§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, the object of this Bill is to continue various expiring laws in order that arrangements may be made under them which cannot be made without statutory authority. There are also financial considerations. There is included in this Bill one Act as to which a question was raised by the noble Marquess 1148 the Leader of the Opposition on Tuesday last—the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act, 1907. As to that, the Government do not propose to carry on the existing Act beyond the limited time proposed in this Bill, and it is only for the purpose of dealing with certain cases—numbering 630, I think—now under consideration, many of which are very proper cases to be dealt with. The Government do not desire to bring in another Act of this kind, and, though I am very reluctant to give Parliamentary pledges with regard to the future, it is believed that if your Lordships will assent to the inclusion of this Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for a year, we shall be able in that time to dispose of the whole of the business outstanding and not have to ask for any renewal. As regards the other Acts in the Schedule, they are measures which I think are proper to be carried on. Some of them are absolutely essential, and it is in accordance with usual practice that they should be included.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Haldane.)
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition called attention on Tuesday last to the inclusion in this Bill of the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act. That Act is a very unusual one to include in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. In his statement the noble Viscount, I think, recognised that. I cannot refrain from reminding your Lordships that the duration of the Evicted Tenants (Ireland) Act was the subject of vigorous discussion, not only in this House, but between the two Houses of Parliament four years ago, and it was then pressed by this House, with the assent of the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, that the Bill should remain in force only for three years. Your Lordships agreed to an Amendment to that effect, but the House of Commons sent back the Amendment with a demand that the period should be four years. Upon that Lord Ashbourne proposed that we should insert the words "four years and no longer," and the reply from the noble Marquess the then Leader of the House, Lord Crewe, was—"Certainly, if you desire it," or words to that effect. Therefore there was a clear Parliamentary bargain that this Act should not exist for more than four years. I submit that if it was desired to extend the period it ought 1149 to have been raised as a separate measure and not in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
We know what the course of the, Evicted Tenants Act has been. We had from the Government Bench the clearest assurance that the cases that would come under it numbered between 1,200 and 2,000. Yet we know that, although under the restricted wording which we unanimously adopted it was intended to confine the Act to those who had fallen in the fight during the Campaign, some 10,000 applications were made under the Act. A large number of those were never intended to be dealt with by Parliament at all. I am sorry to say that it has come to the knowledge of those connected with Ireland that cases have been dealt with which ought not to have come under the Act—cases of tenants who had been evicted not in the slightest degree because they had fallen in the land war, but who were evicted simply because they had been unable and were unfit to carry on their business. Some of the men dealt with under this Act had been for years out of the country, having voluntarily given up their farms.
I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether, if we at this advanced hour of the session offer no objection to the Evicted Tenants Act being included in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill for a year, we may count on it that it is the intention of the Government, subject to any unforeseen circumstances, to bring the Act to a close within that period; and, secondly, that should the Government for any reason wish to extend the Act for a few months they will introduce a Bill which we can discuss and not again include the Act in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HALDANE
I think I can give the promise asked for. It certainly is in the contemplation of the Government to wind up this business in the course of a year. That is so definitely their intention that I think I may give the further pledge that if, through unforeseen circumstances, we wish to further extend the Act we will introduce a Bill for the purpose.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
I hope an intimation will also be given to the Commissioners that they are to use the extension of the Act only, on the noble Viscount's pledge, for winding up the business which has already been entered upon.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a.
§ Committee negatived: Then (Standing Order No. XXXIX having been suspended), Bill read 3a, and passed.