HL Deb 22 March 1886 vol 303 cc1456-66

, in rising to move the Resolution which stood in his name, said, that the grantees and sub-grantees of the College had approached Parliament upon three separate occasions for a re-adjustment of their position. First, they requested the issue of a Royal Commission; secondly, they promoted a Public Bill; and last year they brought forward a Private Bill, which was rejected by a smaller majority than that by which the Public Bill was thrown out. There was no doubt that there was a grievance; and if their Lordships were to accede to the Motion the grantees believed that a move would be made in the direction of a remedy. What were the grievances which the lessees and their under-tenants complained of? They complained, in the first place, that there were two conflicting standards of valuation in operation in respect of the valuation of the same land—namely, that prescribed by the College Act, and that of the Land Commission. Both were equally legal, and surely this inequality of legal operation would need to have very special justification. When Parliament established judicial rents the principle ought to have been made applicable equally to all rents for the future which, were capable of being periodically raised or lowered. It was practically admitted by the College itself that their valuations were considerably too high. As instances of this, he might mention that at the end of the decade, after the passing of the Act, the valuation was made; but the College accepted an increased rent of 25 per cent when the standard indicated that they were entitled to 34 per cent. He thought this at once conceded the inaccuracy of the standard. At the end of the second term—namely, in 1875, the College standard indicated an increased rent of 47 per cent; but the College accepted an increase of 30 per cent only. Again, therefore, they confirmed the inaccuracy of their standard. He thought that it was much to the credit of the College Boards of 1865 and 1875 that they did not insist upon their full legal rights; but the question was, had not the increases which those Boards abandoned been indirectly enforced by the present Board? There was certainly no justification in the agricultural condition of Ireland for the 20 per cent additional rent imposed on the lessees in 1865. Upon this point he would only call one witness, and that witness should be the College itself. At the time of the passing of the College Perpetuity Act, in 1851, a Mr. O'Connell held a 21 years' lease of one of their estates in Kerry; but he declined to convert that lease into a perpetuity lease. He was the only tenant who declined to convert, and the result was this—that when in 1865 the rents of the grantees were raised 25 per cent his rent to the College remained the same; but he raised his occupying tenants 25 per cent. When the lease ran out the College Authorities sent down valuers, with the result that they confirmed Mr. O'Connell's rise of 25 per cent on his occupying tenants, and their rents remained unchanged until 1881, when the College, I under the compulsion of the Land Act, took off the 25 per cent which Mr. O'Connell had put on; but the increased rent of the perpetuity leaseholders was continued. That practically admitted the whole case of the grantees. With regard to the valuation of the Land Commissioners he had no very great experience. His tenants, some 2,000 in number, had, for the most part, settled out of Court. They had entered into 15-year judicial leases ar- rived at under the guardianship of the Land Commissioners, and he had no reason to complain of that standard, because, like many other landlords, he had returned to those leaseholders 10 per cent of their rents. The second grievance of which they complained was the great expense of putting into operation the Fluctuation Clauses of the College Act. So great was the expense that it rendered them almost prohibitive in regard to any application for a decrease of rent. He might instance a case in which an attempt was made to put these clauses into operation. Under them the prices of some five commodities had to be ascertained in 13 of the most important towns in Ireland. In this particular instance these prices were ascertained in nine of the towns when the arbitration suit came to an end. Although this suit was not fought out to the end, it cost £3,000. Had it been carried to the end the cost would not have been less than £4,500. But the result was that in the case of this particular grantee his rent was increased 25 per cent. whereas the rents of the other grantees were only increased 20 per cent. This distinction the College Authorities maintained until today, and it came to this—that no grantee could obtain the decrease unless he was prepared to deposit something like £4,500 for expenses; and, under these circumstances, it was obvious that if the grantee had only a life interest in the estate it would be utter folly on his part to run the risk of having to pay thus smartly for his attempt to decrease the rent. If this would be utter folly on the part of the larger tenants, how could they expect the smaller tenants to take action? The security, therefore, which was supposed to be given to the tenants was useless, and the safeguards provided were of no effect. How, therefore, could these estates be conducted in a business-like and proper manner? He wished to call their Lordships' attention, further, to what he might call some external evidence of this grievance. Recently, as appeared from their Lordships' Notice Paper, he proposed to call the attention of the House to some Resolutions which were adopted by 600 or 800 of the tenants of the College in the county of Armagh. The substance of those Resolutions was contained in a letter addressed by the Rev. Mr. Ellis to the Board of Trinity College; and it was, in short, a proposi tion to the College to take off the 20 per cent imposed in 1865. The Board, however, would only treat with the grantees. He maintained that the Board, in reality, had not the power to treat; and, therefore, the Committee, he suggested, would be quite as much in the interest of the Board of Trinity College as of the tenants; because in 1874 the majority of the Board passed a Resolution dealing with the question of the revision of the rents; but it was vetoed by the Provost. Appeal was made to the Vice Chancellor as Visitor; and he decided that the Board could not, without the consent of the Provost, grant a prospective reduction of rents. Therefore it was illusory to treat with the Board—the Provost was the only person who could be treated with. The way in which the Provost would treat was indicated by his having exercised his power of veto over a resolution of the Board to grant a tenant whose rent was 5 per cent higher than any other an equitable re-adjustment. They had thus only to treat with one man exercising arbitrary power, the Provost of Trinity College. As a consequence of the exercise of this arbitrary power they had now, for the first time, ejectments issued against grantees of the College in County Kerry, where so much trouble existed. During the last few years a great movement had been going on amongst leaseholders generally for an adjustment of their position; but if the position of leaseholders generally in Ireland called for revision, how much more did the condition of the grantees of Trinity College require some remedy when their leases only ran for 10 years, and, though called a perpetuity, they were subject to an anomalous and disturbing tenure? He begged to move the Resolution which stood in his name. Moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the tenure of lands under Trinity College, Dublin, and the Provost thereof in his corporate capacity; and on the working of the Trinity College, Dublin, Leasing and Perpetuity Act, 1851, with respect to the variation of rent, and its effect on the value of the interest respectively of the college, the perpetuity grantees, and the occupying perpetuity tenants of the lands."—(The Earl of Leitrim.)


said, their Lordships would excuse him immediately referring to the remarks of his noble Friend, seeing that he was for so long a Representative of the University of Dublin. No doubt his noble Friend had had a very difficult task to make out his case. It was not the first time that he had attempted to do so. The noble Earl had endeavoured to attain his end by a Royal Commission, then by a Public Bill, and now he desired to do it by means of a Committee of Inquiry. The noble Earl had shown considerable adroitness, and had improved upon his method of presenting this matter to their Lordships, because he had introduced a variety of topics, with the object of somewhat diverting attention from the direct matters connected with this question, rather than of concentrating their attention on the short and simple topics which, if presented plainly and directly to the House, would enable their Lordships to understand the question in a moment. He noticed also with pleasure that the noble Earl made another great change, and that was that he had abstained on the present occasion from making any charges of a grave and serious character against the Provost and Board of Trinity College. Many of these men were known throughout Europe for their scientific and classical attainments, and every one of them was as jealous of his honour and had as great an appreciation of honour as anyone who sat in their Lordships' House. What were the plain facts of the matter? Trinity College, Dublin, like all great seats of learning, possessed considerable landed property, the profits of which were applied to maintain the great educational interests intrusted to its keeping. Neither the Provost nor the Board were now personally directly interested in this College property. Up to 1851 the College property was let on leases of 21 years, renewable on certain renewal fines being paid. This being considered unsatisfactory, an Act was passed in 1851, with the consent of all parties, by which the tenants were given their holdings in perpetuity, with power to both sides to apply to have the rents varied according to certain standards of value every 10 years. It was that Act which the noble Lord wished to undermine. The effect of the Act was to turn all the renewable leases into perpetuity leases on terms greatly to the advantage of the tenants. Under those terms, either the College on the one hand, or the tenants on the other, were entitled to have the rents revised every 10 years, such rise or fall to be regulated by the price of five of the chief articles of consumption. It was, if the parties pleased, exceedingly easy to ascertain this average, and nothing like the elaborate suit mentioned by the noble Earl was required. He did not think that their Lordships would hold that the terms of this statutory contract were inequitable as regarded the tenants. The noble Earl had read a letter from some tenants embodying resolutions; and he could read to their Lordships a letter of thanks sent to the authorities of Trinity College immediately after the passing of the Act of 1851, in which the tenants strongly approved of the Act. Amongst the signatures to that document was the agent to the Leitrim estates. In 1863 certain of the rents were revised under the provisions of the Act, and then it was found that the College were entitled to raise the rents by 34 per cent. The College, however, only raised the rents by 25 per cent; and, indeed, never on any occasion had they taken from their tenants the pound of flesh to which they were justly entitled. In 1865, when again the rents were revised, the College only raised them 20 per cent. instead of the much higher percentage which they might have claimed. In 1875 the machinery of revision was again applied; and it was clearly proved that the College were entitled to raise all the rents by at least 12 per cent. The College, however, had never sought to take, and had never taken, any portion of that 12 per cent; and they had always treated their tenants with the utmost consideration compatible with the proper discharge of their obligations to the great educational interests which were committed to their charge. If the tenants believed that they were entitled to a reduction of rent, why did they not apply for a revision of the rents under the terms of the Act of 1851? The noble Earl had not shown that the prices had, in the opinion of tenants, fallen so as to justify the reduction of rent. The noble Marquess (the Marquess of Waterford), whom they all sincerely hoped to see amongst them again soon, replying to this question last year, had pointed out that there was another course, although an extreme one, open to the tenants if they were so dissatisfied. They might throw up their leases. The case of Mr. O'Connell had been mentioned. He resigned his lease; and the College Authorities, when brought face to face with the occupying tenants of that estate, dealt with them with that fairness and generosity which they had a right to expect. Griffith's valuation for these College estates was £66,833; but the rent actually paid to the College was not more than £33,077, and this sum was subject to a deduction of about £2,000 for tithe rent-charges. Therefore, they had their College perpetuity tenants paying only considerably less than one-half of Griffith's valuation. It was a remarkable fact that the present agitation, by which it was sought to bring about a reduction of these College perpetuity rents, had been got up by the middlemen, who themselves naturally obtained a large profit rental from underletting the holdings. His noble Friend, with great adroitness, had endeavoured to call in to his aid the popular feeling prevalent in many parts of Ireland in favour of bringing leaseholders within the beneficial operation of the Land Act of 1881. But the Land Act of 1881 only dealt with occupying tenants, and repudiated dealing with middlemen altogether. The agitation in Ireland was to bring occupying leaseholders within the benefit of that Act; and it had not yet been suggested by any agitation outside of their Lordships' House that middlemen in the position of his noble Friend were entitled to special legislation, not to bring them within the benefit of the Land Act of 1881, but to get them out of the Leasing and Perpetuity Act of 1851. Trinity College, Dublin, stood in a delicate position in reference to that Motion. The topics to which he had alluded were merely the very elements of common sense. They lay on the very surface of the whole question; and, of course, every member of the Board, who were men with great capacity for a clear appreciation of the rules of reason, could understand those points as well as anybody else. But when his noble Friend, in his place in Parliament, made grave charges against them in reference to the way in which they had administered their landed property in respect to those perpetuity lessees and grantees, it was an anxious question for them whether they should, from their point of view, ask to have the Motion rejected. They had nothing to conceal, nothing to shrink from; and, therefore, as far as they were concerned, all they had to say was that, under the circumstances, and with their record, they were not the body that should ask to have an inquiry like that rejected, as though they had anything to keep back, or anything of which they were ashamed. If it was suggested that the method of ascertaining prices under the Act of 1851 was cumbrous and expensive, or could be made so by one of the parties, he was sure that his noble Friend would, he was sure, be met fairly and frankly by the Board, whose members would co-operate in securing some arrangement which would make possible a cheap assessment of prices and a fair measure of value having regard to prices. But that was not the topic suggested by his noble Friend. He would not go into the question on the broader view of principle. He had spoken of it from the standpoint of the University of Dublin. But it was for the wisdom and discretion of their Lordships to decide whether they thought that was a case in which, consistently with sound principle and wholesome precedent, they could grant the inquiry now proposed. If an inquiry was granted in this case, it was obvious that their Lordships would find it very difficult not to grant it in others. If that Motion was acceded to, it would, by its opening words, give not only an inquiry into the working of the Perpetuity Act of 1851, but into the administration by the College of every inch of land it possessed in any part of Ireland. The frame of the Notice of Motion was certainly open to criticism. It was hardly reasonable to ask their Lordships to assent to such an inquiry as that now proposed with respect to the variation of rent, and to keep out of view what certainly was not immaterial—the substantial profit rent received by the middleman. The Irish Land Commission held ecclesiastical leases; the Charter House and other great public Bodies also held perpetuity leases; and if this Motion was adopted, how would it be consistent with sound principle not to give the same hearing to their lessees if they came and asked to have a Select Committee appointed? He did not discuss the question from that point of view; but he thought it would not be fair, having regard to the position which he had the honour to hold as a Member of their Lordships' House, if, in making the remarks that he had offered, he had not accompanied them with a short statement of the possibilities involved in the adoption of the precedent which his noble Friend now asked them to set.


said, he regretted that they had not heard something from the Government to guide them in this matter; and also that the noble Lord who had just spoken had done so in a manner which led them to suppose that the only remedy which was to be expected would have to come from some such inquiry as the one proposed. The question was one which ought to be arranged by the parties themselves; but now that the matter had progressed thus far he should regret very much if the inquiry was not granted.


said, he deemed it to be his duty, as a Member of their Lordships' House, to point out what it was they were asked to do. On the last occasion when the subject was before their Lordships the Chairman of Committees said of it— I cannot conceive anything more dangerous than for this House to lay down that it is lawful for the lessees of any property to bring in a Bill in order to create a new arrangement with the lessor without his consent, and for the purpose of making their own terms with the landlord. This, however, was not a Bill; it was a Motion; but what was its object? To get a recommendation made by a Select Committee on which a Bill might be founded and introduced. The noble Earl who brought this Motion forward made no secret of his desire. On a former occasion the noble Earl said that he wanted a substantial reduction of rent, and also a different mode of calculating the value decennially. This was no question of altering an Act of Parliament. The restraining Acts prevented a contract the parties wished to make; the particular Act removed that restraint; and the College and lessees made their bargain. The noble Earl wanted to alter the bargain made between the College and its lessees, not only by giving a reduction of rent, but also by getting an arbitrator to fix the amount of rent instead of having it fixed as before. The noble Earl did not want to break the leases; but he did want to break a large lump off the rent. What the perpetuity lessees were trying to do was to shift their losses, by the operation of the Fair Rent Clauses of the Land Act, upon Trinity College. [The Earl of LEITRIM: No, no!] No reason at all had been suggested why the Motion should be entertained; no case of injustice had been made out; and he hoped their Lordships would refuse the Motion.


said, he thought there could be no doubt that the noble Earl who had introduced this Motion was not merely speaking on his own behalf, but on behalf of a considerable number of persons who believed that they were suffering under a wrong, and he was afraid they would continue so to think, notwithstanding the speeches of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Ashbourne) and the noble and learned Lord who had just spoken. Now, no doubt, as a general rule, their Lordships would agree that it would be desirable to inquire into grievances which people believed they felt rather than refuse to inquire into them. At the same time there was a danger in creating inconvenient and undesirable precedents, and one had to balance the inconvenience and uudesirableness of refusing an inquiry to those who believed they were wronged, against, it might be, the still greater inconvenience and inexpediency of creating a precedent of this description. Now, it seemed to him that the claim to this Committee could only possibly be rested on a single ground. It would be out of the question that their Lordships should grant a Committee to inquire into a bargain made by private individuals with other private individuals, or even with a public Corporation; and he quite admitted that the Statute of 1851 was a statutory bargain, although in the form of an Act of Parliament, which really was only an Act of Parliament to carry out a contract between the parties, and could not be dealt with on the same footing as a Public Act. But the only ground on which this claim could be rested would be this. It was impossible for anyone to read the Leasing Act of 1851 without seeing that the intention of both parties to that bargain was that variations in the rent should take place from time to time, regulated by that which both parties at the time believed was a fair mode of determining the full value of the occupation of the land. Since that Act the Land Act had been passed, which established a different basis of estimating occupying value. If, therefore, all that was intended by the Motion was that the mode established in 1851 as an equitable method had proved to be inequitable, and if Trinity College would be perfectly willing, as the noble and learned Lord (Lord Ashbourne) seemed to indicate, to meet their perpetuity tenants and modify that method, a measure might be introduced by consent which would be a much more satisfactory way of dealing with the question than a reference to a Committee of their Lordships.


said, that after what had fallen from the Lord Chancellor he should not be justified in pressing his Motion to a division; but he should not be justified in withdrawing his Motion unless he denied the accuracy of the statements of fact which had been made in opposition to it. It was a most extraordinary proposition of the noble and learned Lord that the lessees should be asked to surrender their leases. The noble and learned Lord was a type of the confiscating and disestablishing Lord.


said, he was opposed both to confiscation and disestablishment; the suggestion in question had been started by another speaker.


said, yes; but the noble and learned Lord had adopted it. There was one other matter to which the noble and learned Lord had referred—to the charge of fraud which he had brought against the College Authorities on a former occasion; and the inference he appeared to draw from his (the Earl of Leitrim's) not repeating it to-day was that it was entirely unfounded and unwarrantable. It was one thing to assert and another thing to repeat that assertion, and he thought the latter unnecessary; but with the permission of the House he would withdraw the word "fraud," and substitute for it the words applied by the Attorney General for Ireland to the case to which he had applied the charge of fraud. These were the Attorney General's words— The motive assigned in Mr. Nunn's letter for not making any further concession may be morally a very bad one; but the legal right is not thereby affected. He must congratulate the perpetuity leaseholders upon the expressions of opinion as to the justice of their case which had been elicited. He begged to withdraw his Motion.

Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.