HC Deb 19 June 1874 vol 220 cc187-210

, in moving— That, in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Government should, with a view to improved cultivation of the land, introduce, with as little delay as possible, a measure for giving increased security for capital to be invested in the soil by agricultural tenants, said, that it was a subject of considerable interest, particularly to the tenant-farmers of England. Previous to 1850 various attempts had been made to remedy the grievances of agricultural tenants, and notably by the late Mr. Pusey, but nothing important in the way of legislation on the subject had been accomplished, and since that time until within the last few years the question had slept altogether. During the last three or four years, however, the formation of Chambers of Agriculture had led to the subject being taken up so strongly that it now occupied a more prominent place than even the question of local taxation or the repeal of the malt tax, and at every meeting of those, and the kindred societies—Partners' Clubs—it was invariably brought before the members. Further than that, last year a Bill to settle the question was brought in by the Members for Bedford and South Norfolk, but eventually that measure was withdrawn. In his opinion, therefore, the time had come when the House should be asked to take the subject seriously into consideration. What was the state of the law of landlord and tenant as it affected the agricultural tenant? The present state of the law was, that where there was no custom such as existed in Lincolnshire giving tenant-farmers compensation—and that custom existed only in a very small degree throughout England—and when there was no agreement with the landlord, when the tenant-farmer quitted his holding, he left all that he had put into the soil behind him. For instance, he might have spent £3,000 or £4,000 in chalking his land, and have derived no benefit from it himself, as its good effects would not be felt for the first 12 months; but as the law now stood, if he quitted his farm the incoming tenant would reap the benefit of his expenditure. That was under the general law, but there were special cases in which the tenant-farmer was put to even greater inconvenience and loss. He might enter into an agreement, giving him compensation, with his landlord, who was the life-owner of the estate, but if the life-owner died, the tenant could not claim compensation from his successor. The same injustice occurred under agreements entered into with the trustees of a minor, or with a clergyman holding a glebe securing compensation for unexhausted improvements, for the successors of the parties were not in any way bound by the agreements. Again, if a landowner having the fee-simple entered into an agreement with his tenant to give him compensation, and subsequently sold the estate, unless that agreement was endorsed on the title-deeds the tenant could not claim one farthing from the purchaser. As two-thirds of the land of England was under settlement in this way, it might easily be imagined how great a number of cases of hardship might arise. The results of this state of the law were, that the farmer was deterred from spending money in fertilizing the soil, and he complained that annually he had less profit, and that when he quitted a large portion of his capital was taken away from him; the labourers justly complained that the state of the law prevented them from obtaining that demand for labour which they otherwise would have, and the public complained that in consequence of capital not being employed freely in the cultivation of the soil, food was less in quantity and higher in price, and that consequently the local rates were on the increase. There was this peculiar feature of the question, that the law might be changed in favour of the farmer, the labourer, and the public, without injury to the landlord, for the latter must be benefited by any law which increased the fertility of the soil, and therefore the value of his property. Lincolnshire presented a notable example of the effect of tenant-right in increasing the wages of the labourer; for, for many years past, the average rate of the wages of the Lincolnshire labourer had been 2s. or 3s. per week higher than those of the labourer in the Southern counties, where there was no tenant-right. He would urge, in favour of the view he took, the Report of the Select Committee on Mr. Pusey's Bill of 1847, which stated that the system of tenant-right seemed to be highly beneficial, and to tend to a great increase in the productiveness of the soil, and extended employment for the rural population. In the debate upon Mr. Pusey's Bill, the late Sir Robert Peel said that to the principle of promoting the application of capital to land in order to secure better improvements and of providing just compensation to tenants, there could be no objection whatever. He (Mr. Seely), therefore, apprehended that there would be little objection to the principle of giving compensation to tenant-farmers for improvements, but the question was as to the degree to which the principle ought to extend, and upon this there might be considerable difference of opinion. Where there was a custom the application of the principle differed very much; in some only permanent improvements were compensated, whilst in others there was compensation also for temporary improvements, and in the greater part of England there was no custom or usage upon the matter. It might be said that the granting of leases would be sufficient to meet all the requirements of the case; but there was this objection to leases unaccompanied with right to compensation for improvements—that in the latter years of the lease the tenant would be tempted to do what was called "scourge" the land. It was, therefore, in the interest of the tenant, and especially of the public, that compensation should be given in order that the land might be continued to be cultivated during the last year of the tenancy. Last year, as he had said, there was an attempt made to settle this question by a Bill by the hon. Member for Bedford and the hon. Member for South Norfolk; and no doubt that Bill was approved by many farmers, and also by the great Conservative party; and, indeed, many of its provisions were excellent. In so far as the Bill gave compensation to farmers for "chalking" and for manures, there could be no opposition; but the Bill was objectionable upon many other points. His first objection to it was that it prohibited freedom of contract, and in any future legislation on the subject, he hoped nothing would be done in that direction. The principle of the 4th clause was, that landlords were looked upon as likely to take an advantage of their tenants; and it looked upon the farmers of England not as men capable of fighting their own battles, but as persons that the Legislature ought to take under its protection. In all other ranks of life a man was left to take care of himself by making his own contracts. The reason why it was said that there must be some general rule to bind them was, that there were so many applications for vacant farms that the landlords could make their own conditions; and that one condition made would be that the tenant should not have compensation for improvements which were unexhausted. He did not, however, think that there need be any apprehension of this. It would be for the landlords' interest that there should be such compensation. Further, there was through the whole of the community a sort of reverence for the law, and a desire to conform to its provisions, and the landlords would not go contrary to that feeling. If the law were that in the absence of an agreement, the tenant should have compensation, the landlords would not bind their tenants in a contrary sense. Moreover, it could not be said generally that for every vacant farm there were a hundred applicants. Where the land was good and the rent low, there were many applicants, but not where the land was bad and the rent high. He believed that the farmers could properly be trusted to protect themselves by their agreements. Another clause in the Bill enabled farmers to retain possession of the land until the compensation was paid, and the practical inconvenience of this would be extreme. It would often happen that the award of the compensation could not possibly be made by the day on which the tenant was to quit, and it would be a serious thing if the out-going tenant were empowered to hold over until it was paid. Another serious point occurred under Clauses 26 and 27 of the Bill of last year.


rose to Order. The hon. Gentleman appeared to be discussing a Bill which was not now before the House.


said, that the hon. Gentleman's observations were quite relevant. The hon. Member was calling upon the Government to introduce a Bill, and was discussing other measures that related to the question he now brought forward.


said, he not only wished to have a law passed which should alter the present law in favour of the tenants, but likewise wished to do justice to all parties, and not to have a law which would injure any other class. With that view he was calling the attention of the House to what he considered to be the defects of the Bill that was before it last year. Another of those defects, as he conceived, occurred under Clauses 26 and 27, by which great injustice might be done to the parties who would come after the tenant for life. He was no particular advocate for the law as it stood, but if the law of entail was to be abrogated, and the law of settlement was not to be any longer in practical force, let it be done away with fairly, manfully, and openly, and not by a side wind. With regard to 12 months' notice to quit, a high authority suggested that it should be extended to two years. But he had received a communication from an eminent land agent, who had tried the experiment on properties in South Norfolk, with the result that two years' notice to quit did not answer in practice, and that he had reverted to the old practice of six months' notice. There was a further objection he took to the Bill of last year. He objected to the Government finding money for farming-purposes. The plea urged in favour of that course was that it tended to improve the cultivation of the land and increase the production of food; but, if that rule were to be acted upon, where were we to stop? He objected to that proposal because, among other reasons, it gave to farmers a preference over other classes of the community. The only other defect in the Bill of last year to which he would allude was an omission. He referred to the case of the labourer, whose rights ought to be cared for, as well as those of the tenant. The Bill, as drawn, would not have given to the labourer compensation for his garden produce in the event of his quitting. All these were defects which he hoped would not re-appear in any future measure. The Government was the proper party to bring forward such a measure, and the experience of last year must have convinced every body of the difficulties which private Members must encounter in attempting to deal with the subject; and, in concluding as he should do, by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice, he hoped the Government would accept it; there being no reasonable objection to the principle it contained, and that they would bring in a measure dealing with the whole subject.


said, he rose with much pleasure to second the Motion—the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Seely) had gone so fully into the technical parts of the subject that it was unnecessary for him to touch upon those, and he should confine his remarks to some practical points to which the hon. Member had not adverted. Previous to the establishment of Free Trade, agricultural distress was frequently the subject of discussion in that House. Committees and Commissions were appointed to consider it, and to give advice and recommendations upon it. At that time agriculture was upheld by a system of protection, and farmers were taught to look more to the Legislature than to their own energy and skill. Thrown, however, upon their own resources by the abolition of the Corn Laws, they brought their own intelligence and industry to bear, by the exercise of which they brought the agriculture of this country to a higher stage than it had occupied for many years. Of late, there had been on the Notice Papers of the House no intimation of agricultural distress as a subject for discussion; but although farmers did not trouble the House with their grievances, they were not indifferent to those Acts which affected the interests or their profession. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to those Chambers of Agriculture at which of late years no subject had been more discussed than that of security for the tenants' capital, and justly so, for when they considered the amount of that capital, every Statesman would see that it was entitled to reasonable security. It was stated to be something like £450,000,000. He (Mr. M'Lagan) believed that was exaggerated, but he believed the estimate was between £200,000,000 and £300,000,000. A great deal of that was secured by lease, in many parts by customs, but in other parts of England a great proportion was unprotected. Capital might be laid out in three ways—first, in live stock and furnishing for the farm. As regarded that, the tenant could not expect to have compensation any more than the ordinary trader, because he could remove the stock at pleasure. The second portion of the tenant's capital was laid out on manure, liming, and chalking, and anything that could improve the land. Generally speaking, there was no security whatever for this capital. The third part was that laid out in permanent improvements, such as buildings and drainage, and in these, also, there was no security for the tenants' capital. But although a great deal had been said of the backwardness of agriculture in this country being attributed to the insecurity of tenants' capital, there were other causes at work. There was insufficiency of capital. Tenants were apt to take farms too large for their capital. It would be better if they took smaller farms and doubled their capital. Another cause of the backwardness of agriculture was the indifference as to laying out capital on the improvements of their farms. That arose from the ignorance of tenants of the benefits to be derived from improvements. He knew an instance of a tenant who had got a farm on a long lease, and would not improve until the agent raised his rent, and compelled him to double the manure. He so soon saw the advantage, that he continued improvements on his own account, and was now a most successful farmer. That showed the advantage of tenants laying out capital on farms, and it proved also that increased security would induce them so to lay out their capital. Fortunately there were figures to lay before the House as to the great advantages derived from security to tenants' capital. In 1770, as it appeared from the statistics of the right hon. Member for Greenwich when he introduced the Irish Land Bill, the rental in Ulster, where security was now given, was £960,000, and in 1869 was £2,000,000. In other parts of Ireland where the tenants were at the mercy of the landlords, the valuation in 1770 was £5,000,000, and in 1869 was very little more. In Ireland, generally, including Ulster, the rental had doubled from £6,000,000 to £12,000,000. In England, where there was greater confidence between landlord and tenant, where the value in 1770 was £12,000,000, the same in 1848 was £48,000,000. In Scotland, where, instead of confidence between landlord and tenant the latter had the advantage of 21 years' lease, in 1770 the rental was £1,200,000, and in 1869 it was £7,200,000. That showed the great advantage of tenants having security for their capital. Another startling fact was brought out the other day from the Income Tax Returns. Between 1852 and 1869 the rental in England had been increased 19 per cent—in Scotland, 32 per cent. These were instructive facts, and went far to show the advantages of tenants having security for their capital. He did not intend to draw comparison between tenants in England and Scotland; but he might say that while there were leases in Scotland, the relations between landlords and tenants in England were of a more confidential character, and there were fewer changes. In England the tenant would sooner take the word of the landlord than hare a lease. But the tenants had no security for their capital. The landlord might die, the estate might be sold, and the tenant might find that his confidence in his landlord was greater than his prudence. In a speech by the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read) last year, he said the law was all on the side of the landlord, who could remove his tenant at pleasure, and could eat up all his crops with game without giving him compensation. There were the laws of distress, and laws of all sorts for the protection of the landlords; but none, or next to none, for the protection of tenants. Those were not the words of an hon. Member who indulged in flights of imagination. On the contrary, the hon. Member called things generally by their proper names. If they were true, it showed the condition of tenants in England as little better than that of serfs. He was sorry his hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk had not said whether he would improve the condition of the tenant by levelling up to the landlord, or by levelling the landlord down to the tenant. If the position of tenants was truly stated, it was one of serfdom little better than that in some countries which they were apt to consider very bad; and curiously enough, men of this class were men of intelligence, men of property, who were toasted at agricultural meeting as the backbone of our Constitution. Since the hon. Member could not give any idea of how he would improve the condition of the tenant he would ask, was it possible that that could be effected by legislation without doing injustice to the landlord? If a tenant took a farm, and laid out capital in different ways, he might be called upon to leave at six months' notice, and, if so, he would leave the capital he had laid out on the farm for the benefit of his landlord. That was the present position of the law. What he would propose was, because he did not like abstract Resolutions, that the law should be altered in such a way that compensation might be given to the tenant for all improvements and manures which he might put on his farm, unless there was some agreement to the contrary. He knew that some objected to the tenant receiving compensation for buildings, unless he received the assent of the landlord. He would go further, and say that if a tenant intended to put up a building, and gave intimation to the landlord, and the landlord did not object in a certain time, it was but just that the tenant should receive compensation if he erected the buildings. He would propose, then, that the law might be altered in such a manner as to give the tenant compensation for improvements on buildings; but still as he was liable to leave the farm at six months' notice, a good deal of his capital would remain there. In Scotland the landlord was not required to give more than six weeks' notice. That should be altered. He should propose that notice to quit should be extended to at least two years, and he did so for various reasons, one of which was, that he was not like an ordinary householder, and might require time to find another farm. He would also give the tenant the benefit of the crop grown in the last year of the tenancy as compensation for the money he had expended in manure upon the land. It had been urged that the tenant would exhaust the soil under such circumstances; but that could be easily avoided by means of agreements to be made between the occupiers and owners of farms. In the remarks he had made, he had purposely avoided, anything like interference with contracts. To that he decidedly objected. That was exceptional legislation at the best, and should be judged on its own merits. He did hot desire any interference with the law of contract, though he did not consider it such as many did. There were many bugbear cases adduced as interference of contract by the Legislature; but these were more interference with the liberties of the subjects than with contracts between individuals.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Government should, with a view to improved cultivation of the land, introduce, with as little delay as possible, a measure for giving increased security for capital to he invested in the soil by agricultural tenants,"—(Mr. Seely.)

—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, when he saw on the Notice Paper the Motion proposed by the hon. Member for Lincoln, he was possessed with a strong-feeling of gratitude towards the hon. Member for proposing to bring this important question under the attention of the House. He could not, therefore, very well express the disappointment with which he had listened to the hon. Member's speech, for he entirely failed to gather what the hon. Member proposed as the real object or outcome of his proposals. If the landlords were as enlightened, just, and honourable as the hon. Member represented; and if, on the other hand, farmers were as intelligent, shrewd, and independent, he did not see that there was any occasion for the interference of the House in the matter. There was nothing to prevent farmers from mating such contracts as they pleased for permanent improvements. There was nothing which would prevent the farmer and his landlord agreeing as to permanent improvements, or even for the temporary improvements. The hon. Gentleman referred to Lincolnshire; but there the custom was that the incoming and outgoing tenants agreed between themselves as to the amount to be paid for improvements, and the landlord had nothing whatever to do with it. The basis on which legislation should be founded was, that it was just and equitable, and to the interest of landlords and tenants, and of the public generally, that tenant-farmers should be compensated at the the termination of their holdings for permanent improvements made during their occupation. The question of details was one with regard to which there might well be differences of opinion among men who were practically acquainted with the subject. The greater part of the hon. Gentleman's speech was a criticism of the Bill of the hon. Member for South Norfolk (Mr. Clare Read), which was introduced last Session, and he thought there was considerable inconvenience in discussing now the details of a measure which was not immediately before them. He was not going to imitate the hon. Gentleman; but he would, however, remark that one object of true Liberalism was to secure to everyone the produce of his labour, and if any Liberalism asserted that landlords, or any other class, should have power to take a tenant's improvement without compensation to the tenant, he did not subscribe to that kind of Liberalism. The hon. Member for Lincoln had strongly deprecated any interference with freedom of contract. It was, however, a fact that in a small part of England only was there any settled arrangement existing between landlords and tenants as to compensation for permanent, durable, or even temporary improvements effected on the farms; and it was the settled conviction of men practically acquainted with the subject, including the hon. Member for South Norfolk—a conviction which he (Mr. Barclay) affirmed, on behalf of the tenant-farmers—that unless an Act of Parliament on that subject did interfere, in some shape or other, with freedom of contract, it would practically be worthless. Such interference would be quite justifiable, inasmuch as the possession of land was a monopoly, and ought by all the principles of political economy to be regulated as a monopoly. The Truck Act interfered with freedom of contract between the working man and the employer; the Shipping Act interfered with freedom of contract between sailors and shipowners; and the ownership of land being a monopoly, it was consistent with all the principles of political economy that it should be treated as a monopoly by the Legislature. Under the law of England the game belonged to the tenant; yet almost invariably the landlord reserved to himself the right to preserve a large quantity of game on the land occupied by the tenant, without paying any compensation whatever for the damage done to the land. ["No, no!"] He ventured to say that that was the general rule, although there might be many exceptions to it. Speaking from his own experience, in regard to Scotland, he must say that he could recollect very few cases in which compensation was paid to the tenant on that account. The question was one which passing events seemed to urge on the consideration of that House. He believed that existing; circumstances made it important that this question should soon be settled, for, in the contest going on in the Eastern Counties, there was a tendency towards a rise of wages, and that would, no doubt, lead to a contest between the landlords and the tenants. His object was to show the necessity of legislation on that subject, with the view of inducing farmers to invest capital more largely in the cultivation of the soil. For a few years from 1852, farmers who possessed leases derived considerable benefit from the establishment of Free Trade. But, as time went on, the advantages of the Free Trade policy were gradually appropriated by the landlords, and that was conclusively shown by the increase of rents. In 1855 the rental of Forfarshire was £370,598; in 1873 the rental had increased to £540,520, being an increase of nearly 46 per cent. In 1855 the rental in the county of Aberdeen was £526,640; in 1873 it was £750,000, being an increase of 42½ per cent. He was quite ready to admit that a certain portion of that increase was due to the expenditure of money on buildings not connected with agriculture, and that another portion was due to the great improvements effected in the cultivation of land since the introduction of the Free Trade policy which the landlords had strenuously opposed; but a very large portion of that increase of the rental was due to the improvements effected by tenant-farmers, which improvements were appropriated by the landlords as the leases fell in. It might be asked, why did the tenants pay such large rents? Tenants must accept the terms offered by the landlords, or expatriate themselves. The landlords had a monopoly, and a power to obtain a constantly increasing rent from their tenants. All, however, did not act thus, and it was said that the feeling which prevailed between the landlords and the farmers in England was of a more cordial nature than that which prevailed in the Northern part of the United Kingdom; and that, he thought, was due to the fact that English landlords were not as strenuous in insisting on an advance of rent as landlords in certain parts of Scotland. To show that the present position of agriculture was untenable, he would refer very briefly to the present prices and cost of production, as compared with that in 1855. He found that in the 10 years previous to 1855 the average price of wheat per quarter was 53s., and that the average price in the 10 years previous to 1872 was only 51s. 4d. Therefore, on an average of 10 years, the price of wheat was 1s. 8d. per qr. less than it was previous to 1855. not with standing the great increase in rents to which he had referred. It might be said that the price of beef had increased so far as the tenant-farmers were concerned; and so it had; but the advance in the price of meat had been very greatly over-estimated, and the public had looked more at the retail prices than to the wholesale prices. It was the wholesale price which was the test in judging what profit the farmer got on the produce of his land. He found on reference to a Return published by the Veterinary Department that the average price of beef was in 1864, 6⅝d. per lb., and in 1873 a mere fraction over 7d. The increase in the price of beef during these nine years thus amounted to only three-eighths of a penny per lb. That, no doubt, did not correspond with the experience of hon. Members; but he wished to point out to them that the great advance in the price had not been on the whole carcase, but on the finer portions. It was, therefore, not at all obvious how the Free Trade policy had been advantageous to farmers as it had been to all other classes of the community. Between 1852 and the present lime, as was shown by the figures of Mr. Caird, the value of labour had risen 50 per cent; and though labour was saved by machinery, the increased produce did not correspond with the increased cost of production. From that, it did not require a lecture on political economy to teach them that this state of affairs could not continue, and that it must result in one of two things—either there must be a reduction in the rents of farms, or the farmers must endeavour to meet the cost of produce by getting more out of the soil. He did not recommend or desire to see the first proposal. He did not desire to see any reduction in rents, because he thought that would be only an alleviation, and not a cure, of the evil; but he was of opinion that if there was a re-arrangement of the tenure of land, whereby a tenant would be induced to invest a much larger amount in the soil, the result would be highly advantageous, not only to the landlord, but to the tenant and the public generally. The problem before the House, and which he hoped the House and the Members of the Government would endeavour to solve, was how to ascertain the amount of capital belonging to the tenant left by him in the possession of the landlord on giving up his lease, and how he should be compensated for it. The Bill which was introduced by the hon. Member for South Norfolk last Session was a very fair endeavour to deal with the question, so far as England was concerned; but as a 20 years' lease withdrew the holder from the operation of the Act, that Act would not have been applicable to Scotland. He thought that they ought to endeavour to establish a system, whereby a tenant might be encouraged to maintain the fertility of his farm to the last year of his lease. Under the existing system, a tenant entering upon a farm endeavoured during the first half of his lease to increase its fertility; but during the latter half his endeavours were principally concentrated upon withdrawing from the land what he had invested on it, during the first half, in manure. The result was that they had a continual "see-saw," for when a farmer came into a farm, he found it wanted manuring, and when his lease expired, he left it in such a condition that a similar course must be taken by the tenant who followed him. If landlords were brought to recognize the policy of agreeing with tenants, some four or five years before a lease expired, for a renewal, the House might not have to consider this difficult question. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Linlithgow, when he indicated that two years would be sufficient to enable a tenant to withdraw from the soil money invested in it during the existence of the lease. He (Mr. Barclay) should say that if the tenant-farmer was able to do that, he must have done very little in the way of improving the fertility of his farm. He thought that they had a right to expect from Her Majesty's Government that they should endeavour to deal with this subject, for from what had been said by an eminent Member of the party, the tenant-farmers, not only in England but in Scotland, looked to the present Government for some measure dealing with the question, and he believed that that expectation was not without its effect at the last General Election. It would be admitted that the House required considerable pressure to induce it to deal with such questions, and he did not think that much could be expected so long as farmers allowed themselves to be led away by the question of the reduction or the repeal of the malt-tax, the transference of local taxation to the Consolidated Fund—which would benefit the landlords only—or by such a Tenant-right Bill as had been advocated by many Chambers of Agriculture, which simply allowed landlords and tenants to make bargains which at the present time were not illegal. So long as they were led away by these cries, he did not expect they would get much improvement in their position from the House. The importance of the question was shown by the fact that if the produce of the soil could be doubled by the judicious investment of capital, the annual return involved amounted to £125,000,000. In conclusion, he had much pleasure in supporting the Motion, although he did not agree with the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had brought it forward.


said, he was somewhat startled by the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln, who did not say a word about there being anything defective in the cultivation of the land of this country, nor make any suggestion for improving that cultivation; but, on the contrary, had directed his whole efforts against the Bill of last year. Her Majesty's Government could learn very little from that speech, unless to distrust the advice of one of their own Members, whose Bill of last year the hon. Gentleman had so severely criticized. The hon. Member for Linlithgow followed the hon. Gentleman the Member for Lincoln, and certainly that hon. Gentleman had no very high opinion of the farmers south of the Tweed, whom he styled serfs and instruments in the hands of the landlords who oppressed them; but he said not a single word to lead to the inference that the land was not producing as much as it could possibly do. He (Mr. Pell) would challenge any other country to show such results. The cultivation of the land had improved and was improving. Not a word had been said about the cultivation of the land of other countries; but no other country in Europe approached us with reference to the amount of produce we got from our land. Take Belgium, for instance. She had a good soil; her people were active, and had every appliance necessary for getting the most out of the land. Belgium produced 3 bushels of wheat per head of the population; the United Kingdom produced at the rate of 3½ bushels. She had only 25 cattle and 12 sheep for every 100 of the population; the United Kingdom had 31 cattle and 102 sheep for every 100 of the population. The weight of foreign cattle was 5001b.; that of the British cattle was 6001b. The weight of foreign sheep was 501b.; that of sheep in England was 60lb. The land was not only able to raise this amount of food, vegetable and animal, but also wild rabbits, which he would rather do without. He was certain that Her Majesty's Government were ready to receive any advice pointing out the means of remedying anything that might need a remedy on this subject, and to act upon that advice: but all that had been done by hon. Gentlemen was to condemn the present state of things. The only attempt that had been made to legislate on the subject had been made by one of the Members of Her Majesty's Government (Mr. Read), and he (Mr. Pell) did not agree with portions of the Bill which that hon. Gentleman introduced. No measure could be devised to restrict con-tracts between landlords and tenants, which could not be overcome, if not by the general ingenuity of men, at least by legal ingenuity. With regard to a statement of the hon. Member for Lincoln, the larger portion of the land in this country was the subject of marriage and other settlements, and he appealed to the legal Members of the House whether it was not the invariable practice to insert in such settlements powers to grant leases and renewals of leases. For 30 years he had cultivated land for which he had paid rent, and he had never experienced on giving up one farm to take another the consequences described by hon. Gentlemen. When he took a farm the agreement stated the provisions under which he could go out of it and every prudent man would take this security; but when, owing to the low rent at which land had been let, men came tumbling over each other's heads to get it, and took it on any terms, evil consequences might follow. No legislation either could or ought to guard against that. He should be sorry if any Ministry attempted to foster the cultivation of the land. That cultivation would go on best when not interfered with by legislation. Probably only the abolition of primogeniture and of the law of entail, and the breaking up of large estates, would satisfy the requirements of hon. Gentlemen who came from the North of the Tweed, but he hoped they should never come to that in England. He did not agree with hon. Members that unlimited capital should be applied by the tenant to the land, but only so much as would yield a good return. It should be remembered, too, that in England, the landlord only got 3½ per cent for his capital, and the farmer from 8 to 10 per cent, and as a farmer he could do far better by hiring the land than buying it. In conclusion he trusted that Her Majesty's Government would not take up a subject like that at the fag-end of a Session, and would, if they dealt with it at all, do so at a proper time and in a proper way.


said, he was glad the question had been brought forward, for, as the law stood at present, a tenant, unless protected by express stipulations or by the custom of the country, could not obtain compensation for permanent improvements, and he thought that law ought to be altered. The Committee which sat in 1848, under the presidency of Mr. Pusey, reported that it was inexpedient to interfere with the freedom of contract. English farmers were perfectly capable of entering into contracts and protecting themselves, and it would be a very dangerous precedent to do away with freedom of contract. He would give a fair and equitable compensation to tenants, and he hoped the Government would direct their attention to this subject, with the view of introducing next Session a Bill founded on that of the hon. Member for South Norfolk, but without the 12th clause. Nearly three-fourths of the land of this country was held on yearly agreement, without compensation, and the Bill of last Session, without the 12th clause, would affect all those cases.


said, that as he had taken great interest in the Irish Land Bill, he had thought it his duty to come down to the House that evening, not to take part in the discussion, but to help to form a House. But he had never been more disappointed than he was with the speech of the hon. Member for Lincoln. So far from that speech being in favour of the Resolution he had proposed, every sentence of it tended in an opposite direction. The hon. Member objected altogether to the Bill of the hon. Member for South Norfolk. The hon. Member did not seem to know anything of the law with regard to this question. The law of England was, that if a tenant erected buildings on his land with the consent of the landlord, and if the landlord did not give him compensation for them when he was evicted, the tenant had a right to remove the buildings from the land. He (Mr. Downing) had always considered the Irish tenants were the worst treated in the world; but from the description he had heard that night, he must say the Scotch agricultural tenant was in a much worse condition. Scotch tenants could be evicted without compensation, and numbers had been turned out of their holdings without any cause whatever. Had there been no evictions in Scotland for the purpose of increasing game? Were not those people entitled to compensation? Why had Scotch Members not dealt with this subject as Irish Members had done? The result was, that in Ireland a tenant could not be turned out of his holding without six months' notice, and without compensation for improvements and also for disturbance in his occupation. A time would come when the tenants both in England and Scotland would feel their unprotected position, and when they did, there would be a greater agitation for a land Bill than ever there was in Ireland.


Sir, I came down to this House to fulfil my first duty—to assist in securing a House for the Gentlemen who had Motions to-night, and also, like the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, for the purpose of listening to the hon. Member for Lincoln. But I must say I did not experience that disappointment in listening to that speech which he has confessed. It appeared to me an extremely sensible speech—a speech delivered by a Gentleman who had well considered the subject, and who on all points connected with it took moderate and practical views. That speech was certainly a criticism—but a moderate, although at the same time an elaborate one—on the Bill introduced into Parliament last year on the subject of unexhausted improvements, and other points connected with the position of the farmer. Now, that Bill was one to the general scope of which I was not at all unfavourable, although there were clauses and provisions in it—which have been criticized with great power by the hon. Member for Lincoln—which I could not approve. The question is not one of such simplicity as some hon. Gentlemen would suppose. It has been before Parliament, more or less, during the long period I have sat in this House. When I first recollect its being discussed here, we were told by those who complained of the position which the farmer then occupied with respect to the compensation which was wanted for unexhausted improvements, that there was only one cure for the evils of which they complained, and that was, he should possess a lease. We were told that he should not only possess a lease, but he should possess a long lease, and that in every way possible we should bring the cultivator of the soil in England into a parallel condition with that of the Scotch farmer. A Scotch farmer with his long lease was always held up to English landowners as a model which we should attempt to realize in this country; and we were told the more we approached that position, the more prosperous would be the condition of the English farmer, and ultimately, that in realizing an identity of circumstances with the Scotch farmer, we should have a complete specific against all complaints that could be made. Now, we consider the subject with some advantage. First of all, time has brought us experience. Changes have occurred which have brought into this House Gentlemen intimately and immediately connected with the cultivation of the soil in this country, and also in Scotland. We have been addressed to-night by two Gentlemen—Scotch Members—who, I believe, are personally connected with the cultivation of the soil. And certainly the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) has given us a full and elaborate account of his experience in this respect. And what has he told us? Why, we have heard from him to-night—and, both from the high position in which he hat; been placed by his countrymen, and from the ability which he has displayed in addressing us, he is entitled to our confidence—we have heard from him that of all systems the one which is most to be deprecated is the agricultural system of Scotland based on long leases, and especially on leases of 19 years; that it is a see-saw system which enriches the land for the benefit of the cultivator for one half of the term, and then regularly exhausts it for the other half. And that is the system which for nearly half a century has been held up to the English, landlord as the one which he was bound in duty to realize and establish in this country, accompanied, as that advice was, with an intimation of the belief that, under no circumstances, was such an exercise of patriotism to be expected on his part. But we learn to-night that, on the difficult question with which we have to deal, we must on no account follow the Scotch example; and the highest authority—as I may conclude the hon. Member is on this subject—warns us that all that appeal to Scotch experience and Scotch farming must be thrown out of our consideration if we are to deal practically and satisfactorily with this matter. I say that that is a lesson which should not be without some result upon those who have been always calling upon the Government to take up this question as if it were a very easy and simple one, and who now appeal to a Ministry which acceded to office somewhat late in the Session, now approaching its end, and and in the teeth of the most contrary opinions expressed by every hon. Gentleman who has spoken to-night—because even those who supported the general Resolution of the hon. Member for Lincoln took every opportunity of opposing and arguing against every sentiment his speech contained and every reason it urged. Yet we are asked, under these circumstances, suddenly to cut this Gordian Knot. I must, on the part of the Government, disclaim such a duty on our part, and any readiness in a hasty, precipitate, and indigested manner to bring forward a subject of this kind. The question, however, is one that deserves the consideration of a Ministry; and if we remain on these benches—as I hope it is no presumption to suppose that we may do—a sufficient time to afford us an opportunity of fulfilling our engagement, we shall give to this subject the consideration which I, for one, believe it merits. In fact—I will not conceal it from the House—it is one which we have already considered. When the Government was formed, we naturally took into consideration the measures which, during the last Session of Parliament and at other times, were brought before the attention of the House. And this being a measure which much interested hon. Members, particularly on this side of the House, and which previously engaged our attention during the late Parliament, it is one which we neither wished to avoid considering, nor, had we wished, could we have avoided considering. But though I agree in the general sentiment expressed in the Resolution of the hon. Member for Lincoln, I am not prepared to support that Resolution, on this ground—that I think we must all have felt the great inconvenience of the House passing abstract Resolutions of the kind. The question of compensation for unexhausted improvements in the cultivation of the soil is one which has now occupied the attention of the country for a considerable period, and I cannot say that the debate has been promising of a very satisfactory result as regards a solution of it, or that if we were to attempt to frame our policy upon the opinions enunciated to-night by hon. Gentlemen—and especially by hon. Gentlemen opposite—I should be sanguine of producing a measure that would give the general satisfaction which one would desire on a subject of this nature. But I am still of opinion that if we do not seek after the impossible—if we do not attempt to force men into agreements which human nature recoils from, such as have been embodied in some clauses of the Bill which has been so often referred to to-night, there are grounds on which a very general concurrence might be anticipated, and that the general principle that for unexhausted improvements a bonâ fide compensation should be secured to the tenant, may be practically attained. That is all I wish to say on the present occasion. I have no desire to oppose the general policy expressed in the Resolution of the hon. Member for Lincoln. My opposition to it is based on the general ground that I think we should not encourage abstract Resolutions in this House, excepting under circumstances of great exigency and public interest. There may be occasions when the House is desirous that a particular policy should be followed, and when they have reason to believe that those who are in power are disinclined to follow the bent and disposition of the House and the country on a subject of this great importance. At such a time the House may be authorized to call upon hon. Members to adopt some abstract Resolution, or some general expression of policy; but that is not the case now, for the matter before us is one in which we are all interested, and in the main object to be attained we are all agreed. Therefore, in my mind, the best thing we can do, under the present circumstances, is not to require the House to declare any vague opinion, but to believe that in the next Session of Parliament the consideration of the House may be called to it in a manner that may not realize the views which some hon. Gentlemen have expressed tonight, but which may promise the practical solution of a question of great national importance.


said, he felt bound to appeal to his hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln, after the speech just delivered by the Prime Minister, not to divide. Considering the difference of opinion expressed even by the supporters of the Motion that night, they could scarcely expect anything more from the right hon. Gentleman than he had said. Most great reforms had been heralded by voting in favour of abstract Resolutions; but when they were brought forward, and voted upon in order to herald some great reform, those who supported them were generally agreed in their opinions. That debate showed that public opinion was not sufficiently advanced for there to be an agreement on that question. The right hon. Gentleman had, however, recognized the justice and the importance of giving the tenant compensation for unexhausted improvements, and the most advanced and earnest reformer on the subject of tenant-right was a Gentleman, now a Member of the Government, and one in whom the Prime Minister had expressed great confidence.


joined in the appeal to the hon. Member for Lincoln not to go to a division. Many Gentlemen on his side of the House, including himself, took as great an interest in that question as the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Seely), and to them the speech of the Prime Minister was eminently satisfactory.


said, that seeing the feeling of the House, he would, after what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government, ask leave to withdraw his Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

SUPPLY—considered in Committee.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.