HL Deb 02 July 1888 vol 328 cc3-10

Moved, "That the Marquess of Waterford be heard sitting."—(The Earl of Milltown.)

Motion agreed to.


,speaking from his seat, proceeded to ask the Lord Privy Seal, Whether, in consequence of the fall in the prices of those articles of farm produce upon which the tithe rent-charge was assessed in Ireland prior to the Act of 1872 (by which Act the right to obtain a periodical revision was taken away), and taking into consideration the recent compulsory adjustment of rents in Ireland, Her Majesty's Government were prepared to grant relief to those persons who were at present liable for the payment of tithe rent-charge, or the instalments payable in lieu of the same, under the Act of 1869; also whether, having regard to the 15th section of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887 (which empowered the Treasury to fix the redemption price of tithe rent-charge), and to the 60th paragraph of the Report of the Royal Commission presided over by Lord Cowper on the Land Law (Ireland) Acts of 1881 and 1885 (which recommended that the present rate of purchase should be reduced), Her Majesty's Government would consent to reduce the price required for the redemption of tithe rent- charge, fixed by the Act of 1869 at 22½ years' purchase, and for the instalments payable by those who had converted the same into terminable annuities? The noble Marquess said he would like to say a few words before he put the Question which stood in his name with regard to the present position of tithe rent-charge payers in Ireland and how they came into that position. Prior to 1823 tithes were payable in kind. An Act was then passed establishing a composition for tithes in Ireland in lieu of payment in kind. In 1832 the Act of 1823 (which was voluntary) was made compulsory and perpetual, subject to a revision assessed every seven years on the prices of wheat and oats. At that time the occupier paid the tithes as a tax on the produce of his farm; but an Act was passed in 1838 making the owner responsible instead of the occupier for a perpetual rent-charge of three-fourths of the composition, subject to the same variation as under the Act of 1832. In 1869 the Irish Church was disestablished, the composition being still left variable every seven years. The Church Commissioners were empowered to sell at 22½ years' purchase; or, if applied to, to create terminable annuities at the rate of £49s. per cent for the term of 52 years. He was told the original term named was 45 years, but this limit was afterwards altered. In 1872—and he wished particularly to draw their Lordships' attention to that Act—the right of periodical variation according to the price of wheat and oats was taken away, and tithe rent-charge was made a fixed quantity, lay tithes only being left still liable to variation, and he was informed that lay tithes had been reduced in Ireland during recent years. He could name one instance which took place in New Ross—a town near his own home—in which a lay tithe was reduced 11 per cent at the November Sessions, last year in consequence of the cheapness of oats. He had, as shortly as possible, put before their Lordships the different Acts of Parliament relating to that subject. He found that in 1869 the annual value of tithe rent-charge was about £410,000. Of this only about £25,000 had been purchased and about £203,000 converted into terminable annuities, leaving about £182,000 neither sold nor converted. These were very striking figures; and he was at a loss to understand why the payers of such a large sum of money preferred continuing to pay their tithes for ever instead of converting them into terminable annuities. Perhaps they considered that the terms offered were bad. In his Question, therefore, he dealt with both classes—one, the payer of tithe rent-charge, and the other, the payer of terminable annuities in lieu of the same. He thought there were no men in the world who had been so hardly treated as the Irish landlords. They had their Church disestablished and disendowed, and were still obliged to pay their tithes in full—a fact not generally known in England—and, of course, had to support their Church in addition—an extra expense which had been placed upon them since 1869. Their Lordships must remember that up to 1838 the occupier paid the tithes; and that, when that Act was passed, a clause was inserted empowering the landlord to add the amount of the reduced rent-charge to the rents and to recover the same as rent from tenants holding under leases. The same thing, of course, applied to ordinary tenancies. This arrangement was absolutely fair, as the land up to that time had been let subject to the full tithe. But where was that tithe now? Had not it, and a great deal more than it, been entirely swept away under the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887? The occupier, who was originally liable, was now relieved of the tithe, and a great deal more; but the owner, on to whose back this extra burden was shifted, had to pay the full tithe as fixed in 1838 still—a tithe which was variable up to the Act of 1872, but was by that Act made a fixed quantity when prices were at their highest, and would undoubtedly have been largely reduced at the present time if the power of periodical revision had not been taken away. He held in his hand a table taken from The Dublin Gazette—the paper named in the Acts of Parliament he had referred to—which showed that the average price of wheat for seven years ending 1887 was 35.3 per cent below the average price for seven years ending 1872; and the average price of oats for seven years ending 1887 was 17.5 per cent below the average price for seven years ending 1872. As these are the two articles upon which tithe rent-charge was assessed, their Lordships could easily cal- culate what the reduction would have been. He might mention that, although tithe rent-charge was assessed upon corn, wheat was now so little grown in Ireland that it had nothing to do with the fixing of rent. With regard to the legislation affecting rent, up to 1881 rents were arrived at by agreement. They had since been enormously varied by the State, and reduced far below the rate that the fall in the prices of farm produce would have authorized. Last year a new Land Act was passed by Her Majesty's Government, giving a further reduction upon a generally reduced rent fixed by the State for 15 years, a reduction that was arrived at by estimating the fall in the prices of produce since the judicial rent had been fixed and reducing it upon that scale. He thought no stronger case could be brought forward in favour of granting some relief. Rents—especially under leases, which were not variable—had been made variable by Act of Parliament at a moment when prices were at their lowest, and tithe rent-charge, which was variable, was made a fixed quantity when prices were at their highest, and had remained at that quantity all through the bad times. Her Majesty's Government had expressed on several occasions its sympathy with Irish landlords in their great and unmerited distress. Was Her Majesty's Government prepared to show its sympathy in a tangible form, and to grant some relief with regard to a tax which the reduction in the price of corn and the Land Acts of 1881 and 1887 had rendered exceptionally unfair? Then, as to the second part of his question—namely, to ask that the number of years' purchase—fixed at 22½—should be reduced both for tithe rent-charge and terminable annuities in lieu of the same, this price always was ridiculous. It was stated in the debate of 1869 by Mr. Gladstone that this class of property usually fetched 17 and a fraction years' purchase; and as it was to be sold at 22½, that was not a bad transaction for the Church Fund, or, in other words, the State. The Attorney General for Ireland and other speakers placed the price even lower, and were not contradicted. Why the State should make money out of the Irish tithe rent-charge payers he was at a loss to understand. A large quantity of land had changed hands in Ireland lately, much of it at from 18 to 20 years' purchase. Why should an unfortunate landlord, when he had to redeem his tithe rent-charge, be obliged to pay for it a number of years' purchase more than he received for his land, and more than it was ever worth in the market? Why should a terminable annuity of 4 per cent for 49 years make a tenant owner of his holding under the Act of 1885, and a landlord be obliged to pay £4 9s. per cent for 52 years in order to purchase his tithe rent-charge? It had been calculated that if a landlord got the same terms as a tenant he would pay off his principal and interest in 40 years by an annuity of £4 9s. per cent. And even taking the figures named in the Act of 1869—£3 10s. per cent and 19s. sinking fund—the whole sum, principal and interest, would be entirely paid off in 46 years instead of 52 years. Why on earth should the tithe-payers be asked to make the State a present of six years' purchase more than it was entitled to obtain when they wished to redeem their tithe rent-charge—a sum amounting to about £2,460,000 more than that which was really due? There was power under the 15th section of the Land Act of last year for the Treasury to vary this ridiculous price. Why did they not do so? The Royal Commission presided over by the noble Earl (Earl Cowper) recommended in the 60th paragraph of its Report that the rate of purchase should be reduced. Several of the recommendations contained in the Report of that Commission which were adverse to the interests of the landlords of Ireland were embodied in the Land Act of last year. Surely it was not too much to ask that Her Majesty's Government should at last take some notice of a recommendation which was absolutely fair in itself, which would not deprive the country of one shilling that was rightly due to it, which was founded upon strong evidence, and which no one living could produce one single argument against. He thanked their Lordships for allowing him to speak in his present position, and he begged to ask the Question that stood in his name.


said, he was glad to hear the voice of the noble Marquess again. He begged to congratulate him upon his being able to resume his duties in the House, and House also upon the able and successful state- ment which he had made on the present occasion. The noble Marquess had referred to the Act of last year, and he (Lord Fitzgerald) must confess that he looked back to that Act with a grateful recognition of what was owed to the Irish landlords for their self-sacrifice. Although that was an Act which took away so much from them, it was passed through their Lordships' House almost without a murmur, certainly with no expressions of dissent, and he always considered that their conduct on that occasion was entitled to be described as one of noble disinterestedness. He must regret, however, that the large and almost revolutionary sacrifices which the Irish landlords had thus made had not been received in that spirit of gratitude and good faith on the other side of the water in which they ought to have been received. He believed the reason for this was that the people had been entirely misled on the question. The Act of last Session contained a principle and precedent directly applicable to the present case—the 15th section of the Act, authorizing the Land Commissioners, if they thought it fit and expedient, to order the redemption of the tithe rent-charge at a price to be fixed by the Land Commission with the consent of the Treasury. He thought the claim now made by the noble Marquess was strictly just, and he hoped the Government would give him a very liberal and favourable answer to the Question.


said, that, as a Member of Lord Cowper's Commission, he desired to remind their Lordships of the evidence given by more than one expert witness, Judge Flanagan, of the Landed Estates Court, being one, that 22½ years' purchase was an excessively high price. The evidence showed that, even in good times, no more than 18 years' purchase could be obtained for tithe rent-charges.


said, that before answering the Question that had been put to him he should like to allude to the words which fell from the noble and learned unselfish conduct of the landlords of Ireland during the time of the passage through Parliament of the Land Act of last year; and the noble and learned Lord added—and he was sorry to hear it—that that conduct on the part of Irish landlords had not received on the other side of the Channel its due measure of appreciation. That could not be said with regard to this side of the Channel. As he was the humble individual to whom was assigned the duty of piloting that measure through the House, he might be allowed to state that he was deeply impressed and sincerely grateful to the noble Lords connected with Ireland, not only for the forbearance and generosity which they showed during the passage of that measure through the House, but for the assistance which they gave him during the somewhat arduous duties which he had to perform on that occasion. He had listened to the remarks of his noble Friend on this subject with interest, and the historical sketch of the Acts of Parliament relating to this subject given by him appeared to be strictly accurate. The remarks of the noble Marquess with regard to the present position of the Irish landlords met, he was sure, with the sympathy of nearly all the Members their Lordships' House. It was impossible to deny that the noble Marquess had brought forward a very serious and substantial grievance. The noble and learned Lord opposite had stated that the claim which the noble Marquess had made was one which was strictly in accordance with justice, and he (Earl Cadogan) believed that in saying that he did not go one whit beyond the actual state of the case. The Government recognized the difficulties under which the Irish landlords laboured in regard to rent-charge, and it was their anxious wish to afford a remedy for a state of things which nobody could deny required immediate attention and consideration. It was, unfortunately, impossible to do this without legislation, and—to repeat a remark which it was his duty to make before during the present Session—it was also impossible to entertain the hope legislation initiated at this period of the year would have any prospect of passing through both Houses of Parliament this Session. That being the case, he did not think it would be consistent either with his duty or with the convenience of the House that he should follow his noble Friend through the statements he had made and the arguments he had adduced, which would be more properly dealt with when the measure brought before their Lordships' House, which it would be the duty of Her Majesty's Government to introduce. When he stated that this subject was under the anxious consideration of the Government with a view to taking such steps in the direction sketched by the noble Marquess as might be feasible, he could assure his noble Friend that he was stating that which was actually the fact. It was the sincere desire of Her Majesty's Government, with as little delay as possible, to formulate their proposals, and lay them upon the Table of the House.