HC Deb 10 June 1881 vol 262 cc286-306

, on rising to call the attention of the House to the state of the Law as to the settlement of Lands, with special reference to the permission and perpetuation of ownerships for life; and to move— That, in the opinion of this House, the law permitting the creation and perpetuation of life estates in land has caused great injury to all classes of the people, and specially to owners and occupiers of land and the labourers employed in its cultivation, and that such a change in the Law is imperatively required as shall prevent (with very slight exception) the creation of such estates, and shall secure a real and competent ownership, and a complete freedom, in the buying and selling of land throughout the Country," said, the present position of agriculture was in a large measure due to bad seasons, and, in some measure, at any rate, due to wrong laws. There was a third question in regard to agriculture which could not be forgotten, and that was the amazing amount of foreign competition, which had so rapidly developed during the last few years. As regarded himself, however, he entirely set aside the question of foreign competition and bad seasons. The question had been discussed when the seasons were good, and when foreign competition was not nearly so severe, and it had the same amount of interest then as it had now. For instance, he did not think there was a more favourable season than that of 1871, and the question was discussed then, and acknowledged to be in need j of a remedy; and in September of the same year, Lords Derby and Leicester j made the remarkable statement that, were our cultivation what it should be,; we could double the gross produce of our soil. Therefore, it was clear that complaint was made of defective cultivation long before our present difficulties arose. Bad seasons only brought up the defects of the law. It must, however, be plain to anyone who considered the question that foreign competition afforded a strong reason for removing all hindrances and restrictions in regard to the letting of land in this country. There could be no doubt as to the danger of foreign competition with home producers when it was remembered the imports in corn and similar products from America amounted to about £62,000,000, and of cattle, butter, and cheese, &c. to about £50,000,000, making altogether £112,000,000 imported into this country in one year. They were therefore in this position—of not merely importing half our wheat and corn, but absolutely importing half the agricultural produce that we consumed. That could not be said to be a satisfactory state of things, and could not be looked upon with satisfaction, for it was clearly our duty to get as much as was possible out of our own soil. There were several reasons, apart from any question bearing directly on the Land Laws, which bore upon this point, and these had been stated at some length by Sir Edward Sullivan in his paper on joint-stock farming, where he calculated that from the absence of one simple expedient—the use of covered yards—the English farmers incurred a loss in manures which was to be reckoned by millions—he thought he put it at £40,000,000 a-year; and by Mr. Caird, a most competent witness. But it might be said that farming would not pay even if the farmer expended capital and skill on his land. Well, he had a letter from Mr. Prout, one of the most able and intelligent of modern farmers, in which he said that, taking from the year 1868 to the year 1878, during which period there were several bad seasons, the average price on the whole farm was £10 16s. 9d. per acre, while the expense was about £8 per acre, leaving a net profit of over £2 an acre. He was, however, willing to admit that recent times had been very adverse to the farmer; but all the more important was it, then, that the laws should not be adverse as well as the seasons—that good laws should counteract the adverse influence of bad seasons. He had always thought that the grand remedy for the present state of things was freedom for the owner and freedom for the occupier. The question might be divided into the two heads of occupiers and owners. He should not refer to the former to-night. They had lately discussed compensation for improvements, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin); and they had passed a Resolution, without a division, condemning the Law of Distress. Sooner or later, they would have to deal with local taxation, though, if he was not mistaken, farmers would be disappointed if they expect to obtain any very important relief by any change in that direction; but as to the system of perpetuation of life ownership in the land, he thought the defect of the law as regarded that matter might be considered in three points of view—first, as to the owners of the land for the time being; secondly, as to the future owner; and, thirdly, as to the cultivator. As to the owner of a life estate, it was obvious that he was in a very awkward position unless he were a man of wealth. But, taking the ordinary life owner, his position was a very difficult one. However burdened he might be by the acts of his ancestors or by his own, he could not sell an acre of the land. The law prevented the natural dispersion of the land which would enable a man in that position to sell his land in order to pay his debts. Moreover, tenant for life had not only to bear the interests on old charges and jointures and the like, but also all reductions of rents arising from bad times. The charges were fixed, but the rents fell. But even if a man had some means to spare for the improvement of his estate, honesty often forbad him from doing it. It was impossible that an ordinary life owner could improve his estate, not for want of means to do so, but because he was bound in honesty to make provision for his younger children. He had thus not only to leave cottages unrepaired and farms unimproved, but in too many cases he had very little indeed to live on himself. The law ought to step in and relieve a man in such a position. He knew one case of a nobleman, formerly in that House, who asserted boldly that he was worse off now than when he was a younger son, and he owned some 40,000 or 50,000 acres; and he could point to another who had £12,000 a-year and had only £4,000 a-year to deal with. Wherever they went they heard of like cases. Let them take the case of a man of £6,000 or £7,000 a-year in land, and as many children as thousands. [Laughter.] Well, he was glad he had said something to enliven a dull discussion; but they knew what he meant. [" No, no! "] What he meant to say was, let them take the case of a man with £6,000 or £7,000 a-year, who had six or seven children; and he asked would not that man have a great difficulty in providing for his younger children and making ends meet? There was another man who was far more considered than the man in possession—namely, the heir-at-law, the remainder man, for whom everything was arranged. In reading the evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords in 1873, nothing was more remarkable than the anxiety about the future owner. The man in possession was little thought of as compared with the man who was to follow. But he said that he, too, was injured by the present system. Many a man was ruined for life by the consciousness that whatever he did he had a large estate coming to him, for that knowledge too often made a young man extravagant and careless to his duties. The management of land was a difficult and complicated business, one to which a person should be brought up; but, as a rule, the heir-at-law was not trained to it, and, therefore, whether as regarded the owner for life or the remainder man, the present system was a bad one. And what, after all, was the benefit claimed for it? It was this, that it kept the land in one family—the tenant for life might be ruined, but the land remained. Well, he did not say a word against the maintenance of great families; but if they could only maintain them by the maintenance of bad laws, then it was time that great families should be left to take care of themselves, and that good laws should be provided for the country. He wished now to refer to the effects of our system as to the public. It was perfectly clear that under the existing law a great deal of land was kept out of the market which would otherwise find its way into it. Land was treated as a luxury, and not as an article of commerce, and why should it be so? Why should it not be treated as any other article? Why should not the forces of dispersion and accumulation have their natural course with land? It would be deemed ridiculous and absurd to treat any other article as we treated land. One of the great obstacles to the transfer of land was the expense of titles, and, according to all the evidence, the greatest cause of all that was the settlement of land with elaborate deeds and wills, and the continuous creation of life estates with charges and jointures. These were the great causes of the complication of titles, which led to that expense which was the great obstacle to the transfer of land. By way of contrast, he would mention what was stated before the Committee on Registration in 1878. It being stated that the power of settlement existed in Australia, a witness was asked what proportion of Australian land would be settled, and he replied—"Not one-thousandth part." Of course, there was no difficulty about the transfer of land when there was only fee simple ownership; with that we could have registration quite easy. But if we continued our elaborate and costly system, we should never have registration and easy transfer. Another result of our system was that land was unquestionably retained in the hands of embarrassed owners. Whenever he made inquiries in a district with which he was not personally acquainted he always found flagrant examples of this evil. The other day he met with an instance in which, with an income of £35,000 a-year—the owner did not reside on the estate-—the family mansion and everything else were going to ruin, and for 40 years nothing had been done by the owner to improve the land. This condition of things existed on large estates as well as small ones. If we could get the aggregate acreage of all the small estates in this condition the total area would be enormous; but, unfortunately, there were no statistics. But what might have been the diffusion of land if there had been real freedom for the past 200 years! Would there in that case have been 9,000,000 acres in the hands of 847 men? Many of the difficulties of Ireland would have been settled long ago if there had been free sale for 200 years. He feared also that besides the economical evils arising from great accumulations of land in one hand, such accumulations tended to an emulation in extravagance. Smaller men emulated the great men, and so an evil tendency was set up. And now he wished to refer to some actual instances which illustrated what he had said. He had never said a word against large estates as such; he did not care how much land was held by first-class owners like the Duke of Bedford and Lord Overstone, who took the utmost interest and pains in improving their lands. What he objected to was land being in the hands of men who were incompetent to do justice to it, and being kept by law in their hands against the natural forces which would take it from them. In the remarkable book by Mr. Kay on Free Trade in Land a case was mentioned in which a large estate was subject to stagnation for 40 years through the impossibility of selling any portion of it. There was another remarkable case. Lord Carrington, in the remarkable speech he made at the audit dinner of his tenants in October last, said— "The largest landowner in England and Scotland has a total of 1,358,548 acres. I see no harm in that; there is no reason why he should not own 2,000,000 acres; but what I do think wrong is that a landowner should either by his own act, or by the deed of his predecessors, be saddled with an enormous tract of country, of which it is impossible for him to get rid of a square yard, however necessary, however beneficial the sale of a small portion of it would be to the country, the estate, to his tenants, or to himself. I will try to show what the consequence is. In the North of the country I have two strong clay farms on my hands; one I cannot get a bid for, nobody will cultivate it at any rent. I say to my agent, What am I to do?' He answers,' the buildings must be rebuilt, the worst land laid down in grass, the land drained, and cleansed, and in two years you may get a tenant.' Very good, but all this ought to have been done years ago and the tenant would have been saved, and the land would never have got into so miserable a condition. But the same millstone is round my neck which hampered my father, which I must wear till my death, and my brothers as well, if they succeed me, and the land is not free till after our deaths, or the 21st birthday of an unborn heir. As tenant for life, I hoped against hope, trusted to the good season of 1879 to put things right. That failed, the tenant is ruined, and the land starved. It is a small matter, one farm in hand, you will say. But look around us. I hear of a proprietor with 4,000 acres on his hands, a Berkshire landowner with 13 farms, and land thrown up in all directions. People would improve their properties if they could, but the majority cannot, as is shown by the Committee of the House of Lords." And in the same speech Lord Carrington said— '' Following the advice of my best friends' during my father's lifetime, being 22 years of age, I re-entailed the estate. There-entail was drawn up by one of the first firms of solicitors in England, in the manner which they considered most advantageous to the estate and to me, the tenant for life. I inherited 11 years ago property in Bucks, in Lincolnshire, and in Wales. I found property had been bought in this county, and to pay for that property the Welsh estate had to be sold, and the money reinvested in the land purchased in Bucks. The farm buildings were so bad on the Welsh property that it was calculated that the purchaser would have to spend one whole year's rental on them to put them in decent repair. Mind, I do not blame my father for this; far, very far, from that; but I do blame, and I think justly, the strictness of the entail and the law which prevented him being able to put and keep the buildings in such a condition as to enable the tenants to do justice to themselves and the land by which they got their living. He would give only one more illustration—he referred to the condition of the cottages of labourers. A consequence of the difficulties in which life owners were placed was that they could do nothing to improve the condition of labourers' cottages, which, speaking generally, was deplorable. They all admitted that nothing was more important than having good cottages; and yet, if they read the Reports of the Commission as to the state of women and children employed in agriculture, they would find extraordinary statements as to the condition of the cottages throughout England. The Bishop of Manchester went over 300 parishes in four of the finest counties in England, and he could only remember two parishes where the cottages were good. Mr. Portman made a similar statement with regard to Cambridgeshire and Oxfordshire, and Mr. Stanhope and Mr. Culley as to other parts of the country. What, however, he considered more important to his point was that the Commissioners stated that they considered the main cause of this the position of the life tenant. For instance, Mr. Culley said— What can the poor life tenant, especially if his estate be burdened, do towards providing good cottages for his labourers? Nine times out of ten he strives to do his duty, and suffers fully as much as the ill-housed labourers on his estate Mr. Portman strongly confirmed this view. Could anything be a greater disgrace to this country, so enormously wealthy, as that these long generations should pass, and at the end of it all they should find that, notwithstanding their great estates, great counties, and splendid domains, there was an almost general bad condition of the cottages of the poor? Now, he thought he had shown that their present system of continuous life ownership was bad for owners and for the public. The facts were, he thought, indisputable. Various Acts had been passed to enable life tenants to borrow money to improve their estates; but, owing to the expense of applying the law, and the disinclination to obtain the consent of Commissioners or of the Court of Chancery, very few owners had availed themselves of these Acts, and they had been practically inoperative. Things were even worse now than in 1873. The whole system had broken down because the farmer could not pay additional interest in consideration of improvements. When they wanted more capital laid out on the land, the system became a dead letter. With regard to the remedies for the evils he had adverted to, one of the most important was to forbid all settlements on unborn children. He believed that would have no effect at all, for the family lawyer would be one too many for them, because he would simply wait till the son was born, and not draw up the settlement at the time of marriage. A more drastic remedy than that was wanted. In his opinion, there should be for the future fee-simple ownerships, with only two single exceptions—they should allow a man to leave his widow a life interest in any part of the estate, and also a life estate to a minor, so as to let the land go over from one son to another, in case of death during minority. The effect of that would be good to all concerned and to the public. There would then be simple titles and free sale. But certain objections were made to this change. One was that a man would not be able to do what he liked with his own. The answer to that objection was this—he would increase the freedom of every man while he lived, and would restrict him only when he died. Then he would have to leave the land as he held it. Why should a man dictate to the world 50 or 60 years after he was dead? Without taking away a man's freedom, he would lessen his power to diminish the freedom of coming generations. But it was further said—You do not propose to take away the powers of settling personal estate; why, then, interfere with the settlement of land? The answer was obvious. You could not affect personal estate by settlement. Nothing depended upon ownership in the case of personal estate; but as to land, everything depended on the character of the ownership. You could not lessen the value of Consols whatever you did with them; but the value of land depended on the way in which you treated it. The Committee of the House of Lords said, as another objection, that if a man could not settle his land he would have no way of showing "solicitude for descendants"—that he would not care to be an improver, if he could not settle the land as improved. It seemed to him (Mr. W. Fowler), on the other hand, that they all had that solicitude without any reference to their power of selling their property. Men need not show their solicitude by leaving their children less free than they themselves were. Another common argument was why, when they allowed personal estate to be settled, should they interfere with reality? But he thought the answer was very simple and obvious indeed. As regarded personal estate, whether in railway shares or Consols, it did not matter who the owner was, inasmuch as you could not make it more or less by ownership. But as regarded land, everything depended on who the owner was. As to the view that so long as they allowed a man to borrow upon land no change would do any good, he held, on the contrary, that a man ought to be able to borrow upon land, just as he could upon any other property, because it enabled him to improve his land. But it was said that the habits and feelings of the nation were against this change; he, on the other hand, believed the habits and feelings of the nation were becoming favourable to the freedom of the land. But it was said with entire freedom we should have bigger estates than at present. He believed there would be a rapid diffusion of land among the people; there would be fewer large estates, and more moderate estates. The real objection to the change was the Peerage and great families. He thought they might very well leave the Peerage and great families to protect themselves. They could best do this by greater prudence in the management of their affairs; and thus they would greatly benefit the public. At any rate, he objected to have the tenure of all the land of England moulded to suit their ideas. If they must have a law specially for the nobility, it seemed to him more logical and sensible to have a law like that which obtained in France—one for the nobility and another for the commoner—rather than to have the whole law moulded because of the family condition of a mere fraction of the people. What were the 500 Peers to the great millions of the people? The same argument applied to the great families. It seemed to him this whole system placed the family before the nation. It was their duty, as Members of this House, to put the nation before the family. By considering what was good for the nation they would really consult the power and interest of the family. Before he concluded he must refer to a Bill which had come down from the other House with the sanction of the name of the ex-Lord Chancellor. It must be received with great respect; but he confessed he considered it a most imperfect remedy. But it showed how unsatisfactory even that distinguished Nobleman, so remarkable for his ability as well as his Conservative opinions, thought the present law was, and how necessary that a material change should be made. When they came to analyze the Bill they would find that it really offered no remedy, for it merely amounted to this—the tenant for life should have power to sell, but not to touch a penny of the money, which must all go back to the settlement and to the same uses as those which affected the land sold. The Bill, no doubt, was well-intended; it might make the thing look more tolerable, but would not mend the matter. No good could be done without courage. There must be a thorough remedy; the law must be fundamentally changed, or it might be as well to leave things as they were. He thought he had proved his case and shown the necessity for a change. Apart from foreign competition, and long before the bad seasons, the state of agriculture was extremely unsatisfactory, he believed mainly by reason of our old-fashioned laws in regard to the ownership of land. If they had competent owners over the whole area of England, they would soon see a very great change in the condition of agriculture. The condition of Ireland might be alarming; but this question was just as important as the condition of Ireland. If it was true, as Lord Derby said, that the land of England ought to produce double what it now produced, they were losing more than £200,000,000 a-year by bad cultivation. It was for the House to consider whether what he had stated had anything to do with that bad cultivation, and therefore it was that he asked the House to pass the Motion which he now begged to move.


said, that, in seconding the Motion of the hon. Member for Cambridge, it would not be necessary for him to add anything to the exhaustive speech they had just listened to. Under the present system of family settlements, the nominal owners of life estates, who had to pay jointures and the interest on the mortgage debts of previous generations, had also imposed on them the duty of providing for their daughters and their younger children. They could only do that by putting themselves in the position of insolvent owners; they were obliged to exact the greatest amount of rent, and they could not assist their tenants, or advance afarthing for the improvement of their estates. Those settlements not only checked the investment of money in the proper cultivation of the land, but prevented the sale of the land when it was the interest of all parties concerned that a sale should take place. There was a desire in the country that that subject should receive the attention of Parliament. The people of England and of Wales expected a Land Bill from the present Government; and although they had no wish to import into this country the peculiar features of land tenure in Ireland, or to cut up the land into allotments and parcels, which would not afford full scope for the energy and enterprise of the English farmers, still they desired a change which would give them a security for the investment of their money in the cultivation of land, and which would remove all the obstacles that were calculated to prevent the land from, becoming the subject of free sale among themselves.

Amendment proposed,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, the Law permitting the creation and perpetuation of life estates in land has caused great injury to all classes of the people, and specially to owners and occupiers of land and the labourers employed in its cultivation, and that such a change in the Law is imperatively required as shall prevent (with very slight exception) the creation of such estates, and shall secure a real and competent ownership, and a complete freedom in the buying and selling of land throughout the Country,"—(Mr. William Fowler,)

—instead thereof.

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


said, that although they had had a very interesting speech from the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), which he believed had also been made in previous Parliaments, he did not think that the hon. Gentleman had made out his point. There might be reasons, based upon social grounds, why they should alter the law on that subject; but the hon. Member had not in any way established his proposition that the present law was specially injurious either to the occupiers or to the labourers engaged in agriculture. The hon. Gentleman had stated, and stated truly, that something like one-third of the food of the people of this country was imported from abroad, and that that quantity was increasing year by year in comparison with our home-grown produce. But that must necessarily be the case, because our population was increasing decade by decade; therefore, as long as our trade existed, and we could have the population of our large towns producing goods for export to other countries, we must have a greater proportion of our people dependent for their food on foreign supplies. Nor could he say that that was in itself an undesirable state of things. He wished that foreign countries would adopt Free Trade, as we ourselves had done; and if they could have Free Trade prevailing throughout the world, there was no reason why they should not have a much larger number of the people of these Islands than they had now not employed in agriculture, but employed in manufactures to supply the wants of the whole world. The hon. Member for Cambridge had quoted Lord Derby, who was not a practical farmer; and although Lord Derby had once not very wisely stated that the soil of this country was capable of producing twice the amount of its present produce, they should listen to him on questions of politics, but on farming he was no authority in that House. Now, the law of England in relation to settlements was almost identical with regard to land and with regard to money, and if the House affirmed the proposition of the hon. Member in reference to settlements of land, it ought to affirm it in reference to settlements of money. He himself knew something about land and its cultivation, and he did not believe that one farmer in 50, or one labourer in 1,000, knew, as a matter of fact, whether the land he occupied and tilled was held by the owner as tenant for life, or as tenant in fee. In the case of large estates, of course, it was a matter of notoriety. He did not think a farmer in this country curiously inquired whether an owner of land was owner in fee or owner for life. A great part of the land in this country, rightly or wrongly, was held under tenancies from year to year, and not under the system of leases. When farmers were about to take farms they did not inquire into the nature of the ownership which the landlord had in property; but whether A or B was deemed to be a bad landlord, and whether they were likely to be rack-rented. If landlords asked their tenants whether they would take a lease for 10 or 15 years, or go on as before, the great bulk of the tenants—he spoke only of the tenants in his own neighbourhood—not one in 50 would take a lease. They might take a 30 years' lease, but not one for 14 or 18 years. They knew that at times they might in the one case get a reduction of rent, and that in the other case they could not. He did not believe it would be desirable on social grounds to alter the power which now existed with reference to the devolution of land and money. He did not think his hon. Friend had made out his case that the alterations he suggested would have much effect upon the occupiers of land, and certainly it would nave no effect upon labourers. His hon. Friend had stated a good deal about encumbered property. The worst farms in his own neighbourhood were farms in the hands of small proprietors, who clung to them with great tenacity. Those farms were mortgaged up to the hilt; therefore, a person who owned a small property, worth £50 or £150 a-year, was borrowing money at £4 or £5 per cent, and thus rented his land at a much higher rate than if it were let to a tenant. He was practically the tenant of a banker or a mortgagee. The buildings on small estates were in a far more dilapidated state than the buildings on the property of a neighbouring squire. It must necessarily be so, because the owners of the small estates were practically not the owners. He hoped the House would not consent to the Motion in its present crude shape. He thought the Bill of Lord Cairns, which his hon. Friend spoke of rather slightingly, would work very beneficially, because wherever property was encumbered, the debts might be cleared off by a sale of part of the estate. He was opposed to any alteration with reference to the settlement of land which would not equally apply to the settlement of money.


Sir, I will not attempt to traverse the wide field opened up by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler.) I think, however, the speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Knaresborough (Mr. T. Collins) is, in some degree, a sign of the times, because the hon. Member is disposed to make admissions that there might be strong reasons—though he did not think the proposition before House is proved—social and political, for a great change in the law with reference to land. I do not agree with the rather disparaging remarks in which he spoke of the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, which appeared to me a speech of great interest, and by no means deficient in originality. With respect to originality, I think it would be a bad sign, indeed, if everything that were said on a subject of this kind had to be altogether new. It is necessary to go back to the fountain-head of truth, and bring out matter which, although it may have been previously produced, has yet not obtained its full currency, nor the full command over the public mind; and in the mode of presenting his contribution, and the many collateral considerations which it opened up, I must say that the hon. Member for Cambridge conferred a service upon us by the able address he delivered. I said that a still wider field is really opened by this subject, because I believe we all feel—certainly many of us feel—that this question of life estate is one upon which really hang a number of other very great questions of vital interest to landed proprietors, and of vital interest, through them, to the public—such as the great questions of the transfer of land, and the whole system by which a person who possesses land may borrow upon his land, just as other possessors of property may borrow upon their property—which questions, when they come to be dealt with by Parliament, may lead to fundamental alterations in our law of landed property. All these questions are of the greatest importance; and there is one observation which, although it is no part of my business to attempt any full discussion of the subject to-night, lies at the very root and threshold of this subject. Do not let it be supposed that this is a question of hostility to the owners of land. Whatever system gives the greatest freedom to the descent of land, to the transfer of land, to the holding of land, and to raising money upon land, is the system that will be far the best for the interest of the owners of the land, and for the interest of the entire public. I do not deny that there are difficult questions connected with this subject. The legal aspects themselves are difficult. There are difficulties as to the economical aspects, on which I agree with my hon. Friend, that much economical loss attends the present limitations upon ownership, and devolution, and transfer of land; and as to the domestic and social aspects, on which I confess that I have a very strong opinion, I believe that nothing can be more mischievous than the present system of settlement and entail, and that nothing would more tend to the moral strength of the aristocracy of this country than a great and fundamental change. I must say I agree with the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler) that in small changes there is very little advantage; that this is a subject which, when Parliament pro- ceeds to deal with it, should be dealt with broadly. I am not able, I confess, to feel very great enthusiasm for the Bills of Lord Cairns. I am not able to follow the reasoning that led to the introduction of those Bills. In the first place, I do not understand those Bills—although, of course, it is not for me to be an expounder of Conservative principles. I must confess, however, that I do not quite comprehend how those who support Conservative principles can approve the extraordinary liberties which, under Lord Cairns' Bills, the tenant for life would be able to take with the interests of the remainder-man. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge, I think, did very wisely in opening this subject with a reference to the important question of foreign competition. We are not, I think, to take, under any circumstances, a desponding view of the prospects of British agriculture. But, at the same time, it is right, I think, that we should lay to heart this fact, that in dealing with American competition we are dealing with something that is different from any competition we have ever had to deal with yet. Not different absolutely in kind, yet so different in circumstances that we should commit a serious error if we thought that this competition is as comparatively transitory as was the competition with the wheat of the Baltic or of the Black Sea. Many circumstances which give this exceptional character to the growth of agricultural products in America are constantly in the public view; but there is one which I do not think is so often mentioned as it deserves to be. America is a country which is almost or altogether distinguished from all other countries of the world in this respect, that, with unbounded command of natural resources, she has united most severe discipline for producers. By that I mean that the scarcity of labour, and its exceptionally high, price in America, has driven that people, beyond every other people on the face of the earth, upon the multiplication of labour-saving contrivances, and that at this moment the American farmer is far more economically efficient in the command and application of labour-saving contrivances than the farmers of old countries, and notably of our own country. By a combination of great fertility of soil, which the farmer has merely to scratch in order to secure a crop, and the great economy of human labour, aided by great ingenuity in the employment of machinery, and of cheap and useful contrivances for the saving of human labour, there has resulted an extraordinary advantage to America, the effects of which, when competing with ourselves, have not even yet been fully felt. My hon. Friend is in some respect, perhaps, more sanguine than I am myself as to the consequences of his Motion, for I own I am by no means convinced that any very great or very general dispersion of landed properties would follow the abolition of life estate in this country. I believe that the economical circumstances and laws of the country, and the laws which govern in that respect the rapid creation of large fortunes, the social distinction attached to the possession of land, the constant pressure and competition amongst possessors of large new fortunes to take rank with the possessors of old fortunes—that is, the landed proprietors of the country—will always induce a very large body of purchasers to give for land prices far higher than it is worth as an economical product, and will, therefore, keep together, in the main, the large estates of: this country. No doubt, there are particular sets of circumstances where we have constantly at work very healthful agencies in this matter. For example, every flourishing town in this country where men of the middle class are continually acquiring property is a centre from which there are men why buy their 50, or 100, or 200 acres, partly for residential purposes,' partly for agricultural purposes; and considerable breaking up of landed properties goes on from that cause alone. I believe that after the experience we have had in commercial legislation, we may come, perhaps, with some safety to two conclusions—first of all, that it is impossible to forecast with any precision or minuteness what the results of the change recommended in the Motion would be; but, on the other hand, that the virtue of freedom has proved itself to be so great when applied to the subjects in which human enterprize develops itself, that we are justified to expect much from the removal of the fetters that now attach to the ownership and to the incidence of landed property. My hon. Friend asks us to affirm a Resolution, the main effect of which is to condemn the life estate in land. Ha does, indeed, Bay that he proposes to leave a very limited field of exception. I do not think, if I followed him with accuracy, that he distinctly explained to us what these exceptions would be. [Mr. W. FOWLER: For widows and minors.] That does not seriously interfere with what I was about to say. The Resolution is a Resolution against life estates in land. In the main, I must own I am prepared individually to go with my hon. Friend. For reasons which it would be out of place to enter upon at full length, I have arrived at the conclusion that that proposition is a wise one; and I agree with my hon. Friend in thinking that there are undoubtedly some difficulties connected with the constitution of the other House of Parliament which must be looked in the face when we come to face this question. I do not know how to resist the proposition of my hon. Friend, which is this—that if it be true that with a view to the maintenance of a hereditary Chamber it was necessary that the system of settlement and entail should continue substantially as it is, yet that can be no good reason for maintaining the system of entail and settlement all over the country. That appears to me undeniable. I am not able to accede to the doctrine of the perfect parallelism between landed and personal property. In the first place, I do not believe that the system of settlement ever will prevail, with regard to personal property, to the same extent to which it now applies to laud; and, even if it did, it is a totally different matter. The hand of Providence has placed a limitation upon the stock of land in the country that has not been placed upon the stock of personal property, and the interest of the people in the land of the country is entirely distinct from, and far greater and deeper than, the interest they possess in any part of its personal property. My hon. Friend will ask—" With these views, what do you say to my Motion considered as a proposition addressed to the House of Commons?" Well, I hope that he has proposed this Motion rather for the sake of helping onwards the public mind in the consideration of a very wide and difficult question than for the sake of eliciting a judgment from the House of Commons, for -which, probably, it is not yet altogether prepared. At any rate, I wish to explain that what I have said has been in my individual capacity. I do not think it is generally desirable that Governments should announce, or even affirm, fixed and irrevocable conclusions upon matters of public policy and legislation until the time is at hand when they can act upon those conclusions. I should think it a most dangerous proposition to lay down, and a most dangerous practice to adopt, if Governments were encouraged or permitted to deal in loose and vague promises of what they will do at some future period, and thereby to earn, or endeavour to earn, some favour and popularity attaching to these plans, without having to confront and to deal with the practical difficulties that must be met in giving them effect. We have not made this Bill a subject, and we have not thought it our duty to make it a matter of practical consideration, as we should have done had it been one pressing for immediate settlement. I need not tell my hon. Friend that we have had to deal since the time that we took Office with quite a sufficient number of grave matters demanding the best resources and faculties of mind that we could apply to them; and I hope that when we do approach the consideration of this question also, we shall approach it in a spirit which will be liberal, impartial, and fearless. At the same time, I could not venture to say, and I am very far indeed from desiring to convey any unfavourable impression in regard to the convictions of anyone. Yet I must hold the Cabinet free to form its own opinion on this subject. My own feelings I do not think are likely to be changed, and substantially they are in accordance with what has been propounded by my hon. Friend. That being so, I should be sorry if we are driven to vote on this subject, which might be misunderstood to imply some disinclination to make changes in the law of devolution of land. I hope, therefore, my hon. Friend will not seek to put the House in that position. I think it will not be for the interest of the cause he has taken in hand if he should seek to place it in that position. There are, no doubt, matters which undoubtedly are of great difficulty to be faced, and, no doubt, my hon. Friend knows there are many persons the sincerity of whose political concurrence with himself—of political orthodoxy, if I may so say—could not be questioned, and who are not prepared to accompany him the whole length of the journey that lie himself has performed; and it would be a great pity if there was to be recorded against him a vote against any interference with this subject. For my own part, it would be my duty, with no ill-will towards his general views, but, on the contrary, with convictions founded upon reasons that I think are strong and deep, not to join in any merely abstract declaration of policy on this subject. I wish to make no declaration binding in form upon it till the time comes, if the time does come—it would be daring to say it will come, but for some of us I hope it will come soon—when there will be an opportunity and possibility of giving effect to that which is proposed. In the meantime, I, for one, sincerely thank my hon. Friend for the Motion he has made and the speech he delivered. I think there was nothing in it to excite what may be called Party or sectarian feeling in this House, but that it was made with no other view than that of promoting the interest of the entire country and the interest, I will venture to add, of all classes of the country. I believe the more freedom we have in our land system the better it will be for all, and the better any beneficial changes will be for those who are the owners of land. I hope, having given this opportunity of free and open discussion, my hon. Friend will not be disposed to press the House to adopt the Resolution, inasmuch as, even if it were adopted, there is no present opportunity of acting upon it.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had just addressed the House that the question was one of great importance, for he could say, as matter of personal experience, that under the present circumstances of the law there was a large number of estates in this country which could not find purchasers. Under the existing law a tenant for life who found himself embarrassed by the encumbrances on the estate not of his own creation, and who could not, therefore, effect improvements, could apply to the Court of Chancery for relief, and, if a proper case was made out, relief would be afforded to him. The Bill, too, recently introduced by Lord Cairns extended the present system and would enable an owner for life to advance money for the necessary improvements, and to charge it on the inheritance. He could not see that there was any objection to settle estates if power were given to the limited owner to sell when necessary, with the condition that the purchase money should be applied to the trusts of the settlement. He believed that if the Bill of Lord Cairns were adopted, every improvement that was required could be carried out by the tenant for life.


said, he knew that the hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Gregory) had a deep admiration for a good settlement. He agreed with the statement of the hon. Member that large estates were generally well cultivated. The hon. Member admitted that there was a wide extent of land in the market, and spoke of the parcels that were in hand. The hon. Member could not doubt that the Law of Settlement was an obstacle to transfer, and that land would pass out of his hands at a higher price if the law were reformed. There was no doubt that the present depression in agriculture, and the want of confidence that prevailed on the part of owners and occupiers of land, was mainly due to American competition. Corn could be carried from New York to Liverpool at a smaller price than it could be carried from Lincoln, to London. In that fact alone there was matter for very careful consideration. We had arrived at this point, that a year's supply of food for a man could be carried from Chicago to Liverpool for 10s. He had heard statements made as to the advantages that would be derived from the introduction of implements such as Darby's Digger; but these machines would be of far greater advantage to the farmers of the prairies. The evidence of experts given to the Duke of Richmond's Commission showed that out of 17,000,000 acres in England and Wales which needed land drainage only 3,000,000 had been drained. It could not be contended that our system of limited ownership had been productive of rapid improvement in the soil.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present,

House adjourned at a quarter after Eleven o'clock till Monday next.