§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ *MR. H. W. LAWSON (St. Pancras W.)
In asking the House to read this Bill a second time, I wish to point out how entirely the circumstances have changed since this subject was last discussed with a view to legislation Opinion outside and inside this House was then unformed; facts and information of a definite kind were wanting; and the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, rather laid down the lines on which a measure might be based than provided the machinery necessary for carrying it out. We do not claim for this Bill any perfection of draftsmanship, but it is so far complete that if it pass through Parliament, we believe it would be smooth, just and reliable in its working. The principle, however, is now exactly what it has always been, viz., the grant to urban leaseholders, with a substantial interest in their holdings, of the power to purchase the fee simple on fair and equitable terms. The case is not only stronger than it was in 1884, but it rests upon grounds as rich and full as any that can be made out for legislative change. There is first of all the Supplementary Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, quoted in the Memorandum. For more than a year they inquired into 890 the whole of those conditions which surround the dwelling places of our industrial population. The majority, including all the expert opinion on the Commission, reported that—The system of building on leasehold land is a great cause of the many evils connected with overcrowding, insanitary buildings, and excessive rents. This appears to be conclusively proved by the evidence of Lord William Compton, Mr. Boodle, the agent of the Marquis of Northampton, Mr. Vivian of Cambourne, and by the incidental evidence of other witnesses. The evidence of the two former witnesses contains a strong condemnation of the whole system of building on leasehold tenure. Those of your Majesty's Commissioners whose signatures are appended to this supplementary report are of opinion that the prevailing system of building leases is conducive to bad building, to deterioration of property towards the close of the lease, and to a want of interest on the part of the occupier in the house he inhabits; and that legislation favourable to the acquisition on equitable terms of the freehold interest on the part of the leaseholder would conduce greatly to the improvement of the dwellings of the people of this country.This report was a protest, not against leasehold generally, but that particular form which had come before the Commission, the London system of 99 years and under. It has been said that the opinion thus expressed was not justifiable or borne out by the evidence; but I hardly think that those who make the assertion can have read it with any care, for it teems with facts which lead up to the conclusion that I have read out. It should be remembered that, too, the Chairman of that Commission, although he was unable to sign any but the main report, has since expressed his full concurrence with this view. In 1884 there was also obtained a series of reports, numbering to 22 in all, from our representatives abroad, as to the tenure of dwelling houses in the different countries of Europe. I am not going 891 through that long list, but without exception everywhere freehold is the prevailing tenure, and houses are hardly ever built on any other terms than out and out ownership of the land. This system, as tried by experience, seems to give general satisfaction, and no difficulty has been found in preserving the features of a town by the legal enforcement of salutary covenants.For instance," says Sir John Walsham, writing in respect to France, "if a Frenchman shall have covenanted or agreed to use a house as a private dwelling house only, and shall subsequently turn it into a shop, the Tribunals would, on application from one or more of the neighbours, at once summarily order the shop to be closed, and damage to be paid in case any detriment had been caused through the infringement of the covenant.Not only abroad, however, is the London system of terminable leasehold condemned by its absence. It is exactly the same thing in this country. Nothing has been more clearly proved by the long inquiry of the Town Holdings Committee than that the system of short leasehold is limited in its operation to comparatively few towns and certain districts outside the Metropolis, on account of the general refusal in nearly all parts of the country but London, to build houses on any other system than the freehold or its equivalent, the perpetual, or long leasehold. Liverpool, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds, and Newcastle will have none of it. The Communities of most of the industrial centres of population have rejected the short terminable, in spite of the repeated efforts of the owners and trustees of settled estates and corporate property to thrust it down their throats. Of the population of England and Wales outside the Metropolis something like 60 per cent live in exclusively freehold or perpetual leasehold towns, and the same proportion of their houses are built upon those tenures, and 9 per cent live in towns mainly freehold with a similar proportion of houses. Only 11 Parliamentary Boroughs, most of them in Wales, and 19 towns with a population of from 20,000 to 7,000, live outside London under the London system. In Scotland, as a Glasgow lawyer says, in the returns forwarded to us, "the building lease is almost unknown." Instead of it the land is taken upon feu, which is, "for all practical purposes, a perpetual lease."
892 The Society of Solicitors in Scotland say that where a feu has been made impossible by entail, several large towns have been built upon 99 years' leases. Huddersfield is a good example of the failure of the owner of a settled estate to force short leasehold upon a community when the necessities of space were less pressing than in the Metropolis. The power of leasing land there was limited at first to 21 years, but this restriction was in practice evaded, and so powers for the term of 90 years were obtained by Act of Parliament. This, however, was found to be insufficient, and on the ground that other owners in the neighbourhood were leasing land for 999 years, and that the Ramsden Estate was prejudiced in value by not being in the same position as "the progress of buildings and improvements" might be diverted, the leasing power for 999 years was at last obtained and has become the universal tenure. So it has been elsewhere, and in many cases the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the greatest of the London landlords, have pursued the same policy, and have had either to enfranchise as at York, or to grant "three nines" as at Manchester. In these parts of the country there has been the free and healthy competition of rival systems and the worst has been driven to the wall. For this purpose settlements have been waived and Acts of Parliament modified. In the Metropolis there has been nothing in the nature of free choice. As Mr. Castle, the land agent of the Oxford Colleges, said in evidence before the Town Holdings Committee:—The people make the best of the circumstances, and put up with the monopoly when they cannot do better.When our Metropolitan population got too big for the City of London, and required housing outside, the land available was fettered by every sort of legal disability by charters, restraining statutes, and family settlements, and much of it was incapable of being leased for a longer time than forty years. "There was outside old London," says Mr. Harrison, "the Bishop of London, the manor of Stepney at one end, and his manor of Paddington and Westbourne at the other end, and an intermediate mass of prebendal manors attached to the different prebends of St. Paul, and generally from Hackney 893 on the one side, to Paddington on the other." There was a belt of land round London, which was occupied by settled estate owners, and their great Church holdings. The limitations and disabilities of Church property were made general by some 300 or 400 private Acts of Parliament, and voluntary settlement. This legislation was obtained without any reference to public policy by the owners of settled estates. Our London system of leasehold is statute made, and it has been maintained from the first by private Acts framed on the lines of ecclesiastical custom and family settlement for the benefit of the owners of the soil. I doubt its advantage even to them in the long run, but the great point harped upon by their agents before the Committee has been that their property has been kept together and they have thus evaded the law of the Thelusson case against accumulations. To-day others are imitating their example, and all over London there are persons ready to buy freehold ground rents of contiguous houses in order that they, too, may build up their pile of real property which may in time bring in a rich harvest to them. What is the other side to this picture of isolated and exceptional riches? The other side shows you the evils of ill-housing, over-renting, and over-crowding inflicted upon the greatest town population in the world as upon others living under the same or similar conditions. Short leasehold has led to bad building, because the house instead of being made as solid and substantial as the owner's means will allow is built to last the term of the lease and no longer. The average lease for building or rebuilding is gradually diminishing in in length until the 99 years' term has generally shrunk to 80, 70, 60, and, in some cases I know of, even 42 years' duration. A competent witness gave the Town Holdings Committee his opinion that "old freehold houses are as a rule very much better built than old leasehold houses." Mr. Stockhall, the representative witness of the Friendly Societies, said:The usual practice is for an estate to be laid out for building, and then the speculative builder runs up a certain number of houses which he immediately endeavours to sell to those who wish to occupy them. His object is to get rid of his property as quickly as possible. He then loses all responsibility with regard 894 to it; but if the builder had the hope that he could purchase the freehold at some future time, I take it that he would put up a very different class of house, since he would be sacrificing his own future interests if he built them as they are now jerry built.An intelligent artizan who spoke in the same sense, comparing building on freehold and short leasehold, said that "one is built, the other is only a pretence at building." Rather than to any particular evidence, I appeal to the general knowledge that in Scotland and the North of England, the houses for the occupation of the trading and working classes are sounder and better than those lath-and-plaster fabrics run up in rows by what we call in London the "jerry builder," what they call in Lancashire the "brick-on-edge man," when it is said that if you drive a nail into the wall of one house it causes the whole terrace to vibrate with anguish. That seine supervision of buildings is necessary none will dispute, but the supervision of the ground landlord in the outer districts and skirts of the Metropolis, when translated in action, has amounted to no more than the endeavour to get his land covered as quickly as possible at the highest ground rent obtainable in the market. As for the speculative builders, if a few have prospered on a large scale of operations, the failure of the many has convinced them that when short leasehold is general they labour under a weight which puts them at a great disadvantage as compared with their fellows in such a town as Leeds. Their's is a risky and unsatisfactory business. All of them who gave evidence before that Committee were in favour of enfranchisement, for I firmly believe that they would sooner work soundly and honestly to house the population if they had the chance, and that this short leasehold system is mainly responsible for the jerry builders' existence. As it is with construction in the first place, so it is afterwards with maintenance and repair. After a few years of a short lease has run out the market value becomes quickly, if not beautifully less, and the lessee refuses to carry out any improvements or to make any additions that are not rendered absolutely necessary by the conditions of his life. He will often put aside comfort and convenience, because he knows that part of the value he thus creates remains unexhausted at the end of his 895 term, and is transferred to the pockets of those who have not contributed a penny towards the increase. Besides this there is the Bill for repairs, that good building would diminish. So you have, in the leasehold system, a fatal check to beneficial improvements. That is not all. At the point when this rickety tenure is about to break down at the fag end of the lease, you bring into play the house jobber, or house farmer, of the type of the notorious Mr. Flight, who gets a great number of houses into his hands, and then sweats extortionate rents out of his luckless tenants. The practice is to do little or nothing to mend the unsanitary and dilapidated condition of the house. A coat of whitewash covers a multitude of sins. It may be said that by the covenants of the lease lessees are forced to "keep in good repair." Unfortunately, those covenants have neither been fulfilled nor enforced. On the Northampton Estate courts meant to be left open have been covered with houses, arid the agent told me the covenants were of no avail. In some cases there has been a tacit acquiesence in this neglect on the part o f the ground landlord. If covenants were enforced the lease would be thrown up and the ground rent extinguished. It may be said, "Then the local authority will intervene and have these things done." I believe it is too often made the whipping boy of the ground landlord. In the first place, there is the difficulty of putting the saddle on the right horse. Lord Shaftesbury told the Royal Commission—It is a difficult point of law to say who are the owners. There are a number of persons holding different leases in the same house.Then, if they know, they are often to saddle the holder of a short lease with the cost of repairs, which may exceed the whole value of his interest in the property. In London I have heard of a case where the most vigilant of all the Vestries was unwilling to take the necessary steps to secure sanitary conditions, because the lessee would thus have had to spend £300 upon property in which the whole interest was not worth more than £200. Thus the local authority is impeded and thwarted in its action by the privileged position of the ground landlord. It is not possible that any house farmer who takes up only on short terms of under 896 10 years could have benefited by the passing of this Bill, but it is possible that some lessees who do not themselves occupy might have. In some districts a large proportion of the lessees are occupiers, Woolwich or the mining districts of Wales for example; in others the precarious nature of leasehold has prevented men of small means, especially artisans and labourers, from investing their savings in a property which is a constantly diminishing quantity. I believe that to be a good thing in itself. If some middlemen take advantage of the power to enfranchise they will not have the same motive for keeping the fee simple of the property in their hands as has the ground landlord. "The middleman," said one witness, "is a much more commercial person than the original owner." He will buy to sell. Freehold will circulate as it does in most of our big towns, from hand to hand, and in any case the man will have a direct interest in keeping his property in a safe and sanitary condition, and will be more answerable to the jurisdiction of the local authority which will deal with one responsible proprietor. One of the worst features of the household system is the constant exaction by estate agents of exorbitant fees and law costs on every transaction connected with a house. One witness, speaking of the position of an agent, said, "it is wonderful what pickings there are." Speaking of returns from covenants, Mr. Harrison said—On all these things you always pay fees to the solicitor and fees to the surveyor, and in many of these restrictive covenants, for instance on the Gunter estate, you cannot make a single assignment without you give notice and pay a fee of two guineas.Other witnesses spoke of fees up to five guineas, and this sum is the present maximum on the Portman estate. It used to be 50 per cent higher before 1885, and the agent admits that these fees go towards his salary, and that he charges a consulting fee of two guineas for a statement of terms for any purpose to tenants as well as applicants. In fact, you pay fees at every turn. These pickings account for a good deal of the opposition to leasehold enfranchisement, and they have the same noxious effect that the payment by results and percentage has upon collectors of weekly 897 rents. The people who live in short leasehold towns not only pay in fees, they pay in rent too. A builder who gave evidence, said, "The vast majority of people who are taking shelter or houses in the suburbs of London are paying 10 to 12 per cent more rent for accommodation under the divided ownership than they are on the basis of one ownership," because they pay the difference of the rate of interest at which money can be borrowed on freehold and leasehold land. Building Societies do not prosper in London as they do in the North on account of the insecurity of tenure, and money is kept back by Friendly and Co-operative Societies which would be freely lent and spent upon freehold. It is not only the lessee that pays; the tenement occupier and lodger also contribute their full share of the inflated rack-rent of the premises in which they live; and the poorer the neighbourhood the heavier the burden. Lessee and occupier together pay the whole cost of those permanent improvements by which their town or neighbourhood are beautified and renewed. In the Metropolis, the Metropolitan Board or other local bodies have thus expended over £37,000,000, with the authority of the Treasury or the Local Government Board. It is impossible to estimate the full amount of the increment of value that the landowners derive from this outlay of public money, yet they have not contributed one penny towards it. The new rates imposed for new purposes of general utility and advantage, many of which could never have been foreseen or imagined, when the lease was originally drawn, have fallen on every class of interest, but that which has gained the greater part of the ultimate benefit. This is not the only way in which they have reaped where they have not sown of the fruits of other men's labours. On the renewal of leases for premises of a business or trading character they have, in many instances, put into their pocket some of the special value that attaches to a commercial connection and established reputation called "trade goodwill." Sometimes it is taken by way of fine; at others by way of increase of rent. I could give many examples, but I will only give one of those supplied to the 898 Town Holdings Committee and not contradicted.A Co-operative Society was started by some workmen at Woolwich. They took up cottage property at £160 a year, and converted it into a place of business at the cost of £3,000 or £4,000, and erected stabling and bakehouses. To provide for the necessities they want to spend £10,000 or £12,000 in taking the block down and rebuilding. For this purpose they asked for the extension of their lease from 11 years to 99 years, but the landlord refused to give more than 70 years on the surrender of the remainder of their time, thus reducing it to 59 years. For this he proposed to raise their ground rent from £160 to £360.This, according to Mr. Jones, the Secretary of the Union of the Working Men's Co-operative Societies is the sort of treatment they have experienced, and fear the repetition of all over London, and nothing has so much tended to depress and hamper co-operative enterprize. What applies to them applies to ordinary trade in shops and places of business. I know of a case, not given in evidence, where a man took a 25 years' lease of some premises in the Strand, on a large estate, and fitted them out for newspaper offices. Because he was successful and found it difficult, if not impossible to move elsewhere, he was fined to the extent of an increase of 40 per cent to his annual rent. These examples could be multiplied from all those parts of London where the original leases either have fallen in or are about to lapse, if the tradesmen would come forward. The renewals are only purchased by sharing the profits and returns of legitimate trading with the owner of the land, who has borne none of the risks and contributed none of the capital. It is the same with the fabric and improvements of private houses. In the quarry districts of Wales the workmen carve their houses out of the rocks. They have taken up 60 or 40 year leases of allotments of mountain land, and have built substantial dwellings at a cost of about £300, borrowed from the building societies. At the end of 40 years this money is paid off, and then the house on which they have lavished so much labour is soon to revert to the landlord, and they have pay its annual value; yet for that ground they have paid in rent four and five times its former price. It cannot be wondered at that discontent and soreness of the 899 Welsh people with the leasehold system are growing day by day. It is not only the case with shops and houses. It is the same with chapels. Fines are charged and rents are raised on the renewal of leases for the sites of places of religious worship. The Mayor of Sheffield gave an example from the Norfolk estate, where within 10 years of the expiring of a lease, in order to obtain a short renewal, the lessees of a Wesleyan Chapel, in a district where it was much needed, had to surrender the rest of the term and pay a rent of £100, instead of £8 16s. In one instance, in London, £1,000 was charged as a fine and the rent raised. Thus, in all these cases the Occupiers, whatever their necessity, must accept the terms offered them or sacrifice the results of their expenditure of capital and labour, which may be sold over their heads. Short leases have taxed the goodwill and expenditure of traders of every kind for the benefit of the ground landlord. They have led to bad and unsound building; they have imposed vexatious and harassing covenants on lessees, which have checked beneficial improvements and made them pay exorbitant fees and costs at every turn. They have brought property in an unsanitary and dilapidated condition and have fettered the hands of the local authority. By separating ownership and occupancy they have called into being a number of intermediate interests of middlemen and ultimately of house jobbers, and inflated the rackrents both of lessees and occupiers. They have hampered the excellent work of co-operation, of friendly and of building societies, which have done so much to raise the standard and increase the means of living of the poorer classes. More important than any one side of the question is the general effect of leasehold tenure upon the condition and character of our urban population. I believe it to have been most hostile to the spirit of thrift and self help among those classes that most need its development, and fatal to the civic character of those whom we wish to interest and occupy in the public affairs of their own locality. "The present system," said one witness—is distinctly demoralizing to the workman It makes him ready to go if he once begins shifting about. They ought to have an inducement to settle in one locality.900 The condemnation of leasehold tenure has been pronounced most effectively by two of the agents of the great London properties. "Wherever you have the poor," said Mr. Bourne, agent to the Duke of Bedford. "you get decadence, rottenness, and decay." "The working man," said Mr. Hunt, agent to Lord Portman, "occupies a tenement for an average term of ten weeks." They contemplate under the present system an ideal state for ever, continued in which, the working men are to live for an endless series of ten-week terms in a bottomless sink of "decadence, rottenness, and decay." The evidence we have heard clearly proves that the greater the security of tenure, the greater has been the desire of the working class to become possessed of their own dwellings, and when possessed of them, to keep them in good repair. The opportunity of purchasing the freehold of their houses at a fair price is more likely to lead to providence than any other chance of investment. They not only save for themselves, but they create a property around which to accumulate their recollections and affections to leave to their children who are to come after them. The man thus bound by the sense of property and responsibility is surely likely to show more public virtue and energy than the weekly tenant or the short leaseholder, whose civic aspirations are limited to the term of their occupation. I have tried, I fear at too great length, to show cause and reason for this Bill. Its proposals and provisions are plain and straightforward. All lessees of houses, shops, chapels, or other buildings, having a term of twenty years unexpired may acquire the reversion of their property by purchase. The figure twenty has no magical potency, but it represents a permanent and substantial interest in the holding. As a matter of fact the notices and forms are prescribed, and it is our hope that most transactions arising under this Bill will be settled out of court by agreement. Where this cannot be clone the reference is in England to the County Court, as being an accessible and cheap tribunal for the purpose, and in other parts of the kingdom to courts holding an analogous position to County Courts. The purchase money is assessed at 901 what in the opinion of the court is the value of the present interests plus the reversions. It has been urged that the cost of investigating and proveing title would in many cases be prohibitive to men of small means wishing to take advantage of the proposed power of enfranchisement. However this objection might have applied to former Bills, it does not apply here, for by Clauses 13 and 21 this is regulated by Section 2 of the Vendor and Purchaser Act, 1874, according to which actual receipt of the rent for 12 years is deemed sufficient, and held to be evidence of title for purposes of conveyance, and the difficulties which have arisen under the Settled Land Act are avoided by providing that only one set of costs are to be paid by the lessee, on a fixed scale of 30s. per £100 when the purchase money does not exceed £1,000. More important still is the provision of Clause 14 with regard to the observance of restrictive covenants, which does away with what has been called the Belgrave Square argument. A distinction is drawn between salutary and necessary covenants on the one hand and frivolous and vexatious covenants on the other. Those that are included in the former class will attach to the freehold just as effectually as to the leasehold, and will be enforceable either by the vendor or by the local authority. In addition to this the local authority is given the general power of restraining the purchaser from doing or omitting to do any act that would prejudicially affect adjoining owners. Many fears have been expressed that it will be impossible to preserve the amenities of property without the supervision of the ground landlord. The example of Southport shows that under leasehold restrictions covenants are used as an instrument for increasing rent rather than for the protection of the neighbourhood. On two estates there it was proved that a considerable sum had been exacted by way of fines for raising covenants, and the Town Clerk said:—When covenants are dispensed with, in nearly every case an increased ground rent is demanded, and very heavy costs are imposed upon the lessees, which they regard as a most serious tax upon their industries.I believe that the local authority would act in a very different manner towards the community it rules and 902 represents, guided by the expert opinion of its surveyors. As to the legal validity of the course we propose, restrictive covenants have been and are being attached to land by many private Acts governing the disposition of estates, and, at the present moment, our plan has been already treated with the most satisfactory results in the working of a scheme of enfranchisement that is being carried out at Torquay. I hope these provisions will relieve the minds of those who believe that in the case of enfranchised households the qualified independence of the householder would have a worse result that the freehold system has produced in the great centre of industry and population. A new and important point in this Bill is that by agreement between the reversioner and the lessee, a perpetual or terminable rent charge may be substituted for a capital payment. Leases for lives are only treated differently in so far as all limitation time is absent. What has been called the "flesh and blood lottery in human lives" is now so generally condemned that it needs no treatment at my hands. The hardship inflicted where the population is migratory and the trade fluctuating by the expense and difficulty of insurance against the reversion of the property into the hands of the ground landlord is well known. In Great Malvern the existence of the lives have to be proved by bringing the persons to the landlord's house, and those who have left the neighbourhood have to be advertised for. As to the constant injustice of the system, I have only to quote one case at Devonport. The father and mot her of children died within twelve months of each other, leaving four orphans un-provided for except by the provision of a house held on lives. Within the next year the two persons died whose lives were nominated in the house, and not only did the house fall in hand, but two heriots with the conventionary rent were demanded which was equal to five times the annual ground rent in one year. In some places the landlords have ceased to grant these leases, but in others the system is still continued. It is clear that a tenure which is universally condemned ought, as soon as possible, to be put an end to, and that is the reason that it is exceptionally treated in this Bill. This is a sketch of the Bill. One great 903 objection that will be urged against it is that it interferes with existing contracts. I hardly think that this point can be urged as a serious argument in a Parliament which passed the Irish Land Act of 1887, breaking through the contract of the agricultural lease without a murmur. It is perfectly well known that the Acts of Parliament interfering with contracts are now so numerous that it is superfluous to quote them. For the compulsion to be exercised you have the analogy and example of copy hold enfranchisement and of the Allotments Act, different in their object and machinery, but both based upon the same principles of public policy. You have given analogous powers to the Police and the Post Office Authorities. I could find precedent upon precedent, provided it is allowed that the public expediency has been proved. Besides that, where this Bill would operate, freedom of contract has been a mere formal phrase. When, on the other hand, you have one landowner or a ring of landowners pursuing one system on a settled plan of self-interest, and on the other a would-he tenant, the conditions of whose life and industry fix him to one place, the tenure is not accepted by mutual agreement, it is forcibly imposed by one party to the contract. I am met by the noble Lord the Member for Devon (Viscount Lymington) with a Motion in which he asks the House to wait before coming to a decision for the report of the Committee on Town Holdings. That Committee has, as I suppose every Member here knows, already presented three voluminous books of evidence, and I imagine every Member who has studied this mass of evidence knows as much about the matter as Members of the Committee. The Committee does not propose to take more evidence, and therefore the House is in as good position to judge of the matter as we are upstairs. But there is something more than that, this evidence has been summarized and condensed by a dozen hands. Really it would be a great advantage to the Committee to have a decision on the question of principle by the whole House, it would strengthen the hands of the Committee, and enable them to proceed with their report with greater confidence after the House has expressed an opinion for or against the Bill. Unfortunately the noble Lord 904 would not allow that; he meets the Bill with a procrastinating Amendment, although he well knows how impossible it is for a private Member to choose his own time for bringing forward a Bill. Instead of meeting the Bill as the right hon. Member for Brighton would, with a direct negative, he chooses to couch his Amendment in a misleading form of words. This reform has been demanded by almost every city and district where the short leasehold system prevails. Petitions in favour of the Bill have been presented from several County Councils and Corporations; it has the approval of the Society of Scotch Solicitors, and, I believe, of the Incorporated Law Society, and this I think will show the lawyers on the front Bench opposite that it is not considered by their colleagues in the subordinate branch of their profession as a very revolutionary or damaging measure. It has been supported by witnesses of every class and condition before the Town Holdings Committee, including some ground landlords and builders. The whole of the 43 witnesses who opposed it were either law agents or surveyors, with but one exception, who gave stereotyped evidence according to their brief, and when we consider the nature of their testimony, although it shows of course a great deal of expert knowledge, their opinion on the matter of 'principle is not worth very much. If this system is so beneficial to the builder, the tradesman and the working man it was certainly strange that none came for ward to support its perpetuation. When you put the professional opposition on one side, you find that you have against you another set of men. On the London County Council, and outside, this measure has been met with bitter opposition by the Socialist element. They fear that I their schemes of social revolution may be made impossible by the creation of a large number of occupying owners, possessed of the freehold of their land and house. I agree with them, but I am not inclined to let things run on, because "the worse remains behind." I believe it to be a matter of extreme importance to enlarge and assure the interest of the people of our great towns, and especially of this vast metropolis; in their own houses and their own neighbourhood. I wish to see the old English. 905 idea of a homely home once more realized in fact, as it is not in London to-day. I wish to see individual responsibility established for the social evil and public danger of unsafe and unsanitary housing. I wish to see our citizens filled with the spirit of responsibility that the sense of security and ownership inspires. This Bill, I respectfully submit, will effect these objects in a way and by a means that are at once cheap, just, and practical.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *VISCOUNT LYMINGTON (Devon, South Molton)
Before I enter into the matter of this Bill, I may be allowed to say a few words in reference to the remark of the hon. Member when he complained that I met his proposal with a dilatory Motion. I am aware that my right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Sir W. Marriott) and others have given notices to meet the Bill with a direct negative, and the reason why I worded my Amendment as I have—and I can assure the House I did so after very careful consideration—was that I believed it was a course absolutely unprecedented for any Member to force the House to a decision upon a question which the House has referred to a Select Committee, and upon a question as to which the Committee will very speedily, I hope, offer a Report. I can assure the right hon. Member for Brighton and others that, speaking for myself, I should be quite prepared to meet the Bill by a direct negative, for I think the Bill is absolutely unjustifiable, both in practice and principle. I feel, also, that the House ought to treat its own Committee with some respect; but the hon. Member for Bristol, who will second my Amendment, will, I have no doubt, in the course of his remarks deal further with this point. And now to deal with the proposal of the hon. Member for St. Pancras. The hon. Member recommends his Bill to the House in the Memorandum that is affixed thereto and which refers to the Supplementary Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes. Now, in dealing with this Supplementary Report, I would venture to remark, in the first place, that it is not signed by several of the most influential of the Commis- 906 sioners; it is not signed by the Prime Minister, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or by many others whose authority would carry great weight. But, supposing that the Report had been so signed, there is not one tittle of evidence to support the Report. No comparison is made in this Report between a leasehold system, a freehold system, and any other system; and the question of the comparative value of building systems was never presented to the Royal Commission. What does this Supplementary Report say? To use its own language, it is proved by the evidence of Lord Wm. Compton of Mr. Boodle, and what those who prepared the Report are pleased to describe in a rather vague manner as the incidental evidence of other witnesses. Now really I am unable to understand, or to deal with what these Commissioners who sign this Report call the "incidental evidence of other witnesses," but I will go to the evidence of those whose names are given. Mr. Boodle wrote a letter to the standard, dated May 9, 1884, in which he used these words:—Speaking for myself, I beg to express my surprise at being reported to be adverse to building leases on the leasehold system. My evidence contained nothing to that effect. I do not think that any better system than the leasehold system could be devised.Then in one portion of his evidence he says:—If a man hardens his heart, and treats his fellow creatures like brute beasts, and crowds them into sties like pigs, this system of middle men farming houses is the most remunerative thing possible. I think it would immensely increase under the facilities for acquiring separate freeholds.And now I will venture to deal with the evidence of my noble friend (Lord Compton), and I would only say in passing that I very much regret, the hon. Member, perhaps not intentionally, did an injustice to the noble owner of the Northampton estate.
§ *MR. LAWSON
I made no reference at all to the Northampton property; the agent over and over again said that the covenants did not enable him to take the course he wished.
§ *VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
I am glad to have elicited that statement, because the hon. Member went on to say that the action of landlords went to encourage the unsanitary state of property. I 907 think I can best meet the evidence of my noble Friend by mentioning certain facts connected with the Northampton estate, and I add these to illustrate the absolute worthlessness of the Report on which we are asked to accept this Bill. The Commissioners never took the trouble to investigate a similar district in which houses were erected about the same time but which were held under a different tenure. They had not to go far afield. If they had only gone to the Italian colony, Saffron Hill, adjoining the Northampton estate, they would have found there the very worst evils existing. The whole of this district consists of small freeholds. Of this, Mr. Martin, a very able man, of the firm of Thurgood and Martin says: "Anything worse from any point of view cannot be imagined." Circumstances other than those of tenure, are accountable for the squalor of the Clerkenwell district. In the first place, just before the sittings and the Report of the Royal Commission, a great many houses in the neighbourhood were pulled down, and the demolition was due to the Gray's Inn Road improvements and the clearances for the Midland Railway. From this cause a large industrial population was displaced, and overcrowding was caused in Clerkenwell. In the second place there was at the time a very severe depression in the watch trade, the staple industry of the district; and the third cause was connected with the Northampton estate. A few years before the sittings of the Royal Commission a number of leases fell in on the Northampton estate. The houses were not so dilapidated as to necessitate rebuilding, and the occupiers were not sufficiently substantial men to induce Lord Northampton and his agent to grant them leases. What was done—and I must confess I think it was a great misfortune—was that the houses were let on seven years' leases to middlemen. The evidence before the Royal Commission showed that the state of the actual occupiers under the middle-men was infinitely worse than the state of the tenants under the long leasehold tenure. This has been used as a justification for leasehold enfranchisement, but the facts point in an exactly contrary direction. On the expiration of the long leasehold system the houses were let to middlemen on seven years' leases to collect the 908 rents, Lord Northampton and his agent feeling indisposed to collect the weekly rents. But these middlemen farmed the rents at an enormous profit, and these leases—occupation leases or leases in which middlemen intervene—are leases you cannot deal with and do not attempt to deal with under this precious Bill. The fact is that unless you can compel every lessee to occupy his own holding the effect of this Bill would only be to vastly extend the practice to which Dr. Dixon in his evidence before the Commission alluded when speaking of land property at Bermondsey. He said—"The owners do not care to be troubled with the property and let their houses on on short renewable occupation leases." This was done with regard to the Penton estate and the Charterhouse property. I do not want to trouble the House by going into details, but if any hon. Member desires to verify my allusions, he will find them under questions before the Commission 3450–1. In fact, the Supplementary Report, on the authority of which we are asked to support this Bill, totally unprecedented in principle, is not only supported by evidence, but, as I hope I shall be able to show, it is in direct opposition to the facts of the case and the evidence subsequently taken by the Committee on Town Holdings. Evidence as to insanitary houses and overcrowding at Bristol, at Newcastle-on-Tyne, at Camborne and at Alnwick, was given before the Commission. At Camborne, the houses are built on leases for lives, and it was with Camborne that Mr. Vivian chiefly dealt in the much course of his evidence. I do not lay stress on Camborne, because I think it is generally accepted by hon. Members on both sides irrespective of their opinions as to leasehold enfranchisement that the system of leases for lives is bad in principle. The houses at Bristol, Newcastle and Alnwick are all built on the freehold system. At Bristol the houses stand back to back without any ventilation at all. At Newcastle you have tall houses built back to back or without proper yards. Some allusion was made to the City Baths in St. Luke's and it appears that these were built entirely on freehold tenure. I find it almost impossible within a reasonable limit of time to deal with the mass of 909 provincial evidence. I may, however, mention the fact that at Nottingham the insanitary area dealt with under the Cross and Torrens Act was entirely freehold, and at Nottingham to-day there are not less than 10,000 houses built back to back and without proper ventilation held by middle-men freeholders and let on weekly tenancies. If I turn to London which is made the battle ground of this question I find that the worst, the most degraded properties exist under the freehold system and I shall prove this to the House, not by vague and general assertions but by reference to authorities each of which supports and maintains the other. Honourable Members remember Mr. Mearn's "Bitter Cry of Outcast Lend," which produced a great impression, and those who have read the book will remember the terrible description of "Collier's Rents" which included Tabard Street, Royal Tent Court, Bull's Head Court, and Unicorn Court. As to this property we are able to arrive at precise information because "Collier's Rents" were dealt with as an insanitary area under Cross and Torrens Act. What was the result of the inquiry? It was necessary to ascertain at the time what were the conditions of tenure, and out of 41 houses dealt with under the Act, 36 were freeholds and five were small leaseholds, these five belonging not to large land owners, whom the hon. Member (Mr. Lawson) holds up to obloquy, but small middle men. In Tabard Street, supposed to be the worst street in London, 11 out of 12 condemned houses were freeholds. Turning from the particular to the general; while the average in London of leasehold to freehold houses is as seven to one, Mr. Vigers—a great authority, because under him every single clearance was carried out—states that out of 1,022 holdings dealt with under 21 schemes as insanitary under Cross and Torrens Act, 463, or nearly half, were held under the freehold system and let on short leases to the occupiers, the other 559 being small leaseholds. The House will note these illustrations as to the comparative effect of the leasehold and freehold systems. And now I call attention to the case of the Bedfordbury and the Soho property. These two cases deserve special attention, because Bedfordbury and 910 Soho were both at one time attached to the property of great landlords. Bedfordbury belonged at one time to the Bedford Estate, but it was granted out in the middle of the seventeenth century in plots to people for fee farm rents in perpetuity. Well, what was the consequence, or rather what happened? Bedfordbury became a bye word for a disgraceful property; the Metropolitan Board of Works was forced to step in to buy out the people and pull down the houses at the expense of the rates, and they granted the site to the Peabody trustees. What was the case in Soho? The worst part of Soho, through which the Shaftesbury Avenue now goes, belonged at one time to the Portland Estate, but it was sold at the end of last century to a large number of small freeholders. Well, I should like to ask, was there a more disgraceful place in London, more remarkable as the lurking-place of crime and degradation, for dilapidated houses and the absence of any sense of decency, than the Seven Dials? It is notoriously one of the worst parts of London, and the whole of the Seven Dials was in the hands of small freeholders. I suppose I shall be confronted with the example of Leeds. Leeds is a freehold city, and I wish to give every credit to its admirable Building Society, and I am sure the working classes owe a great debt of gratitude to that exceedingly well managed Society. But there is absolutely no similarity between a provincial town like Leeds and a great overgrown city like London. In Leeds the workman who owns his house can get from his house to his work, though the one may be in the suburbs and the other in the centre of the town, in a way that is absolutely impossible to the workman in London. In Loudon, in the first place, workmen do not have houses with 20 years' leases unexpired. If such is the case, why did not the hon. Member give us a Return to show it? It is an invention, a perfect myth; they do not inhabit such houses. It is shown conclusively by the Returns we have that, in London, workmen do not care to own their houses; they prefer weekly tenancies. Look at the rules laid down by the Peabody Trustees, men who are supposed to have some acquaintance with the wants and wishes of the working classes. In regard to 911 the Peabody dwellings, the Trustees have passed a rule which enables a working man living in a Peabody building in one part of London to break his occupation in that particular dwelling in the middle of a week and remove to a similar dwelling in another part of London and finish his week without loss of rent. But suppose that the cases of Leeds and London are on all fours, which clearly they are not, what was the evidence of Mr. Fatkin, the manager of the Leeds Building Society? He stated:—We have plenty of land speculators in Leeds who have built and do build scores of houses on freehold land.That is to say, that he himself shows that leasehold enfranchisement would not put a stop to the middle man rack-renting a class poorer than himself. Mr. Fatkin says further:—Many members of the Leeds Building Society own as many as four or five houses besides their own houses which they occupy.What does this show? I do not condemn the members of the Society who own these houses; I hate the practice of looking on men of property with suspicion and distrust. But Mr. Fatkin himself in his own statement has shown that members of the Society, not only own the houses in which they live but other house property, which no doubt they can let to a poorer class at rents equal to those fixed by the great landlords. And now I come to the question, "Will leasehold enfranchisement benefit the traders." It has been asserted by advocates of leasehold enfranchisement that the great body of London shopkeepers desire this Bill. Well, I can find no justification for that statement in the evidence given before the Committee. Mr. Martin of the firm of Thurgood and Martin gave three instances of people in a manufacturing business converting their freehold into leasehold, and Mr. Vigers, a man of considerable experience, gave us some very dramatic evidence with regard to Holborn Viaduct. The shops there were at one time all freehold, the people who put up the buildings bought the land, but every single one of these shops on Holborn Viaduct originally freehold has been since converted into leasehold, and the Crown has bought the ground rents. The fact is and it does not require a great deal of obstruse erudition to dis- 912 cover it, that traders cannot afford to lock up their money in freeholds. A trader does not want to lock up his capital at 4 per cent, he wants to have it free and to put as much of it as possible into his business; that is an explanation full, complete and satisfactory and based on common sense of why shop keepers do not desire to own their shops. But much stress has been laid on another point, and it has been urged again with practically no tittle of evidence that the landlord is in the habit on the expiration of the lease of raising the rent on the basis of the goodwill value above that of similar property in the neighbourhood, and that the said landlord is able to enforce that rise in the rent by the loss which the trader would suffer if he ventured to remove his business. The hon. Member has given us no instance in facts and figures where this has occurred.
§ *VISCOUNT LYMINGTON
That is the only case the hon. Member can give, and to justify this Bill it is necessary to prove, not an isolated case, but a general practice. I do not say there might not be such cases. However, I am now dealing with the question of goodwill, and the first we have to consider is the goodwill due to the position of the shop or is it due to the ability and efforts of the particular shopkeeper? If the goodwill is due to the position and the neighbourhood, then it is the foresight of the landlord in putting the shop there that has created the goodwill not the shopkeeper. If the shopkeeper has developed the business, not through his own foresight, but owing to the development of the neighbourhood, I say distinctly it is the foresight of the landlord that has made the shop, and the shopkeeper derives during the term of his lease the whole of the unearned increment. But if the goodwill has been due to the ability of the shopkeeper, I do not believe it is taking a likely view of the interest of the landlord to say he will impose unfair terms upon his tenant. I do not say but that possibly one or two cases might be trumped up, but are there any number of cases to establish this as a hardship? It is not the interest of the landlord to deal unfairly with his 913 tenant the shopkeeper for this reason; first, the co-operative stores and general purposes shops have offered to owners of shop property as well as shopkeepers in London very severe competition; and in the second place there are few properties that are so large that a shopkeeper cannot move from one shop to another without leaving the district. But let us take the firm unanswerable ground that is afforded in Mr. Charles Harrison's evidence. This gentleman sent a series of questions to solicitors in every town of any size in England and Wales, for the purpose of eliciting evidence to show that rent is raised on goodwill. The result of this inquiry was that in 110 towns rent is not raised on goodwill. There are 14 towns in which rent was raised on goodwill, and of these 14 towns seven are freehold; three, including Southampton, 999 years' towns; and four only including Swansea, and Devonport, and, I presume, these are the exceptions which are urged in support of this extraordinary Bill—four only, including Swansea and Devonport, are leasehold. As a matter of fact, leasehold enfranchisement can and would offer no protection to the shopkeeper in regard to goodwill; to do that you would not require leasehold enfranchisement but tenant enfranchisement. The mass of shopkeepers are not tenants who hold under-leases having 20 years unexpired, they are shopkeepers holding under occupation leases from middlemen, and these are leases the hon. Member cannot and does not propose to touch under this Bill. It is really absurd to suppose that shopkeepers, twenty years before the expiration of the lease, would become anxious to preserve the goodwill, which, at the expiration of that period, might be worth nothing; it is ridiculous. I can use no other term. And now I come to the question of ground rents. The investors in ground rents are a very large and very meritorious class, they are a class of investors satisfied with a small interest in return for large reversions. As to the number and extent of the persons who invest in ground rents, I may mention that during the years 1884 and 1885, despite a time of depression, ground rents to the value of £900,000 were sold at the Mart. Now leasehold enfranchisement would destroy these in- 914 vestments, made, not only by trustees of large estates, but by small investors and small shopkeepers. This Bill proposes to establish a sort of roving commission, to allow the lessee to buy out his ground rent at any time, whenever he likes, and the injustice of this is obvious, for he would buy out at a time when money is cheapest, and you would have to re-invest at a dead loss. Secondly, the investor not only loses all the future increase in the value of his investment, not only loses the value of his reversion, but absolutely has no market for his security except the lessee, for who will invest in ground rents if he is liable to be bought out at any time? Practically the only market is the man who owns the house. There is another point that has not been considered in this very crude Bill, and that is the question of severance. If a house bears a separate apportionment, and in a great many cases it is an assessment of the block of buildings, not of each house, then the owner of the ground rent has to be paid off in driblets. You cannot compel a mortgagee to have say £5,000 paid off in driblets of £1,000 or £500 at a time. If the house does not bear a separate appointment you deprive the owner of the ground rents of that special commercial value which arises from their being held in blocks. It is obvious why these are more valuable. In the first place they are easier of collection, and secondly, when the property is under a single landowner it has been proved by evidence that such land owner is anxious to give to the lessee the beneficial interest in his lease, so as to prevent the possibility of the house being thrown on his hands in case of bankruptcy. For these reasons ground rents held on blocks are more valuable. The supporters of the Bill say they purpose to compensate owners of ground rents for their reversionary interest. It is exceedingly difficult to arrive at the value of reversions. It is easy enough to work out a rule of the theory on paper, but experience has shown that it is excessively difficult to get at the actual value of reversionary interests, especially where the reversions are distant. I may remind the House of a matter that occurred in 1857. At that time a Bill was introduced to 915 enable Ecclesiastical Commissioners to sell the reversion of some property at Finsbury, and this is alluded to by Mr. Matthews in his evidence before the Town Holdings' Committee. An able body of surveyors estimated the reversionary value at £12,000 a year. The Bill was referred to a Committee of the House of Lords, and the House of Lords—it is one of the many grounds on which gratitude is due to them from the community—threw out the Bill. And how were they justified? The leases were allowed to expire. and the value of the reversion which had been valued at £12,000 turned out to be £36,000 a year. The difference of £24,010 would in no way have gone to the advantage of the community, it would simply have gone into the pockets of the individual lessees. On this point, the extreme difficulty of assessing the value of distant reversions, I will not dwell further, but I may give hon. Members a reference that may be useful if they should wish to follow the point further in the evidence of Mr. Smith, May 10. 1858. before the Lords' Committee on the "Means of Divine Worship in Populous Districts," and of the Report thereon contained in a letter to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, signed by Lords Eversley and Chichester. Now I come to another point at issue—the observance of restrictive covenants, as to which there is some scheme in this Bill. In the first place Mr. Boodle and other experts say that they do not know any instance where the local authority has power to enforce or has ever enforced any of these covenants of amenity, and that the neighbours would be in a worse position if they had to move the local authority than if they had to go in the usual way to the landlord or his agent. This will be found in the reply to the questions of the hon. and learned Member for Somerset (Mr. Elton) 6729 and 30. Well, then, when we are told that the local Authorities are to enforce these restrictions, it is perfectly obvious that the landlord would have so little interest in the property if this became law that it is childish to imagine that he would go to the expense of enforcing covenants of amenity, and we must look for the enforcement of these amenities to the enlightenment of London Vestries. That I think will be leaning on a very 916 weak reed indeed. I was reading only a few days ago an able book edited by Mr. Charles Booth on the East End of London, and this is what is there given as the result of very careful observation. Speaking of the very worst street that came under notice "of property very old and with inhabitants devoid of all ideas of decency," of property absolutely rotten and bad, the reason assigned why no sanitary regulations were enforced was that the collector of the rents "happened to be the brother of the sanitary inspector." What would be the consequence of leaning on the intervention of the local authorities? Middlemen would get on the vestries. I do not see the hon. Baronet the Member for Cockermouth (Sir W. Lawson) in his place; but I should like to know what would be his view as regards the influence brewers would exercise. Brewers would at once enfranchise the leases of the public-houses, and at the present moment, with an utter absence of courage on the part of licensing authorities to refuse licenses, and an utter absence on the part of ratepayers of any control over the liquor traffic, we should have all these gin palaces—aptly called dens of iniquity — perpetuated. Can you trust your London Vestries and local authorities in this matter? Do you suppose those who have been guilty of laxity in enforcing the simplest sanitary regulations are going suddenly to be seized with eagerness to deal adequately with far more difficult matters. I am not a lawyer—and I speak in the presence of the Solicitor General, who will correct me if I am wrong—but having had experience of the common law both as an owner of property and as a trustee, I believe that a main principle in Common Law is that covenants restricting usage do not, as on leasehold laud, bind persons in possession of freehold land unless those persons come into possession of the land with a notice of the existence of such covenants. In other words, the burden of restrictive covenants does not run with leasehold land as it does with freehold land. You would have under this proposal an immense deal of collusion. The leaseholder who wanted to sell his leasehold for a Public House or for some noxious trade would take very good care, and the man who bought it and gave him a good 917 price for it, would take good care that he—the purchaser—had no notice of these covenants. But take the case of a bonâ fide purchaser. The hon. Member has referred to a section of the Vendor and Purchaser Act of 1884, but I will refer to another section. There is one which says that 40 years is the longest title that a purchaser may demand, and that means that if a covenant were contained in the document anterior to this 40 years, the bonâ fide purchaser could and very probably would come into possession of the land without discovering this on the title. Now, I cannot refrain from alluding to the effect this Bill would have upon public property—on the property of the great corporations, of the universities, and the great educational and charitable institutions of the country. Take, for example. King Edward's School on which, according to Mr. Matthews, depends the entire endowment of education in Birmingham. The income of that school is almost entirely derived from ground rents. These rents rose from £11,000 in 1863 to £27,000 in 1885, due to lettings on building lease at increased value. [A laugh.] The hon. Member laughs at that but the money—the natural increment of this property goes to public purposes. Mr. Matthews estimates that the loss to income which would result if this proposal were carried would amount to over £9,000 per annum, and the loss upon capital to a quarter of a million, and he protests, and rightly protests, against the increase in land values being taken away from the community in order to benefit a few individuals. Take the case of the Mason Science scheme. The possession of the site was obtained gradually, as the leases in several cases had 20 years to run. What would be the effect of the Bill of the hon. Gentleman? Why, it would have rendered such a scheme as that absolutely impossible, because every single owner of a lease having 20 years unexpired would have turned round and demanded a most exorbitant price—blackmail, in fact—for his land. The Corporation of Birmingham have spent one and a half millions in purchasing an insanitary area in the centre of the town and in making a street through it, on the faith of their being allowed to run out 75 year leases, 918 and to obtain the ultimate increment of value at re-valuation. Let me give the House one more case. Take the case of Harper's Charity with a large property in London and its school at Bedford. Mr. Bourne says as to that property that its present income is £20,000 a year, derived almost exclusively from ground rents. If this Bill were passed, that income would drop within five or 10 years from £20,000 to £15,000 a year; and into whose pocket would the £5,000 a year go? Why, into the pocket of the people who might hold the sub-lease at the fag end of the term. It would be a monstrous thing to disorganize in this way the great educational and charitable institutions of the country—to set at nought these schemes of education and improvement. Then as to the effect of leasehold enfranchisement on the artizan class. It is a common practice now for gentlemen to ride their hobbies on the shoulders of the working classes, but I would ask what good could this Bill possibly do to the working classes of London? The poorer classes do not and cannot live in houses; they live in rooms. The managers of the three largest dwelling companies all object to leasehold enfranchisement, and all agree that artizan dwellings can not be built in central London to pay a reasonable interest on money unless the land is sold or leased for the purpose at less than the market value. Landlords will lease the land, but will not sell the freehold below the market price. The hon. Member for St. Pancras has referred to the case of Lord Portman and the great London landlords. Well, I must say that in the evidence we have received in regard to the land owners of London these great landlords have come out in a most satisfactory manner. According to Mr. Boodle's evidence the Duke of Westminster has granted various sites to artizans' dwellings companies at less than the market price; so has Lord Northampton and Lord Portman. Leasehold enfranchisement would buy out the great landlords who are now doing their duty to the public, granting—giving us, in fact—in some cases, land at 2d. per superficial foot when the market value is, in point of fact, 5d. or 6d. a foot, and enabling us in such places as Lisson Grove to let rooms, on an average, at 2s. 3d. per 919 room. By leasehold enfranchisement you would rob these great landlords, and we should have to deal with a lot of small owners in buying land for artizans' dwellings. I ask if the great London landlords acting on a sense of duty—and, if you like, inspired also by a sense that they are on their trial—give to bodies acting for the public advantage special terms to enable them to deal with land, why should Parliament step in and interfere with them and impose on the public the alternative of having to erect buildings at the cost of the ratepayers, a thing which would operate very hardly on the poorer ratepayers? To sum up; this Bill cannot be defended on any ground of principle or expediency. Suppose that the landlords are the enemies of the human race. Suppose that they always act from the meanest and most despicable motives, there is evidence that without the intrusion of this meddlesome and vexatious Bill they are obliged to deal with their land in different ways and on different building tenures to suit the wants of various localities. Lord and Lady Northbourne let their land on a 99 years' building lease at Yarrow, and sell it out and out at Gateshead. Lord Derby leases for 75 years in Liverpool, and for 999 years at Bury. The Duke of Devonshire leases for 90 years with the option of purchase at Eastbourne, and grants leases for 200 years at Carlisle, and sells or grants freehold rent charge at Buxton. That is quite sufficient to show that the ground landlords are obliged as it is to deal with these building tenures to suit the wants and wishes of the various localities. But on the ground of principle, what can be more monstrous or unjust than this Bill? Under it we should arbitrarily and without one sixpence of compensation override the sole condition upon which the landlord in a town would ever have agreed to surrender the use of his land. We should rob him and his heir of the reversion which the lessee distinctly undertook to surrender, and in return for which he has received value. The injustice is gross, glaring, naked, and not palliated by a single advantage to the community. The Bill would benefit no part of the community worthy of the slightest consideration. It would disorganize the building trade. It is not wanted by the trader; it could afford no protection to the shop- 920 keeper. It would rob the saving classes who invest in ground-rents. It would strike at the root of municipal enter-prize, such as has changed the whole face of Birmingham and such as this House ought to encourage; it would plunder the educational and charitable institutions of the country, and it would convert London into a city of small and needy house owners beyond the reach of public opinion, utterly destitute of public spirit, and whose avidity and rapacity would render any dealing with land for public purposes, whether on the part of public authorities like the London Council or private companies for public purposes like the Artizans' Companies so expensive as to be impossible. Nobody and nothing would benefit, and the whole of the plunder would go into the pockets of some speculative middle-men or wealthy Radicals who want to enfranchise their houses in Grosvenor-square. All I can say is that if we, the landowners, are to be robbed, we should at least ask Parliament that the plunder should go into the pockets of a more deserving class.
To leave out from the word 'That' to the end of the Question, in order to add the words this House declines to consider the question of Leaseholds Enfranchisement until it has had an opportunity of considering the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the subject of Town Holdings.'"—(Viscount Lymington.)
§ Instead therof
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ *MR. LEWIS FRY (Bristol, N.)
In rising to second the Amendment, I would venture to submit to the House that the course taken by my hon. Friend the Member fur St. Pancras in moving the Second Reading of this Bill at the present time is an extremely unusual one. The question of leasehold enfranchisement has been for a long time under the consideration of the Town Holdings Committee. That Committee has sat during three Sessions, has examined a large number of witnesses, and last year produced a Blue Book so bulky that very few hon. Members have taken the trouble to bring it within these walls. There has been no difference of opinion in the Committee as to the course of their proceedings. No one 921 has suggested that the Committee has occupied an undue length of time in considering the important questions submitted to them; and the Committee did not bring to a conclusion until the end of last Session the evidence which was taken on the subject of leasehold enfranchisement. The hon. Member for St. Pancras, speaking of my noble Friend's Motion, has said that it is a Motion of an insincere character, but it seems to me that the proceeding of the hon. Gentleman himself in moving the Bill is open to the observation of being most unusual. The question of leasehold enfranchisement was referred to the Committee in the most general terms, and the House will be surprised to hear that it was on the Motion of the hon. Member himself that this question was referred to the Committee. Therefore the Committee, as far as this question is concerned, is the Committee of my hon. Friend. Yet my hon. Friend now moves the Second Reading of a Bill which, if carried, would cut short the proceedings of the Committee and render it of no use. My hon. Friend has said that all the information which is before the Committee is also at the disposal of the House. That is no doubt true, but what a mass of evidence the Committee has at various times laid before the House. My hon. Friend has referred to certain publications in which the evidence is discussed. All those publications are more or less of a partizan character, and in no way take the place of a report which in the ordinary way a Committee would lay before the House. The Committee has not yet had an opportunity of discussing its report. Three draft reports have been laid before the Committee. One of those reports expresses the view of the Member for St. Pancras himself, and that has only been in the hands of the Committee during the last few days.
§ *Mr. L. FRY
A fortnight at a period of the Session when hon. Members are generally engaged in other pursuits than that of studying the question of leasehold enfranchisement! Now, what would be the effect of the House agreeing to the second reading of the Bill on the present occasion? Does my hon. Friend suppose that if his Motion is agreed to, the Committee will spend the time necessary to perfect 922 a Report? It seems to me absurd to ask the Committee to continue its proceedings and to report to the House, if the House to-day decide the question by passing the second reading of this Bill. I do not at all propose to follow the noble Lord into the numerous questions he has raised in the very able speech he addressed to the House, but I will endeavour to lay before the House the great importance of the questions which are involved in this Bill. First of all, there is no precedent, in English legislation at any rate, for a measure of this kind, and if it is passed into law it will be a new departure in the way of legislation. Reference has been made by various witnesses to the legislation which is supposed to form a precedent. The Bills authorising railways and other public undertakings have been referred to, but there is no similarity whatever between them and this Bill. The compulsory taking of land for railways has been authorised because Parliament has found it to be beneficial to the public. It is for a definite purpose, and the power to take land is confined to a limited and definite time. But the time during which a leaseholder has the option under this Bill of purchasing the reversion is unlimited in extent, and instead of being for a purpose which is directly beneficial to the public, it is, on the contrary, only directly beneficial to individual leaseholders. The nearest analogy to what is proposed by this Bill is the enfranchisement of copyhold property; but in that case the powers are mutual, and the lord of the manor has the option equally with the tenant of putting the law into force. In the case of Copyholds, too, the powers conferred were limited to those cases in which the interest of the tenant is of a terminable character. Attention should be directed to the enormous scope of the Bill; it applies to all leasehold land that has any kind of building upon it, and it touches a most enormous amount of property. The rateable value of the leasehold property belonging to the Corporation of Liverpool is £656,000 per annum. A competent witness estimates the capital value of leasehold property in Birmingham at 25 millions. In London the estimate of property, the greatest part of which is leasehold, is 630 millions. The leasehold property of the Universities 923 of Oxford and Cambridge brings in £150,000 per annum. These figures show that the House should be cautious in dealing with property, of which so large a proportion belongs to charities and corporations. When the Bill is put forward in the interest of the community, account must be taken of the injury that may be done to public bodies. I do not say that the considerations urged are altogether fatal to any legislation, but, at all events, they amount to a reason why the House should allow the Committee that is sitting to formulate its opinion before any action is taken by the House itself. I much doubt whether the working classes of the Metropolis as a whole will benefit by the operation of the Bill, the advantages of which will rather fall into the hands of those who stand between the ground landlords and the occupiers, and I fail to see what benefit the community will gain from converting these persons from leaseholders into freeholders. The evidence as to the desire of leaseholders to purchase is not at all conclusive, for where they have had the opportunity they have not shown any great disposition to do it. It is a well-known fact that when freehold ground-rents are advertised for sale they are not as a rule purchased by the occupying leaseholders, but they are bought by others merely as a form of investment. Of the leasehold system I perhaps take a less favourable view than my noble Friend. I represent a town in which the freehold system prevails, and on the whole I think it is the better system. But I am not on that account prepared to lay a rude hand upon the leasehold system and to do injustice to individuals. The circumstances of different places differ widely, and my own idea is that legislation should first be in the form of a measure applicable to places in which there is a felt grievance that ought to be remedied in the interests of the community. In certain localities may be found leaseholders, a large proportion of whom are occupiers, who may desire facilities of purchase, and in such a case an experiment might be advantageously tried. But I altogether object to the machinery of this Bill, by which individual leaseholders will he empowered to acquire the property of those who are joint owners with them. Where 924 a large number of the leaseholders are occupiers, and desirous and able to purchase the freeholds, I am inclined to think that local bodies might very properly be empowered on public grounds to acquire the interests of reversioners by agreement or, if necessary, by compulsion. In such cases there would be little or no difficulty as to compensation for severance, which cannot in the interests of justice be overlooked. It would rest with the local body to purchase the property as a whole. In this way the difficulties in the way of an unlimited and indiscriminate application of the scheme to the whole country would be avoided. It may be assumed that a local body would not do anything to injure a community by interfering with the property of a charity or a corporation. These and other aspects of the question deserve consideration in the light of the report that has yet to be presented by the Committee, and therefore I beg to second the amendment.
§ *MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken prefaced his remarks by saying that this Bill is without precedent in the legislation of any country. I am quite willing to admit that that is so; but let me remind him that outside the United Kingdom there is no country in which such a system as prevails here would be allowed to exist at all, and although I join in admiration of the speech of the noble Lord, yet I must point out that he altogether omitted to deal with some of the most glaring instances of what we consider to be the unfairness which has been exposed before the Town Holdings Committee. I cannot here enter into the various arguments for and against leaseholds enfranchisement in London. That is a question which will, I think, admit of much argument, and the noble Lord has shown that it is beset by many difficulties. Even in London itself I believe the mischiefs of the short leasehold system have been many, and in some cases intolerable, but however numerous and however intolerable they are in London, I think that they are hardly to be compared with the grievances and injustice which have been suffered by working men and tradesmen in Wales and in the mining districts of Cornwall. I believe that there is a broad distinction between the case of London and 925 Wales. In London the housing of the people has been undertaken chiefly by speculative builders, and I dare say that legislation ought to he passed to meet their ease; but in Wales, and especially in quarry districts and in all districts where localised industries prevail, the housing of the community has been undertaken by the working men themselves and not by speculative builders. Take, for instance, the quarry districts of North Wales. I know some of those districts very well. Now, we are sometimes told that this system is an optional system, and that the people in any district can practically have the choice between leaseholds and freeholds. Some of the witnesses who appeared before the Town Holdings Committee, tried to prove that, but in Wales, without one single exception in all the quarry districts, as well as in such places as Pembroke Dock and Holyhead, there has been no choice or alternative whatever for the working men. They have simply been compelled to build houses, shops, banks, co operative stores, chapels, and British and Board schools on the short leasehold system. A great deal of property has been built on leases of thirty years, and others on leases for lives, and the majority of the houses and of the public buildings throughout the whole of Wales have had to be built on short leases. Let us take the case of the Festiniog district, in which some hon. Members have opened quarries, and which has been visited by many more of the Members of this House. Now, to this high mountainous district, working men came from various parts of Wales; they found no houses there; there was only rough mountainous land, practically of no agricultural value, and at first they experienced great difficulty in getting land on which to build their houses. They had to take it at first on the very ridge of the rocks that overhang the town. They were put to great trouble and expense in clearing the land. They had actually to scoop the foundations from the rocks, and then they had to build their houses, not through speculative builders, but by their own enterprise and judgment. I think it is almost touching to read the evidence given by gentlemen acquainted with this district as to the care and trouble these working men took in building 926 their houses. A question was put to me of the witnesses—"Did they work much for themselves on these houses?" "Yes," replied the witness, "they gave an hour or two every night after they came from the quarries, especially in the summer time, in order to blast the stone and get out the foundation and to do the heavy work which quarrymen can do, so that their houses might be built as cheaply as possible. Many a time they could be heard blasting the rocks as late as 10 or 11 o'clock at night in the summer time, and after the foundations had been cleared, they obtained working men, masons and carpenters to finish the houses for them. "In order to accomplish this, they were compelled to borrow from £150 to £300 from a building society. Their lease as a rule was for 60 years; it took them from 35 to 40 years to clear off this debt, and then they only did it by great sacrifice and continued thrift. Aye, with more than thrift, with stinting themselves and their families—and then, having cleared off the debt, the lease had a few years to run, and, at its expiration, the property which they had themselves created, passed out of their hands into the hands of the ground landlord, who is generally an absentee; who has never spent one single penny in quarry enterprise, or in the public improvements of the place, and who will not allow chapels, or board schools, or British schools, or banks, or co-operative stores, or any other public buildings to be put up on any other tenure than a forty-five or sixty years' lease. Property to the value of £450,000 has in this place been created by working men and tradesman, and at the end of sixty years, all this house and public property, and all the improvements in the town will pass away from their hands into the hands of a few landowners, the majority of whom live away, and one of whom certainly has never set foot in Festiniog, or seen one of the houses that the quarrymen have built. This is only a type of what happens in all the quarry districts in Wales. That is not all, for the quarrymen instead of being independent as they were while their houses were their own, become weekly and monthly tenants of the landlords, who in Bethesda and Llan beris are their employers. This becomes 927 a moral and economic question, because we know that the owner and employer is diametrically opposed to the mass of working men and tradesmen in politics, religion, and social sympathies. I say it is necessary in the interest of the community that the working men should have some independence, some power to grapple with the employer and landlord on something like fair and equal terms. The present leasehold system renders that absolutely impossible, because it places the men at the mercy absolutely of the employer, where he is the owner of the houses. Moreover they cannot get the houses which they have built themselves, except at exaggerated rents. Let me cite a typical case of the result of the present system, quoted in evidence. A quarryman at Nantlle has built his house, which is worth £250, and has to pay a ground rent of ten shillings per year. The house was built on one of these rocky foundations, where the land is of no agricultural value. The lease falls in, and the man has to pay forthwith a rent of £4 10s. per year. In another case where the ground rent was £1, a house was built which was worth £400, and the rent was immediately on the expiration of the lease, raised to £9. Now if I am not wearying the House, I will give one other instance. A field near the Penrhyn quarries was, in 1856, taken on a lease for sixty years, at a ground rent of £6. By means of a building society the quarrymen built 100 houses on the property, together with a chapel. When the lease falls in the rental of these houses will be £400 a year, and the annual value of the field will have increased in sixty years from £6 to £400, without any outlay whatever on the part of the ground landlord into whose hands all the 100 houses will revert. It is on land taken on these terms that chapels and public buildings have to be built, and so strong was the evidence given before the Committee from all parts of Wales on this point, that only two land agents ventured to come forward and give evidence. And it must be admitted that the evidence which was given on behalf of the quarrymen or working men was not shaken in the slightest degree by the testimony of the two witnesses on behalf of the landlords. 928 One of them, the agent for Lord Penrhyn, was asked with regard to the City of Bangor, what was the extent of cottage property built on leases held by his Lordship? He replied that a large number of leases for lives had expired, and that the property was occupied by monthly tenants at from £3 to £6 per year. These monthly tenants were in many cases the people who themselves had built the houses. I should like to give a few instances of the injury which occurs to tradesmen owing to this system, and here again I will take the case of Festiniog. One tradesman there spent £270 upon his house; another spent £882, and still another £800, yet when they applied for a renewal of the leases, they were absolutely refused. I could multiply these cases many times over, but I should like to point out that the Noble Lord who leads the Opposition to this Bill, as well as the hon. Member for Bristol, has not made the slightest effort to deal with this part of the case. I quite admit that the hon. Member for Bristol, who ably presided over the Committee, referred vaguely to certain localities where something ought to he done to remove the injustice caused by the leasehold system, but I venture to say it is difficult to calculate the extent of injustice which arises from it. And now let me refer for a few minutes to the question of the chapels in Wales. It will not be denied that an overwhelming majority of the working men and middle classes in Wales are opposed in religion and politics to the handful of men who own the land in Wales. [An hon. MEMBER: No, no.] I hear sounds of denial from the other side, but I should like hon. Members who dispute it to look through their Vachers or their Dods and find out who represent the Welsh people in this House, and on what side they sit. It will be interesting to-day to notice how the three or four Welsh Members who sit on that side of the House will vote. Unless I am very much mistaken the same thing will happen as has happened in regard to my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, who, though he is a most loyal supporter of Ministers, feels bound on this question to leave his friends and walk with us into the Radical lobby in support of a Bill on which the noble Lord has piled epithets 929 over and over again, speaking of the promoters as plunderers and robbers, and using all the denunciatory words which he could pick out of a dictionary. It will be interesting to notice how the hon. and learned Member for Bangor will vote on this question; and how the representative for the Newport Boroughs will vote. I anticipate that they will find themselves forced to go into the Lobby with us in support of this Bill. I should like to know how the bon. Member for the Pembroke Boroughs will vote, seeing that one of the witnesses who came before the Select Committee was the treasurer of the local Tory Association, who said that among the working men and tradesmen of Pembroke Dock, without the slightest distinction of party, there was a universal demand for the enfranchisement of leaseholds. I believe the bon. and gallant Member will not dare to-day to vote against this Bill. But let me return to the question of chapels on the Penrhyn estate. On this estate there are 26 chapels, of which 20 have been built on land held on a 30 years' lease, and they cost, as a rule, between £2,000 and £3,000. In every one of these leases there is a clause prohibiting the holding on the premises of any but religious meetings. Now in this district the landlords will not allow any buildings, except Churches and National Schools, to be built on freeholds and as there are no town or public halls in many of the mountainous and quarry districts, the only place where working men can hold their literary and political meetings are the chapels and schools. Yet Lord Penrhyn puts a clause in the lease that none but religious meetings shall be held, and when the lease is nearly expired, and the people become anxious for a renewal, they are obliged to be careful how they express their political opinions; and the ministers and deacons, as well as the trustees of the chapel, really cannot exercise their civil and political rights as citizens, because they fear that Lord Penrhyn or his agent will refuse a renewal of lease. Evidence was given from Festiniog that there were chapels for which—as soon as the leases had run out—the congregations were called upon to pay rent from year to year for buildings which they had themselves built. Now, this is not a finan- 930 cial question—it is a moral and religious question, and the feeling throughout the whole of Wales, as well as in many parts of England, is very deep and very bitter; and it is significant that in a volume which the landlords' Committee have published, they have deemed it necessary to deliver a sort of lecture or sermon to Welsh landowners, reminding them that it would be much better, in the interests of the community and of religious equality, not to do such foolish or unfair things as these, but to allow the chapels to be built on freehold, instead of leasehold tenure. There is another feature in this question of the chapel leases which adds to the bitterness. The Church of England in Wales and in all its industrial districts is, comparatively, the Church of the rich, yet—as compared with the Nonconformists — it is extremely weak. The landowner gives freehold land to the Church of England, on which to build churches and schools, and often he builds the church himself; whereas, for the majority of Nonconformist places of worship, he will only grant leases, and even then he often insists on hard terms. In order to compare the working of the two systems, take one instance from Holyhead, which is instructive as showing the difference between the leasehold and freehold system. The School Board there had a surplus piece of land at their disposal. They sold it by auction for £383, and there was sufficient ground for building 23 houses. The plots were bought by working men, each one paying £16 13s. 1d., and each purchaser proceeded to build a substantial house. Now, if the land had been leasehold, the rent charge—taking the average charge on adjoining property—would have amounted to £45 a year for the whole field, and in 60 years ground rents would have been paid to the amount of £2,700, whereas the men who built the houses on the freehold were enabled by thrift and self-sacrifice to wipe off the debt which they incurred with the building society in 30 or 40 years; the property then became absolutely their own, and they would not at the end of 60 years have to hand it over to the ground landlord, as most men have to do in that district and then have to pay a heavy rent for that which they have themselves created. To describe this Bill in face of these facts as plunder and 931 robbery, and to shower other epithets on it as the noble Lord has done is grotesque. The boot is on the other leg; it is actually the working men and the tradesmen who are robbed of the property which they have created—of the houses which they have built, in which they have brought up their families, and which consequently have very dear and tender associations for them. Here you have a clear case of injustice, and if hon. Members opposite will only read the evidence given from Wales on this question, I feel sure they will support this Bill which will put an end to a system of injustice and oppression. Whether the argument for London will stand or not, there is a clear case of injustice in Wales. By the Bill before the House no one who has not 20 years of a lease to run can enfranchise. Whatever may be the merits of the limitation for London, that limitation should not apply in the cases of the houses built by working men and tradesmen in Wales. The terms of their leases are generally short, and 30 or 40 years are required to pay off the debt incurred by building, so that it would be grossly unfair that persons who had 6, 10, or 12 years of their lease to run, should be excluded from the benefits of the Bill. As to the enfranchisement of long leases under great municipal corporations, after reading the evidence from various parts of the country, I should hardly support such a proposition. On the contrary, I think it will be found advisable to give power to municipalities to enfranchise leaseholds first, and then to deal with the various leaseholders. I ask the House to consider the facts which I have brought forward and the whole evidence as it affects Wales, because then they will agree with me that by the passing of this or some similar Bill it will be possible to prevent working men from losing the fruits of self-sacrifice and of long-continued thrift, and to secure to them and their families the independence which they lose under the leasehold system. You would perform to these men in Wales and in many districts in England an act of justice and of fairness which this House has seldom an opportunity of doing.
§ *MR. GERALD W. BALFOUR (Leeds, Central)
The hon. Member who has just spoken addressed his arguments entirely to the general question, 932 and not at all to the Amendment moved by the noble Lord. But after the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, and after the speech of the noble Lord, I think that probably few Members of this House will doubt the propriety of that Amendment. It is true that the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Pancras has attempted, by anticipation, to meet the arguments brought forward by the Chairman of the Committee to induce the House not to entertain this Bill, but I think that if we examine the character of the contentions of the hon. Member we shall not consider them of any special value. If I understood him rightly the hon. Gentleman said it is not at all necessary to wait for the report of the Committee, as the evidence is already before the House and hon. Members could make themselves masters of it. Well, if any hon. Members not on the Committee have undergone the task of wading through these bulky volumes, they are to be congratulated on their industry. The hon. Member seemed to think that it would be a positive advantage to the Committee if they had a vote of this House before they reported, and that such a vote would brace them up to report in a sense favourable to the hon. Member's views. This suggestion reminds me of that kind of justice which hangs a man first, and then inquires into his guilt or innocence. If we were to adopt this principle I do not see what would be the value of the reports of Special Committees. I suppose that under the circumstances the hon. Member hardly expects that his Bill will be read a second time. But he has been fortunate in getting the first place on a Wednesday, and we have no right to complain of his taking this opportunity of laying his views before the House and the country. In one respect he may be regarded as singularly fortunate, inasmuch as he has been able to quote in the Memorandum prefixed to his Bill a passage from the report of a Royal Commission. It is true that it was only a supplemental report, and that it was only signed by a certain number of the Members.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Yes, by the majority, but I think that in these cases we are entitled to weigh not merely 933 numbers, but also names. If you look at the names you will find that the weightier names are included in the minority. Among the names is that of Sir Charles Dilke, the Chairman of the Commission.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
At any rate he did not. This Commission, however, was not really appointed to examine into the question of tenure at all, and the evidence before it on that subject was of a very superficial kind. So long as the report is not superseded it will however carry with it a certain amount of authority; but in a very short time it will be superseded by another report; and although the hon. Member has endeavoured to a certain extent to discredit that report before hand, by assuring the House that the witnesses who gave evidence on the other side were men personally interested in the matter, I do not think the House will altogether accept his view. Now I hold that the conclusion arrived at by the Royal Commission, that the leasehold system leads to bad building, bad repair, and high rents, was supported by an amount of evidence almost childishly insufficient. They investigated an insanitary area, and they discovered that those particular evils were exemplified on that area; forthwith they put the two things together and came to the conclusion that because certain evils existed on that area under leasehold tenure, therefore leasehold tenure was responsible for the evils. It is just as though some one was to argue that, because the House of Commons has been suffering from the prevalence of bad smells, and it is national property, therefore all national property must suffer from the prevalence of bad smells. I think the reasonable view to take is that leasehold tenure does not, to any very large extent, really affect either the character of the houses that are built, or the state of repair in which they are maintained. I except, of course, the case of short leaseholds, which are very detrimental to the public interest. It would, indeed, be a desirable thing to bring short leaseholds to an end. It may be granted, also, that when a man owns the land and builds upon it for his own occupation, the probability is that he will build a more substantial structure. The hon. Member cheers 934 that view, but how many such cases are there?
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
Very likely; but how many houses are there; what is the proportion? That is the important question. I say that, of all the town houses that are built, perhaps there is only one in a hundred that is built by the freeholder for his own occupation; and in such a case it is important that we should not legislate for exceptional instances. It seems to me that one of the great evils of legislative proposals made in recent times has been the application of a universal remedy to meet solitary cases of grievance. That is not good; it is bad legislation, and the final result of such legislation often is to bring about the very opposite of the objects sought t be attained. Excluding the short leaseholds and the instance in which a freeholder builds for his own occupation, I do not think there is any evidence of a convincing kind to show that the property built on leasehold tenure is worse than that built on freehold tenure. The hon. Member in this connection referred to the evidence given before the Select Committee by builders, and said it was a significant fact that all of them were in favour of leasehold enfranchisement. But let me point out an equally significant fact, and that is, that two out of the three builders who were examined stated that they built exactly the same class of house on leasehold as they did on freehold land. The third built only on leasehold, and he complained of the stringency with which the requirements of the landlord were enforced, in consequence of the close supervision of the landlord's surveyor. And now I pass to the question of bad repair. Here, again, the evidence is most inconclusive. It is argued that as the freeholder would have a greater interest in the property than the leaseholder, he would be likely to keep it in better repair. But over the leaseholder there is a landlord who has interests to be protected. The great argument for supposing that leasehold tenure leads to dilapidation, is that the tenant avoids executing repairs at the fag end of the lease. As against this, however, it must be borne in mind that on the best leasehold estates the houses are completely rebuilt at the expiration 935 of the lease. It is a singular fact that, so far as the evidence goes, I doubt whether there is one case in which the powers of clearance possessed by local authorities have been carried out on leasehold property, whereas there are several cases in which these powers have been carried out as against freehold property. That is a strong argument for believing that where property gets into a bad state on freehold land it is likely to go from bad to worse; whereas on leaseholds there is a term put to the deterioration, and houses are, in the natural course of things, pulled down and rebuilt. With regard to the allegation that the leasehold system causes high rents, the evidence distinctly goes to disprove that proposition, and many of the witnesses examined before the Commission maintained that estates wore more easily developed on the leasehold than on the freehold system. If, as is alleged, the system in question by depriving working men of the power of building their own houses takes away a powerful inducement to thrift, that would certainly be an argument for some change if other interests were not materially injured by it. But I am inclined to think that the benefits to the working classes arising from the passing of this Bill would be illusory, and that the only result would be loss, injury, and annoyance to other classes. No doubt, it is a fascinating picture that is presented to us of the working man owning his house and sitting under his vine, but surely it cannot be seriously contended that the leasehold system constitutes the obstacle to the attainment of that ideal. It appears to me to be perfectly ludicrous to make any such proposition. Nor would this Bill help the working man to become a freeholder, except in the most trifling number of cases. It operates by enabling leaseholders, whose leases have twenty years or more to run, to buy up the freeholder's interest. But how many working men own leases of twenty years, or indeed leases at all? It is evident the working classes will not be converted into owners by this Bill; who then will gain by it? Sir, the real gainer under this measure will be not the occupier, but the middleman, the holder between the freeholder and the tenant; and what in Heaven's name 936 has the middleman done that he should be treated with special tenderness by Parliament? For the sake of converting a certain number of the wealthier class of leaseholders into freeholders and for the sake of enabling the middleman to obtain the freehold of leasehold property what are you going to give up? In the first place you are going to adopt. legislation for which there is no precedent whatever. The hon. Member cited one or two Acts which he seemed to consider were precedents for his Bill. He mentioned the Irish Land Act and says that that gives a precedent for the breaking of contracts. Now, I am not myself a great admirer of the Irish Land Act, but let me point out that the contracts which it interferes with differ greatly from those which this Bill will interfere with. Then the hon. Member referred to the Copyholds Act. But this only applies to those cases where there is no reversion because tenants have got perpetuity of tenure, and it therefore positively constitutes a precedent against the Bill because it shows where the legislature at that time thought it necessary to stop in dealing with the contracts. Further, the Bill would seriously injure those who now have a stake in ground rents and would be most unjust in its operations, for it provides no compensation. for severance, nor for forced sale, neither does it provide on an adequate scale for the payment of costs. The Bill would inflict a gross injustice, not only on the large landlords, but on the owners of ground-rents, who are by no means a small body easy to attack like the landlords, and whose interest the House is bound to consider far more than the interests of the middleman. I have given the House some of the reasons, but by no means all the reasons, that induce me to oppose this Bill. I submit that if it were passed the public in general would suffer, while a limited. number of individuals would gain. I regard it as not only a bad Bill, but a recklessly bad Bill, because, while it betrays a complete disregard of principle, it fails to display a single sign of statesmanlike perception or insight on the part of those who are responsible for it. They do not seem to have thought out the result of their own proposals. It is not for me to anticipate what the report of the Select Committee 937 may be; but I cannot help hoping that when it does appear, not only will the refusal of the House to entertain this Bill be justified by that report, but its effect will be to save the House the trouble of considering such crude proposals for the future.
§ *MR. BROADHURST (Nottingham)
I do not propose to devote much time to the task of following the speech of the hon. Member who has just sat down. I may, however, say that although I have heard a good many speeches directed against this proposal I did not hear anything particularly new in the speech of the hon. Gentleman. He declared that people entered into the contracts under the leasehold system with their eyes open, and that, no doubt, is true; but it is equally true that the leaseholders enter into those contracts with their hands tied, the land owner having a monopoly of a property of which the leaseholder is bound to possess himself under some condition or other, the result being that he has to comply with the conditions laid down by the only person from whom he can obtain what he requires. The other point of the hon. Member's speech seemed to be that the whole of the improvements of the land are due to the wonderful action of the leasehold system and of the landlords who are the authors of it. Well, Sir, we on this side of the House do not believe that that is the ease; on the contrary, we think that most of the evils connected with the housing of the population are due to the leasehold system and not to the freehold system. The hon. Gentleman made a great admission when he said the houses of the best class were usually built on the freehold system.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
The hon. Gentleman somewhat misrepresents what I stated. What I said was that where the owner of the land built for his own occupation, houses of that class would 938 probably be more substantially built than others.
§ *MR. BROADHURST
But we are anticipating that the system of freehold plots for the erection of cottages will take the place of the leasehold system.
§ *MR. G. W. BALFOUR
I said that the best houses were those built by the freeholder for his own occupation, but that in 99 cases out of 100 the houses were built by speculative builders.
§ *MR. BROADHURST
Precisely so; there is no divergence of statement there. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to the speech of an hon. Member who represents a Welsh constituency he would have heard of the substantial erections which are placed by the Welsh workmen even on leasehold property; and I put it to the House what would be the case if the property were freehold instead of leasehold? That, in point of fact, involves the whole case. The hon. Gentleman stated that the witnesses before the Committee upstairs did not admit that they put up a worse class of house on leasehold property than they erected on freehold property. Does the hon. Gentleman imagine that that class of men are so innocent that they will admit they are doing their utmost to scamp all the work they do on leasehold land? The idea is perfectly absurd. They will admit nothing of the kind. I should like to say a word or two—and I do it with the greatest diffidence—with regard to the speech we have heard this afternoon from the noble Lord the Member for the South Molton Division of Devonshire (Lord Lymington). I am afraid that I must object to the arguments used by the noble Lord and the conclusions at which he arrived; but what I have specially in mind is the noble Lord's reference to the Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor. The noble Lord, in his lofty and eloquent looking-down-upon-us position said "the recommendation of the Royal Commis- 939 sion—what is it? Who has signed that recommendation? No one of any consequence."
§ *LORD LYMINGTON
I hope I may be allowed to state that I did not say anything discourteous of the gentlemen who did sign; what I said was that the names of those who did not sign would carry more weight than the names of those who did, and that there was not a tittle of evidence to support the recommendation.
§ *MR. BROADHURST
But the evidence is altogether another matter. I am referring to the noble Lord's declaration that the recommendation of the Royal Commission was signed by a body of persons of no consequence whatever, or, at any rate, of "no influence," that, I believe, being the phrase used by the noble Lord. Of course the meaning was that all the gentleman of influence abstained from signing.
§ *MR. BROADHURST
I took down the words used by the noble Lord, and I must ask the noble Lord to allow me to maintain my position.
§ *LORD LYMINGTON
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman but I certainly never said what he has attributed to me.
§ MR. BROADHURST
If the noble Lord disclaims the statement, I am, of course, bound to accept his explanation, but as to the accuracy of my quotation, I still maintain that I heard him say, and I heard it with great surprise, that the Royal Commission was divided into sections—that is to say, that the Members of that body were weighed out into parcels by the noble Lord, the division being as to those who were of consequence, and those who were of no consequence. It is a long time since I have listened to such an argument. Now, let me for a moment refer to the names of those who signed the recommendation. One of the first signatures 940 was that of Cardinal Manning, then comes that of Lord Carrington, a noble man who was held to be a proper person to send out as Governor of one of our important Colonies. There were also the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, Mr. Lyulph Stanley, Mr. Dwyer Grey, and Mr. Torrens, and then comes the name of a gentleman at whose feet the noble Lord is delighted to bend and pay homage—I refer to my hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings). Beyond these the recommendations was signed by another gentleman, who is well known, and whose worth is greatly appreciated—Mr. Godwin, and a further signatory was the late Mr. Samuel Morley. There were 10 signatures out of 17 forming the majority of the Commission to the recommendation, and yet the noble Lord taunts us with not having the signature of the Chairman, knowing, as he does perfectly well, that under the circumstances the Chairman of the Commission could not sign the Report. However, the Chairman of the Commission did something else. He assured us that his sympathies were entirely with that recommendation, and immediately after he obtained his freedom from the responsibility of his Chairmanship he delivered an address to his constituents entirely approving of leasehold enfranchisement, and after that he published a pamphlet endorsing the whole of the proposals put forward in that direction. What, then, becomes of the taunt of the noble Lord as to the absence of the signature of the Chairman of the Committee? There was one name that was not attached to the document, and it was that of the present Prime Minister. Well, we did not expect that he would have signed the recommendation. It is enough for us that the majority signed it, and had circumstances been otherwise I have no doubt that some of those whose names are not attached to the document would have signed it. The noble Lord went on to point out to the 941 House the great national education disaster that would follow the passing of this Bill, especially with regard to Birmingham. It is remarkable that the noble Lord should have selected Birmingham as the only place in this country that deserved notice in eloquent speech; and this is specially noticeable after he had placed his Friend the hon. Member for Bordesley in the category of those who are of no consequence and who hold no position worthy of consideration. But, Sir, we do not propose, as has been alleged, to rob Corporations of their funds— as anyone who has listened to the noble Lord would imagine was our intention—without purchase or compensation. I think I heard an hon. Member opposite say "hear, hear" when I spoke of our being charged with the intention of seizing property without compensation or purchase.
§ *MR. BROADHURST
I challenge anyone in this House to say there is a single sentence or line in this Bill from title page to finish, showing the least indication of a desire to act otherwise than perfectly and legitimately and fairly towards the owners of property which we merely seek to transfer on a well advised system and under equitable conditions. I could not help thinking that the way in which the noble Lord put forward King Edward's School and the Mason's College at Birmingham as subjects for the sympathy and protection of the House was, in point of fact, a mode of using those institutions as a sort of armour-plate for the protection of the great landlords in other parts of the country. But happily the great landlords and institutions of the country are in no danger from this proposal. The greatest amount of danger in that direction arises from speeches such as that to which we have listened from the hon. Member for Leeds (Mr. G. W. Balfour), and the noble Lord the Member for the South Melton Division of Devonshire (Lord Lymington). The 942 speech of the noble Lord will be more popular with the extreme reformers of this country than with the more moderate land reforming section of the community. The hon. Member for St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) said he would be condemned by the Socialists and those in favour of the nationalization of land for making proposals that would inevitably create a larger number of landowners, and thereby make the work of land nationalization more difficult than it otherwise would be. The noble Lord has said we are promoting a measure that will benefit no class of the community worthy of consideration. I ask the noble Lord whether he still adheres to that opinion after the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Merionethshire (Mr. Ellis)?
§ *MR. BROADHURST
Then I invite the House to notice that the noble Lord still maintains the opinion that the Bill would benefit no class of the community worthy of consideration. I regret beyond measure that the noble Lord should hold to that declaration after what has fallen from the hon. Member for Merionethshire with regard to the Welsh workmen. If the noble Lord would go into North Wales and South Wales, and also through nearly the whole of Cornwall, some parts of his own county, Devonshire, and a good portion of the north of England, especially what is known as the Tyneside; if he would also extend his researches to Worcestershire he would find thousands of honest workmen who have petitioned the House to pass their measure which, nevertheless, he says will benefit no class of the community worthy of consideration. I ask the House is not the class I have named that very class which it ought to consider. Are not the thrifty workmen of Wales and Cornwall a class whose interests this House ought to regard, and to whom it should be ever ready to give aid, guidance, and encouragement? This measure has been spoken of from the 943 religious point of view. I think it worthy of our consideration if it merely dealt with the question of the enfranchisement of places of worship; because I can conceive of nothing more cruel, oppressive and intolerant than the possession by the Landlords of such a monopoly of the earth's surface as to enable them to dictate whether the religious communities around them shall have a covering for their heads during the performance of worship. I am here reminded of what has taken place at Hatfield, where a nonconforming body have had to worship in a shed adjoining the roadside because the noble Marquess owning the property would neither sell nor lease suitable land to build a chapel upon, the only concession he would make was to offer a site upon a sewage farm. As I had charge of and prepared this Bill six years ago, and invited the House to discuss it then, I am glad to have the opportunity of testifying my satisfaction and that of the friends with whom I have been working on this subject, at the enormous progress this question has made, the only doubt in our minds now is whether the Bill before the House is sufficiently far-reaching to meet the necessities of the time. If by delay we should be able to obtain a greater measure, we shall be indebted for that result, not to our own poor services, not to the insignificant persons whose names are of no value and of no consequence—and who have no influence when they sign reports and recommendations—but rather by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leeds and the noble Lord the Member for the South Melton Division of Devonshire.
§ SIR W. T. MARRIOTT (Brighton)
Mr. Speaker, some of the speeches of hon. Members, and especially the last one, shows how very inconvenient it is to have a debate in this House on a subject which is now under the consideration of a Committee appointed by it. That Committee has to report, and whatever report they make it may be said that they have been influenced by the opinion expressed in this House tonight. There is one point to which I have been listening—the point raised 944 with regard to chapels. I admit that with regard to chapels a grievance has existed, but from the evidence given before the Committee I do not think the grievance is as great as has been stated. In my own view a landlord is not fit to, be a landlord who on account of his own religious convictions will not give any body of Christians a place upon which to build a chapel. I have certainly not the slightest sympathy with such conduct. We have already had three Reports from this Committee, and let me tell hon. Members—I believe I am not really disclosing a secret, hon. Members or Members of the Committee will correct me if I am wrong—that in every one of those three draft Reports, though of course they are not yet sanctioned, it is suggested that something should be done to remedy this evil with regard to chapels. Therefore, without this discussion raised by the Bill of the hon. Member that evil would have been remedied. Reference has been made to the grievance in North Wales. There are many cases of grievance not only of working men, but other men who have put money into property and not received proper compensation. I can understand that many people hold strongly the view that it would be much better for the working classes it' many of them were to become freeholders, and, in fact, I quite agree with what was said by my hon. Friend who proposed the Second Reading of this Bill. He says that he is very much against the Socialists; so are we. He says that this Bill would act against the Socialists. I quite agree that a large number of freeholds would act against Socialism, but it would also act against the Radical Party. I believe we should have a good many recruits for this side of the House from the freeholders. I certainly would increase the number of freeholders in this country. But, Sir, that is not the question. Comparing the speech of the hon. Member with the 945 Bill which he has brought in, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that he does not understand his own Bill nor how far it reaches. We are not now talking of the principle of leasehold enfranchisement. I quite admit there may be a system of leasehold enfranchisement that may be just. We have a Bill before the House, and I quite agree with the hon. Member on this point, that it has been met by a side issue in the Amendment proposed. I congratulate the noble Lord who moved the Amendment on his speech in proposing it. It was a most eloquent and able speech, but it was more adapted to the straightforward course which I propose, namely, that of throwing out the Bill. My objection is not to leasehold enfranchisement, and not to an increase of freeholders, but to this Bill, because it is an absolute sham. This Bill is not real, it is a Bill brought in under false pretences. It is brought in under the pretence that it will benefit the poor man, but it will benefit the rich man. It is a cowardly Bill, trying to do by a side issue what the author of it apparently dared not and could not do openly. If he wants to abolish leaseholds, why does he not bring in a Bill to abolish that tenure in this country, and when he has abolished the tenure, consider the contract in regard to it? He brings in a Bill which to a great extent would abolish it, but only for a term of 19 years and a certain number of days. Then, Sir, I shall show presently that the Bill is absolutely unjust, and that, in regard to the procedure it proposes, it is absolutely ludicrous. And I can only say that the result would be disastrous to every class—to the rich and to the working classes. It would be disastrous to the thrifty class, which we ought to protect. I must congratulate the hon. Member on the effect of his imagination, which was astonishing. I heard the noble 946 Lord speak, and I heard the Member for Leith speak, and I never heard any of the sentiments which the hon. Member attributed to them. He wished to make a little political capital to be able to go to the country and say that the noble Lord—what a terrible thing to be a Lord—had from his high position spoken disrespectfully of the working classes. That was his object; to stand here as the champion of the down-trodden working men, the poor people in Wales, the men with whom he sympathises, and to point to the noble Lord, who from the power of his noble position had denounced those working men. Never a more false issue was raised in debate. Nobody knows better than the hon. Member the great interest taken in the working classes by the noble Lord whom he has chosen to denounce. The hon. Member reminds me of some preachers who raise an imaginary man of straw only to knock him down, calling him first of all after the noble Lord, and then after the Member for Leith. Then the hon. Member was very much troubled about what had been said of some of the members of the Royal Commission who were appointed to act with regard to the Housing of the Poor. I would ask some members to look at the preamble of this Bill, which is very misleading. It says that the object of this Bill is to carry out the recommendations of the Royal Commission. Now when you speak of the Royal Commission you speak of the whole of the members as a body. What did that Royal Commission do? There were 17 members, and those 17 members made a Report of, I think, 12 pages, full of information and full of facts, and in which there were some very valuable suggestions. A supplementary Report was added of about 30 or 40 lines. Notwithstanding the severe remarks of the hon. Member (Mr. Broadhurst) I do think there is such a thing as weighing heads as well as counting heads. We can weigh 947 them and the brains that are in them too. The hon. Member read the names of the ten, but he did not read the names of the seven. Here are the names of the seven: H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Lord Salisbury, Lord Bramwell, Mr. Goschen, Sir Richard Cross, the Bishop of Bedford, and Sir Charles Dilke, the Chairman. ["Oh!"]. I will not make any uncomplimentary remarks about the ten, but I think the hon. Member ought to admit the weight of these names, especially that of the Chairman. I know the Chairman made a speech in Chelsea, but we know what people before their constituents sometimes say. [Cheers.] As that sentiment was so much cheered, I will ask, to whom do you attach most weight, a speech made to the electors at Chelsea, or the Report of the Royal Commission, to which Sir Charles Dilke's name is attached? Sir Charles Dilke signed the Report, but he did not sign the supplementary Report. He may have had pressure put upon him afterwards. This issue is not raised by myself but by the hon. Gentleman who last spoke. He read out the names of 10 gentlemen, against whom I have nothing to say, but as he read out those 10 names I am justified in reading my seven, and the House will say to which they attach most importance. It is said sometimes that the wish is father to the thought, and I think that often in these Committees pre-conceived opinions are often father to the facts found. The volumes are not here from which the hon. Member quoted, in introducing the Bill, the evidence of Mr. Harrison, a solicitor of eminence, but there are any number of opinions which the hon. Member did not quote, and in those volumes you may get opinions that will support anything on a variety of subjects, and if you take only one individual opinion you may almost support any position you take up. But, in these reports, what you have got to do is to compare the different opinions, attaching weight to some and not to others. What is required is a judicial decision with regard to the result of this evidence, and that certainly was not given in the speech of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill. Now there comes the question whether there is a great desire upon the part of the working 948 classes to have freehold property. Some evidence was given as to this which was not quoted by the hon. Member for St. Pancras—the evidence of a Member of this House, the late Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Heneage), holding property at Great Grimsby. This evidence was given as to his property, on which 989 houses have been built since 1860 on 99 years' leases. Of these, 350 are inhabited by working men at rents of less than £12 a year. In 1884 the ground landlord issued a notice to every one of those men that he was willing to enfranchise them at 25 years' purchase, and I think everybody will admit that 25 years' purchase of the ground rents, and no other compensation, was a very moderate amount to ask. But what has happened? Out of the 989 leaseholders only 32 had, up to the time the evidence was given last year, applied for enfranchisement; and this is the more remarkable because there are in Great Grimsby a dozen building societies very much like the one they have at Leeds. The societies cannot live for lack of money, and several of the witnesses said, when the question was put to them, they could have enfranchised their leaseholds, but did not care to do it. This was the effect of the evidence from Grimsby—that scarcely anybody, either individually or as members of a building society, cared to enfranchise their property. I can understand that there may be many cases in which workmen might like to have freeholds. I can understand it in mining districts, or in any place where there is constant and fairly certain work, and where a man is likely to spend the whole of his life; and if any measure were brought into this House to facilitate the acquisition in such circumstances of freeholds on equitable terms, I, for one, should certainly support it. The more freeholds the better. But I say that this Bill would not help these men except in very few instances, and in others, and those the majority, would do far more harm than good. It certainly would not help working men one bit in London, where they are likely to have to change and shift about to seek work. There are instances easily conceivable, indeed, in which a freehold property might be a great detriment to a man here. Suppose 949 he has acquired a house near what was a flourishing shipbuilding yard some years ago. The yard is closed, and not only has the man lost his work, but he has on his hands a house which he cannot leave. What is really wanted by certain classes is, rather, increased facilities for leaving particular neighbour-hoods in search of work. Therefore I say that this Bill would not affect a single working man in London. [An hon. MEMBER: "Woolwich."] Well, Woolwich is not in London. Woolwich is just the very place where I should expect that working men would wish to have freeholds, because permanent employment is afforded by the dockyards. With regard to London proper, there is not one working man in a hundred thousand who has a lease of 20 years. [An hon. MEMBER: "Yes."] Well, there are comparatively very few, and if this Bill is passed I will tell the House who will benefit by it—it will be the rich people who live at the West End, in Grosvenor Square and Grosvenor Place, and above all the wealthy clubs in Pall Mall. I do not know whether the Members of those wealthy clubs think they have a friend in the hon. Member for St. Pancras. Just consider for a moment the result of the 4th Clause of this Bill, which states that the measure is to come into force on the 1st February next. Take the case of the Duke of Westminster. Many years ago he gave to Mr. Cubitt a lease of 99 years. Mr. Cubitt has built a house, and has leased it to Mr. Jones for 60 years. Mr. Jones has lived in the house 30 years and has leased it to Mr. Robinson, who has now 22 years to run. What, under this Bill, could he do? He could give notice to Mr. Jones, to Mr. Cubitt, and to the Duke of Westminster in accordance with this clause, and the case comes, as the hon. Gentleman says, before the County Court, which is intended for small debtors and the working classes generally, but which, if this labour is thrown upon it, will be overburdened. Well, Mr. Robinson gives his notice and, in duo course, becomes a freeholder. He gains; Mr. Jones loses, Mr. Cubitt loses, and the Duke of Westminster loses. They lose the interest on the property they had, and they are put to two sets of costs—they 950 are actually out of pocket for the benefit of Mr. Robinson, because they have to pay the costs of the Court and the costs of reinvestment. [MR. LAWSON: "There is provision for costs."] There is, on a very low scale, but has the hon. Gentleman ever known taxed costs to come up to the whole amount? If this Bill is passed, I repeat, the Duke of Westminster, Cubitt, and Jones are all out of pocket by the costs, and have also, perhaps, to pay the investment securities, which will not give so much interest. The one person who gains is Robinson. The public do not gain. I can understand compulsory powers being put forward when there is a public advantage, but in this case the public does not benefit one iota. If this Bill became law, numbers of Members in this House would be gainers, and I should be one among them. I am not speaking against the principle of leasehold enfranchisement on equitable terms, but against the method by which it is proposed to give effect to the principle in this Bill. What the hon. Member is really doing by this Bill is that he is robbing certain people for the benefit, no doubt, of others. I do not know what the hon. Member holds about the law of contract. We have always held it in this country to be of a sacred character; it is really what has made this country flourish and become what it is, not only in commercial matters, but in every transaction, and in every dealing between man and man. I do not know whether my hon. Friend understands the difference between leasehold, freehold, and copyhold property. I rather think he does not, for this reason. He has given us an example of copyhold. Now copyhold has nothing whatever to do with leasehold. Copyhold property is like a fee simple estate, it descends from father to son just like the fee simple, but at certain times, such as deaths, there are fines. The Act of 1852, however, gave either the landlord or the tenant the power of enfranchising themselves by giving a fixed sum instead of these fines. Under this Bill the landlord has no power to compel the leaseholder to enfranchise. It is a Bill entirely in favour of the man who has got the last lease for 21 years, and it is against all the others. I can understand that some 951 contracts may he injurious. If they are injurious, let law he passed to abolish them, but let it also provide that those people who have honestly and openly entered into those contracts shall be fully and amply compensated. I repeat that this Bill would be very disastrous indeed to many classes. There is no class in the community which deserves more attention from this House than the thrifty and saving class, who deny themselves during their lifetime for the benefit of their children. There is evidence in the Report of this Commission with regard to ground rents, that numbers of people have been content for years with 1, 2, and 3 per cent—in one case less than 1 per cent—so that when the property falls in, in 30 years or more their children will have the advantage. This Bill would affect every lease for 999 years in Manchester, where there are constantly leases for that period. As the law now stands the value of those leases would he probably 30 years' purchase, say, £3,000. The moment this Bill passes, the value would drop to 20 years' purchase, £2,000, and I want to know why people who have put their money into an investment of this kind are to be robbed in this way without benefit to any public interest. Take a stronger case, that of a man who has been content with one per cent. He bought the property some nine years ago. He bought the ground rent with 30 years to run. For nine years he was satisfied with less than one per cent because he know that in 30 years he would come into a large property for his children. But there is a leaseholder on it who has got it for 21 years; and if this Bill is passed, and he enfranchises in February, the unfortunate owner does not get any benefit whatever. There are a great number of investors in these ground rents. Thousands of ground rents are sold in London. They have all been sold on the faith of existing law. Everyone of these people would suffer by this Bill, and suffer for no benefit to the public. What I say with regard to this Bill is that it has been brought in under false pretences. Nothing could be more certain than that it will not benefit the poor. I quite admit that as population increases, as the country grows, larger power will have 952 to be given to local authorities. The County Councils and Municipal Authorities will want more power; and those who oppose this Bill because of its unjustness do not do it because they do not wish those bodies to have greater powers in the way of enabling them to provide better houses for the working classes. The principle of compulsion is well admitted in this House. It is admitted in the Allotments Act and in many other Acts, and it may have to be extended. But why I ask you to oppose this Bill is because it is practically a bogus Bill, and will not benefit the working classes. It is true that it suits a certain section of this House to say it will benefit the working classes. When they want anything for themselves it is always for the benefit of the working classes and of the poor. We look rather to action than to profession of this kind. Though we hear a great many professions from Members opposite, the legislation with regard to the housing of the poor was initiated by the Conservative Government. It was Mr. Disraeli who gave vent to the motto, sanitas sanitatis omnia est sanitas, and it was a Radical Member who translated it into a "policy of sewage." The greater part of the legislation for the benefit of the poorer classes has been initiated upon this and not upon that side of the House. The pretext here is the good of the poorer classes, but the result will be a great advantage to the wealthier classes, many of whom sit in this House. I sincerely hope that this House will support the amendment, and, if it has the opportunity, reject this Bill.
§ *MR. A. ACLAND (Yorkshire, W.R., Rotherham)
I think this debate will be most remarkable for the concessions that have been made by various gentlemen who have spoken against the Bill. The only Member who has maintained the old point of view is the noble Lord (Viscount Lymington) who has spoken on this side. He comes under the category which was described by the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill) who spoke on this subject four years ago. The noble Lord said there were still to 953 be found certain antediluvian tories— the traces of whom were to be found by the antiquarian or the archaeologist, but who did not and need not in the least alarm any practical politician. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken is not one of these. He has shown what. great progress this question is making. He charges us with urging these things on behalf of the poor and not meaning them. He himself—and I do not charge him in any sense by way of reproach—has said ho would help working men in this matter if he could. He has told us that if a Bill was introduced that would enable the Working men in the quarry districts of Wales or of Woolwich to get the ownership of their own houses he would support it. Let him bring in a Bill of that kind and we shall be getting on towards what we want. Then he says "your Bill is going to relieve the rich man too." The difficulty of legislation of this kind is to know how to deal with one class without dealing with another; but if we can help the quarrymen of Wales and the arsenal men of Woolwich, I do not see why we should not help the hon. Member himself, and Mr. Robinson, of Belgrave Square, of whom he has spoken. The position broadly is this. There are in this country three methods under which houses are dealt with. The first is the freehold method, which is spread largely over the north and middle of England and to many parts of the south of England. In the freehold districts neither upper, middle or lower classes will look at a 99 years' lease, however much you try to press it upon them. The landlords have found that out, and there have been many private Acts passed, beginning with recitals to this effect, that whereas in a district where the landlords have been tied up by settlements, the people will not practically look at anything but free- 954 holds, the landlords should be allowed by special legislation to meet the people on their own lines and grant them freeholds, or else they cannot develop their estates. Then there is a second system, which is perfectly adequate and satisfactory to many people, namely, the permanent ground-rent or fen system, which holds throughout Scotland, a great portion of Lancashire, and some other parts of the kingdom. We do not find that the people under that system make any complaint. Then we come to the third or short leasehold system, and we find ample evidence in all parts of England and Wales to show that the system does frequently, though not always, impose burdens which are grievous and difficult to be borne. The question is, how far in the public interest can we modify this short leasehold system so as to relieve those, whether rich or poor, whether business men or working men, who have obstacles placed in the way of their social and moral progress in consequence of it. Now, can we with equity and justice relieve them? There is ample evidence of a strong feeling on this subject in the country. Why has the London County Council already by something like two to one practically passed approval of schemes of this kind? It will not be said that the London voters who returned the London Councillors are all of them anxious to fulfil the words of the noble Lord (Lord Lymington), and to come into the category of people who wish to commit "injustice, gross, glaring, naked, palliated by no single advantage." I take a case within my own knowledge, and I am not at all afraid of coming under a kind of sneer the noble Viscount made at the hon. Member for Devonport—namely, that he was only supporting this Bill because the leasehold system was felt to be a grievance in his own constituency. If it is a grievance, and the hon. Gentleman supposes his constituents are right, it is no shame to him to support the Bill. I have received, without any action of mine, from the 955 Town Council in my Constituency a unanimous petition in favour of this Bill. A similar feeling prevails in Sheffield, and I shall be pleased to see how the Members for that place vote. The Under Secretary for the Home Department (Mr. Stuart Wortley) voted in favour of this Bill in 1884, when he was a free man; how he may vote this year I really do not know. Then I happen to be a member of the County Council in Carnarvon, and only the other day it was agreed by that Council, by 36 votes to seven, that a petition be presented in favour of this Bill. What does all this mean? Surely there is a. feeling of grievance amongst a large number of people, or else you would not have popular representatives taking action in this way. The real question is how far we can assist those who find difficulty in assisting themselves. The Government themselves will not, if they can possibly avoid it, allow Post Offices, Science and Art Schools, or other public buildings to be erected on leasehold land, and the reason is that it is wrong to erect public buildings upon terminable tenures. The reasons that influence the Government equally apply to private persons and undertakings. The case of chapels and co-operative stores has been referred to. No one who knows the North of England will venture to say a word against those co-operative societies which have taught working men how to save, which have taught honest and capable committee men to handle vast sums of money, taught them, in the best sense of the word, what the ownership in property means. How have they developed themselves? They have begun with small cottages, and grown gradually, until some of them have now a turn-over of a quarter of a million sterling. But they never think o: building upon anything but freehold land, or upon land acquired upon 999 years' lease. As a consequence they built substantial establishments—they have built for posterity. What do we find in the case of the dock yard men at Woolwich? They have got a Society doing £100,000 a year, but they have been crippled, because, instead of being able to build upon freehold land they have been obliged to put up their establishments on terminable leaseholds. As a consequence they have simply put up temporary buildings, coverings with 956 iron roofs, and so forth. I maintain that in the interests of working classes, as well as other classes, a system of this kind, which cripples industry and hinders thrift, is had for us all. You may say, "Oh, we will meet that case—you want co-operative societies especially dealt with in the public interest, can't you introduce a special Bill to meet that case?" Working men gave evidence on this subject. They said, "we speak in the name of thousands of men who have been building houses through the money in these societies; we want them to have the same oportunity we have in our own co-operative stores." There are a great many arguments used against this proposal of ours with reference to London; one is, "we know so much better what is good for the working man than he knows himself." Working men have expressed their opinion on this subject in a variety of ways; and even if you can show, as the last speaker tried to, that the working man may have to move from place to place in order to follow his industry, you have not undermined our case, because many building societies enable a man to purchase his own house by payments which very little exceed the rent he would otherwise have to pay. But, even if a man does sacrifice something, I say he is a better man for having done it; if he had not made the sacrifice very likely he would never have saved the money at all. Now, as to chapels, we have had considerable concessions made to-day on the other side of the House, and hardly any Member of the House will justify the present practice. In the Committee I asked Lord Penrhyn's agent whether he did not think a system whereby there were no less than 20 chapels on leases under 30 years, nine-tenths of the people being nonconformists, while all the churches and schools were all on freeholds, was not calculated to produce a sore feeling in the minds of the people of the district? The agent said he did not think that had much to do with the question under consideration. Land agents did not seem to understand that the House of Commons was making these enquiries with a view to consulting the benefit of the community. Again, in many of these leasehold districts there is no freedom of contract 957 at all. I was talking the other day to a very distinguished professor at Oxford—a strong supporter of the present government—and he thought it was monstrous he should not be able to obtain in the residential part of Oxford a house which he could enlarge at his leisure and hand it on to his children afterwards. This leasehold system is utterly unknown in the towns on the Continent. The general run of the reports from the Continent is "Land for building is sold almost without exception unconditionally," and yet we are told that this wonderful leasehold system is almost a providential arrangement for the advantage of the people. We have been told that the Socialists do not approve of any scheme of this kind, and the Socialists in this matter no doubt will prove themselves the friends for the moment of the Duke of Westminster and the great London landlords. The Socialists are so anxious to tax what are called ground rents, and so afraid of putting a single penny into the pocket of any landlord that I believe some of them would almost oppose a railway or other beneficial scheme for fear some of the money would find its way to the landlord class. If some day ground values are rated, there would be two-thirds of Great Britain practically untouched by the system. The ratepayers in any district will always exceed the number of owners, and therefore I think the Socialists are wrong. I would sooner get a clear, definite, immediate advantage than wait for generations for an advantage which may never come. The one thing we have to do in this country is to increase the number of people who enjoy the permanent ownership of their own houses. The noble Lord (Viscount Lymington) made a sort of non possumus speech, but the hon. Member (Mr. L. Fry) seconded the Amendment in a very different kind of speech. He is the Chairman of our Committee, he has listened to all the evidence, and has made what is a most important concession; we may almost say a concession of the whole case. Ho has said that he has seen that there are localities where there are a large number of occupying owners, and where perhaps in the interest of the community some measure of this sort ought to be introduced. And he further says that he thinks in some 958 cases local bodies might rightly have compulsory powers to enfranchise. As far as I am concerned, that concedes the whole case. This will become more and more a burning question. I hope we we shall deal with it without delay, and, as I believe we can, both equitably and effectively.
§ SIR J. PULESTON (Devonport)
As I have been frequently mentioned in the course of the debate as a supporter of the Bill, I should like to point out that the debate has really turned upon details which could be best settled in Committee. My right hon. Friend the Member for Brighton (Sir W. Marriott) has, however, gone much further; indeed, from his speech, I almost expect to have his vote in the division Lobby. He has admitted with great frankness and ability that he is in favour of increasing the number of freeholders in the country. That is one of the principles for which we contend. He has further admitted that there are many places, and I thank him for particularly naming dockyard constituencies, where the principle of this Bill ought to prevail. Now, although I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, it must not be taken that I shall not be prepared to propose in Committee a good many amendments to improve the Measure. I think there are many hon. Members who will go into the Lobby in favour of the Second Reading with the same intention.
§ THE SECRETARY or STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS,) Birmingham, East
I shall not stand long between the House and the Division. On behalf of the Government, I desire to say that we are entirely opposed to this Bill. We are opposed to the principle because we believe it to he unjust; we believe the Measure would establish a precedent for taking a man's property, not for the public advantage, not for the use of the public for any public purpose, not with full compensation, not upon terms that are fair and equitable to the person obliged to part with his property. We resist it therefore on that ground. We also resist it on the ground that the proposal is premature and inex- 959 pedient; because a Committee of this House which has sat for three years and accumulated a mass of evidence is about to report on the evidence. The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. L. Fry), has seconded the Amendment of the noble Lord (Viscount Lymington), and I think it would be contempt of the Committee so to speak to proceed to a decision on this Measure before we receive the Report of the Committee. On these grounds, we intend to oppose a Second Reading of the Bill.
§ The House divided; Ayes 157, Noes 186; (Div. List, No. 90).
§ Words added:
Main Question, as amended, put.
Resolved, That this House declines to consider the question of Leasehold Enfranchisement until it has had an opportunity of considering the Report of the Committee appointed to inquire into the subject of Town Holdings.