HL Deb 06 July 1896 vol 42 cc739-44

moved the Second Reading of this Bill. He said the subject which the Measure dealt with bristled with technicalities, and in the observations he had to make he would endeavour to pass over those technicalities as lightly as possible and confine himself chiefly to what might be called the more popular aspect of the subject. The present state of the law with regard to tithe rent-charge in Ireland was laid down very clearly in a Memorandum which Lord Rosebery submitted to the House just as he left office last year. In that Memorandum it was said:— By the Irish Church Act of 1869 (32 & 33 Vict., c. 42, s. 12) all the tithe rent-charge in Ireland became vested in the Church Temporalities Commissioners, who have since become the Irish Land Commission. The Irish Church (Amendment) Act of 1872 (35 & 36 Vict., c. 90, s. 7) provides two methods through which tithe rent-charge can be redeemed by the owner of the land charged therewith:—(1) By a cash payment equal to 22½ times the amount of such rent-charge after deducting from the latter the average sum in the pound paid for poor rates during the five years before 1869. (2) By an annuity for 52 years calculated at the rate of £4 9s. per cent. on the purchase money, as above arrived at. By the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1887 (50 & 51 Vict., e. 33, s. 15) the Land Commission may, with the consent of the Treasury, in the case of land sold under the Land Purchase Acts, redeem the tithe rent-charge at a price to be fixed by them—i.e., at less than 22½ years' purchase. That was the law as it stood at present, and those persons in Ireland who were interested in the matter asked that in consequence of what they thought was a miscalculation which was made when the Irish Church Act was passing through Committee some relief should be given them. The Treasury maintained that there was no miscalculation, because the amount of the annuity was based on the terms of the Irish Church Act. No doubt the amount of the annuity was so based, but he contended that by fixing the number of years at 52, those who commuted their annuities and received an advance from the Irish Fund would have to repay a very much larger sum of money than had been lent to them. The Irish Church Bill as originally introduced provided for compulsory commutation of tithe rent-charge in 45 years, but when the Bill was in Committee Mr. Gladstone, for some reason which he did not explain, gave up the principle of compulsion and lengthened the term from 45 to 52 years, without altering the amount of the annuity. The clause as thus altered was passed without any discussion so far as could be made out from the pages of "Hansard." He had brought the subject before the House on more than one occasion. He brought it forward in 1894 and again last year, and on both occasions there was some discussion. Since the change of Government last year, the Treasury had again looked into the matter, and he believed they practically found he was right in his contention, for they had issued an Order that when uncommuted tithe was compulsorily redeemed in the Land Purchase Court, the Commissioners might accept a price of not less than 20 years' purchase. For the present they had stopped there, but he observed that in the Irish Land Bill which had been introduced in another place they admitted the principles of 45 years against 52 years. By the first clause of this Bill he proposed that the Irish Land Commission might order the reduction of the annual sum payable under the Act of 1869, or as amended by any other Act, upon the application of any person who wished to pay off his mortgage and owed the Treasury, and that the calculation upon which this was to be done should be based on a term of 45 instead of 52 years, to apply to any sum that might be owing. This would undoubtedly give a considerable relief to many persons who were suffering from a reduction of rents. It would enable them to invest part of the purchase money in the case of sales of settled estates to tenants, in redeeming their tithe rent charge annuities over the whole estate, whether sold or not. It was legal to do this; it was provided for by one of the Land Acts, and it would give a much better investment for the money as regarded immediate income, than any one who was tied up by a trust could get at present. By the second clause they asked that when some one had been paying these sinking-fund annuities for a period of upwards of 20 years he should be entitled to go to the Land Commission and to ask how much had to be paid off, how much was owing, and to obtain a further annuity calculated upon the balance, with liberty to begin a fresh term. That would also probably give considerable relief to many persons, particularly to those who owned small estates; and it would not cost the country a penny. The third clause had been added in order to place the persons who might have commuted their tithe and afterwards obtained a smaller annuity under Clause 2 in a similar position to those who were affected by Clause 1, and also those persons from whom the Land-Commission might now accept 20 years' purchase. He thought it was only fair that every one should stand on the same footing. The Measure was not an ambitious one, and he hoped their Lordships would read it a Second time.


supported the Bill. He said there were a vast number of persons in Ireland who would be grateful to his noble Friend for having brought this Measure forward. It was a well-known fact in Ireland that next to actual taxation there was no public charge that was so widely felt or which affected such a number of persons as that of the ecclesiastical tithe charge. The Church Temporalities Commission in 1880 reported that when the Irish Church Act was passed in 1869 there were no fewer than 36,000 persons who paid rent charges under the present system. He mentioned the fact to show that this was not a Measure brought forward solely for the benefit of Irish landlords. No doubt political opponents would attempt to make political capital out of the Measure as they had done with reference to another Bill which had recently passed the other House. The returns presented to Parliament in 1872 showed that out of a total number of 19,457 landed proprietors in Ireland only 13,000 might be considered Irish landlords. In all probability the numbers were the same now as then, and therefore this Measure, if carried, would affect very nearly three times as many persons as there were landlords in Ireland. Up to 1872 the whole number of 36,000 ratepayers were entitled by Parliament to have those rents revised periodically. This privilege had always been possessed by the payers of tithe in all parts of the United Kingdom, and at present, although this privilege was taken away from the payers of ecclesiastical rent charge, it had never been taken away from those who paid the lay tithe charge. He did not think that the reason of this change was very far to seek. In 1869 the Treasury advanced £9,000,000 on the security of the Irish Church Estate, and naturally the Treasury were greatly interested in preventing either the capital or the annual value of the ecclesiastical tithe charge falling or in any way being reduced; and, consequently, in order to safeguard the interests of the Treasury, an Act—he might say a silent Act—was passed which deprived the payers of tithe of the right to have their rents raised. He said that the Act was carried silently in Parliament, for in neither House was it debated, and, consequently, those affected by the change in 1872 to safeguard the money advanced in 1869 never had an opportunity to put forward their claims or right in either House of Parliament. It might be well to bring under their Lordships' notice what was the value of the Irish Church property in respect of ecclesiastical tithe rent at the time the Irish Church Act of 1869 was passed, and when the advance of £9,000,000 was made. The evidence of Mr. Morrough O'Brien had been brought under his notice. In all matters connected with land statistics this Gentleman was a high authority, and his remarks before the Commission held to inquire into the financial relations between England and Ireland were interesting. Mr. O'Brien stated— that the tithe percentage which was the property of the Irish Church in 1869 was £410,000 per annum, while the perpetuity and other rents brought into the Irish Church £131,000. There were, however, certain difficulties with regard to this rent charge. In the first place it was difficult to identify; in the second place it was costly to collect; and in the third place it was not easily saleable in the open market. He also stated that, "as a rule, it was not worth more than 17 years' purchase.' The number of years' purchase laid down by the Treasury was 22½ years, which was an unfair number to place on the tithe-rent payers. Mr. O'Brien, speaking of perpetual rent, said it was not worth more than 21 years' purchase, and this statement was corroborated by the O'Conor Don in his evidence before the Bessborough Commission. He stated— that the Church rents were variable with the current prices, and, therefore, not so valuable as fee farm rents. He also stated— that the Church Act fixed the tithe-rent charge at 22½ years' purchase, and the perpetual rents at 25 years' purchase. And it was proved that £2,779,000 was added to the value of those annuities. The deduction, therefore, which the land-owning and tithe-rent-paying class make from this evidence naturally was that the Church property was artificially swollen to this large sum to the detriment of the land-owning class. Since 1869 the £9,000,000 advanced by the Treasury had nearly been paid off; it would be paid off in a few years by the £300,000 a year which had been paid up till now by those who had to pay the tithe-rent charge. £300,000 a year was somewhat more than 75 per cent. of the whole income which the Irish Church derived from the tithe-rent charges. It was, therefore, felt that, having paid this sum of money for many years, and the £9,000,000 being nearly paid off, there was no need for the Treasury to extract this large sum of money now; therefore, it was thought that the Treasury might easily lighten the burden of the tithe-rent-charge payers at the present time. His noble Friend referred to the fact that 22½ years' purchase of tithe had always been considered too high, and he could show, from statements that he could quote with perfect confidence, that 22½ years' purchase was far higher than those rent charges could be bought at in the open market. This statement was endorsed in 1869 in the House of Commons by Mr. Herbert, at a time when the agricultural depression in Ireland was nothing like what it was at the present time. Mr. Herbert said that the Returns of the Encumbered Estates Court showed that, from 1850 to 1869, the average price of such property was only 15¾ years' purchase. On the same occasion Mr. Gladstone admitted the excessive character of the price, which he sought to justify by the fact that the landlord might extinguish it by agreeing to pay it for 52 years. That was what his noble friend was trying to bring under their notice. Mr. Gladstone stated that to the arrangement there were three parties—the Exchequer, the Church Fund, and the landlord. The Exchequer had to lend money at 3½ per cent. In ordinary times that was not a bad transaction for the Exchequer. With regard to the Church Fund, a property usually sold at 17 and a fraction was to net 22½. That was not a bad transaction for the Church Fund. As regarded the landlord, instead of a perpetual annuity he was to pay the tithe-rent charge for 52 years, and that was not a bad transaction as regarded the tithe-rent charge. At the same time there was a great change of policy, and the extension of the rent charge was attained. He hoped that the Treasury might see their way clear in this matter.


said that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had already in Debate shown his sympathy for the tithe-rent payers, but he regretted that it was not in his power to say that the Irish Government was in favour of this Bill. The fact was that the Bill as at present put forth was quite unworkable, possibly owing to its drafting. The title of the Bill was really a wrong title. The second clause in the Bill was the same as a clause in the new Irish Land Bill which would shortly come before the other House. The drafting of Clauses 3 and 4 was such that the Irish Government considered that the intentions of the promoters of the Measure would be absolutely defeated. Under these circumstances he would ask the noble Lord either to withdraw the Measure or move its adjournment. As it at present stood it was impossible for the Government to give it a Second Reading.


moved that the Debate be adjourned.

Further Debate adjourned sine die.