposition of the tenants; and if the tenants had really been factious, the Government might have granted the Letters Patent sought for by the College. The tenants accordingly accepted the arbitration of the Government of the day; and it was on this ground that they had always appealed to the Government to protect them when it was found that the Bill was practically unworkable. The letter from the tenants could not properly be regarded as a contract, but only as a courteous letter sent at the end of a long controversy. He (the Earl of Leitrim) had himself paid as much as £4,500 to the College, when he only received £700 from his own tenants, which was the best testimony he could give of the anomalous character of this tenure. But he did not object to that, for he found himself in the position in which he was placed, and so he paid the money like a man. All he asked was that, their rents having gone up in a good time, some recognition should be taken of the bad time. The present Bill was based on the evidence of the Provost of Trinity—not the present Provost—oh, no!—but Dr. Macdonald, who gave evidence in 1844—who gave evidence before the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the occupation of land in Ireland. The object of the Bill was to ascertain the real letting value of the land by substituting not theory, but actual facts, for the scheme which had proved so unworkable. Since the Bill had been last before their Lordships, the College authorities had, to some extent, abandoned the idea of a contract, and had suggested various Amendments to the Bill which the tenants were unable to accept. Their desire was that the merits of the scheme should come before a Select Committee, and they were quite willing to abide by the result. Nothing, he thought, could be fairer than that; and he did not see how the noble and learned Earl could say that there was any intention on the part of the tenants to break their leases. That he distinctly denied, and, in conclusion, would move the second reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Leitrim.)


said, he could not imagine anything more dangerous than the principle sought to be established in regard to lessors by this Bill. This was, in fact, a proposal to allow one of the parties to a contract, who might be dissatisfied, to come forward to Parliament for a Private Act, in order to break it through, so that he might get more favourable terms for himself. It was a practice which, if allowed, would be at all times unfair and unjust, and would lead to great confusion, unless the consent of the lessor was first obtained. The noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim) had tried hard to persuade them that there was no contract or arrangement; but, in his (the Earl of Redesdale's) opinion, the arrangement of 1851 was one of very great importance. This Bill was utterly inadmissible, unless their Lordships were prepared to lay down the principle that any tenant was at liberty to bring in a Private Bill to have his rent fixed at his own valuation, and thereby render no property safe from one end of the United Kingdom to the other.


said, he could not help expressing his surprise at hearing the noble Earl (the Earl of Leitrim) say that the College authorities had been guilty of fraud.


said, he would explain it. The Act of Parliament provided that the costs of arbitration and inquiry, and all proceedings consequent thereon, should be borne and defrayed by the party requiring the same. Yet, in face of that, they had received the letter to which he had referred from the solicitor of the College.


thought the noble Earl would himself regret, upon reflec- tion, that he had made such a charge without having the slightest foundation for doing so. He objected not only to the details of the Bill, but also to its principles. The case made by the Bill was very simple. As he understood it, the position was this—Trinity College had a considerable amount of landed property, 70,000 acres, let to about 50 tenants. These tenants had become middlemen, and held, by lease, the perpetuity on certain terms. Owing to the depreciation of landed property through the action of the Legislature brought to bear upon the occupying tenants, the rent paid by the occupying tenants had been considerably reduced. Thus, the middlemen were unable to get the rents they formerly did. Then they came to the landlords, Trinity College, and said they objected to pay the rent they had agreed to pay. Now, they were promoting the Bill now before their Lordships' House—a Private Bill—in order to alter the terms under which their leases were held. If that were not an attempt to break a lease he had never heard of one, and he did not know what it was. The noble Earl said—" "We do not want to break our leases; we want to keep them." He dared say they did. They wanted to keep them, but to alter their terms. They wanted to get rid of the old form of valuation, and introduce the entirely new principle of arbitration. That might be a right or a wrong principle; but it was contrary to the contract of which they were trying to get rid by means of a Private Bill. If the subject-matter of the Bill was proper for a Private Bill, it ought to go before a Select Committee; but if it was improper to bring forward such a Bill, it ought to be rejected altogether. They had heard a great deal of the Private Act of 1851, but the object of that Act was very simple. It was simply an Act to allow the Trinity College authorities to grant perpetuity leases in lieu of leases for 21 years, and it provided that every 10 years either party should be entitled to demand a revision of rent. The only consideration for making the change was this right of decennial valuation. It was said that there was no contract; but nothing was more clear than that the tenants agreed to the arrangement. Now they wished to get rid of the terms of their tenure, and he repeated that if this was not an attempt to break leases he did not know what it was. What was the difference between the tenants of Trinity College and other tenants in respect to this matter, and why should they be able to bring forward such a Private Act? It would be fatal to all contracts if the tenants of a public Body were permitted to set aside a contract into which they had deliberately entered. In the case of the Irish Land Act of 1881, one of the great matters of discussion put forward by those who were strong advocates of a considerable change in all property in Ireland was, that there should be a power of opening up and of breaking all leases in Ireland. The Government of the day had not acceded to that proposal at the time, nor had they done so up to the present time. But, if this Bill were to be passed, he could not see how their Lordships could logically oppose that principle in a Public Bill; for the fact that this property was held by a public trust, he contended, was no reason whatever why different principles should be applied in this case from what were applied in ordinary cases of land tenure. If they agreed to alter these leases, as proposed by the Bill, it would give the power of altering the terms of leases all over Ireland, for what argument could they use against it? In conclusion, he hoped that their Lordships would reject the second reading of the Bill.


in strongly supporting the second reading of the Bill, suggested that it should be referred to a Select Committee, where, if the Preamble were not found to be proved, the Bill might then be disposed of accordingly.


said, that on a former occasion the proposal made on the part of the tenants of Trinity College was the appointment of a Royal Commission. The Government did not think it part of their duty to undertake the appointment of such a Commission, and he had, therefore, opposed that Motion; but on the present occasion, as this was a Private Bill, the Government as a Government did not propose to take any part in it. But he, personally, like his noble and learned Friend (Lord Fitzgerald), was disposed to vote for the second reading of the Bill, as he was not by any means convinced by the arguments of the other side, thinking as he did that the points which had been raised were essentially matters for Committee. It was a matter affecting the rights of the parties concerned, and was properly one for a Private Bill Committee, for it in no way touched public interests.


said, he was surprised that the noble Lord opposite (Lord Carlingford) should speak of the Bill as one which in no way interfered with public rights, and as only touching private interests. Leases were matters of public interest, and he was astonished to hear the noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald) hold out hopes that all leases might be broken at some future date. His noble Friend (the Earl of Leitrim) might well cry out —"Save me from my friends!." for if the noble and learned Lord's proposals were carried out, the noble Earl who moved the second reading of the Bill (the Earl of Leitrim) would be in a worse position than he was at present. These tenants of the College had, of their own accord, entered into a contract, and were bound to adhere to it. It would be impossible at the present moment to ascertain what was the letting value of land in Ireland, as the Land Act had thrown all the relations between landlord and tenant into a hopeless state of chaos, upon which it was impossible to base any calculations. The noble and learned Lord had pointed out that it was the Land Act which brought about this Bill, which no doubt was the case. But interests were involved in this Bill which had been thought too sacred to be dealt with in the Land Act, and a new Land Act was being introduced in the form of a Private Bill. No class had suffered so much from the Land Act as those who had mortgages and charges on their property. Yet they had not been relieved. Like the persons claiming relief under this Bill, he (the Marquess of Waterford) was himslf a middleman; but he had never asked for an Act of Parliament on his own behalf. Trinity College, the tenants, and the Government had entered into a contract which was indorsed by an Act of Parliament. If that was to be set aside, what arrangement in the future would be binding between parties? His noble Friend (the Earl of Leitrim) had said that there was no contract. However, the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Fitzgerald) admitted that there was a contract. but, because certain tenants objected, thought it right that the Bill should be read a second time, and the matter inquired into. But to read the Bill a second time would be to admit a most dangerous principle which ought to be repudiated. This proposal was most dangerous, and if accepted by their Lordships would probably lead to serious results.


said, it was clear that these tenants of Trinity College had entered into a bargain with that institution; they now felt it irksome, and wanted to be relieved from it; but that was a violation of agreement which Parliament could never sanction. The bargain had been made, and they were bound to stand by it. All the Act of Parliament did was to give legality to the bargain between the parties; and in resisting this attempt to evade it he should vote against the second reading.


said, he should also oppose the second reading.


supported the second reading of the Bill, in the belief that the subject was one well deserving the consideration of a Select Committee.

On Question? Their Lordships divided:—Contents 16; Not-Contents 42: Majority 26.

Resolved in the negative.