HC Deb 20 July 1875 vol 225 cc1751-64

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 and 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 (Extent of Act).


moved to insert in page 1, line 11, after the word "Ireland," the words— Nor shall it extend to any holding in England or Wales in respect of which a written agreement is in existence between the landlord and his tenant at the date of the commencement of this Act. One objection that might be made to his proposition was that many of these agreements were old-fashioned, but he did not know that this was a fault. He contended that when once you opened the door to tampering with existing contracts it was impossible to say what injury might result. If a vote were taken on the Amendment he should claim the votes of the hon. and learned Member for Oxford City and of the right hon. Gentleman who sat for the University of London. Every one who had a regard for the rights of property should object to such a tampering with old agreements. He objected to put upon landlords the invidious odium which was sought to be imposed upon them—namely, that they had the power to contract themselves out of the Bill. Why should the attempt be made to disturb the relations existing between old tenants and landlords, when from generation to generation—in many cases for centuries—farms had been in the hands of the same families. Was it to be supposed that Parliament could lay down one particular rule which could be successfully applied all over England. There were two classes of cases—one of them of tenants who held under written contract, and the other of tenants who did not hold under any contract whatever, but simply a verbal agreement; and he did not know of any cases of hardship on tenants calling for special legislation except in two cases—one, in which the tenant, not having any agreement, had improved his land, and in which his landlord turned him out and took possession of the land without giving him any compensation; and the other where an estate was sold, or changed ownership, and the purchaser or new owner raised the rent, and as the tenant did not agree to accept the terms turned him out. One short clause would cure all that. There were good landlords as well as bad, but it was no sufficient reason, because such a measure as the present was required for the latter, that the former should be even indirectly injuriously affected by it. He had heard that a Member of the Cabinet had expressed an opinion to the effect that the Amendment was not necessary, as it merely expressed the meaning and intention of the Government. If that were so, there could not, he thought, be any objection to that meaning and intention being clearly expressed; but when he turned to Clause 46 he found a provision which enabled any landlord who so desired to free himself from—or, as the phrase was, to contract himself out of—the provisions of the Bill. That clause involved a great principle, and forced a very invidious necessity on a good landlord who gave his tenants fair agreements, by putting on him the odium of serving a notice on his tenants that they were not to participate in the advantages of this Bill, and it was to avoid this unfair and disagreeable necessity that he was anxious to have it plainly stated that existing agreements should be upheld.


thought the Committee would agree that the Amendment of his hon. Friend was not germane to the clause in connection with which it was sought to be introduced. This clause referred to territorial extent, and not to question of tenancies, and it seemed objectionable to introduce the Amendment as proposed. But he thought that not only was the Amendment not germane to the clause, but that it would be indiscreet to force such an opinion upon the Committee. He could not believe that such a course was prudent or proper. The opinion of hon. Members, and even of the hon. Baronet himself, might be modified in the course of the passage of the Bill through Committee. However important the Amendment might be, and, no doubt, it was an important one, it was not germane to a clause providing that this Act should not extend to Scotland or Ireland. If the Amendment were moved at all, it might be better moved at another stage of the Bill. Irrespective of the objection he had stated, the Amendment was so worded that it did not limit the duration of the agreements to which it referred, and he hoped it would not be pressed.


said, he trusted that one result of this discussion would be to put the Bill with reference to existing agreements into a reasonable shape, because unless, that were done, it would give rise to difficulties and heart-burnings among agriculturists of all classes. It would, however, be better to discuss this matter at the end than at the beginning.


entirely concurred in the objects and principle of the Bill, but contended that legislation should not abrogate contracts entered into by persons with their eyes open. Many existing agreements had been drawn up with great care and pains, with the express object of avoiding subsequent legislation that might interfere with arrangements which both parties preferred to make for themselves. While, therefore, he thought that the Amendment might be proposed at a more convenient time, he hoped the Government would see their way to accept the principle contained in it.


was disposed to concur in the Amendment if it were proposed in its proper place, seeing that the effect of the Bill would be to put an end to existing agreements of yearly tenancies—a result exceeding undesirable both to landlord and tenant. The question was one of very great importance, and it was desirable that the Committee should, at this early stage of the Bill, know what were the intentions of the Government in reference to the question.


denied that the Bill would put an end to every agreement; it only gave the tenant the advantage of going to the landlord for compensation for the usual acts of husbandry and unexhausted improvements, instead of leaving him to his remedy at law or to go to the incoming tenant. The Bill also gave a simple remedy by arbitration, instead of driving a man into a Court of Law; and it provided that a tenant's remedy should lie against the person who was in actual possession of the land. For want of such a provision a tenant at the late Assizes at Salisbury had been non-suited, the land having changed hands, and his claim to compensation being ignored both by the late and present landlord.


said, that, with some knowledge of the wishes of the farmers in his county, he did not believe that, on the whole, they wanted the Bill at all. At all events, existing agreements, drawn up with the greatest possible care, should not be altered in this summary way. Inequitable agreements might exist, but, on the whole, landlords only desired to do what was was fair to their tenants. Such a provision was likely to cause heartburnings and annoyances, and he could hardly conceive a more unwise act on the part of a Conservative Government than to propose this harassing legislation.


thought that the progress of the Bill would depend greatly upon what was done in this question, and he joined in the appeal which had been made to the Government to give the Committee some information as to their views.


said, that, before the Government gave the explanation for which they were asked, he wished to express a hope that the hon. Baronet would not persist in his Amendment. He deprecated any interference with freedom of contract, maintaining the absolute right of landlord and tenant to enter into what agreements they pleased. He should feel no delicacy or difficulty in contracting himself out of the Bill, and there were some cases in which, in justice to the tenant for life, he should feel called upon to do so. In any case he protested against having freedom of contract restricted. The principal object of the Bill, as far as regarded compensation to tenants for a certain class of improvements, was to reverse the presumption at present in favour of the landlord and give it to the tenant. The reason for that was very simple. In former times, when tenants were a very poor class, and lived from hand to mouth, they put nothing into the land except what they expected the next crop to return. Then it was fair that what was in the land should belong to the landlord. But the presumption now was, that what was put into the soil ought to belong to the tenant. There were, however, many agreements of old standing in which that presumption was not at all recognized. In that respect the operation of old leases would, in many cases, be inequitable and unjust to the tenant, and would have to be amended by the landlord. He himself had at this moment a farm which had been leased for 14 years, and which the tenant was about to quit. Under the terms of the lease the tenant would have no claim to compensation for expenses for cake, but it was only fair that compensation should be made for it. Such an agreement would have to be supplemented by another agreement, or by legislation of this kind. He did think, however, as matter of form, that the present part of the Bill was not the best place to introduce this Amendment, and that the Amendment could be made more properly on the 46th clause. Therefore, though he would be happy to go with his hon. Friend at the proper time, he trusted he would withdraw the Amendment for the present.


hoped his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government would make some statement to the Committee on this most important question. As most people knew, four-fifths of the land of this country was held upon yearly agreements, many of which in various parts of England were considered better than any lease, and had gone on for hundreds of years from generation to generation. It would be a most unwise and injudicious thing if, as it were by a stroke of the pen, this Bill was to upset these arrangements. Knowing as he did the feeling of the agricultural classes in this country, he was sure that nothing would tend to facilitate the passing of the Bill so much as a declaration by his right hon. Friend that he did not intend in any way to interfere with those agreements which had now existed so long.


said, he was sorry he could not yield to the appeals which had been made to him on both sides to make a declaration on a particular point involved in the Amendment. The House had accepted the principle of the Bill which was now in Committee, and it only remained to discuss the clauses. It would be not only unusual, but inconvenient to give a crude and almost abstract opinion, which might be misunderstood, upon points raised by hon. Gentlemen; whereas, if they were considered in relation to the language of a future clause, they could then be critically examined, and effect given to the views expressed. He certainly did not expect from any clause in the Bill the consequences anticipated by his hon. Friend the Member for North Wilts. It would be quite possible, as the Committee proceeded, to prevent any wholesale issue of notices to quit. They must, however, go on cautiously, if they wished to carry the Bill, which, from the manner in which the second reading was agreed to, he presumed there was a sincere desire on both sides of the House to do. ["No, no!"] If not, he was at a loss to understand why they had agreed to the second reading? When his hon. and gallant Friend (Sir Walter Barttelot) told the Committee that four-fifths of the tenants of England held on yearly agreements, and were in the position of yearly tenants, that was an observation which cut both ways, and a very interesting inference might be drawn from that statistical fact. He trusted the Committee would come to a decision on the Amendment; and he confidently anticipated, if they proceeded, that the inconveniences apprehended, if not removed entirely, would be largely mitigated; and that, without forfeiting the object which it was proposed to accomplish by the Bill.


said, he could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman, in hoping that the Committee would come to a decision on this Amendment, because that was certainly not the most convenient time for that purpose. It was evident that the view of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Wilts would receive a great deal of support on both sides, but he would hardly raise the question fairly if he persisted in dividing on this occasion. No doubt, the subject merited full discussion, and he was quite surprised that the Government had not made up their minds on the question. The Committee would have a further opportunity of considering the question before they reached the 46th clause, and before then he would recommend hon. Members to obtain from the Government some information as to the extent of the operation the clause might have. He did not understand the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Walter Barttelot) to say that four-fifths of the land of England was held under yearly tenancies, but that a very large portion of it was held under tenancies which would be affected by this Amendment. [Sir WALTER BARTTELOT: Hear, hear!] Could the Government give an estimate of the number of holdings which would be affected by it? His own opinion was that a large proportion of the soil of England would be excluded by the Amendment from the operation of the Bill. Nor did he think that would be a matter to be regretted, as the Bill was an extremely imperfect measure. He was sorry the Government had not taken the advice which had been given them to consider the subject. If they had put it off for another year, he felt convinced they would have produced a much more satisfactory measure.


expressed his concurrence generally in the views taken by the hon. Baronet (Sir George Jenkinson).


thought the Committee required, before proceeding, the information which the Government, although pressed to do so, were unwilling to give them until they got to the 46th clause, which would altogether disturb the relations between landlords and tenants.


charged the hon. Gentleman with inconsistency, inasmuch as on the previous evening his complaint against the Bill was that it did not go far enough in the way of that disturbance which he now deprecated.


said, his firm belief was that a large proportion—in fact, a great majority—both of landlords and tenants wished to be let alone, and if the proposal of the hon. Baronet was likely to give effect to their wishes it would go a great way. When it was said that freedom of contract was to be the basis on which they were to proceed, how could that be the case, if people were not to have the power of making their bargains? The feeling in that part of the world in which he lived was this—people wished to be let alone, and did not want the bother of having to make fresh bargains, and he believed that was pretty generally the case throughout the country. The times were not bad for the tenants, and when that was the case, anything which brought about a general looking into of everything was not desired by them. He hoped the Government would either accept the proposal of the hon. Baronet, or in some way make it clear that people who were satisfied would not be meddled with.


said, it appeared to him that there was a very simple way out of the difficulty. If he was in Order in doing so, he should be prepared to move the postponement of the consideration of all the clauses up to Clause 46, so that they might really know what they were about.


said, the hon. and learned Member would not be in Order in making such a proposal, until the point before the Committee was decided, and then he would have to move that each clause, as it was proposed, should be postponed.


urged that if exceptions were to be made in favour of leases, they should be also made with regard to other agreements. He hoped the hon. Baronet would withdraw his Amendment until they know what were to be the exceptions in the case of regular leases.


said, he was satisfied with having elicited the opinion of the House, and would withdraw the Amendment till a more convenient stage of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 4 postponed.

Clause 5 (Tenant's title to compensation).


moved that the clause be postponed until the Committee had an opportunity of considering Clause 46.


I can only look upon this Motion as conceived in a spirit of the greatest hostility to the measure, and with a determination not to give it a fair hearing. Her Majesty's Government will give the Motion their entire opposition. I would look upon the division as conclusive of the opinion of the House on the Bill.


hoped the hon. and learned Member would not persevere with his Amendment.

Motion negatived.


called attention to the circumstance that, besides the marginal note of this clause, "Tenant's title to compensation," it was preceded by a heading," Tenant's Compensation for Improvements," and he asked the Chairman whether that heading was part of the Bill.


said, it was of the nature of a marginal note, which was no part of a Bill.


asked whether the promoters of a Bill could insert a heading over which the House had no control? This heading seemed to embody a principle to which he could not agree.


again said, that a title was of the nature of a marginal note, which was shown in this case by identity. ["No, no!"] The Committee could take cognizance only of what the clause proposed to enact. If the clause were amended so that the title became inaccurate, then it could be altered by those having charge of the Bill. If the hon. Member objected to the word "improvements" he should propose to strike it out of the clause.


pointed out that the words in the title to this section of the Bill virtually formed an interpretation clause for several of the subsequent clauses.


said, he had known cases of doubtful construction of Acts of Parliament in which Courts had been influenced by the subdivision of the Act into parts by means of such headings, and therefore it was important that the House should have some control over them.


said, that if the clause were amended the heading could be altered on the Report.


contended that if the heading could be altered on the Report it could be amended in Committee. These headings were put in by the draftsman, who, as they were told last night, acted upon the strict orders of the Government, and this heading embodied a principle he desired to oppose.


supported the ruling of the Chairman that the heading of the clause was no more part of the Bill than the marginal note or the figures numbering the lines on each page. It was simply inserted by the draftsman as a kind of index, and was supposed to be for the convenience of hon. Members. When a Bill was passed those who had charge of it could re-arrange and re-number its clauses if they thought it desirable to do so.


contended that if a heading was no part of a Bill it had no business there.


, in rising to propose an Amendment of which he had given Notice, said, he did not like the Bill, but he would deal fairly by it.


, interposing, said, that, following the ruling of the Chairman, he should, in the heading of the clause—namely, "Tenant's Compensation for Improvements," propose to strike out the words "for improvements."


said, that the point of Order to which the discussion had been directed was as to whether the Committee could strike out or amend the words of the heading of the clause, and he had ruled that it was not competent for them to deal with that line either by excision or Amendment.


said, the 5th clause was as follows:— Where, after the commencement of this Act, a tenant executes on his holding an improvement adding to the letting value thereof, he shall be entitled, subject to the provisions of this Act, to obtain, on the determination of the the tenancy, compensation in respect of improvement. He proposed to omit the word "executes," and insert "lays out money." He objected altogether to classing buildings, and chalkings, and the like with the ordinary processes of growing crops under the common word "improvement." This was not a technical objection, because he contended that scratching the ground and throwing in seed could not be considered as improvement; and it certainly was contrary to the practice of most good managers of property. The ordinary agreement made with a man was that he should "keep his farm in good heart and condition," and "good heart and condition" without manure was practically impossible. It was necessary, then, to draw a wide distinction between permanent improvement and that outlay of the tenant's own money on the landlord's property which was absolutely necessary to grow the crop. He would not go into the questions as to corn and turnips and the like, or even teazles, which certainly was the reductio ad absurdum of this sort of legislation; but it was impossible to grow a crop in 1875 unless last year there had been grown a crop of turnips or some other intermediate crop, and that could not be grown without manure. He maintatned that that was an entirely different thing, although adding to the value of the staple of the soil, to adding to the durable staple of the landlord's property.


said, it was necessary in legislation generally, and especially in legislation of a popular character, to use language that was generally understood. He maintained that in a Bill dealing with subject of this character the word "improvement" had been regularly adopted. The attention of the House was drawn very much a few years ago to a Bill which was introduced by an hon. Gentleman (Mr. Howard)—who was no longer a Member of that House—on this subject, and there the word "improvement" was used throughout, and there were also Schedules. Then, there was also a Bill drawn up on behalf of the Chambers of Agriculture, and in that Bill also the word "improvement" was the chief word upon which all the clauses turned as on a pivot, and there were likewise Schedules. Again, in the House of Lords last year a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Huntly) introduced a Bill of the same character as the present, and there the word "improvement" was that on which all the clauses depended, and there were also Schedules. He must say he thought the observation of the hon. Baronet ought not to influence the opinion of the Committee, and he trusted they would acknowledge that in introducing the word "improvements" and Schedules in the Bill, they had followed the usual course, and that which was sanctioned by authority.


thought it would be absurd for the House to say that a portion of the ordinary farming capital of the tenant was to be called an improvement in an Act of Parliament. He contended that there should be a distinction between permanent improvements, such as putting up new buildings and planting orchards, and those processes which were merely questions of proper farming. He should support the Amendment.


said, all the difficulties arising out of this clause was the result of its mixing two very different things under one term. The first class of improvements in the Bill ought to be separated altogether from Clauses 2 and 3. The first class were for improvements, whereas the operations specified in the second and third Schedules were those of a routine character. He hoped that the Amendment would be withdrawn.


said, that the discussion with respect to the meaning of the word "improvement" reminded him of a dictum of the First Lord of the Treasury, uttered in former days, with respect to the word "progress," then very fashionable. The right hon. Gentleman said—"Yes, progress; but is it progress to Paradise, or progress to the Devil?" The interpretations given of the word improvement in these days were almost as diverse as were those of the word progress. There were improvements to the estate, such as buildings which were understood to be of a permanent character; and there were also agricultural improvements, which consisted of works of a less expensive and durable character, such as the ordinary drainage, the use of artificial food, and the application of manures to the soil. His object, then, was to urge upon the Committee to separate what should be considered an improvement to the estate from what was a common agricultural improvement, and to do this in the classification contained in the clause. He had beside him the several Bills which were introduced by Mr. Pusey, in conjunction with Mr. Denison; and having been for five years in close communication with Mr. Pusey, as a member of the Publication Committee of the Protection Societies, up to the very period when the first Bill was brought in, few Members of the House had had the opportunity of more conversation with Mr. Pusey on this subject than he (Mr. Newdegate), and he felt quite certain that Mr. Pusey—indeed, it was proved by the tenour of his Bills—would have strictly adhered to the distinction which he was now endeavouring to illustrate: the distinction between that which was an improvement of the estate as reality, and that which was an improvement as it affected the immediate interest of the occupier. He wished, then, to suggest to the Committee during the few minutes that were left of the present Sitting that, if this distinction was to be observed, according to common practice and custom, the drainage of land which stood first in the category ought to be separated from improvements in buildings and the like. The word drainage stood first in the first column, and the first words in the adjoining column were— Making or improving of water-courses, ponds, wells, or reservoirs, or of works for supply of water for agricultural or domestic purposes. This showed that drainage in the first column meant thorough or field drainage. Now, the ordinary period for compensating for thorough or field draining varied from five to seven years, and he held that they would completely contravene the experience of the whole country if they retained the words draining in the first class of what were called permanent improvements. So, likewise, in the case of laying down land in permanent pasture, seven years were the ordinary period for compensation for that process. Clearly, then, these two items, according to the practice of the country, ought to be taken out of the first class of things to be compensated for. To give compensation extending over 20 years would be excessive.

It being now ten minutes to Seven of the clock, Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday.

The House suspended its sitting at Seven of the clock.

The House resumed its sitting at Nine of the clock.