HC Deb 24 February 1886 vol 302 cc1159-63

Order for Second Beading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it was substantially the same as the measure which passed through the House last Session, and which shared the unfortunate fate of other Bills which failed to survive the defeat of the Government. The movement in favour of the enfranchisement of copyholds had a long history. In 1837 an exceedingly strong Committee appointed to inquire into the subject reported as follows:— Your Committee are satisfied that this tenure is ill-adapted to the wants of the present day, and is a blot on the juridical system of the country. They consider that the peculiarities of copyholds, which have their root in the villenage of the feudal system, are highly inconvenient from the point of view of the lords and of the general interests of the State. Your Committee have come to the conclusion that the abolition of this tenure would not only be of great public benefit, but should be made, if possible, a national object. No plan which merely gives the parties an option to enfranchise will meet the exigencies of the case, and we are desirous to see a plan introduced which shall eventually be compulsory on both the lords and the copyholders. In 1851 another Committee sat and decided— That copyhold and customary tenures are frequently a bar to the application of skill and capital, an impediment to the improvement of the land, and injurious to the public interests, and that it is highly desirable, in the interests of the lord, the tenant, and the public, that the entire enfranchisement of these tenures should be effected as soon as possible on equitable terms. Among the reasons for the abolition of copyhold tenure was the peculiarity of the modes in which the land descended. In some manors the custom of gavelkind prevailed, the land descending to all children in equal shares; in others it went to the youngest child by the custom of borough-English; and in others the ordinary rules of devolution were followed. It was absurd that provision should have to be made in deeds and settlements for such widely-divergent peculiarities. Under the existing law the rights of the lord of the manor with respect to timber and mines were very peculiar. The right of property was in the lord, but the possession with the tenant, the result being that neither lord nor tenant could touch either timber or mines without the consent of the other. The result was that throughout the country copyhold land had little or no timber upon it. The complications in the conveyance of copyholds were great and vexatious. Many of the formalities ob- served were means of great oppression not useful to lords of the manor, but to their stewards and such like officials, who exacted heavy fees from tenants for nominal or useless services. One of the proposals of the Bill related to the heriots connected with copyholds. Under the heriot system the lord of the manor was entitled to take possession of the best chattel on his tenant's land, and cases had been known of valuable racehorses being seized in pursuance of this right. The anomaly would be removed by this Bill as far as timber was concerned; but, like previous measures on the subject of copyhold tenure, the Bill contained no provisions with regard to mines, on account of the enormous value of that kind of property. The Bill would also simplify the mode and lessen the cost of conveyances, and it would get rid of chief rents and heriots. Former Copyhold Bills had not fixed a time when the initiative must be taken by somebody; but the present measure provided that at the next admittance the lord must give a notice to the tenant to enfranchise that particular copyhold. Another provision was that the Land Commissioners should frame a Schedule of ordinary payments for ordinary cases of enfranchisements, and, consequently, tenants need in future experience no terror on the ground of expense. With regard to the stewards, they were not harshly dealt with, as the Bill would give to them what the Committee conceived to be fair compensation. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he concurred in the desirability of getting rid of copyhold tenure as soon as possible, but doubted whether the Bill of his hon. Friend would effect that object. The proposal that power should be given to the Land Commissioners to fix the scale of compensation with reference to enfranchisement was unprecedented and exceedingly dangerous. In his opinion, the Bill was an elaborate and somewhat complicated alteration of the existing law; and, so far from effecting compulsory enfranchisement, in many cases of an irritating nature connected with copyhold tenure it would have no effect whatever. There were many provisions in the Bill which were comparatively unnecessary, and in all the circumstances of the case he was of opinion that if the Bill were to be read a second time it would have to be considerably amended in Committee; and one thing ho would urge was, that the House should lay down a scale of compensation itself, and not refer it to the Land Commissioners. As to Clause 7, ho objected to it as altogether opposed to the professed object of the Bill.


in supporting the principle of the Bill, remarked that Clause 7 was undoubtedly a blot in the measure which would require to be dealt with at a later stage before it could be made workable.


said, it might be convenient to state at once that the Government agreed to the second reading of the Bill; but in making that statement it must be understood that they did not bind themselves not to propose some Amendments at a later stage. He hoped, if the second reading was obtained, that the hon. Member (Mr. C. H. James) would fix the Committee stage at a date sufficiently far in the Session to give hon. Members and the Government an opportunity of considering all the provisions and details of the measure. With regard to the criticisms of the hon. Member (Mr. T. H. Bolton), lie thought it would be found that the fixing of a scale of compensation by the Land Commissioners was only to be done under certain circumstances, and that there were other modes and ways of fixing compensation. He was somewhat surprised to find Clause 7 in the Bill, and he could not imagine how it came to be inserted, because it appeared to him to be calculated to defeat the main object of the measure. He hoped the House would now consent to the second reading of the Bill.


said, it was absolutely necessary that the House should have some time to consider the details of the Bill, because the measure was a somewhat complicated one. He agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for North Sussex (Mr. Gregory) that Clause 7 was a blot on the Bill. As to heriots, he would relate the case of a copyholder who reared a particular breed of horses. He knew that certain lords of the manor under whom he held copyholds were particularly anxious to become possessors of some of these animals. He, therefore, instructed his land steward to spread abroad the statement that he had died. The lords of the manor immediately sent down to his property to mark the particular horses which they wished to claim. The owner, becoming aware of this fact, and not being dead as was supposed, sold every one of the horses which had been so carefully marked by the lords of the manor, who were very much surprised at the state of things which was eventually revealed when he really died. He believed the House would be able to frame a measure out of this Bill which would, on the whole, be satisfactory.


said, he agreed in thinking that the main objection to this Bill was to be found in Clause 7. While the principle of the Bill had been admitted for many years, he thought it advisable to point out that while they were again asserting the principle of single ownership in land, as opposed to double ownership, the House must remember that of late it had been suggested throughout the country that the principle of double ownership should be introduced as against singlo ownership. Another objection he had to the measure was on the ground that it would be unfair to the lord of the manor. The present law provided for the enfranchisement of copyholds, but gave the power of enfranchisement to the lord of the manor as well as to the tenant. The present Bill proposed to confine that power to the tenant. This he thought most unfair.


in supporting the Bill, said, he hoped in Committee to suggest Amendments which would simplify the procedure and diminish the costs in the enfranchisement of small estates. It would be well if a Schedule were added to the Bill setting forth the maximum scale of costs for estates of different value.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday 22nd March.