HL Deb 15 June 1891 vol 354 cc377-81

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


This, my Lords, is a Bill which has passed the other House, and the object of it is that in certain cases the tenant may be substituted for the proprietor by the Board of Works for the purpose of obtaining advances under the Irish Acts for the drainage and improvement of lands. It has been found that under existing circumstances operations for the drainage and improvement of land have been considerably interfered with in certain cases owing to the working of the Land Act of 1881, and I believe there is a general assent to the provisions of this Bill, which was approved by the Irish Government in the other House. I was asked some time ago to postpone the Second Reading of this Bill, because very serious controversy has been raised as to the effect of these advances, the question being whether they were a burden only upon the limited interest of the person obtaining them, or whether, when that limited interest ceased, they remained a burden upon the freehold. Of course, if the latter had been the decision, I should at once have recognised its serious effect upon this measure, and it is obvious that it would have had to be amended to meet cases of that description; but I see by the statements which have appeared in the newspapers that the effect of the judgment recently pronounced by the Court of Appeal, in which I believe all the Judges took part, was that these advances only affected the limited interest of the persons obtaining them, and not the interest of the freeholder. Under those circumstances, I do not know there is any objection now to the second Reading of the Bill.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Herschell.)


(who by leave of the House was heard sitting): My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has placed this Bill before your Lordships as if it was a very moderate measure indeed, but I can assure him that we, as landlords, do not like this Bill at all. I do not propose to move that the Bill be not read a second time, but at the same time I hope the noble and learned Lord will consent to its being amended in Committee, because there are clauses in it which render it possible—clauses of a compulsory character—that a landlord's estate might be very seriously jeopardised without his consent. This Bill has several provisions which enable the tenant under certain arrangements to act in the place of the proprietor and have all the liabilities and obligations of a proprietor. But what will happen at the termination of the tenancy? The proprietor then at once takes the place of the ex-tenant, and has to pay the instalments on these loans for works upon the land which probably had been carried out without his consent. That would be a very serious thing for the landlord. But there are some other views to be taken of it. As the noble and learned Lord said, the Bill was necessitated by the Land Act of 1881; but that Act has necessitated a great many things in Ireland which I do not think people altogether approve of at the present time. We have the Land Act; and what may happen? Suppose we take the case of a landlord who has five tenants who under these drainage schemes borrow £1,000, and they have to pay 5 per cent. for it for a certain number of years. That would be £10 for each tenant. Those five tenants go into Court, and the first thing the Commissioners would do would be to take £10 off their rents before going further. It is a very serious thing for landlords to consider that their rents may be reduced for carrying out drainage schemes which may do no good to their property, but may very likely be an injury. I have known such cases to happen. But there is another thing. We have had a Purchase Bill in the past and we are going to have another Purchase Bill here directly; and your Lordships must remember that there is a clause in this Purchase Bill which necessitates that the Commissioners should consider any loan—but a Board of Works' loan is particularly mentioned—as a first charge upon the holding before they assess what the purchase money is. In lending money for the purchase of holdings the Commissioners under the Land Purchase Acts have to consider those burdens as a first charge on the land, and they would therefore lend so much less on land burdened with a Board of Works' loan. The Commissioners would, of course, be inclined to advance so much less because there is a previous charge which comes in before the payment of the instalments on the loan which the Purchase Commissioners would be authorised to advance. Then there is another thing; the existence of the loan might, therefore, prevent the Commissioners advancing the purchase as, subject to the loan, the security might not, in their opinion, be sufficient. It is possible that the Purchase Commissioners may say: "This holding is valued at so much, but we do not think that there is, in fact, value sufficient to enable us to advance any money upon it; as the instalment to be paid will come in after this Board of Works' loan, we will therefore force the landlord out of his purchase money to buy up this loan." That would act most injuriously to the interests of the landlord. They might force the landlord to buy up the loan, and thus, not only would his purchase money be reduced, but he would be paying out of his own pocket for works which he had never assented to, and which, possibly, he would wish had never been carried out. Considering that there are these objections, I hope your Lordships will agree to take the compulsory clause out of the Bill, and allow the landlord, who is to be placed in this position in future, at any rate, to give or withhold his consent. I have no objection to the tenants being placed in the position of proprietors if the landlord consents to it, but I object entirely to tenants being placed in the position of proprietors without the landlord's consent.


As your Lordships are aware, this is not a Bill promoted by the Government, but it is one which has passed the other House with their approval. I think the criticisms which my noble Friend thinks necessary could be met by Amendments moved in Committee, and it is therefore our view that it would, perhaps, be desirable that the Bill should be allowed to go to Second Reading, and that my noble Friend and others who have Amendments to move should have the opportunity of doing so at the next stage of the Bill. The only principle, as I understand it, which would be affirmed by reading the Bill a second time would be that the tenants, who will have now a greater interest in the improvement of the land, should be allowed a voice in the formation of Drainage Boards, with every protection possible to the landlords. That being so, and if that protection can be given by Amendments, I see no objection to the Bill being read a second time.


I have, of course, no objection to Amendments being moved by the noble Marquess or any one else. With regard to the second part of the Bill, it will require consideration whether the proprietor should have an absolute arbitrary power in every case, no matter how remote the interest of the proprietor might be, to stand in the way of the carrying out of a drainage system under the provisions of the Act, but I quite agree that he ought to have a voice in the matter, and to be safeguarded as far as may be necessary.


My Lords, I agree with what has been said both by the noble and learned Lord and by the noble Marquess. If it is clear that no liability is to fall upon the owner under any circumstances, I have no objection to the Bill; but I do not see why the landlord should be called upon to pay the instalments. I would venture also to remark, that I believe in almost every case the expenses of these drainage schemes have been a great deal more than and nearly double the estimate. In one case certainly, as I understand, the amount expended was nearly double the estimated cost.


I beg to confirm what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down. I may say that I am in precisely that position.

On Question, agreed to.

Bill read 2a (according to order), and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Friday the 26th instant.