§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that he would not detain the House with any lengthened remarks, as he had last Session fully explained the details of a very similar measure. The object of the present Bill was in all cases to give security to tenants for their improvements, and in that way to remedy the defects that had been found by experience to be wanting in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875. That Act, although it had undoubtedly done, and was gradually doing, much good in the direction indicated, had not altogether fulfilled the purposes which it was hoped it would effect. The experience of six years, and the evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Agriculture, which had been laid on the Table of the House, showed that in some parts of the country, at all events, the Act had given little or no compensation to tenants for unexhausted improvements in the event of their leaving their farms. That was the blot in the Act of 1875 which he desired by this Bill to remedy, and he proposed to do it in this way. He did not intend to make the Bill necessarily compulsory in all cases. That would be a great mistake. He was opposed to the Act of 1875 being made compulsory, at the time of its introduction, and was still opposed to its being made compulsory by any 1732 hard-and-fast line in all cases at the present time. What he now wished to do was to render the Act of 1875, either directly or indirectly, operative in all cases in which it had remained a dead letter up to the present time, and where adequate compensation for improvements was not already given by other means. There were many parts of the country in which the arrangements between landlords and tenants, so far as security to the latter was concerned, were all that at present could be desired; and it would be the greatest possible mistake to interfere unnecessarily with those arrangements, which were known to be satisfacfory, and which had been proved by experience to answer remarkably well. He proposed to accomplish the object of the Bill in the following manner. First, by repealing all the clauses in the Act of 1875 which gave power to landlords and tenants to notice themselves out of its provisions; and having done that, he provided three different modes by which they might agree upon compensation between themselves; and in the event of their neglecting or refusing to avail themselves of any of these modes, the Act of 1875 would ipso facto come into force. According to his scheme, the two parties might agree as to compensation, first under the compensation clauses (Clauses 4 to 50, inclusive) of the Act itself; secondly, under the schedule system, as was the custom in Lincolnshire; or, thirdly, under a special contract according to the situation of the holding, or the locality, and all the other circumstances of the case. In the absence of any agreement by either of these methods, then, as a matter of course, they would come under the Act of 1875. Further, provision was specially made in Clause 7 of the Bill to insure that the special contracts thus made should give real compensation, and should be of a fair and bonâ fide character. That was his proposal, in its main outlines; and he need hardly say that he should be glad to listen to any suggestions for modifying the details of the Bill; but its principle, that compensation for tenants' improvements should be secured in all cases by the methods and in the direction proposed, he must respectfully adhere to. He could not help expressing his regret at finding that he was going to be opposed again by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard), who 1733 professed in an especial degree to represent the views of the tenant farmers in this country. He had seen the Amendment of which that hon. Member had given Notice, and was at a loss to know what he meant by the words "stability of tenure," which smacked more of Irish than of English legislation. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the Government some years ago described "fixity of tenure," "continuity of tenure," "perpetuity of tenure," and "stability of tenure," as meaning pretty much the same thing. But, however that might be, the hon. Member for Bedfordshire must admit that the Bill, though, perhaps, it might not go so far as he would wish, could, at all events, do no harm, and that the tenant farmers throughout the country under it would, at least, find, from its operations, a considerable improvement on the position which they occupied at the present time. The hon. Member also knew that an immense proportion of the tenant farmers of England had declared themselves to be in favour of the Bill, and he (Mr. Chaplin) had received communications almost daily from every part of the country from those interested in the subject; and, therefore, he must once more express his regret that, for the second time, on a measure that was undoubtedly introduced in the interest of the farmers, he should find himself opposed by the one Member, of all others in the House, from whom he was entitled to expect and receive support. He now begged to move the second reading of the Bill.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."(Mr. Chaplin.)
§ MR. JAMES HOWARD
, who had given Notice of the following Amendment:—That no measure for the Amendment of the Law, affecting the relations of Landlord and Tenant, will prove satisfactory or be calculated to attract the capital and enterprise so necessary, under the altered circumstances of the Country, to the successful cultivation of the soil and the full development of its resources, which does not give full compensation to the tenant for such enhanced letting value of his holding as is due to his own outlay and skill, and which does not also make adequate provision for stability of tenure,said, that if any hon. Member of the House imagined that he had placed the Amendment upon the Paper without re- 1734 cognizing the weight of responsibility which rested upon him he was under a very erroneous impression; the responsibility of raising the important question of stability of tenure had occupied his anxious thoughts for weeks past, nor had he given Notice of the Amendment without consulting men in whose judgment he had confidence. He was sure that the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and he was also quite sure the hon. Baronet the Member for North Devon (Sir Thomas Acland) had brought forward their Bills with the conviction that the provisions would to some extent tend to restore prosperity to agriculture; the interests of the two hon. Members were so intimately bound up with the welfare of agriculture that no one could for a moment doubt their sincerity of purpose. Seeing, also, that his (Mr. Howard's) interests, direct and indirect, were also bound up in the success of the same industry, he was not likely to stand upon the floor of the House to advocate changes except he believed that they would add to the material prosperity of the greatest of all our industrial pursuits, the agriculture of the Kingdom. British agriculture was face to face with difficulties such as had never been encountered in the past, and it behoved all concerned to approach the subject of remedies without Party bias; the issues he felt to be too momentous to allow the mind to be swayed by political feeling. Endeavouring to approach the subject in that frame of mind, he had arrived at the conclusion that the sufferings of agriculturists were too acute to be reached by the prescriptions to be found in either of the Bills before the House; the patient was too far gone to be restored by homœopathic treatment; indeed, he feared that any hopes of speedy recovery, under any treatment, would be futile; however, dropping metaphor, he would express the belief that, if remedial measures were to be applied, they must be more far-reaching and comprehensive than the two Bills under consideration. The object of the Bill of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire was to amend an Act which had proved notoriously ineffective and inoperative; yet it did not touch some of its most radical defects. That the Agricultural Holdings Act would prove a failure the Government which passed it were duly forewarned. He (Mr. Howard) was not dis- 1735 posed to criticize the Bill of the hon. Member harshly; for he would confess, if he were compelled to accept either Bill, he should prefer that of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire. He believed, also, that it was an honest attempt to grapple with a very difficult subject; further, it did hit one of the greatest blots in the Agricultural Holdings Act—the permissive clauses. He would, on that point, venture to congratulate the hon. Member upon his conversion to views upon freedom of contract which he (Mr. Howard) had held many years. He was not sure that he ought not to claim credit for the conversion of the hon. Member, for about 15 months ago a rather voluminous correspondence had passed between them upon the subject of interference with freedom of contract; and he was gratified to find, a few months after, that the hon. Member had completely changed his views upon the subject. He would indulge a hope that if the hon. Member did not already share his views upon stability of tenure, that not many months would elapse before the hon. Member became as ardent a supporter of the principle as he had become of controlling freedom of contract. He would presently explain what he meant by stability of tenure, and probably the House would not deem the proposal so revolutionary as some hon. Members imagined. He had remarked that the Bill did not touch certain radical defects of the Agricultural Holdings Act. One of the most glaring defects of that Act was the complicated machinery it set up for the settlement of compensation cases. In the Landlord and Tenant Bill which he brought in when formerly a Member of that House, and from which, he would observe in passing, that the Agricultural Holdings Act was taken almost bodily, the settlement of compensation cases was left entirely in the hands of two arbitrators, or their umpire, whose decision was final, but whose powers and duties were defined and limited by a Schedule attached to the Bill. Instead of following that course, which was according to the Lincolnshire custom, the hon. Member had adopted in the Bill, now under consideration, the complicated machinery of the Agricultural Holdings Act. The fear entertained by many tenants of becoming involved in litigation by coming under the provisions of the Agricultural 1736 Holdings Act appeared to have been well founded; for a well-known barrister, in a letter he (Mr. Howard) received from him on Saturday last, said—I have at present a great deal of work going on with reference to arbitrations under the Agricultural Holdings Act. I really quite shudder when I contemplate the costs of references under this Act. The solicitors seem determined to make them as heavy as possible.He (Mr. Howard) contended that any Bill which sought to amend that Act should have swept away the complicated machinery complained of, and introduced the simpler method he had referred to. He would now call attention to another vicious principle of the Agricultural Holdings Act, which had also been adopted by the hon. Member. He objected altogether to the principle that a tenant's claim to his improvements lapsed by the effluxion of time. He saw neither reason nor justice in such a provision; he maintained that it would be just as reasonable to provide that after the money of a depositor had remained in a bank a certain number of years, and he had secured the interest regularly, the principal should become the property of the banker. He contended that a tenant who should sink a well, dig a pond, plant an orchard, drain a field, or make any other improvement set forth in the first-class list of the Agricultural Holdings Act, should, upon quitting his holding, have a claim to the unexhausted value of such improvements, without reference to the time which had elapsed since they were executed. In such matters a tenant ought to be able to look upon his farm as a bank, that what he put into it was safe, and that when he could no longer enjoy the interest, what remained of the principal should be his. He might be told that this principle of a tenant's claim being barred by lapse of time was to be found in his own Landlord and Tenant Bill. He would admit it; but when he drew that Bill he had to consult his then Colleague, Mr. Clare Read, who sat on the opposite side of the House; moreover, he confessed that his views upon the subject, like the views of the hon. Member (Mr. Chaplin) on another point, had advanced with the effluxion of time. With respect to the three courses left open in the Bill, as to the mode of securing compensation, he deemed them highly objectionable, and 1737 calculated to lead to confusion; the class of landlords which required binding would be sure to choose the method considered most advantageous to themselves, and probably the least satisfactory to the tenant. Then, again, in Clause 6, he found the words "securing to the tenant reasonable compensation"—words, he contended, much too indefinite to be used in an Act of Parliament. He held that uniformity in the law on such matters was highly desirable; it was for the Legislature to discover which was the best method for securing compensation, and to make that method compulsory. On those grounds, he objected to the three courses proposed by the hon. Member. Then, again, the objectionable principle was introduced in the Bill of exempting tenancies beyond a certain duration. He held that a tenant should be encouraged to improve his farm and to leave it in an improved condition just as much when holding under a long lease as under a yearly tenancy. With the permission of the House he would read an extract from a speech of an hon. Baronet, whose form a few years ago had been familiar to every Member of that House—the late Sir John Pakington. Speaking at a meeting of the Chamber of Agriculture, he remarked—I have no right to expect that my farms shall be cultivated to the greatest advantage, unless I put the occupier in a position to make the most of his capital. The reason why I think a lease is preferable to a yearly tenancy is this—that, partly judging by theory, and partly from my own practical experience, I do think a farmer sets about his farming with more energy and more vigour, and feels more independence, if he is holding under a lease, than if he is holding under a yearly tenancy; and however good tenant right may be under a yearly tenancy, he may still be subjected to be dispossessed of his farm, subject to the arrangement of the tenant right, But I am rather disposed to go a step further, and ask why, under a well-regulated system of land tenure, we should not allow leases and tenant right to go together?He (Mr. Howard) would commend that speech to the attention of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire. Turning to the 1st Schedule in the Bill of the hon. Member, he discerned an omission, a serious defect, which he ventured last year to point out to the hon. Member; through that omission the farmer's choice of feeding stuffs in the manufacture of beef and mutton would be restricted. Whilst the hon. Member would give compensation for American cake, for 1738 Marseilles and other foreign cake, he would, most inconsistently, refuse compensation in the case of home-grown food for stock. Further, since the repeal of the Malt Tax, malt was becoming a considerable article of food in the manufacture of beef and mutton; and, from his own experience of its use, he was convinced that it would become a regular article of diet upon most of the stock farms of the Kingdom, and compensation should therefore be given for the consumption of any feeding stuffs the farmer found it to his interest to use. Then as to the tile-draining. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act the tenant had a right to compensation for 20 years; in the Schedule of the Bill of the hon. Member he had cut it down to 10 years. Altogether, he should much prefer the Agricultural Holdings Act, amended simply by the elimination of the permissive and the complicated clauses for settling compensation cases to which he had already referred. Turning to the general aspect of the question, eminent writers and public men imagined that the true solution of their agricultural difficulties was to be found in the creation of a peasant proprietary; in reducing the size of farms—in short, a resort to pétite culture. In his opinion, no one acquainted with practical agriculture, or the exigencies of farm life, could endorse that view, for it was impossible to change the system of agriculture prevailing in any country, except by slow, very slow degrees. As was well known to hon. Members, estates across the Channel were very much subdivided, and small farms in France were the rule. In Hungary, on the other hand, proprietors farmed their estates themselves in thousands of acres. In either case it would be vain to recommend the adoption of the English system to the proprietors of those countries; because, in the first place, no proper tenants could be found, and, in the next place, neither the houses nor homesteads were suitable for the system. Again, a few years ago a friend of his own came into possession of an estate in one of our most fertile counties; this friend had resided a great deal on the Continent, and had become enamoured of the small farm system, and he therefore determined to introduce it upon his own estate. He (Mr. Howard) met him not long since and inquired how the small farm plan was progressing; his friend confessed that he had had to abandon the idea, for he had found the 1739 building of a suitable house or homestead, and providing the necessary water supply, cost as much as the land of his 12-acre farms was worth. He had mentioned these cases, not with a view to disparage the small farm or any other system, but simply to show the difficulty of changing our own; whether it was the best or the worst system need not be discussed; they could change it only by very slow degrees, and, seeing that to be the case, it behoved them to make the best of the system as it existed. In the past, capital had been repelled from agriculture by requiring political subserviency—had been driven away by the enforcement of antiquated customs, by restrictive covenants, by insecurity of capital, by insecurity of tenure, by game reservations, by the raising of rent upon a tenant's own improvements. In the last book of Mr. Caird's—The Landed Interest—a very significant table would be found, showing that between 1857 and 1875 the agricultural rental of England had risen by £9,000,000 a-year. In those 18 years it had been computed that rents in England had advanced 21 per cent, in Scotland 26 per cent, and in Ireland 6 per cent. The agricultural value of the land during that period had increased by the enormous sum of £331,000,000, and, as estimated by Mr. Caird, at a cost to the owner of £60,000,000 only. Mr. Caird did not estimate how much of that increased value was due to the expenditure of the tenants' capital; but, if it could be ascertained, he (Mr. Howard) had no doubt that it would amount to a prodigious sum. Landed proprietors, above any other class, had the deepest interest in the solution of the problem now before the House. If prosperity was to be restored to agriculture, if prosperity was to be permanent, the full energies of the tenant must in some way or other be called forth. Landowners had a permanent interest in securing that result, for the tenantry might turn their effects into money and depart, as so many he regretted to find were doing, to other lands; but the owners could not follow; they must remain. The main question for landed proprietors, the main question for the Legislature was—How was the exodus of farmers from the land to be arrested, how was the necessary capital and enterprize to be attracted? Great Britain possessed the best race of tenantry in the world; no other country possessed anything 1740 akin to our own tenant farmer class, either in respect of numbers, capital, or intelligence. Desirable as he felt it was to secure to that important class compensation for improvements, he ventured to submit that there was something even of greater importance. He maintained that the most likely way to keep the tenantry on the land, to call forth their energies, was to secure to them stability of tenure, to make them feel that neither they, nor their homes, nor their property were in the hands of, or at the mercy of, one man, be he landlord or land agent. As a rule, English landlords had been kind and considerate, and he was acquainted with a large number of land agents, for whom he entertained great respect, but not a few were harsh and tyrannical; and, although cases of oppression were not relatively numerous, when they did occur, no one could allege that they did not beget widespread distrust, and over a wide area a sense of insecurity resulted. It was this feeling of insecurity which paralyzed the efforts of the tenant. A man who might have a good and liberal landlord was always in doubt who would come after him. Some painful instances had very recently come under his notice. Not many weeks ago he met an intelligent farmer in the prime of life, whose letters in The Times many hon. Members had doubtless often read with pleasure, who made known to him the following circumstance. His father had occupied a farm for nearly 50 years under a kind and considerate landlord. He was succeeded in the estate by his son, who was leading a dissolute life in Paris; and the agent, in order to provide for the extravagant expenditure of the son, had had to raise the rents during these depressed times some 30 per cent. Could not the Legislature, asked the son of the tenant, provide an appeal against such extortion? He confessed that he shared the feeling of the son. Take another case—An estate he know very well, formerly belonging to a nobleman, changed hands a few years ago. The rental of the estate had been quite up to the average rents of the neighbourhood, for the nobleman, although liberal, was poor; however, it had no sooner changed hands than the rents were raised some 50 or 60 per cent. A few weeks ago, when in a Western county, he had met the son of the oldest tenant on this estate, who told him that this raising of 1741 the rent was ruining his father and breaking his heart into the bargain. He (Mr. Howard) desired to call attention to the fact that the estate had not been purchased by some successful manufacturer or merchant; the owner was no new man; it was under the Crown that tenants had been treated in this arbitrary fashion. Many might say such a tenant had the remedy in his own hands, he could throw up his holding; but to tell a man of 70, if not satisfied to go elsewhere, to turn out of his home, with its life-long associations, and to seek another, was little short of mockery. He would mention another fact as an illustration of another class of cases—A Scotch farmer, of high repute in his own neighbourhood, a man of wealth, whom he (Mr. Howard) had known many years, informed him toward the close of last year that he had just returned from America, where he had been to purchase farms for his sons, and that he intended to follow them in two or three years, when the lease of his own farm would expire; his main reason for having taken that course was that his rent had twice been raised upon his own improvements, and that he did not intend that his sons should be subjected to similar injustice, nor would he expose himself to a repetition of it. [Lord ELCHO: How long was the lease?] He did not know, nor was it a point, the rent had been raised upon the man's own improvements. About last Christmas he met with the following case:—A very skilful farmer—a native of Lincolnshire—a fine fellow, who had won many first prizes at ploughing matches—not, therefore, one of the kid-glove class—this man informed him that his rent had been considerably raised four or five years ago; that the agent had been very hard upon him and would not meet him in the rent, and he had therefore sold off his stock and was off to America, as he remarked, "while he had a feather to fly with." That was the very kind of man that England could ill afford to lose; and the country could much better spare the land-agent, or the squire who owned the estate. The question was, How could stability of tenure be secured without trenching on the just rights of the landlord? That he confessed was a grave question; but it was one which, as surely as he stood on the floor of that House, would have to be faced at no distant day. A noble Peer, formerly a 1742 Member of that House, had adopted a very suggestive course. Lord Tollemache, recognizing the need of stability of tenure, had settled the question in his own way. His Lordship had entered into an agreement with his Cheshire and Suffolk tenants, by which he had bound himself not to disturb them in their occupation, nor to raise their rents for the next 21 years; whilst the tenants were at liberty to leave upon giving the usual notice. In a letter he (Mr. Howard) had recently received, his Lordship informed him that the experiment had, so far, proved highly satisfactory; that he had not an acre to let, that his tenants were content; and, notwithstanding the bad times, they were draining their land faster than his kilns could supply them with tiles. This arrangement of Lord Tollemache might be said to be one-sided, but it leant to the right side, and he had no doubt it would answer his Lordship's purpose; at all events, it was something for a great landowner like Lord Tollemache to have recognized the need of stability of tenure, the principle he (Mr. Howard) was contending for. His own idea of securing stability of tenure, in the simplest and least objectionable way, was to give the tenant the right of appeal against the arbitrary exercise of an unjust power to a properly constituted County Board, or perhaps to the present Assessment Committees, enlarged by the addition of an equal number of landed proprietors. He was not sanguine enough to suppose that the proposal would be acceptable to the great body of landowners in the Kingdom; for all men naturally object to parting with power they possess. But he would point out that while such a power of appeal would beget a feeling of security in the breast of the tenant, no just or good landlord would have anything to fear from its exercise; he would rarely or never be affected by it, and if an isolated case should occur upon his estate, his interests would be perfectly safe in the hands of the tribunal he had indicated. He had ventured to lay that subject before the House, being convinced that if its adoption did not bring about a restoration of prosperity it would have the best results in the future, and this to each class interested—landlord, tenant, and labourer alike. In conclusion, he would observe that he did not share the gloomy views entertained by 1743 many as to the future of agriculture. He could not believe in the permanent depression of this great branch of our industry. England, in the past, had been visited with cycles of unpropitious seasons; and these had been succeeded by a series of genial and productive years. Our agriculturists had many things in their favour. They had the best climate in the world. ["Oh, oh!"] That might appear a startling statement; but it was true. For root growing, for corn growing, and for grass combined, no country in the world could compare with England—the greater yield per acre proved it. Then, again, they had customers ready to buy all, and more than all, that could be produced, and this for consumption at their very doors. If favoured with genial seasons in the future, which they had a right to expect—[Laughter.]—hon. Members appeared to distrust Providence. He maintained that with the return of better seasons, with all the impediments cleared away which had handicapped the British farmer in the race with his foreign competitors, he had no fear for the future of the agriculture of the country. Acting under advice, he should refrain from moving the Amendment which stood in his name.
§ MR. J. C. LAWRANCE
said, that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. James Howard) had adopted a very unusual course. He had put down an Amendment on the Paper and then run away from it. The hon. Gentleman was looked upon by some as the champion of the agricultural interest; and yet, whenever his assistance was needed, he was always found wanting. The whole gist of the various speeches which the hon. Member had made upon the subject was that the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875 was a sham, and ought to be made compulsory. The hon. Gentleman wanted, not only compensation for improvements, but stability of tenure. Well, the Lincolnshire custom had the effect of giving to farmers in Lincolnshire such compensation for improvements that the land was cultivated as highly as possible; and when a tenant desired to leave his occupation it was well known that he was paid every shilling to which he was entitled. The hon. Gentleman said that if a man dug a pond he should have a claim on account of it for ever. But the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) 1744 was desirous of having every practical improvement that might be required introduced into the Schedule. He quite agreed with the hon. Member opposite (Mr. James Howard) that allowance should be made for everything the tenant put into the land which he did not take out of it. He quite agreed with him that the manurial value of corn and malt used on the holding should be taken into account. But the great object was to arrive at some rule which would apply to lands generally. That was the system which prevailed in Lincolnshire for so many years, and which had brought the agriculture of that county to its present high condition. What did the Bill of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire propose? It proposed to extend the principles of the Lincolnshire tenure, or some tenant right, which would be equally as good for the tenant in all parts of this country; and the best thing that could be said in favour of the Bill was that not one of those cases of hardship mentioned by the hon. Member could have happened if this Bill had been in operation on those farms. The tenant would have been paid for everything he had put into the land; he could have put the money in his pocket and gone away. He did not suppose the hon. Gentleman wanted to keep a man on a farm for the term of his life, and say he should not leave it if he chose. His (Mr. Lawrance's) own experience of Lincolnshire, at present, was that tenants did not require leases. Indeed, many a man would do anything to get out of a lease. Several cases had been brought to his knowledge in which men who were ready to pay 20s. in the pound had liquidated for the purpose of being relieved from carrying out the terms of the lease, which in these times would have ruined them. That was not right; and, therefore, when they spoke of stability of tenure, they should remember that it was the very worst thing a man could have when the best thing he could do was to get out of the farm he had got. He wished that farmers would learn to take a more manly view of their position, and make their contracts with their landlords fair and provident, and such as they could carry out. Then they would not have cases brought forward as if the landlords of the country were only extortioners. If this Bill were adopted, every man, landlord and tenant, would be on an equality. The hon. 1745 Member spoke about effluxion of time; but he (Mr. Lawrance) did not understand what he meant by that.
§ MR. J. C. LAWRANCE
said, it was a claim that a man was not likely to leave sleeping very long. The great point made by the hon. Member was that capital was repelled from the land. But where there was a good system of tenant right plenty of capital was brought on the land. Had Gentlemen in the hon. Member's position, who had plenty of capital, and who both owned and farmed land, made a profit during the last few years? ["No!"] Well, they brought capital on the land, and yet they had made no profits. That showed it was not legislation which was at fault. If the hon. Member was not a wealthy man, he would be in as bad a state as the poor farmers whose little capital had been lost upon the land. The fact was, without good seasons it was impossible for anyone to farm with profit. Notwithstanding the Lincolnshire customs and the high farming that had been carried on in that county, the farmers there were in as bad a condition as they were elsewhere. It was a common thing in that county for farmers who occupied under large landowners and had a good tenant right, when they bought land, to let it again to others, in order that they themselves might continue to occupy the land they held as tenants. They seemed to indicate that, in the circumstances, they preferred to sink their capital in land which was not their own. They knew they held under a good system of tenant right, and that if they left their farms they would be fully repaid what they had put into the land; and on similar terms they could let their own land, even at a higher rent than they were giving for that they occupied. If by "stability of tenure" the hon. Member for Bedfordshire meant the right to permanent occupation he could not agree with that; but if the "stability" were limited to the tenant being recouped for all he had put into the land which was not consumed when he left, such stability was enjoyed under yearly agreements in Lincolnshire, and changes of tenants were almost unknown.
§ MR. GURDON
said, there was abundant proof of the necessity for some 1746 legislation in the direction of the Bill. In the county with which he was connected, farmers who, a few years ago, were prosperous men, possessing sufficient capital, were day by day going into the Bankruptcy Court utterly ruined. Hundreds of acres were being farmed at a loss by landlords for want of tenants, and hundreds of acres were going out of cultivation; while much of the land still held by tenants was deteriorating in quality every day. It would be a mutual benefit if the tenants had perfect security for the capital they invested in the land, and if the landlords had security that farms would be maintained in as good a condition as they were in when let. The Bill that was wanted must be both simple and comprehensive; it must be simple, in order to be quite understood by the smallest and least educated farmers, as well as by the largest yeomen; and it must be comprehensive, so that it might last for a few years without requiring to be amended. It must also be compulsory, for they knew by bitter experience, notwithstanding the good intentions with which the last measure was passed, that permissive legislation was useless. If the Government did not see their way to bring in a Bill, he would recommend that this Bill and that which stood next on the Paper should be referred to a Select Committee, which might be able to produce a measure that would be beneficial to both owners and occupiers.
§ MR. RODWELL
said, that the course pursued by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard), in unexpectedly withdrawing the Amendment which he had put on the Paper as against both that Bill and the succeeding one in the Orders of the Day, in which he (Mr. Rodwell) was interested, had placed them in some difficulty, for it was that Amendment he intended to have dealt with while opposing the Bill under notice. As the Amendment, however, had been withdrawn, and as he objected to the Bill of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), he should conclude by moving that the second reading be postponed for six months. He did so, for the simple reason that the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire had puzzled him, and his embarrassment had been increased by the hon. Member for South Lincolnshire (Mr. J. C. Lawrance). He did not understand whether they meant the Bill to be compulsory or not; and he would defy anyone to say which 1747 it was. It seemed to him that the object of the Bill was to make people volunteer—if he might use the expression—[Mr. CHAPLIN: Hear, hear!]—his hon. Friend seemed to approve of the suggestion; but he (Mr. Rodwell) would remind him that was a kind of legislation which ought not to be approved of; it ought to be either compulsory or permissive. The Bill would not enforce contracts, nor place them upon a proper footing, and he objected to it, because it did not give to the tenant that security which his hon. Friend professed to give. His hon. Friend had boasted that it had received the approval of agriculturists and Chambers of Agriculture all over the country; but from the reports of their proceedings it appeared that the reason was that it gave three different modes of securing to the tenant compensation for unexhausted improvements. The first was that afforded under the provisions of the Act of 1875; the second was that given under the scheduled system favoured in Lincolnshire; and the third was that of special contract. One of the arguments used in favour of the Bill was that the third condition was stronger than either of the other two; but that third condition was one through which you could drive not only a coach and four, but even a traction engine. Indeed, it amounted to nothing at all. It was said that a landlord and tenant might enter into a contract in writing. Suppose a landlord asked a rent of £500, which the incoming tenant could not afford to give; suppose the landlord consented to accept £450, on condition that nothing was said about unexhausted improvements, and suppose a simple memorandum were made at the time that, in consideration of this reduction of rent, no claim was to be made for unexhausted improvements, this would be a form of special contract, and it would be no advance upon the Act of 1875. If the Bill were designed to make it compulsory it entirely failed to do so. The view he took of the matter was this. There were certain portions of the Act of 1875 which ought to be made compulsory. In order to do that, a line might well be drawn between tenants' improvements and landlords' improvements, between outlay with a view to an immediate return and outlay with a view to increase the permanent letting value of the land. If those two distinct objects could be kept in mind, com- 1748 pulsory powers might well be exercised; but not with regard to improvements, which were properly improvements of the landlord. So far from the Act of 1875 having been altogether ineffectual and the total failure that it was alleged to have been, Mr. Clare Read and many other witnesses had said before the Royal Commission that it had done immense good, that it had led to great alterations in covenants, that it had opened landlords' eyes, and that it was silently and steadily doing a great deal of good. The evidence that had been given before the Royal Commission showed that tenants as well as landlords had given notices to exempt themselves from the operation of the Act; but it went further; and showed why they had done so. One was that landlords wished to make certain improvements themselves and not leave them to the tenants. Another was, that tenants had secured better terms by agreement than even the Act would give them. Another was, that many tenants did not understand the Act, and therefore preferred to be outside it until some experience had been gained of its operation. Surely it was not right to ask the House to make compulsory an Act which had been disowned by so many parties. Why should that Act, or the customs of Lincolnshire, be forced upon the whole country? The Lincolnshire custom might do very well for Lincolnshire; but he did not see why it should be equally good for the rest of the country, and he was not certain that the condition of farmers had been so very favourable even under that system, for they had lost more money than the farmers of any other part. Mr. Law said that, in the existing state of our knowledge, no simple rules applicable to various soils, seasons, crops, and manures, could be laid down for the valuation of unexhausted improvements; that any attempt to enforce them would involve injustice and lead to litigation; and that much better evidence would be required before attempting to apply a scale of allowance adapted to particular agricultural districts to the country at large. Some seemed to regard this as a landlord's and tenant's question; but the hon. Baronet the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Thomas Acland) treated it as almost entirely a question between the outgoing and incoming tenant. If they classified the improvements, making 1749 some the landlord's and some the tenant's, they would get rid of a great deal of difficulty, as the question would simply resolve itself into the incoming tenant paying the outgoing tenant the value of what was left on the farm. Without going into the Bill, he submitted that the proper way of dealing with the question would be to make tenant right compulsory as regarded improvements made by the tenant for his own purposes, and to allow the landlord and tenant to settle between them by agreement as to such buildings or improvements as might have been made either by one or the other. The purchase of these improvements by the incoming tenant was a much simpler arrangement than that proposed by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire; while, as had been pointed out, there were objections to forcing on landlords and tenants the complicated and costly machinery of arbitration. The arguments of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire were really in favour of the view of separating the interests of landlords and tenants in the way suggested; and the hon. Member's explanation of "stability of tenure" was more moderate than that which he gave amid cheers at the meeting of the Farmers' Alliance, when he spoke of the possibility of Parliament ordering, in the interests of the public, that there should be an appeal to a local authority or a local tribunal against unjust eviction or the exorbitant increase of rents. He (Mr. Rodwell) believed that the difficulties of Ireland were largely owing to the fact that, in former times, the distinction had not been maintained between what the landlord ought to do and what the tenant ought to do, and the tenants had been allowed to do what were substantially landlords' improvements. He did not want to see English landlords dragged into the same position. The best way to avoid that was to keep the landlord's improvements distinct from those of the tenant, and to let the outgoing tenant be fully compensated by the incoming one. Instead of that, the question of drainage, buildings, &c., had been introduced in the Bill of the hon. Member for Mid Lincoln, which ought to have been kept distinct. He agreed to a certain extent with the Home Rulers, for he was inclined to say that the tenants of Ireland had a case, which the English tenant had not as yet, and which, he hoped, no legislation would 1750 give them. The English Question could be best dealt with by such a Bill as that of the hon. Baronet the Member for North Devonshire, as it dealt with the rights of outgoing and incoming tenants without any prejudice to those of the landlord. For that reason, he now moved the rejection of the Bill before the House.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Rodwell.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
said, that if the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard) had moved the Resolution which he had placed upon the Notice Paper, he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) would have been very happy to have supported him, not on the ground that the Bill under notice was not a step in the right direction, but because, in his opinion, it was totally inadequate to meet the necessities of the case. He congratulated the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) and the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) on the progress of their opinions since the Agricultural Holdings Act was before the House. At that time, he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) moved a Resolution to amend that Bill, with the object of accomplishing very much what was now proposed to be done by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire and the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Thomas Acland). He proposed that the Act should come between the outgoing and the incoming tenant, and make a bargain between two parties who had not an opportunity of making a bargain for themselves. But he did not recollect that, on that occasion, he had the support of either the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire, or the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire, or the hon. Member for North Devon. They had made, in the last seven years, very decided progress in regard to compulsory legislation; and he should be surprised if, long before the lapse of other seven years, they would not be prepared to go a great deal further than the present Bill, and recognize that any measure which did not fully secure to tenant farmers compensation for the increased value of their holdings would be totally inadequate to meet the necessities of the 1751 case. He thought hon. Members had not yet realized the gravity of the crisis under which the agriculture of the country at present laboured, or the depth of the existing agricultural distress; and it was to him very distressing indeed to think of the calamities which it seemed would be necessary to educate hon. Members to what must be done. From week to week they heard of farms being abandoned, particularly in the Midland and Southern districts of England, and, if the present system continued, there was very great reason to fear that a very considerable portion of the soil of England would go altogether out of cultivation; while those who really knew what was taking place in agriculture were firmly persuaded that over a great part of the arable land of England the fertility of the soil was steadily decreasing, thus making any hope of returning prosperity more and more desperate. It seemed to him that a revolution was taking place in agriculture of no less magnitude than what took place in manufactures, when the steam-power loom superseded the old system of hand-loom weaving. The hand-loom lingered for a time, but had to succumb. Having considered this matter for many years, and knowing something of the competition which might be expected from foreign countries, he was perfectly persuaded that, under the present system of agriculture, it would be impossible for the farmers of this country to meet the competition from abroad. In these circumstances, he thought the wisest and best thing—not only in the interests of the tenant, but even more in the interests of landowners—was that they should recognize what was really indispensable to improved cultivation; and conform, as much as they possibly could, to that system of land tenure which would enable the tenants to make the most of the land, and so enable them to pay the highest rent to the landlords. So much had habit and custom blinded their perceptions as to the conditions on which farmers carried on their business, that it seemed impossible to realize the difficulties under which agriculture laboured, however often they were explained. If the House would allow him, he would endeavour to bring home to their minds the difficulties of the farmers' position by supposing that the manufacturers of 1752 this country had to carry on their business under similar conditions. No doubt, he should make a large draft upon the imagination of hon. Members; but he thought that in that way the House would be able to apprehend more clearly the difficulties of the farmer's position, and so appreciate more thoroughly the reforms which had now become absolutely necessary. Let them suppose that all the mills of this country belonged—not to the manufacturers, but to other persons; and that the number of mills was limited. The millowners would, with a growing population, be in a position to dictate to the manufacturers the conditions upon which they should hold their mills. Such being the circumstances, it might not be difficult to imagine that the millowner, like the landlord would not probably undertake to carry out improvements which might become necessary from the growth of invention and the progress of discovery, or to replace antiquated machinery with. new. If the tenant of the mill chose to carry out such improvements, he might; but they would, at the conclusion of the lease, belong to the millowner, without any payment to the tenant. Further, let them suppose that the millowner, under some idea that certain work would do injury to the machinery of the mill, restricted the tenant to manufacture only certain kinds of materials; and also, although it was almost impossible to conceive it, made stipulations as to what the manufacturer should do with the produce of the mill. These, no doubt, wore extraordinary suppositions; but they were precisely the conditions on which the farmer stood with regard to the land he occupied and endeavoured to cultivate. If the manufacturer were placed under such conditions, should they not hear of a continual depression in manufactures—of our manufacturers being undersold from abroad, and a clamour now and again for the protection of the manufactures of this country? The number of farms in this country was so strictly limited, that till within the last two or three years, when the agricultural depression bad become so intense, the landlords, or, rather, land agents, were able to dictate to the tenant farmer such conditions in respect to the cultivation of the farms as suited themselves. Covenants were imposed upon the tenants with regard to the processes of culti- 1753 vation, and the manner in which they were to dispose of the produce of the farm. It was utterly impossible for a farmer to carry on his business with success under such conditions. He knew about practical farming, and he knew, to a certain extent, about other kinds of business, and he was able to say that no other business of which he know anything was less a matter of routine than the business of farming. Every operation in which the farmer engaged was matter for careful consideration and judgment; and only when the farmer had full authority and power to exercise his judgment in the freest manner and to the best advantage could he hope to be successful. There was no doubt that in the most favourable circumstances the farmers of this country would have a very uphill fight with the foreign competition in agricultural produce; and they could only hope to succeed by having the freest hands and the most complete power to deal with the land which they cultivated in the way which to them seemed best. They must also have security that, if they invested their money in increasing the value of their holdings, they should reap the full fruits which their industry, their capital, and their skill might produce. Hon. Members opposite seemed to suppose that if a farmer occupied for a certain number of years under lease he would be indemnified for any improvements which he could make upon the holding. If the profits of farming amounted to 10 or 15 per cent per annum, it might be held that the farmer would recoup himself in 10 or 15 years—not only for the interest, but also for the capital of his expenditure. But anyone who had practical experience of farming knew that, even in the best of times, improvements made by farmers on their holdings did not return more than 4 or 5, or, at the most, 6 per cent; and 6 per cent was small enough interest for the money and the skill of the farmer. If the farmer got only fair interest, the capital would not, therefore, be paid back to him by any length of a lease. Hon. Members who thought that a farmer would be indemnified by a lease of 25 or 30 years' duration thought also that the landlord should appropriate, without any compensation, such value as a farmer might leave upon his holding; but no hon. Member had ventured to point out on what grounds of equity a landlord 1754 should be entitled to appropriate any part of the improvements effected by the tenant. In any case, he was fully persuaded that unless farmers were perfectly free to reap the full fruit of their labour, whatever that might be, it was not possible to farm on a large portion of the soil in this country and pay any rent to the landlord. It was usually supposed that compensation for exhausted improvements was the solution of this difficulty. He had devoted considerable attention to the subject, and he was quite prepared to admit that, so far as regarded a certain class of improvements, it was possible to indemnify the tenant for the unexhausted value, with some approximation to accuracy. That class of improvements was building, drainage, and other tangible improvements, which might be pointed at as separate and distinct from the landlord's estate. But the kind of improvement to which he looked forward as the hope of the future was the increased productivity of the land. Unless the farmer could increase the produce of his land, it was utterly impossible for him to hope that he would be able to meet the competition from abroad. This demanded increased fertility of the soil. Whether fortunately or unfortunately, no standard had yet been discovered for determining the degree of fertility of the soil. Only the farmer who cultivated any particular farm for a series of years could say with any approximation to accuracy what was the produce of any particular field, and, consequently, what rent it was worth. With respect to the most essential improvement, the increased fertility of the soil, there was no means of determining with any approximation to accuracy what the outgoing tenant ought to get, and what the incoming tenant ought to pay. In those circumstances it seemed to him—and the proposal was quite as much in the interest of the landlords as in the interest of the tenants—that the only hope of British agriculture was to be found in granting the tenants perpetual leases, which might, in other words, be described as fixity of tenure under certain conditions. He quite recognized that it was impossible for the State to interfere between landlord and tenant on the question of rent. That was a point to be decided between time landlords and the tenants themselves, When he spoke of perpetual 1755 leases, he contemplated that the landlord and the tenant would agree together as to what should be the rent, on the essential condition that the occupancy should be a perpetual holding by the tenant, so long as he conformed to the conditions of the lease and paid the rent agreed to between him and his landlord. He did not know how those views might approve themselves to landlords in the House; but he stated frankly that, having now considered the question of agricultural reform very carefully for 10 or 15 years, this was the only solution which appeared to give any hope to British agriculture. He thought he should carry the tenant farmers with him in saying that for such a holding they would be prepared to pay a considerably higher rent than for any other form of tenure whatever, even with such security for compensation as could be given by Act of Parliament. That, therefore, was the system of holding which would give the greatest pecuniary advantage to the landlord. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire had referred to the fact that in England a very large proportion, if not the whole, of the permanent improvements were executed by the landlords, while in Ireland they had been executed by the tenant; and he considered that difference would justify him in giving fixity of tenure in Ireland, and not on this side of the Irish Channel. He (Mr. J. W. Barclay) would say nothing as to England; but, speaking of Scotland, or, at all events, of the parts with which he was well acquainted, he had no hesitation in saying that as large an amount of permanent improvements had been effected by the tenants there at their own expense as had been effected in Ireland, and if improvements by the tenants were to give the tenant farmers in Ireland a good claim to perpetuity or fixity of tenure, the tenants in the North of Scotland had no less a claim for fixity of tenure than had the tenants in Ireland. He advocated this question in the interest of the landlords, as well as in the interest of tenants and of the public at large. The proposed tenure would bring the highest possible rent to the owner of the land. It would enable the tenant to make the most of his land, to increase the produce of the land to the largest possible extent; and, by so doing, he would not only benefit himself and his landlord, but he would 1756 benefit the public at large. If the public were interested in a large increase of the produce of the land of Great Britain, then this was the system of holding which was of the greatest interest and importance to them. It was also of importance to the labourers upon the land, because the increased capital applied in the cultivation of the soil necessarily involved a much larger demand for labour upon the soil, and compelled the farmer to offer better terms to the agricultural labourer. He was not going to enter at length on the question of peasant proprietorship. He would only say that, however well it might look as a theory, he had very great doubts whether in this country an extended system of agricultural proprietors would work well in practice. Under the system of perpetual tenure which he advocated, the cultivator of the land would possess all the advantages which he could have as a peasant proprietor, and they got clear of this difficulty—that the proprietor of a small holding of land was very apt to have an undue proportion of his capital in the fee simple of the soil; and, although it might do very well so long as the peasant proprietor was himself alive, yet, when he died, and his estate came to be divided—a small holding was a kind of subject which could not be conveniently or readily divided—the farm would have to be sold in order that the property might be divided among the children, or would have to be mortgaged—a far more expensive system than the perpetual rent system which he advocated. With a perpetual rent the farmer could more easily enter upon a holding—that is, he would not require so large a capital—mortgaging would be avoided, and the perpetual tenant would have all the freedom in cultivation and all the security in his improvements which a peasant proprietor had. The true principle was that the cultivator of the soil should have continuity of occupation on certain known fixed conditions, and he considered the practical application of the principle indispensable to improved cultivation. If the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire had not moved his Amendment, he (Mr. J. W. Barclay) should have moved an Amendment—not condemning this Bill absolutely, but declaring the remedies proposed in it were altogether inadequate to meet the necessities of the case.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he wished to say a few words with regard to the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). If he felt any difficulty in reference to that Bill, it did not arise as to its intention, but as to the machinery by which it was proposed to carry it out. The intention was to cure a defect, one which was admitted on all hands, in the Agricultural Holdings Act. When that Bill was brought in there was a great unwillingness to make it compulsory; and he did not believe that either the tenants or the landlords of the country would even yet agree that it should be made compulsory on both parties. On the other hand, those who were instrumental in passing the measure—and he, among others—did not desire or expect that a a mere notice would be sufficient to exclude the question as to the compensation a tenant was entitled to for unexhausted improvements. The object of the Bill was that such compensation should be secured to the outgoing tenant, and so far he was prepared to go; but he thought it was a mistake for his hon. Friend to have inserted in the Bill a second statutory form of compensation, the effect of which would be to confuse the legislation on the subject. It would, he thought, be better to provide that the Agricultural Holdings Act should take effect compulsorily, in default of some other bonâ fide contract between landlord and tenant for securing compensation to the tenant; and he had no doubt that with that view his hon. Friend would be willing, in Committee of the Whole House, or before a Select Committee, to agree to any arrangement which would carry out such a system of compulsory compensation as he had indicated. A draftsman could, he thought, arrange a general form of contract which would settle once and for all the question of compensation between landlord and tenant, and which could be inserted on the Committee stage of the Bill, supposing it were allowed to go so far. Having admitted the desirableness of giving compensation to the tenant for unexhausted improvements, he must say that the hon. Gentleman who spoke last (Mr. J. W. Barclay) had gone a great deal further, and said there should be compensation given for the increased value of the holding at the end of the tenancy. 1758 Now, a great deal of such increased value was, no doubt, due to good farming, of which the tenant ought to have the benefits; but it was due also to the improvements of the landlord. The increased value, also, to a certain extent, was due to the increased wealth of the country, and probably to local circumstances; and, therefore, the suggestion of the hon. Member went too far. He (Mr. Sclater-Booth) was in favour of a system of leases, and wished they were more popular with both landlords and tenants. At the same time, it seemed to him that it would be essentially unjust to the landlord, if, on the expiration of a tenancy, a landlord was not to be at liberty to obtain the best price he could for the article he had to supply. The Bill of his hon. Friend, and the Bill also of the hon. Member for North Devon (Sir Thomas Acland), went as far as he was prepared to go, and he thought they would cure the grievances of the agricultural community generally. As he had said, complicated arrangements were not desirable, and what they wanted was some simple arrangement about which there could be no dispute at the end of the tenancy; whereas a second statutory plan of compensation would tend to complicate and confuse legislation on the subject. He did not believe that, as a rule, rents had been raised against existing tenants; but, as English tenants were not so fond of remaining in one holding as the Irish were, landlords had taken advantage of the changes when they occurred. He did not think that tenants wanted perpetual leases; they liked to be free to move about, from time to time, when they had exhausted their efforts in a particular locality.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Sir, this Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) is, in many respects, an interesting Bill. It is an interesting Bill in that which it proposes, and it is, perhaps, a still more interesting Bill because of the quarter from which it proceeds. It shows, I think, a great intellectual progress on agricultural questions on the part of the authors of the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire has greatly advanced in this subject in the course of the last five or six years. I see the second name on this Bill is one well known in this House, being that of a Gentleman who has lately been acting 1759 in very close alliance with the promoters of the Land League, and who, I suppose, is willing to join with my hon. Friend in the principles which characterize that body—I mean the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen). That hon. Member, who now forms a fifth Party in this House, a Party which represents very advanced views, is the second sponsor of the measure. Now, the history of this measure is also very interesting. My hon. Friend said he had always maintained the doctrine that it was for the interest of agriculture, and for the interest of the nation, that the tenant should be encouraged, as well as the landlord, to put capital into the soil, not merely for his commercial benefit, but for the general national advantage, and that unless that were done, no tenant would really put capital into the soil, except in such a form as he might expect to enjoy during his tenure. Those are principles for which, on this side of the House, we have always contended. There was, as we are told, in 1875, a very eminent agriculturist, Mr. Pusey, who, the late Prime Minister, when introducing the Agricultural Holdings Bill of 1875, said, had during the whole of his lifetime called attention to a blot in the hierarchy of the land, which was a defect in security of this kind to the tenant; and the avowed object of the Act of 1875 was to erase that blot, and give that security to the tenant which, under the existing arrangements of this country, did not exist, and which, consequently, he did not possess. The case was the same as that of the tenure of a house at the fag-end of the lease. When the Bill was introduced, it was strongly criticized by hon. Gentlemen who then sat on the Opposition side of the House, and I took the liberty of pointing out that the measure would necessarily fail in consequence of its permissive character. I opposed the Bill, because I thought, as did others who thought with me, that it ought to be opposed, not on account of what it was likely to achieve, but on account of what it professed to aim at, and the changes to which I felt certain it must ultimately lead. We were told that all our ideas on that subject were wrong, and that such a thing as making the Bill compulsory would never be tolerated. The Bill was a permissive Bill, must be a permissive Bill, and would always be a permissive Bill. We pointed out that the clause 1760 which secured freedom of contract would inevitably result in the landowners contracting themselves out of the Act, and I think no one can say we were not false prophets in that respect. It turned out, as I said at the time, to be a piece of sham legislation. That remark was, perhaps, more terse than polite, and the author of the Bill took me to task for that phrase, and said it was only called a sham Bill by vulgar and ignorant persons. I must accept all the severity of that language; but I say that the language of vulgar and ignorant persons is now admitted by the whole of the Conservative Party. [Sir STAFFORD NORTHCOTE: No, no!] The right hon. Gentleman says No; but if the Act of 1875 was not a sham Bill, what was the necessity for this Bill? The great cardinal clause of the Act of 1875 was the clause allowing parties to contract themselves out of the Act; and it is perfectly well known that, practically speaking, the whole land in England has been contracted out of the Act. What are the circumstances which render it more necessary in 1881 to repeal the fundamental portion of the Act of 1875 than in 1879? If there is any fundamental principle at all in the present Bill, it is its non-permissive character. Nothing, therefore, can be more calculated to demonstrate that the Bill of 1875, which was permissive, was a sham measure. The great and cardinal principle of that Bill was contained in the 54th clause—Nothing in this Act shall prevent the landlord and tenant from entering into and carrying into effect any such agreement as they think fit, or shall interfere with the operation thereof.Now, I find the object of the present Bill, in the 6th clause, is to repeal the 54th clause of the Act of 1875, and cut out that sacred root of freedom of contract. I cannot understand why the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire has waited for the year 1881 to repeal that clause. Dining the period of the late Administration it is perfectly well known that, practically speaking, the whole land of England has been contracted out of the operation of the Act of 1875. Let us look at the scheme of this Bill. It professes to offer three alternatives. First, the alternative of the Act of 1875; second, the Lincolnshire custom contained in the Schedule to the Bill; and, third— 1761Tenant's compensation for improvements to be made by him on the holding shall be under the Agricultural Tenants' Compensation Act, 1881, according to the special contract following, that is to say,The two parties not satisfied with the Lincolnshire custom, under the Bill of 1875, are to draw up a scheme which is appropriate to their particular holding, and will be most beneficial to the contracting parties. I can understand that. But then the two parties, having drawn up the special contract and entered into all the details, having plighted their troth to that agreement, and it having been enforced for a certain period, by Clause 7, if the tenant can show in arbitration that the special contract doss not secure to him reasonable compensation, he may in lieu thereof claim something else. I have never been enamoured of freedom of contract; but this is not the way in which I should proceed if I were dealing with it. A more remarkable piece of machinery for defeating freedom of contract was never yet invented. It looks like the ingenious device of a person who wants to destroy freedom of contract, and does not like to say so. When I had the responsibility of introducing the Ground Game Bill, I did not proceed in that way. I made it perfectly clear that the tenant should have a right to the ground game, and that by no contract should he be allowed to evade this provision. What would the House have thought of me if, in proposing that Bill, I had said that the landlord and tenant should draw up an elaborate special contract, and that, having done so, after the lapse of any time, the tenant should turn round and say he would not be bound by that contract, but by something else entirely different? I cannot but think that such a piece of legislation as would allow a man to make a contract and then to break it, would be to throw everything into confusion, and create a great amount of doubt in the minds of all, or most, of the persons interested. I suppose, however, it is a plan which commends itself to the hon. Gentleman and his Friends who are in a process of conversion, and we cannot expect men under these circumstances to have very clear ideas on the subject. We have made up our minds long ago. We shall go directly to the point; but I am far from wishing to discourage or interfere with the hon. Member for Mid 1762 Lincolnshire in the promising attitude which he has assumed in reference to this question, and which gives an encouraging prospect of his complete conversion at no very distant date. Those who have clear views on the subject are not in the same difficulty. Having voted for the Bill of 1875, not because of the very little that it would actually achieve, but for what it involved, and also as the beginning of a new system which struck at the foundation of the ancient edifice of entail, and would clear the way for a speedy and certain reform of the laws affecting land, I shall, upon the same grounds, vote for this Bill. In the debate which arose on the Bill of 1875, the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) said he believed the measure laid down principles which would have their consequences in the future. The present Bill proves the accuracy of that prediction in that it, in my opinion, contains within it the germs of principles which may prove extremely useful in the reform of the Land Laws, which cannot be long delayed. I do not think, unless the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire still adheres to his principles, that we shall hear anything more after this Bill of freedom of contract, in the sense in which we have used the word. While under the existing law there was freedom to make contracts for the holding of land, there is here a still greater freedom to make a contract and a freedom to break it. That is a new form of freedom of contract; but I do not think that so promising an attempt in the direction of securing something to the tenant ought to be discouraged by the House. I shall certainly not follow my hon and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Rodwell) in voting against the Bill. The fact is, that I am not in the position of my hon. and learned Friend. I have not got a rival Bill in the field. The straightforward way would, undoubtedly, have been to say distinctly that the tenant should be entitled to fair compensation for what he had put into the land; but the Government, as the House is aware, are not able to deal with the Land Laws in England during the present Session, and it would ill become them to act the part of dogs in the manager. If the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire and those who sit around him, think that a measure of this kind, 1763 enabling a man to make a contract and to break it, will be of advantage to the parties which they represent, the Government offer no sort of objection to it; but, at the same time, I cannot hold out any hope to the hon. Member that his proposal will effect a permanent settlement of the question. I hope that before the end of this Parliament Her Majesty's present Advisers will be able to undertake to deal with it on more intelligible principles than are contained in the Bill of the hon. Member, and to place the whole matter on a more solid foundation than that on which it at present rests. In the meantime, if the supporters of this Bill desire that a man should have leave and licence to do what he likes with his contract, and if they desire that we should show the sympathy which we all feel for agricultural distress, which nobody can deny, then it may be a proper way to testify that feeling by reading this Bill a second time. There is, I may add, one suggestion with which I cannot agree—I do not think it would be desirable to refer it, with other measures of a like character, to a Select Committee. I think we are all capable of understanding and appreciating the principles on which it proceeds; but I have no opposition to offer to the second reading.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
, in supporting the Bill, said, he thought the right hon. and learned Gentleman had been a little hard on the Conservative Party, in twitting them, as he had done, on having changed their opinions slightly in regard to the sanctity of freedom of contract. He would, however, admit that the Conservative Members who brought the Bill forward had, in a certain degree, somewhat altered their views upon the subject since 1875. When the Act of 1875 was passing through Parliament, it was thought right for landlords and tenants to have power to contract themselves out of the Act; and he (Mr. Staveley Hill) would remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, at that period, one of the strongest supporters of the principle of freedom of contract was a noble Duke, now a prominent Member of the Administration, who thought so strongly about it that he not only spoke in defence of the principle, but disseminated his speech by means of a pamphlet throughout the country. He should like 1764 to know whether that noble Duke had likewise changed his opinions? He (Mr. Staveley Hill) himself introduced a Bill in reference to the question last Session; and as that measure was somewhat on the same lines as the present Bill, he hoped that if the measure was to be referred to a Select Committee, he would be allowed to re-introduce his Bill in order that it might be referred to the same Committee. The Agricultural Holdings Act did confer appreciable advantages upon the tenant farmer; and it was now sought to secure to the tenant all the compensation that was given to him by that Act. He could not admit that the cost of carrying out the provisions of that Act was unduly large; and as to stability of tenure, he contended that all that was wanted was, not perpetual leases, but an Act under which tenants should hold their farms without unnecessary restrictions, and with a security that on giving up their holding they should receive sufficient compensation for improvements, either from the incoming tenants, or from the landlords. For the purpose of ascertaining whether the amount of compensation was sufficient, it was desirable that he should have the option of the three systems proposed in this Bill. The last thing that English tenants wished was to be rooted to the soil, and they were also opposed to having leases.
§ MR. STORY-MASKELYNE
, who had on the Paper a Motion to refer the Bill, together with the Agricultural Holdings Act (No. 2) Bill, and two Bills relating to Distress for Rent, to a Select Committee, said, he must congratulate the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) upon the fact that he had elicited from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department the satisfactory assurance that the Government would deal with the subject. After that intimation, it would be futile for Lim (Mr. Story-Maskelyne) to persist with the Motion, of which he had given Notice, to refer this and other Bills on the same subject to a Select Committee. He considered the Bill was really a re-enactment of the Act of 1875, with the permissive clause left out, and the insertion of an alternative scheme for that of the Act, consisting of the well-known Lincolnshire custom—a custom by no means adapted to the rest of England. To his mind, that was not a satisfac- 1765 tory way of dealing with the question of compensation to the tenant for what he had put into the soil and had not taken from it. He believed the simpler the form in which the compensation was insured to the tenant the better would be the Bill which embodied it. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) proposed to reduce the landlords to a set of copyhold landlords, by compelling them to give perpetual leases to their tenants. The result of that would be to introduce between the class of landlords and the working men a class of permanent tenants, whom Parliament would ultimately have to deal with over again in a measure similar to those now before the House, because they would act exactly as proprietors did now. That proposition put itself out of court the moment it was looked at, for it would effectually check the accomplishment of the desire of the labouring class to become farmers themselves. If that proposition was eliminated from the discussion, there was a practical unanimity on all sides of the House in favour of giving the tenant such full compensation as that the landlord or the succeeding occupier should not reap advantage to the loss of the outgoing tenant on account of work or material put by him into the soil. He (Mr. Story-Maskelyne), though he felt his proposal was a reasonable one, and indeed the most advantageous way of dealing with all the Bills akin to this, withdrew from the position which he had taken up with the less regret, because, after what had fallen from his right hon. Friend, he felt that in the hands of the Government the question would be dealt with simply, shortly, and thoroughly.
§ MR. R. H. PAGET
, in supporting the Bill, said, the hon. Member in whose charge it was (Mr. Chaplin) only wished to gain the assent of the House to the principle involved, and was perfectly content, after that had been done, that it should be submitted to any process by means of which its provisions could be investigated and possibly improved. The Bill had received the support of the Central Chamber of Agriculture; and it was a great mistake to suppose that it was put forward as a remedy for agricultural distress or grievances. The reason for its introduction was simply that the Act of 1875, though very largely used, had not operated to the extent to 1766 which its promoters expected it would; and its object was to set forth clearly a just principle that ought to be included in every agreement between landlords and tenants. The provisions of the Act of 1875 were not made compulsory, because of the difficulty that was felt in setting forth within the four corners of an Act of Parliament provisions applicable to all the circumstances of the case; and that circumstance had, doubtless, prevented that statute from being brought into extensive use. But if that measure had not been directly used to any great extent, its indirect effect had been very great by causing agreements to be entered into in thousands of cases which embodied its best provisions. The object of the present measure was to give an elasticity to, and extend the operations of, that Act, so that every holding in the Kingdom might be brought within its scope. It was desired merely to render it available as an alternative for the benefit of tenants in cases where it could advantageously be resorted to; and all that was intended was to give the tenant in every case reasonable compensation, without being absolutely submitted to every detail that was in the Act. That, he maintained, was distinctly the object of the Bill. It did not want to thrust the Lincolnshire custom down the throats of everyone. If it did he should vote against it, because he did not apprehend for a moment that the Lincolnshire custom was one applicable to the whole of England. If a landlord chose to let his land worth £500 a-year for £450 a-year, and the tenant agreed to take it on condition that he should not be entitled to compensation, he could not see why any Act of Parliament should interfere to prevent two sensible men from coming to such an arrangement. He wished to see the Bill read a second time; and he was satisfied that the principle of it was one that would meet with general acceptance, though the details were open to criticism in Committee, and would require considerable amendment.
§ MR. R. W. DUFF
said, that he should not have ventured to trespass on the House, but for some remarks of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay). He must say that, as a Member for Scotland, he was surprised to hear that improvements were made by tenants in the North of Scotland quite 1767 as much as they were by tenants in Ireland, and that, therefore, they were entitled to be placed in the same position. That was a statement which must have startled some of the Representatives for the North of Scotland. He (Mr. R. W. Duff) quite admitted that there were a great many cases where tenants in the North Eastern counties of Scotland had done a great deal for their farms. They generally held their farms on 19 years' leases, and had entered into arrangements with their landlords as to those leases; and he ventured to say that drawing a comparison between the rights prevailing in the North of Scotland and the rights prevailing in Ireland was utterly misleading, as they had nothing of the character of tenant right as it was in Ireland. Such a thing was not recognized in the North of Scotland; therefore, the conclusion that the hon. Gentleman came to that they should have fixity of tenure, as they were in the same position as Irish tenants, was altogether erroneous. He ventured to say that the proposition of fixity of tenure would not grow in the opinion of the country or in the opinion of the House, and that when they came to have an extended franchise, that idea would not be so popular as the hon. Member for Forfarshire seemed to think. There were always farm servants looking forward to taking farms, and tenants who looked forward to taking larger farms, and they would not like to have a new class created occupying the relative positions that proprietors now occupied. He (Mr. R. W. Duff) did not know how to meet a statement like that of the hon. Member, except by stating what came under his own observation. The custom in Scotland, as he had said before, was to let a farm upon a 19 years' lease. Any reasonable improvements used to be made by the landlord; but he was sorry to say that that state of things no longer remained, because now, when the farm was out of lease, the practice was for the landlord to pay for certain improvements. Consequently, the landlord was very lucky if he got the old rent. Therefore, it was misleading to say that improvements were paid for by the tenant. There was a considerable difference in the tone adopted by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Hr. James Howard) and the hon. Member for Forfarshire, 1768 though they both represented the Farmers' Alliance. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire was very moderate; but the hon. Member for Forfarshire told them very distinctly what he meant, and they know what he wanted; but he (Mr. R. W. Duff) ventured to think those opinions would not be so popular as the hon. Gentleman supposed they would be. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire told them that his idea of an unobjectionable lease was that which was granted by Lord Tollemache, and that security of tenure was granted by 20 years' leases. If the hon. Member was satisfied with a 20 years' lease, why did his Colleague in the Farmers' Alliance come forward and talk of fixity of tenure? Now, a sa Scotch Member, he would not go into details of the Bill, because, as far as it went, he believed it would do good; but he did not attach much importance to it. He thought that in this manner of dealing with land they were putting the cart before the horse. That was a Bill to give compensation to agricultural tenants; but it was well known that many of the landlords were so situated that they were not in a position to give compensation; and, that being so, it would constantly occur that there would be cases, as there were now, where a tenant went to his landlord and said—"I am willing to do this and to do that, if you will give me compensation." The answer often was—"Your demand is perfectly reasonable; but, in the position I am placed by law, I cannot afford to grant compensation." If they wished to do some real good, they must begin at the other end, and apply the remedy to the landlords. Everyone could tell them that what was wanted in agriculture was more capital to apply to the soil. And where was that capital to come from? The most likely man to supply it was the landlord; but by artificial restrictions, by settlement laws, and entail, there was no possibility of his doing justice to the land. That was what he called the real grievance, and it would not be remedied by any such Bill as that. It was in the direction of freeing the land and freeing the capital that they must look for the remedy of agricultural distress. The noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) was a very great advocate for freedom of contract, and he (Mr. R. W. Duff) quite 1769 admitted that if it could be brought about by efficient laws, it was the best thing they could have; but, by the existing laws, it was perfectly impossible to have freedom of contract, because the restrictions on landlords placed them in a position in which they could not deal with the tenant on the ordinary footing of trade. He was very glad indeed to hear the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department that the Government intended to deal with this question in a large sense; and he hoped that when they did they would deal with it in a manner which would meet all the requirements of agriculture, and be worthy of the reputation of the Liberal Party.
§ SIR BALDWYN LEIGHTON
supported the second reading of the Bill, and pointed out that it had been unanimously approved of by the various Chambers of Agriculture throughout the country. But it was a great mistake to suppose that the value of agricultural land had increased in the last 20 years, as stated by the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. J. Howard). The mistake Mr. Caird fell into in making that statement was in taking the new assessments which had been put up to the proper value during those years some 20 and some 40 per cent. Agricultural land had rather decreased in value in the last 20 years. In his opinion, the two Bills on the subject might well be combined in Committee, The Bill of the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) appeared to be the most popular, and it might well be altered in Committee so as to render it a most useful measure. He should be prepared to advocate both the Bills being sent to a Select Committee; and if the present Bill were read a second time that day, it, at all events, might be sent before such a Committee. The farmers were anxious for the Bill; and he thought that in it were to be found the bases of a very satisfactory settlement of the question.
§ MR. W. FOWLER
said, he must congratulate the House upon the unanimous feeling that now prevailed upon the subject. If the Bill were passed as it stood, it would make the Act of 1875, which was now permissive, compulsory throughout the whole of England, in the absence of agreements of another kind. 1770 Had it stopped at that, he would have thought it a very reasonable measure; but he scarcely approved of some of the other provisions. However, he should not oppose it upon the second reading, as it contained an important principle he should like to see carried out; but he thought the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) had been ill-advised when he inserted the 6th clause; and in Committee he should like to see that struck out. He could not see why the tenant should not be secured in a much simpler form; but if there was no immediate prospect of the Government dealing with the whole question, he would advise the acceptance of this measure. At the same time, there were grave objections to its clauses, especially in Clause 7, because it would enable a landlord to slip out of an agreement after he had once entered into it. What was to be done in the case of the tenant of a holding on an estate held by a tenant for life? The fact was, as the hon. Member for Banff shire (Mr. R. W. Duff) had pointed out, that the question of the position of the owner of the soil lay behind the Bill. They would have to deal with that question very soon, unless they wanted to see a very great increase in agricultural distress and a perpetuation of it. As to "stability of tenure," he could not agree with the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), as his proposal for perpetual leases would be revolutionary, and he doubted if the principle would be a wholesome one. He (Mr. W. Fowler) was no advocate of revolutionary changes; but he wanted to see the land of England held by competent owners and occupiers; and when that was the case, there would be far less necessity for tinkering legislation and making such elaborate arrangements as were proposed. He was not prepared to accept the revolutionary doctrine that the landlords should be turned into mere rent-chargers. He denied that there was diversity of interest on the part of the landlord and tenant. He was afraid that our present system was breaking down in consequence of our adhering to our old-fashioned, absurd, and preposterous Law of Entail. He believed in freedom all round, and especially in freedom of contract. It was generally agreed that it was necessary to do something more 1771 for the farmer than the existing law provided. What was required was to give the tenant security; and if he left his holding, ample compensation for his improvements. There was no class of persons more to be pitied than that of embarrassed landlords. How were such persons to hold and do justice to their tenants? All that could be done was to turn all the tenants for life into tenants in fee simple. With better Land Laws, and, consequently, better cultivation of the soil, there would be no need for fixity of tenure. He (Mr. W. Fowler) knew the case of a noble Lord who was supposed to have an income of £70,000 a-year, but who Said that he had not as much to spend as when he was only a younger son. How could such a landowner do justice to his estate or his tenantry? In another case, the owner of a very large area of land was so poor, that he did not like to ask a friend to dinner. What could be more preposterous or ridiculous than laws which maintained such a state of things? He hoped the House would grapple with the question, and would also take into account the much greater and more difficult question respecting the owners of the land.
§ LORD ELCHO
said, that he had no intention of taking part in the discussion; but personal reference had been made to him, it being implied by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department that, possibly, he (Lord Elcho) had abandoned those views as to freedom of contract which he had feebly endeavoured to explain last year and at other times in that House. He had not abandoned those views, for he believed that freedom of contract was the only sound principle of legislation between full-grown men. He thought it was a sound principle that to full-grown men there should apply freedom of contract. That was a principle which had ruled in the House of Commons from time immemorial, and which ruled specially most Liberal Members up to a peculiar time. As long as the Liberal Party was prosperous and in the ascendant, they were true to their principles of freedom of contract as full-grown men. It was not until they found themselves on the shady side of opposition, when this Bill of 1875, to which they had had frequent reference, was brought in by a Conservative Govern- 1772 ment, and which did not impugn freedom of contract, for it enabled full-grown men to contract themselves out of it—it was not until then that the Liberal Party, a large portion of which sneered now at everyone who said a word for freedom of contract, turned their backs on the past, and all that had been written and spoken, whether by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) or anyone else. He was still convinced that the views advocated by all the great writers on political economy were sound, and that this sentimental rubbish on which it was now endeavoured to found legislation would in the end be proved to be foolish, and would do far more harm than benefit to any class to whom they might apply it. ["Oh, oh!"] Those hon. Gentlemen opposite who sneered at those who advocated freedom of contract were very loud themselves in denouncing any kind of interference with what touched the kind of interest with which they were themselves specially connected. As a proof of that, he would refer to the Mines legislation of last year and the legislation of last year with reference to workmen. Anything, then, that interfered with freedom of contract with the right of every man to deal freely with these matters was objectionable. He would, however, turn from that point to his hon. Friend the Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), to whom, as the "Farmer's Friend," he looked up as a great Pundit on agricultural matters. He (Lord Elcho) approved of his Motion last night; but in this matter the position of his hon. Friend was peculiar. This was the second time his hon. Friend had brought in this Bill; and let them recollect who his hon. Friend was who had brought it in. He was a Member of an Agricultural Commission, to whom had been referred this and all other cognate questions, and almost before that Commission had touched the fringe of this question, he last year rushed down in hot haste to that House and laid before it a Bill to legislate upon an important matter, specially referred to him. That, he (Lord Elcho) thought, was unique in a Member of Parliament. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Staffordshire (Mr. Staveley Hill) took the same line, and the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) also 1773 took the line of endeavouring to do away with freedom of contract, and to make legislation compulsory which, in the year 1875, they maintained ought not to be compulsory. When he (Lord Elcho) heard the arguments of these hon. and learned Gentlemen, it reminded him very much of an illustration. It was as if at cards they were playing the twos, the threes, and the fours, and the sixes, when they knew that if they tried that game, and got the farmers' vote by it, time Government, led by the real Farmer's Friend, the Secretary of State for the Home Department—the real honest Farmers' Friend—had the higher trump cards in his hand, and would not hesitate to play them. The right hon. Gentleman told them they were to have an honest Bill. Well, it would, no doubt, in one sense, be an honest Bill; but it would be the kind of honesty that would trump the hon. Members for Mid Lincolnshire, West Staffordshire, and Cambridgeshire. Whatever little Bills they might bring in, the king of trumps would come forward, and would overtrump them; and it would be, therefore, a thoroughly honest Bill to keep them, as far as farmers were concerned, in Opposition, and to keep the right hon. Gentleman himself and his Friends in power. He (Lord Elcho) had very great doubt of the wisdom of the policy of the Conservatives in tampering with this subject; because, what was the only chance of the Conservatives coming back to power? It was this. That when hon. Gentlemen opposite quarrelled among themselves upon the Church or some other matter—when the Government had plundered some interest, and, by plundering one interest, had frightened all the others—they had done that before, and they were not unlikely to do it again—the only chance for the Conservatives was that the electors of this country, who knew there was at any rate one body of men who were true to principles, and would not tamper with principles, would vote for men who took their stand upon sound and steady ground. This discussion was on that account very useful. But the debate had been useful in another respect. It was a warning. The speech of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) was a warning. He had not heard it, because when the hon. Member for Forfarshire 1774 got up, he went to lunch, and therefore he lost the speech. But the hon. Member alluded to perpetuity of leases in Scotland as a remedy. Now, that was a warning, because it showed the forces that prevail, and how far one might travel when they got on the wrong line of rails. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard) had gone in for two of the three F's. At any rate, he had given Notice of an Amendment that day, from which he had run away, but which had served its purpose. The hon. Member was not, after consultation with his Friends, going to make any definite proposal; but he had used his landlord grubber for stirring up the legislative soil with a view to planting in it the three F's, or something more, whenever the political weather appeared to have arrived for legislating in that way. Having been one of those who opposed a wrong principle in the Irish Land Bill, and seeing what the result in the case of Ireland had been, he protested against this attempt at legislation. The course he ventured to think—and the only safe and right one—the House should pursue in the interests of agriculture was not to follow a wrong line, but to hark back to a sound line, and that was to leave every full-grown man to manage his own affairs in matters of this description without interference from the State. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire was in favour of an assessment committee composed of landlords and tenants, and he proposed that that committee should prevent evictions and unjust and exorbitant rents. [Mr. JAMES HOWARD: I never made use of the words eviction or rent.] He had written them down at the time; but, of course, if the hon. Member repudiated them, he would not dwell upon the matter. However that might be, the hon. Member had certainly said he was in favour of large farms. He (Lord Elcho) believed large capital and abundant agricultural machinery were required for profitable farming; and if the hon. Gentleman wished to bring in a measure which would really benefit the agriculturists of Great Britain more than anything else, he would bring in a Bill to refer to a committee of landlords and tenants the fixing of the price of agricultural implements. Then would he say that the hon. Gentleman was not only the farmers' friend, but his dis- 1775 interested friend; but, until then, he reserved his decision. He had only further to say that no man was more interested in land than himself, and he was naturally interested in the prosperity of the tenant, and was prepared to do all he could for him, consistent with sound principle. He made no virtue of it; it was his interest, his duty, to endeavour to do so; but he maintained that it was neither by perpetuity of leases, nor by two of the three F's, nor the several Bills of private Members, nor yet the honest Bill of his right hon. and learned Friend, which was to give to A the property of B without paying for it—for that was what it meant—that they would do any good. Not one of those proposals in the last three years would have saved them from distress, as it was said they would now. Why, there was distress before the Bill of 1875; but that distress was made the means to another end, which was an endeavour to pass legislation to catch the farmers' vote at the expense of the landlords. It was not legislation that could bring agriculture round, because capital was not repelled from the land. But capital was repelled from land at the present moment because land had not paid. There was but one good remedy, and that was—not shady legislation such as they had heard suggested; it was the return of sunshine to bless the labour of the farmer.
§ SIR THOMAS ACLAND
said, an endeavour had been made by the noble Lord the Member for Haddingtonshire (Lord Elcho) to fix upon hon. Members on the Ministerial side of the House the charge of outbidding the Conservative Party. That charge did not apply to himself personally, for he had consistently maintained one course on this subject. He adhered to the principle which Mr. Pusey put before the House 30 years ago—that there were certain indispensable requirements for good farming, one of which was clean and good husbandry, and another was that a tenant should be compensated for what he had laid out upon land. Unexhausted manures were perfectly intelligible; but he wished to know what was meant by an unexhausted farm or an unexhausted dwelling? If they meant anything by those phrases, did they think 20 years long enough to exhaust the whole building of a house? He wanted to know 1776 whether it was true that a large number of farmers in England were anxious to lend their money to landlords? He believed it was not so? He accepted with great pleasure the assurance of the Government that they would deal with the subject at the earliest opportunity. He trusted that, in doing so, they would take the matter up seriously; and it was his opinion that whatever legislation might be adopted on this subject, it should be of a compulsory and not a permissive character. It was important, in the present state of farming, that little farmers as well as big farmers should be perfectly certain that if they farmed well up to the end of their holdings they would not leave unexhausted manures in the land without compensation.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he had to find fault with the hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard) that he had not stood by his Amendment as he had promised to do, so that, after all, it came to nothing but a flash in the pan. His noble Friend (Lord Elcho) had complained of the course he (Mr. Chaplin) had taken, and said that his position in reference to the subject was unique. He was a Member of a Royal Commission, and his noble Friend said it was unheard of that any Gentleman on a Royal Commission should venture to introduce to the notice of Parliament a Bill relating to the subject-matter of that Commission. But his noble Friend was mistaken. Another Member of a Royal Commission had introduced a Bill relating to the subject-matter of the Commission of which he was a Member; that Bill had not only been read a second time, but had passed through Committee, and he was not sure whether it had not passed into law. He denied altogether both that allegation of his noble Friend and the further one that he (Mr. Chaplin) was making a bid for the farmer's vote. The Bill was based on the principle of justice to the tenant farmer, and on that principle alone, on that sound Conservative principle in the highest sense of the word. If that was not a Conservative policy he did not know what was; but the fact was that the words "free contract" had the same effect upon the noble Lord that a red flag had upon a bull. The Bill in no way interfered with that principle beyond depriving the landlords of the power of depriving their 1777 tenants of that which really belonged to them, which he was sure the noble Lord would rather cut off his right hand than do; but its object was to make the Act of 1875 a reality. That was the sole interference with freedom of contract which the Bill proposed. He was most anxious to see a return of prosperity to agriculture; but he never supposed for a moment that that could be secured by the Bill. Agricultural prosperity did not depend upon legislation. It was useless to look for the causes of agriculture depression, and equally useless to look for their remedy in a change of the Land Laws, which experience had shown them to be compatible with the highest possible degree of agricultural prosperity. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department wanted to know why he (Mr. Chaplin) had changed his opinions in respect to compulsion, and his answer to that was that he had not done so, but, on the contrary, he had been consistent throughout. Indeed, he had always advocated legislation on this subject being placed on a compulsory footing as far as possible, and since 1875 he had gained considerable additional information on the question, which had led him, it might be to some extent, to modify his views on the subject of freedom of contract. It had been said that until there was security of capital and of tenure there would be no amelioration in the condition of agriculture. That was what his Bill intended to effect, and what in his humble opinion it would effect, and he had not heard anything from the hon. Member for Bedfordshire or any other hon. Member which showed that the Bill would not produce that effect. The custom which the Bill proposed to extend prevailed, not only throughout Lincolnshire, but in parts of Yorkshire, in the whole of Nottinghamshire, and, he believed, in Derbyshire and other counties. A great many of the objections urged against this Bill had been on small matters of detail which could be thoroughly discussed in Committee; and he believed that if the House would agree to the second reading they would do much to remove causes of discontent and misunderstanding, not without some justice, among farmers in connection with the Act of 1875, and which it was the object of the Bill honestly to remove.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that no one on that (the Opposition) side of the House had thanked the Government for consenting to this stage of the Bill. As one who had long taken an interest in the subject, he begged to express his thanks to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir William Harcourt), without whose consent the second reading of the Bill could not have passed. He perfectly concurred in the objection, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman very ably stated, with respect to the 7th clause of the Bill; but that clause could be easily amended or expunged in Committee. It was highly satisfactory that the Members of the Government did not entertain the somewhat revolutionary views with respect to the ownership of land, which, borrowing their opinions from the Irish Land League, he (Mr. Newdegate) supposed, some hon. Members sitting on the Ministerial side of the House had expressed. They spoke as if the English and Scotch landowners were possessed of their estates by some illegitimate means, and, failing to recognize the difference between the position of the English and the Scotch, as distinguished from the Irish landowners, seemed to credit the English and Scotch tenants with the whole of the improvements, whether in buildings or in other respects, which had been made for the purposes of agriculture in Great Britain, ignoring the millions which had been expended by the English and Scotch landowners in the improvement of their property. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire (Mr. James Howard) had cited the authority of Mr. Caird in showing the increase of rental, which had during a considerable period, extending over years, appeared in the Returns of rental; but neither the hon. Member nor Mr. Caird appeared to make any allowance for the fact that that increase of rental represented the increase of capital applied by the landlords to the improvement of their estates. [Mr. JAMES HOWARD: No, no!] At all events, Mr. Caird, whom the hon. Member quoted, had never adduced or attempted any estimate of the capital invested by the landlords. He (Mr. Newdegate) asserted, without fear of contradiction, that by far the greater part of the increase of the rental represented the investment of capital by the 1779 British landlords. It had been admitted in that debate that there were two capitals employed in the promotion of British agriculture—the capital of the tenant employed in actual cultivation, and the capital of the landlord employed in preparation for that cultivation. Had it not been for the increase and extension of the capital which he (Mr. Newdegate) had last mentioned to the actual cultivation of the land, British agriculture must have receded further than it had during the depression of the last three or four years. He, himself, was occupying at that present moment a considerable portion of his estate, and many landlords in other parts of the county he represented were, under existing circumstances, owing to the failure of their tenants, actually cultivating larger proportions of their estates than he was. Those who admitted that the maintenance of British agriculture was of national importance—and he alluded to hon. Members opposite, who seemed to entertain the revolutionary idea of the confiscation of the landlords' property—with a strange, inconsistency appeared willing, like the hon. Member for the borough of Cambridge (Mr. W. Fowler), to confiscate the very capital upon the application of which the maintenance of English agriculture at present depended. The hon. Member for the borough of Cambridge dilated upon the encumbered condition of many landowners, and taunted them with being unable to assist their tenants, forgetting that when a landlord could not apply fresh capital, the tenants might be compensated by the abandonment of rent for a more or less extended period. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. John Bright) had moved for a Return showing the comparatively small number of persons in Great Britain who were nominally landowners; but that Return was fallacious if taken to represent the number of persons actually interested in the ownership of land, for it was not merely the landlord and his family who were interested in the ownership of land and the maintenance of English agriculture. There were other encumbrances other than the family landowners. There was the great body of mortgagees; the mortgagee never appeared in the Return, to which he (Mr. Newdegate) alluded, as at all concerned with the maintenance of the cultivation of the estate, in which, 1780 nevertheless, his capital was directly invested; and upon the proceeds of that estate he was as directly dependent for the interest of his capital as was the landlord for his rent, and yet the mortgagee never appeared in the Return moved for by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham as at all concerned in the ownership of the estate. He was, however, directly interested in the cultivation of the estate which furnished security for his capital. If taken as representing the number of persons actually interested in the ownership of landed property and the maintenance of British agriculture, that Return was utterly fallacious; the number of persons directly interested in the ownership of land in Great Britain, and therefore in the maintenance of its agriculture, was at least four or five times larger than the number of landowners given in that Return. That was a circumstance which ought not to be overlooked by those who acknowledged that the maintenance of British agriculture was of national importance; and it was scarcely possible to exaggerate the enormous national importance of maintaining British agriculture to the greatest possible extent in the event of war. It was now 33 years since he (Mr. Newdegate) moved and carried in that House the appointment of the Committee on Agricultural Customs, including the subject of compensation to tenants, the subject-matter of the Bill now before the House. He also moved his late Friend, Mr. Pusey, into time Chair of that Committee. The investigation of that Committee had been so complete, that no subsequent Committee on the same subject had been appointed; but the evidence taken before that Committee, and the Report of that Committee had been reprinted. Mr. Pusey's views on the compensation to the tenants had been at first, in his (Mr. Newdegate's) opinion, exaggerated; but he could assure the hon. Baronet the Member for North Devonshire (Sir Thomas Acland) that Mr. Pusey's opinions had been greatly modified before he died, and that latterly there was no great difference between the late Mr. Pusey's opinions and those he himself entertained. The substance of the Report of that Committee was embodied in the Bill of the hon. Gentleman for Mid Lincolnshire. He (Mr. Newdegate) therefore claimed, in favour 1781 of the principle of that Bill, that it was the result of matured experience and research of the House itself. He trusted that the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell) would not press his Amendment against the Bill to a division, for he (Mr. Newdegate) was sure the hon. and learned Member must be conscious that no unnecessary differences should appear among those who were working in a common cause for the maintenance of British agriculture.
§ MR. DUCKHAM
said, he could not concur in the views expressed by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), which might be good for a new country. What was required for England was that they should have security for the capital invested in the proper cultivation of the land. He supported the Bill; and while objecting to some of its details, regretted that the Government had not agreed to allow it, and also the second Bill on the same subject which stood on the Paper, to be considered by a Select Committee. That would have been a proper course for the Government to have taken.
§ MR. MORGAN LLOYD
said, he did not object to the two Bills being considered in a Select Committee; but he hoped, if the second reading were now carried, the Government would carry the principles of the Bill much further than the promoters contemplated. The whole subject of land tenure should be dealt with in the interest of the public, and land should be freed from the fetters which prevented the best arrangements being made for its proper cultivation, and the development of its latent capabilities, in the interest of the community at large.
§ MR. RODWELL
said, that after the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department (Sir William Harcourt) that he would offer no opposition on the part of the Government to the Bill in which he (Mr. Rodwell) was interested, he begged leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.