HC Deb 29 April 1891 vol 352 cc1677-732

Order for Second Reading read.

(12.55.) ME. J. ROWLANDS (Fins-bury, E.)

This is the third occasion on which the House has been asked to consider this question. In 1884, for the first time, a Bill of this description was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broad-hurst), and in 1889 a second Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson). Between those periods a great deal has taken place in regard to the question of town lands. It has been usual in this House to have a great many discussions on the land question in relation to agriculture, but hitherto scarcely any time whatever has been absorbed on the question of the tenure of town lands. I have not the slightest doubt, however, that in the course of a few years the House will have to devote considerable attention to the subject. Since the question was first mooted, seven years ago, a large amount of official information has been given which did not exist at the time the hon. Member for West Nottingham was induced to bring the question forward. We have had a Royal Commission upon the Housing of the Working Classes, and it is well-known that a majority of that Commission expressed their views very decidedly upon the question of leasehold enfranchisement. I know it is said that the question did not come within the purview of that Commission; but I take it that as the Commission was appointed by Her Majesty to consider the whole question of the housing of the working classes, it was quite within the scope of the inquiry for the Commissioners to investigate anything regarding the tenure of town lands which they thought might have a bearing upon the better housing of the people. It may be said, further, that although a majority of the Commission were in favour of giving leasehold enfranchisement, there were several important members of the Commission who did not sign the Supplementary Report. The Chairman, however, did sign the Report, and although there were several other Supplementary Reports, to neither of them did the Chairman—Sir Charles Dilke—attach his name. His views on the question are well - known, and, as far as I can ascertain, there has been only one distinct opinion expressed against the Report of the majority, namely, by the present head of the Government—the Marquess of Salisbury. Not only have we now before us the official information obtained by the Commission, but in 1884 we had an important series of Returns called for by the late Earl Granville from our Representatives in foreign countries. The importance of these Returns cannot be over-estimated. It was thought desirable to ascertain the custom in every European country, and with that object Lord Granville sent a series of questions to our Representatives. The most astounding thing is that the answers show that in no European country is there to be found the same system which exists here, namely, that people are induced to build houses on an insecure tenure. Mr. Thornton, reporting upon the custom in Switzerland, said that absolute ownership was the only condition known to the Swiss, and that they knew nothing of the conditions which exist in this country, such as copyhold, leasehold, and so forth. It will, therefore, be seen that we are dealing with a system of tenure peculiar to this country which does not apply to any other part of Europe, and a system, further, which does not prevail in the whole of the United King- dom. When the question was last before the House the Town Holdings Committee had produced three substantial volumes of evidence, but had not presented their Report. Since then they have reported, and an instructive part of their Report is the information they have collected as to existing tenures in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. It is a curious thing that the terminable leasehold system—the short leaseholds of 99 years as distinguished from those of 999 years—does not exist in a very considerable portion of the United Kingdom. In Lancashire there is a perpetual system of tenure; in Scotland, we have feu-farm rents and perpetual tenure; in the North of England, in such places as Leeds, we have the freehold system, and the short tenures which are common in the South of England, in parts of the West, and in Wales, are unknown. The tenures in Cornwall will be dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Austell (Mr. W. A. M'Arthur), who will, I believe, give some most important information. We have made considerable progress since the question was last before the House in 1889, and the Report of the Town Holdings Committee puts an entirely new face upon the matter. The great amount of interest which the question entails is to be seen in the Petitions which have been presented to the House by Corporate Bodies. During the present Session more than one Corporate Body has petitioned in favour of this Bill. Upon the last occasion that the question was discussed there was a Petition from the Carnarvon County Council; there has since been one from the County of Anglesea and several others to the same effect, all in favour of the Bill, as well as a Petition from the London County Council. The contention is that the present system is detrimental to the welfare of the community, and demands amendment. It is said that we are interfering with the rights of the landlord; but the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington (Lord R. Churchill), writing a few years ago to one of his constituents, declared that He would never be a party to wrong; and injustice, that the good of the State stands far above freedom of contract, and that when the two forces clash the latter will have to give way. The evidence given before the Town Holdings Committee proves that the leasehold system tends to bad building, and that, worse than all, towards the end of a lease it operates in inducing tenants to allow dwellings, which are largely inhabited by the working classes, to become dilapidated. When a man gets within the last 20 years of his lease he will decline to make any great structural alterations if he can possibly avoid it, because he knows very well that he cannot possibly get back the money he may expend. I know it is said that we have good ground landlords who will look after the interests of the tenants, and that they will see that all the covenants of the lease are fulfilled. No doubt they do, but it is only when the property is about to pass into their hands, and not before. As to the question of freedom of contract, if we can make out a case that an alteration of the law is justifiable, I maintain that Parliament should do what it has done in other cases and break contracts, if the breaking of contracts is necessary, to bring about a better state of things. The time has gone by when we can put a thing upon a pedestal and never interfere with it, even when it is found to be opposed to the general good of the community; and in this case I hope, before I sit down, to show that the system we are anxious to remedy does come into collision with the good of the community, and it is for that reason that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill.

MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

I rise, Sir, to call your attention to the fact that there are not 40 Members present.


I have very recently satisfied the House that there were 40 Members present.


I have referred to the Town Holdings Committee and to the evidence taken before it, and I think I ought not to omit this opportunity of drawing attention to the classes of witnesses who were examined by that Committee, and the nature of the evidence they gave. There were witnesses representing every class of society who advocated the change proposed by this Bill. We had before us practical builders, and working men who, by their own thrift, had become possessed of their own houses, all in favour of our remedy. What had we on the other side? We had a number of professional gentlemen, all of whom were more or less interested in one or the other of the big estates throughout the country —gentlemen acting and speaking as agents for these properties. Having listened to their evidence as tendered to us through a series of years, and having been on that Committee since 1887, I do not think that those agents are the best witnesses for the interests of their employers. They look at things pretty much as they affect their own interests, and seem to be much more concerned with those interests than with the interests of those they are supposed to serve. It was curious to notice the way in which some of the witnesses who were called to condemn the proposed change in the law bore testimony to the fact that, after all, it was essential that some change should be made. Among the witnesses examined by the Committee was Mr. Statter, agent to Lord Derby, who gave evidence in April, 1888. Mr. Statter had had practical experience as to the system which is in existence in Lancashire, and no one who heard him would be inclined to gainsay the statement that he was a man well qualified to put before the Committee a large amount of useful information as to the state of things in that county. He condemned some of the properties built on leases of 99 years; and he pointed out that, in considering the case of very old properties, we had to take into account whether they were built before the modern Acts came into existence, and, consequently, were not in accordance with their provisions. Mr. Statter also gave us some illustrations as to what was being done on Lord Derby's estate at Bury, where fine wide streets were being made, and he described the class of property that was being put up there. We asked him on what terms the building sites were being granted on Lord Derby's property, and here I ought to say that Mr.Statter was supposed to have come before us to prove that the short leasehold system was a good one. Well, he told us that in the new portion of Bury Lord Derby was not granting 99 years' leases, but was in the habit of renewing the 99 years' leases for 999 years. I suppose, Sir, that no one can have any objection to such a tenure as that, although there are some people who think it would be better to enable the lessees to buy out the rent-charge. Nevertheless, if you give a tenure of 999 years, anyone who holds property on such terms might well be called upon to keep that property in a good and sanitary condition, so as to render it at all times fit for the occupancy of those who have to reside on it. But, it may be asked, for what reason was this 999 years' system being established in Bury? Why, Sir, there is a good bit of freehold land to be got in that neighbourhood, so that Bury is one of the few places in existence where competition in land comes thoroughly into play, and consequently the ground landlord of the property I have referred to has had to do the same as the other ground landlords in the districts. But, on the other hand, the Committee have had before them cases in which the element of competition has not come into play. Let me take the case of Pembroke Dock, where by far the largest amount of the landed property is held by one owner. We all know that workmen must live within a reasonable distance of their work; and in the case of Pembroke, we do not find the essential elements of competition and fair play, so that the entire argument as to freedom of contract which is put forward by some hon. Members falls to the ground, because it is manifestly impossible that there can be any such thing as freedom of contract when one person holds all the land which the others are bound to purchase. I might also take the case of the Festiniog Slate Quarries where, as in the case of Pembroke, the work is centred in one spot, and the workmen have to live near it. You may tell them to go somewhere else and get better terms; but it is evident that both in the case of the Festiniog Quarries and the Pembroke Dock the workpeople must have their homes within a reasonable distance of their work, and it is places like these that freedom of contract cannot exist, unless you can establish perpetuity of tenure. I will give you an illustration of the way in which people suffer under the existing system in places like these. I do not propose to inflict on the House a long list of cases of hardship such as I might easily adduce from the evidence taken by the Town Holdings Committee. I will, however, give you the case that was put before us by a working man who came from Pembroke Dock (Mr. James Davies), a retired Inspector of Shipwrights. I may preface what he said by stating that in 1884 I was at the Pembroke Dock, and then saw the house which Mr. Davies had built; and I can only add that I wish there were more working men throughout the country able to provide such homes for themselves, and possessing the same ability as artisans for making their houses comfortable as he did during his spare hours in the evening. He was asked— Can you give us some cases to the point? He replied— A grocer purchased with 40 years of the lease expired, and laid out £360 to improve the place. He then applied for an extension of the lease. Twenty years more were granted, making 40 altogether, but increasing his ground rent from £1 to £5 per annum. He was then asked— Do I infer that a certain number of years was surrendered or given up in that case? He replied— Forty years was expired out of 60, leaving 20, and 20 more were added to that, making 40. He then gave another case, which was this— Two young men (brothers) purchased a small house in the centre of the town last year with 14 years unexpired, 18ft. frontage, 18s. ground rent, cost about £100 to build, but laid out upon it last autumn £160 to make it suitable for their business. They then applied to the landlord for a 60 years' lease, and were informed that they could have a new lease for the time required by giving up the old one, and by so doing reducing the new one to 46 years. And this they should have for £20 per annum. This offer they refused. I think these two illustrations are quite sufficient to point out the evils of the present system. In Worcestershire and elsewhere you may get other phases of these evils. In Cornwall you have the life lease system in operation, and under it large sums must be spent by those who hold leasehold property, especially for business purposes. In Great Malvern we have the cases of two gentlemen, both of whom are tradesmen. The case of Mr. James Nott, a grocer at Malvern, thus— In 1862 he bought the property for £1,500, there being only two advanced lives on it. After negotiation he got a third life put in, on payment of £450 and about £50 expenses. One of the old lives died shortly after. Witness made considerable improvements, costing £430, as the property was greatly dilapidated, and in 1871 he got another life put in, at a cost of £630. Since then witness had spent £570 more. Not long ago he sold half the property to b is next door neighbour, who has rebuilt at a cost of £2,200. Witness said— I complain of this: I have now only two lives of 40 and 30 respectively; and if these two lives died, as they might die within a very little period, the ground landlord would take the whole of my improvements; every shilling will go at once into the ground landlord's hands, and I could not get the slightest compensation whatever. The witness also said he knew he had the power to insure the two lives, but that was a severe tax, and would continue to be so to the end of the chapter. I might make similar quotations in regard to the cases of working men, where, although the figures would not be quite so high, they would be proportionately heavy, and would show in the same way how injuriously the system works among that class. One of the pet arguments used against this measure is that, although we desire to benefit the working class, that class would reap no benefit from this Bill. I unhesitatingly assert for myself and my colleagues on these Benches that we should not make another step in furtherance of this measure if we were not fully convinced that the working classes will be benefitted by it. At any rate, there is no other interest that I care for besides that of the working class, and it is because I believe this measure will be of real benefit to them that I have spent so much time in advocating the change proposed by this Bill. I will not weary the House by detailing the circumstances under which the different Friendly Societies have arranged for the purchase of houses by their members. I will, however, give the House one example of what has been done in this way. There were before the Town Holdings Committee two Past Grand Masters of the Man- Chester Unity of Oddfellows, and what did we hear from them? We were informed that not only the Oddfellows, but the Foresters and other societies had latterly taken to the practice of advancing money to their members for the purchase of houses, because they found they could get a better interest for the outlay than by other modes of investment, while carrying out at the same time a co-operative movement of a useful and beneficial character. Of course, it is to the interest of these societies to let their money out on good security of this description, while the members obtaining the advances are able to do so at a lower rate of interest than if they borrowed money elsewhere. It is a remarkable fact that the Oddfellows alone have laid out nearly £2,000,000 in this way by means of advances to members varying from £200 to £400. I myself am a member of a lodge of Oddfellows in London, which has lent out to members, in sums up to £500, a large amount of money—so large that the outstanding balance a quarter or so back amounted to £7,000. That is a lodge which is held in the North of London, at Islington. When, therefore, hon. Members assert, as some of them do, that the thrifty portion of the working classes take no interest in this question, I ask them to consider these facts. For my part, I have yet to find out that thrift on the part of the working classes is a crime. I cannot but admire the exercise of thrift on the part of the working man, and I know of no better mode of investment on the part of such a man than the purchase of a house as a home for himself and family. You may, perhaps, demonstrate that he might get 1/4 per cent. more interest from some other investment; but I assert that as a means of benefitting himself 'and children, no working man can do better than invest his savings in a dwelling house—an acquisition which tends to raise him in the social scale, making him to all intents and purposes a better citizen and a better member of society. If hon. Members say that the working men prefer freeholds to leaseholds let me refer them to the evidence given by Mr. Wallis, the Duke of Devonshire's agent at Eastbourne. Mr. Wallis has the carrying out of the system of enfranchisement on the Duke of Devonshire's Eastbourne estate, where— Whoever takes a plot of land on this estate covenants to spend a certain amount on the erection of houses, and the Duke, on his part, covenants to sell the freehold at any time within 10 years of the date of the agreement.

Mr. Wallis

stated before the Committee that— Up to the present time land has been let on the estate for the erection of 2,034 houses. Of these, 64 per cent., that is 1,406, have been already redeemed; 22 per cent., that is 530, are still within the 10 years' option; 14 per cent., that is 362 houses, remain leasehold. Thus, leaving out the houses still within the 10 years' option, about four-fifths have already become freehold.

Mr. Wallis

was asked whether he did not often grant single plots of land to artisans for building purposes, and he replied— Oh dear, yes ! an artisan might come to my office to-morrow and say, ' Mr. Wallis, I want a plot of land 15 feet wide and 90 feet deep,' and I would let him have it at once, and he, being a carpenter perhaps, would give all his spare time probably to making the doors and sashes, and in a few months be the owner of a nice little house; and not only can they do so, but they have done so hundreds and hundreds of times over. If I seem to dwell on this point about the working man, it is because it has been urged against me that I have thought only of benefitting the middle, and not the working, class. I will not trouble the House with the provisions of the Bill; they are virtually the same as were contained in the measure brought forward by the hon. Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. H. Lawson), and provide compulsory powers of purchase, while the machinery is that of the County Court. We are not, however, wedded to the County Court if a better machinery can be pointed out. Our only object is, supposing the Legislature in its wisdom should pass the Bill, to obtain a simple and easy machinery which shall not be too cumbrous or expensive. There is still, of course, the alternative propositions of a perpetual rent-charge to the system of buying out. It is said in one of the Amendments that there ought to be some Local Authority for carrying out this scheme. I claim for this measure that by the 14th clause we propose for the first time that Public Authorities should be invested with powers such as do not exist at the present moment for controlling the amenities of the neighbourhood. The Bill is met by a somewhat wide series of Amendments. The first two Amendments which stand in the names of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Harrow (Mr. Ambrose) and the hon. and learned Member for East St. Pancras (Mr. Webster) are simply direct negatives. They will have none of this Bill. They believe that " everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds," and that we who wish to alter the law are interfering with a benign system which now exists in our Constitution, and are a set of meddlers who ought to be swept out of existence. But I should like to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Harrow explain the position he now takes up, because as he is in favour of the tenants of Ireland becoming possessed of their holdings, even on the security of the public taxation, it is difficult to understand why it is that he does not think what is good for Ireland might also be good for the people of England. Then there is the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Haddington. He finds fault with some points of the Bill, and because he does not agree with the whole of it, he says, " It is inexpedient to pass a Bill which professes to enfranchise leasehold holdings." It certainly strikes me as peculiar that the hon. and learned Member for Haddington should wish to deny to the people of London, and the South of England, and Wales, that fixity of tenure which is enjoyed by the people of Scotland, where the feu farm system, which is a system of perpetual tenure such as we should like to have in this country, has long prevailed. The hon. and learned Gentleman's Amendment goes on to say— Without providing powers for the regulation and control of such holdings in the interest of the community, and the acquisition in that interest of such increment in the value of such holdings as may hereafter take place by reason of public necessities and other causes independent of improvements by the owners. This Bill is decidedly one dealing with tenure. Clause 14 is the first attempt that I know of to give the Local Authorities some power over the holdings. We have, however, no objection to the community undertaking some responsibility such as is suggested, and for myself I should not take second place under the hon. and learned Member in my anxiety as to the acquisition of the unearned increment of the property. If the hon. and learned Member will favour us with his plan, I shall be glad to give it my careful consideration. Does the hon. and learned Member for Haddington suppose that we who think we have so good a case for immediate reform should stand still and wait for some other reform which may, or may not, be brought about in the distant future? It would be just as absurd to take such a position as it would have been to have declined to enter on the question of the grievances recently brought before us with regard to the deer forests of Scotland, because of the need of some alteration in relation to the laws of property in that country, which may or may not be made in years to come. I repeat, that we ought not to deny to the thrifty workmen of England the remedy for an undoubted evil, because there are other questions on which it is proposed to alter the laws of property. The last Amendment which stands on the Orders of the Day is one I am willing to welcome, although it does not go so far as the supporters of this Bill might wish. That Amendment stands in the name of the hon. Member for North Bristol (Mr. Lewis Fry), and I am sure that every Member of the Town Holdings Committee have all admired the patience, the ability, and the business capacity with which the hon. Gentleman presided over the deliberations of that body for so long a period. I accept his Amendment, as indicating that some change is necessary in regard to this question. In conclusion, I desire to draw the attention of the House to the Report presented by that Committee. The Committee say, in the paragraph which deals with benefit to the working classes— As regards those of the working classes who are occupying leaseholds, we are disposed to think that encouragement would be given to habits of thrift and providence and the interests of a very deserving class be promoted if such persons were able, where they desire it, to purchase the freehold of their houses. I admit that hon. Members might quote other paragraphs in the Report against me, and here I should tell the House that this Report is one which was fought over and contested to a much greater extent than is usually the case with the Reports of our Committees. We had no fewer than 169 Divisions during the consideration of that Report, and some of the paragraphs were either retained or struck out by very small majorities on either side. On page 37 the Report says— We are, however, of opinion that the conversion of leaseholds into freeholds would often promote improvements and encourage the development of trades and businesses by giving lessees the opportunity of securing the full benefit of their outlay in improvements and the full value of any goodwill they may have created. It would also get rid of some minor incidents of leasehold tenure which are felt to be of an irritating character, and would tend to remove the feeling of grievance among lessees which, to whatever extent it may be well founded or not, exists among them. I think that after the experience of the Duke of Devonshire's agent probably a greater number of the working classes will be prepared to avail themselves of the advantages which this Bill proposes to confer than might otherwise have been expected. No doubt the spread of education and enlightenment will have that effect. The Committee has advised that, under certain circumstances, the Local Authority should have the power to facilitate the enfranchisement of areas in their particular locality. The Committee also make other important recommendations in regard to educational places, co-operative stores, tenants for life, and others—all of a most interesting character—but I need not dwell on them now.' I admit that the majority of the Committee do not endorse my opinions. But the one object I have in trying to bring about this system is to give all possible facilities to every man who desires to obtain the freehold of his dwelling. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed," That the Bill be now read a second time."—{Mr. J. Rowlands.)

(1.47.) MR. W. A. MCARTHUR (Cornwall, Mid, St. Austell)

I rise to second the Motion. I do not think it will be necessary for me to trouble the House at any very great length. My only excuse for intervening in the interminable Debates we have had on the question of English land is the very keen interest that is felt all through the West of England, and more particularly in my own constituency, on the question of leaseholds. There is no part in England in which the oppression of the law on this subject is felt more bitterly than in Cornwall and certain parts of Devonshire. The difficulty under which we labour in those districts is not that land cannot be obtained at all; for, of course, it would be idle to attempt to argue that if working men wanted land they could not get it at all —but that the conditions upon which a working man in Cornwall can get land to build a house on for himself are so onerous and the charges so excessive as to make it practically impossible for a man in that condition of life to erect for himself a house with any hope of being able, during the currency of the lease, to get any reasonable return for his money and his labour. Of course, we shall be met with the old argument that Parliament ought not to interfere between a landowner and the man who seeks to become his tenant. My hon. Friend has dealt with the question of freedom of contract; and I need only add that the complaint of interference between landlord and tenant is a very old bogie, which I hope will not frighten the House. Why should not the State interfere? The State has had repeatedly to interfere between the owners of monopolies and those who sought to use such monopolies where interference was necessary for the public safety and health. In Cornwall we have a state of things in which it is necessary to interfere. The present monopoly is conducive to neither public health nor safety, and interference is necessary for the very existence of the people. Men must live somewhere, and unless, as Mr. Broadhurst has said, they can live in a balloon or on a boat, they must reside on the land; and if you have a state of affairs in which land is let only on conditions which make it practically impossible for a working man to get hold of it, and if the State refuses to interfere, it perpetuates a system for crushing out local industry and preventing a large and industrious population from settling on the land. I say that because land is a monopoly we are entitled to ask that it should receive exceptional treatment at the hands of this House. The House has never hesitated to interfere when it could be shown that a private monopoly is opposed to the public interest. And in asking the House so to interfere I desire it to believe that I have not the slightest wish to rob anybody, or to refuse to the landlord the same rights as those to which every human being is entitled. But the House ought to see that rights of absolute ownership are not allowed to interfere with the public good. That is the only limitation of owners' rights which we are proposing under this Bill. My hon. Friend told the House that the Cornwall County Council appointed a Committee to inquire into the question of the terms on which land is held in Cornwall. That County Council is by no means a revolutionary body. The majority of the Members do not agree with my political views; but they appointed a Committee to investigate the conditions upon which land is held in Cornwall, and to the Report of that Committee, and the evidence taken by it, I propose to ask the attention of hon. Members. I hope I may be allowed to say that I am not making any attack upon Cornish landlords. I recognise, as the Committee recognised, that, in the main, we have very good landlords in Cornwall; landlords who wish to do the best they can for their tenants, and for those who are dependent upon them. But what I am protesting against is this: that the House should refuse to give relief to a condition of things under which the landlord is supposed to have an absolute right to do exactly what he pleases with the land without any regard whatever for the interests of the surrounding locality, or for the interest of the people compelled to live upon it. And I should sincerely regret if anything I may say should be construed into a personal attack upon the landlords of the County of Cornwall. Now, I suppose that the owners of land in England constitute a comparatively small class, and it does not require any wild flight of fancy to suppose that the whole of the land in England could be held by one man. If it were, how much should we hear of the landowner being perfectly entitled to do what he likes with his own? That contention, and the contention as to freedom of contract, was upset by this House long ago. It was upset in the case of the Irish tenant, and of the English tenant, for you have forbidden landlords to make with their tenants contracts detrimental to the public, and only a few days ago, in the case of acquiring sites for chapels and places of worship, the House, by a majority, again upset the principle of freedom of contract. Furthermore, I assert that the principle does not enter into the consideration of this Bill. Throughout the larger portion of Cornwall, and especially in the Division which I represent, freedom of contract absolutely does not exist. No one could contend that it does when one man holds land in his possession which it is absolutely necessary for the people of the country to live upon. If it can be proved, as I think it can, that in many industrial portions of the constituency one or two men own all the land surrounding a particular industry, which employs 5,000 or 6,000 persons, then nobody will say that freedom of contract really exists in that neighbourhood, or that landlord and tenant are on anything like a fair and equal footing. The absolute owner of land in such a district can prevent any houses from being built, can destroy a local industry, because he can refuse to give plots of ground upon which working men may build their houses, and can absolutely prevent any form of religion which he dislikes from being practised in the place, because he can, as has been done in several parts of England, refuse to give land for the erection of chapels. That is a tremendous power to put into the hands of any one man, and it is perfectly idle to assert that Parliament has no power to step in and deal with the monopoly. The Bill now before the House deals with one part of land reform. I cannot say I should regard the passing of this Bill as all the land reform that would be necessary. It is one step towards great and drastic changes in the relations between landlord and tenant which I hope will be part of the law before long. I ask the House to accept the Bill, because it is a practical proposal. The House has debated it for years and years. It has had before it evidence from almost every part of the country in which this leasehold system obtained to the effect that the passing of this Bill would remedy existing evils. Why should we wait until we are prepared to deal with the whole of the land question, which may not be for years to come, when we might to-day remedy part of the grievous injustice which arose under our present land law? I say that the case on behalf of leasehold enfranchisement is an extremely strong one. No doubt one of the chief abominations of the Cornish land system—that of life leases—is gradually disappearing as some of the great landlords have at last set their faces against this very vicious principle. But the system of holding land under lease is almost universal throughout Cornwall, and its evils were abundantly proved before the Town Holdings Committee, to whose Report reference has already been made. The evils were shown to exist, more particularly in the case of Cornwall, where there were large local industries in neighbourhoods the land in which was held exclusively by one or two owners. Mr. Trevail, of Truro, gave evidence on the point, and he speaks with authority upon it. He gave it as his experience that when a working man had acquired the freehold of his house he became a better member of society than a man who had only a temporary tenure, and took a much greater interest in the affairs of his county and his neighbourhood, while he had the strongest possible inducement to spend upon his house the money he formerly expended in drink. The evidence given before the Committee of the County Council in Cornwall showed not merely how extremely difficult it was to acquire land at all, but also that where land could be obtained, enormous prices were asked and most onerous conditions imposed. I am not going to trouble the Committee with long extracts from the Report or the evidence, but I should like to give one case to illustrate my point. Mr. Symons, a witness who gave evidence at Camborne, stated that landlords were asking £20 an acre for building land which was let for agricultural purposes at £2 10s. or £3. Mr. Rows, the Chairman of the County Council Committee, a very able public man in Cornwall, and I am* sorry to say an active opponent of mine, affirmed that it had been proved that if men wanted land on tenure for a certain number of years instead of on tenure for lives, they had to pay more for it. I say that that is a shocking state of things; it is a direct encouragement to perpetuate the old vicious system of life leases, which is nothing less than a desperate form of gambling. The excessive difference between the price of agricultural land and the same land when required for building purposes has prevented the extension of many mining towns and villages in Cornwall, and prevent the workpeople from getting decent houses to live in. The system worked with great hardship in districts where it was necessary for working men to live close to their work. Before the Cornish Committee Mr. Ball related his experience, and his hard case was typical of many others. He wished to establish himself as a builder and wheelwright, in a Cornish village in the year 1850. The landowner to whom he applied would only agree to let him land for 21 years, promising, however, to grant him a new lease for 21 years after the lapse of 10 years. The rent demanded was 2s. a yard. The wheelwright was compelled to accept the conditions, and he built a dwelling-house, a workshop, barn, and cattle-sheds upon the land. At the expiration of the 31 years the landlord stepped in and took possession of the property created by the tenant, and the landlord's steward actually sent in a bill for dilapidations, amounting to more than £17. The tenant, who had spent £700 upon the property, declined to pay the bill. He said, " I maintain that the landlord had no more moral right to that man's property than I have to his money. The question of dilapidations was only settled after five surveyors had been called in. This is how I was treated, although in 31 years I had added £700 to the value of the property." There are only two landowners in the village. It is absurd in such a case to talk about freedom of contract. The witness also in his evidence said he represented to the steward the hardship of the case; but was informed that he had no option but to press the claim for dilapidations. The agricultural value of the land was 10s. an acre; but because it was built upon the tenant had to pay £16 an acre, and at the end of 31 years lost every farthing he had spent on it. Such a state of things as is disclosed by this case cause great hardship in districts where it is necessary for working men to live near the places where they are employed. In my own District in Cornwall the only industry besides the agricultural industry is clay-mining. I have obtained from Mr. Davis, a member of the Cornish County Council, and a gentleman universally respected in the district, some information respecting the St. Stephen's district. This is a parish of 7,000 acres. One landlord owns half the entire parish—the half which is near the clay pits. There is a population of about 4,000 and about 650 houses, five-sixths of which are leasehold. Formerly tenants obtained land on improvement leases at 3s. an acre and erected cottages. The labourers' wages were at that time 9s. or 10s. a week, and, of course, the cottages they put up were small, 12 ft. high, 24 ft. long, and 12 ft. broad. Then came the development of the clay-mining industry, and more people came into the district. Wages increased, and cottages came more into demand. The landlord saw his opportunity and took it, and increased his receipts by every means available. How did it work out? There were hundreds of cases in which a man had got a plot of laud on lease, had built a cottage on it, and brought up his family. He held the lease on the three-life system. The son married and wanted his own house. The lives of the father's lease were by that time middle-aged, and it would not pay to build a house on such risky tenure. The landlord was applied to for another piece of land, or for a fresh lease, so that the house might be built on the same plot as his father's. The landlord allowed the son to have a portion of his father's plot, he gave the son fresh lives on that particular part, but charged him from £4 to £6 a year, while the father's lease continued, and when it expired, raised it to £8 or £12 per acre; so that he obtained for a time two rents for the same piece of ground. These are the unfair, exasperating, and exacting conditions which are imposed on the poor. In one place in Cornwall a landlord has ordered the removal of substantial four-roomed cottages, built by the tenants themselves, his contention being that nothing but five-room cottages ought to be built. It is, of course, desirable that such cottages should be built. I wish all labourers had them; but considering the rent which the tenants have to pay for the land, and the short term for which [leases are granted, it is absolutely ridiculous to expect a working man to erect a substantial five-room cottage. The cottages which have been ordered to be removed were passed by the Sanitary Authority of St. Austell. Surely that is a very hard case. I will give the House another very hard case. A man obtained the grant of a piece of land for 21 years at a rent equal to £4 per acre. With the consent of the under steward of an estate he built last year a four-room wooden cottage, which was approved and passed by the local Sanitary Authority. This year the superior steward has stepped in and ordered the whole of this man's work to be forfeited, on the ground that it is against the rule observed on the estate to build anything under a five-room cottage. The under steward is dead. But this man's work and the fruit of his industry is to be destroyed, although he acted in the belief that he was allowed to build the four-room cottage. I say that that is a disgraceful state of things, and that such a case as this is one that requires the protection of the House. Let me quote still another case of grievous hardship in St. Austell as disclosed before the Committee by Cornelius Judd. A man got a piece of land on a life lease. It only lasted 26 years. He had built two cottages on it at a cost of £140, but at the expiration of the lease he lost all the property, and the landlord is receiving from him £4 5s. a year rent for the house he himself built. The House has done much for the protection of agricultural tenants, and I cannot see why it should refuse to protect people who live in industrial villages. Take another result of the present system. In St. Austell, land for building could only be acquired under difficult conditions, and Mr. Nicholls stated that in the last 20 years only £2,000 has been spent in the erection of houses, but in the neighbouring town of Mount Charles, where such hard terms are not imposed, £6,000 has been spent. A rich inhabitant of St. Austell (Mr. Francis Barratt) some few years ago, seeing the difficulty the working classes had in getting houses, offered in a public-spirited manner to erect a number of cottages, but he was absolutely unable to obtain land for the purpose. A Committee of the Cornwall County Council has made a very strong Report on the question, drawing attention to the state of things existing in St. Austell and Mount Charles, and pointing out that not unfrequently a whole village belongs to one or two landowners, and that in such a case an applicant for relief has to accept such terms as his landlord is willing to give. This Committee was appointed by a body which is certainly not of an ultra-Radical character, and was presided over by a gentleman who is opposed to us in politics. I have spoken so far about the hardship of this system upon the working men of Cornwall, but it presses just as much on the rich men of the St. Austell Division—the men who are carrying on the great clay mines which exist close to the towns. These men have to take a tenure of 21 years. The industry is one upon which the whole of that part of the county depends. It costs to develop a clay pit from £5.000 to £8,000 at least, and in addition to this the lessees pay yearly heavier dues than, I think, are paid by any other class of mining property in this country. At the end of 21 years their lease is gone, their improvements are absolutely confiscated, and virtually at the end of the term these gentlemen, who employ practically the whole population of the district, have to buy back their own good-will and improvements from the landlord, who originally let them nothing but a sand-heap, and who has put no expense or work into the concern. I consider this a most monstrous hardship, and I think that if these men are to be turned out of their leases they are entitled to the same equitable compensation as you have given to the agricultural tenants of the country. I think I have made out a fair case for relief, at all events in certain districts. There is in the minds of the labouring men, and, in the case of the clay mines, of the rich men who are now working them, a burning sense of injustice, a sense of dependence, and a sense of absolute shame that their means of livelihood should be absolutely at the mercy of one particular landowner, without any hope of appeal to an impartial tribunal. I have not the slightest hesitation in saying that three or four landlords have absolutely dependent on them one half of the entire District I represent. These few men have the power, if they like to exercise it, to prevent the whole of this population from earning their living under decent conditions. The community whose grievances I have brought forward does not consist of men who have ever given the Government any trouble, but of sober, hard-working, honest, and religious people, and all we ask is that the fruits of hard work extending over many years should be secured to them. This is not a revolutionary proposal, and the persons who ought to give it the warmest support are the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Matthews) and his friends, because I think to a very large extent it is true that the more you create proprietorship and give a stake in the country to the working classes the more sober and quiet are the views they are likely to take of political changes. If you ask these people to respect your law you must make that law fair and just and see that it does not every day rob the people of the property they have created. Unless you can make your law tolerable for honest and hardworking people to live under you cannot expect them to have such respect for it as Members on both sides of the House would wish them to have. I need not deal with the opponents of this Bill, but I hope the constituencies of London will take notice that the one London Member who has put down notice of opposition to the measure, has also attempted to prevent its being discussed, is the hon. Member for Bast St. Pancras (Mr. Webster). It was he who moved a count while my hon. Friend behind me was speaking.


The hon. Member says I moved a count. It appears to me that the question is of some im- portance we are discussing. No doubt hon. Members opposite agree with me in that. It seemed to me hard there should be so few here to listen to their remarks; so I moved a count to enable them to have a semblance of an audience.


I am very glad to hear that explanation, and I hope the hon. Member will remind his constituents that he moved a count for the purpose of obtaining an audience for us. If he does not do so, I think others will. As to the Amendment placed on the Paper by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Haldane), if it stood as a Resolution by itself on any other day, I should be one of the first people in the House to vote for it. I thoroughly agree with the principles of it, and if my hon. and learned Friend brought it forward in the shape of a Bill I should certainly vote for it. But I cannot see why, for the sake of pressing such an abstract Resolution, my hon. and learned Friend should endeavour to defeat this particular Bill. We are endeavouring to create an ownership in leaseholds. We think we have a fair chance of doing that at all events within a measurable distance of time. He has no chance, I venture to say, of carrying his Resolution within anything like the same period of time, and still less of putting it into any effective shape. When the time does come to give effect to it, all the property we propose to create under this Bill will be just as subject to the provisions of the Resolution as other property would now be subject to it. I put it to my hon. and learned Friend whether he thinks he ought to stand in the way of a great public improvement in order that the House may negative his proposal to-day. At all events I shall not be led away by the Amendment, but shall vote for the practical proposition of the Bill, believing that it can be carried out, that it is equitable and just, that, if passed, it will give increased stability to the institutions of the country, and that it will create a large class of sober and thrifty householders, free from that sense of injustice under which, I think, they now very naturally labour. I beg to second the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.

(2.47.) MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

With regret I find myself compelled to take up an attitude of opposition to the proposal brought forward by the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded the Second Reading of this Bill. That regret is none the less sincere, because I recognise with them that there are real grievances to redress, to which the Bill seeks to apply a remedy, and my quarrel with what my hon. Friends have had to say is not on account of many of the facts on which their case is based, but because of the remedy they seek to apply. Now, my hon. Friends have both alluded to a vast number of cases of hardship, and if they had proposed a way of redress for these hardships, if they had brought forward a proposition for the purpose of conferring upon occupiers of land greater security for the improvements which they have made, I should be with them. But the case made out by them is one thing, and the Bill is another. This is not a Bill for giving greater security to the tenant. There is another Bill which will come before the House shortly, a Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Pancras, dealing with the subject, and when that Bill is before us we shall hear what he proposes to do, and, so far as I can now see, I shall have great pleasure in supporting his proposals. But that is not what we have to deal with to-day, and I claim to discuss the question on the footing that security for improvements is not what we have to consider. For security for improvements is one thing, while leasehold enfranchisement is quite another thing. My hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury (Mr. Rowlands) spoke of this as a Bill for the benefit of the working-classes. I am not second in a desire to benefit the working classes, but I object to conferring a benefit upon a small section of the working classes at the expense of the remainder, and that is what the present Bill proposes to do. The hon. Member for Finsbury expresses surprise that I should be found opposing fixity of tenure for the working classes such as he imagines exists in Scotland, and that I stand still—not accepting one reform, while waiting for another. But I take this [attitude of opposition to his Bill, because I believe it will throw back the settlement of the land question for a long time to come, and it is calculated to do infinite damage to the cause both he and I have at heart. The hon. Member referred to myself as having, two years ago, as he suggested, once before stood in the way of a measure for the enfranchisement of occupiers. It was a very unfortunate illustration, as it seemed to me, that the hon. Member for Finsbury cited. Two years ago, and since I voted for the creation of small freeholders in Ireland, because I thought the special circumstances of the case required it, that the peculiar conditions of social order demanded it, and when the hon. Member for Finsbury did not and the hon. Member for St. Pancras did not vote for it, I did. I do not blame them; it is a question of an entirely different character from this; only I do say the illustration was an unlucky one. I will do my best to show that those of us who do take up this attitude of opposition are in favour of the principle of compensation for improvements; but that we are also in favour of another principle, and, further, that where social order or peculiar circumstances require the enfranchisement of leaseholds, or the creation of small freeholds, we are prepared to bring that about, and, if necessary, by the introduction into legislation of compulsory powers. But in dealing with a special state of circumstances, you are dealing with something quite different to the state of things which should govern a proposal for the working classes of the whole country. The hon. Mem-for the St. Austell Division (Mr. W. A. McArthur) gave a number of illustrations which seem to me to bear out what I have stated. Take the case of the owners of clay mines in Cornwall. Is there a single clause in the Bill which would apply to them? It is a question of occupiers of houses, not of mines; it is a case of tenements and small holdings connected therewith; and the cases of clay mines, to which the hon. Member alluded, are cases that do not in the slightest degree support the principle of the Bill, but they do support the other principle to which I have adverted, that there ought to be a general law for giving greater security for improvements made during occupation than exists now. Other cases were stated by the hon. Member which seemed to me to show that there is need for Municipal Authorities to have compulsory powers to acquire land for the creation of occupation holdings. The question for the consideration of the House and on which I shall endeavour to make out my case is, whether the remedy proposed by my hon. Friends in the Bill would not throw back a settlement and interpose difficulties of a serious nature between the time in which we stand and the time when we may hope for a redress of the grievances upon which we all agree. "What is the proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Finsbury? He seeks to transfer the complete and absolute dominion over a number of small holdings from the present owners to a number of smaller owners—not occupiers, mark you—for this is a circumstance to be borne in mind in considering this Bill. This Bill carries with it, according to the now common practice, an explanatory Memorandum, and this Memorandum puts forward two recommendations from the Report of the Town Holdings Committee, in which it is set out that the working man having made improvements in the house he occupies can get no recompense when turned out. This is a grievance, and a serious one, but does the Bill meet it? This is not a Bill directed to the case of the occupier, it is directed to the lessee for an unexpired term of 20 years, who is by no means necessarily inoccupation. My hon. Friend referred to working men who are in the position of such lessees, and no doubt there are some in the North, where Building Society schemes have flourished greatly, and it is said there are some at Woolwich; but all I can say is I should have no difficulty in proving that the number of working men who hold their houses on leases of 20 years and upwards is infinitesimal in comparison with the number of those who occupy upon much shorter terms—from year to year, for three years, or five, seven or 14 years. Now, let me give a practical illustration of how the thing works out. Suppose an owner of a large piece of property near London, who has done what is very commonly done, let out the land on 99 years building leases. He has let to a builder who is strictly bound to erect houses of a certain character and in a certain way, and he has built the houses and, with a view to making profit, has sub-demised them at short terms to a working class population. The people will occupy the cottages so built on terms of—if not from year to year—of short periods of not more than seven years. I will suppose the building scheme extends over a good many acres close outside London. Then this Bill passes. The builder—the leaseholder thereupon serves the necessary notices and acquires the freehold, taking very good care that he in turn does not fall into the trap in which he has caught the orignal freeholder, for he himself lets in future on shorter terms than 20 years. The result is, you have transferred the dominion over this piece of land from one freeholder to another, without giving the slightest benefit to the occupiers. The evil does not stop there. The transfer of the property from one man to another is a simple matter, and, if in the future it should be necessary to assert the interest of the community over the land, it would not so much matter, but the process will not generally take the form as in the case I have assumed of the transfer of the great part of the property from one freeholder to the other individual freeholder. The property may be sub-demised and split up into a number of small holdings held by people who are not occupiers and who, under the 14th clause of the Bill, will be free from all the restrictions as to division and sub-letting originally imposed. The result will be, if the Bill passes, the creation of a number of small freeholders, far more difficult to deal with than the freeholder you originally had to face. Bear in mind, we seek to assert some control in the interest of the public over the use of land, particularly urban land, and the situation becomes very serious under a Bill such as this. At present we have got to deal with a few great landlords. You have people in London who own land in enormous tracts. Everybody knows and everybody is watching the proceedings of the Duke of West-minster, the Duke of Bedford, or Earl Cadogan, or Sir John Ramsden in the North; their proceedings are public; they are influenced by the old maxim noblesse oblige, and are in a great measure amenable to public opinion; but when you have a large number of ,small owners who sublet to any extent and follow out the maxim of doing what they like with their own, you have a state of things in which every resistance will be offered to any proposal, in the name of property. I am not surprised that the hon. Member for St. Pancras, one of the great patrons of this enfranchisement movement, should have received a testimonial from a Property Owners Association, thanking him for his services to owners of property in promoting leasehold enfranchisement. But these are not the people for whom we design the benefit. We are not left to speculate about this, we had a matter before the House last year in connection with property in London. There was a proposition on the part of the London County Council to remove the gates and bars which obstruct access to the great railway termini in the North of London. That proposition was generally accepted outside the House, no strenuous opposition was offered, but when the question came before Parliament, who opposed it? Not the Duke of Bedford, he was conspicuously absent from the discussion in the House of Lords; not Her Majesty's Government as representing the big landowners, but Her Majesty's Solicitor General as representing owners of property in Bloomsbury. He rose after a speech made by the President of the Local Government Board in favour of the Bill, and proceeded to oppose it strenuously, and he was successful, not-only in defeating the Government as represented by the President of the Local Government Board, but in getting nearly the whole of the occupants of the Front Bench to go out with him in defence of the rights of owners of property in Bloomsbury who objected in their own interests to the removal of the gates. I say, for my part, that from the great Dukes and Marquesses with whom in a great measure we have to deal in London, we may expect more mercy, more consideration, for the claims of the public than we can from the class of small freeholders proposed to be created by this Bill. The Amendment of which I have given notice indicates the grounds of our objection to this Bill. The course of the his- tory of land in the neighbourhood of our great cities, particularly of London, shows that there is added as year succeeds year a value to the land, an increment which is not due to the creation, the work, or the expenditure of the occupier, the lessee, the builder, or the owner, but is entirely due to the growth of population and of its necessities. This special increment is being added to the value of the land year by year, and, as the law now stands, goes into the pockets of the freeholder. And what would be the effect of this Bill? It would not intercept that value which is created by the community, it would not take it for the community which made it, it would not prevent a state of things which has amounted to something like a scandal in the past—the Bill would leave the matter just as before, and without any alteration, except that it would make a present of this value at the expense of one set of landowners to another set of landowners. To my mind, that is a proposition wholly indefensible. Let us rather than do that accept the status quo, and be content to wait until we have educated the public mind up to the point, when we can proceed to arm our municipalities with the power to prevent in the future such grievances as have been suffered in the past. That is my greatest objection to the Bill, as it conies before the House purely as a Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill. In listening to the speeches of my hon. Friends, I was glad to find that both agree to this, that there ought to be legislation to secure to the community the special value created by the community. In the moral title to this we agree, and we desire to assert it, but the proposition of my hon. Friends is that there is nothing in their Bill which involves any disadvantage to the wider proposition of which I speak. To that I cannot assent. If the Bill becomes law we shall have to assert the public rights not as at present against the few, but against a multitude. It remains for me to substantiate the point that a municipality may acquire this unearned increment without any derogation to the rights of property. It has been said that this is not possible, but I do not assent to that. There are precedents, at all events, for interference by the State with rights of property in the Metropolis to an extent that gives some encouragement for the future. I am not talking of taking from anybody that which is his own. I am talking of such legislation as we find in the Metropolis Management Act, which put restrictions of the most stringent order on owners of property in London. The hon. Baronet the Member for Kingston is not in his place. He has had large experience of the working of that Act in the Metropolis, and I should like to have his testimony upon it, and as to what might be called, from a private point of view, the hardship deliberately inflicted by that legislation upon owners of property, restraining their legal rights in the interest of the community. But it is not necessary to go to precedents. I rely on principle. I suggest the line upon which we should legislate for the future, leaving the past as it is; and I am not advocating land nationalisation as it is commonly termed. If that means going back on the title of the owner in the past, I say it cannot be done without compensation. If you want to nationalise the whole of the land on terms of compensation you will undertake a financial operation so big that you will find it impossible. If, on the other hand, you proceed to do it without compensation you meet with most formidable difficulties. In the first place we are not dealing with individuals. Who are the owners of the land of the country? Not the individual in whose name the title stands, but the incumbrancers and mortgagees, the builders, bankers, merchants, and others who have, so to speak, made their money by the sweat of their brow. Perhaps a Building Society is second mortgagee, and a Trades' Union, which may have advanced its funds on the security of the title, may be third mortgagee. All these people are landowners, and if you are to deal with land nationalisation on any large scale you will have to deal with a multitude of individuals to such an extent as may make it absolutely impossible to separate title to land from title to any other property. Nationalisation of the land is therefore impracticable, and it would be in breach of public undertakings. It was only recently, in 1874, that this House passed a Real Property Limitation Act, which gave the assurance of the State that everybody who had been in occupation for 12 years should, as a general principle, have an absolute title. You cannot go back from that assurance, and I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that it is not possible to bring forward any scheme of land nationalisation in the sense in which he uses the term. But when we come to the land that is situated in big towns, I join issue with him. I say you can do it without going back one bit on the principle of private property. We are, of course, familiar in this country with compulsory interference with the rights of private owners of land on terms of compensation. I should like to quote a few words from one of the greatest and fairest writers who ever touched this subject, a man who had an intense zeal for reform, added to an almost too rigid regard for the rights of property—I mean the late Mr. John Stuart Mill. What he says on this point is this— The claim of the landowners to the land is altogether subordinate to the general policy of the State. The principle of property gives them no right to the land, but only a right to compensation for whatever portion of their interest in the land it may be in the policy of the State to deprive them of. So that their claim is indefeasible. It is due to landowners and to owners of any property whatever recognised as such by the State that they should not be dispossessed of it without receiving its full pecuniary value or an annual income equal to what they derived from it. This is due to the general principles on which property rests. If the land was bought with the produce of the labour and abstinence of themselves or their ancestors, compensation is due on that ground; even if otherwise it is still due on the ground of prescription. Nor can it ever be necessary for accomplishing an object by which the community altogether will gain that a particular portion of the community should be immolated. When the property is of a kind to which peculiar affections attach themselves the compensation ought to exceed a bare pecuniary equivalent. But subject to this proviso the State is at liberty to deal with landed property as the general interests of the community may require, even to the extent, if it so happen, of doing with the whole what is done with a part whenever a Bill is passed for a railway or a new street. I say that remark applies to the very holdings it is proposed to deal with in this Bill. I say the true principle is to assert the right of the community to expropriate upon terms of paying the present market value, the title of the owners of urban property in order to acquire for the future that increment of value which is due solely to the growth of population, and to the public necessities. I do not think there is any difficulty in carrying out such a proposition. All you have to do is to arm your County Councils as they are now constituted with adequate powers, and then to educate them in the duty of exercising those powers. Contrast the proposition of my hon. Friend with such a scheme as this. Let me, in the first place, point out some difficulties in the way of the proposals of the Bill. In the first place, the Bill provides for no adequate control of the uses to which the enfranchised land is to be put. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. J. Rowlands) referred to Clause 14 as containing the first attempt to give the Local Authority some power to deal with the interests of the land. That clause takes the existing covenants, and proposes to give power to the Local Authority, if it pleases, to enforce them. It begins by sweeping away all restrictions on sub-demise, and things of that kind. It does not, however, prevent the owner of a small holding from robbing the occupier to whom he has made a sub-demise.

MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

May I point out to my hon. and learned Friend that by the last paragraph in Clause 14 it is provided that the Local Authority— May also restrain the lessee from so dealing with the demised premises either by doing or omitting to do any act in connection therewith as will, in the opinion of such Local Authority, prejudicially affect adjoining owners.


I have read that clause, but—it is perhaps because my mind has been debauched with law—I am absolutely unable to attach any definite meaning to it. But, whatever its meaning, it is obvious it will not interfere with the express words of the enactment. Therefore, the robbery of the occupier may go on for the future under the Bill as it has done before, and not only so, but the new freeholders may build on their freeholds practically without regard to the public interest. It comes to this: that the Local Authority, while haying power to enforce some restrictions, will have no power to intercept the unearned increment for the benefit of the community. Nor is it to be in the power of the Local Authority to interfere, when an owner desires to build an unsightly structure, or to make his property out of harmony with the property in the adjoining district. Not only is there not to be any adequate control of the user, but you will now have to deal, not with a few people, as was the case in the past, but with an indefinite number of owners of houses of every kind and character. Then you have this difficulty about the increment as it accrues in the future. My hon. Friend suggests that it may be met by taxation of ground values. I am not going to discuss that for the present. It is a subject of great difficulty on which I am in sympathy with many of the views I know the Member for St. Pancras holds. I understand him to suggest by taxation of ground rents simply some form of tax of a limited kind, leaving the surplus to go into the pockets of the owner of the ground value. That is a proposition which is wholly inadequate to meet the case. It is not proposed to put a 20s. in the £1 tax on ground value. To do that would be only distinguishable from confiscation, in the same way as putting one to death in a warm bath is distinguishable from hanging or any other ruder way of extinguishing life. The surplus of any tax under that amount would still, as I say, go into the pockets of the owner and be lost to the community. We desire to arm the Local Authorities with powers to enable them, by means of valuations and after fair notice, to possess themselves of, not the past, but the future, increment for the benefit of the community. I do not propose now to go into the details of any scheme of the kind, but I say it is in that direction of compulsory purchase, and enabling the community to acquire what the community has created, what they ought never to have been deprived of, that you must look for the real remedy. Give compensation for improvements, and legislate in the other direction I have intended to indicate, and you will secure something like a redress of the grievance against which this Bill is levelled.

This Bill is absolutely hostile to such a suggestion, and will, if it be carried, make any dream of municipalisation of land an idle dream, by evoking the opposition of a very large and constantly increasing class. For these reasons I am compelled to oppose the Bill. For every one it will assist, I believe the measure will irrevocably damage the prospects of a hundred others. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word " That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words, " It is inexpedient to pass a Bill which professes to enfranchise leasehold holdings without providing power for the regulation and control of such holdings in the interest of the community, and the acquisition in that interest of such increment in the value of such holdings as may hereafter take place by reason of public necessities and other causes independent of improvements by the owners."—(Mr, Haldane.)

Question proposed, " That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(3.25.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)

As a supporter of the principle which my hon. Friend has just laid down, I have to second the Amendment. I do not deny that a certain amount of good would be effected by the Bill. No doubt many country districts, like those which my hon. Friend the Member for St. Austell (Mr. W. McArthur) has spoken of, would be benefited by such a measure. No doubt those who have capital in the towns would also be benefited by its provisions; but what we hold is that the measure would deprive the great majority of the people of any hope of obtaining a material improvement in the condition of their surroundings. The case of the Irish Land Purchase Bill was instanced by the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading. The case of agricultural land, however, is entirely different from that of urban building land, apart altogether from the great question of the unearned increment. The unearned increment in the ease of building land is a quantity which is continually altering at high ratios. But, apart altogether from that, in the management of agricultural land there has to be constant supervision and constant interference as long as the system of occupier and owner continues. But in the case of urban land the only operation from which the owner materially controls is that of the fixing of the price. We believe that land nationalisation is impossible, but the difficulties attending the municipalisation of land are of a very minor character, and such municipalisation does offer the hope 'of considerable improvement in the condition of our towns. The weakness of the Bill is that it would benefit only the few and leave the many much in the same condition as they are now. It would add to the number of those who would put the unearned increment into their pocket, and the community would be deprived of that increment. It is far easier, as has been pointed out already, to deal with a few landowners and make them subject to restrictions, than to deal with a large number of them. You might find it easy to deal with them in London. We think that the measure, if passed, would be a stumbling block in the way of any thorough reform. The Member for the St. Austell Division pointed that out, because he said that if the whole of the land in the country belonged to one landlord there would not be much question as to the interfering with his land. It is clear, then, that the more landowners you have the more difficult it is to deal with this question. The supervision required in towns is exercised to a great extent by the Municipal Authorities already. You would not add very much to their work if you charged them with the duty of seeing that the community secured the land, if required for extension or necessary sanitary improvement. It has been said that under this Bill it is intended to bring some of the advantages which we enjoy in Scotland, under the feu system, to the inhabitants of towns in England. But, in my experience, the feu system in Scotland has not been found absolutely satisfactory. The Bill brought in by my hon. Friend at my side and myself has been approved very largely in the urban constituencies in Scotland and also by the Society of Solicitors. It is true that in that Bill we only provided for the purchase of vacant land, but it is equally easy to give the community power to purchase land already occupied as also to tax ground values. That is a power which should be conferred. It is not proposed to take any land without full compensation for it, but the community should certainly have power to purchase any land required for the public good. The object sought to be obtained by the promoters of this Bill would be equally secured under our proposal. But, further than that, we maintain that our proposals offer a satisfactory solution of the question in Scotland, whilst the other proposals do not really face the difficulty. Only a limited number would be benefited, and it would be almost an impossibility afterwards to carry out any effective reform. While it is proposed in this Bill to strengthen the present system by which the unearned increment goes into private pockets, we want the whole of that increment! to go into the public purse. We hold that all the existing values should be open to valuation, the community should be able to have them fixed, and be able within a certain period of time to take the lands at the values fixed at the time of valuation. When we are reproached by those who say that we are attempting to bring about land nationalisation, I say I do not believe in land nationalisation. I think it impracticable and impossible. But I do believe that the municipalisation of land in the way suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Haddingtonshire is both practicable and desirable. It is with great regret that we have to oppose this Bill, which does, no doubt, offer some measure of amelioration to many people, but we cannot but recognise the fact that in this case it is better to throw out a reform which does offer some advantage if it stands in the way of a more comprehensive reform. We had a warning in the Education Act, and believing that we are bound to take every possible precaution when we start a reform to secure that we shall do it on the best lines, and believing that the principles I have described are on the right lines, we shall offer the most strenuous opposition to the proposal before the House. I beg to second the Amendment of my hon. Friend.

(3.40.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)

This is not altogether a legal question, but a matter which especially concerns London and the well-being of its great population. I have had the advantage of attending the Town Holdings Committee for four years, and have taken part in the inquiry into this subject. I suppose it is impossible upon such a subject to expect unanimity of opinion, but there is a general feeling that something ought to be done to improve the homes of the people, and to enable those who are in a position to do it, to obtain the freehold possession of their leasehold holdings. I support the Second Reading of this measure, although I confess a preference to my own Bill, to which, I suppose, it would be out of order to make reference. The House will forgive me if I still think my own goose a swan. I support this Bill, because I think it can be made a useful measure by alteration and amendment in Committee. It is a misfortune that it applies to all leaseholders holding for a certain term. I am not at all interested in the leaseholder as a leaseholder, but only when he is occupier of his premises. There is no reason why a leaseholder who is not an occupier should have the advantage of this Bill. What this House has to do is to make the occupying tenant a freeholder; and if we can in any way do that, we shall enormously improve the social condition of the country. It would be very easy indeed to limit the Bill to occupiers, and I do not see why hon. Gentlemen opposite should not assent to that course. There is a certain amount of clap-trap in saying that this measure is for working men. In my opinion, the poorest stratum of working men in London would not be benefited by it. Those benefited would be the cream of the working classes, and the poorer of the middle class, the latter being so important and almost as numerous as any other class of the community. It would enable small tradesmen to get possession of their homes and leave a shelter for their successors while they had time to look about them. There are three or four main objections to the Bill. One is the old stalking horse of interference with contracts. We believe it wrong to interfere with contracts, save for the public welfare. But we feel that if this Bill only applied to new contracts, many years would elapse before it would come into operation—pretty well a century, and the means of evading the Act would be so great that it is absolutely necessary that the measure should be made to apply to existing contracts. What would justify interference with contracts? Surely it is the great danger which arises from the fact that enormous areas of large towns are owned by a few individuals. In London we must acknowledge that it is a great danger that one or two men should be deriving enormous wealth from certain parts of London. There are one or two cases in which an owner is drawing hundreds of thousands a year, and in a few years even £1,000,000 a year will be drawn from parts of London by one man. I ask the House to consider whether the ideas occasioned by such wealth and in such a prominent form are a source of safety to the State? Does it not constitute a subject constantly to be shot at and attacked? If these enormous holdings were subdivided among a large number of small persons, occupying their own freeholds, surely that would create a barrier of safety to the nation. Fifty years ago the National Debt was held by comparatively a few persons, and the possibility of repudiation was even then whispered as not out of the question. Now, by the establishment of the Post Office Savings Bank, Friendly Societies, and other agencies, a quarter of the whole Debt, at least, is held by millions of the people, and at the present time the idea of repudiating that Debt would be absolutely impossible, because it would ruin millions of the community. If a fourth of the land of this country were held by the millions, it would constitute a real security to the nation, and a great security to all landlords. A great many of the movements, such as those for taxing ground rents, would be swept away by such reforms. Another objection raised is the grievance of severance. I agree that this is a serious objection, and I am sorry that the Bill contains no clause to minimise the danger and difficulty of this subject. If the Local Authorities are intrusted with the power of purchasing outlying portions of an estate, a great deal of hardship will be done away with. This idea was sketched forth in the Report of the Town Holdings Committee; and if the plan were worked out, this great difficulty of severance might be got over, or, at all events, minimised to a great extent. Clauses in my Bill deal with this matter. Then there is the danger of an individual in a residential street turning his house into a shop or a noisy factory. It might, to meet that contingency, be arranged that the localities should enforce the covenants of the lease. I think the localities might well undertake that duty. In my judgment, it would be only reasonable that some slight additional allowance should be made for compensation beyond the ordinary value. With regard to the County Court, it is, after all, the best tribunal we have got for the purpose, and the great bulk of the cases would be fairly adjusted. It is a mistake to limit the action of this measure to leases for 20 years, for directly a particular number of years is named some evasion would be introduced. I strongly object to Clause 15, which provides that when a man has gone through the process of purchasing his freehold he should have a right to make it into a perpetual rent-charge. Such a clause is, on the face of it, grotesquely unfair. I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill because it is wise and politic, and because, looking to the future, it is absolutely essential to increase in every possible way the number of individuals in this country who are personally interested in the holdings which they occupy.

(4.5.) MR. LAWSON

The Bill has been between a cross-fire of Amendments as they stand on the Paper; but at present not one shot has been fired from the old-fashioned fort by those who maintain the doctrine of free contract in all circumstances, and without regard to the conditions of human life. I do not know whether the defence of the position is not reserved for the Home Secretary. I hope he will be able to make a better case of it than he did last week when, in spite of his speech, a Bill was carried against him by 100 votes. With regard to the Amendment, I contend that the powers of public control which it seeks are provided for by the 14th clause of the Bill, and I think, though I do not pretend to speak with the authority of a lawyer, that the words of the clause cover any such cases as have been quoted by the hon. and learned Member. The second part of the Amendment deals with a different subject. The first part of it is inaccurate, and the second irrelevant. The second part deals with the subject of local taxation. This Bill does not provide for intercepting the unearned increment in the ground values. It does not touch the question. I do not wish the House to prejudge the question of local taxation on this Bill, which has, in fact, no connection with it. If the hon. Member for Haddington thinks it is possible, by means of purchase on behalf of Municipal Bodies, to secure what was called " the unearned increment" for the community, he is disregarding the teaching of experience. This plan has been tried in London, and the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council have actually lost instead of gained by taking land for the purpose of recoupment on improvements, even under the most favourable circumstances. I do not wish to abuse the great London landlords, but the whole of London is not in their hands. There are a number of small estates of which the names of the freeholders are quite unknown to the public. The hon. Member cannot have looked at the statistics for London. Those hon. Members who, like myself, served upon the Town Holdings Committee, found it very difficult to discredit the desire of the working classes of London and other leasehold towns to secure possession of their homes. The hon. and learned Member has been led to a general conclusion from a perusal of Mr. Henry George's fascinating book, and has been followed in that course by my hon. Friend the Member for the Leith Burghs. They desire that the Municipalities shall have the power to purchase land, and they forget the whole course of legislation during the last few years. The latter part of the Amendment is outside the scope of the Bill. If he had read the evidence given before the Town Holdings Committee, he would have known that there is a general desire among the working classes not only in London, but in other parts of the country, to acquire possession of their holdings. The Committee in their Report declared that the working classes would welcome a measure enabling artisans to purchase the freehold of their homes, and that such a measure would operate as an encouragement to thrift. Mr. Jones, speaking for a million co-operators, in his evidence before the Committee, said— For years we have had thousands of pounds lying at the bank at a mere nominal rate of interest, and we have members pressing for houses to be built, but the land being unavailable except for short leases, and our society being a permanent Corporate Body, we would not expend our capital on short leases. Then we have the evidence of Mr. Green, of Woolwich, who was questioned as follows:— Q."Then you think that the workmen have a desire to obtain the freehold of their own houses for the benefit of their families in preference to leaseholds? A. Equally so, as much as an aristocrat, because the idea of the workman is to benefit his family, but he resents this continual drain upon the savings of his class by the ground landlord. I cite this evidence to show that the Committee were put in possession of the wishes of the working classes, and they unanimously came to the conclusion that some form of leasehold enfranchisement was necessary. [An hon. MEMBER: No.] I know there was objection to the particular form, but there was absolute unanimity upon the principle of enfranchisement. The only objection taken was as to the machinery by which the principle was to be put in operation. For my own part, I should be willing in Committee to accept any Amendment which would make the machinery of the Bill before the House work more easily, and therefore I hope that the Home Secretary will not criticise the Bill in its details. I am asked what the workman can gain by the Bill? The working man has probably a greater interest in this than any other class of the community. It is his interest to have secured to him the results of his labour that he invests in the embellishment of his house. It is his interest to obtain good public and private sanitation. I think we are justified in including not only the occupiers, but the leaseholders. Only the other day at Cambridge a case occurred in which a shopkeeper holding under one of the Colleges, who had expended a large sum of money on the understanding that his lease would be renewed, had his rent enormously increased, and had to pay a heavy fine. There is no reason why the small shopkeeping class should not be considered as well as the artisans; and no stronger case for leasehold enfranchisement has been made out than that presented before the Town Holdings Committee by the shopkeepers of London and other leasehold towns. They are more than any other class exposed to extortion with their goodwill and open trade. The Local Authorities throughout the country gave evidence as to the unsanitary state of things which the leasehold system produced; and though it was urged that the landlords' covenants would provide a remedy, it is the fact that these covenants are allowed to be neglected in order to secure the rents from the property. I find that in his evidence Mr. Clegg said— Q."And do yon think it would be expedient upon grounds of public policy to transfer large quantities of property in Sheffield to their hands? A. You cannot for a moment suppose that if those people bought the reversion that they would allow the property to remain in that state (bad repair). During the last 10 years that a lease has to run, a lessee will make all the money that he possibly can out of the property and do nothing to it, as the Report which I read from the Medical Officer of Health shows. The properties he refers to have not been painted for years and years. Again, Mr. Castle, the land agent of Oxford University, as to national character, said— Q."That is not merely only a public question, but it is a private question so far as it concerns the owners of property? A. Yes; I think in their interests it is advisable that the interest of property owners should be made as wide as possible—that is to say, that as many people should be interested as possible in property. I might illustrate it by saying I think it would be an extremely desirable thing for the country and the owners of property in the country that as many working men as possible should own their own homes, particularly, I think, in the case of artisans, and the more intelligent class of working men around towns. I have still further evidence—that of a great writer, now dead. Nobody ever thought he took any interest in this subject, but I find in some Reminiscences, recently published, the following:— He discoursed on London and on Londoners, storming against the sordid and hollow life by which he was surrounded; complaining of the very houses amid which he took his devious way. They were built, he said, to tumble. down in 90 years. The tenant had only a 99 years' lease from the landlord who owned the ground; he could not afford to build solidly and honestly; his architect had learned how to run up a wall which would stand just long enough not to become the property of the landlord, computing that the wall should fall down before the lease fell in. Yes, it was more the fault of the landlord than the tenant; but it was a devil's system all through, and the devil had a sure grip on tenant and landlord both. And what did it matter? ' They are just a parcel of pigs rooting in the mire.' I stand on the principle of the Bill as affirmed by the Town Holdings Committee. In conclusion, I can only say I believe that the Bill, if it is passed—as I hope it will be—will carry out the principle approved last Wednesday; it will do something to put a stop to a system whereby a man pockets the savings and earnings of another for no reason save the happy chance that he is the owner of the freehold, and do a great deal to strengthen and solidify and to improve the public health and peace of the community.


The discussion this afternoon has been marked by that disregard of the rights of property which seems to be characteristic of Wednesday afternoon discussions. On the one hand, there are two hon. Members of the mind of the Roman tyrant, who wished that all his enemies had but one neck, that he might sever it at a single blow. Those hon. Members wish to concentrate the ownership of land into as few hands as possible, in order that they might have but few victims to hold up to the public resentment in the future. On the other hand, the hon. Member for North Islington with equal frankness has avowed his desire to take away the property from the present owners and to give it to many others, in order to create a public sentiment in favour of property. I can only earnestly hope that the good sense of the House of Commons will save us from any of these schemes. As to the arguments in favour of the Bill, they are, in my opinion, arguments against the principle of property at all. No one, of course, denies that the rights of property, as understood in English law, may lead to a very disagreeable and unjust state of things, and several extreme cases of the exercise of those rights have been cited. Everyone will agree that, if one or two landlords have in their own hands the monopoly of the whole land of a district, and thus can prevent the working men in that district from being able to live within a reasonable distance of their work, such landlords are the enemies of their class in exercising their legal rights in such a-way. They furnish arguments to the opponents of all rights of property. For the sake of argument, I will concede that, if such a state of things were general, or if there were but one landlord for the whole of England, possibly Parliament might have to review the rights of property. But is it true that the rights of property are harshly used or abused as in the isolated cases which have been cited? I do not believe it. The landlords of this country, for the most part, do not use their rights in a way adverse to the common good. The fact that leasehold tenures prevail in one part of the country, freehold tenures in another, and feus in a third, shows that the landlords have the good sense to let their land in the manner best suited to the demands arising among their poorer neighbours. It sometimes happens that the landlord has not the power to let his land except on one kind of tenure, and I look benevolently on any legislation which will remove such disabilities. But the cause of long tenure or short tenure is partly to be found in the value of the land, and partly in the nature of the demand for it. There are places where the land is too costly for the great bulk of the occupiers to be able to buy the fee, or to live on it except on short leases. Hon Members have cited cases where the fact of ownership gives the landlord a chance of imposing a hard bargain, either in exacting a rent that is too high, or in fixing a tenure too short to enable the lessee to recoup himself for his expenditure on the land. Well, if hon. Members are logical, they will prohibit leaseholds-altogether; but that is not the remedy proposed. It is proposed to remedy these isolated cases of injustice by inflicting a universal injustice on the lessors. This Bill is not a proper remedy for the grievance alleged, which is that there are parts of England in which a man cannot get land for the building of a house. For that no remedy is given to the man who has not a lease; the only person benefited is the man who has a 20 years' lease, and who has time to recoup himself for any ordinary expenditure, and that benefit is given by allowing him to break the terms of the contract into which he has deliberately entered. If the promoters of the Bill are acting in good faith, if they believe that the system of letting of land for short terms is one which is so mischievous and dangerous to the public weal that the law ought not only not to recognise it, but ought to allow men to break their contracts, then the measure which ought to be introduced is a measure forbidding the letting of land for less than, say, 200 years. But hon. Members think they may pass this Bill because they are only pressing on an unpopular class, not yet too few for the Scotch Members who have announced " Georgian " views today. The Mover and Seconder of the Motion and the hon. Member for St. Pancras said that the Bill was proposed in the interest of the working classes. That is one of the greatest shams ever heard of. Hon. Gentlemen are ready enough to appeal to the authority of the Town Holdings Committee, of which some of them were members, but they ignore the real drift and meaning of the recommendations of that Committee, and they have prefixed to their Bill a Memorandum which gives a totally unfair meaning to those recommendations.


The Town Holdings Committee recommended a form of leasehold enfranchisement which is not in the Bill.


They used these words— We are unable, for the reasons above stated, to recommend the adoption of any general scheme of compulsory leasehold enfranchisement such as that proposed to us. This Bill is a scheme of compulsory leasehold enfranchisement, and, therefore, the Town Holdings Committee have emphatically condemned the proposal. To say that they recommended the Bill is a statement more courageous than I should have expected from hon. Gentlemen. The Committee also said— Your Committee have come to the conclusion that the suggested leasehold enfranchise- ment would not materially benefit the working classes in London and most of the large towns. On this point I would appeal to the experience of hon. Members on both sides. It may be that there are places in Cornwall and Wales where there are working men holding leaseholds. It must be an exceptional working man who has a 20 years' lease—he is a rara avis in terris. The small shopkeeper deserves as much consideration as the working man. That there are hard cases with regard to shopkeepers in London I have no doubt. There are cases where a man has created a valuable goodwill, and he may be treated unfairly by the exercise of the rights of the landlord. That is conduct on the part of the landlord which every chivalrous-minded man will condemn. But are we to do away with the rights of private property altogether in consequence of some out-of-the-way case of individual hardship? We in this country are willing to accept disadvantages and drawbacks, and even occasional injustice, in order to secure the enormous advantages which the untrammelled and free exercise of the rights of private property have secured—advantages which could not be maintained if surrounded by the snares and pitfalls which will be created by this Bill. The Bill in its main outline proposes to give to any 20 years' leaseholder the power to break his contract to the injury of his landlord. In London on the same plot of land there are frequently as many as three leaseholders—one original leaseholder of 90 years, another of 60 years, and a third of 25. Which of the three is to benefit?


All the three


All the lessees cannot benefit; and is the 90 years' lessee to be deprived of his right in favour of the 25 years' lessee? Why should one of these lessees be picked out for benefit to the exclusion of the owners? The man selected may probably have laid out nothing on the land. Even on a Wednesday I will not admit that the owners of land should be treated as hostes humnia generis. Why are landholders, contrary to the contracts they have made, to have their property taken from them piecemeal at the time the occupier chooses to select, without any right in the owner to sell to any other person? Under this Bill an unhappy landowner who has done nothing wrong or unjust is to have his land handed over to another man, land which express covenant says he shall recover, and is not to get the price which he may want for it, but only a rent-charge, which he is to recover as best he can. One would have thought that gentlemen with the elevated views of equity of the supporters of this Bill, gentlemen who like knights-errant seem to ride about the country to redress every imaginary wrong—one would have thought that it might have occurred to their minds that a reciprocal right ought to be given to the landowner to compel the leaseholder to enfranchise. The Bill, however, does not propose to confer any such right upon the landowner. The Bill applies to all landlords, good as well as bad, and amongst the owners of ground-rents I may observe there are many who deserve quite as much sympathy as leaseholders do. The owners of ground - rents represent an enormous class, about whom hon. Members opposite, who feel such solicitude for tradesmen, do not seem to think at all. There are widows and orphans whose whole income depend upon ground-rents. Why are they not to be considered? Why should they be subjected to the injustice of having their legal and contractual rights taken from them? We have heard, a good deal about the municipalisation of land. I can hardly pronounce the word. Well, that is a system under which these large interests have grown up in England. And yet the hon. Member seems to favour a policy of confiscation.


We suggest that any person whose land is purchased should receive the full market value.


I certainly understood the purport of the hon. Member's speech to be that he hoped the time was coming when there would be only one or two landlords who could be kept within more stringent limits. There are two instances of great Corporations in this country which under this very leasehold system have secured the unearned increment. There are, for example, large estates belonging to the Corporation of Birmingham, and institutions such as King Edward's Grammar School, the whole future value and prosperity of which depend upon the leasehold system being allowed to continue, and the ultimate ground-rent being allowed to fall in. The estate belonging to King Edward's School and the Corporation estates have been let out on 75 years' leases, and at the end of that term the lessors expected to enjoy the unearned increment resulting from the expenditure of the lessees upon the land. And who shall say that the lessees will be injured? They have, it is true, built upon the estates costly warehouses and other buildings; but I do not hesitate to affirm that they will get 5 per cent. in respect of their outlay for the period of their term, and will be repaid at the end of it by the rack-rents which they will have been able to exact. A few years ago the Municipality of Liverpool owned 5,200 houses which were let on lease.


Perpetually renewable.


That is not my information. Well, under this Bill those houses; upon which much money has been expended, would be enfranchised, and the unearned increment would be lost to the ratepayers. Many leases in many parts of the country belong to Insurance Companies. What public object, I should like to ask, 'would be served by enabling such companies to enfranchise? Our system of land tenure is a large and complicated system, and by this Bill it is proposed to rush imprudently and inconsiderately into its midst, and, as with an axe, to cut at its roots without discrimination. The hon. Member for St. Austell (Mr. W. McArthur) says there are men in Cornwall who cannot get land on such good terms as they could wish. I should like to know what ground is that for destroying the property of the ratepayers of Liverpool and Birmingham. I am really at a loss to understand how the hon. Member can for such reasons support such a measure. The compulsion which it is proposed to exercise is not for the benefit of the public, but for the benefit of a limited class, which, in the great majority of cases, has no special merits, many leaseholders having put nothing upon the land, but being simply there by the accident of the contract which the House is now asked to enable them to break. For these reasons, I trust the House will reject both the Bill and the Amendment of the hon. Member opposite.

(4.55.) MR. LEWIS FRY (Bristol, N.)

As Chairman of the Town Holdings Committee, to which so many references have been made, I may be allowed a few minutes in this discussion. I should not oppose any Bill of this character upon the general ground that it would interfere with the rights of property: for I hold that a community may take property, giving compensation, if its interests require that it should do so. But before agreeing to a Bill which interferes with the private rights of persons in property of the value of hundreds of millions of pounds, I think we are justified in inquiring whether any considerable and substantial benefit will accrue to the community; and from the experience which I have gained in the Committee upstairs, I am disposed to think that the benefits which the supporters of this Bill suppose it will cause are, to say the least, very much exaggerated. One argument repeatedly brought forward in favour of leasehold enfranchisement is the contention that the leasehold system encourages bad building; but that contention is not borne out in the judgment of the Town Holdings Committee, who have declared that the tenure of houses has very little to do with the character of the buildings. We had a large number of witnesses; and though the hon. Member for Finsbury has somewhat depreciated the character of the evidence given by professional witnesses, I think we ought to value that evidence as coming from men thoroughly acquainted with the matters upon which they were speaking. Mr. Martin, an experienced surveyor, examined before the Committee, stated that he had surveyed 1,250 houses in London, 720 of them being freehold and 530 leasehold, and that he found no difference whatever in the character of the buildings. In my own town — Bristol—where the houses are mainly held on freehold tenure, upon a comparison between the houses built upon leasehold tenure on the one hand, and those built upon the perpetual tenure of fee-farm rents on the other, no difference of structure can be observed. I therefore do not think that the tenure of a house affects the character of a building. Of course, I do not refer to cases where the leases are of very short duration, and leases of less than 50 years would no doubt exercise an unfavourable effect on the character of the houses. I next ask whether this Bill would confer a benefit on the working classes. The hon. Member for North Islington has shown that the vast majority of the working classes in our large towns hold their dwellings upon yearly, monthly, or weekly tenure, and are not owners of leasehold property within the scope of the Bill of my hon. Friend. Therefore this Bill, as regards its effect in London and other large towns, must be looked upon as a middleman's Bill, and as such it will confer no benefit upon the working classes. It is also extremely doubtful whether any considerable number of leaseholders would be prepared to take advantage of the powers proposed to be conferred upon them. The evidence taken before the Committee shows clearly that it is quite an exceptional thing for ground rents to be purchased by leaseholders. It was proved that on property in which the right hon. Gentleman below me (Mr. Heneage) is interested the freehold of their houses was offered to a large number of lessees upon fair terms, and that only an inconsiderable number of them availed themselves of the opportunity — in fact, only 32 out of 1,000. The same thing was shown to have occurred on Lord St. Levan's property. The benefits which the Bill would confer are therefore, to say the least, problematic, and there are certain positive objections to it of a very substantial character. It would, for instance, injure Corporations and charities by depriving them of the future increment in the value of their estates. That, 1 hold, would be a detriment to the public interests, and would confer no compensating benefit on the class the Bill is supposed to benefit. I also think it would be an unfair thing to confer upon one party to a bargain the power to acquire at any time, a time most convenient to himself and most inconvenient to the other party-concerned, the whole interest of the latter, and that for his private benefit. I do not think there is any precedent for such legislation, and I am sure that no prudent owner would think of conferring such power on a lessee? But whilst I hold these views, and cannot, therefore, support the Bill, I am of opinion that in certain circumstances it would be advantageous to enable working men to obtain the freehold of their dwellings if they should desire to do so. In some localities a considerable number of working men would probably exercise the privilege, for there are places where the present system is felt to be very unjust. This is specially the case in places like the mining and quarrying districts in Cornwall and Wales, where the working men have erected the buildings at their own cost. I refer particularly to such cases as those which have attracted much attention at Festiniog, at Bethesda, and at Llanberis. I see no reason why we should not confer upon Local Authorities powers to carry out the enfranchisement of leaseholds in such cases. The scheme of the Bill could not be carried out without great and unfair disturbance of property; but I see no reason why, without incurring that evil, we should not be able to give some relief from the mischiefs and hardships of the present system. I do not know whether I shall have an opportunity of taking the opinion of the House on the Amendment which I have placed on the Paper. That Amendment embodies the unanimous opinion of the Town Holdings Committee as to the direction in which the existing system should be improved, by conferring upon Local Authorities powers to carry into effect schemes of leasehold enfranchisement in places where the general interest of the community might be thereby promoted. Such a plan would almost entirely avoid the great injustice which the Bill as it now stands would inflict upon the holders of ground values. Instead of having their property pulled to pieces bit by bit at the will and pleasure of the lessees, only the Local Authority could deal with it and purchase it once for all. I am disposed to think that the Amendment I propose to move contains within it the mode by which the evils of the leasehold system may be abated without giving rise to those other evils to which I have referred.

(5.12.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)

I am very much suprised at what I must call the unsympathetic remarks of the Home Secretary. I certainly did think that when he admitted that there were some landlords who acted so that they were enemies of their own class, and certainly of the class of leaseholders with whom they deal, and that this Bill would benefit these tenants—I certainly did think that the object of the Bill would have some sympathy. I think it was, perhaps, an omission on his part that we did not have some expression of that kind. Many hon. Members have said that the object of the Bill has their sympathy, and it seems to me a very strange thing that it should be considered a fair and just thing to enfranchise leaseholders in Ireland, and turn them into owners with the assistance of money provided by the State, while in England leaseholders should not be allowed to enfranchise their holdings with their own money. Surely, when we have adopted a policy of encouraging thrift among the working classes by various means—by national assurance, by savings banks, and in other ways—the purchase of their dwellings is another useful step in that direction. When the rights of property are spoken of, it seems to be forgotten that the Bill does not propose to interfere with those rights without the fullest compensation. In many places there is a monopoly or " corner " in land which is detrimental to the community in which it exists. I have known cases where men, having created the goodwill of a business upon leasehold premises, have been ruined by the exorbitant terms exacted by the landlord on a renewal of the lease. The tenants in such cases are obliged to accept the terms imposed, or be turned out and lose the goodwill of their business. These are cases that frequently arise, and when they arise in connection with dwellings built by the leaseholder the latter has, I think, the first claim on our consideration. There should be some means of referring disputes in such cases to fair arbitration. The feeling in favour of legislation in the direction of the enfranchisement of leaseholds has been steadily growing in the country for many years. In 1884 the noble Lord the Member for South Paddington introduced a Bill for dealing with the matter in the metropolitan and urban districts providing for leaseholds under £50 valuation assessment under the Lands Clauses Act, with 10 per cent. addition for compulsory sale; in fact, adopting the terms applied to Railway Companies when they come through a property. In 1885 the hon. Member for West Notts proposed a measure in which he did not advocate compulsory sale, and did not limit it to Metropolitan and Urban Authorities. In 1885 a former Member for Marylebone (Mr. Grant)proposed a Bill to enable leaseholders to purchase ground rents at 25 years' purchase, applying this to future leases—a good idea, which met with considerable favour even from opponents of the present measure, and something like this is adopted by the Duke of Devonshire on his property at Eastbourne. Then my own Bill in 1887 contained a novel feature, permitting the freeholder, if he desired it, to leave the purchase money as a rent-charge on the property. Objection was taken at the time to leasehold enfranchisement, because it was said what are the freeholders to do with the large amount of money forced into their hands; and it occurred to me that, if the freeholder did not want the money, he should be allowed to leave it a valuable and saleable rent-charge. Further, I limited the operation of the Bill to those cases where the ground rent did not exceed half the annual value. I treated the freeholder and lessee as in a partnership, giving the partner holding the largest share in the concern the right to buy out the interest of his partner. There should be no difficulty in conducting such a transaction on fair terms. The Bill now before the House adopts the principle of the rent-charge, but departs in an important particular from the plan I advocated. The present Bill says that a perpetual rent-charge shall be allowed in lieu of purchase money if the lessee chooses; but as I put it, and I think in a fairer way, it is the freeholder who should have the option of cash down or a perpetual rent-charge. I do not want now to enter into this; but I may say that recent legislation in regard to tithes, where a similar principle has been applied without damage to the owner, offers a precedent for so dealing with this question in the interest of the working classes and tradesmen and without damage to the freeholder. Certainly I think there ought to be a right of appeal to the County Council to settle disputes. I believe the feeling in favour of some measure of leasehold enfranchisement is growing in the country, and I give a general support to the principle of enfranchisement, without pledging myself absolutely to all the details of the Bill. I think the freeholders will be very ill-advised if they too readily reject all proposals made on behalf of the leaseholders. By insisting on their absolute rights the freeholders will be bringing about an agitation in later days which will result in less advantageous terms being offered than are now offered now. It is advisable, in the interests of the State and of the Conservative Party, that there should be a large number of leaseholders in the country, and, so far as its principle goes, I support the Second Reading of the Bill.

(5.23.) SIR H. DAVEY (Stockton)

Before we go to a Division, I just wish to mention the grounds upon which I shall vote for the Bill, and subject to which I give my vote. I propose to vote for the Second Reading, because I believe that the Bill expresses a sound principle when applied within proper limits. The principle of leasehold enfranchisement, as it is inaccurately called, ought to be applied, at any rate in the first instance, only to beneficial leases—to building leases held upon ground rents. By these I mean leases in which the ground is let, free from buildings, for a long term of years, at a rent which is supposed to represent, and does more or less correctly represent, the value of the ground alone, and where buildings have been erected at the expense of the lessee. In these cases the value of the property at the end of the lease is mainly due to the exertions and expenditure of the lessee; and here the principle of what is called leasehold enfranchisement is justly applicable, and it is for the benefit of the community that the principle should be applied. But I am bound to say that the Bill before the House carries the principle further than I shall be prepared to go, and the Bill will require considerable amendment when it gets into Committee should it pass the present stage. I may mention what I think has already been referred to, namely, that the Bill is confined to the lessee, and appears to exclude the assignee of a lease from the benefits. I shall vote for the Second Reading, but I desire my hon. Friend who brought in the Bill to understand the condition subject to which my vote will be given.

(5.26.) MR. WEBSTER

I should like to make one or two observations as to the Amendment. I agree with the remarks that fell from the Home Secretary that this is a very curious Memorandum attached to the Bill. It is grossly inaccurate. [Interruption.] In all the great improvements made in London— for instance, when, at the expense of the ratepayers, Bedfordbury, one of the worst slums of London, had to be swept away—the houses were not held under a leasehold tenure but a freehold one. And there is no evidence of any form or shape to show that overcrowding is caused by leaseholds. London is increasing by leaps and bounds, and the argument set forth in this Memorandum, that the present system of leasehold tenure for 99 years causes overcrowding, is inaccurate. The reverse is the case; if anything, it encourages too much building.


rose in his place, and claimed to move " That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Debate resumed.


I intend to vote against the Bill, which seems to me drawn in the interests of the small building contractors, and not in the interests of the tenants. I should not oppose a good and useful Bill for leasehold enfranchisement. But the hon. Members for Finsbury and West St. Pancras do not agree in their reasons for supporting the Bill. The former, who is always posing as a friend of the working classes in this House, as if he had any monopoly in regard to that, says it is a measure for the benefit of the working classes, whilst the hon. Member for West St. Pancras claims it is a Bill to benefit the lower middle class. It seems to me that it is a Bill which will, if passed, benefit neither the one nor the other. It will unsettle the relations of all who are interested in house property, whether landlord or tenant; it will destroy confidence in property; it will injure the Friendly Societies, who are large holders of ground rents—such societies as the Foresters, Oddfellows, &c. It will benefit no one but the middleman, the jerry builder, and, probably, the money lender. The houses will be worse built, no provisions are given by compensation for severance of properties, and this is the first time that equitable provision has been omitted in any Bill. If, in your opinion, for the public good, you forcibly make a man give up his property, you should fairly compensate him, otherwise you are committing an act of legalised robbery.


rose in his place, and claimed to move "That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.


rose in his place, and claimed to move " That the Question be now put;" but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

Debate resumed.


.: The present Bill is a bad Bill, and badly drafted, and if I am in order I beg to move that it be read a second time this day six months.

Question put,"That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

(5.30.)The House divided:—Ayes 314; Noes 39.—(Div. List, No. 160.)

Main Question put,"That the Bill be now read a second time."

(5.50.)The House divided:—Ayes 168; Noes 181.—(Div. List, No.161.)

It being Six of the clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put till To-morrow.

House adjourned at Six o'clock.