§ MR. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
rose to call attention to the defective working of "The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1883," and to move—That, in the opinion of this House, Amendments of the Law are urgently needed to enable the tenant to obtain adequate compensation on the determination of a tenancy for all agricultural improvements executed by him on his holding, to give greater security of tenure and freedom to make improvements, to cultivate and to sell produce without detriment to the agricultural value of the holding, to abolish the landlord's right to distrain for rent, and to simplify and cheapen the settlement of compensation eases and other differences between landlord and tenant.He said: In moving the Resolution standing in my name, I do not intend to go at any length into the details of the defective working of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1883, but shall leave that to the hon. Member for East Northampton (Mr. Channing), who has made the subject his special study, and who is, in fact, the real parent of this Motion. But, even if I were minded to go into the details of the many defects of the Act, I should scarcely know where to begin, for practical farmers assure me that the Act is so complicated as to puzzle lawyers to interpret it. One thing, however, is sufficiently clear to the farmer, and that is that under the Act he cannot obtain full and ample security for the labour, skill, and capital needed to make the business of fanning profitable, He knows that under the Act he cannot obtain compensation for first-class improvements if, after making them, be has to leave his farm. He is aware that there is no provision in the Act to prevent a landlord raising the rent on a sitting tenant, and no machinery whereby a fair rent, may be fixed. This is a hardship which mostly affects good tenants, who, having fanned the land well, are for that very reason at the mercy of their landlords, whilst the bad tenant, who has taken everything out of the land and put nothing in, is very well satisfied with matters as they stand. The farmer also realises that the system of arbitration provided by the Act is most costly. To put the matter in a few words, the farmer may, for all the assistance he gets from the Act, be slowly bled to death. 698 Under the present system of tenancy he may be bound hand and foot by a code of ancient customs and hampered by all sorts of conditions as to the manner of conducting his business, such as no other business man would tolerate for a single day. It might be asked why the farmer, being a free agent, endures such conditions. He is only nominally a free agent, for in reality he is bound by training, habits, and traditions to look to the land as the means whereby be shall get his living. If the land increased in the same ratio as the population of this country, we might with justice talk about freedom of contract; but whilst the ranks of the farmers are continually increasing, and the quantity of land suitable for cultivation remains practically the same, it is mere mockery to talk of freedom of contract between the men who hold possession of the limited commodity and the men whose daily bread must be won by cultivating it. I may be told that there are many vacant farms which may be had at almost any price and on any conditions of tenancy, and, without admitting that such a statement would convey the whole truth, I should say there are many farms which would be dear at any price, for under the wretched system which obtains in this country they have been so impoverished that the man would be mad who ventured to bury his capital in one of them, with the absolute certainty that it would be for the benefit of another man's descendants, and not for himself or his heirs. The present system not only allows of the confiscation of the tenant's capital, but adds insult to injury by making it possible for the farmer's son who succeeds to his father's farm to be compelled to pay, in the shape of an increased rent, what is to all intents and purposes interest on the capital which this father sunk in the land. Agriculture must, and always will, languish in tins country until the farmer can look upon the land as his bank, in which he may during the days of his lusty manhood store his surplus energy and capital with the certainty that he will be able to draw upon it for support in his declining years. We are all agreed upon one point, and that is that the agricultural industry is to-day in a deplorable condition, and I fear I may add that the tenant farmer has not yet decided in 699 which direction he shall look for the remedy. On the one hand, he is told that bi-metallism is his only hope, whilst another counsellor assures him that Protection is his sheet anchor. To my mind both are equally delusive, and if the farmer drops the bone, bare as it is, to grasp at either of those shadows, he will sooner or later realise that he has again the worst of the experiment. Proposals such as those only serve to divert the farmer's mind from a contemplation of the only real remedy, which will be found in such alterations of our laws as will give him security and fair dealing—will place him on an equality with the man to whom he pays the rent. The present system of land tenure in England is frequently referred to as though it concerned only landlords and tenants; but the great mass of the people are as much concerned in seeing that the soil yields its best results as the two parties to land contracts. The people have a right to be heard in regard to land, and when the men of our towns have fairly grasped the Land Question, they will be heard and to some purpose. An authority who is in favour with gentlemen opposite just now—I mean Professor Fronde—has said—But seeing that men are born into the world without their own wills, and, being in the world, they must live upon the earth's surface, or they cannot live at all, no individual or set of individuals can hold over land that personal and irresponsible right which is allowed them in things of less universal necessity.I do not hesitate to declare that, from the point of view of the masses, the present system has failed, and failed miserably. Here we are to-day, with the finest dairy land in the world, importing enormous quantities of dairy produce that might very well be produced at home. Our farmers are being undersold at their very doors by the small proprietors of Continental countries, in articles which are particularly liable to damage in transit. Why does the small proprietor of other countries beat our men? Because he has security for his outlay, the necessary incentive, the magic of property which turns sand into gold. Adam Smith never uttered anything more truthful, or worthy of being remembered in this discussion, than his—A small proprietor who knows every part of his little territory, who views it with all the affection which property naturally inspires, is 700 generally of all improvers the most industrious, the most intelligent, and the most suceessful.The small proprietors who beat our tenant farmers have all that is asked for by this Motion; they have full and ample compensation for all the time and money they spend on their holdings, they can cultivate as they like, and can make any improvements that may be necessary to keep them abreast of the times and enable them to compete successfully in the markets of the world. Under their system the cultivators work with confidence, get the very utmost from the soil, enrich themselves and their families, and each of them becomes a practical benefactor of his country. Compare that with the English system, under which the land is starved for want of labour and capital, because no sane man of business will embark his capital in an enterprise which he is not permitted to manage free from the meddlesome interference of others. Under our system the land has been impoverished and our rural districts depopulated. Why, 30 years ago our land nourished one man to every two acres, whereas to-day it needs three acres. It is not increase of population alone which causes us to import food so largely, it, is also the abandonment of agriculture by our people. It needed a famine to repeal the iniquitous Corn Laws; will it need a revolution to amend the laws affecting land tenure, from which spring such dire results? It was Sir Charles Napier who said—All discontent springs from unjust treatment. Idiots talk of agitation; there is but one in existence, and that is injustice. The cure for discontent is to find out where the shoe pinches and to ease it.Farmers are in despair over their continued loss of capital; the labourer, unable to obtain remunerative employment in his native village, is reluctantly compelled to migrate to the town, and the townsman is gradually realising that impoverished rural communities are not good customers for the goods produced in towns, but they do supply an ever constant stream of hungry men who, in their eagerness to live, beat down wages, and add to the squalor of the slums. Security for the farmer's capital must be the first step towards the alteration of this condition of things. I will not use any words of my own to describe the probable effect of a thorough reform of the Land 701 Laws but will let the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill)—who, I am sorry to see, is riot in his place—speak for me. He says it would—Mean this, that new capital, new energy, new brains, new minds would be applied to the cultivation of the land. It would mean that prosperity, activity, energy would be visible throughout the whole of your rural districts.It is with a view to help in bringing about this desirable change that we submit this Resolution. We recognise that to secure the best results from our land, brains, energy, and capital are needed; but the present system drives all three into more remunerative channels, and the country suffers. It cannot be surprising that such is the result when we look to the method usually adopted in selecting tenants on large estates. The first inquiry in such eases is not as to whether the applicant is a practical farmer with ample capital, but too frequently it is whether he is a good Tory—
§ MR. LOGAN
A good Tory, a careful game preserver, and a staunch Churchman. The nation is becoming very weary of the effects of the system, although it has not yet realised the cause, and it is in the hope that landlords will help us to the only remedy before the people awake that we submit this Resolution.
§ * MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said, he rose to second the Motion, and he desired to say that they did not wish to make this a Party question. One of the strongest reasons on behalf of the Motion was that he believed practical men on both sides of the House had come to look at these questions from much the same point of view, and were of opinion that some such legislation was necessary as was indicated in the Motion in the interest, not only of the tenant farmers, but of the labourers, and ultimately of the landowners also. It was in no sense a demand for class legislation, but for a national object. He wished to impress upon the House and upon the country 702 that this was not an attack upon the landlords of England. Everyone who was acquainted with the management of estates in England must feel the warmest admiration for the generosity, the foresight, the wisdom, and the scientific enthusiasm for agriculture which had led many owners to lavish money not earned by the land upon the improvement of their estates, and to promote the welfare of their tenants. What they found fault with was not so much the men as the system, or rather with a portion of the system, under which land was held. He would illustrate what he meant by the case of a landlord well known as one of the leaders in a generous and forward policy, and wishful in all ways to promote the interests of his tenants. One of the leases on this estate provided a generous sliding scab for rent, and a most equitable scale of compensation for tenants' improvements, but also included a number of antiquated covenants and penal rents for their breach which, had the matter fallen into the hands of a less considerate successor might be used to crush and ruin the tenant. The Resolution covered proposals which were all explicitly or implicitly adopted at the important Agricultural Conference held in December last, at which all Parties were represented, and at which, he was glad to note, his right hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin), after a very forcible am eloquent speech from Mr. Clare Sewell Read, suddenly announced his conversion to this policy of amending the Act. He (Mr. Charming) would state their exact reasons for the several proposal in the Motion. What fault did they find with the Agricultural Holdings Act? He held that the Liberal Party had rendered great service in affirming in 1883 the principle that those who worked on the land should have an alienable right to be rewarded for the value added to the land by their outlay, skill, and labour. What they said was that the Act did not compensate the right men, did not give compensation for the right things, and that the complicated and imperfect procedure of the Act destroyed its objects. Sir James Caird, who most Members would agree with him in thinking [...] 703 greatest authority in recent years, said at the very outset of the great agricultural depression in 1880 that the time had come for them to recognise the "truth, however unpalatable," that the relations between landlord and tenant should pass from those of blind confidence to those of strict business—when the tenant should have security of tenure and adequate compensation. He had always regarded it as unfortunate that the Government of the day did not pay heed to the suggestions of Sir James Caird. Sir James Caird prophesied that the Act which they were about to pass would not protect the men they really wanted to protect, the men who had given their money and their lives to the improvement of their holdings, and who wanted to stay upon them, and not to quit, the best farmers in the country; and "unless the interests of the sitting tenants, who are the real backbone of English agriculture, are recognised, the Bill will fail to give that security which would promote good farming and justify legislative interference with contracts." This prophecy had been fulfilled. Evidence before the Commission on the Depression of Trade proved that the old tenants remaining on their holdings had only had occasional remissions of from 10 to—certainly not more than 30 per cent., whilst new tenants were getting from 40 to 50 per cent. The whole of the facts showed that since the passing of the Act tenants had been paying rents largely out of capital, and so had been rented on their improvements. The argument used in 1883, in answer to Sir James Caird, was that there was no other means of protecting the sitting tenants except the "three F's," and that the Government were not then prepared to introduce that system into this country. He (Mr. Channing) said that if that argument was really sound, and this great wrong could not be rectified without the "three F's", then let the "three F's" be conceded. But if Sir James Caird's proposal was enough, he should prefer to try that. He hoped there would not be any desultory discussion in the course of the Debate as to agricultural depression, or as to the panaceas and Quixotic remedies for it that had been suggested. The Motion was specific enough, and he trusted that they would have from agriculturists on 704 the other side arguments bearing upon the several points raised, instead of red herrings drawn across the track to tempt them into a crusade against the natural results of economic laws. What they wanted, then, was that when a tenant was entering on a new contract of tenancy, the whole of what he had contributed to the value of the farm should be considered in settling what the new rent should be. If they gave to the tenant the right he claimed, there would still remain the question of whether his loss on removal would not operate to check him and prevent him from claiming consideration for his outlay on the renewal of his tenancy. He was perfectly prepared, and he found agriculturists all over the country prepared, to authorise some kind of Land Court to assess the compensation for disturbance, which would probably take the form of an allowance to the tenant of a fair proportion of what he would lose by having to leave in consequence of his not coming to terms with his landlord. That reform, it appeared to him, would do almost as much as anything else to give security to the tenant. It was said, and they were told at the National Conference, that the tenants did not want fixity of tenure. He had an idea that they did not want to tie themselves down to their holdings under the present conditions of agriculture, but they did want a sense of security as to the future. They wanted to know that if their rights were interfered with they would be protected by the law. In the Richmond Commission one of the Commissioners, Mr. John Clay, in his interesting Report, had laid down the very principle on which this Motion was based, which was that tenant farmers should be compensated, not only for outlay on fertilisers and feeding stuffs and acts of husbandry, but also for their skill and energy, and for a long course of high cultivation, and for thorough working of the land, turning their farms into instruments of high agricultural value. The farm wrecker, the man who farmed to quit, and stole a great deal of the value from the soil, could obtain compensation, but the man who through his constant application and untiring energy contributed lasting value to the soil, under the present 705 law had to go absolutely without compensation. He (Mr. Channing) could give many instances in England in proof of this assertion, but he would refer briefly to one well-known case in Scotland, which was the first agricultural case he knew of in which the principle which Mr. Clay and those who supported the present Motion laid stress on was applied. There was a farm in the Southern part of Midlothian, near Galashiels, let on a 19 years' lease—the common form of lease in Scotland—at a comparatively high rent, and by an enormous expenditure on fertilisers and feeding stuffs—over £1,000 a year—he raised the stock-bearing power of the farm to three or four times what it was before, turning a poor hill farm into as good a pasture as any in Leicestershire. The result was that the farm was let to a new tenant at practically the old rent, something over £700, while neighbouring farms originally better had dropped 40 to 60 per cent., and the tenant had thus put about £300 a year into his landlord's pocket. When the lease was up he claimed compensation for high cultivation, and was awarded £300. That was a mere trifle; but the assertion of the principle was the important point. That principle they wanted to drive home for the benefit of English fanners—to encourage men to devote their energies to making the soil of England a real garden of fertility. He did not suppose hon. Gentlemen would seriously challenge either of these two propositions—that a continuing tenant should have what he had done on the land estimated and allowed for when he began a new tenancy, and that he should have full compensation on the determination of a tenancy for that good he had done to the land; if he remained on his holding as well as if he quitted it. He would now turn to the procedure portion of the Resolution. Sir James Caird's complaint was that the Agricultural Holdings Act was limited in its application to a very small class of tenants—the class that were leaving their holdings. But the Act had limited itself through its imperfections to a still smaller class of tenants. One of the agricultural papers a few years ago made inquiries of the principal land agents and valuers in England its to flip working of 706 the Agricultural Holdings Act, and out of 1,50 replies received only 38 were in favour of the Act as regarded the rights of the tenants, and 112 were against it. They confirmed what was common knowledge, that one result of the Act had been, as was intended, to secure equitable agreements as to compensation being inserted in the leases, especially in the North of England; yet they all were unanimous in condemning the Act on the ground that it opened the door to practically unlimited counter-claims by the landlords, which scared away the tenants from their rights. In the replies received he found more than one who said that the effect of the Act had been to put a weapon into the hands of the landlords which the had never had before, and to open the door to claims which they had never made before. The injustice of some of these claims was shown by a case which was recently heard. A tenant claimed £40, and a counter-claim of £125 was made against him. The tenant fought the matter out, and was awarded £39 8s., while the landlord's counter-claim was cut down to £15. It was evident from this that the landlord's agent had claimed eight times more than he was entitled to. Some hon. Members might remember the paper read by Mr. Clare Sewell Read before the Farmers' Club, in which that gentleman narrated his own experiences. That statement illustrated both their proposal that a tenant should have full compensation for the value he added to the land, and their claim for freedom to improvement, and also the way in which the Act in working deprived a tenant of his rights, and he would, therefore, re-state it to the House. It appeared that Mr. C. S. Read had spent 16 years in turning a wilderness into a fertile garden, but the state of the law did not allow him to claim more than £98 for his outlay, and a counter-claim of £160 was made against him, and the total result of the matter was that he got £10 in respect of his improvements. Mr. Read sent the £10 note to a benevolent institution. His (Mr. Channing's) contention was that plenty of improving tenants might be secured if they obtained security enough. The Reports of the deputation sent down from Lancashire by the Lancashire Tenant Farmer 707 Association to inquire into the results of Lancashire farmers settling in that county proved this. One point in the Reports was a criticism of the common sense of some of the Lancashire farmers in taking these farms in Essex with no more security than a five or seven years' agreement. They went in at a reduced rent, prepared to make a good many improvements. Well, the Resolution went on to ask the House to affirm the principle of abolishing the landlords' right to distrain for rent. He would not go into the reasons for that, seeing that they were familiar to all hon. Members; but, clearly, if there was freedom of improvement, and especially if there was an increase of small holdings, and, consequently, of tenants' improvements — for landlords could not make improvements on small holdings; they had not the capital, and the tenants could execute them more cheaply—there must be an increase of the credit of the farmers. The simplest way of doing that would be to sweep away the antiquated privilege of distress, because it had no logical or economical justification for its maintenance. The procedure of the Act he would not deal with in detail, but he would say this—that when he heard of people being afraid of a Land Court, it seemed to him that what they were afraid of was a word. What they had in the Procedure Clauses of the Agricultural Holdings Act was a Land Court—and a very bad one, too. What was wanted was a tribunal of some kind to settle differences promptly, equitably, clearly, simply, and cheaply, with a procedure that was not full of pitfalls. One of the things which would most frequently come before such a tribunal would be the determination of the fact whether the suggested improvement was an improvement or not—whether a tenant was utterly wasting his money, and whether an injunction should be issued to restrain him from carrying out a useless improvement. Obviously there must be a Court to try such a question as that. Both in regard to the Law of Distress and the point with which he was now dealing he had been gratified on looking over some old papers to find that that veteran agriculturist, Sir Thomas Acland, who for so many years had dealt with agriculture in the House had both sup 708 ported a proposal to do away with the Law of Distress, and had in a simple Bill brought before the House in 1882— a Bill which in some respects seemed to him (Mr. Charming) better than the Government Bill of 1883—proposed that compensation cases should be decided by the County Court, and that in certain cases only there should be a settlement by a single arbitrator. The proposal he had put before the House from year to year for settlement by a single referee had been successfully applied to Scotland in an Act passed for that country some years ago by the hon. Member for Leith. The main difficulty in the way was the valuers, who did not like to see procedure which gave them a great deal of work altered. But whatever system they adopted for constituting the Court; whether they had official valuers and a single referee taken from an official list—as arbitrations were decided under the Local Government Board in compensation cases under the Housing of the Working Classes Acts—or whether they had assessors with the County Court Judge, was matter for discussion; but whatever system was adopted it should be a simple one. From his experience and knowledge of agriculturists all over the country, there was no really serious difference between them on these points. He did not suppose that the definite proposition that he had tried to lay before the House would be seriously challenged by any hon. Gentleman opposite. They had been disappointed in dealing with the question of agriculture this year, but this discussion would give them a practical opportunity of threshing out at least the broad lines of the legislation which was urgently needed in order to enable the agriculturists of this country to compete successfully with foreign countries. If Her Majesty's Ministers looked favourably on this Motion, and it was carried, he did not see why the Government could not draw up between now and the Autumn Session, which seemed to be hanging over them, some proposals which might be discussed in the country before next year, and which might, form the basis of practical legislation. It, was in order that they might arrive at a solution of a question which everybody knew to be 709 ripe for solution that he had much pleasure in seconding the Motion.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, amendments of the Law are urgently needed to enable the tenant to obtain adequate compensation on the determination of a tenancy for all agricultural improvements executed by him on his holding, to give greater security of tenure and freedom to make improvements, to cultivate and to sell produce without detriment to the agricultural value of the holding, to abolish the landlord's right to distrain for rent, and to simplify and cheapen the settlement of compensation cases and other differences between landlord and tenant,"—(Mr. Logan,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said, the number of Members in attendance was a convincing proof of the interest taken by those who had some practical acquaintance with agriculture in the question before the House; and the limited time they had at their disposal warned him that he must do his best to compress in as small a space as possible the straightforward observations he wished to make. In no discourteous frame of mind, and with no intention of being discourteous, he would make a remark or two on the speeches of the Mover and Seconder of the Motion. He thought there was no discourtesy in calling the attention of the House to the fact that the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Resolution had not thought it worth his while to remain in the House to hear what was to be said from the other side. In the hon. Member's absence he (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) would briefly sum up all the reference he would make to him by saying that he acknowledged the hon. Member's merit; indeed, he was celebrated for the manner in which he rode across country; but if he would take the advice of a brother sportsman he would confine his attention to agriculture, to riding over other men's land rather than cultivating any of his own. He had to refer to the remarks of the Seconder of the Motion in quite a different spirit. He might differ with the hon. Member on 710 many points, and it might be his duty to be found in opposition to him in regard to some details; but in that which he regarded as the essential part of the hon. Member's speech in recognition—and in earnest and hearty recognition—of a wish to do practical justice to the farmers of this country, he was entirely with the hon. Member. He recognised the fact that the agricultural interest had the hon. Member amongst its advocates, as he had shown with what just discrimination he could speak on the subject. He could have preferred if the hon. Member had been a practical agriculturist, either as renting a farm or occupying his own land. If that had been the case, he should have expected that the hon. Member's remarks would have taken a different tinge; still, it was well that there should be in the House advocates of agricultural interests like the hon. Gentleman. Before dealing directly with the Motion he should like to make one or two general remarks, and the first was this—that the Agricultural Holdings Act was originally brought forward at a time when it was considered necessary and wise to safeguard tenants in the prosperous time of agriculture from the possible inclination on the part of the landlords to get rid of old tenants in order to enjoy any increased rental which might follow on a change of tenancy. That was the main danger which was supposed to be confronted by the Agricultural Holdings Act when it was originally brought in. But if that was the case, then could any hon. Member, however much wedded to the opinion that the tenant was all in the right and the landlord all in the wrong, deny that circumstances had changed since that day, and that, however valuable an Agricultural Act might be, and however necessary it might be to have one, it was not necessary for the same reason that made it necessary when the Agricultural Holdings Act was brought in? There had been a change in the condition of things. There was now no power, even if there was the wish, on the part of a landlord to turn out a tenant in order to enjoy increased rent from a successor. On the contrary, the saddle was on the other horse in the present race; and it was rather in the power of the tenant, and not the landlord, to dictate the con- 711 ditions on which a future tenancy should be held. As a second general remark, he would say that experience taught them that they were not wise to override the customs which had arisen in different parts of the country. They were all apt to treat agriculture as if it were military drill, which could be carried on in one county in the same manner as in another county. The conditions of agriculture varied north, south, east, and west, and the law that it might be wise to apply in one place it might be unwise to apply in another. Experience would teach them to be rather cautious in turning out a stereotyped, cast-iron, central depot for managing agriculture. These country customs had grown up from experience and from a knowledge of the requirements of each district. He would make one other general remark— namely, that, however valuable the question of the administration of the Agricultural Holdings Act might be, it had nothing whatever to do with the depression of agriculture at the present time. That Act did not touch the outside fringe of the difficulty. The facts of that depression were well known. They were within the knowledge of hon. Gentlemen on the Front Ministerial Bench, and they wanted no Committee to discover those facts. If hon. Gentlemen opposite wanted to deal with those facts, they could do so now, and to say that they wanted a Committee to obtain information was an idle way of playing with the question. If this Motion was to be the very sorry outcome of the professions of sympathy with agriculture by hon. Gentlemen opposite, he could only say that he condoled with their lame performance of their promises. However, such as it was, poor as it was, valueless as it was, and inefficient as it was, they were prepared to do their best to turn two and a-half hours' discussion on a Friday night to the best advantage; but if the Government thought there would be any feeling of gratitude to them on the part of the farming community, they must regard the farmers as greater fools than betook them to be. He had spoken a little disparagingly of the connection of the Seconder of the Resolution with agriculture. It might be asked what right he (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) had to arrogate to himself a 712 greater right to speak about agriculture than the hon. Member had? Well, agriculture was mainly divided between the management of large estates carried on through agents and the small class of what we called the squirearchy—the small resident country gentlemen living on their property of between 2,000 and 4,000 acres, and managing those properties in every particular themselves. Of that class he professed himself to be one. For many years past he had had to do with the administration of a property of that sort. No single act concerning any single tenant during that time had been done without his personal knowledge, consideration, and authority. Therefore, so far as practical experience was worth anything—and it might not be worth much, for it might be overriden by opposition practical experience—he claimed the right to speak with some knowledge on this subject. He asserted that in all his experience he had not found any great interest taken in the Agricultural Holdings Act; neither did he find more than one or two instances where the tenants were anxious to have it applied to them. With regard to compensation for improvements, he would undertake to say that there was a universal wish in that House that there should be absolute and complete security given to the tenants for all genuine improvements which ought to be put to their credit when the balance came to be struck; and if the Agricultural Holdings Act, as it now stood, failed to give that security, then the hon. Gentleman opposite was well within his rights in suggesting improvements. He (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney), for one, would earnestly hope to see improvements follow in the direction indicated. But he would remind the House that at present agreements — private agreements—between tenants and landlords overrode the Act, and were substituted for it. Under the present condition of things, the tenants found that they secured their future and provided better for the interests they had at heart by coming to a private arrangement with their, landlords than by putting themselves completely under the Agricultural Holdings Act. The House, he thought, would not be acting in the interest of the tenants if it debarred them from taking advantage 713 of such circumstances as would give them the whip hand in making the arrangement. It was also sometimes forgotten that if the Agricultural Holdings Act were amended in one direction it must also be amended in another. If the right of the tenant to compensation for his improvements must be secured with greater tenacity and power, the right of the landlord to compensation for evil farming or neglect of contract ought also to be secured. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act, compensation might be claimed for corn consumed on a farm within a given time; and the proof of consumption was, generally speaking, the bills produced for the purchase of that amount of corn. He had once or twice heard the question raised whether it would not be fair to include corn produced on the farm under the same heading as corn produced elsewhere and bought for consumption on the farm. Inasmuch as the land would benefit as much from the homegrown corn as from purchased corn, and as all landlords were inclined to encourage tenants to use as much as possible the stuff they grew themselves, there was some reason for introducing an Amendment of this kind into the Act. On the question of tenure, the experiences gained in different counties might, of course, be very widely divergent. In his own personal experience, including that which he had gained as a trustee for other estates, he had found no desire on the part of tenants for any greater security of tenure than they possessed at present. He found no wish to obtain leases instead of yearly agreements. He knew of many cases in which the offer of a lease had been made, and many more in which the offer would be made to-morrow if any desire were expressed for it. Of course, if leases were granted the rents must be fixed in accordance with the length of years over which the leases extended. He could quite imagine that if he were asked to take a long lease he might prefer to remain in such a position that, by giving a year's notice, he could terminate the rent he had to pay rather than bind himself to pay it for a certain number of years. Further, a lease must carry with it a much greater expenditure on repairs. When a farmer died, and the practical work of carrying on the farm was vested 714 in his executors, a decided wish was often expressed to shorten the term. Probably it would be wise, in the interest of both parties, that a more rapid way of winding up the accounts should be found. As to improvements, the main suggestion of the hon. Member opposite was that the improvements the tenant could effect without the consent of his landlord should be removed from one Schedule of the Agricultural Holdings Act to another. His (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney's) experience was that there was not much eagerness to undertake expensive improvements, and that there was a general wish on the part of the tenants that the landlord should do the improvements, charging, if necessary, a fair percentage to the tenants. This was a plan which would, he thought, be more acceptable to both sides than the suggestion put forward by the hon. Member. As to the question of freer cultivation and sale of produce, the hon. Member talked of antiquated restrictions he had seen in some lease. No doubt such restrictions existed, but they were only inserted in leases as a safeguard against possible bad farming, and they were not, as a rule, put in force. He himself did not know of a single ease in which such restrictions had been enforced against a tenant who was fanning to stay. No doubt they were, and ought to be, enforced against tenants who were farming to leave. He did not, therefore, think that the restrictions really constituted any grievance. On some estates it was an unwritten law that the restrictions were not to hold good except during the last year of the tenancy. He could understand the hon. Member's reasoning on the question of distraint. The argument was that, if the landlord had not the first right of distraint for rent, the bankers would be more liberal in their loans to farmers. But surely this was a double-edged argument. If the landlord was not to have a right of distraint, how could he possibly give the three months' credit which he almost invariably gave now? He thought that if practical farmers were to be asked whether they preferred a system under which the rent was to be paid regularly and definitely on the day on which it became due, and under which they might possibly obtain loans 715 from bankers at a lower rate of interest, to the present system, they would say that they preferred to let things remain as at present. He was sure that gentlemen who looked at the question, not from a political or a vote-catching, but from a practical point of view, would admit that, in times of pinch and difficulty, many farmers were only able to carry on their holdings through the forbearance and goodwill of the landlord. In how many cases had the capital of the landlord been at the back of the tenant, and in how many cases had the assistance of the landlord enabled the tenant to get over bad times? He asked the House, under these circumstances, to hesitate before adopting a system which would prevent the landlord placing his goodwill and his credit so often at the back of his tenants in cases of temporary difficulty. Then came the question of cheapening and simplifying the method of procedure. Those were very popular words. Theoretically, everybody was anxious to simplify everything, especially when they had to deal with lawyers; whilst, as to cheapening, there would be no such popular man in the House as he who showed the farmers how to cheapen any process which they wore obliged to carry out. If Land Courts were to be set up, it would be necessary to have them practically in every county and district. The expenses of such Courts would have to be paid either by the fees of those who resorted to them, or an income must be provided for them out of the Consolidated Fund—against which, he thought, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as the guardian of the public purse, would kick—or out of those rates and local sources of taxation which were already considerably overburdened. As the hon. Member had spoken about dragging a red herring across the scent, he had thought it necessary to deal with the arguments that had been used one by one. He hoped he had been a true hound, and had kept his nose right down to the scent, and he believed he had not been far from killing his fox. Although there might be a fair opening for considerate amendment and possibly for improvement of the Agricultural Holdings Act, and although he would be the last to deny that an Act brought in early in the 70's and amended in the 80's might 716 possibly be re-amended in the 90's, he thought he had shown some reason why Members should hesitate a bit before coming to the conclusion that all was wrong with the present Act, and that all the alterations that could be introduced would necessarily be welcomed by the agricultural interest. It would be to agriculturists a matter of considerable interest that the general statement on behalf of the Government should be made by the Minister primarily responsible for agriculture. Agriculturists regretted very much that in the present Ministry it had not been thought possible to give agriculture a voice in the Cabinet itself, as the Conservatives had done. They were, however, anxious to give every credit to the President of the Board of Agriculture (Mr. H. Gardner) for the course he had pursued since he had been in Office. The Amendment which he (Colonel Kenyon-Slaney) hoped to have the chance of moving later was not intended to burke the question, but to take it out of the region of absurd generalities and abstruse theories which agriculture was too apt to occupy in the House of Commons. If right hon. Gentlemen opposite would only withdraw from Home Rule a little of the time that was now devoted to it, and give it to agriculture, it might be possible to arrive at some conclusion which would be of more value to the country than Home Rule could possibly be.
* MR. W. SMITH (Lancashire N., North Lonsdale)
said, that the question raised by the Motion played a very important part in the electoral contests in his own and neighbouring constituencies, and he had endeavoured to place in a practical form the view he held as to the remedies that should be adopted. In order to make room for the Motion, however, he had thought it necessary to take off the Order Paper the Bill which he introduced on the subject at the beginning of the Session. Lancashire farmers had been active in promoting the Conference respecting the depression on agriculture that was recently held in London; but nothing was further from their thoughts than that the Central Chamber of Agri- 717 culture, having readily adopted their idea, should abuse the power they possessed for the furtherance and promotion of the doctrines of protection and bimetallism. He thought it approached to a national calamity that the deep public sympathy that was evoked at the time on behalf of the agricultural interest should have been alienated by the selfish proposal that was made the leading feature of the Conference. Undoubtedly the questions of protection and bi-metallism were put forward at the Conference as the only practical remedies for the present depression. The tenant farmers of the North of England, who had no faith in these suggested remedies, had in consequence formed themselves into an independent Federation, of which he had had the honour of being elected the first President. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin) had at the Conference uttered what was almost a truism when he said—"What Lancashire thinks to-day England will think to-morrow." It was his (Mr. Smith's) object to tell the House what Lancashire and some neighbouring counties did think to-day in this matter. He believed that, owing to the vast development that had taken place in North and South America, and to the important change that had occurred in the methods and cost of transit, a complete revolution had been brought about in the conditions under which the English farmer worked. It was essential to the farmers of this country, if they were to be successful, that they should be no longer handicapped in this manner. No mere tinkering of the Agricultural Holdings Act would meet the case. There must be a radical change in the existing system of holding if any lasting and satisfactory improvement was to be effected. The first essential for the British farmer was that he should be freed from the fetters of old-fashioned covenants binding him to very restricted methods of cultivation, and placed on an equality of condition in this respect in his struggle with foreign competitors. It was more important still that he should be given absolute security of tenure; that he should be safe from vexatious or frivolous eviction, and should practically be placed in an equal position to the man who owned the soil he worked. 718 Absolute security of tenure would be of advantage in the better cultivation of the soil, not only to the fanner and the nation, but also to the landowner. Some ready means also should be found by which the rent of land in this country could be adjusted to the value of land in other competing countries; and he believed this might be done by the establishment of a system of Land Courts, which should be easily accessible, prompt in action, and cheap in process. If those conditions were insured to the tenant farmer, and the whole question was dealt with wisely, but boldly, he believed an enormous and most gratifying change would shortly be witnessed in the agricultural industry of this country; and, at the same time, although incidentally, another great question would also be I solved—namely, the provision of employment for much larger numbers in the cultivation of the soil, and something be thereby done to not only stop the lamentable depopulation of our country districts, but even to turn the current in the opposite direction, and relieve our cities of that excess of population, the over-crowding and unhealthiness of which was such a serious danger at the present moment.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
Both sides of the House, I think, have reason to be grateful that the Debate has taken place. For my part, I do not think I can complain of the speeches that have been made. The Mover of the Resolution at one time, I thought, was getting beyond his depth; but I may say that the speech of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire was beard with pleasure on both sides of the House. If I may be permitted to say a few words, I shall do so without delaying the House. There is no one, Sir, who has maintained more strongly than I have the right of every tenant to full and fair compensation for the improvements which he may make upon his holding in the event of his leaving it. If there is anything either in the circumstances of the tenant farmer or in the existing law which debars him from obtaining such compensation, I am perfectly ready to amend the existing law. But, Sir, I ask the House, what are the 719 facts—the undoubted facts—of the situation, which are perfectly well known to everyone who has a practical knowledge of the subject? Why! There never was a time, within the present generation, when tenants, as a rule, occupied a stronger position of vantage for making fair and reasonable agreements with their landlords than they hold now. We see it every day in the taking and letting of farms, which in consequence of agricultural depression, I regret to say, are far more numerous than they were some years ago. When a farm is let, what is the first and the most important thing that has to be settled? The first thing a tenant has to decide is the rent he is able and willing to pay; and at present in nine cases out of ten—I may say, indeed, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred—it is the tenant who dictates the rent and makes his own bargain; and if he is able to make his own terms about the chief and most important item of all, à fortiori he is able to do so about the other terms of his agreement, which are matters of minor importance. There is one other matter I wish to refer to. To begin with, the question of amending the Agricultural Holdings Act has absolutely nothing to do with the question of agricultural depression, and in considering the Act we ought to put that subject entirely out of mind. This is an opinion which has been held by English Members of all shades; and I may even appeal to a Member of the present Cabinet, who, in a book which he has recently published entitled Agrarian Tenures declared that the application of the law in this matter dealing with the condition of the agricultural classes was no remedy for bad harvests and low prices. With his words I entirely agree. I think the House will admit that we have gone a good length in the improvement of the tenant farmers throughout the country; and at the present time, as I have said, they occupy an advantageous position in making a bargain of their own. There may, of course, be exceptions. I am aware that there have been complaints as to the working of the Act, and those complaints have not always been limited to districts where the farms are small; but, as far as I know, the complaints have usually been directed rather against 720 the administration of the Act than against any defect in the Act itself. I have watched with great interest the progress of this Debate and the speeches of hon. Members, especially that of the Mover of the Resolution. The hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion made a startling statement as to the policy of landlords in selecting their tenants. It is a policy of which I never heard before. He said that if a man applied for a vacant farm the landlord did not go to the applicant's banker to ascertain whether he had sufficient capital, or make inquiries as to whether he was a good farmer or not, but that he merely asked whether he was a good Tory and voted straight. That may be the way in which the hon. Member deals with his tenants, but it is certainly not the way in which landowners deal with them; and, therefore, I feel bound to give the hon. Member's assertion the most complete and emphatic contradiction. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire complained that the Act does not compensate the right man, or give compensation for the right thing, and asserted that in these days rents were habitually raised upon a tenant in respect of his own improvements; but, Sir, the fact is that, so far from rents being raised, there has been an unprecedented and unparalleled fall in rents, in some cases amounting to 60 or 70 per cent.; and, therefore, it is absurd to contend that rents have been habitually raised on improvements. The hon. Member then dealt with the ease of what he called "the sitting tenant"; and went on to say—I was not able to follow him clearly, "but he said, I think—that this was one of the cases in which complaint was made that rent was imposed on the improvements made by the tenant.
§ MR. CHANNING
said, he meant that injustice was done where a sitting tenant had made improvements, and the rent, whether it was raised or reduced, did not allow for those improvements.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
I do not yet clearly follow the hon. Member. During the past 10 years there has been a great increase in the reduction of rents. We have it from official Returns that there has been unquestionably a general fall in rents all over the country. The hon. Member deals with compensation to the sitting tenant. I never could quite follow that argument, for the landlord could have no power to raise the rent on the sitting tenant until he has given him notice to quit, in which case the sitting tenant becomes at once the outgoing tenant, and then he is free to make any terms he chooses with the landlord.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
I will come to that directly. The hon. Member thinks the sitting tenant should be compensated in his improvements, but he knows this cannot be done without establishing judicial rents. But the hon. Member is not in favour of judicial rents, and so he urges that compensation should be given for disturbance. Let me examine the agreement in the matter of compensation for disturbance. I take the case of a vacant farm which is in the market. It is a grand farm, belonging to a well-known and popular landlord, and to be let at a reasonable rent, and there are various applications for it. A, B, and C are all very anxious to get it, and to enjoy the profits which they foresee. A is the fortunate tenant who is selected, and holds the farm during some years, and all the advantages which he derives from it, while B and C are left out in the cold. At the end of that time, for some reason or other, the landlord requires to resume possession of the land. A receives, as a matter of course, full compensation for all he has spent, and all his improvements, of the fruits of which he has been deprived. But, according to the hon. Member, that is not enough. Over and above his improvements he is to receive compensation for disturbance. In other words, although he was selected in preference to B and C in the first instance, he is to be paid in full, not only for his improvements, but for the loss, or, rather, the 722 non-continuance of an advantage which was conferred on him in the first instance, while unfortunate B and unfortunate C never got anything at all. Looked at from that point of view, that policy cannot be justified for a single moment. The hon. Member has referred to the complaint made by Mr. Clare Read; but that gentleman complained not of the unfairness of the Act, which, he said, had never received fair play, but of its administration. The hon. Member has also alluded to the question of the landlord's right of distraint. The hon. Member said there was no logical justification for it. That may or may not be. It is perfectly open to anyone to argue that that right should not exist as between the other creditors and the landlord; but I do not hesitate to say that, looked at from the point of view of the interest of the tenant, if you abolish the right of distraint, you do one of the greatest injuries you could do to the tenant himself. I may remind the hon. Member that Mr. Clare Read himself said at St. James's Hall that he thought the Law of Distress operated in favour of the tenant rather than against him. That is an opinion with which I entirely coincide, and solely in the interest of the tenants I would much regret to see this part of the Motion adopted. I now come to the question of a cheaper mode for settlement of compensation. Here I am glad to say that I agree with the Seconder of the Motion to this extent: that I think there is considerable room for improvement in the existing Act in that respect. I am not prepared to say now how that improvement can be effected, because it is a matter that requires very careful and anxious consideration. But that is a matter of detail which can be very properly dealt with by other means, though it may be that there is some necessity for re-considering some of the points of an Act which was passed 10 years ago, and which I would also remind the House was passed by a Liberal and not by a Conservative Administration. I cannot compliment the author of the Motion, whoever he may be. It is a lit tie difficult to understand it; but it is, at least, very comprehensive, for it embraces a great number of points, some of which have not been mentioned either by the Mover or 723 Seconder. The Motion asks for greater freedom for the tenants to make improvements. I really do not understand what that means. As far as I know, tenants have every freedom to make improvements at the present time; and I imagine the more improvements they make the better pleased will that landlord be as a general rule.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
Compensation is a matter for agreement at the time of entering upon a tenancy, and, in the absence of any such agreement, the Act comes into play. It is quite true that with regard to certain improvements, such as buildings, the consent of the landlord is required in the first instance, but I do not understand that the hon. Member wants to get rid of that consent of the landlord in the first instance.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
Such a proposal would not be desirable. It would tend to set up in England a dual ownership, which is the very thing which was so objected to in Ireland, and which all Parties desire to get rid of. The last speaker complained bitterly that bimetallism and Protection were put in the forefront at the great meeting in St. James's Hall. But by whom were they put in the forefront? The organisation of that great meeting was carried out by a committee of gentlemen appointed at a large meeting of the Central Associated Chambers of Commerce, each name having been debated and put to the vote. The first suggestion for the Conference came, I believe, from the County of Lancashire. In that the hon. Member was right; but so far from agreeing with him that Lancashire was not represented, I say that it was most effectively and effectually represented, amongst others, by a gentleman who is Chairman of a rival Association to the Association presided over by the hon. Member.
* MR. W. SMITH
The Members of that Association publicly repudiated the proceedings at the Conference, and de- 724 clared that if they had known the intended nature of the proceedings they would not have attended.
§ * MR CHAPLIN
That is not my recollection of what occurred. The hon. Member referred to the statement of Mr. Clare Read, that there were 400 farms given up in Norfolk during the present year, and that only two of these were given up under the Agricultural Holdings Act. The difficulty in Norfolk is not with the Act, but with the valuation, for during past years farming in Norfolk had been conducted under a system of leases. On certain estates the tenants were allowed to do everything they pleased with the land until the last four years of the lease, and then it was expected that the farm should be given up in the same condition as it was when taken. In a country like that, where valuations of the same kind formerly were not required, I do see reasons why difficulties should arise under the Act. The statements of the late Lord Derby and the late Sir James Caird have been quoted, to the effect that if the farmer had proper security the produce of the country could be increased 50 per cent. No doubt, if it paid to produce it. But how is it possible, in the face of constantly falling prices, to give security to a tenant who may invest a great deal of money in the land that he will have a proper return? I was associated with Sir James Caird in the closing years of his life, as head of the Department over which I presided in the late Government. I had the inestimable advantage of consulting him on the agricultural questions of the day, and I can tell the House that Sir James Caird, in his latest days, held a totally different opinion, and in view of the fall of prices looked forward with anything but satisfaction to the future of agriculture in this country. The hon. Member says we must have no tinkering with the Agricultural Holdings Act. He wants a sweeping change in the law. He scoffs at bimetallism, and advocates Land Courts, judicial rents, and, I suppose, fixity of tenure, in the interest of the agriculturists. But have we not experience of the results of that system already? It has been the law in Ireland for 11 years 725 and yet what docs one of the great champions of the tenant-farmers of Ireland say of their condition to-day? He says—The adoption of bimetallism, or some similar remedy, I am convinced, is a matter of imperative necessity; that is, if the agricultural tenants of Ireland—and I do not at all limit this to Ireland—are not to be driven to inevitable ruin and destruction.That is the condition of the tenants of Ireland, according to one of their greatest supporters, after 11 years of the system which the hon. Member desires to establish in this country. There are some things in this Motion which are hardly accurate; others that are undesirable; one that would be highly injurious to the tenants, and others with which I concur. But even if every word in the Motion was absolutely true and accurate, what earthly use will it be to agriculture to pass an Abstract Resolution of the kind, and to do nothing more? I do not know what course the Government are going to take; but I know well that in days past the Prime Minister has always been ready to condemn the acceptance of abstract Resolutions when the Government had no chance of giving them effect. The Government may adopt this Motion declaring that an amendment of the law is urgently needed; but they have not the slightest intention, or if they have the intention they have not the possibility, of carrying it out. I would advise my hon. Friends on this side of the House—if I may be permitted to do so—to allow this Amendment which is now before the House to become a substantive Motion; then my hon. Friend behind me could move the Amendment of which he has given notice, and if that Amendment be carried—as we may reasonably expect it to be—we will have succeeded in converting this wholly ineffectual Resolution into some practical good.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. H. GARDNER, Essex, Saffron Walden)
I am glad to be able to congratulate the House on the amicable manner in which the Debate has been conducted, and on its freedom from the heat and the per- 726 sonal recriminations to which we were accustomed in discussions of this kind. I am also glad to hear that the subject of compensation to the tenants is one on which both sides of the House are agreed. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford referred to Mr. Clare Read—an authority on agricultural matters, which was accepted by both sides of the House—as having objected, as I understood it, to the Agricultural Holdings Act as regards its administration, but not as regards the Act itself. Well, Mr. Clare Read's words at the Conference were that the Act operated where it was not wanted, and that where it was most wanted it did not operate at all. That is hardly a matter of administration, and shows, I think, that Mr. Clare Road deems some amendment of the Act of 1883 necessary. In examining the Motion before the House I would say, in the first place, that no one can be surprised that this subject should be pressed on the attention of the House at the present time. Everyone will admit that we are passing through a period of agricultural depression. When I look back through the volumes of Hansard, and read the Debates of past times, it seems to me as if we have always been in a state of agricultural depression. But if it was true in 1835, and was true in 1881, I do not think that anyone will deny—least of all the Minister who has the honour of presiding over the Agricultural Department—that in 1893 the agricultural outlook is far from being satisfactory, and that the agricultural problem has still got to be dealt with. Many methods of grappling with the problem have been put forward. In my opinion, the Resolution now before the House, though not professing to be a universal and everlasting panacea for all the difficulties, indicates a natural and wholesome policy, which contrasts favourably with such artificial and restricted remedies as Protection and Bimetallism. I ask what is the agricultural problem? Everyone will, I think, agree that the problem is to make agriculture a going concern, not by artificial and unhealthy means, but by endeavouring by all just and equitable means to give free play and encouragement to the enterprise and initiative of all engaged in the working of the soil, 727 I wish to discuss this question without Party heat and without needless recrimination. But I am bound to say that if there be, as there is said to be, a lack of enterprise and initiative amongst the farming classes, an adherence to old and sometimes effete methods, and an overcautious shrinking from new and venturesome paths it is due in the main to the manner in which hon. Gentlemen opposite and those who follow them in the country, if not openly, at least by suggestion, have in many instances for a long time past pointed out to the British farmer that the one way out of his difficulties is the broad and easy road which leads to Protection. The Resolution aims at the removal of unnecessary hindrances to the freedom of cultivation and the development of agricultural enterprise, and in that direction I am sure it has the warm support of every Member on this side of the House. It is impossible to discuss the subject without making some reference to the proposal made by the Government at the commencement of the Session with regard to the appointment of a Committee on Agricultural Distress. The Motion for the appointment of that Committee is on the Paper to-night, and it is open to hon. Gentlemen to accept it even at the eleventh hour. The opposition to the appointment of that Committee seemed for a long time to be merely on the question of the terms of Reference; but when the Government offered to re-consider that question, they were met by a final and decisive refusal of all inquiry, given by no less distinguished a Member of the Party opposite than the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet (Mr. J. Lowther).
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I do not think the right hon. Gentleman could have been in the House this afternoon, or heard what occurred, for I offered to withdraw my Amendment if the Government accepted the Amendment standing in the name of their own follower, the Member for the Woodbridge Division.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
The object of the Amendment to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is to make the Committee a Bimetallic Committee, and the Government have no desire for that. If the 728 Reference of my hon. Friend behind me were adopted, the Committee could not inquire into the working of the Agricultural Holdings Act, a matter which we wish to refer to it. Hon. Members opposite have hitherto objected to the appointment of a Committee, but when they are confronted with a proposal as to the reform of the Agricultural Holdings Act, they seek to get out of the difficulty by suggesting a Select Committee them selves. I have no doubt that had our Committee been appointed this question of the Agricultural Holdings Act would be among the first of the subjects investigated by the Committee, and the House might now have been in possession of a valuable Interim Report embodying the recommendations of such an authority. Our position, at any rate, is clear. We have suggested a method of investigation; we have put a Motion on the Paper, and it is for hon. Gentlemen opposite to accept it or refuse it as they wish. Still, though we have not got the Committee, it is possible to lay down certain broad and general principles on which legislation might proceed, and indicate the direction which the Amendment to the law might with advantage take. It is of importance to the public that such security be given to the cultivator of the soil as will ensure the greatest amount of fertility. These are not my words, but the words of the right hon. Gentleman opposite, uttered 10 years ago, on the adoption of the Agricultural Holdings Act. To obtain that maximum fertility several things are necessary. In the first place, there must be the fullest possible facilities for the application of capital to the soil. Next, every possible means must be taken to secure to the cultivator the full value of any outlay he may incur, either in the ordinary course of cultivation or in connection with any improvements he may be authorised to make. In the third place, the tenant must be placed in as advantageous a position with regard to restrictions hampering him in the conduct of his business as, I am bound to say, is now permitted by every prudent and liberal-minded landlord. If it be good for the country—as I think it is—that the law should not impede the application of capital to the soil, or restrict in farming that initiative and energy which have brought success in 729 other branches of industry, then there is much scope for the Resolution before the House. How does the Resolution meet these propositions? In the first place, we are asked to secure to the tenant greater freedom in the making of improvements, and greater certainty that on the termination of the tenancy he will obtain the value of the improvements he has effected, whether he leaves the farm or enters on a new agreement. As long as one man owns the soil and another cultivates it, permanent improvements should be made by the landlords, otherwise we run the risk of establishing dual ownership with all its attendant grievances. We have to deal, however, not only with the landlord, who is willing and able to make improvements, but with the unimproving landlord and the landlord who will not allow improvements, and it seems to me that to the proper cultivation of the holding nothing should be allowed to stand in the way. As has been pointed out in the case of drainage, the tenant's title to require the landlord to do something, or to have the power of doing something himself, may fairly be a subject of discussion, but we have no reason to doubt there are other works that might with advantage be placed in a similar situation. With regard to improvements of a less permanent and simple character, I think it would be necessary that careful examination should be made before coming to a decision as to the proper category in which they should be placed; but for a large class it, appears to be clear it can be beneficial to no one that such operations should be hampered and restricted by fear of loss at the end of the tenancy. That is a conclusion, I think, that will meet with general approval in this House, and in that connection I may point out the more we secure a tenant against the loss of his improvements the better would be the safeguards against any arbitrary determination of his tenancy. To stereotype the existing relations between landlord and tenant would be neither beneficial to the one nor to the other. It seems to me, and I think even to some hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the circumstances of the moment are far from being unfavourable —that they are favourable to the objects which this Resolution has in view. The tenant, as has been pointed out, is just 730 now better able to make terms for himself than he was in the past, and no one will deny that many well-advised landlords at this moment shut their eyes to these restrictive covenants, and do not enforce the equitable rights that exist. I have always stated my own feeling has been in favour of giving the tenant as free a hand as possible. It has been said in days past it would be far better to do away with all restrictions in the cultivation of the land on the ground that if a tenant is fit to be trusted with a farm he is fit to be trusted to farm it. That is going as far as any of my hon. Friends would wish. Whether we agree with such a definition to the full or not, I believe I am right in saying that the Courts of Law look with suspicion upon covenants in restraint of trade; and I am bound to say that I, for my part, view with similar distrust many of the restrictive covenants which tenants in the past, have been required to enter into. The right hon. Gentleman opposite proceeded in his speech to make some reference to the Law of Distress, and went so far as to say it would be a matter that he should bitterly regret if the Law of Distress were removed. I hardly think that that could be the opinion of the noble Lord the Member for Paddington (Lord R. Churchill).
§ MR. H. GARDNER
I was not aware the noble Lord was desirous to speak, and I will, therefore, be as brief as I can with my remarks. The noble Lord will remember that some time past he delivered a speech to his own constituents at Woodstock, in which, in regard to the Law of Distress, he said he had no hesitation in saving the Law of Distress was a remnant of feudalism.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
That extract was quoted in the Debates on the Agricultural Holdings Bill in 1883, and I do not find in Hansard that the noble Lord offered the correction he has just given me, I come to the question of the 731 abolition of distress as urged in this Resolution. I may remind the House that the kindred Law of Hypothec has long been abolished in Scotland, nor is it the first time in this House that the abolition of this law has been advocated. Mr. Blennerhassett, a former Member of this House, brought forward Resolutions on the subject, and in 1881 his Resolution was accepted by the House, and was supported by my right hon. Friend the present Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir W. Harcourt), now leading Member of the Government of the day. Subsequently, the total abolition, which the House had accepted, was said to be prejudicial to the interests of the tenants, and the Government of the day appointed a Select Committee. At that time the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that no single argument had been adduced against the Law of Distress that was not urged against the Law of Hypothec, which was abolished just before the General Election of 1880. Well, Sir, that Committee, appointed to inquire into this matter, reported in favour of the limitation of the Law of Distress, as is well-known to the House, instead of its total abolition, and upon that and the Report of the Duke of Richmond's Commission the law was adopted as it stands to-day. Well, Sir, since then hon. Gentlemen who are well able to speak on this matter, and those who are well able to speak for the farming tenants, both large and small, have assured us that the case is altered, and that the time has arrived when the question should be carefully looked into. Now, Sir, I will be brief, but it was necessary for me to put my case before the House, and I thank the House for having listened to me so patiently. I wish only to say, with regard to the last part of the Resolution—the simplification of procedure and reduction of tenants' expenses—that is a proposition that has been abundantly demonstrated and admitted on both sides of the House. The question of the re-consideration of the Agricultural Holdings Act has gained considerable ground in late years. Be that as it may, we are prepared to vote for this Resolution, as we recognise the broad proposition it lays down, which is in favour of stimulating the enterprise and initiative of our farming classes; and 732 though we are not so absurd as to think that reform of the Agricultural Holdings Act is a universal specific and absolute remedy for agricultural depression, we take it as a step along the right road; at any rate, the recommendations tend to give a healthy stimulus to agriculture rather than the artificial and unwholesome stimulant that we now see advocated in some quarters.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL (Paddington, S.)
The right hon. Gentleman has occupied half an hour of the time of the House, as he has a perfect right to do, describing to us the agricultural situation, and I listened to his description of the Debate with interest. But though I wanted myself to put in a few remarks, and though I was glad to hear what the Agricultural Minister had to say, the Minister I was wanting to hear was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has had very great experience in agricultural matters; much longer cither than the right hon. Gentleman or than me, whose Parliamentary experience is longer than his. I also know that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had thought out the agricultural situation with great care, and that he had been ready at the beginning of the Session to appoint a Committee to examine into the situation. That Committee, for some reason or other, was not appointed, and I admit there were some difficulties as to the largeness of the Reference. Now we have got to another stage, and a Motion is brought forward which lays down certain principles on which there is not much difference of opinion, and it is urged that the matter cannot proceed further unless a Select Committee examines and takes the opinion of agriculturists and reports to the House on the subject. The Minister of Agriculture has told us a great many things about agriculture and about the situation of landlords; but though he told us some things that may be regarded as very commonplace, I recognise that he spoke truly when he said that agriculture was in a bad condition because capital was not applied to the land. But, then, the difficulty at the present moment has been—and the 733 Chancellor of the Exchequer has found it out, though the Minister of Agriculture has not—not that capital cannot be found for the land, but that capital has been lost in the cultivation of the land, and, at present, there is not much to invest in it. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has had any experience in the last few years of investing capital in land, or of taking farms into his own hands, or, if his experience has been immense and the results remunerative to the Minister of Agriculture, whether it has been farming in Essex or other parts of the country. But what I have got to say is this. He says that I have of old supported the abolition of the Law of Distress, that I supported it in 1874, and that I did not support it in 1888, and he says that only shows the captiousness and reactionary tendency of the Tory Party. Very well, all I can say is, that so long as the law expressly gave a six, seven, or eight years' prior claim. I was right in saying that was a remnant of feudalism. Was I to set, myself against a Liberal Government when they laid down a prior claim of one year as perfectly just? Who am I? Am I not to be satisfied with that concession? It is ridiculous for the right hon. Gentleman to say that the Tory Party did not concur loyally in the abolition. To some extent I know from right hon. Gentlemen and large owners of property that the retention of one year enabled the landlord to be put in a better position with regard to his tenants than if he had no Law of Distress at all. The Minister of Agriculture has made a speech of the most admirable official type of any speech I ever heard; a grand collection of pretty maxims, with just a tinge of Liberalism that a Liberal Government would give to pretty maxims, but which are vet maxims; and what I want to know is, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer consider this question from the point of view that the real logical conclusion is to appoint a Select Committee which would have time to examine and probably find out some information that might corroborate the Minister of Agriculture, and might oven add to his knowledge and that of the House? Though there is no Royal road to agricultural prospects, yet it is just as well to know by inquiry 734 what has been the reason of the great agricultural distress, and what, in the present time, will make a change more rapid. That is the proposition which the Chancellor of the Exchequer knows I have been advocating for some years, and I hop he will give us some information on the subject.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
With every desire to gratify the noble Lord, I would point out that he was not in the House when the hon. and gallant Member who moved the Amendment especially appealed to me not to speak, but to allow the Minister for Agriculture to speak upon this subject, and the Debate closes with a reproach upon the Minister for Agriculture for speaking, and appealing to me to speak. It is very difficult to please both sides. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture has made a speech on the subject. I will make no speech on the subject at all, but reply simply to the appeal the noble Lord has made. It will, I think, be satisfactory, at all events, that the House is going unanimously to pass this Resolution; that, at all events, is something gained—["Oh!"] understand that this Resolution, including the abolition of the Law of Distraint, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin) regrets, is going to be passed unanimously, and with his vote also.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Pro formâ. All I can say is, that in 1881 we had also a Resolution for the abolition of the Law of Distraint, which was carried unanimously by this House.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
How does he distinguish between an Amendment on going into Supply and a Resolution? But the practical point, as I understand it, is this: that the hon. and gallant Member proposes that this matter should be referred to a Committee. Very well; I 735 am very willing that this and other matters relating to agriculture should be referred to a Committee. We have been trying to refer these matters to a Committee all the Session, and what is proposed in this Amendment is that we should take this limited Committee, which, mind you, would not include the Law of Distress at all, because that is not part of the Agricultural Holdings Act. We desire to include it in another Committee which we have proposed, and therefore what I have to say upon this subject is this. I should suggest that we negative the Amendment of the hon. and gallant Member and appoint the Select Committee that stands in the name of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture that these questions and others may be referred to it.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
It stands on the Paper, and if the House desires it to the appointed, let us carry the Committee the Government propose instead of this Committee.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I hope the House and those who watch our Debates outside the House will understand exactly what it is the Government are proposing to do. The Motion before us is an Amendment to the Original Motion that you, Sir, do now leave the Chair. Now, it has, by itself, no efficacy at all, and it would probably end by your leaving the Chair. It is impossible for us, while it is merely an Amendment, to move an Amendment on an Amendment; therefore, my hon. and gallant Friend could only announce his intention of moving an Amendment to this Resolution when it becomes a substantive Motion. We are, therefore, in this position. My hon. Friend is prepared to assent to the Amendment as it is, so that it may become a substantive Motion, though we do not bind ourselves in agreement to every clause of the Amendment put upon the Paper. But I want to point out to the House what the Government desire to do. They mean to accept the abstract Amendment that has been proposed; but they absolutely refuse to accept the Amendment to the Resolution 736 that is required to make it practical. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says he has a desire, and the Government has been desirous from the beginning of the Session, to have a Committee of Inquiry into agriculture generally.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
No, I think not; he desired to have an inquiry into the causes of depression. He must know it is certain such an inquiry must be of enormous length, and almost certain that it would be barren of practical results. An opportunity now occurs on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman by which the Government might have an inquiry not endless and not impracticable, and the Government take the opportunity of rejecting it. I hope it will be understood by the whole agricultural community throughout the country that while one Party in the State is prepared, in order to throw dust in the eyes of the electorate, to have an inquiry, vague in its terms, interminable in its operation, and barren in its results, they are not prepared to adopt the inquiry which may be practical, which deals with a question nearest to the hearts and interests of the farmers, and which might be carried out within the compass of a Session, and which might lead to some practical and salutary results by which it is possible and not improbable the agricultural community might be benefited. That is the proposal before us—Are we to have the miserable abstract inquiry of the Government, or the practical inquiry proposed by my hon. Friend? It is on that question we shall divide to-night.
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL
I wish to make a personal explanation. I did not say that I was in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's Committee, but I said I was in favour of the Committee suggested by my hon. Friend.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ And, it being after Midnight, Mr. Speaker proceeded to interrupt the Business.
§ Whereupon Mr. Herbert Gardner rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ LORD R. CHURCHILL
As the Motion has been agreed to, and the Amendment has been practically carried, we object to going any further.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
My right hon. Friend claimed, after the first Question had been decided, that the substantive Amendment be put, and I understand yon granted that.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
May I ask, for the information of the House, and merely for the purpose of clearing up the question, how the matter stands? I understand we have agreed that you do not now leave the Chair; and, therefore, the Question before the House is that the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman should become the substantive Motion. We are anxious to assent to that with a view of making Amendments to it. What is our position as regards Amendments?
§ * MR. SPEAKER
pointed out that the Minister for Agriculture had moved the 738 Closure, which he had accepted. Any hon. Member who wished to continue the Debate could not add a fresh Question which had never been put from the Chair.
§ Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.
§ Question, "That those words be there added," put accordingly, and agreed to.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That, in the opinion of this House, amendments of the Law are urgently needed to enable the tenant to obtain adequate compensation on the determination of a tenancy for all agricultural improvements executed by him on his holding, to give greater security of tenure and freedom to make improvements, to cultivate and to sell produce without detriment to the agricultural value of the holding, to abolish the landlord's right to distrain for rent, and to simplify and cheapen the settlement of compensation cases and other differences between landlord and tenant.
§ SUPPLY,—Committee upon Monday next.