§ SECOND READING.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Viscount Cranbrook.)
§ *THE MARQUESS OF WATERFORD
My Lords, this is a very peculiar Bill; it is very much on the lines of the Bill your Lordships discussed the other night, but it is a thousand times worse for the landlords of Ireland; it proposes to put upon the fee a very large sum of money indeed—namely, loans advanced under previous Acts of Parliament. The Drainage Bill merely dealt with loans of the future; this Bill deals with loans of the past. Clause 6 states that—Sections 5 and 6 of the Public Works Loans Act, 1889, shall apply to any rent-charge created before the passing of this Act.And then it goes on to say that it shall apply to any rent-charge created either before or after the Act of 1881; therefore it takes in the whole of the advances in Ireland. Now these Sections 5 and 6 of the Act of 1889 were 1794 so complicated that at the time I asked a question upon them, and in reply for the Government the noble Lord (Lord Cadogan) said he was not surprised at the feeling of uncertainty which I described as existing as to the exact interpretation to be placed on these sections, and he promised that the matter should be looked into, and he would give me further information. But, my Lords, from that day to this, I am sorry to say, my noble Friend never gave me that information. My Lords, the effect of applying those sections to this Bill is simply that it will add very much to the complication, because, if those sections were complicated as applied to the former Act, they will be a thousand times more complicated under this Bill as applied to many other charges of a different description. This Bill brings in rent-charges under other Acts which are entirely different from the Drainage Act; it brings in the 1881 charges as well, which are far more complicated. Therefore I think it is essential that we should know what we are passing into law before we pass this Bill with this clause in it, because nobody, up to the present time, has explained what those sections mean. The general object of this Bill is simply to make the landlords ultimately liable for loans made to tenants. My Lords, the landlords of Ireland have protested against these loans being made over and over again. We know perfectly well that those loans have very often been obtained by tenants and very badly applied; we have seen it all over the country. We have not had one word to say as to the granting of these loans; our protests have not been attended to; loans have been made to tenants by the Board of Works against our wish and advice. And now, my Lords, the Board of Works actually come down, at this period of the Session, when they know there is no attendance in another place, and slip in these clauses, which are virtually to place the re-payment of these loans upon the fee simple of the landlord's property. My Lords, in the Drainage Bill the other night, Her Majesty's Government took credit for the fact that, at any rate, the landlords would have a veto if one-third objected to the drain- 1795 age scheme; but here they have never had a veto at all, and Her Majesty's Government admit that a veto would be necessary if they are to be made responsible. My Lords, the sum of money is very large indeed. I have taken a Return of the 31st March, 1891, of the Board of Works itself, which says that their land improvement loans amount to 5,070 in number, and in amount to £1,304,053; and their district drainage loans amount in money to £608,000. It is fair to say that some of the former have been borrowed by the landlords, and therefore, of course, the landlords are liable to the amount borrowed by themselves; but a very large proportion was borrowed by the tenants, and it is sought to make the landlords responsible for that. But here, in addition, my Lords, is a loan to the tenants under the Land Act of 1881, amounting to £608,000, every bit of it borrowed by the tenants against the landlords' wish; and it is sought to put the whole of that, on the termination of the tenancy, upon the owner in fee. I do not think that a more monstrous proposal has ever been made; it is nothing but unadulterated robbery. The noble Marquess, the Prime Minister, the other night said that somebody must pay; but surely the noble Marquess would not wish the wrong person to pay. No doubt the Board of Works has committed itself; and I think it would not be at all a bad plan if a Committee of your Lordships' House inquired into the proceedings of the Board of Works in Ireland; I can assure your Lordships that they require looking into carefully. The Board of Works advance money to all sorts of people who are incompetent to repay it, and now, because they have made a number of bad debts which are on their books, they are going to try and make the persons who did not borrow the money repay them, in order to try and put the matter right. What would your Lordships think of any tradesman, who, because he had bad debts, tried to make someone else pay them? That is very much what the noble Marquess hinted at the other day on the Drainage Bill. My Lords, I pass to another point—one which was very carefully 1796 debated. I am not sure whether the Amendments were put in in your Lordships' House or not; but under Section 31 of the Act of 1881 the Board of Works were only allowed to lend the money to a tenant when they were satisfied that the tenancy or security which the tenant might have to offer was such as to insure repayment of principal and interest within such a number of years as the Treasury might fix. That is what the Board of Works have not done, to my certain knowledge. And Sub-section 52 further expressly provided that any such loan should not have priority over rent—and yet here, by this Bill, it is to have priority over everything the landlord possesses—unless the landlord was a party to the advance, and agreed to postpone the rent to the advance. But, my Lords, the landlord did not agree in these cases. And it was further provided that the loan shall not have priority over any charge or incumbrance of the tenant of which the Board of Works may have had notice in writing given them before making the advance. The effect of that is that the landlord, the owner in fee, is to pay this charge, and anybody else, from whom the tenant has borrowed money, will come in before the landlord, the owner in fee, if he has given notice; and the incumbrancer, who has given notice, has priority over the landlord's interest, and even over the Board of Works claim. This, again, is a monstrous suggestion. But, my Lords, there is another point. Last year the noble and learned Lord mentioned, when the Drainage Bill was before the House, that there was a suit which had not been decided in Ireland, the case of the "Attorney General v. Ireland." That was a suit for the recovery of £1,007 of these loans. In the case of Mr. Ireland, the tenancy had come to an end, and the Board of Works sought to make him pay for moneys that the tenant had borrowed, and for all the arrears due by the tenant. That case was tried in the High Court of Justice, Ireland, and it was unanimously dismissed with costs. Therefore this clause in the Bill is to over-ride that decision. And, my Lords, more than that, in this Bill there is a provision 1797 in the Schedule to wipe out that claim as against Mr. Ireland; and therefore Mr. Ireland, because he took action last year, is to have his claim wiped out, and every other landlord in Ireland is to pay the interest on these charges. Nothing in the world, I think, can better show how unfair this proposal is. My Lords, I pass on to Clause 7 of this Bill, by which it is proposed—In addition to any sum payable in respect of principal and interest under any loan hereafter granted, or in respect of any rent-charge hereafter granted"—my Lords, I am not a draftsman, but I should have thought a rent-charge is not granted; I should have thought that "created" was the proper word there—by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland, there shall be paid to the said Commissioners one shilling in the pound on the said sum as receiver's fees thereon.The effect of this clause is that the landlord will have, in addition to the other charges placed upon him, a charge of a shilling per cent. to pay if the tenant makes default, and the rent-charge is not paid within one month. I think that is a most monstrous proposal. What is proposed to be done is simply that a receiver is to be established to recover this debt if the tenants do not pay, and the charge of a shilling is to be added for the payment of the receiver's fees. Naturally, my Lords, if a tenant does refuse to pay, and the Board of Works can come down on the owner in fee, and can force the owner to pay-not only the interest on the original grant, but this receiver's fee as well, they will do so. It is a curious thing, but that entirely over-rides the Act of 1887, by which, in any proceedings against the tenant, including proceedings by the Board of Works, where there is an order for payment by instalments, if the tenant proves that he cannot pay any charge, he is to have a reasonable time given him for payment. If the tenant is to have time without a receiver being put on, why should not the landlord have time also? I cannot see why there is to be one law for one class and another law for another class. My Lords, I pass to Clause 9. Here is a clause which I 1798 believe does not exist in any other Act of Parliament at the present time, as I am informed on good authority. Here is a subordinate department in Ireland given power to levy charges upon the fee. I draw noble Lords' attention to this, because I think it is a legal question—A certificate purporting to be under the common seal of the Commissioners of Public: Works in Ireland shall be conclusive evidence—(i) That any sum stated therein to be due to the Commissioners and to be charged on any property named therein is so due and charged.That is to say, if the Board of Works. Ireland—and I say distinctly that the Board of Works, Ireland, is not to be trusted—choose to charge any property in Ireland with a sum of money, the owner of that property has no appeal whatever. That again, I think, is an outrageous proposal. In this very case of Mr. Ireland who appealed against the decision of the Board of Works, and saved paying £1,007 in costs, he would have been unable to have appealed under this clause. Why should this subordinate Department of the Treasury in Ireland be given this power to place any charge upon any property without any appeal whatever? My Lords, I shall certainly, in Committee on this Bill, move the rejection of these clauses, or at any rate try to effect their amendment. I should prefer the rejection of them, and I hope the noble Lord will agree that those clauses should be left out of this Bill.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I think this Bill is the most flagrant instance of ex post facto legislation that I have ever seen since I had the honour to have a seat in this House. The original Act placed the tenants in this position: that, upon the interest which had been created by them under the Land Act, they were permitted to borrow a certain sum of money; that sum of money and the objects to which it was to be applied were to be defined and regulated by the Board of Works. Ireland—no other body had any responsibility, except the Treasury, who were behind the Board of Works. The landlord was not consulted; he had no power of objection, although he might be perfectly aware that the money obtained would not be honestly 1799 spent, and that the objects professed to be aimed at were not the real objects for which the money was borrowed. Instances occur to everyone, who has any knowledge of the course of things in Ireland, in which such things have actually been done. My Lords, what happens? A Bill is introduced into another place at the fag end of the Session. The Members who represent the interests of the tenants are thoroughly alive to every dodge and device by which a further portion of the landlords' interest can be confiscated. My Lords, I do not blame them in the least; they are there to represent a particular class, and they do their duty admirably; but the landlords of the South and West of Ireland are almost entirely unrepresented in another place, and the consequence is that clause after clause has been slipped into Bills affecting Ireland which never would have passed your Lordships' House for a single moment if the full purport of them had been understood. I cannot at all subscribe to the doctrine of the noble Marquess the Prime Minister, that somebody must pay. Of course somebody must pay. A person who has made an unfortunate advance always has to pay, and why not the Board of Works and the Treasury? If they think proper, without consulting anyone interested in the land, to place a particular value upon a particular security, and they find out that they have made a bad bargain, why should they be allowed to add another security over which they ought to have no control? It is not common fair play between man and man. If the landlords are eventually to be mulcted in the advances made upon the security of the tenants' interest, let the thing be fairly stated, and let them have an opportunity of objecting, if they think fit, to the advance which is sought to be made. And now, because the Court of Appeal has wisely decided that they are under no liability, we have a Bill brought into the other House, and finally brought up to this House, which is to place upon them a liability which does not attach to them at present by law, but is to be placed upon them by ex post facto legislation on the part of your Lordships' House. I really 1800 trust that a Bill, which so manifestly infringes the principles upon which your Lordships' House has always acted, will not be allowed to become law in its present shape. Personally I would far rather see it thrown out altogether than passed with these clauses in it to which the noble Marquess has called attention. I do hope that the common principles of fairness will not be departed from in this instance, and that your Lordships will decline to recognise the claim on the part of the Board of Works, which I think never should have been set up, and which, if any private individual or company of any kind were to make, would be scouted out of your Lordships' House with contempt. I cannot understand upon what principle of law or equity legislation is to take place in the direction indicated by this Bill, and why a body of men, who have never had any opportunity of giving their opinion on these advances, and who, in many instances, derive no interest from the advances when made, should be made the scapegoat for the indolence or ignorance of the Board of Works. It is the old classical principle, Delirant reges plectuntur Achivi. But I do not see why that most unenviable position should be forced upon the landlords by your Lordships, who have had nothing to say, and who, in many cases, would, if they had been able to, have objected in the strongest manner.
My Lords, I ventured the other evening to make a few remarks upon another Bill, and all I wish to say upon this Bill is that what I said upon that occasion applies with double force to the Bill before your Lordships now. I am not going to repeat those words, but I merely wish to point out that the force of this Bill is in Clauses 6 and 7, the object of which is to relieve the Treasury and the Board of Works from what they have undertaken to see done at the expense of the landlord. What they undertook was to give the tenants loans for carrying out improvements upon their farms, and at the same time they were pledged to Parliament to send down competent men to see that those works were properly carried out, and that they had proper security for the 1801 repayment of the loan. My Lords, what is done on this occasion by these clauses? It is proposed to refer to certain sections in a former Act, the force of which is not at all clear, as the noble Earl said in response to a question of the noble Marquess a little time ago. The effect of that is to try and over-ride these clauses, and make the landlord responsible for advances that he has had no voice whatever upon. And when a tenant borrows in Ireland under the Board of Works, he is not even bound to give the landlord any notice whatever. I have frequently found my tenants have borrowed large sums, and have spent them, without any knowledge of myself or my agent that any such sum was borrowed or supposed to be expended. I think this is a Bill of such great importance, and does such gross injustice to the landlords, that I must ask the Lord President, who has charge of the Bill, seriously to consider what the position is. I suppose, if we propose to make Amendments in this Bill, when it conies into Committee we shall be precisely in the same position as the noble Earl just now told us he was in with regard to the Education Bill, because it will throw the Bill out; but, as the noble Marquess has said, I would far rather see the Bill thrown out altogether than that these clauses should be allowed to stand. The noble Marquess said that he thought an inquiry was necessary with regard to the proceedings of the Board of Works, Ireland. In that I entirely agree, and I will mention to your Lordships a case that came under my observation. A railway was to be made, and it was necessary for the Board of Works to send down a gentleman to examine the course of the line, and see whether it was correct; he was called before the Privy Council; I was one of those at that time opposing this line, and, being anxious to get at the bottom of this gentleman's opinion, I stood beside counsel, and made him cross-examine him very closely as to what he knew of the line. He said he had been down and examined it, and knew, of his own opinion, that it was a proper line, properly engineered, and so on. When we cross-examined him, it came out that he had taken an outside car and 1802 travelled over the road that runs in some parts almost parallel, it is true to the line, but still, except in a very few instances, it was not at all near the line. Yet he came to the Privy Council to swear that the line was a proper one, and that he had thoroughly examined it. That case was a very strong one, and it strikes me as showing that the Board of Works require overhauling. I know that these loans, which the Board of Works have granted to tenants, have not been carefully spent, and that they have been given in many cases where they ought not, and the money has not been expended at all, but has been employed, in many instances, to pay the rent. My Lords, I protest strongly against these clauses, and I hope the Lord President will see his way to amend the clauses in Committee, or to withdraw the Bill.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Viscount CRANBROOK)
My Lords, I am rather unexpectedly, owing to the absence of my noble Friend the head of the Government, in charge of this Bill. Generally speaking, the Public Works Loans Bills, and Bills of a financial character, pass without opposition, and in fact upon the present occasion I understand there is no opposition to the passage of the Second Reading that I have moved to-day. With regard to the objections that have been raised by the noble Lords behind me, to a person listening to them I am bound to say they have considerable force, and, if the clauses have the meaning which they put upon them, it seems to me that there are objections to be taken to them; that is to say, if their view be correct, which it is very difficult to ascertain at a moment's notice. But if it be correct that persons are made responsible for loans which they gave no authority for borrowing, and then the charge is made upon their fee simple, though the loan was never advanced to themselves, or with their consent, that seems to me rather a strong measure. I can only say that I will take care that this matter is represented to my noble Friend in charge of the Bill, and no doubt he will be able to give some explanation of the subject.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.