§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ SIR ALEXANDER GORDON
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it might be in the recollection of hon. Members that two years ago the question which he now brought forward in this measure was discussed in the House, and met with a very favourable reception from Members on both sides of the House. Since then the question of extending the time for notice of removal in Scotland had gained favour very rapidly throughout the whole of Scotland amongst the class which was most interested in it—namely, the farmer class and occupiers of land. The change that had been asked for by them ever since he had had the honour of a seat in that House had been to convert the notice of removal of 40 days—which was all that a tenant farmer was now entitled to—at the end of his lease into a period of two years. The present law of 40 days' notice came into operation so late as the year 1853, when an Amendment to a Bill relating to the procedure in the Sheriff Courts was carried, and altered the previous law, which had been in existence for 300 years, giving the tenants a longer notice. He said a longer notice, because the Act of 1555 required that the notice should he given 40 days before the Whitsunday of the year in which the lease expired—so that if a tenant's lease expired at Martinmas (in November), he required to have notice 40 days before the Whitsunday of that year. That gave him six months' and 40 days' notice; and so if the lease terminated at any period between terms he had the period after Whitsunday, whatever it was, added to the 40 days. The alteration was made without any discussion in that House as to the reasons why it should be made. Probably at 2 o'clock in the morning, when, formerly, Scotch Business was conducted, some hon. Member moved an Amendment in the interest of owners of land, and it was passed without discussion. The hard operation of 224 the present law was this. The landlord had his tenant under his observation for 18 years and a-half, and he might be a good tenant and might wish to remain; but the landlord had it in his power to hold back information as to whether the tenant might continue in the farm for the term of another lease until 40 days before the lease expired. He had known cases where that had been done, and no doubt other Members acquainted with agricultural matters in Scotland could adduce other instances. Forty days was too short a period for the farmer to make his arrangements for taking a new farm, with the competition there was at present. Two years was the very shortest time a man ought to have to clear out of one farm and make arrangements for getting into another. When they considered the present change in the law was made in 1853, it was rather a reflection on this generation to find that they were so much less liberal and less considerate to their tenants than their ancestors were 330 years ago. He, therefore, hoped the House would be of a more liberal disposition and return to the practice of their ancestors. To show how this question was adopted throughout Scotland, and he might say in England also, he would read a clause in the Bill that had been brought before the country by the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture upon this subject. That was a Bill which had been discussed throughout the whole length and breadth of Scotland, and he had not heard of a single dissentient voice against the adoption of this clause, which ran as follows:—Where in any proceedings relating to the removal or ejection of a tenant, under a contract of tenancy, an interval of 40 days is by law necessary and sufficient between the giving of warning or notice to remove, or the execution of a summons of removing and the term of removal, two years interval shall, by virtue of this Act, be necessary and sufficient for the same.That was a clause which had been accepted by the great majority of the farmers of Scotland as one which they desired to have passed; and not only was there that expression of opinion, but he found that most—he believed he might say all—certainly most—of the leases of large landowners which had been drawn up within the last two or three years, adopted the two years' notice of removal. He had in his hand 225 what was known as Lord Dalhousie's lease. That noble Lord stipulated—That the tenancy should not come to an end until after expiry of three years' notice given by either party to the other of his intention to bring the tenancy to an end.And three years' notice was certainly better than two; but he (Sir Alexander Gordon) thought two years was sufficient to be made compulsory by legislation, and any party could add a year or any number of years, but could not reduce it. Another large owner—Lord Aberdeen—bound himselfAnd his successors to give two years' notice before the determination of the lease to the tenant thereof, whether the said lease was to be renewed to him; and, if so, on what condition.Lord Kintore's lease stipulated—That if neither the proprietor nor the tenant should give the other notice three years before Whit Sunday of his intention to terminate such lease at its natural expiry, such lease should be held to be renewed on the same conditions and at the same rent for an additional year, and so on for as many additional years as might be allowed by the parties to elapse without giving notice, so that the proprietor and the tenant should always have three years' notice of an intention to terminate the lease.Lord Seafield's lease contained the following provision:—With the view of encouraging the tenant to keep up the farm and maintain its fertility, towards the end of the lease, the proprietor will be prepared, except in cases where he may consider it inexpedient, to enter into negotiations with the tenant for the renewal of the lease two years before the expiry thereof.And, lastly, let him quote a landowner whose opinion would, he was sure, carry weight on the other side of the House—he meant the Duke of Richmond, who was so well known to take an interest in, and to understand, agricultural matters so well. He stipulated that—New leases should be entered into two years before the expiry of the old leases, and two years' notice of intention to remove should be given on either side.He thought that showed that the measure he adopted was popular with landowners, whose experience and opinion the House had a right to consider, as well as with the tenant farmers. He should like to show the House the contrary of that, where landlords did not give notice. He had before him a clause in a lease—he would not mention the name, because it would be invidious 226 to do so—but it was very similar to clauses which they found in many of the standard leases of Scotland, some of which were held to be models of propriety. It ran in this way—The tenant will be bound to remove at the expiry of his lease without any warning or legal procedure, failing which he will be liable in twice the stipulated rent of each year during which he shall continue in possession after such expiry.He hoped that clause was not often put into operation; but the law allowed a landlord to do so, and, consequently, it acted disadvantageously to the farmer. He would also quote another Bill which had been discussed throughout the country very widely, and accepted by the tenant farmers of England—he meant the Farmers' Alliance Land Bill for England. One clause of that Bill—Clause 12—provided—That where the tenant held from year to year, or at will, the tenancy should not be terminated, except by a notice in writing by the landlord to the tenant, or by the tenant to the landlord, two years at least before the time specified in such notice for the termination of the tenancy.That was an indication of the wish of the tenant farmers of England; and he believed that already, in practice, contracts of tenancy in England usually included two years' notice of removal. So necessary was it under the present conditions of agriculture that tenants should have time to make their arrangements that notice of two or three years was practically coming into operation, and he wished to assist the introduction of that system by making it law. He would also remind hon. Members, and especially hon. Members opposite—if there were any who objected to the principle of the Bill—that the late Lord Beaconsfield had adopted that principle of two years' notice. He was sorry to say that, although there had been no opposition to this Bill from the tenant farmer class in Scotland, there had been some cases of opposition from the landowning class and from the factors who acted for them. There were two or three Petitions from them; but he was happy to say it was quite the reverse in the country to which he belonged, and part of which he had the honour to represent. These agricultural matters had been discussed lately in a very keen manner. The Commissioners of Supply for the County of Aberdeen, when the question of two 227 years' notice came before them at a special meeting, agreed last year that—The Bill seemed to be conceived with a desire to promote the coming to an understanding as to renewal (of lease) a considerable period before the expiry of the existing lease, and in principle, therefore, it deserves a general approval.That was the opinion of the landlords of Aberdeenshire, who, he was glad to say, sympathized with their tenants in their desire to have sufficient notice of removal. There was also a Petition from the Society of Advocates of Aberdeen, who were mostly the Commissioners' land agents, in favour of the Bill. They wished one or two little changes, which he was quite aware would be of advantage. They wished the operation of the Bill to be restricted to occupiers of five acres of arable land, and more. It was an oversight of his that that had been omitted from the Bill, which would only apply to occupiers of holdings containing five acres and more of arable land. He would also remind the House that in the English Agricultural Holdings Bill of 1875, two years was specified as the period for the exhaustion of manures of the third class. The third class of improvements in that Act gave the tenant two years for these manures, as did also the Scotch Agricultural Bill brought in by the late Government two years in succession—1875 and 1876. In the corresponding clause, two years was held to be the time that the third class of manures should require for exhaustion. He might also remark that, with regard to Ireland, so lately as 1876, Parliament had passed an Act specially to extend the time of notice from six months to one year, though the custom of that country was that tenancies were held from year to year. If Parliament had passed a special Act to give that benefit to Ireland, he did not see why they should not do the same with regard to Scotland. It should be borne in mind that Scotch leases, he might say universally, were for 19 years. And, again, in 1875, the Agricultural Holdings Act had extended the time of notice in England from six to 12 months, unless the tenant contracted himself out of the Act. The law as it stood in England was 12 months' notice, even for a yearly tenancy; and how much more were Scotch tenants entitled to two years? He had put in the Bill a Proviso that the lease should be seven years or more, 228 because he thought five years was quite sufficient time for the landowner to become acquainted with his tenant, and to know whether he would retain him. But, practically, there was no such thing as seven years' leases in Scotland. He would remind the House that the Prime Minister, when in Mid Lothian, had held out to the Scotch farmers that his view of the matter was that longer notices should be given. The right hon. Gentleman referred to what was called the Leicestershire custom, where, after 17 years, the farmer had to state to his landlord whether he wished to remain in the farm, and the landlord and he had to agree with regard to the new lease. If a new lease was agreed to, the farmer was at liberty to go on, and cultivate the land as he thought proper, as long as he did not abuse it. If they did not come to terms, then the land was put under a course such as would insure the landlord that the land would go over to him in good condition. He had that morning received a copy of The Agricultural Gazette of England, and he found in that a report of a meeting of the Sevenoaks Farmers' Club, at which Professor Wrightson had read a paper on Legislative Remedies for Agricultural Depression, in the course of which he said—According to the present law, most farmers are subject to a six months' notice to quit. Nothing can be more arbitrary, and it must act as a severe check upon the outlay of capital, or, if it does not, it ought to so act. What a dependent position a capitalist must occupy who may on Michaelmas or Lady-day receive a six months' notice to quit. It is a humiliating position, and decidedly unfair. I maintain that the general status of agricultural tenants has been depressed by this law—socially, politically, and financially. Farming is a very agreeable occupation; but the risk of a six months' notice to quit, possibly brought about by a petty misunderstanding, game difficulty, or political divergence of opinion, is too great a contingency…Two years' notice to quit would be none too long. I must confess that, for my part, I should like to know at least two years before leaving my farm, especially if—as I hope I am—I was farming in a liberal manner.In the discussion which ensued on the reading of the above paper, Mr. Cawston, an agriculturist of the district, made the following remark:—He fully agreed that the time a tenant had for leaving his farm should be longer. If a man had to give up his farm at six months' notice, it was impossible for him to farm in such a way as to do justice either to himself, the land, or to his landlord,229 Professor Wrightson, after replying to the various views put forward by different speakers, concluded his remarks with the following suggestion:—That there should he a legislative enactment providing that, say, five years before the end of the lease, the parties should agree what they would do with regard to the renewal of the lease or otherwise.In the same publication he also found an extract from a discussion following a recent paper by Mr. R. Michell on the Probabilities of Agricultural Legislation, read before the Swindon Farmers' Club, and reprinted from The Wilts and Gloucester Standard. Mr. T. Arkell, an eminent agriculturist of East Gloucestershire, who spoke during the discussion, said as follows:—He believed if the Agricultural Holdings Act were made compulsory, together with a two years' notice to quit, there would be little more required from legislation.His (Sir Alexander Gordon's) object to-day was to ask the House to increase the 40 days' notice to two years, and it was with that view that he moved the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Alexander Gordon.)
§ SIR HERBERT MAXWELL
said, he understood the object of the Bill was to improve the condition of agriculturists in Scotland. He had only looked at the Bill that morning, and had not had an opportunity of consulting his friends, either there or in Scotland, on the subject. He might say that he fully sympathized with the object which the hon. and gallant Baronet had professed—namely, to improve the position of the tenant farmer, and give him greater security in his occupation and in the outlay of his capital; but he was not able to gather from the provisions of the Bill any prospect of his position being improved in any one respect. The hon. and gallant Baronet had quoted Lord Beaconsfield on a somewhat similar measure, and he quite agreed with him that there was nothing in the Bill that could be regarded as revolutionary. Supposing it became law to-morrow, he did not see that it would alter the relations of landlord and tenant in Scotland one bit; but he did consider it an unnecessary interference. He knew that at first sight it would appear in Scotland, 230 and would be discussed among the farmers as one favourable to what they desired; but he did not think the Bill was what they were asking for at all. He had not heard the slightest expression in favour of a Bill or legislation going no further than the provisions contained in this Bill. He had often heard of a demand for a new lease to be entered into two or three years before the termination of the old one—that was to say, that the provisons of a new lease should be agreed upon before the termination of the old one; but there was no provision that would carry out that result in this Bill. The terms of the new lease were not to be defined, and what would happen in the majority of cases? The landlord, in order to safeguard himself against being committed to the terms of a new lease at a time when he might not be able to arrange those terms, might cause a circular letter to be sent to his tenants, whose leases were approaching to within two years of their termination, to say that their leases would not be renewed. That would put him in the position of being able to terminate the lease at the time if he wished to do so. An understanding which, at all events, in his part of the country was very general between landlords and tenants enabled the landlord and tenant to enter into such explanations as would, to a certain extent, counteract the effect of such a circular letter. That was to say, the tenant would come to learn that it was merely formal, in order to put the landlord in a position to terminate the lease, and give a new one if so disposed. The hon. and gallant Baronet had said that instances had come under his experience in which the lease had been allowed to run to within 40 days of its termination without notice being given to the tenant. Well, the hon. and gallant Baronet's experience was, doubtless, longer and more extensive than his; but he could say for himself that no such instance had he ever known or heard of; and he thought that if the tenant were to be allowed to run to within six weeks of the termination of his lease without any intimation, in the first place, that tenant would receive a very broad hint that he was not to obtain a renewal of his lease, and he would see that the sooner he looked out for a new landlord who would deal with him more gene- 231 rously, and in a more customary manner, the better. He thought 40 days' notice was more honoured in the breach than in the observance, as would also be the provision for two years' notice. He was not going to move the rejection of this Bill. He considered it would be absolutely inoperative. He did not see how it was to alter the position of matters at all. If it was to become law, he would suggest to the hon. and gallant Baronet that he should add to Clause 3 a provision such as he had already told them was contained in the English Farmers' Alliance Bill—that the notice should come from the tenant of his desire to renew the lease, and not only from the landlord. He would suggest that there be added to Clause 3 the following words, or words to that effect:—And provided the tenant shall have given notice in writing to the landlord or the factor, within not less than two years of the termination of the lease, of his intention to apply for a renewal of the lease.That would be carrying out the spirit of that legislation which the Prime Minister had alluded to in Mid Lothian as desirable. He thought it was only fair that the landlord should not be called upon to take measures for the renewal of the lease, unless the tenant had intimated his desire to remain. He thought that, so far from giving tenant farmers a sense of security in their holdings, this measure, if it became law, would rather tend the other way; because landlords, as he had already indicated, would give formal notices to quit at the two years' term, and the Act would not have any effect in giving the farmers a sense of security. He quite agreed with the hon. and gallant Baronet that it was most desirable that the spirit of the legislation indicated in this Bill should be carried out, as it very frequently was, by landlords in making leases with their tenants; but he did not think it was a Subject for legislation. He trusted, if the House saw fit to agree to the second reading of the Bill, the hon. and gallant Baronet would consent to its amendment in Committee by the addition to Clause 3 of the words which he had read, or words to the same effect.
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
supported the second reading of the Bill, and was very glad that the hon. Member opposite (Sir Herbert Maxwell) did not intend to oppose the measure. He thought it 232 was decidedly a step in the right direction—one in the interest of the tenant farmers of Scotland, but quite as much in the interests of the proprietors. In fact, it was an attempt to impose upon all proprietors the course which the best and most enlightened landlords were adopting in practice. The hon. Member opposite thought that the Bill would not add to the feeling of security on the part of the tenant. He thought it would do so in a very considerable degree; because, two years before the end of the lease, the tenant would be aware whether he was going to remain longer in the farm, and whether he had a prospect of coming to an arrangement with his landlord. If he had failed to do by that time, he must make up his mind to go elsewhere. In almost every case, consideration was made as regarded the new lease about a twelvemonth in advance; but that had been found too short a period, and he thought the very minimum period ought to be two years. That necessitated negotiations being opened for the renewal of the lease about two and-a-half years before the expiry of the existing lease; and he thought that would be an arrangement which would be very much to the advantage of the landlords, as well as that of the tenants. Large outlays, necessary in good farming, had to he made a considerable period in advance of the time when the result could be hoped for; and the greater security a tenant had, the more interest he would have in endeavouring to improve his farm. The principle of the Bill was already adopted in legislation, and had been from time immemorial; and the real question before the House was this—"Was two years too long a period of notice to give, seeing it was held on all sides that notice should be given?" He thought it was the very shortest period that could be named. If they were going to legislate on the subject at all, he thought it ought to be two years. A good many landlords had voluntarily adopted a longer period, giving, in some cases, three years' notice. He had no doubt this notice was intended to urge upon the landlord and the tenant to come to an arrangement as to the conditions of the renewal of the leases some time before the expiry of their old one. He believed it would have that effect, and he did not think landlords would be guilty of sending out 233 a circular letter, such as that to which the hon. Member for Wigtownshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) had referred, because that would merely be keeping the tenant in a period of uncertainty; and if the landlord persisted in giving these notices to quit, it might be very well assumed that he did not wish the tenant to have the farm again. He hoped the House would pass the Bill with such Amendments as might be considered necessary in Committee. He did not think it at all necessary that the Amendment which the hon. Member opposite (Sir Herbert Maxwell) had suggested with regard to Clause 3 should be made; because the landlord or his agent could, easily ascertain from his tenant whether he wished to remain. He not only thought the proposal an unnecessary one, but believed there would be disadvantages connected with it. What the tenants complained of was that they did not know till very soon before the expiry of the lease whether they were going to have the farm again or not; and it was impossible for them to find out on what terms they would get a renewal of the lease. He hoped the House would agree to the second reading of the Bill, as it would go very much to improve the position of the farmers in Scotland, and because it was a step in the right direction, and one which, at all events, would induce both landlords and tenants to endeavour to put the tenure of land in Scotland on a more satisfactory footing.
§ DR. FARQUHARSON
said, he thought he might say, on behalf of his constituents, who adjoined those of the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Alexander Gordon), that they would gladly accept this Bill as an instalment of progress, because it really only touched the fringe of a question which must be considered ere long. Since they were not to have a Land Bill for Scotland introduced into the House this year, he was quite sure that the agriculturists of Scotland would meantime be glad to accept such small mercies as they could get. He was sure they would be very glad, indeed, to be told by this Bill that there was no longer a chance of their being turned out of their holdings at short notice. It was all very well to be told that few landlords did this at present; but if all the landlords were good they should have no need for legislation at all. It was conceivable that under the existing 234 law oppression was possible; and they had been told by the hon. and gallant Baronet who proposed the second reading of the Bill that such cases had occurred in connection with the present arrangements. Under the new arrangement of two years' notice, facilities would be given to tenants and to the landlords to arrange between themselves for compensation for unexhausted manures, which, he thought, might be very well arranged in that way. He hoped that, as the hon. Member for Wigtownshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) had only had an opportunity of seeing the Bill that morning, further consideration and study would enable him to alter his views as to its provisions.
§ MR. R. PRESTON BRUCE
must say that he thought there was considerable force in some of the observations regarding this Bill made by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir Herbert Maxwell). He (Mr. Bruce) thought it was very doubtful whether the Bill, if passed, would succeed in producing the good results which were expected by the Mover. The idea of the Bill seemed to be that the giving to a tenant of this two years' notice would enable him to know whether he was going to get a new lease of his farm or not; but he failed to see how the mere notice would effect the purpose desired. The intimation which would be conveyed to the tenant would be this—that unless he made an agreement with his landlord within the two years he would be liable to have to quit his farm; but that was telling him something which he was perfectly well aware of. It was possible that the existence of a statutory notice of this kind might in some cases suggest to the two parties the propriety of negotiating rather earlier than they might otherwise do. If it operated in that way, he thought, so far, it would be beneficial; but he thought it was questionable whether that was sufficient reason for making a new law on the subject. It had sometimes appeared to him that a notice of this kind might be made really useful if it were combined with a simple and workable provision for compensation for unexhausted improvements. If, in the event of a new lease not being concluded within a certain time after the service of such a notice, then a statutory rate of compensation for artificial 235 manures or feeding stuffs used or consumed on the farm should come into force—in that case he thought such an Act as this might really be operative and useful. A good deal of reference had been made to the law in England and Ireland as to notice to quit; but he must say it appeared to him that arguments drawn from the law affecting tenants from year to year, were totally beside the point. The law in England, he believed, was, that a tenant under a lease for 19 years, or for any other definite term, had no right to a notice to quit at all. That notice was only required in cases where the tenancies were indefinite in duration. In such cases the tenant was unaware when he might be called upon to quit his farm, and therefore the law rightly laid down that a certain notice should be given. He thought, if this Bill was to go on, it would be worth while for the learned Lord Advocate to examine the relation of this Bill to the present law in Scotland in regard to notice of removal. That law, he believed, as it stood, was somewhat complicated, and he feared the present Bill would introduce further complications and distinctions. He also believed that it was uncertain in this respect, as to how far the condition of lease by which the tenant undertook to remove without warning was operative or not. If legislation was to take place on this subject, it seemed to him that the opportunity might be taken to remedy any defects or ambiguity in the existing law.
§ MR. M'LAGAN
said, the hon. Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) had told them that he had only read the Bill that morning, and had had no time to consult his friends. It was a great pity he had not read the Bill sooner, because he was sure they should have had a better opinion of the Bill from the hon. Member, and they should not have had such crude ideas as to the principle of the Bill. His hon. Friend who had just sat down (Mr. Bruce) had evidently intended to curse the Bill, and instead of that he had blessed it. He believed some of the remarks the hon. Member had made would make a waverer against the Bill be in favour of it. The hon. Member had said that the effect of this Bill would be to make proprietors and tenants endeavour, before the end of the lease, to come to terms as to the new 236 lease. That was a most important consideration; and if the Bill had no other effect than that, it ought to be passed. In regard to other arguments which the hon. Member had put forward, he had to point out that the law had already given notice to quit in Scotland. It had acknowledged the principle by giving 40 days' notice to quit; and this Bill, therefore, was not introducing a new principle at all—it was simply extending a principle which was already acknowledged. As it had been very properly put by the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), if it was right to give a 40 days' notice where there was a lease at the present time, and to give a year's notice where there was no lease, surely it was far better and far more necessary to give a two years' notice where there was a 19 or 21 years' lease. The hon. Member for Wigtonshire could see no use for the Bill at all, though the hon. and gallant Baronet (Sir Alexander Gordon) had stated many instances in which the want of sufficient notice was a great hardship. He could corroborate the statement of his hon. and gallant Friend behind him (Sir Alexander Gordon), because he had known instances in which the landlord had not given notice to the tenant till it came within 40 days of the termination of the lease, and the tenant had been put to very great loss and inconvenience. The landlord had even come forward and told the tenant that he had no intention whatever of parting with him. When such insufficient notice was given the farmer might not be able to find a residence for his family, or a farm, and would be compelled to sell off his stock and implements at a great loss, besides being deprived of a home. This question of the tenant's residence was too much neglected, for where there was a demand for farms he might be left without a roof to cover himself and his family. He cordially agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Barclay) that if this Bill became law it would be a very good thing to join with it some system of compensation for unexhausted manures that might be made between the landlord and tenant. He would like very well if, instead of the notice extending to two years, it could be made four or five in certain eases. The logical conclusion to which they must come in this matter was that notice to quit should be given according to the rotation of crops. Where 237 the course was five years the notice should be five years. Still, he did not wish to push legislation too far, and, of course, there were many instances in which the courses were not so long; but he agreed with his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire and his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire that the shortest notice that should be given was two years. He trusted the Government would support the Bill, and would carry it, as had been very properly said, only as an instalment of that large question which was before them—the reform of the Land Laws in Scotland. He had much pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ MR. J. A. CAMPBELL
said, he was not opposed to the principle of the Bill, and he thought his hon. Friend the Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) had said enough to show that he also recognized the object which the promoters had in view as a good one. It proposed, in fact, to legislate in favour of what had been the usual practice of landlords; but when they came to legislate on a practice, it was necessary that the legislation should be accompanied with proper safeguards, and his purpose in rising was to ask some explanation from the promoters of this Bill on that point. As the Bill stood, there were only two cases to which the proposed measure would not apply. These were the case of a tenant being sequestrated under the Bankruptcy Act, and the case when the tenant had renounced his lease, and the renunciation had been accepted by the landlord. There were, however, other cases where the application of such an Act as was proposed to be passed would interfere with existing contracts, and introduce considerable complication and difficulty. He would give one instance. Two years ago, an Act had been passed for the abolition of agricultural hypothec in Scotland, in which Act there was special provision made to enable landlords, after losing the right of hypothec, which they previously held, to get their land out of the hands of insolvent tenants in a more summary way than had been possible for them while they enjoyed the right of hypothec. Now, was it intended by this Bill to repeal those provisions? He hoped that on that point they would have some explanation. Perhaps there might be other questions of a similar nature; but 238 he had great hopes that his learned Friend the Lord Advocate would indicate some improvements which he would recommend in this Bill, and with improvements he thought it might be made a useful measure.
§ SIR EDWARD COLEBROOKE
thoroughly concurred as to the expediency of a long period of notice, because it was obviously right that the tenant should know whether or not he was going to have a renewal of his lease; but he had considerable doubt whether that object would be advanced in any perceptible degree by a compulsory measure like this, requiring landlords in all cases to give two years' notice. In his experience the difficulty often came from the side of the tenant, who, when a farm was likely to rise in value, was slow to make up his mind whether he would give an increased rental, and that led to uncertainty being prolonged until a few months before the lease actually expired. The general rule, according to his experience, was that a year before the lease expired the parties came to an understanding, and the lease was virtually renewed at the time. But he thought that if they attempted by law to compel a two years' notice, the results would be that a mere formal notice would be given, and the tenant would be no better off than he was now. Any attempt to force an earlier period than 12 months' notice would not fall in with the usual practice; and, therefore, he entertained great doubts as to its efficiency. At present the lease was a notice in itself; but, of course, it was most desirable that the parties should come to an agreement some time beforehand. That could be only arrived at by good sense and good feeling on each side; and the common interest of both was that the prolongation of the lease should not be put off indefinitely. It was well worth the consideration of the parties whether the law might not be extended to a notice of one year. That notice would not degenerate into a mere formality, and it might stimulate the parties to come to terms in good time before the expiration of the lease. He hoped that in Committee the desirability of substituting one year's notice would be considered.
§ SIR DONALD CURRIE
said, he hoped the Government would support the Bill. He had known many cases in which 239 the tenants were kept waiting until almost the end of the lease before notice was given; and he trusted the Government would accede to the proposal of the hon. and gallant Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon), and give the tenant farmers relief.
§ MR. ORR EWING
said, this Bill would have been especially useful if brought forward a few years ago, when there was a great demand for farms. The Bill was entirely in the right direction, and he believed it would give great satisfaction if carried. It was conceived in the true interests of agriculture. A Bill of this kind was only necessary for a country like Scotland. In England, where the conditions as to leases, were quite different, it would be unnecessary. At present a tenant was perfectly at a loss to know whether he was to be continued in his farm or not. The Bill tended to bring landlords and tenants together in order that they might make terms, and that was an object which he heartily supported. Nowadays a landlord was anxious to keep a good tenant and make terms with him.
§ SIR GEORGE CAMPBELL
remarked that since his hon. Friend the Member for Fifeshire (Mr. Bruce), who had given much attention to the subject, expressed some disappointment with the Bill, it might be well that a Fifeshire man and a Fifeshire Member should express his approval. They did not expect too much from the Bill; but it seemed to him that the passing of a law of this kind would certainly do good by introducing a practice into Scotland of making renewals of leases a considerable time before their termination. He thought the measure would be an advantage to the farmers, and would do no harm to the landlords.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
said, he had much pleasure, on the part of the Government, in assenting to the second reading of the Bill. As he understood the Bill, the object of it was to fix the period at which, if a landlord did not give notice that he intended that the lease should come to an end, what would be termed in the law of Scotland "tacit re-location"—that was, "tacit reletting"—would take place, or, in other words, that the lease would run on for another year. It had been said by one or two hon. Members that that was not necessary. He could hardly agree in that view. His hon. Friends the Mem- 240 bers for Fifeshire (Mr. Bruce) and North Lanarkshire (Sir Edward Colebrooke) both seemed to think that such a notice would be telling the tenant what he knew already, and that the tenant had sufficient notice in his lease. That was not quite correct, because even by the present law 40 days' notice was necessary in order to prevent tacit re-location from taking effect. So that, he took it, the question really came to be whether the 40 days' notice which now was required by the law was adequate or not. He thought he might say that there was practically a consensus of opinion in Scotland that that period was too short; and he might very well appeal to what his hon. Friend the Member for Wigtonshire (Sir Herbert Maxwell) said in support of that view, because he observed that if the landlord had not made any approach to the tenant a considerable time before the expiring of the lease, the tenant might understand from that silence that he had already notice to quit. He thought that was testimony to the effect that 40 days' notice was not enough to enable new arrangements to be made on either side, under the conditions of modern agriculture. It had been said that the Bill probably would not be of any great importance. No doubt, it was not a large measure; but so far as it went it was entirely in the right direction. The hon. Member for Dumbartonshire (Mr. Orr Ewing) remarked that if it had been enacted some years ago, in a time of greater prosperity, when there was a great demand for farms, it might have been of greater value. He (the Lord Advocate) hoped they should soon see a return to that time of prosperity in Scottish agriculture which would give that vitality to the Bill. It would be, of course, entirely open to the Committee to consider the period at which notice should be given. Some Members thought one year enough, and, of course, a matter of that sort would be duly considered in Committee. With respect to what had been said by the hon. Member for the Universities of Glasgow and Aberdeen (Mr. Campbell), he might remark that he had already called the attention of his hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir Alexander Gordon) to that matter. It was quite plain that there were various particulars in regard to which it would be necessary, in order to make the Bill a workable mea- 241 sure, to introduce additional provisions. For example, the Bill as it stood might possibly be held to override or overrule various conditions under which a tenancy might come to an end—as by a failure to fulfil the conditions of the lease, or by the operation of so much of the Law of Hypothec as still survived, or the compensatory remedies given to the landlord for its abolition by the Act of 1880. But his hon. and gallant Friend the Mover of the Bill at once indicated his readiness to assent to any Amendments in that direction. He did not think it necessary to detain the House by going into matters of detail; because he was quite sure, from the attention that had been given to the Bill on both sides of the House, that it would be put into such a shape in Committee as would give it the maximum utility and value.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.