HL Deb 24 March 1899 vol 69 cc308-10

My Lords, I rise to ask Her Majesty's Government how soon the Bill dealing with the Irish tithe-rent payments will be introduced; and whether it contains within its purview clauses providing remedies for the negligence of the officials who should have kept a correct annual schedule of prices of cereals in Ireland, as has been always done in England, and thus alleviating the hardships inflicted on the present payers of lay tithes; and whether such clauses are retrospective I This particular class of tithes were not affected by the Act of 1872, which made a commutation and composition possible for nearly all tithes in Ireland, but they are dealt with by the Act of 1825, under which it is competent to vary the amount payable. The period of variation is a septennial one, the variation being-based upon the average value of cereals during the previous seven years. The schedule of prices was published, as a rule, in the "Dublin Gazette," which was, I believe, a Government publication. That Gazette appeared from 1825 to 1887, and then ceased. Why it ceased nobody seems to know, and it is very difficult to obtain any information on the subject. Lay tithes have been varied since 1887, when they have been taken at the septennial period before the proper tribunal, which is generally the Recorder or the county court judge. I believe that in all cases they have been reduced, and in some cases by very nearly 50 per cent. No doubt some sharp solicitor found out that the schedule of prices has not been published, as it ought to have been since 1887. He brought forward a test case, and it was decided last year by the Court of Appeal that no lay tithes can now be varied, as there is no Government schedule on which to base the variation; that no variation can now be made for seven years, and that all variations since the year 1887 are null and void. I need hardly say that this inflicts very great hardship on a large number of persons in Ireland, and, as far as I can understand, the non-publication of the schedule is the result of negligence on the part of some Government official in Ireland. All we ask is, that in the Bill shortly to be introduced some provision should be made to remedy this injustice, and that, if possible, it should be retrospective.


My Lords, I hope I shall not be out of order if I venture to supplement the question of my noble Friend with a few remarks upon a kindred subject. Certain leaseholders hold ecclesiastical perpetuity leases under the Irish Land Commission, and by the terms of their leases they are entitled to have their rates varied at septennial periods, the variation being based on the published corn prices, and the difference between them and the standard stated in the lease. The decision my noble Friend has alluded to has been held by the Land Commissioners to debar this variation in the case of these leases, and thereby great hardship is inflicted on the present holders of those leases, who are in most cases landlords themselves. The result is that while their rents are going down by the action of the Land Commission, the payments they have to make in respect of ecclesiastical perpetuity leases are, owing to this legal quibble, left as before without being lowered as they should be. I think this is a matter which should receive the attention of Her Majesty's Government in drafting the new Bill.


My Lords, I cannot state definitely when Her Majesty's Government intend to introduce the Bill, except that it will be after Easter. It is not possible to give any definite assurance as to the con- tents of the Bill before it is produced, but I can inform the noble Lord that the points which he has raised have occupied the consideration of the Government. With that assurance, I hope the noble Lord will rest content for the present. With regard to the remarks which have fallen from the noble Earl (the Earl of Dartrey), I did not know he was going to raise that point, and, therefore, I can say nothing definite upon it except that it will no doubt receive attention.


I thank the noble Lord for his reply. I would strongly urge the Government to give special attention to this matter, as there are a large number of poor landlords and others who are suffering under the present system. I hope the Bill will be introduced as soon as possible after Easter. It must necessarily be one of a complicated character, and it is essential that we should have time to consider it.


My Lords, I rise to express the hope that the Bill dealing with the Irish tithe-rent payments will not only contain clauses such as have been suggested by the noble Lord (Lord Castletown), but that means will be found of simplifying the procedure which is now necessary in order to get tithe-rent revised. I am told by a solicitor of great standing in Ireland that to get tithe-rent reduced by £30 or £40 would cost as much as proving the fee simple of one's estate.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.