HC Deb 10 May 1883 vol 279 cc512-6

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for amending the Law relating to Agricultural Holdings in England, said: At this late period of the night I shall endeavour to compress what I have to say in asking leave to introduce this Bill into the shortest possible space. The Bill will provide that a tenant who has made on his holding any of the improvements enumerated in the Schedule of the Bill shall be entitled, after the commencement of this Act, on quitting his holding, at the termination of his tenancy, to obtain from the landlord, under this Act, compensation for such improvements. The measure of such compensation is to be the value of the improvement to the incoming tenant. That is laid down as the general principle and basis for compensation. It is not limited by any rule as to number of years, or the amount of the tenant's outlay, or by any of the other conditions attaching a limited measure of value under the Agricultural Holdings Act. We thought the measure of value, taking value simply, would be the most just and equitable measure of compensation as a general rule, because the value of similar improvements differs widely in different parts of the country, and according to the circumstances in which they are made. Value, measured by years, constitutes a Procrustean rule. Value, measured by the amount of the tenant's outlay, we do not take; we think the simple value is a more equitable basis, and for this reason. Supposing a tenant has laid out money unwisely, or even unfortunately, he ought not to be ex- pect to be compensated for that. On the other hand, if he has laid out money wisely and successfully, he is fairly entitled to the value of the improvement to the in-coming tenant. This compensation by the value of the improvement to the in-coming tenant is termed in the Bill—"Compensation under the Act." The machinery for ascertaining the value is that of the Agricultural Holdings Act, for which purpose we preserve the Procedure Clauses of that Act. The improvements to which the Bill applies are enumerated in the Schedule. I will first speak of permanent improvements, executed after the commencement of the Act, which will be the 1st of January, 1884. The permanent improvements are these—(1) The erection or enlargement of buildings; (2) the laying down of permanent pasture; (3) making and planting of osier beds; (4) making of water meadows or works of irrigation; (5) making of gardens; (6) making or improving of roads or bridges; (7) making or improving of water courses, ponds, wells, reservoirs, or of works for supply of water for agricultural or domestic purposes; (8) making of fences; (9) planting of hops; (10) planting of orchards; (11) reclaiming of wasteland; (12) warping of land. In order to entitle the tenant to compensation under the Act the consent of the landlord must have been obtained for these improvements. That consent may be given unconditionally, or upon such terms as to compensation or otherwise as may be agreed upon between the landlord and tenant; and in the event of an agreement between the landlord and the tenant, any compensation there under shall be deemed to be substituted for compensation under the Act. Now I speak of another set of improvements, those that may be called temporary improvements. These are boning of land with undissolved bones; chalking of land; clay burning; claying of land; liming of land; marling of land; application to land of purchased artificial or other purchased manure; consumption on the holding by cattle, sheep, or pigs, of cake or other feeding stuff not produced on the holding. The tenant will be entitled to execute these improvements and claim compensation for them without being called upon to obtain the consent of, or to give notice to, the landlord. But under any new contract of tenancy beginning after the commencement of the Act, where any particular agreement in writing secures to the tenant for any of these temporary improvements which I have enumerated, executed after the commencement of the Act, fair and reasonable compensation, such compensation shall be deemed to be substituted for compensation under the Act. There remains another very important improvement which, perhaps, the House will observe is not included in the category of permanent or temporary improvements, and that is drainage. Drainage is an improvement of a durable character, of a very important character to both parties, a very general one, and one which it is desirable to promote. We make a special provision for that in the Bill. The tenant may execute drainage; but he is not entitled to compensation under the Act unless he gives notice to the landlord before, and the landlord on receiving notice has an option. He may either drain the land himself, and charge not more than 5 per cent to the tenant, or he may agree with the tenant on the terms upon which the drainage shall be executed. They may enter into any arrangement as to the terms upon which the work shall be done—as, for instance, dividing the expense, the landlord to find the pipes and the tenant the labour, or otherwise. But if the landlord will neither drain the land himself nor agree upon terms with the tenant for the drainage, then the tenant will be entitled to do it himself and claim compensation under the Act. Thus far I have spoken of improvements to be executed after the commencement of the Act. Now I will say a few words as to improvements executed before the commencement of the Act, and as to existing contracts of tenancy. The Bill applies to existing contracts of tenancy, but with a Proviso as to temporary improvements. Where an agreement in writing, or the custom of the country, or the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875, provides specific compensation for any such improvement, compensation shall be paid as so provided, and not under the Act. Where no compensation is thus provided for, the tenant will be entitled to claim compensation under the Act. The enactment of the Bill as to compensation for permanent improvements and to drainage applies also to existing con- tracts; but in this case it applies only to improvements executed after the commencement of the Act. The requirements of the Act as to the consent of, and notice to, the landlord cannot, it is evident, apply to improvements executed before the Act. The landlord is to be entitled to obtain a charge upon the estate either for compensation under the Act or for compensation substituted under any agreement authorized by the Act. There is a provision that when the owner of an estate is not the absolute owner the charge shall not be spread over an unduly long period of time. I have already stated that the Act is to come into operation on January 1, 1884. Now as to new tenancies. A year to year tenancy, current at the commencement of the Act, is to run on till the first day after the commencement of the Act on which either the landlord or tenant might by notice to the other have brought it to an end, and from that date it shall be deemed to be a now tenancy. The section as to notice to quit will substitute a year's notice for six months in all cases where six months is now only required, but with this Proviso—unless, the landlord and tenant agree in writing that they wish to retain the six months. This Proviso has been inserted mainly because we believe that many tenants like to be at liberty to quit at short notice. There is a provision that every agreement, covenant, or contract which deprives the tenant of compensation under the Act, except arrangement providing substituted compensation as authorized by the Act, is void in law and in equity. Therefore, the Bill is compulsory to this extent—that the tenant will always be entitled to receive compensation under the Act, except where he agrees to take substituted compensation or what he prefers or considers equivalent, in some other form. There is only one other part of the Bill to which I will refer, and that very briefly. That is the part dealing with the Law of Distress. The Bill substantially adopts the recommendations of the Committee presided over by the right hon. Member for Ripon (Mr. Goschen). I may say here that the framers of the Bill are very much indebted to the hon. Member for Midhurst (Sir Henry Holland), and that we have taken considerable liberties with his Bill. The Bill, I say, carries out substantially the recommendations of the Committee over which the right hon. Member for Ripon presided—that is to say, distress is to be limited to one year's rent. Agisted stock and hired machinery are protected in the manner recommended by the Committee; and the Bill goes on to alleviate distress in certain minor ways—that is to say, with regard to the statutory table of costs under the Act of 57 Geo. III., the limit of £20 in which is to be raised and taken to be £50. The time for redeeming things distrained is extended from five days to 15, and appraisements may be dispensed with. I hope that in trying to be brief I have not been unintelligible to the House. It was my intention to avoid entering into any controversial or argumentative matter, and I only wished, so far as I could, to put the House in possession of our proposals.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave tie given to bring in a Bill for amending the Law relating to Agricultural Holdings in England."—(Mr. Dodson.)

Motion agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. DODSON, Mr. SHAW LEFEVRE, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL.