HC Deb 06 June 1882 vol 270 cc349-58

Order for Committee read.


said, he wished to move that the Order for going into Committee on this Bill be discharged.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Order for going into Committee be discharged, and that the Bill be committed to a Select Committee."— (Sir R. Assheton Cross.)


said, he proposed to leave out all the words after the word "discharged" in the Motion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire, his proposal being virtually one for the rejection of the Bill. He (Mr. Arthur Arnold) would be very greatly embarrassed, no doubt, if he were putting his opinion on any matter of law against that of the right hon. Gentleman, or of the noble and learned Lord (Earl Cairns), who was the author of the Bill. But the opposition which he offered to the measure was not inconsistent with a great admiration for the masterly skill which had been displayed in its framing, and the power the noble Author of the Bill had shown in dealing with that "tortuous and ungodly jumble," the English law with regard to real property. In the clauses of the Bill there was not a tittle of amendment of the Law of Settlement in regard to land in this country. If it were reasonable to think, as he confessed he had always hoped, that great learning was combined with a strong desire for the welfare and improvement of mankind, what must be the pain with which such a distinguished lawyer as Lord Cairns framed a measure of this sort, in which he made not the slightest effort to reform abuses which, for many years, had been cried out against. In 1859, Lord Cairns, in this House, had spoken against the law as to transfer of land in language quite as strong as he (Mr. Arthur Arnold) could himself have desired to use. And when the late Government were in the waning months of their power, it was proposed to bring in this amongst other Bills. In the last year of Office of Lord Beaconsfield's Government, the Bill now before the House was brought in by them, with a great flourish of trumpets. To put the matter shortly, his objection to the Bill was four-fold. He objected to it—First, because it was not compatible with any comprehensive measure for Land Law Reform, and could not possibly form a part of any effective dealing with the laws relating to the transfer of land, or the law relating to the settlement of land. Secondly, he objected to it, because it came to this House from another House—


said, he rose to a point of Order. He wished to ask whether it was competent for the hon. Member, at this stage, to enter into an argument against the Bill after half-past 12 o'clock?


I consider that the Rule with regard to opposed Business does not apply in this particular case, because the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill does not propose to advance it, and, hereafter, the Question that the Speaker do leave the Chair will be put from the Chair in the usual manner. The hon. Member (Mr. Arthur Arnold) proposes to leave out all the words after the word "discharged." I must point out to the House that the Motion before the House consists of two parts. First of all, the House will have to determine the Question whether the Order of the Day shall be discharged; and I presume that the hon. Member would have no objection to that proposition. Then, the second Question put would be "That the Bill be referred to a Select Committee," and on that Question the hon. Member would be in Order in voting the negative. If the hon. Member will allow me, I will first put the Question which refers to the Committee being discharged.

Question, "That the Order for going into Committee be discharged," put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee."—(Sir R. Assheton Cross.)


said, he thanked Mr. Speaker for putting him in Order. He would now propose that they should reject the Motion for referring the Bill to a Select Committee. The second reason why he wished to see the measure thrown out was because it had been sent down to this House from another House, which was composed mainly of tenants for life, for whose benefit, together with other tenants for life, the measure had been composed and devised. The House of Lords told them distinctly that they did not think that settled land required legislation of a more extensive character. He objected, in the third place, to this measure, because, whereas the great need of the country was the liberation of the land, this Bill would certainly provoke a further settlement of landed estates, and would, it was absolutely certain, largely increase the area of land under settlement in this country. And, fourthly —and he was sorry to interrupt the conversation of hon. Members opposite—he objected to the Bill, because Her Majesty's Government were pledged to introduce a measure dealing in a comprehensive manner with this subject. The present Parliament, he held, was specially charged by the people of this country to deal with the question of Land Law Reform—some said to restrict the practice of settlement—


The hon. Member appears to be discussing the Bill in detail, although the question before the House is simply that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee. I must point out to the hon. Member that upon a question of this character he is not entitled to discuss the Bill as a whole.


said, he should be careful to confine himself to the matter before the House. Why he thought the measure should not be referred to a Select Committee was because ho believed it would promote the settlement of land, and because the House of Lords told them, by the voice of Lord Cairns, that this was the full measure of their views as to the legislation that was required on the subject. As to his third objection, the area of settled land in the country was now estimated at 50,000,000 acres—


said, he rose to Order. The hon. Member was now going into the question of the area of land.


said, the effect of this Bill would be to increase the area of land under settlement. He would only refer to the opinion of a very distinguished authority on this Bill, which would certainly be very much in point, and which, he thought, would decide many hon. Members with regard to it. Sir James Caird said that, under Lord Cairns' Bill, a limited owner would have power to sell—first, in order to pay off debt; and, secondly, to raise money for improvements—


I must point out to the hon. Member that he is not in Order in going into these subjects. On the Question to go into Committee on the Bill, or on the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, the hon. Member would be in Order; but he is not in Order in going into these matters on the Question that this Bill be referred to a Select Committee.


, resuming, said, then he would only say that he objected to the measure, because this Bill could form no part whatever of any comprehensive measure for dealing with the subject with which it professed to deal, because it would tend to increase the area of settled land and hinder the progress of reform by producing some satisfaction among the limited and powerful class of tenants for life; because it tended to confirm and perpetuate the public evil of settlement. He asked the House to reject the proposal for a Select Committee, joining with himself in the hope that Her Majesty's Government would, at the earliest possible date, engage themselves in a comprehensive measure for dealing with the whole of this important subject.


said, he did not wish at that hour to occupy the attention of the House, and having before him the ruling of the Chair, ho would not go into details. So far as he had authority to express the views of the Government, they were disposed to give the Bill their careful support, and the best way of giving it consideration was by means of a Select Committee. He could not refrain from saying that they ought to be generous in their way of dealing with the Bill, seeing that it proceeded from those who were the political opponents of the Government, and they could not deal with it in any narrow spirit, accepting the high authority from whom it had emanated. With reference to what had been said, he would only say that he did not endorse the view that they ought to accept no reform unless it was an entire and complete reform. He thought, in the first place, that it would be more prudent if they travelled by degrees, instead of attempting to do that which would shock the feelings of many, by a measure which should be more comprehensive. He thought the step proposed to be taken, to give to tenants for life, and limited owners, power to sell an estate, and so free it from encumbrances, or from being held by persons who could not do justice to the land, was a substantial reform. The step was the more important, and should be gladly accepted as an acknowledgment from those from whom, in the first instance, it would not have been expected to proceed, that they were willing to make great concessions. He felt that on these matters of detail the Bill would be best dealt with by a Select Committee, especially as, he hoped, that Committee would be composed of Members having special knowledge and experience of matters relating to real property. He hoped the Bill would come out of that Committee in a shape that would effect a substantial reform, and as a measure which any sincere reformer would sacrifice personal opinions to obtain.


said, as he had a Motion on the Paper for referring the Bill to a Select Committee, he could only express his gratification that the right hon. Gentleman had been good enough to accede to that course, or, perhaps, he had no right to suppose that he had any influence with the right hon. Gentleman; but he was glad the proposal for a Committee had his support. For himself, he gave a general support to the Bill, and, disagreeing with the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold), believed it to be a step in the right direction; that it was a measure which, if passed, would give considerable relief to landowners; and, more than that, it would remove several of the more prominent objections rightly made to the system of settlement in this country. It was a Bill that ought to have general support; but, at the same time, it was a Bill as to the details of which most careful consideration was required, because everbody who had taken part in the administration of the Law of Settlement, and had particular acquaintance with a Bill of this character, knew that these details needed to be carefully tested by those acquainted with the workings of these things. It was for this reason, and out of no spirit of hostility to the Bill, he had put down his Motion for a Select Committee. Having said thus much, he would only say that, in supporting the Bill. he considered himself perfectly free, when the hon. Member for Salford, or any other Member, or any Government brought in a measure dealing with the law relating to the settlement of real estate in a comprehensive spirit, or even partially—he considered himself perfectly free to support any measure of the kind. In supporting the present Bill, he did not consider that he or any Member prejudiced himself from dealing with the subject in a larger way. But he felt quite sure of this, that anybody who had tried his hand at legislation of what the hon. Member for Salford called a "more comprehensive character," had felt the extreme difficulty of the undertaking. This he would venture to say, for he had himself tried his hand at it, and had drafted Bills for the purpose, and he had always found the extreme difficulty in his way of in any way abolishing or limiting the power of settling real estate, unless, at the same time, you abolish or limit to the same extent the power of settling personal estate; and, so far as he could judge, he did not think public opinion would sanction or support any measure by which persons would be prevented from making provision for their wives or families on marriage or by will. In that being so was the extreme difficulty; and any conveyancer or lawyer would be able to defeat the best-drawn scheme by charging the real estate, with a sum of money, and settling it, or by vesting the real estates in trustees for sale. But he did not consider that because he was an advocate of a more drastic way of dealing with the subject he was precluded from giving his support to this Bill.


said, as the Bill was applicable to Scotland, he hoped that Scotland would be represented on the Committee by Members from both sides of the House. Care was always taken to include Irish Members on every Committee, but Scotland was as often neglected; he, therefore, felt it his duty to say that he should oppose the nomination of any Committee that did not contain a proper proportion of Scotch Members.


said, he must dissent from the views expressed by the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold). The Bill was a very wise and a very safe step in the direction of Land Law Reform, and he was surprised that the House of Lords had passed so sweeping a measure as this was, with respect to the power it proposed to give to tenants for life of settled estates. Though the Bill did not go to the extreme in altering the Law of Settlement, it went, as the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch said, as far as public opinion was prepared to go. When the Bill had gone through the ordeal of a Select Committee, he hoped it might emerge in such a shape that it would pass this Session, and be one of the greatest improvements in the law on the subject that the country had obtained for many years.


said, he hoped the Bill would be sent to a Select Committee, and only wished to add to what had been said by the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch that he was anxious to have a discussion as to the propriety of extending the Bill to the property of intestates. On this subject he had introduced a Bill last Session, but it was blocked, and he had been unable to obtain a discussion, and with the same object he had placed a Notice on the Paper that the Committee be instructed that they have power to extend the Bill to the disposal of land not devised by will, or included in a settlement; and he hoped that if he did not move this Motion to-night another opportunity would be given of raising the question.


said, he was glad to have the views of the Attorney General on this matter. He was not going to say that this was the only reform that could be made, far from it; but he was quite sure that it was a substantial reform, and that it was actually wanted. It would be unwise to object to the passing of a Bill of this kind, because it failed to remedy all the defects in the law on the subject, for it did remove a great many of those blots so often charged against it by owners of land. No doubt the Bill would meet a great many of the difficulties which had to be dealt with, for it would enable the limited owner to act much as the real owner would for the benefit of the estate. The hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill objected that it did not form a settlement of the question; but it was largely so, and he could not help thinking that when the Bill came into the Committee, of which he hoped the hon. Gentleman would be a Member, it would be found that the reform was a very great one, and ought to be accepted. He agreed with many of the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Christchurch (Mr. H. Davey), as well as those from the Attorney General, and he was quite sure that the Bill would not only enable holders of land who were limited owners to do all that owners in fee ought to do, but it would have this practical effect, that a larger amount of land would be thrown into the market than was the case at the present moment. His hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Colonel Alexander) expressed a desire that Scotch Members should be nominated on the Committee; but the misfortune was that, owing to the peculiar tenure of the land there, this Bill did not apply to Scotland at all, and the hon. and gallant Member would see from the 1st clause that it did not extend to Scotland. It might be wise, perhaps, to extend a similar measure to Scotland; but this Bill did not propose it, and he hoped that that objection would not be pressed. He only hoped the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee at once; that the Committee would sit as soon as possible, and that during the Session the measure might pass. He could only say to the observations of the hon. Member opposite as to the Bill of last Session that if he would again bring it forward he (Sir B. Assheton Cross) would do his best, so far as he had any influence, to obtain for it a fair discussion.


said, he desired to explain that, in his first objection, he had quoted the words used by the present Lord Chancellor himself.


said, he trusted the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee, and that full opportunity would be given to consider the names of those nominated to serve thereon, because if he did not find among those names that of his Colleague in the representation of Northampton, who had much spare time, and who had a perfect legal right to sit on any Committee of the House, he should add his name to the nominations, and take the sense of the House upon it.


said, he did not wish to touch on the last question raised; the hon. Member could take any course he thought proper; but perhaps the proper course now would be to withdraw the Motion actually before the House, and move that the Bill be referred to the same Committee that should be appointed for the Conveyancing Bill.


rose to Order. Was the Committee to be settled by arrangement between the two Front Benches without the House knowing the names of the Committee? He wished to raise the question of the appointment of his Colleague.


explained that no Members had yet been appointed. The names would be put down to-night for dealing with both Bills.


said, with reference to the suggestion which had been made that the Bill should be extended to Scotland, that no later than yesterday a Bill applicable to Scotland had been introduced in the House of Lords, not only containing conversion clauses similar to those occurring in this Bill, but also provisions for disentailing.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be committed to the Select Committee on the Conveyancing Bill,"—(Sir R. Assheton Cross,) —put, and agreed to.