HC Deb 02 March 1886 vol 302 cc1804-10

I beg to move the appointment of a Committee— To inquire into the terms of occupation and the compensation for improvements possessed by the occupiers of town houses and holdings in Great Britain and Ireland. The object I have in view is the collection of information upon which useful legislation can be based. The House will remember that I introduced a Bill on this subject some time ago, and which was only rejected by eight votes, and when I moved for a Committee in the last Parliament my Motion was only rejected by one vote. The Government on that occasion then said that they did not like to give me a Committee solely for Ireland on a subject which was equally interesting to Great Britain. I think, however, that that difficulty has now been overcome, for the House will remember that when my hon. Friend the Member for North Mayo (Mr. Crilly) moved his Bill upon the subject, the other day, the whole Liberal Party rose as one man and agreed to the principle, and then the Government consented to the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the whole matter as regards both Great Britain and Ireland. I expect, therefore, to receive support for this Motion not only from below the Gangway on the Liberal side, but from the whole Liberal Party. As to the subject itself its importance cannot be exaggerated, and it can hardly be realized by people who are not familiar with the matter, how different we are circumstanced in respect of this question to people in Continental countries. If hon. Members read the Blue Books they will find ample information on the whole subject. They will find that in most Continental countries people live in freehold houses—certainly in Germany and Italy. The same principle prevails to a great extent also in France, and although there it is not universal it will be seen that we are in quite an exceptional position, and I contend that an inquiry into the subject is not only a matter of expediency, but of justice. That is to say, that when a tenant has improved his house he is entitled to compensation in respect to such improvements at the end of his tenancy. I therefore beg to move for the Committee, which I think will be very valuable to occupiers and tenants of houses in towns, and will not, I think, be detrimental to the proprietors.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Select Committee be appointed, 'to inquire into the terms of occupation and the compensation for improvements possessed by the occupiers of town houses and holdings in Great Britain and Ireland.' "—(Colonel Nolan.)


The Motion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman is certainly in accordance with the promise which was made by the Prime Minister on the Motion that a Bill on the subject should be read a second time. The right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister said that the Government would agree to the appointment of a Committee. The Government are prepared to adhere to that promise, and, therefore, they will support this Motion. I have only to say that it must be understood that the inquiry by the Committee must not travel beyond the precise terms of the Reference, and that it will be no part of the Committee's duty to consider the subject of leasehold enfranchisement, which was spoken of on the Bill referred to, but which is not included in the Reference to this Committee. That subject will have to be dealt with in a specific manner, and, therefore, in assenting to the appointment of this Committee, the Government only intend to assent to the precise matters which are mentioned in the Motion.


It is very evident that the House is determined to obtain a great deal of information on a vast variety of subjects; but if we go on appointing Committees as rapidly as we have done during the last few days there will soon be very few Members left who are not serving on one Committee or another, and what will become of the Grand Committees, when the time arrives for them to be appointed, I cannot say. What has fallen from the right hon. Gentleman is not quite clear. This is a Motion— To inquire into the terms of occupation and the compensation for improvements possessed by the occupiers of town houses and holdings in Great Britain and Ireland, which is clearly understood to mean one particular thing, but is not to be understood to be some other thing which will clearly come within the words of the Reference, and if they are allowed to stand as they are I do not see how the Committee or the Government can prevent the question of leasehold enfranchisement being inquired into. Whether it is right or whether it is wrong I that leasehold enfranchisement should be inquired into—if these are the term upon which a Committee is to be granted, I think that the Government will find themselves in a difficulty if they are to stick to what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Then, what I want to know is who is to limit the scope of the inquiry? I think the right hon. Gentleman should give us some assurance that some Member of the Government will be put on the Committee to guide it into, and confine it to, those channels which the right hon. Gentleman has alluded to. Therefore, I hope that there will be some more discussion than has taken place, and that there will be some Member of the Government—the Home Secretary himself, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who would, perhaps, be the most suitable Member—placed upon the Committee. But, at any rate, I think the matter should have some further consideration by the Government before the Committee is granted.


I think it is only fair that the Government should be prepared to place upon this Committee a Member of the Government who will influence, as far as he can properly do so, the course of the inquiries. So far I can give the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) the assurance he asks for. I agree very much with the right hon. Gentleman, also, that we are granting our Committees too fast. We are only at the commencement of the Session, and if we go on at this rate we shall not have any Members left. If, however, there is a limited number of Members in the House there is another body which is still more limited in numbers, and that is the Government. It may be, therefore, that if we attempt to put a Member of the Government on all of those Committees the Members of the Government will be exhausted first. In regard to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I think that this Reference is mainly a Reference dealing with compensation for improvements, and that is the subject which will be dealt with.


I think that the right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question which my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross) raised. The point of the debate the other day was this—that the tenants of town houses in Ireland should have the same advantages as the tenants of land, and should receive compensation for their improvements. Now, the essence of the leasehold system under which many houses in English towns are held is that there shall be no compensation for improvements, because the land was let on building leases, and the tenant is supposed to receive all the advantages necessary in the low rent which he paid. Such being the case, it is hardly fair to refer the question of tenancies in towns to a Committee which will consider compensation for improvements, but not the relation between building lessees and ground landlords. That appears to me to be like the play of Hamlet with Hamlet left out. I cannot see that what has been said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir William Harcourt) is in accord with what has fallen from the Home Secretary (Mr. Childers), and I hope, therefore, that we shall have some further explanation.


said, the terms of the Reference were not clear. He understood that the occupation of town holdings was meant; but, to au ordinary mind, the occupation of "town holdings" meant something more than "town houses and appurtenances."


What I said was, that under this Reference it would not be possible for the Committee to examine such a proposal as the compulsory conversion of leaseholds into freeholds against the wish of the landlord. The Committee will not be able to enter into that matter.


I am sorry I cannot quite follow the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. I understand him to say that the Committee would not be able to examine into the question of the proper amount of compensation a tenant should be able to get from his landlord for his improvements. [Mr. CHILDERS: I said nothing of the sort.] Well, it appears to me to be impossible to fix what amount of compensation a tenant should be entitled to unless you examine into the actual terms of the tenancy. I must say that this Reference is drawn in the very widest terms. There is nothing in it which will not allow the Committee to consider anything, and I think that in granting this Committee we should see that we are not creating new precedents of a dangerous character. It is impossible to forget that this Committee was brought about by a Bill which contained one of the widest clauses ever brought before this House; and here we have a Reference to a Committee without any restriction whatever of the language of that measure. It really appears to me that this matter is to be thrown down to a Committee to be worried on a foregone conclusion, and I think that in this matter the Government is not acting fairly to the House. There was no Member of the Government who spoke on the Bill the other day, including the Prime Minister, who did not magnify the principles of it, and none of them expressed, except in the widest terms, the extent to which it would go. I do think that if the Government intend to grant the Committee they should have taken the matter up themselves, and that they should have made themselves responsible to the House and the country for it. I make no complaint against the hon. and gallant Member who has moved the Resolution. The subject is his own, and he has always treated it in a mild and business-like manner. I have been surprised, however, that such dangerous principles should come from so mild an hon. Gentleman. The mildness of the hon. and gallant Gentleman's language has had its advantages as far as he is concerned; but, at the same time, I do think that it is the duty of the Government to pay a little more regard to that poor and almost forgotten science called political economy, and the interests of the country, than they have on this occasion.


The Government, after considerable consideration, have entered into a deliberate arrangement on this subject; and it appears to me that the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down (Mr. Magniac) would have been more relevant if he had delivered it last Wednesday. I do not know, however, that it is the duty of an hon. Member, when the Government has entered into a solemn arrangement, to come down to this House and try to get them to upset it. If only the mind of the hon. Member, with his antique ideas of political economy, were consulted, there would probably be no Committees at all. I am sure that the Government will arrange the composition of the Committee so that nothing very revolutionary will be likely to come from it; and I submit respectfully that unless these two questions are left in the terms of Reference—namely, the terms of occupation and compensation for improvements, there will be nothing left to inquire into. They are the essential elements. Take them away and there is nothing left; and I, therefore, appeal to the Government to carry out their previous undertaking.

Motion agreed to.

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