HL Deb 01 April 1898 vol 55 cc1620-6

My Lords, I beg to move for a Return, in tabular form, showing the financial position of the Irish Church Estate at 31st March 1897, in the following respects—


1. Nature or description of each source of income (classifying the several sources as permanent, terminable, or miscellaneous revenue);

2. Annual income receivable therefrom (as distinguished from actual receipts);

3. Statutory price at which same may be sold or redeemed;

4. Estimated capital value of each source of income at 31st March, 1897, at the statutory price thereof.


5. Nature or decription of each liability or charge created by Irish Church Act of 1869, and subsequent Statutes (specifying the Statute which created same);

6. Original capital value of each such liability, where same consisted of a loan or advances made on the security of the estate;

7. Rate of interest charged for same;

8. Sinking fund for repayment of each such capital charge;

9. Normal annuity (including interest and sinking fund) payable for same;

10. Date when each capital charge was (or under normal conditions will be) extinguished;

11. Amount of each capital charge outstanding at 31st March, 1897;

12. Estimated annual amount of other or miscellaneous expenditure.

I do not intend to trespass at any length on your Lordships' time. I hope I shall be able to prove, in the very few words which I propose to address to you, that my Motion is really of a very simple character. It is a sequel to a very important Debate which took place in your Lordships' House in July last, and which, I have no doubt, is still green in the memories of those of your Lordships who take an interest in Irish affairs. The Debate to which I allude was inaugurated by Lord Belmore, who has always been identified with questions of tithe rent-charge in Ireland, and I regret that such an expert as he should not, on the present occasion, be occupying my place. But, as he is prevented from being present today, and as we consider the question of importance as being a sequel to that Debate, he has asked me to move for the Returns which I have set forth on the Paper. The Debate to which I allude was one in which Lord Belmore moved that an Address be presented to Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to report to what extent the payers of the Irish tithe rent-charge were entitled to a reduction. I am sure your Lordships, from the course that Debate took, fully realised the hardships under which the land-owning class in Ireland have suffered for many years past, and which are due not to any fault of their own, but to the various Acts of Parliament which the Legislature have considered themselves justified in passing. Consequently, it was with no surprise that we who listened to that Debate heard the various notes of sympathy which were rung by the various Members of Her Majesty's Government who took part in the Debate. On that occasion the Government were represented, in the first instance, by my noble Friend, Lord Denbigh, and he, on behalf of the Government, sympathised very sincerely with the wants and requirements of those who were represented by Lord Belmore. My noble and learned Friend below me, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, speaking with all the authority due to his great position in Ireland, and also as a leading Member of Her Majesty's Government, went so far as to say that Her Majesty's Government would, during the Recess, give every consideration to the views which had been put forward; and he held out every hope that, in the coming Session, the Government would introduce a Bill dealing with this question. I think that was, more or less, the effect of the remarks he made in the course of that Debate. Well, my Lords, we therefore consider, after his remarks, that the Government are now probably anxious to alleviate the hardships under which the land-owners and tithe rent-charge payers are at present suffering by introducing a Bill during the Session, but we think it is advisable that, when such a Bill is introduced, those who are interested in the question, and those who will have to carefully consider the details of such a Measure, should be in full possession of all the information in connection with the subject, and this information I have, in the absence of my noble Friend, moved for. My Lords, we think it is but fair that not only the Members of your Lordships' House who are connected with Ireland—not only the tithe rent-charge payers—but the British public should be in possession of these statistics. It may be said that a certain amount of information can be derived from the annual reports of the Irish Land Commission, but we maintain that the information is not sufficient at the present time. There has been no Parliamentary Return that has enabled the public to find out, and to judge for themselves, on three points—firstly, to what extent the Irish Church Estate is charged; secondly, how long those charges are likely to be outstanding; and, thirdly, how far the tithe rent-charge can be remitted without prejudicing the security of loans charged on that estate. We think, my Lords, that we have a right to ask for this information, and I cannot for a moment imagine that Her Majesty's Government will be reluctant to grant it. Another Member of Her Majesty's Government—no less a person than the Prime Minister himself, whom I trust we shall soon see restored to health and in his place again—speaking on a Debate which took place on the same subject, made a speech of an extremely symparthetic and friendly character. I do not wish to weary your Lordships by quoting that speech, but I think I am justified in saying that the Prime Minister sympathised very materially with the request that was put forward, and assured us that Her Majesty's Government would be very glad indeed to alleviate the sufferings of the land-owning classes, if such alleviation could be obtained without any call or any drain on the Imperial Exchequer. He added that Her Majesty's Government would be very glad to receive proposals from those who were interested in this question, and that they would carefully consider those proposals, so long as they did not involve any drain on the Imperial Exchequer. We should be very glad either to consider the Measure which we trust will be put forward, or to ourselves put forward proposals at the suggestion of the Prime Minister; but we maintain that we cannot put forward those proposals in a complete form unless we are furnished with the statistics and the Returns for which I am now moving. I will not trespass further on your time, my Lords, for it is with absolute confidence that I move the Motion which stands in my name.


My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord who generally answers for the Irish Office, I have been requested to inform the noble Marquess that the Government do not think it necessary to grant the Return, on the ground that almost all the information which he asks for will be found on page 103 of the last Annual Report of the Land Commission.


My Lords, may I be allowed to again trespass on your time for a few moments? I specially laid stress, in the remarks I made, upon the fact that a certain amount of information was given in the Report of the Irish Land Commission to which my noble Friend alludes, but no Parliamentary Return was given, and therefore the information given by the Land Commission was absolutely inadequate. I confess I am rather surprised and somewhat disappointed at the reply given by my noble Friend. It seems difficult to reconcile the statement of my noble and learned Friend below me (the Lord Chancellor of Ireland), and the advice given by the Prime Minister to consider our own proposals, and then submit them to Parliament, with the action of the Government through my noble Friend who has replied on their behalf. Perhaps the fact that this is the 1st of April has something to do with it. I cannot for a moment consider that they wish to change their views, but I am bound to say that I think the reply which my noble Friend has given to-day will not give satisfaction to those who had looked upon the statements in July with gratification. Owing to the adjournment of the House I shall not be in a position to raise this question again, but when the House resumes after Easter, when I hope the Prime Minister will be in his place, we shall ask him how he could imagine that we can initiate proposals on a very complicated question when the Returns, which we consider we are entitled to, and which are absolutely necessary for the formation of those proposals, are refused to us.


My Lords, I do not think my noble Friend who has just spoken has done justice to the reply which my noble Friend has given on behalf of the Government. My noble Friend has asked for information showing the financial position of the Irish Church Estate at 31st March, 1897, and my noble Friend who has replied on behalf of the Treasury refers him to a certain page of the last Report of the Irish Land Commission, which is accessible to the world, and which must have been laid upon the Table of both Houses of Parliament. The Government are most anxious to give all the information asked for, and if my noble Friend refers to the page to which his attention has been directed, and then is able to point out any further information for which he can legitimately ask, the matter will be fairly considered.


My Lords, I assure your Lordships that the passage in the Report has been referred to, and that it does not contain sufficient information to enable us to frame a Bill or a demand. You must remember the former history of this matter. First of all, Lord Belmore moved for a Royal Commission, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor of Ireland informed us that the Government would very likely bring in a Bill. The noble Lord behind me (Lord Morris) said we ought to be perfectly satisfied with the answer of the Government when we were going to get a Bill. We cannot possibly frame a Bill without knowing the state of the accounts. Surely we are moving for a very simple thing. The Church Estate has been taken away from us, and, now that it is administered by the Government, we ask for a Return of the accounts of that estate. That is not very much to ask, but yet it is absolutely refused by Her Majesty's Government. We have referred to the Return of the Irish Land Commission and have gone most carefully into it, but we find in Dublin that it does not give the required information. That is why we move for this Return. As Her Majesty's Government have refused the Return, I quite agree with the noble Marquess behind me [the Marquess of Londonderry] that we shall raise the question again after Easter, and I hope the Prime Minister will then be in his place, and that he will afford us that sympathy which we evidently do not find on the Front Bench to-day.


There is no desire to withhold sympathy or information. It is all a question of figures. It has not been suggested that the information in the Report of the Land Commission, to which my noble Friends have been referred, is in the slightest degree defective. If my noble Friend who has just spoken will point out any particulars in which the information is defective I will see if the proper information can be supplied to him.


My Lords, my noble Friend [the Marquess of Londonderry] has moved for certain Returns. As a general rule Returns are given upon the Motion of a noble Lord who, on his own responsibility, applies for them, unless there is some good reason to the contrary either that they are very expensive, or very difficult to obtain. As I understand it, the answer of my noble Friend who represents the Government is that the information can be got from a page of the Return of the Irish Land Commission. Well, my noble Friend below me [the Earl of Mayo] says the page referred to does not contain the information. I fail to see that there would be any difficulty in affording the information sought, because it appears substantially in the Report of the Land Commission. To refuse this Return leads one to think there must be an object in refusing it. Some of the Treasury authorities think the information is contained in another Report, but other people seem to hold a different opinion. That being so, why not grant the Return?


My Lords, it is very difficult for a layman to extract from the Report of the Land Commission the information required. I am informed that a man accustomed to collate these Returns could get the information in a short space of time. I am sure it would give satisfaction to many who are interested in this question, if the Government will reconsider their decision and grant the return asked for.


Does the noble Marquess persist in his Motion?


I certainly do not propose to go to a Division, but I think I am justified in saying that when the Prime Minister returns we shall take another opportunity of calling attention to the matter. And then, if the Return be refused, much as we shall be sorry to vote against the Government, we shall certainly take the opinion of the House on the question.


It will be easy to inquire from the Treasury and the Irish Office whether there really is any necessity for an additional Return. I do not think the noble Earl [the Earl of Erne] improved the case for the granting of this Return. He said that anybody accustomed to collate these Returns could easily obtain from the Return referred to the information asked for. I suppose such assistance is within the reach of the noble Earl, and therefore there is no great necessity for incurring the expense of granting a Parliamentary Return.

Motion withdrawn.