HC Deb 25 May 1881 vol 261 cc1270-7

(Mr. James Stewart, Dr. Cameron, MR. Patrick, Mr. Fraser Mackintosh.)


Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said: I do not think it will be necessary for me to occupy the time of the House at any great length. The main object of the Bill is to remove the inconvenience which the people of Scotland, and especially the working classes, have experienced in consequence of the diversity which exists throughout the country in the date of entry and removal from dwelling-houses. I may explain to the House that in Scotland the vast majority of leases date from Whitsunday to Whitsunday. At the time of the Reformation, and for some time after, Whitsunday was a movable date, as it still is in England and in many other places; but, in the year 1690, the Scottish Parliament, by their Act, chap. 39, and also by a subsequent Act in 1693, changed the date into a fixed one, and constituted the 15th of May as the legal Whitsunday term, both for payment of rents and for removal from land and heritages. Towards the end of the 16th century attention was directed to the fact that an error existed in the computation of time, so that about that period the calendar was found to be no less than 11 days behind the true time. The Roman Pontiff of the day gave an order in 1580 desiring that the calendar should be changed, so as to remedy this error. That change was adopted by most countries in Europe; but it was not till 1750 that the British Parliament adopted the change by an Act of Geo. II. c. 24, and, consequently, what was called the new style, as opposed to the old style, became a legal and established practice. When this Act became law, it followed that the tenant in Scotland who had entered upon his lease upon the 15th of May, according to the old style, would have been required, according to the new style, to vacate his premises 11 days before his full year's occupancy had expired. But the equity of the case seems to have established the practice by which, although the legal term for the payment of rent continued to be universally accepted as the 15th of May, the term for removal from lands and heritages, in the greater part of Scotland, was accepted as the 26th of May. I think, perhaps there are two causes which may have tended to perpetuate this custom. The one is the inconvenience which both landlord and tenant must have experienced in collecting rents on the same date as, and amidst the confusion and bustle of, the removal. The other cause, I think, may be this—that the interval of 11 days, which would elapse between the 15th of May and the 26th, enabled the landlord, in case rent was not paid, to take legal proceedings under the Law or Hypothee. Had this custom been universal throughout Scotland, there would have been no call for legislation now. But the custom varies in numerous instances throughout the country, and the cause of that variance I am unable to explain. While time term for the payment of rent is accepted universally as the 15th of May, in Edinburgh, for instance, the removal term is the 25th of May; in Glasgow, and throughout the county of Lanark, it is the 28th of May; in the county of Aberdeen it is the 26th of May; and in the town of Aberdeen itself it is the 4th of June. It is manifest that this diversity must occasion immense inconvenience and annoyance to the working classes, and to tradesmen, Who, from the vicissitudes of trade, or from other cause, find it their interest to remove from one district to another. Take, for instance, the case of a working man and his family living in Dumbarton, who find it desirable to remove either to Glasgow or to Greenock, neither of which is more, I think, than eight miles distant. He is obliged to leave his domicile in Dumbarton on the 15th of May, and he does not find his house in Glasgow ready to receive him till the 28th of May, or, in the case of Greenock, till the 26th of May. In the interval he is obliged not only to provide lodging for himself and his family, but also storage for his goods and chattels, at great trouble and expense, and in a manner which must subject him, I think, to grievous annoyance. The object of the Bill is to remedy this evil. The main portion of the Bill is contained in the 3rd clause, which provides that, in the absence of an express stipulation to the contrary, entry to and removal from lands and heritages throughout Scotland should take place at a uniform date. The clause does not apply to existing leases; and although it is not compulsory in its action, still the advantage to both landlord and tenant is so obvious that I have great hopes, if the House passes this Bill into law, that the stipulations of the clause will be readily and universally accepted by both landlords and tenants. By the clause the date of removal is proposed to be the 28th of May, and I have taken that date as being the one which, in my judgment, will cause least disturbance and inconvenience to those portions of the country which have a different date for their removal term. I find that in the county of Lanark, which has the 28th of May as its removal term at present, comprising, as it does, the large population of Glasgow, there is a population of not less than the quarter of the whole of Scotland; and I find also that the few counties in Scotland—I think only eight out of the 32—which have adopted the 15th of May as the removal term comprises a great deal less than a fourth of the population of Scotland; and therefore the remainder, who have adopted the 26th of May, it seems to me will not be put to any great or insufferable inconvenience by the change from the 26th to the 28th of May. For that reason, I have put into the clause the 28th of May as the least inconvenient for the class of people interested. While the great majority of leases, as I have said, begin and terminate at the term of Whitsunday, the, practice of letting for quarterly terms is becoming In Scotland day by day more common. Recognizing this fact, the clause provides that entry to and removal from houses let for quarterly terms shall also be uniform, and I propose that that should be on the same day of each of the months in which the Scottish quarterly terms occur. The 4th clause defines the exact dates at which quarterly payments of rent should fall due; and the reason why I have thought it advisable to have a statutory definition of this is, that disputes seem to have arisen in various parts of the country as to the exact and proper terms of quarterly payments. The 5th clause deals with notice of removal in case of short leases. There being no express law in regard to this, the consequence is that in cases of dispute the Court has decided according to the view which the particular Judge may take—and these decisions have often been at variance one with another—an unsatisfactory state of things, which it is proposed to correct by making the notice of removal a statutory enactment. The 6th clause alters the mode in which these notices may be given. Hitherto the law has required that they should be served by an old-fashioned and cumbrous process—namely, posting the notice upon the door of the parish church. It is proposed that this troublesome and often expensive process should be dispensed with, and that, in future, a simple notice through the post by registered letter, addressed to the party entitled to receive the notice, should be held sufficient. These are the provisions of the Bill, which I feel convinced, from what I know of the feeling of the people of Scotland in the working districts, will, if passed into law, prove a great convenience in regard to their arrangements for accommodation and removal from their houses and dwellings. I trust that the House will agree to the second reading of the Bill, and I beg to move accordingly.

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


While, Sir, it has been brought to my notice that some of the countrymen of my hon. Friend and myself have complained that a sufficient share of the time of Parliament has not been given to the Business of Scotland, I think I may congratulate the Scotch Representatives on their good fortune in having obtained the first place in the Orders of the Day on two succeeding Wednesdays for the discussion of Bills relating to that country. The fortune of the ballot-box has brought up as the First Order of to-day a Bill of not very great importance, but representing a useful minor improvement in the law. I am sure that if it had been in the power of my hon. Friend, he would gladly have allowed the precedence which has been accorded to him by lot to have been given to some more im- portant Bill; and I hope it will be understood out-of-doors that the Rules of the House do not admit of the consideration of the relative importance of the questions in determining the priority given to a particular measure of legislation introduced by private Members of Parliament. I hope I may, in connection with this subject, and without transgressing the Rules of Debate, deviate for one instant from the subject to say, with regard to those Scotch questions which have been tabled by the Government, although the exigencies of more important Business have prevented much progress from having been made with them up to this time, it is the full intention of Her Majesty's Government, before the end of the Session, to make progress with these measures, and do the utmost in their power to carry them. Now, with regard to this measure, I fully concur with what has been said by the hon. Member for Greenock as to the inconvenience which has resulted from the circumstance that, while the terms for payment of rent are uniform throughout Scotland, yet the term of removal from lands and houses varies in different localities. With regard to agricultural subjects, this variation may be of no great consequence, but in the case of houses a real inconvenience results to the poorer classes of persons, who migrate in search of work from one town to another, and who find that, after being dispossessed from their residences in one town, they are unable, without waiting for a considerable interval, to get possession of the house they are to occupy in their next place of resort. The Bill of my hon. Friend proceeds on the principle of adopting as the term of removal a day intermediate between the extreme limits which prevail in different parts of the country; and the only criticism which I will venture to make upon it is, that I think it would have been better if the Bill, instead of fixing the 28th of the month in each quarter, had fixed a day representing an equal interval of time subsequent to the legal term for payment of rent. For example, as the Bill stands, there is an interval of 13 days between the term for payment of rent at Whitsunday and the term of removal, while there is an interval of 17 days between the legal term of Martinmas and the term of removal. It will be for the consideration of the House in Committee whether it would not be better to provide that an interval of 14 days or 15 days should not elapse between the terms of payment and removal at each quarterly period with reference to which contracts of tenancy are entered into. I venture to think that this measure may be recommended to the favourable consideration of the House as an improvement in legislation of the same character as those laws by which the various local weights and measures, and other denominations of quantity have been abolished, and a uniform system introduced for the United Kingdom. It is for the convenience of the country generally that matters which are determined by practice throughout the country should be determined as far as possible by uniformity. It is of very little consequence what the date of quarter day is, provided there is uniformity, so that parties who go from one part of the country to another shall not be embarrassed by finding a different form of practice prevailing from what they have been accustomed to. With regard to the 6th clause, I am aware that the present mode of serving notices of removal is antiquated and ineffective; and as the form of serving notices by registered letter has been extensively introduced in many recent Statutes improving legal procedure, I have no doubt it should be accepted in this class of cases. I shall not occupy the time of the House further upon this Bill. Considering that the whole of the preceding Wednesday's Sitting was devoted to a discussion regarding a very interesting subject of Scotch legislation, I think I express the feeling of my Friends from the North, as well as my own, when I say that we do not desire to interpose between the House and the discussion of several important questions relating to the laws, and legislation of England, down in the Order Book in immediate succession to this Bill. I am very glad to be able to give my support to the measure of my hon. Friend, and I shall not further detain the House.


said, he quite admitted that great inconvenience was felt in Scotland by the difference in the dates for entry into and removal from houses; but he objected altogether to the way in which the change was proposed to be carried out by the Bill be- fore the House. He thought that Whitsunday and Martinmas should be what they really were—the 15th of May and the 11th of November. Instead of the proposals of the Bill, it would be better that there should be one uniform date in Scotland for entry and removal, and that should be the date on which rents and interest on money were uniformly paid throughout the whole of the country. He could not see why there should be any difference in the date. The hon. Member for Greenock (Mr. James Stewart) said it was inconvenient in the bustle of removal to pay rent; but they had the experience of some important counties in Scotland where Whitsunday was the date of removal as well as the date of payment of rent. This was the case in Lanarkshire and Dumbartonshire, where the custom had existed for a very long time, and no inconvenience was felt. The only inconvenience that was felt was when a person removed to Glasgow or to Greenock. He would not oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he would, in Committee, move that the dates 15th May, and 11th November, and 22nd February, and 2nd August, should remain as at present.


said, he was of opinion that the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Orr-Ewing) had put his finger on the weak point of the Bill. They had four legal terms in Scotland, the 11th of November, the 15th of May, the 2nd of February, and the 1st of August; and here they were going to have a legal term on the 28th May, 28th November, and 28th February, and so on. Now, the whole course of legislation in Scotland had been to do away with those customary term dates. For instance, if a bargain was made on a particular day, say Whitsunday, it was held to be the 15th May, though one of the parties might have supposed it was the 26th of May, or what was called the old term; and if it were concluded on Martinmas, it was intended to mean the 11th and not the 22nd November. But here the Bill proposed a new term, which would cause great confusion. The reason for the existence of two dates at term time was the Law of Hypothec. House factors and landlords made their rents payable on the earlier dates, so that if the rents were not forthcoming they might seize the furniture before the day of removal. The Law of Hypothec had been abolished as regarded agricultural subjects, and he did not see how it should exist any longer as regarded house property in Scotland. The sooner it was done away with the better, and then all parties would be left to make their agreements as they thought proper. If they wanted to make sure of their rents, let them arrange to collect them a fortnight or so before the term of removal. He was not going to oppose the second reading of the Bill; but he would prefer that there should be no new creation of a new legal term in Scotland. Let them have uniformity and simplicity in their legislation.


in reply, said, it seemed to him as if the speech of the hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Orr-Ewing) sounded very much as if it were to this effect—"Let things remain exactly as they are in Dumbartonshire, no matter what may be the inconvenience with regard to Scotland in general." What the hon. Member suggested would, no doubt, exactly suit what at present existed in Dumbartonshire; but it was the desirability of making the change with as little inconvenience as possible to the population generally, that had led him to adopt the 28th of May as the most convenient term for removal. As to the remarks of the hon. Member for Linlithgowshire (Mr. M'Lagan) that the Bill would increase the number of terms, he begged to inform him that that was quite a mistake, because by this Bill the terms were absolutely decreased by no less than four in the course of the year. There were no fewer than five removal terms in Scotland existing, and they proposed to reduce that number to one uniform term.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.