HC Deb 18 June 1873 vol 216 cc1135-50

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would endeavour as briefly as possible to explain its chief provisions, and to state some facts which proved beyond doubt that the whole subject to which it referred was not unworthy the attention of the Legislature. This Bill was a humble attempt to remedy one of the chief blots in the Scotch social system, to provide adequate house accommodation for the agricultural labourers of Scotland, and to remedy the disgusting and almost incredible system of overcrowding which now prevailed in many parts of that country. It was also in- tended by the Bill, in a subsidiary degree, to encourage occupiers of land to invest money in the improvement of the soil, by giving them certain rights of property in respect to the buildings which they constructed. At present, by the law of Scotland, all buildings erected by a tenant, in the absence of any specific agreement to the contrary—whatever might be the length of the lease and the value of the buildings—belonged to the landlord, and the fundamental proposition of the Bill consisted in an alteration of that presumption of the law. The Bill provided that all buildings erected by agricultural tenants should belong to them in the absence of any specific agreement to the contrary in the lease or otherwise. The buildings referred to in the Bill were of two classes, the provisions in regard to each class were slightly different. In regard to all buildings other than labourers' cottages erected by the tenant, it was provided that where, by the lease the incoming tenant or the landlord refused to take them over, the tenant should be entitled to remove the materials of which they were composed, a right of pre-emption being also given to the landlord. With regard to labourers' cottages, the promoters thought that the evidence on that subject warranted them in going a step further, and the proposition contained in the Bill was, that where such cottages did not exist to the extent of at least one for every 100 arable acres of land, and where the tenant supplied the deficiency, he should be entitled at the end of his lease to compensation from the landlord to the extent of £100 for every such cottage, provided, in the first place, that arbiters appointed by the Sheriff found that the cottage was worth that amount; and provided also that it consisted of three apartments, and contained 3,000 cubic feet of measurement. These provisions had been introduced in order to provide against the possibility of the landlords being called upon to take over rickety and worthless buildings at the termination of leases. It was now generally admitted that no family could be comfortably or decently housed in a building consisting of less than three apartments, and the limitation he had stated as to the cubic contents was the same as was adopted by the Inclosure Commissioners. A sug- gestion had been made by one of the Agricultural Societies of Scotland which load petitioned in favour of the Bill, to the effect that power should be given to the Sheriff to settle the sites of the cottages if the site selected by the tenant was objected to by the landlord, and he had only to say that there was no objection on his part to such a provision. Such were the few and simple provisions of the Bill. They did not interfere with contract in any way, nor did they enter into the large field taken up by the Bill of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read). They did not propose to compensate the tenant for expenditure on anything except buildings. They proposed no compensation for expenditure on drainage, or on the reclamation of land or unexhausted manures. The Bill simply took up the simplest and most urgent case, where the hardship was greatest to the tenant, the labourer, and the community at large. Those were the provisions of the Bill. He would at once be asked were they equitable, and if equitable, did the circumstances of the case warrant their adoption? With regard to their equity, he submitted that it was equitable that the lawful possessor of land, when he added to the permanent value of the property, was entitled to compensation to the extent of the value added. That was a proposition which held good in many other cases. Pupils and minors, though incapable of contract, yet where lucrated by the deeds of others, were borne in recompense; life renters of properties under wills could obtain compensation for permanent improvements executed by them; persons found subsequently not to have good titles as purchasers to subjects on which they made improvements were by the law of Scotland re-imbursed for those improvements; but it was now settled law that buildings erected by agricultural tenants, independent of specific agreement with the landlord, belonged to the landlord, and not to the tenant. He asked why should that be so? The tenant was a lawful possessor, and why should the buildings erected by him at his own expense go to the person who benefited by their erection? Did any good reason exist why the buildings erected by the tenant, and which he was not bound to erect, should not belong to him in the same manner as the stock he brought on the land? He did not intend to enter into the history of the law of fixtures as connected with agriculture, but he might say that anyone looking into this matter would find it very peculiar. The original principle that whatever was planted on or in the soil belonged to the soil or to the landlord, was very soon found inapplicable to the conditions of modern civilization, policy, and progress. The old legal fiction, Quicquid plantatur solo, solo cedit, was now entirely superseded as regarded Ireland by the recent statute, and as regarded England and Scotland, this was so also as to trade fixtures, which had been held now to belong, not to the landlord, but to the tenant, when erected by him under no obligation to do so. The law of Scotland not only recognized that trade fixtures erected by an agricultural tenant belonged to him, but it had gone a great deal further in recognizing the principle of the Bill, for it was now settled law, that if an outgoing tenant left the land fallow or in grass-seed, he was entitled to claim from the incoming tenant, or from the landlord, the value of the land which he left fallow, and also of the grass seeds sown down in the year preceding his outgoing. Professor Bell, in laying that down as the law, expressly stated as a reason for giving compensation, that the outgoing tenant was in equity entitled to the value of the outlay of which the incoming tenant reaped the benefit. He (Mr. Fordyce) would humbly submit that if it were an equitable arrangement that the tenant should receive the value of his grass seeds, or the land he left fallow, it was equally equitable that he should receive the value of the buildings he erected, being under no obligation to erect any such building. Passing from that part of the subject, he wished to refer to two considerations which he thought strongly proved the expediency of encouraging by every means in their power, the occupiers of land to invest capital in buildings, and particularly in labourers' cottages, on their farms. In the first place, as they were all aware, the agricultural interests of Scotland had been subject to a very heavy strain during the past year. It had been calculated that the loss to the tenant-farmers during the year, from a deficiency of crops, had amounted to upwards of £8,000,000, and in the county he had the honour to represent (Aberdeenshire) the loss had been calculated at £900,000. The labour market had been agitated in an extraordinary degree, and wages had gone up 10 or 20 per cent, and although those things ultimately affected the price of land, they fell on the occupier in the meantime most heavily. Then, again, it could not be denied that the efforts which had been made by the landlords of Scotland to provide adequate house accommodation for the labourers had lamentably failed, and at this moment a frightful deficiency existed in regard to the accommodation of the labourers. The Statistical Account of Scotland, issued at the commencement of this century, first drew public attention to this point, and the revelations then made on the subject were confirmed by the Statistical Account of 1845. It was also made abundantly clear by the evidence taken before the Poor Law Commission in 1843, that this was the case, and it was proved by the testimony of Dr. Guthrie and others, that the reason why the old cottages were not rebuilt, and the reason therefore of the deficiency of cottage accommodation, was the dread which existed on the part of landlords that they would, by increasing that accommodation, also increase the poor rates. In 1854 public attention was so strongly directed to the subject by the late Rev. H. Stewart, that an association was formed among the landowners of Scotland for the purpose of improving the condition of the dwellings of the agricultural labourers. To show the influential character of that Association, he might say that it comprised among its directors the names of the late Prince Consort, four Dukes, a Marquess, and two Earls. He did not wish in any degree to refer to the labours of that Association in a disparaging sense—he believed they were attended by great good; but he referred to the fact simply for the purpose of showing that in it the landlords of Scotland had put forth their utmost strength and failed. That Association was now defunct. It did good work in its day. It built a certain number of cottages, but it failed to provide adequate accommodation for the labourers. These were strong statements to make, but they were not stronger than the facts of the case, because the Census Commissioners of 1861, in their Report, drew prominent attention to the fact that 36 per cent of the families of Scotland lived in houses of one room, either without a window or with one window only, and to the demoralizing effect of such a state of things. The Census authorities of 1871 still more emphatically drew public attention to this matter. They said that nearly one-third of the families of Scotland occupied houses of one room, either without a window or with one only. The following were the figures they gave:—Out of a total of 434,000 families in the towns, nearly 160,000 lived in houses of one room, and without a window or with one only; out of a total of 101,000 families in the villages, about 35,000 lived in similar houses; and out of a total of 202,760 families in the rural districts, nearly 43,000 lived in houses of the same kind. The Census authorities, in drawing attention to that state of things, strongly condemned it as highly injurious to the interests of the community—which could scarcely be doubted, unless they adopted the view of the noble Lord, who, when asked if he was aware of the fact that nearly one-third of the people of Scotland lived in houses of one room, replied—"Well, what of it?—they are all very healthy." It had been truly said by the Bishop of Manchester that "decency must be unknown, modesty an unimaginable virtue, where in one small room men, women, and children, grown and growing up lads and girls were herded together; where all the operations of nature, births, and deaths, &c., were performed by each in the sight and hearing of all." But the evidence did not stop here. A few years ago a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into the state of the women and children employed in agriculture, and they presented their Report last year in regard to Scotland, and it was well worth perusal. The Commissioners reported that the deficiency of proper cottage accommodation for labourers was very great, and had a very demoralizing effect, and their Report was fully borne out by the Assistant Commissioners. They stated that not only was the amount of house accommodation for agricultural labourers miserably defective, but the quality of the existing accommodation was lamentably deficient all over Scotland. In Perth- shire the printed evidence of the present Secretary of the Highland Society stated that, as a rule, the cottages were a disgrace to the country. Ayrshire seemed to be the worst county in Scotland in that respect. Out of 42,500 of a population, there were 16,900 families living in single rooms. The Commissioners remarked that not only were new cottages not built, but the old ones were allowed to fall into decay and ruin, and no disposition was shown to repair them. On the Marquess of Ailsa's estate, it was mentioned that stables, byres, cart-sheds, and disused dog-kennels and outhouses were converted into dwellings for agricultural labourers. It seemed to him, without going further into statistics, he had shown there was a lamentable deficiency in cottage accommodation for agricultural labourers; that although great improvements had taken place within the last ten years, there was still much to be done; that landlords had shown themselves unequal to supply the want; and that, therefore, it was now expedient to turn to occupiers, and give them some encouragement to supply houses for themselves. The Bill was intended to do that. It did not ask for grants of public money, nor did it propose any addition to the rates, it simply gave power to occupiers to remove at the expiry of their leases these buildings and to receive a moderate compensation for the cottages built by them during their occupancy. That the occupiers thought the Bill practicable and likely to bring about good results was shown by the fact that two of the leading agricultural societies of Scotland had petitioned strongly in its favour. Its provisions were not inimical to free trade in land, and did not prevent the landlords doing with their land as they chose. This was in one sense a labourers' question, but it was also an occupiers' question and a public question, for it was equally the interest of landlords and of the public at large that the agricultural labourer, whom Adam Smith had described as the most productive of all labourers, should have decent house accommodation, and every legitimate inducement to remain at home. It was because he believed that the Bill would do much in that respect, and because he thought that its provisions were equitable and fair, and well worthy the consideration of the House, that he had much pleasure in moving its second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Fordyce.)


in moving, "That the Bill be read a second time that day six months," said, he did so on the ground that it would not in the least have the results which it was intended to have. He admitted to the fullest extent the want of accommodation that existed, and that it was desirable it should be supplied; but he held that the Bill, besides being mischievous in many of its provisions, would be utterly useless for the purpose for which it was brought forward. In proof of that he would instance the Report presented to the Commissioners of Supply of Aberdeen by a sub-committee, over which the convener (Mr. Irvine of Drum) presided. He felt convinced, from that Report, that in the county of Aberdeen, there would not be five cottages built by the tenants under the provisions of the Bill. He was sorry he did not see the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire (Mr. M'Combie) in his place on that occasion, because he agreed with his opinions most entirely on this subject, and he thought the experience of the hon. Gentleman would fully bear out his views. His opinions had always been that it was a very unfortunate thing when the cottages fell into the hands of the occupiers; and that was also the opinion of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire, who, in a paper on Farm Servants said he was strongly in favour of crofts, but they ought to be let by the landlord, because he generally found the tenant-farmers more grasping than the proprietors. This was a tenant-farmer himself, who, by his energy and activity, had converted a good many of those small farms into a large and extensive burgh, which he was possessed of. The hon. Member belonged to one of those debating societies or trades unions which had sprung up, who, laying aside the practice of agriculture, devoted themselves to the abuse of the landlords of Scotland—a signal instance being found in the Chamber of Agriculture of Edinburgh. Now he (Sir James Elphinstone) held in his hand the annual Report of the Association, of which the hon. Gentleman had spoken in such contemptuous terms, and the House would see that what the Association undertook to do was to show to the gentlemen of Scotland the best mode of building cottages, the best materials for the purpose, the best modes of plastering, completing, draining, and glazing, and doing everything that could possibly lead to the comfort of the labourer; but they never undertook for one moment to find the funds with which those things could be accomplished. That book, however, and the plan with which it was accompanied, had been the means of spreading labourers' cottages from one end of Scotland to the other, and it was only required that funds should be obtained so as to enable the landed proprietors to build cottages on the commercial principles of being able to receive a fair percentage for their money, and they might depend upon it, they would build as many as required. What he would propose was, for the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the Bill, which really was one of the most absurd documents that over came to his knowledge—a Bill which absolutely in the 4th clause proposed that the tenant to whom you let your land should bind you down to his own conditions. The Scottish farmer did not in the least degree stand upon ceremony with the persons he was dealing with. The one would state his bargain, and the other his; but it was not by means of the tenant-farmers, who were sensible men, that these claims were raised—they did not care a bit about them—but by the agitators who never advanced any means at all. By the Bill it was proposed that the tenant was to build a house of any description, and that the landlord should take it off his hands, and then the tenant was to give the landlord a valid title to his own stores and his own land. The hon. Gentleman had better withdraw the Bill and induce the Government to take the matter into their own hands. They were ready enough to introduce Bills for Irish purposes. There was, he believed, however, a great want of labourers' cottages in Scotland, and he believed the want could be readily supplied, if it were made a commercial transaction. What the Government had to do was this—to bring in a Bill by which they would permit proprietors, in conjunction with their tenants, to give the accommodation they required. Every landlord he was ac- quainted with would be too happy and too ready to do that, if the money were advanced to them at the rate at which it was advanced to School Boards—4½ per cent for 50 years. Under any circumstances, the change must be exceedingly gradual. The habits of farm servants in Scotland were most regular. They were perfectly different from the habits of the English nature. They partook of the character of the country from which their origin was derived; and there was a great similarity in their habits and modes of dealing to those of more northern races, from whom they were descended. Instead of the bothy, these northern farm servants preferred huts, similar to those in use in Norway, except that Norwegian peasants were better provided for. There was no reason whatever why a tenant-farmer in Scotland, who wished to accommodate his labourers, should erect a kind of buildings which would last much longer than his lease. He (Sir James Elphinstone) had some which he covered with coal-tar and naphtha, and which would be perfectly sound habitations for forty years. In Norway, wood was used for the same purpose, and not only had the people comfortable and commodious dwellings, but they had an amount of accommodation, and a degree of privacy, which did not exist under the British system. There was no reason why the bothy system should not be made use of where you had unmarried servants, but where you had married servants it was of greater importance that they should have comfortable houses. The improvement of the bothy in the first instance was a matter of great moment. He would not weary the House with these matters, but would at once move the rejection of the Bill.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."—(Sir James Elphinstone.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, the last speaker had made important admissions as to the acknowledged want of accommodation, and the probability that cottages would be built if the money required were forthcoming. This admission was at once a sufficient proof that the farms of Scotland were deficient of the accommodation required for carrying on the work of the farms. It was admitted that the hovels which existed in a very large part of Scotland were still of a most miserable character, and that labourers were living in cottages in which farmers would refuse to house their beasts. There could be no doubt that it was necessary in a social point of view to provide better accommodation suitable for the workmen desirous of marrying, and considering the state of marriage life, and the births in Scotland without marriage, everyone would join in advocating the erection of cottages calculated to promote marriages, and thus diminish illegitimacy. Considering the immense improvement in the value of landed property in Scotland, and that the rents of farms had nearly doubled, within a few years, and were year by year on the increase, it was clear that there existed the means of providing suitable accommodation for labourers out of the rising incomes of proprietors. Still the fact of labourers being housed in places of such a wretched description, that if soldiers were put into them, there would be a howl throughout the land which would make improvements inevitable. It was clear that the time had come for this Bill to be passed into law to enable tenant farmers to do what landlords had failed to do. And with that change in the relations between tenant and farmer, which were inevitable in order to ensure to the tenants the equitable return for money spent in improving the farm, the farmers were quite prepared to provide the capital needed not only for the cottages of labourers but for all other farm buildings. Another reason for insisting on improvement was, that emigration had gone on until there was a deficiency of labour for agricultural purposes, and no wonder, considering the better habitations which the labourer could occupy in Australia or in America. He would therefore give his cordial support to the Bill of the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Fordyce.) It was a Bill well calculated to reflect credit on him as a landlord earnestly desirous to promote the general welfare of the country, and particularly to benefit agricultural interests. He had no doubt that when once the Bill got into Com- mittee, if it ever reached that stage this year, those Amendments in the Bill could be made which would tend to remove the doubts and fears of the landlords.


wished to make a few observations on the subject of the Bill, which he had no doubt was brought in with the intention of improving the dwellings of the labourers in Scotland. He admitted very fully the necessity that existed for the accomplishment of that object, and he was sure none of those who could not agree with the terms of the Bill would dispute the deficiency of accommodation, and the inconvenience which existed; but he was unable to see that if the Bill were carried, it would have the effect of making matters any better in this respect, and he also saw provisions in the Bill which he did not think it would be desirable for that House to affirm or to pass. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill (Mr. Fordyce) had said the possessor should be entitled to compensation to the extent of the value of his cottages. It was a new thing to hear that the tenant-farmer was to be classed as the owner of the land which he held under another person who had the real right. Was it desirable, in a Bill of that kind, to give proprietary rights to a man who might be in only temporary possession of a farm? He might only be a yearly tenant. If the Bill were to go to a second reading, and they were to go into Committee, he should move that such rights should not be given to any man who had not at least 15 years of his lease unexpired. The Bill, moreover, even went so far as to enable the tenant to sell the site on which he had built the House—a site which in some cases the landlord himself would not be entitled to sell. The Bill further did not contain any exemption for existing contracts, nor did it provide against persons contracting themselves out of the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member spoke of the building of cottages as the same thing as raising the crops for sale. It was a very different thing, a man sold a crop, but he left the land, which the tenant could have no right whatever to sell. The hon. Member spoke also of the exceptionally bad crops of last year; but really he could not see that these were arguments which should make them pass a Bill which was in- tended to be a law for the future as regarded tenants. He would not enter into the question of the consequences, the immorality and indecency which the present state of things produced. The House must be already aware that the consequences were most disastrous; but they had been told by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fordyce) that things were improving. He told them that according to the Census of 1861 there were 36 per cent of families living in houses which had but one room, and that according to the Census of 1871 there were 33 per cent. That was an improvement—small, it was true, but still a gradual improvement in the right direction. Then the hon. Gentleman told them with, he thought, somewhat too strong emphasis, that all the efforts made by the landlords in Scotland in reference to building cottages of late years had failed. He (Mr. Vans Agnew) demurred very strongly to that statement. He had been observing for now more than 30 years great improvements in the cottages on the land. In his own county he had seen hundreds of new cottages put up, and in other counties which he had visited he had seen the same thing going on, and he was quite satisfied that the measure of the improvements effected by the landlords in Scotland had been simply the measure of what they were able to afford. He did not know of any landlord interested in that country who did not feel the difficulty there was in obtaining capital to build cottages, but yet who was doing his best in that direction, as far as means would allow. But they had been told that as the landlords had failed they ought to allow the occupiers to try their hand at building cottages. But what did hon. Gentlemen suppose that the occupiers would do if they were allowed to build cottages? Would they build the same sort of house that was now built by the landlords? What was the experience of hon. Members who had any acquaintance with Scotland? The first time he had occasion to attend an agricultural meeting, now a great many years ago, and when he was quite a young man, he happened to address in his own county an agricultural society on this very subject, and he had occasion then to point out to them the state in which matters were with regard to houses. The accommodation then pro- vided for labourers was a long building with two small windows and one door partitioned off by two abominations called "box-beds," and that was considered sufficient by the occupiers for two families. They did not think the labourers required anything more. What was the cost of building houses? He could only speak for his own district. He could not build a good double cottage with three rooms in each cottage under £160. He might have built such a cottage a few years ago for £100; but wages and the prices of material had risen so high since then, that it could not be done for a less sum than that which he had stated. These houses would not let for more than £3 a-piece; and would any gentleman tell him that £6 was sufficient interest on a capital of £160? What he should desire to see would be a simple and easy method of charging the value of a sufficient cottage upon an estate when it was built. At present, to do that, he must petition the Court of Session, but that process cost £40 or £50, a sum which was simply prohibitive. If that were done, it would enable proprietors who might be under entails and fettered in other ways, out of their income to build one or two cottages or more every year, and to recover their money in the course of 12 months. Although he admitted that the want of good cottages was very great indeed, and that the consequences arising from that want were very deplorable, he could not give his consent to the second reading of the Bill as it stood. He would join most cordially with hon. Members who were anxious to promote the building of cottages if they would only go about securing that object in a more practical way—namely, by enabling proprietors to charge their estates to a small extent with the cost of the improvement. Then he believed they would see more cottages built; but he did not believe that if this Bill were passed there would be 100 cottages built under it in the whole of Scotland.


said, he was not aware in whose interest the hon. Baronet who had moved the rejection of the second reading of the Bill had spoken, but he was certain that he had not spoken in the interest of the landlords of the country. He (Mr. J. W. Barclay) was afraid the hon. Baronet's experience of the management of land was not very recent, or he would be more deeply impressed with the crisis through which the agricultural interest of the country was now passing. What was the condition of agriculture at the present moment? Some 25 years ago, when the Free Trade policy was introduced into this country, they had a large surplus stock of labour in the country, but the rapid strides of industry which followed that policy had during these 25 years not only absorbed the spare labour in the country, but had of recent years caused a very large increase in its price. If they looked to see what was the position of the farmer during this period, they would find that the great bulk of his produce—namely, grain—had not at all increased, that the prices over a series of seven years averages had not increased; and that notwithstanding the bad crop of last year—the worst he believed during the present century—the price of grain had not materially increased. It was quite true that the price of meat had greatly increased; but the present price of meat had not arisen so much from the increased demand as from failure in production; and although the price of meat at the present moment was very high, yet the farmers did not get the benefit of it, simply because they had few cattle to sell. They had thus on the one hand the cost of production increasing very considerably; and on the other hand, no material increase in the prices given for the produce. The result of that certainly would be that rents must fall. The price of land would fall, as the farmers would not be able to give the rents which they had paid hitherto. The present proposal was a Motion tending towards the reduction of the money price of labour. The farmers could not expect that labourers would continue upon their farms at wages of 15s., 16s., and 17s. per week for seven days work—because on the seventh day servants had to attend to the cattle and horses—when they saw that other labourers, such as coal-miners, who were engaged in a not more difficult labour, and who worked only five days a-week, could make double that amount of wages. There were certain advantages connected with agricultural labour which induced labourers to remain in the country, but unless they had cottages for themselves and their families it was impossible to expect that they should do so. It seemed to him that the opinion was growing more and more widely that the ownership of land had its duties as well as its privileges, and he thought it would be admitted that one of the principal duties was that of providing houses as a part of the permanent capital of the land.

And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.