§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the object of the Bill was twofold. The first object was to provide for the continued cultivation of land up to the fullest power of production that was possible, instead of allowing it to fall into a low condition at the end of an old lease and the beginning of a new one; and the second object was to provide security to a tenant that he should receive at the end of his lease compensation for his unexhausted manures. The one was the interest of the State, and the other was the interest of the tenant. It was the interest of the State that the land should always be fully cultivated, and it was the interest of the tenant that he should fully get back the value of the money he expended. He would like to explain that the system of tenure was very different in Scotland from what it was in England. In the majority of cases in England, yearly tenancies were the rule, and leases were the exception. In Scotland it was the reverse. It was usual there for the land to be occupied under leases, yearly tenancies being exceptional. Leases in Scotland generally ran for 19 years; and the law, as it now stood, made him only receive 40 days' notice before the termination of his lease, so that a farmer might remain 18 years and 325 days in his holding, as he believed to the satisfaction of his landlord, and then have only 40 days notice to clear out of his farm, in which he might have invested thousands of pounds, and might provide himself with a farm, if he could, elsewhere. That was a state of things that the Bill was intended to remedy. The law of England and Ireland required that no less than a year's notice should be given even in cases of yearly tenancies. Even where farmers only held from year to year, they were entitled to a year's notice, unless they had contracted themselves out of this rule on their own accord by making another arrangement. When it was considered that in Scotland they had only 40 days' notice, even in cases of leases of 132 19 years, he thought the alteration proposed by the Bill would commend itself to the House. The law of 40 days' notice had been in force for 325 years. It was enacted in the time of Queen Mary of Scot-land in the year 1555. It was then thought a very judicious and humane measure. The previous custom was described by Erskine, in his Institutes, as an injurious and barbarous custom, for all that required to be done was to break a wand at a tenant's door as a notice to quit. It was then also provided that the 40 days' notice should be 40 days' before the Whit Sunday of the year of the termination of the lease, so that whenever the lease expired in Martinmas—11th November—as the tenant had his notice 40 days before the 15th of May—the legal Whit Sunday in Scotland—that gave him more than six months' notice. If the lease terminated on a Whit Sunday, the tenant must have a year and 40 days' notice, because the law required that notice must be given before the Whit Sunday preceding what they called the "ish" or exit of the lease, so that in some cases the tenant might have a year and 40 days' notice. That system of giving 40 days' notice before Whit Sunday existed from 1555 till 1853, when a Bill was brought into Parliament and passed into an Act, which provided that the 40 days' notice should apply to any date. It took away the provision that the notice must be given before the preceding Whit Sunday. That was a great loss to the tenants of Scotland, because it took away six months at least of the period notice hitherto given to the tenant; and, strange to say, the Act which contained that little clause was an Act passed ostensibly to facilitate the procedure before the Sheriff Courts. He found that there was not a single word said in either House of Parliament on the subject of this clause, which was of such great importance to the farmers of Scotland. When such a measure was passed in 1853, without eliciting the slightest observation, it was not unjust to say that it passed without sufficient conderation of its importance. Now, although, as he had shown, the law in Scotland had been altered in what he called a retrograde manner on behalf of the tenants by allowing simply the 40 days' notice, in England and Ireland only recently the period of notice had been 133 extended. In 1875, in the English Act, the notice was increased from six months to one year; and in 1876 it was increased in Ireland to the same period. If the law had been so altered in these countries in the case of yearly tenants, it was not too much, he thought, to ask that the Scotch law should be altered to two years' notice in the case of 19 years' leases. There was another part of the Scotch system which he would like to allude to. It was, that when a lease expired at the end of 19 years, or the period decided upon, if there was no arrangement between the landlord and tenant, and no notice, what the Scotch called tacit relocation took place, and this entitled the tenant to remain for another year, and so he went on from year to year, without any written engagement. It entitled the tenant to one year more of possession of his holding. If this Bill passed into law, it would be very popular, especially in view of the Bill which, he supposed, would also be carried this Session in regard to certain wild animals. The effect would be that when the leases expired tenants would be allowed to remain under the system of tacit relocation from year to year, and they would have a right to have two years' notice. A very important point in the system of two years' notice was this—that it would settle the question of unexhausted manures to a great extent. By a short clause in the English Agricultural Holdings Act, it was provided that compensation should be given to tenants for unexhausted manures put in within two years of the termination of their leases, in order that they might not lose the value of the money invested in manure, and yet that the land might be cultivated up to the highest point to the very end of the lease. It might happen in Scotland, under the existing law, that a man might remain for 18 years and 325 days upon a holding, and, might manure it properly, expending money upon it up to the very last year; and yet the landlord might come to him and say—"You will go in 40 days, and I will have all the benefit of your manure." That was a very hard case, and it was provided for, in so far as England was concerned, in the English Act, and it would have been in the Scotch Act if the Agricultural Holdings Act for Scotland had been pressed on; but the late 134 Government withdrew the Bill the same year as it was introduced, so that in Scotland they had not that provision. Scotch farmers did not yet enjoy the presumption of law enjoyed by the English farmers. By the action of relocation, a farmer might be allowed, after his lease expired, to continue his occupancy of his farm without the security of any written document, being content to remain on the same footing as before. That was a very satisfactory thing to see, because it showed that the tenant and the landlord were on a footing of confidence. He would just read a short paragraph from Lord Stair's Institutes as to the meaning of tacit relocation:—Tacit relocation is that which is presumed to he the mind of both parties after the expiry of the tack, when neither setter warneth nor tacksman renounceth.Well, he had put in the Bill that a notice should be given not less than two years, and not more than three years, and the object of that was that the tenant should not receive notice at the commencement of his long lease of 19 years, and then hear nothing of it until two years before his lease terminated. It had always been thought that notice should be within a reasonable time; and in an Act of Parliament in 1676, or some such date, it was provided that warning should be given not more than three years, and when they considered that a landlord had a tenant under his observation for 17 years, it was surely no hardship to ask him to make up his mind whether he would keep his tenant or not, and it was due to the tenant he should know what his prospects in life might be. If the landlord was undecided he only had to give his tenant notice that he would have to go, and the landlord thus would save himself from any inconvenience; but it did not follow that he needed to act upon that warning —he might let the tenant remain if he liked when the lease expired. He thought it was for the interest of landlords as well as of tenants that such a Bill as this should become law. It would be to the interest of the landlord to have his land fully cultivated up to the end of one lease and the commencement of another. The incoming tenant, on the other hand, would find the land manured to a greater extent than was now the case. It would be to the interest of the State 135 that that should be the case, for more food would be produced for consumption, and more content would be spread amongst the occupiers of land, as there would be more time allowed them to make their arrangements. Though he did not go the length of many Members in regard to the land, yet he thought it was perfectly right that the State should control the action of landlords in this country. They occupied the land for the beneficial interest of the public; and if their arrangements were not such as were conducive to the public benefit, he thought the State had a perfect right to step in and say, to a certain extent, what they should do. Large tracts of land were now going out of cultivation, and there was no question that the State had a right to step in and prevent this waste of food-producing power. The provision he was asking the House to adopt had reference to no hypothetical case. What he desired had actually been given on some properties, where it was found to be of very great advantage. He had here an extract from a lease on a large property with which he was acquainted—I (so-and-so) bind myself and my successors to give two years' notice before the termination of this lease to the tenant thereof, whether said lease is to be renewed to him, and if so, on what conditions.That clause in the lease was found to be a very satisfactory clause, both to landlord and tenant. The tenant felt a security in all that he did, and the landlord gave up no control whatever over his property. His agent and factor had only to say two years before the expiry of a lease that it was to be terminated, if the landlord wished to get rid of his tenant. This cost nothing, and was giving away nothing when they had a long lease. He rather thought that English Members who were not acquainted with the working of the long-lease system in Scotland were afraid of granting the right to two years' notice; and certainly, when compared with 40 days' notice, it was a great jump to make. But when they considered that in England a year's notice was given in the case of a year's tenancy, two years' notice was worth nothing more than a Scotch farmer was entitled to with his long lease. He hoped the Government would assent to the principle of the Bill, because it really only went on the lines which Members of the present Sir Alexander Gordon 136 Government had so often announced on the hustings their approval of. The Bill assented to the same principle as the Government had announced their intention of embodying in the measure they were going to undertake next Session.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Alexander Gordon.)
said, it was with great reluctance that he rose to address the House on this occasion. The laudable object of the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire was to secure compensation to tenants who had used artificial manure in the cultivation of their land. But, in his (Mr. Ramsay's) opinion, the Bill would have very different results from those which the hon. and gallant Member expected would be derived from it. The hon. and gallant Member had said that the most of the land in Scotland was held under leases, while leases were exceptional in England. What he (Mr. Ramsay) deprecated as one of the probable results of this measure was that the landlords in Scotland would be compelled, as in England, to do without leases. He deprecated any interference by piecemeal legislation between landlord and tenant. If the State was going to interfere—and he did not dispute the proposition that the State had a right to interfere when the people of the country were prejudiced by existing law—indeed, it was well known that it did interfere in such cases, with or without compensation, as the circumstances required. He should rather see the views of the late Mr. Mill carried out, and that the State should take over the land, give compensation to the owners, and farm it itself, or let it to such farmers as it pleased, than see the relations of landlord and tenant disturbed in every succeeding Session of Parliament by measures such as the present Bill. The tenants were quite able to take care of themselves. His hon. Friend assumed that the tenants were unable to take care of themselves, and complained that the land might not be cultivated during the last two years unless his Bill was passed. But he (Mr. Ramsay) saw another probable result of passing it. The landlord might give the two years' notice saying—"I have given the statutory notice; if you do not think of 137 leaving, it will be open to you to arrange with me before it expires." In such a case the two years' notice would be of no use to the tenant. He would be in doubt whether the notice would be put in force or not. It would be better to continue the 40 days' notice, with the distinct arrangement embodied in such lease that the tenant should quit at the end of the expressed term of years without any notice at all. Their leases contained a notice to remove at the end of the lease, with or without notice. But in addition to the 19 years' notice to quit, expressed and agreed on in the lease, the law said he should get 40 days' notice immediately prior to the stipulated term of removal, and that if he did not get it, he should be entitled to remain in possession under tacit relocation, which was equivalent to saying that the tenant sat on from year to year on the same terms as he had previously held the land under the lease. It would be all very well to legislate in this fashion if the whole of the land of Scotland were arable land under cultivation. But it was less than one-fifth of the area of Scotland which was under cultivation; and such a sweeping measure as this would disturb the relations of landlord and tenant where there was no need of such change, as might be needed in the case of arable land. Farmers on arable land and farmers generally in Scotland were quite able to judge of the nature of a bargain. He had had experience of a large number of tenants, and over a wide area, and he found them quite as well able to take care of themselves as the landlords. He did not see on what grounds the House should be asked to sanction the second reading of a measure of this kind, without there being any sufficient reason shown that the State had such an interest in the question as should constrain it to legislate in the way proposed by this Bill. He trusted that the Government would be pleased to intimate that they had resolved to take up the whole subject of the relations of landlord and tenant, and adjust them in a comprehensive fashion, not allowing them to be disturbed annually by measures such as the present, and such as had been previously brought before the House.
§ MR. ORR EWING
said, he was very sorry that his hon. Friend the Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) 138 looked upon the Bill as such a violent and sweeping measure. He was surprised to hear his hon. Friend say that he would rather see the land in the hands of the State than this Bill passed. He (Mr. Orr Ewing) thought it was a just and reasonable measure in the interests of landlords as well as in the interests of the tenants. Agents or factors generally began to deal with the tenants long before the end of their leases. They generally gave the tenants to understand whether or not they were to go on before its termination. But there were landlords and landlords in Scotland, just as there were farmers and farmers in Ireland. Under the law as it at present stood, a man might have been 19 years on a farm, and, perhaps, have spoken to the factor about his lease being renewed. There might have been an understanding, though actualty no bargain, that it should be renewed; but something might, ere the old lease actually expired, take place between the farmer and the factor which would result in the farmer getting the 40 days' notice to quit. The farmer might be obliged to leave his farm without having dealt with the land as he would have done had he known he was to leave, and no compensation was allowed to him. If that Bill were passed, such a thing as that could not take place. Could it be said that 40 days were sufficient for a tenant farmer —perhaps a very large tenant farmer—to look out for another farm in which he could locate himself? It was impossible to get a farm at 40 days' notice, and farmers would, consequently, be put to great loss. His opinion was that that Bill would be a very judicious settlement of the question. It would improve the cultivation of the land, because they knew that where there was no arrangement made between landlord and tenant, the latter exhausted the land at the end of his lease by putting in white crops to a great extent and putting in no manure, and the incoming new tenant found the land was very inferior to what it should be. He did hope that this measure would meet with the favourable consideration of Her Majesty's Government, for he thought it was a reasonable and just measure for the tenant farmers as well as the landlords.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, he was glad that the hon. Member who had just sat down had so completely and fully 139 answered the hon. Member for Falkirk (Mr. Ramsay), who had taken a rather extreme view of this Bill. The hon. Member did usually take an extreme view of the rights of landlords in regard to the holding of land. He (Mr. J. W. Barclay) thought this Bill was a step— he did not say a large one—in the right direction, and that was towards continuity in the occupation of the land which must accompany high cultivation. The necessity for the landlord, or more probably his agent, giving two years' notice before their relations could come to an end, would be a strong warning to landlords and farmers that they should then endeavour to agree upon the provisions of a new bargain. Under the present arrangement, an agent neglectful of his landlord's interests might put off from one day to another giving the farmer any clear idea whether he wished him to go or stay; and the consequence was that the farmer would, during the last two or three years of his lease, put no money into the land which he could avoid doing. He would try, on the contrary, to get as much out of the farm as he could. Such a practice was neither advantageous to the farmer, the landlord, nor the public at large. It might be said that the proposal was an interference with the freedom of contract; but the provision as it now existed of 40 days' notice was a decided interference with the freedom of contract. ["No, no !"] He thought he was justified in so calling it. The landlord stipulated in the lease that the tenant was to quit the farm without any notice whatever, and if that notice were not given, then the tenant had a right to stay on for another year; but if the law overruled that express contract in the lease, as was the case, and said that a tenant was not bound to leave if he had not 40 days' notice, that appeared to him as explicit a case of interference with the freedom of contract as it was possible to have, and it might be some consolation to the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) to know that it had existed for 325 years without the Constitution of this country being seriously damaged in consequence. So far as this question of interference with contract was concerned, it seemed to him that it was merely a question of expediency. Parliament did and ought of necessity to interfere with contracts, when it appeared to be a necessity, in the in- 140 terest of both parties and of the public. He was not in the least afraid that landlords would have recourse to yearly holdings in Scotland. Leases for long periods had done far more for the landlords of Scotland than for the tenants. But for them the landlords would have been obliged to accept large reductions of rent at the present time. Under yearly leases, a large portion of the land in Scotland would go out of cultivation, as it could not be the interest of the tenant to cultivate it on such terms. It was said that the tenants were able to take care of themselves. He was not surprised that the landlords should bring forward this argument. The landlords might say that the tenants were able to take care of themselves; but did the facts substantiate this statement? There was no doubt of what the opinions of the farmers themselves were. They were of opinion that they could not take care of themselves in their bargains with the landlords. If the House would consider the conditions to which they had to submit—and the conditions of a bargain were about the best evidence that the public could get as to whether, in the case where it applied, the parties to it were on an equal footing—the House would see that these conditions were manifestly unjust and one-sided, and that the only conclusion that would be come to by a jury considering it would be that one of the parties was not in a position to take care of himself. He was prepared to contend that there was no class of people in this or any other country more independent in character than the farmers of Scotland. They had shown this at the recent Election; and the fact that even they had to submit to conditions manifestly unfair and one-sided was the strongest possible evidence of the great power and pressure they had to contend against in making their bargains. This Bill being a step in the right direction, he hoped it would have the support of Her Majesty's Government. Though it interfered with contracts, it only interfered in a slightly greater degree than the present law interfered. They were only extending a principle which had existed for 325 years, and the necessity of which was becoming more and more apparent as the cultivation of land became more and more developed.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
said, he had listened carefully to all the 141 speeches made on the subject, and he had failed to find that a single instance had been given of evil arising out of the present state of the law which would justify the Bill before the House. What did the Bill deal with? It did not deal with tenants below five acres, or with tenants at will. It had nothing to do with those two classes for whom, if at all, some protection was needed; but it proposed to deal with parties who voluntarily entered into engagements extending over a considerable time, in Scotland generally 19 years, and to provide against the contingency of the two parties not coming to an agreement as to the renewal of the lease within 40 days of the expiring time. He challenged his hon. Friend whose name was at the back of the Bill (Mr. J. W. Barclay), or any hon. Gentleman connected with Scotland who knew anything of the working of the lease system in Scotland, to produce to him any instance where a grievance had arisen out of the present state of the law. Judging from his own experience, the usual practice was that leases were entered into for 19 years with the full understanding that if they did not come to a further agreement before the expiration of the time first named the lease came to an end. That was the usual practice in his neighbourhood, and, he believed, everywhere. It was only common sense to expect that no prudent man would allow his lease to run out just on the chance of its being renewed, or on the chance of tacit relocation. The farmers generally wanted a renewal of the lease, and if they could not get it they left their farm and went away somewhere else. It might be that extreme cases did occur when negotiations went on sometimes up to the last moment; but he thought it was very exceptional, for in practical life he thought the tenants generally knew very well what they were about. What was the object of the Bill? What earthly benefit would it be to the tenant farmers? An hon. Gentleman below him had said that it would lead to the disuse of leases; but he did not believe that there would be a disposition on the part of the landlords and tenants of Scotland to part with leases, nor did he believe that would be the result of the Bill. But what he did think the result of the Bill would be was that the notice would be given two years before 142 the end of the lease, and then there would be an agreement between the landlord and tenant, so that in reality the Bill would be an utter nullity. He believed that would be the result of the Bill; and unless some hon. Member connected with Scotland could get up and lay his finger upon a case which could show that there was great necessity for the proposed legislation, he was of opinion that the Bill ought not to go on; but if, as was stated by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), there was a necessity for the alteration of the law with respect to the 40 days' notice, then he would be quite ready to consider that subject.
§ MR. BIDDELL
said, he held two or three farms under leases; and certainly, unless a fresh arrangement was made, his term would expire at the end of the lease, the result of that being that instead of getting 40 days' notice, as the Scotch did, the English farmers did not have any notice. The usual practice was that a lease terminated when the time expired, unless it was renewed. At the same time, he was of opinion that the principle advocated by the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) was a right principle. He believed it would be mutually advantageous if the law compelled the party wishing to terminate an engagement to give, say, one year's notice. Two or three years he thought to be too long a notice. In the Chamber of Agriculture of which he was a member the subject had been discussed, and that body had come to the conclusion that it would be of mutual advantage if one year's notice was the rule. This would afford no more protection to the tenant than it would to the landlord. Landlords had, certainly, land thrown upon their hands when they did not expect it, and he thought the principle laid down in the Bill was a just one.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, an hon. Gentleman had challenged any Scotch Member to adduce cases where a grievance had been created by the existing law. He knew a case in his own neighbourhood where a landlord had let the land on the best terms possible. The tenant requested the landlord to renew the lease; but he declined to state what course he intended to take before the 40 days. It might be said that the landlord did not put the tenant out of the farm; but then 143 he put him to great trouble and inconvenience in not knowing whether he was going to be allowed to remain or not, and it had often been found that farms were not easily to be obtained at 40 days' notice. It was not merely the question of compensation for unexhausted manures which the tenant had put in his holding; but it was necessary for the tenant to get a longer notice to quit in order to enable him to obtain another farm and a house in which to live; and on that ground alone he advocated the principle of the Bill before the House, and should support its second reading. He was very much surprised to hear the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Ramsay) speak of the question as if it was such a great interference with the freedom of contract. He (Mr. M'Lagan) was as much opposed to interference with freedom of contract as anyone, and he agreed that any interference on the subject ought not to take place except under circumstances of public necessity; but in the case of the Bill before the House it was not introducing a new principle at all. They had the interference of the State existing already, in so far as legislation was concerned, as it was already provided that 40 days' notice must be given. That was provided in the event of the landlord and tenant coming to no terms whatever, and to prevent any dispute as to what time notice should be given; so it was said and laid down as a principle that it would be absolutely necessary to give 40 days' notice to render any dispute easily settled. It was not laid down that a landlord was compelled to give 40 days' notice. He might give one year or two years' notice if he chose; but in the event of any dispute between the landlord and the tenant the Legislature had laid it down as a matter of expediency that 40 days' notice must be given. The hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs had said that it would have been much better for the Legislature to take all the land into its own hands and deal with it altogether than to have the present interference. On that question he maintained that they were anticipating altogether a discussion which would take place on another Bill which was before Parliament, when the question of interference with the freedom of contract would come up. The question now before them was very clear. It was abso- 144 lutely necessary that the tenant should know in time whether he was to keep his land or not, so that he might prepare for it either by manuring his farm heavily or by not manuring it so much, so as not to leave too much of his money in his land for those who might come after him. He knew of many cases where tenants were not told that they were to leave the farms, and the result was that they left a large amount of their capital behind them in the land; but, by giving two years' notice, they would be enabled to do that which was right and proper. He did not say that the landlords would be the losers by the proposal; but he thought that if the Bill passed into law the landlords would make agreements with the tenants that the farms should not be run out at the end of the lease. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in one of his election speeches, stated that he thought a good arrangement between landlord and tenant would bo to allow the tenant to farm land according to the best rules of husbandry, and during the last four or five years of his lease to bind him down to a particular rotation. That was simply giving four or five years' notice to quit to the tenant. It would not be necessary to give that notice at all if the landlord wished to part with him. That was the method which many of the best proprietors of England were adopting in regard to the cultivation of the land. They allowed the tenants to farm the land as they thought proper until nearly the end of the lease, and then they bound them down as to the way in which the cultivation should be pursued. They had been told from the front Treasury Bench that a Bill which was lately introduced was simply carrying out a practice which good proprietors adopted in the country. He was now only asking the House to carry out the practice which every good proprietor in the country adopted. Such a one would take good care to give his tenant due notice whether he intended to part company with his tenant at the end of his lease. He did not think two years' notice was too much. On the contrary, he put in his own leases sometimes four or five years, so as to allow the tenant on a farm to bring it into a proper state when he was about to leave. That, he contended, would be better than the present system, where a landlord had 145 only to give six weeks' notice to leave. He trusted the Government would support the measure. But, if not, he hoped they would give the House a promise that when they took up the question of reforming the Land Laws that the question they were discussing would be particularly considered, and that due notice should be given to tenants before they were compelled to leave their farms. If they got that assurance from the Government he should advise his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) not to put the House to the trouble of dividing; but if they did not get that assurance he should certainly advise him to take the sense of the House on the question.
§ MR. ARTHUR PEEL
said, he heartily wished a Scotch lawyer was present to deal with the question; but, under present circumstances, he would do his best. First, he must give every credit to the motives of his hon. and gallant Friend in bringing forward the Bill in the interests of the outgoing tenants, and to secure that what he thought due notice should be given him before the termination of the lease. He thought, however, that a strong expression of opinion had been given in that House that two years' notice was too long, and that to meet the circumstances of the case a much shorter notice would be necessary. But it appeared to him, as an individual, that the weak point in the Bill was this. Supposing he (Mr. Peel) were a proprietor, and he did not like the system of long leases, what, then, was to prevent him giving notice to his tenant as a matter of form, for the purpose of securing himself against probable loss? He should say to the tenant—"I am really not going to oust you at the termination of your lease; but I should like, in the meantime, to consult with you as to whether you can give me a sufficiency of rent, or equal to what another tenant will offer." In that case he did not precisely see how the tenant under the Bill would be in any different position to that which he was in under the existing law. It appeared to him that that was the weak point of the Bill. The suggestion had been thrown out that the Government should say that the subject was under consideration. All he could say was that the subject itself, as well as the question touched on in the Bill, and the question of the permanent 146 improvement of the relations between landlord and tenant was one eminently deserving of consideration, and one which ought to form part of any scheme on the subject. As the Bill was drawn he did not think it exactly answered the purpose which was intended; and he hoped the hon. and gallant Member would not press it at the present time, but take the assurance that the subject he had raised, and the other matters put forward as to the position and relations of the out-going tenant, would be carefully considered by the Government when they came to consider the whole question of the Land Laws.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, he had not known that this Bill was to be brought forward, and he had only seen it that day at the Bill office. From what he had heard he should say that the Bill was one of those Bills showing the tendency of the Legislature to interfere in every possible way with everyone in every relation of life. At one time it was between employers and employed, with reference to injuries; at another time it was with seamen and their wages; and at another time it was with landlords. At the present moment, in consequence of the agricultural distress, the Liberal Party were attempting to make political capital out of it. It was supposed that that Party had incurred a debt to those who returned them, and they were endeavouring to pay that debt by interfering in every way between landlord and tenant. He maintained that the legal and official astuteness of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had made clear the defects of the Bill—that it would prove to be a nullity. But it was not a nullity in regard to the pinciple it embodied, of further interference with contract Anything like the reasoning of the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, logically speaking, he had never heard. In fact, he (Lord Elcho) had, by way of experiment, drawn a fresh Preamble to the Bill. The hon. and gallant Gentleman had asked them to contrast the state of things in England, where there was only a yearly tenancy, with a year's notice, and the state of things in Scotland, with 40 days' notice, and then proceeded—"Is it possible, in a country where the farmer is in possession of an 18 years' lease, to be turned out at 40 days' notice, while in England the tenant with no such lease had a year's notice?" 147 Therefore, the Preamble ought to run thus—"Whereas in England, where the tenant has no other security than a yearly tenancy, and of a consequence a year's notice is made necessary at the termination, ergo be it enacted that in Scotland, where the tenant has a security of 19 years' lease, two years' notice shall be required." He thought the reasoning was rather the other way. The whole theory of leases in Scotland was based on the security of long leases such as 18 or 19 years, and in consequence of that they only gave 40 days' notice. But they had heard, in the course of that debate, from many hon. Gentlemen, that the tenants in England with respect to leases were in a very much worse position than the tenants in Scotland were, whether in regard to house or land tenancy. As regarded the practical grievance, however, he dared any of the Gentlemen whose names were on the back of the Bill to say that any real practical grievance had arisen under the present system, and that the practice generally, as had been stated, was not to give ample notice to the tenant, whether they were or were not entitled to it. Hon. Members seemed to forget that what they proposed was an interference on the part of the State. He maintained that the State had no right to interfere, and should not interfere in this fashion. It simply led to bad blood between landlords and tenants; and he agreed with the hon. Member for the Falkirk Burghs that if the State was going to deal with land in that way—following the precedent of the Irish Land Act, which overrode all contracts and confiscated property in every possible way without compensation—if it intended so to deal with land in this country, the sooner they knew of it the better, and the sooner the State acted honestly in this matter the better. The honest way of dealing as was suggested by the Member for the Falkirk Burghs, was that the State should say—"We think that the present system of Land Laws is in the interests of the country unsound, and the property on land ought not to be held by individuals. The State can do these things far better than individuals can; and, therefore, we will take the land and compensate them who hold it for the full value." That was a more rational and honest plan of dealing with this question than for Members who had pledged 148 themselves to their constituencies or to their Party coming to that House with perpetual Land Bills—not that it had been done on this occasion—and, thinking they had a majority on their side, giving in to such wrongful principles of legislation. As regarded the questions of entail, settlement, and cognate subjects, he could understand them being placed under the heading of land legislation. But the present proposal was a distinct matter. Scotland had been brought from a barren moor under a system of free contracts, and all this interference with contract would simply have the effect of making men very careful how they gave these contracts and leases. As for himself, he would rather have his property at a less rent free from these trying, hampering agreements made by the State, than with a nominally larger rent under State supervision and State hatching such as had grown up in Ireland. In Scotland he trusted they should remain free. He should have been perfectly prepared, if the Government had expressed approval of this Bill, to have resisted it; and he thought his hon. Friend opposite would have stood by him in resisting this unnecessary meddling and uncalled for interference for political purposes, in payment, he believed, of political debts incurred at the hustings. Happily, however, the course taken by the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department removed from him the necessity of resisting the measure. He trusted that when the Government came to revise the Land Laws they would not think that that part of the subject required attention—namely, the relation between landlord and tenant, and that freedom of contract which in Scotland and in this country had produced beneficial results to all parlies concerned.
§ MR. LITTON
said, that, as the Irish Land Act had been referred to, he might assure the House that the Irish Land Act had worked very well in Ireland, and he had no doubt but that its principles would find their way into Scotland before long. The principle of that Bill seemed to be a very reasonable one, and its object was to extend the 40 days' notice now given to a two years' notice. It was not fair to allow a man to remain in uncertainty up to almost the last day of his lease, because he might have an opportunity of taking another farm else- 149 where if he knew in time what the landlord intended to do. In Ireland it was not unusual to find a man in occupation of land before the lease was drawn up, and the tenant would expect to remain in occupation at the expiration of the lease. It was extremely desirable that the tenant should have sufficient notice as to whether he was to remain or not at the expiration of the lease. In his opinion, a two years' notice prior to the expiration of the lease would be a favourable compromise. The noble Lord (Lord Elcho) called the provisions of the Irish Land Bill confiscation.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, that what he meant by confiscation had reference to disturbance—to what was described by the late Sir John Gray as the taking of £8,000,000 from the pockets of one class in order to put it into the pockets of another.
§ MR. LITTON
said, he accepted the explanation of the noble Lord; but if the question of confiscation was to be raised he would be quite prepared to show there was no confiscation. The noble Lord had said that there was in the present Bill an interference with private contract; but he must be aware that, in order to maintain a contract, the parties must stand on an equal basis, and unless the two sides were perfectly independent and free it could not be said that contract was interfered with. In Scotland it might be that the tenant came to his landlord on equal terms. If that were so, he should be inclined to agree with the noble Lord that it was objectionable to interfere with contracts. On the other hand, if the man in possession had to accept a contract under the penalty of removal, or of not obtaining the terms which he would have a fair right to expect, then he should say there was no interference with the contract.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
said, the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho), in his opinion, dealt with a very useful subject; but although he agreed with the principle expressed he did not think it applicable to that Bill. At the present time there were many tenants who did not care to take a lease, and it was not wise on the part of many landlords to ask their tenants to take a lease, but rather, owing to the depression, to let them remain on from year to year. Sup- 150 pose the Bill were carried, a simple notice of termination of leases would be given, not necessarily binding on the part of the landlord or the tenant. What would be the use of burdening the Statute Book with Bills which would only confuse instead of guiding those who were anxious to take the fair view which the law laid down on those questions. If his hon. and gallant Friend accepted the views of the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department he would do well. He had listened to the debate, and as much opposition had been shown on the Ministerial side as on that of the Opposition. This opposition was not necessarily to the principle of the Bill, because if they came to what amount of notice should be given more than two years were required. In his own part of the country five years were required, if they expected a man to farm as high. as was customary; and therefore, as far as this went, two years would not be one whit better than one year. He was quite certain that the more impediments they put to freedom of contract between landlord and tenant, the greater difficulty one had with tenants. He hoped his hon. and gallant Friend would not press the matter to a division, for if he did he was afraid he should have to vote against him—not because he did not agree with the principle that 40 days was too short a period, but because he thought the provisions of the Bill were unnecessary, and, besides, such matters were far better left to the good feeling subsisting between landlord and tenant than to any Act of Parliament.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he could not see on what principle the law of Scotland required notice of 40 days. It would be much better that it should be understood that the tenancy should terminate upon the expiration of the lease as it did in England.
§ MR. PARKER
said, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) had informed the House that he was not aware of the existence of the present Bill till he came down to the House that morning. Had he read it more carefully he might not have found it necessary to say so much about confiscation under the Irish Land Act, and interference with freedom of contract. The Bill did not propose to interfere with freedom of contract. But then, said the noble Lord, it was open to other 151 objections. Notices might be served as a matter of form two years beforehand, leaving the landlord to do as he liked till the last. Well, no doubt, landlords would have a perfect right to do so; and, therefore, he did not attach very much importance to the passing of the Bill. There was one ground, however, on which he would support the Bill. If the law prescribed a term of notice at all it was well that it should correspond to the practice of the best landlords. But the present notice as to renewal had been enacted 300 years ago, when 40 days' notice, no doubt, might be sufficient, considering the method of agriculture in vogue at that time. Now, however, there was a totally different system of agriculture, and it was generally recognized as important that tenants under leases such as prevail in Scotland, and under a system of high farming, should have at least two years' notice as to the renewal of the lease. The Representative of an English agricultural constituency had told them that two years was too long a notice. That, of course, might be debated in Committee; but he thought Scotch Members would be prepared to show that if a time were to be named at all two years were not too much. Where there was uncertainty as to the renewal of a lease, the land was often allowed to fall off in condition, and several years were necessary before it could be brought back to its former state if the renewal was obtained. On that ground he thought it worth while that some such enactment should be placed on the Statute Book as Tan indication to landlords of the term of notice that tenants might fairly expect. If his hon. and gallant Friend thought it necessary to go to a division he should vote with him; but after the consideration which the Government had promised to the subject he did not think a division was required.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON,
in reply, said, that a great deal had been said as to the alteration in the law his Bill proposed to effect. He could only say that the law as it stood, declaring 152 as it did 40 days to be held the legal notice, was an interference with contract. It had been stated that the Bill had been brought in for political purposes. It was very easy to insinuate a motive, because no man could tell another man's motives. He thought, indeed, he had quite as much right to say that the opposition of the noble Lord (Lord Elcho) was due to private interests, as the noble Lord had to say that his action was prompted by political purposes. As to what had been said by the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department about formal notices, he would explain that if such notice were given the land would go out of cultivation. It was the object of the Bill to prevent the tenant receiving formal notice. The landlord who gave a formal notice would thus lose the interest he had in the land; and, therefore, no landlord would give such notice unless he intended to act upon it. He had no wish to put the House to the trouble of a division after the assurance of the Government that they would take the question into careful consideration, and that the result of that consideration would be embodied in a Bill next year. He had not altered his opinion as to the value of the measure in the least degree, although he now consented to withdraw it.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill withdrawn.