HL Deb 01 June 1897 vol 50 cc1-4

*LORD MORRIS, who had given notice of the following Motion,— To move to resolve that, in the opinion of this House, similar relief should be extended to Ireland to that given by the Agricultural Act 1896 to England, said that, as might possibly have occurred to many of their Lordships, he did not intend to persevere in moving the Resolution of which he had given notice. Since he gave that notice the First Lord of the Treasury in the House of Commons had made a statement of an important and far-reaching character, and one which, as far as he understood it, met substantially the Motion of which he had previously given notice, namely, to extend to Ireland the benefits which had been conferred by the Agricultural Rating Act of 1896 on England. He could not accept that statement as a boon, as it had been described very largely in the Press in England. ["Hear, hear !"] He accepted it as a fair act of justice towards Ireland, which he would have been prepared to prove if it was necessary upon this occasion. While the rules which regulated political economy were said to have been relegated to Saturn or Jupiter, he forgot which, they had still the rules of arithmetic with them, and as long as two and two made four, on the other side of the Channel as well as upon this, he felt perfectly satisfied that he could have demonstrated that Ireland was entitled to the relief asked for. At the same time he was very glad to congratulate the Government upon having made this timely—he might say this prudent concession, to the irritated feeling which undoubtedly prevailed in Ireland amongst all classes with regard to the treatment which Ireland was receiving in this financial question, of which this was but a branch. ["Hear, hear!"] He, therefore, with the permission of the House, would withdraw the Motion of which he had given notice, merely calling attention to one aspect of it. The First Lord of the Treasury, as he understood the principle on which he founded his novel, ingenious, and able plan, took as the great principle of it that the landlords should be relieved of the payment of the rural rates in Ireland, that was from the payment of half the poor rate in most cases, and he should imagine, from the payment of the entire rates in the cases in which the landlords had been in the habit of paying them, namely, in cases of tenancies of £4 and under. The principle was to relieve the landlord from the rural rates, the reason being the apprehension that if by the action of the new administrative bodies to be constituted, extravagance ensued, the landlords would be mulcted. He could not, however, follow why only half the rates should be paid in the case of tenancies at or under £4, where the landlord was at present called upon to pay the whole. That was not, of course, the law when the Poor Law was introduced into Ireland in the first year after the accession of Her Gracious Majesty to the Throne. Not for many years afterwards was it introduced, and the system was introduced as a better mode of collection, at a time when it was thought, and possibly rightly, that the landlord was master of the situation and could increase his rent to cover the rate. He need not say that that time was past. There was no reason now that landlords should be left liable where they had tenancies at or under £4, and that was the case in the most distressed parts of Ireland, in which the landlords had greater difficulty in getting in their rents, namely, in the south and west; otherwise the landlord would certainly be mulcted, if not in the whole, in the half of the whole. So much for the contemplated legislation which his Motion dealt with. As he was on his legs, however, he would like to say a word on the other portion of it, which promised great and important changes in local administration in Ireland. They might have become inevitable from political exigencies, or in order to give similar institutions to the two countries, but at the same time, as one who by birth and by interest was connected with the smaller landed gentry of Ireland, who were in no way represented in the House of Commons, and scarcely represented in that House either, he would say that he looked with sonic regret on this impending change. He agreed with the First Lord of the Treasury that, taking it all in all, the Grand Jury system had worked fairly well. ["Hear, hear!"] It was administered economically, although it was illogical. In early life he filled the office of grand juror repeatedly, and for twenty-three years at the General Assize Courts he revised and controlled the powers of presentment and the actions of Grand Juries of every county in Ireland. He could, therefore, offer his testimony to the fact that the system worked well, although it was illogical. The smaller gentry, who mainly composed the Grand Juries, were one of the most important bodies in Ireland, they permanently resided in the country, the whole social life of the counties centred round them, they were the largest customers of the local shops, the largest employers of labour, and the patrons and supporters of legitimate sport. ["Hear, hear!"] He hoped that although their privileged power might be taken from them by Act of Parliament, they would not isolate themselves, but would contend for and successfully win on their own merits, their proper places in the new administrative bodies to be constituted in Ireland. [''Hear, hear !"] With their Lordships' permission he would now withdraw his Motion.


said that the noble Lord need not do so, he could content himself with not moving.