HL Deb 26 July 1900 vol 86 cc1275-83

Amendments reported (according to Order).


said the Amendment standing in his name did not touch any question of ecclesiastical tithes or commuted tithes; it dealt only with a limited number of lay tithes. He had no personal interest in the matter, but was confident that there would be cases of gross injustice under the Bill if the Amendment standing in his name were not inserted.

Amendment moved— In Clause 3, page 3, line 5, after Sub-section (3) to insert Sub-section (4):—' (4) Where a tithe rent-charge has been varied by any order of a court of quarter sessions made after the passing of the Irish Church Act, 1869, the amount at which it stood before the making of the order shall, for the purposes of this clause, be taken and deemed to be the amount at which it stood on the twenty-second day of August, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-four.' "—(Lord Cloncurry.)


As I understand, the Amendment has nothing whatever to say to the great numbers that are represented by ecclesiastical tithe-payers, but is confined to a very small number of lay tithe-payers. My noble friend takes exception to the principle of the Bill, which is that there shall be a revision, not, as in the old times, once possibly every seven years, but once every fifteen years. My noble friend seems to think that because there may have been some lay tithe-payers who got a revision in 1872, therefore it would be unfair to subject the owners to another revision even after a lapse of sixteen years. But where is this picking and choosing of dates to stop? I do not think my noble friend has made out his case.

Amendment, by leave of the House, withdrawn.


moved the omission of Clause 8, which ran as follows:— (1) Section 1 of this Act shall not apply to any annual sum charged upon land where the estate or interest therein of the person, liable to pay such annual sum has, after the creation of such charge and before the thirteenth day of April one thousand eight hundred and ninety-six, been conveyed to a purchaser on a sale. (2) Sections 3 and 4 of this Act shall not apply to any tithe rent-charge payable to the Land Commission out of hereditaments where the estate or interest therein of the person liable to pay such tithe rent-charge has, after the tenth day of August one thousand eight hundred and seventy-two and before the twelfth day of May one thousand eight hundred and ninety-nine, been conveyed to a purchaser on a sale. (3) Where the estate or interest conveyed was less than the first estate of inheritance this section shall not apply after the determination of such less estate or interest. (4) For the purpose of showing that this section does not apply a statutory declaration or such other evidence as the Land Commission may require shall be prima facie evidence. (5) The expression 'sale' in this section does not include a mortgage or a marriage or other family settlement or arrangement. The noble Lord argued that this exclusion spoiled a tardy act of justice, and that the Government could not be enthusiastic in its favour as it did not form part of their original proposal. The clause was designed to exclude from the benefits of the Bill, so far as ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, both commuted and non-commuted, was concerned, certain persons who purchased estates charged therewith subsequent to 1869 and 1872, on the ground that these purchasers had notice when they purchased that commuted tithe rent-charge had been made payable by statute for fifty-two years, or that the non-commuted rent-charge had been deprived of its variable character by the Act of 1872. Admitting that much, it must also be admitted on the other side that most of these purchasers bought at the highest prices of the century; that they purchased titles, which Parliament had guaranteed to be indefeasible with the object of tempting purchasers to come forward; that they purchased inter alia the right to fix the rents to be paid from time to time by their tenants, and that they not only had no notice that Parliament might some day pass the land legislation of 1881, but that so recently as in the debates on the Land Bill of 1870 and on Mr. Butt's Land Bill of 1876, Mr. Gladstone and all parties in the House of Commons except the Irish Home Rulers declared that such doctrines as fair rents, free sale, and fixity of tenure could not be listened to, and would amount to confiscation which would have to be paid for. Moreover, many tenant purchaser's under the Purchase Acts bought subject to the payment of the ecclesiastical tithe rent-charge, and in such cases it would be unpopular as well as unjust to exclude them from the benefits of the Bill. Under these circumstances he hoped the Government would see the justice of withdrawing the clause and restoring the Bill to its original form.

Amendment moved— To leave out Clause 8."—(The Earl of Arran.)


supported the proposal to omit Clause 8, failing to see the object of it. The second sub-section contained the sting. It simply meant that people who purchased an estate between 1872 and 1899 were to be excluded from the benefits of the Bill. They all knew that that was introduced at the instigation of a Nationalist Member, but he thought Nationalist Members in the House of Commons quite forgot that a very great number of tenants who had purchased would be hit by it. It seemed hard that landlords, and tenants who purchased between those dates, should not benefit in any way from this Bill. The clause was a niggardly clause, intended, it had been said, to strike at a certain gentleman who has purchased a large plot in Ireland, and the Bill would not be affected in any way if it were cut out.


The position in reference to this clause is one which I think I can state in a very few sentences to your Lordships. My noble friend who introduced the Amendment asked your Lordships not to spoil a tardy act of

justice, and the noble Earl who has just sat down improved upon that by describing it as a niggardly little clause that might easily be left out. The Earl of Arran said this was a clause with regard to which the Government were not called upon to be specially enthusiastic. The Government are never enthusiastic. Their mission is to be just and fair, and to endeavour to present their views in clear and intelligible language. Two particular grievances are sought to be remedied, and are referred to in the section. The first is to reduce the period of payment from fifty-two to forty-five years, and the second is the question of a remedy for the hardships and inconveniences resulting from the abolition of the principle of revision in respect of ecclesiastical tithe. The clause is the outcome of discussion in the House of Commons, where it was urged that the two classes of tithe-payers referred to in the clause did not suffer under the grievance the Bill was intended to redress, inasmuch as the circumstances were fully known and taken into account when the purchases were made. It was pointed out that people who had bought with their eyes open to the fact that there could be no variation of the tithe could not be in the same position as the old owners of property. The Government admitted the force of the argument that these payers had not the same claim for variation and revision, and I hope the House will not yield to the appeal of the noble Earl, but will accept the clause.


Does the noble Lord press his Amendment?



On Question whether the clause shall stand part of the Bill, their Lordships divided:—Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 28.

Halsbury, E. (L. Chancellor.) Denbigh, E. Falkland, V.
Devonshire, D. (L. President.) Feversham, E. Portman, V.
Cross, V. (L. Privy Seal.) Hardwicke, E.
Kimberley, E. Manchester, L. Bp.
Bath, M. Mayo, E. [Teller.]
Lansdowne, M. Northbrook, E. Addington, L.
Powis, E. Alverstone, L.
Carnwath, E. Selborne, E. Ashbourne, L.
Chesterfield, E. Spencer, E. Balfour, L.
Clarendon, E. Yarborough, E. Brampton, L.
Cowper, E. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Calthorpe, L. James, L. Rowton, L.
Colchester, L. Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.) Sinclair, L.
Cranworth, L. Lawrence, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)[Teller.]
De Ramsey, L. Lindley, E.
Glenesk, L. Norton, L. Windsor, L.
Harris, L. Robertson, L. Wolverton, L.
Argyll, D. Churchill, L. [Teller.] Macnaghten, L.
Northumberland, D. Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.) Massy, L.
O'Brien, L.
Dartrey, E. Clonbrock, L. O'Neill, L.
Egerton, E. Cloncurry, L. Rathmore, L.
Lucan, E. Dormer, L. Sherborne, L.
Waldegrave, E. [Teller.] Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.) Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)
Frankfort de Montmorency, V. Greville, L.
Templetown, V. Hare, L.[E. Listowel.) Templemore, L.
Harlech, L. Ventry, L.
Boyle, L. (E. Cork & Orrery.) Heneage, L.

On Question, That Clause 9 stand part of the Bill, agreed to.


moved the omission of Clause 9, which was as follows:— Sub-section 1 of Section 37 of the Land Law (Ireland) Act, 1896 (which dispenses with the consent of the Treasury to the redemption of tithe rent-charge as therein mentioned), shall not have effect in the case of any tithe rent-charge to which Section 3 of this Act applies. He had stated on the second reading that he did not propose to move any Amendment, but that referred to the Bill as it then way. He did not know that his noble and learned friend would move the introduction of this new clause. The effect of his Amendment would, he said, be to restore the Bill as it left the House of Commons, and to fix once more the former price at which tithe rent-charge could be redeemed. by the Act of 1869 the price was fixed at 22½ years purchase. This was decidedly exorbitant, for it was well known that before the Church Act the value of tithe rent-charge was only about seventeen years purchase at the outside. The Church Fund benefited by this increase to the extent of something like half-a-million sterling, and the tithe rent-charge payers who redeemed had to do so at this high rate. In 1896 it seemed to have dawned on the Government that the amount fixed was excessive, and a change was made to twenty years, not out of tenderness to the landlords, but simply because they found that the high price at which a landlord had to redeem his tithe rent-charge disinclined him to sell to the tenant, and that the system of purchase in which the Government were so much interested was thereby impeded. This was clearly stated on the introduction of the Land Bill of 1896 by the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant. In introducing the Land Bill of 1896 Mr. Gerald Balfour said*How are you to quicken the pace [of the Land Purchase Acts]? First of all we must try in every way we can to oil the machinery. We must study the various impediments in the existing system which make tenants slow to buy and the landlords slow to sell. We must, if possible, remove those impediments, and try to make purchase more attractive to the tenants, and sale more attractive to the landlords. We have in this Bill made various proposals with a view to effecting this object. Mr. Gerald Balfour then proceeded to describe these proposals, and, on coming to the subject of tithe rent-charge, said- Another concession which we propose to make to landlords selling to their tenants has reference to the redemption of tithe rent-charge in case of sale. Under the Act of 1887 the Land Commission were empowered to allow the landlords to redeem the tithe rent-charge in case of sale at less than the statutory period of 22½ years provided the Treasury gave their consent. The Land Commission have, as a matter of fact, repeatedly applied to the Treasury to give their consent, and the Treasury have always refused it. Under this Bill the Land Commission are to be empowered to allow the landlords to redeem the tithe rent-charge at anything over twenty years purchase without asking the consent of the Treasury. It was this provision in the Land Act of 1896 which would be repealed by this clause. He commended these arguments to the consideration of Her Majesty's Government. A landlord could only sell to his tenants at a considerable loss of income; in fact, he usually only did so from a feeling of despair at the unjust manner in which he had been treated, and in the hope that he thus might save some- * See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. xxxix., page 809. thing out of the fire. The change would therefore add to his previous disinclination to sell Instead of trying in every way to "oil the machinery," the Government were, by restoring the twenty-two and a half years, doing the very thing which would impede the better and freer operation of the purchase system. They were taking away with one hand part of what was given with the other. The fund had gained half a million of money by this extravagant charge for a great number of years, and any loss which would be sustained must be by driblets. Moreover, it could not be absolutely certain that there would be a loss, for in the Treasury Minute of 14th July of last year it was stated that— Neither the future annual extent of the operations under those Acts (the Purchase Acts) nor the proportion in which such operations will apply to lands subject to tithe can be predicted With any confidence. It further stated that the Treasury contemplated that there might be a loss, only at some future period. If this fund had been charged by successive Governments with more than it could bear, it was hard that the tithe-payer should in consequence suffer by having a larger sum extracted from him. If the Treasury thought this clause so important, why was it not introduced before instead of being slipped in at the last moment? He hoped the Government would consent to his Amendment and restore the Bill to what it was when it loft the House of Commons.

Amendment moved— To leave out Clause 9."—(Lord Cloubrock.)


thought they had some reason to complain of the course which had been taken in regard to this clause. The clause was forced upon the Irish Government by the Treasury and would not have been introduced otherwise. There were plenty of opportunities in the House of Commons for the clause to have been inserted, but this was not done. Many noble Lords had left London on the understanding that no alteration would be made in the structure of the Bill and that only drafting Amendments would be agreed to. As his noble friend had told the House, this clause practically confiscated two and a half years purchase of tithe rent-charge when they came to sell, and in that way took away one of the important concessions which were made to Irish landlords in 1896. Noble Lords from Ireland were placed in rather a difficult position in regard to this matter. He fully conceded that the Government had met them fairly, having pressed this Bill, which would give some relief, through the House of Commons at the expense of other Bills on the whole. He would suggest that his noble friend should be content with his protest and not press the Amendment.


said this was an instance of rather sharp practice on the part of the Treasury. Why, he asked, should the Treasury suddenly slip in, in the passage of the Bill from one House to the other, a little piece of legislation which really cut off some of the benefits of the Bill? The tithe rent-charge was expected to be reduced 20 per cent. under the Bill, and £100 paid now would therefore become £80. Twenty years purchase of £80 would be £1,600, but twenty-two and a half years purchase would be £1,800; therefore the purchase money was increased by £200. It had not been possible to debate the matter in Committee because the Lord Chancellor of Ireland suggested that owing to the lateness of the hour the Amendments should be postponed till the present stage. This increase of two and a half years would not affect the Church Fund for a great number of years, and Mr. Balfour said in the House of Commons that it would not be in the least necessary to go into the question of the solvency of the Church Fund thirty years hence. What could be the object, therefore, of the Treasury adding on this two and a half years What he objected to was that the clause had been put in after the Bill left the House of Commons. The Government had, so to speak, through the Treasury, gone back upon the arrangement that there should be no Amendments in the House of Lords. What an outcry there would have been if anything of the same kind had been done in a matter affecting the tenants.


I am very sorry that any noble Lord in this House should for a moment think that there has been anything in the slightest degree unfair or savouring of sharpness or unworthy practice in connection with this Bill. There has really been no change of view on this matter. The Chief Secretary expressed his views clearly in the other House in reply to an Amendment proposed by Mr. Dillon suggesting that there should be no redemption of ecclesiastical tithe save at twenty-five years purchase. The right hon. Gentleman then said he thought it would be reasonable that the price should not be less than twenty-two and a half years purchase. When I was moving the Second Reading of the Bill I referred to the way in which that matter would be dealt with. What is the history of this question? In the Church Act of 1869, Mr. Gladstone's measure as to the price of redemption was twenty-two and a half years purchase, and that has been the governing figure. When in 1887 a modification was suggested, it was subject to the assent of the Treasury, which was the arbiter. At that period the position of tithe rent-charge payers appealed to the sympathy of the Government. It was felt that the abolition of the power of revision by the Act of 1872 worked harshly. Prices had fallen, the English tithe rent-payer had been relieved to some extent, and therefore in 1896 it was deemed that the position of the Irish tithe rent-payer needed some further measure of consideration, and for the first time the Land Commission was given power at its discretion to say that redemption might take place at twenty years purchase. Under this Bill the power of revision is restored in a largo and substantial way. The Treasury considered that the large reduction of the tithe-payers' payments under this Bill was a great and substantial benefit, and under those circumstances it was right to restore to the Treasury the power of saying whether twenty-two and a half years purchase was not the right figure. Whether you concur or not with the views of the Government or the Treasury, you will see that their action has been uniform and consistent all through, and that ample notice was given in the House of Commons.

Bill to be road 3a To-morrow.