HC Deb 03 April 1878 vol 239 cc508-12

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the principle of the measures as at present existing in Scotland, was open to the gravest objection. It was an exceptional law in favour of one class—the landed interest—and it gave unjust priority to their claims for rent of land, to the injury of other classes who aided farmers with supplies needed for cultivation. It was, therefore, thought that by abolishing this unfair priority, as intended by this Bill, it would improve the relations be- tween landlord and tenant. It was useless to try and minimize the evil of this priority as the Act of 1867 attempted. Tenants in Scotland were imbued strongly with a dislike to the law as it at present existed, and nothing but its abolition would ever remove the objections to it. It was a law that came down from ancient times, when the cultivators of the soil were serfs and slaves, and it had the badge of slavery upon it. Landlords said they maintained this law for the purpose of benefiting the small tenant-farmers; but all he (Sir George Balfour) could say was that a law which placed power of sequestration so much in the landlords' hands could hardly be for their benefit. If landlords desired to do good to the poorer cultivators of the soil, they might exercise their beneficent intentions without retaining the priority which they now had to be paid in full, whilst other creditors lost their claims. The condition under which the farms were cultivated had been changed within recent years. Landlords used originally to supply not only land, but the implements of husbandry—seed, cattle, and everything needful for cultivation; but they no longer did so, except as to land, and that justified the tenant-farmers in seeking relief from the hypothec on the farm property now placed in the landlords' hands. At that hour of that Wednesday evening (5.30) it was impossible to have an adequate discussion on such a measure. With the view, however, of having the matter brought to the test of a vote, to ascertain the intentions of hon. Members who had spoken in favour of abolition, he would say very little more upon it, and ask the House to give a decision, in order to see what its feeling was in regard to the abolition of this one-sided law. He did not think the Bill ought to be talked out, as on a former occasion; but that the Scotch Members should be allowed to have an opportunity of coming to a conclusion on the abolition, in order that they might show that they were fulfilling the pledges they had given at the last Election. The hon. and gallant Member concluded by moving the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(General Sir George Balfour.)

SIR WILLIAM CUNINGHAME moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. It was so late, that it was impossible then to have a discussion that would be at all satisfactory; and still he did not wish to see the Bill talked out, but would be sorry if it did not proceed to a division. If, however, that was the result that evening, he thought the hon. and gallant Gentleman (General Sir George Balfour) had only himself to blame in moving the second reading of the Bill at so late an hour. He was under a great disadvantage, owing to the extreme shortness of the speech with which the Bill had been introduced. The hon. and gallant Gentleman, anxious to get a division, had not attempted to explain to the House the reasons which justified him in seeking to alter this law. He (Sir William Cuninghame) would therefore be obliged to state the arguments both for and against the proposal, in order that they might be understood. One argument was, that the present law was unjust, because it favoured one of the farmer's creditors—namely, the landlord—to the disadvantage of the rest; and another argument, which was the prinpal one, was, that it was injurious to agriculture; and the farmers, therefore, desired to see it changed. He would say a few words in regard to each of these points. First, in regard to the injustice of this law; it was not an argument which at all could commend itself to the common sense of the House, and he remembered very clearly when the debate took place on the subject of hypothec, three years ago, that the hon. Member for Wigton (Mr. Vans Agnew) did not dwell upon the question of injustice. These prior claims tended to encourage credit and advance trade, and were justifiable and right for the public good. For instance, the grain merchant, and the manure merchant, who were supposed to be aggrieved by the prior claim of the landlord, gained a benefit under a similar law when they were enabled to get their premises with more facility for the purpose of carrying on business. Shipowners, also, were enabled to give credit to those embarking grain on their ships, owing to the claim which they had on the cargo. The second argument, that the present law was injurious to agriculture, involved a much more difficult and complicated question. It was contended by those who said this was the case, that the law enabled landlords to take tenants who had not sufficient capital to cultivate the land. If that were the case, being interested in agriculture, as he was, and desirous as he was to get good tenants, he would not desire to see the law maintained. But he thought it unlikely that large capitalists would enter into the business in place of such tenants if this law were abolished; whereas, on the other hand, the capital which tenants applied to agriculture would be greatly diminished by the abolition of this law, because landlords would insist upon some security, and the tenant would be obliged to pay part of his capital into the bank, or make some other arrangement to satisfy the landlord of his ability to pay rent. Tenants would thus be placed at a great disadvantage, and their capital, which was said to be barely sufficient now, would be insufficient then in many cases to cultivate their farms, and the consequence would be that they would need to diminish their size and take smaller farms. As to the question of popularity, he thought it an entire mistake to say that tenant-farmers, as a general rule, were anxious to see this law changed. He perfectly admitted that a strong argument might be adduced from the number of Representatives from Scotland who were anxious to support this measure; but, in many cases, he believed, they came to that conclusion at the time of the last General Election under mistaken notions as to the general feeling of the tenantry on this question. As an illustration of this, he begged to inform the House that he had thought it desirable to make some inquiry into the feeling of the tenantry in the district he came from—namely, South Ayrshire. He issued a circular to every parish in South Ayrshire. He, unfortunately, had not got the document with him, not expecting the Bill to come on; but, of 450 circulars issued, he had received 195 answers. The tenants were in no way picked, but were taken from the valuation roll—the first 15 names in each parish, as far as he could recollect. The numbers were 110 to 75, or thereabouts, who declared themselves in favour of the existing law. It seemed to him that, unless it was more clearly proved than it had been in the speech of the hon. and gallant Member, that the law was injurious to agriculture, it was undesirable to alter it. He pointed out that, under this law, Scotland had made a most satisfactory advance in agriculture. The hon. Member concluded by moving 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 six months."—(Sir William Cuninghame.)

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


said, the evidence adduced before the Select Committee that considered the principles on which this Bill proceeded ought to make the House hesitate before it assented to the second reading.

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

House adjourned at ten minutes before Six of the clock.