HC Deb 09 May 1883 vol 279 cc321-31

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that, before proceeding to move the second reading of the Bill, he felt that he could not approach the subject without saying a word with regard to one who in "another place" was about, a few days ago, to stand in a position similar to that which he now occupied. A short time since those who were interested in the question were waiting anxiously to hear Lord Vernon move the second reading of his Bill on the subject of agricultural holdings. It was with deep regret that they found that Lord Vernon was not in his place when the Order was called, and it was with still deeper regret that they heard that his work had been stopped by the hand of death. As a Staffordshire man and a neighbour of Lord Vernon, as one who had seen his work in agriculture, as one who had seen how deeply he was interested in the matter now before the House, as one who had seen him acting as a member of the Chamber of Agriculture, and even carrying his labours into a foreign land, where he did such good work among those French farmers ruined by a devastating war, he felt that he could not approach his task that day without, on behalf of many in the Midland Counties who knew Lord Vernon as an active and intelligent landlord, of persons abroad who had known his energy on their behalf, and of the very many who knew how deeply he was interested in agriculture, first venturing to lay upon his newly-closed grave this tribute of admiration and deep respect. In submitting this Bill for a second reading, it might be well to say a few words upon the condition of things that existed before and the condition that was brought about by the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875. Before that Act was passed, and when an inquiry was about to take place, or was taking place, with regard to the compensation that should be paid by the incoming to the out-going tenant, those upon whom had been laid the burden of an arbitration had, where there was no written agreement, to make an inquiry first of all as to what was the custom of the part of the country in which the holding was situated; and, having found that out, to settle and award compensation. Attention having been directed to the subject, the result was to lay down, instead of the vague custom, a scheme upon which compensation should be awarded. That which was uncertain and undefined was made clear, and persons claiming had now, as under an agreement, a scheme of compensation under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875. That Act, however, was not made compulsory, and it was in the power of the landlord and the tenant to agree together not to adopt the Act or certain parts of it. There were many who at the time thought it would have been better to make that Act compulsory, but perhaps no one put that view into words more clearly than did the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay), who told them that when the next General Election came on they would be pressed to make the Act compulsory. And most rightly did the hon. Member prophesy, for the Act had not been in operation more than a year or two before they were most of them pressed upon the matter, and certainly when the General Election came on in 1880, four or five years after the passing of the Act, the subject was brought prominently before them by their constituents. He (Mr. Staveley Hill) having thought carefully over the matter, undertook at the General Election to do his best to repeal those clauses of the Act which enabled landlords and tenants to contract themselves out of it and so to make the Act compulsory. Upon the meeting of Parliament in 1880 three Bills were brought before the House for that purpose, one by himself, another by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire and several Gentlemen associated with him, and a third by the Members for Bedfordshire and Banbury. Those three Bills were dropped after the first reading, none of them having come to a second reading. In 1881 practically the same three Bills were brought forward again, though two of them had adopted the title of Tenants' Compensation Bills. Some of these were read a second time. In 1882 the three Bills were brought forward again under similar titles. Some were read a second time and one went into Committee but all were eventually dropped. This Session there were again three Bills before the House, the one he now brought forward for second reading, another proposed under the same name as two of the Bills of last Session by the hon. Member for Mid Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), and the third introduced by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Heneage). It would be contrary to the Rules of the House for him in any way to discuss the provisions of the two other Bills, either by proceeding to dilate upon what he might think superfluous in them or by differentiating them from his own and indicating what he considered deficiencies in them. It would be possible perhaps for him to discuss them as measures that had been brought forward in past Sessions, but he did not desire so far to trespass upon the Rules of the House. He, therefore, merely said with regard to them that they were measures which were far more in the landlords' interest than the tenants', and scarcely so considerate of the tenants' interest as his own Bill. Instead of proposing the simple rules of reference under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875, they introduced a more complicated system of valuation, and there was one difference especially which they had from his—namely, that whereas they referred only to future tenancies, this Bill dealt with all tenancies, whether leasehold or from year to year, and whether existing or future. He did not think there was any point which, either in regard to his own or the Government Bill to be introduced to-morrow, he should press more earnestly on the part of the tenants than that all tenancies, whether existing or future, should be dealt with. He failed to see why a contract of tenancy entered into under other circumstances, but now existing, should not be dealt with in precisely the same way as future tenancies and have the same advantages that they would have. The principle he had adopted in this Bill was to alter as little as might be the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875. He had only altered it upon points upon which he should have a word to say when he came to speak more particularly of the details. The main point upon which the Bill was introduced was that with regard to present and future tenancies, the power given to the parties of contracting them- selves out of the Act should be taken away unless there was existing between the landlord and the tenant an agreement giving compensation equal to that which the tenant would be entitled to under the Act of 1875. So far as the principal provisions went, there was but slight alteration in the present Bill from that which he brought forward in 1880. But since 1880 there had appeared a strong piece of evidence in its favour. In 1882 the Agricultural Commission reported, and in a Report signed by the whole of the Commissioners it was said— Frequent reference has been made to the effect of the Agricultural Holdings Act, and the expediency has been generally suggested of making compulsory the clauses of the Act which relate to compensation in all cases where compensation is not absolutely secured by custom or by agreement. Those words were an exact recommendation of this Bill. Lord Vernon had made a separate Report, in the first clause of which he said— You must secure compensation to the tenant, because unless you do the maximum fertility of the soil of the country cannot be uninterruptedly maintained. That put the reason for the Bill on the very strongest ground upon which legislative interference with contract could be placed, for it was the duty of the Legislature in dealing with the question of Agriculture to attain the maximum fertility of the soil. Lord Vernon said that that result could only be accomplished by securing compensation to the tenant, though he went on to say with reference to future agreements— Although every out-going tenant is in my opinion entitled to be compensated for the beneficial value of the improvements which he may leave upon his farm of which he has not reaped the entire fruit, landlords and tenants should be left perfectly free to make such arrangements as regards compensation as may seem to them to be desirable. Further on he said— In the absence of any agreement by a landlord for compensation for certain feeding stuffs and manure, compensation should be secured to him by Act of Parliament. This all pointed to a requirement that there should be a secured compensation to the tenants which might induce expenditure of energy and capital. As an effect of the Act of 1875, and as a reason why the power of contracting out of it—at any rate with regard to the terms of their existing tenancies—should not be left to the landlord and tenant, he would, with the permission of the House, quote from the Report of the Commissioners, which said— Upon many estates fresh agreements have been entered into in accordance with the spirit of the Act, adapted to local peculiarities and circumstances. They had it, therefore, upon the authority of the Commissioners that to obtain the greatest amount of fertilization of the soil it was necessary to secure adequate compensation to the tenant, and that since the Act of 1875 the tenants upon many estates had had the full benefit of the Act, and that this should be extended to all tenants. Therefore, he said that their legislation should not proceed against those who obeyed the Act, but should rather seek by compulsory clauses to bring under it those, if any, who had set it at defiance. On all estates and in all cases an amount of compensation should be secured to the tenant which would insure his endeavouring to attain the maximum of fertility. The objection with which the promoters of this Bill were met was the old objection that they were doing away with the right of free contract; this had been discussed so fully last Session that it was not necessary to enlarge to any extent upon it now. A Society, which counted among its members several distinguished men, had in a pamphlet circulated that morning gibbeted together the promoters of all these Bills as persons who were interfering with the right of free contract and treating grown persons as babies. He ventured to submit that if there was any case in which the rights of free contract could ever be set aside it was that of the occupancy of land. The occupiers of land stood upon a very different footing to that which was taken by parties to other contracts. A man, if he took land in a good season, took it with a sanguine hope of success, and with perhaps a certain amount of carelessness. They all knew that when men took farms they did not always consider sufficiently what it was they were entering into. An agreement was put before them as the estate agreement, which they too readily signed, and it was of the utmost importance to the public that the cultivators of the soil should be secured that which would insure the greatest amount of fertility. Agreements for occupancy were of compara- tively modern date. He could not find any earlier than the middle of the last century, and he believed it was towards the close of the last and the beginning of the present century that agreements for occupancy with all their covenants, with all their rules and regulations with regard to compensation, came into force. They were, no doubt, the offspring of middle men and lawyers, all of whom, he was afraid, had been great incumbrances upon the land. These agreements bad certainly gone far to do away with the old practice, which only bound every man to farm according to the custom of the country in a good husbandman-like manner, and entitled him to claim his compensation from the incoming tenant according to the custom of the county. That was not by a string of clauses put forward by the landlord for his protection, or framed by a shrewd tenant to enable him to escape from his duty to the soil; but it had received the sanction of a long period of time, and long experience had shown it to be the best method of dealing as between the out-going and in-coming occupier of land. To come to the question of free tillage, his experience, both as a landlord and tenant, taught him that it would be far better to do away with all restrictions which hampered the cultivation of land. If a tenant was fit to be trusted with a farm he was fit to be trusted to farm it—and he had long thought that agreements which laid down hard-and-fast rules as to what a man should or should not do, without any provision as to the reason, had gone far to bring about the bad state of things which at present existed. This Bill and the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875 were to be read as one, so that whatever the Bill did not contradict in the Act it confirmed. The principal clause in this Bill was the 3rd, which provided that— Notwithstanding anything in sections fifty-five, fifty-six, and fifty-seven of the principal Act, it shall not be competent for either a landlord or tenant to withdraw himself from the compensation provisions of the said Act contained in sections five to nineteen, inclusive of the said Act, unless there shall be provided under or by an agreement subsisting between them at the time of the termination of the tenancy a compensation to the tenant at least equal to that provided by the said Act; and for the purpose of determining whether the compensation provided by the agreement is of such equal amount, be it enacted that, notwithstanding anything contained in the agreement for tenancy, or any other agreement between him and his landlord, a tenant may give notice, in the manner provided by section twenty of the said Act, that he will proceed to make his claim either under that Act, or under the system of compensation contained in the Schedule annexed hereto as though no agreement were subsisting between them, and thereupon all the clauses contained in the said Act as to compensation, so far as they may be applicable to each case, shall apply between such landlord and tenant, and all questions as to compensation shall he settled in manner provided by the said Act, and the agreement for tenancy and any other agreement existing between the landlord and tenant shall, so far as any question in respect of compensation between such landlord and tenant is affected thereby, unless the tenant shall make his claim there under to the exclusion of either of the other systems of compensation mentioned herein, become and be wholly void and of no effect. Under this clause the tenant would find no possible cause of complaint of want of compensation, either under his written agreement, or under the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act 1875, or under the system scheduled to this Bill—which was, of course, open to any amendment that might be suggested—as he might exact full repayment for all his outlay. The 4th clause was as follows:— Where under any of the provisions of any such subsisting agreement of tenancy the landlord has made any payment or outlay, or has given to the tenant any other valuable consideration in respect of the said tenancy, and the tenant shall, notwithstanding such agreement, give notice for compensation under either of the other systems mentioned herein, such landlord may give notice of counter-claim in respect of any such payment or outlay or other valuable consideration in the manner prescribed by section nineteen of the principal Act. This fully protected the landlord against a tenant, who, after reaping the benefit of an agreement, might try to set it aside. The 5th clause provided that— No such claim for compensation or dilapidation in respect of any act done or omitted, or of any outlay incurred, before the giving or receiving of the notice to quit, shall be allowed unless the particulars thereof shall have been delivered before the expiry of six months from the giving and receiving of such notice to quit; but the party upon whom such claim shall be made shall have a farther month from the date of the delivery of such particulars for the making any counter-claim in respect of any such claim. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875 notice of claim must be given within a month of the termination of the tenancy, and this Bill fixed six, although he rather preferred that the limit should be three months before the expiration of which the particulars of all claims for outlay then made must be banded in, so that the landlord in letting, and the in-coming tenant in taking, would know exactly the terms upon which they were dealing. The 6th clause dealt with what was called in the Act of 1875, "Improvements of the First Class," and he thought he should carry the House with him in the Amendment lie proposed in that respect. With regard to permanent improvements or other improvements of the first class, the Act provided that the tenant could not claim for them unless the work had been done with the written consent of the landlord. But the landlord, as they all knew, frequently gave his consent verbally, and if he lived that was sufficient in most cases; but tenancies were often terminated by the death of the landlord, and where there was no written consent the tenant under the existing law would have no claim. What he proposed was that it should not be necessary to produce the landlord's assent in writing to entitle the tenant to compensation if he could show to the satisfaction of the Court that the improvements were in fact made with the consent and approval of the landlord. By the Schedule he had introduced a system under which compensation might be claimed not only under Michaelmas holdings, but under Lady Day holdings also. As the result of experience and of advice, he had made some alterations in the Schedule; but these were matters to be dealt with in Committee. The Schedule contained allowances to the tenant on quitting his farm for half the cost of linseed cake, cotton cake, and rape cake which had been consumed on the farm during the last year of the tenancy, providing that the quantity allowed should not I exceed the average of the two next preceding years. The second paragraph of the Schedule provided an allowance for one-half of the cost of artificial manures used with the green crops on the farm during the last year of the tenancy, including the cost of carriage. With regard to under-draining, the Bill provided allowances on the 20 years' principle, and it also provided allowances for the cost of marling on a 10 years' principle instead of 14 years. The subject of dry bone manure was a very difficult one indeed, and one upon which there was considerable difference of opinion. Compensation was formerly made on the 14 years' principle, but he had put it at seven years. In the case of dissolved bones he had put the compensation on a four years' principle instead of five. These, however, were matters for discussion in Committee rather than at the present time, and he merely called attention to them now because it was not without considerable inquiry that he had put what seemed a reasonable term of years in the Schedule—a reasonable term of years amongst which the outlay should be divided. There was one point that he had not dealt with in scheduling the Bill, because it was too difficult to obtain anything like an approximate idea of what the compensation should be for laying down permanent pasturage. It was difficult because so much depended upon the way it was dealt with and cared for during the first 10 years. They all knew that during the first two years the grass was mown and no sheep fed over it, and if at the end of the third year fresh seed were thrown down, and afterwards careful attention were given to it, at the end of 10 years there would be really good old turf. Of course, it was a matter of impossibility to make with approximate accuracy anything like a calculation as to what should be paid. It was, in fact, matter that must be left for adjustment between the parties themselves. There was only one other point he had to refer to. In the other Bills which dealt with this subject they had seen that there had been other tribunals suggested, and other modes of arbitration for obtaining the amount of compensation suggested, than that which had been enacted under the Agricultural Holdings Act, and he trusted that whatever Bill might be brought before the House there would be no different tribunal provided to that which was given under that Act. It was an eminently satisfactory one; it was one which could be worked far more cheaply than any other tribunal that had been suggested; and he hoped that no attempt would be made to substitute for it any other tribunal to which agriculturists could resort for the adjustment of their grievances. He was obliged to the House for the kind attention they had given him, and trusted that they would give a second reading to the Bill, which he now begged to move.

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


said, that Members were placed at a disadvantage in being obliged to discuss this Bill without reference to their own measures; and it was a pity that the Bill of the Government could not be at once introduced. He could not agree to the second reading of this Bill, because it embodied one or two principles to which he had the strongest objections. It was said that the Bill would set up the Lincolnshire custom as an alternative to the Act of 1875; but he could not admit that the Schedules would in operation amount to the Lincolnshire custom. And, even if they did, he should require more argument to convince him of the desirability of setting up a hard-and-fast line, such as was laid down in the Schedule to the Bill. Difference of occupancy and soil and various other conditions made it impossible to put into an Act of Parliament the customs of different counties. With regard to the question of the consent of the landlord in the execution of improvements, he observed that on that point there need be little difficulty if landlords would only attend more to their business themselves, instead of leaving it to their agents. He believed half the difficulties that had arisen between landlords and tenants were due to the fact that landlords knew little of their tenants and estates, but left their management to agents. Difficulties arose because matters were left too much in the hands of agents, who raised rents and at the same time made promises which a change of circumstances made it difficult for them to redeem. He asked, however, could the House get any advantage from a prolonged discussion of this Bill, when to-morrow night they were promised the introduction of a Bill by Her Majesty's Government? He thought it would be better if the debate were adjourned until they saw what the provisions of the Government Bill were than that they should proceed now in a half-hearted manner, and utterly in the dark so far as the Bill of the Government was concerned, which had engaged the attention of some of the foremost statesmen of England. Therefore, with no wish to act in an unfriendly manner to his hon. and learned Friend, he would move the adjournment of the debate, in order to take the sense of the House on that question.


said, having for many years been honoured with the friendship of Lord Vernon, and associated with him in public matters, he also wished to express his sense of the loss which agriculture had sustained by the death of the noble Lord. As to the Bill, he considered it was an honest and straightforward attempt to deal with the question, and, although, it did not go far enough, under ordinary circumstances he should have been glad for it to be read a second time. But as on the following night an Aaron's rod would make its appearance which would swallow up all the other rods, he would second the Motion that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Heneage.)


said, he was of opinion that a continuance of the debate would have been of considerable importance for the information of the country, and it might also have had some influence on the Government measure which was to be introduced tomorrow. He thought the Bill now before the House was worth very considerable attention. He did not agree with the principles of the Bill; but, as he could not discuss it on the Motion now before the House, he confined himself to expressing regret that the debate should not be continued. He thought that further discussion would have been of considerable assistance in considering the Government measure, which they would not have an opportunity of discussing for some time, as it could not be expected that there would be a protracted discussion upon it to-morrow night.


said, that, under the circumstances, he was willing to agree to the adjourment, as he was satisfied with having brought the matter before the House.

Question put, and agreed to.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.