HC Deb 07 July 1880 vol 253 cc1859-64

Order for Second Beading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time, said, he need scarcely remind the House that in the last Parliament a Bill was introduced by the late Administration for the purpose of giving tenant farmers in England security for the capital which they embarked in their farms, and for giving them a right to compensation for improvements which they might happen to make, and which remained unexhausted on leaving their holdings. Among all the questions which arose out of that Bill at the time there was none which engaged more the attention of Parliament than the question whether that Bill should be compulsory or permissive. The Government decided that to make the Bill harshly override all existing and prospective arrangements between landlords and tenants would be inexpedient in the highest degree. In that opinion he agreed with the Government at the time. In the first place, he knew from his own experience, and he thought many other hon. Members had a like experience, that there were many parts of the country in which the relations between landlords and tenants were already on a most satisfactory footing— that the system, in fact, gave general security to tenants for their improvements. He believed that if compulsory legislation had at that time been suggested, it would have been rejected with indignation by the tenants themselves. In the county which he had the honour to represent there was a custom which gave perfect security to tenants for the improvements which they had made on their holdings, and for the capital which they had invested on their farms. That custom was legally permissive—that was to say, it was perfectly open to the landlords and tenants, if they thought fit to do so, to contract themselves out of that custom. No tenant he ever heard of in the county of Lincoln would consent to sign any agreement which practically deprived him of any of the benefits to which he would be entitled under the custom of the county. He always expected that would be the effect of the Agricultural Holdings Act. He always entertained the views which were expressed at the time by the noble Lord who was a great authority on all agricultural matters—Lord Leicester. Lord Leicester, speaking of the introduction of the Agricultural Holdings Act, said— We are indebted to Her Majesty's Government for the principle of this Bill, and I trust the majority of landlords will adopt that principle. But they will contract themselves out of it, and take such courses as are best adapted to meet their wants. The measure passed, and it had been in operation for a period of something like five years. He freely admitted to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who had always advocated compulsory legislation, that to a certain extent that Bill had been disappointing in its operation. It was undoubtedly the case that in many parts of the country, immediately on the passing of the Act, the landlords did what he fully expected they would— namely, they contracted themselves out of that measure. But he was sorry to say that what he did not expect had occurred—many landlords neglected to offer, and many tenants neglected to stipulate for, any agreement whatever as a substitute for it. It was in consequence of that non-operation of the Act in that way that he was induced to introduce the present measure, which he hoped would apply an effectual remedy. The Bill would apply only to future leases coming into operation after the 31st October, 1881. In the first place, leases of 21 years and upwards were excluded altogether; and, secondly, the Bill dealt solely with compensation for unexhausted improvements; other matters being left to the entire discretion of the two contracting parties. It had been his object not to interfere with arrangements which were working satisfactorily at this moment, but to obtain, as nearly as was practicable, absolute security to the tenant. That object he sought to gain in one of three ways. First, the landlord and tenant might agree that compensation should be granted in accordance with the Act of 1875; or secondly, in accordance with the system laid down in the Schedule to the Bill; or thirdly, they might make special agreements between themselves. In default of the express adoption of one of these three courses, the Act would come into operation. The first class was dealt with in Clauses 4 to 50, and he thought those clauses would work well. Next, the Schdeuled system corresponded with what was known as the Custom of Lincolnshire. It had been found that the custom was satisfactory, as it gave security to the tenant, and had led to a high and advanced system of farming. That custom extended not only through- out Lincolnshire but also into the adjoining counties, and he had introduced it into the Bill because, as he had said, it was desirable to interfere as little as possible with existing arrangements. In adopting the system of the Bill, the parties contracting would only have to sign a simple agreement to that effect. The third case was where special agreements were entered into. In ordinary circumstances he would have been disposed to leave the question where it was, as the farmers were perfectly able to take care of themselves, especially at the present time, when they were, if anything, in a better position than the landowners. But, having regard to the disappointment which he confessed he had felt at the result of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875, he had thought it was desirable to go one step further. The machinery for making agreements under the Act was provided by the 4th clause. If it should be found that agreements under the Bill did not work satisfactorily, either party might give notice to the other, and the matter might be settled by reference to arbitration, and the reference should be made under the terms of the Act of 1875. Every agreement under the Bill was to be in writing. He did not propose his Bill as a remedy for agricultural distress, for he did not wish hon. Members to run away with the idea that legislation of that kind would be sufficient to cope with the distress which they had recently passed through. In Lincolnshire the farmers were satisfied with the security which they enjoyed; but in that county they had not been free from the distress which prevailed in other parts of the country; infact, he rather thought they had suffered more than other districts. But the agricultural interest was on its trial. There was competition from abroad, and high authorities had said that the competition would become still more severe. It might be that farming in the future would not pay; but he was certain of one thing, and that was, that if good farming did not pay had farming most assuredly would not. To promote good farming it was necessary that the tenant should have security. Information had recently reached him which had led him to form the opinions which he had expressed, and he hoped that the Bill which he had brought forward would afford the maximum of security with the minimum of disturbance of existing arrangements. He concluded by respectfully commending the Bill to the attention and impartial consideration of the House.

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


said, that he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill, as it embodied a principle for which he had always contended. But if the Bill was read a second time, he should be glad if, together with the Bill introduced by himself, it were referred to a Select Committee, as there would not be time in that short Sitting to discuss the Bills fully. But he could not but remark on the course adopted by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and, in fact, by the Opposition generally. In 1879, he had moved for an inquiry into the subject; he had brought facts to show that the Act of 1875 was a failure. But that position was contested by the Opposition, and by no one more strenuously than the hon. Member opposite. The Members of the late Government, and particularly the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool (Viscount Sandon), tried to invalidate his statements. The noble Lord went so far as to suggest that the authorities he quoted might possibly be those of people residing in towns, and without any weight on agricultural questions. At that time he (Mr. Samuelson), was not at liberty to make use of the names of his correspondents; but permission to do this had since been freely given to him, and he only regretted that there was no time for him to do so on the present occasion. But now it appeared that information had reached the hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) which induced him to change his opinion. Why had not the hon. Member obtained that information a little earlier? The same sources of information which were open to him (Mr. Samuelson) were open to the hon. Member. He (Mr. Samuelson) would now refer to a denial on the part of the noble Lord the Member for Liverpool that the tenants of the Duchy of Lancaster had been deprived of the benefit of the Act. In answer to that, he would ask the attention of hon. Members to Returns which showed that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Duchy of Lancaster, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; Trinity and Sidney Sussex Colleges, Cambridge; Merton, Worcester, Lincoln, and other Colleges in Oxford; Eton College, Christ's Hospital—in fact, almost every public body or corporation, except Greenwich Hospital, had contracted themselves out of the Act, and for the most part adhered to the most antiquated customs. But it was the Elections which had suddenly roused the hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) and his Party to the importance of the question. No sooner was the Dissolution announced than the hon. Baronet the Member for Mid Kent (Sir William Hart-Dyke) was sent down to Maidstone to announce that he had been in consultation with the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire, and that he should in future support the Resolution of Mr. Samuelson, making compensation compulsory.


said, that he had called the attention of the House to the matter a year and a-half ago.


said, he found no evidence of the hon. Member's statements in the Journals of the House; but he supposed the hon. Gentleman referred to the Commission on Agriculture which had been appointed; but he (Mr. Samuelson) did not think the farmers would find much comfort in an inquiry which consisted of 10 heads and 145 sub-heads. If the Bill of the hon. Member, which he took care not to circulate till he had taken three weeks to study his (Mr. Samuelson's) Bill, and which was, in fact, little less than another version of that Bill, but which, by the ballot for place had gained an accidental priority to his own, was read a second time, he trusted that both Bills would be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he was glad to see the change that had come over the spirit of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire.

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