§ *MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
moved the Second Reading of the Land Tenure Bill. The measure, he explained, was based on the Resolution of the House of Commons of June 9, 1893, passed without a Division, declaring that "Amendments of the law were urgently needed to enable the tenant to obtain adequate compensation on the determination of a tenancy for all agricultural improvements executed by him 1246 on his holding, to give greater security of tenure and freedom to make improvements, 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." It was futile for farmers to imagine that by crying to the Legislature for an artificial raising of prices they would get it. The real, true remedy, or palliative for agricultural depression, if there was one, must be in the direction of self-help. The farmers must help themselves, and farmers and landlords must meet the depression together. The first essential for self-help was security for all capital invested in the land. The object of the Bill then was to give to the tenant farmers a greater security for the capital they invested in their farms, and to cheapen the method by which compensation for improvements could be obtained. The Bill altered the law as regarded permanent improvements. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act, the consent of the landlord was required before any permanent improvements could be executed by the tenant, and compensation claimed for them. He proposed to give to the tenant the right of appeal to an arbitrator who should decide whether the proposed improvement was desirable from an agricultural point of view, and, if it was, the tenant should be allowed to execute it and claim compensation. Of course, it was necessary to safeguard the interests of the landlord, and this was done in two ways. In the first place, the arbitrator must previously have given permission on the ground that the improvement was a desirable one, and secondly, the compensation was to be estimated by the value to an incoming tenant. Therefore, it was perfectly certain no tenant would execute any of those permanent improvements unless they were really essential to his own well-being and the better cultivation of the holding. Of course a great many landlords executed improvements, and, be it said to their honour, a large number did not reap an adequate advantage from the money they had expended on the soil. Then there were many landlords who had the will but not the means to make improvements. It was very hard upon a tenant that he should be debarred 1247 from making improvements on his holding when his landlord had the will but not the means to carry out those improvements for him. Perhaps it would be said that if this provision were passed into law farmers would make unnecessary roads or cover their farms with labourers' cottages. He did not believe that there was any probability that such things would be done, as tenant farmers unfortunately had no money to lay out on rash experiments. If a tenant made improvements under this clause he would have to take the risk of their being of value to an incoming tenant. With regard to repairs, he held that if a landlord refused to execute them the tenant ought to have the right to carry out the repairs and claim compensation for so doing. The interests of the landlord were again safeguarded in the Bill, for he was given the option of carrying out the work according to his own ideas. It was only when he would not do the work that the tenant was to have the power to do it. He had received the following letter from a tenant farmer in Staffordshire:—I have been tenant on the farm I am occupying 43 years, and have spent my time, skill, and money in the improvement of it, and it is now about double the value it was when I came into it. On my complaining about some repairs of the buildings the agent had engaged to do, I was told I might give notice to quit if I were dissatisfied. On this farm I have laid down 100 acres permanent pasture, and done n great amount of haulage for new buildings and drainage.It was for tenants of this kind that he pleaded. When such a tenant left his holding he left his life's labour there. The landlord and he were not on an equal footing. The landlord could get rid of the tenant, and as the latter, if he went, would leave the results of the exertions of a lifetime in the land, he was naturally in a far worse position when bargaining with the landlord than he would be were he a free agent. He now came to the question of permanent pasture. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act to lay down permanent pasture required the consent of the landlord. The promoters of the Bill proposed that, if a tenant laid down permanent pasture successfully, he should be compensated in respect of it at the end of his tenancy, whether the consent of the landlord had been given or not. It was of 1248 course difficult to give notice that one was going to lay down permanent pasture, for seeds might be very skilfully sown but not germinate properly, so that the field failed to form good pasture.
§ MR. H. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
asked whether, in those circumstances, the tenant would be entitled to claim compensation?
§ *MR. LAMBERT
replied certainly not, because there would be no permanent pasture. But many men, by careful attention to a small piece of land, had brought it to a very high condition as pasture, and in those cases the landlord ought to pay compensation. Of course where the seeds had failed the land would not be permanent pasture, and the landlord would not have to pay. Then there was the case of market gardens, of which the area had increased in recent years from 37,000 acres to 87,000. But what encouragement was there under the present law to a man to form market gardens and to extend fruit culture? A man after devoting much time and skill to his holding could be turned out at twelve months' notice, so that his improvements were at the mercy of the landlord. Of course he should be told that landlords did not turn their tenants out; that they were only too glad to keep a good tenant. Well, if they really were only too glad to keep a good and improving tenant this Bill would not affect them, because it only proposed that compensation should be given when a tenant was compelled to quit by the act of the landlord "unreasonably and without good and sufficient cause." Tenants who, as dairy-farmers, were trying to compete against the foreigner in the production of butter; men who had succeeded in forming local connections with the object of ousting the middleman, who so often got so large a share of the farmer's profits; tenants who had invested their capital in the land: all these ought to be placed in a position to meet their landlords on fair and equal terms. It generally caused great loss to a tenant when he had to leave his holding, for he lost his connection, he had perhaps to sell his stock at ruinous prices, and he might have to take a farm elsewhere under conditions which were new to him with the result that he might fail at first to work the soil profitably. In these cases the law pressed most severely 1249 upon a good farmer. If a farmer made improvements which raised the rental value of the farm from £200 to £250 he could never hope to got a reduction of rent because the landlord would say that he could let the farm to somebody else. If, on the other hand, a tenant wrecked a farm, and so reduced its rental value, the landlord, recognising that he could not re-let it, was glad that the tenant should remain on. The good farmer, therefore, as compared with the bad, was penalised. He did not believe that landlords had all the vices that flesh was heir to, neither had they all the virtues; and by this Bill they would be prevented from turning out "unreasonably and without sufficient cause" an improving tenant without compensating him for disturbance in addition to his improvements. This clause for compensation for disturbance would only affect the bad landlords; there were some bad landlords, although probably the majority of landlords were good. It would restrain bad landlords from evicting their tenants, but would do no injury whatever to any landlord who was desirous of keeping a good tenant. Then the Bill proposed to alter the law with regard to the consumption of homegrown corn. At present, if a farmer bought corn from the outside, and consumed it on the holding, he could claim compensation, but if he produced the corn on the holding he could not claim any compensation for its consumption. This was a great injustice, especially as corn had gone down to such low prices, it paid a farmer much better to consume his home-grown corn than to sell it. The alterations which the Bill would effect would be just to the tenant, and not unjust to the land lord. Another provision said that a farmer should be compensated, at the end of his tenancy, for continuous good farming. This would supply farmers with an inducement to cultivate their holdings well up to the time of leaving. Mr. Clare S. Read had said that at present it paid a man better to leave his farm in a foul than in a fertile condition. He wanted to alter this state of affairs, and to encourage tenants to leave their farms in a fertile state. He had seen that it had been said that under this Bill it would be possible for a yearly tenant to claim compensation at 1250 the end of each year. That, however was not his intention, and he did not believe that the Bill would have that effect. If it did he would be quite willing to insert words to prevent it. He proposed to give the tenant a claim for compensation in respect of damage by game, for it was impossible for a farmer to cultivate his holding properly and to pay his rent if his crops were consumed by game. In respect of procedure under this Bill, it was proposed to put the tenant and the landlord on a footing of absolute equality. Either of them desiring to make a claim would have to do so 28 days before the termination of the tenancy. Under the existing law the tenant must lodge his claim two months before, but the landlord did not need to do so until 14 days after the determination of the tenancy. This placed the landlord in a very favourable position, because he was enabled to see exactly what the tenant's claims were, and then to put in extravagant counter-claims, as was often done, with the object of frightening the tenant out of court. It was proposed to give the landlord a power which he did not at present possess. Where a tenant had farmed badly, and deteriorated the fertility of the holding, the landlord was to be enabled to claim compensation for such deterioration. If this provision in the Bill was thought to be not strong enough he was prepared to strengthen it, for he thought it absolutely essential that a landlord should be protected against a tenant who was likely to wreck his farm. It was proposed that an arbitrator should be appointed by the County Court on the application of either party to settle disputes. The promoters of the Bill desired to make the settlement of these disputes as cheap and as easy as possible. The Arbitrator would be selected from a list of practical men nominated by the County Council. He would also have to be approved and his fees regulated by the Board of Agriculture, and his appointment would hold for three years. Another provision in the Bill was to give the tenant freedom in the cropping of his farm and in the sale of his produce. What business man would take a business on the condition that he worked it in a particular way? It 1251 might be contended that these restrictive agreements were not enforced; but why should they exist at all? Their existence shewed too clearly that the farmers were not free agents in taking farms. If they were they would not sign these restricting agreements. The Bill also proposed to abolish the landlord's right of distress for rent. That question had been before the House many times. In 1881 the abolition was carried, and again in 1893; so that the House had again and again expressed its opinion that the landlord ought to be placed on terms of equality with other creditors. He had brought this Bill before the House in the hope that it might be of some benefit to the agricultural community, that it might develop those qualities of self-reliance and self-respect in the agriculturist which were so necessary to his success, and it was with the view of benefiting a long-suffering class that he commended the Bill to the favourable attention of the House.
§ *MR. A. BILLSON (Devon, Barnstaple)
thought the House fortunate in having had this important matter laid before it by an hon. Member who had had so intimate and practical experience of the subject. He represented the Division adjoining that represented by the hon. Gentleman, and he was able to say that the farmers were looking anxiously for this measure. It was only candid to admit that he had himself no practical experimental knowledge on this subject, but he had that knowledge which a business man could acquire who went in to a Division and made himself acquainted with the wants of the people; and it was impossible for a business man to go amongst the farmers without being struck by the utterly un-businesslike arrangements under which their trade was carried on. The first necessity was for the farmer to have security in his holding, so that he could get out of it what he put into it. He, more than any other trader, had to rely upon the wise mercies of hope. But the effect of the present system was to turn all hope away from the farmer, because, although he spent his strength in the cultivation of his holding, he could never be sure that he would reap the reward of his labours. He knew that there were very many landlords who had a sincere desire for the benefit of their 1252 tenants, and possibly, when a landlord was both wealthy and fair-minded, no condition of holding could be better. But the accidents of fortune occurred to all, and even the generous landlord might become insolvent, or his estate might have to be administered by trustees according to law. What the farmer required was that when he was handed over to the tender mercies of those who were forced to regard only what was strictly the law, the law should be such as to enable him to get justice. There had, no doubt, been a great many reductions in rent made, but generally, he feared, they had come too late. It was not until the tenant had exhausted all his capital that the reduction in rent came. Then as to security of tenure as means of obtaining a fair rent. He knew that in the opinion of many farmers the Bill ought to go further in this respect. There was a growing feeling among them that there ought to be an independent tribunal to which they could appeal to have a fair rent fixed. That, however, was not in the Bill, and, perhaps, at present the opinion of the country would not be in favour of such a step. The other day the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford complained that the country was not alive to the realities of agricultural depression, and he was inclined to agree with him. But he laid the blame for that at the door of the right hon. Gentleman and his friends. He thought it was partly owing to the manner in which hon. Members opposite had discussed the matter, that agricultural depression had not received more attention. Hon. Members spoke too often as though agricultural depression meant nothing more than the depreciation of their investments. Other hon. Members who have had experience of depreciation in investments in other directions, were not able to give landlords their sympathy. Agricultural depression meant two different things. As he had said, in the view of hon. Members opposite it meant depreciation in their investments. It meant also that the trade of the farmer could not now be carried on at a profit, and that the farmers and the labourers who were dependent on them were suffering greatly. There was no other industry in the country in which a man would 1253 not succeed if he had sufficient capital and energy. Was it not time then that the House should interfere and endeavour to make such alterations as would give the farmers an opportunity of making their trade a prosperous one? Hon. Members opposite often said that if the farmer had the land rent free he could not make it pay. He was not disposed to say that there might not come a time when, in consequence of foreign competition, a drastic change in our economic formulas might be necessary; but a change of that kind would never be entered upon until every other method had been tried. The land must be dealt with on a businesslike basis. The landlord expected more than the economic value of the land. He expected a territorial prestige; he expected the game to be kept up for him; nay, as they read in the Reports of the Welsh Land Commission, he even made a point of his tenant being of the same religious persuasion as himself; but the moment these considerations were admitted, the economic value of the land was interfered with. He would not have been sorry if the Bill had gone a little farther in respect to game. The farmer, in his opinion, ought to have possession of everything the land produced. What they strongly objected to was the shooting being let to some stranger, who went amongst them without the same friendly spirit the landlord showed. Therefore, he hoped that before long, game, both winged game and ground game, would become the property of the farmer. With regard to the abolition of distress for rent, hon. Members opposite would probably say that the first man to suffer from it would be the tenant; but he had too high an opinion of English landlords to believe that that would be the case. Why should not landlords give credit in the same way another man gave credit? Why was the man who supplied the seed or the manure for the purpose of producing the crop to stand aside in the case of the tenant's failure and allow the landlord to take up the whole of the produce of the soil which had been made possible only through the expenditure upon it? This was an alteration which would be of benefit to the landlords themselves; it would induce them to take only tenants who had character and capital; and it would give this advantage to tenants, that 1254 a good man would not be overbid by someone not likely to farm well, and who was accepted only because he was able to give absolute security for the rent. He was glad the Bill had been brought before the House; and he was sure it would receive favourable consideration from many Members of the Opposition. This was not in any sense a Party question; it was one in which all Parties and all sections of the community were interested; and he hoped it would be possible to send the Bill to the Grand Committee on Trade and Agriculture, so that, if practical experience suggested that any changes were desirable, the Bill might be moulded into a satisfactory shape.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL (York, E. R., Holderness)
rose to move as an Amendment—That this House, while acknowledging that the Agricultural Holdings Act may be amended with advantage, refuses to sanction a measure containing provisions which it believes would he detrimental to the interests of owners and occupiers alike.He said the Bill had been moved and seconded with great moderation of language; but the Seconder seemed hardly to have shaken off a quaint prejudice against landlords which closer contact with them would have corrected. The Mover urged that the Bill was based on a Resolution passed by the House in 1893. Undoubtedly the Bill did give effect to some terms of that Resolution, but it went much further than was suggested by, or dreamt of, by many of those who supported that Resolution. There were two schools of thought upon this subject. One school believed that, so long as a tenant was compensated for any improvements he had made, it was best for the community, for agriculture, and for tenants that landlords should be left the fullest and most complete power to make contracts with their tenants. The other school held that landlords were somewhat of an excrescence on our social system, that they were not men to be trusted with the great responsibilities they had discharged for hundreds of years, that the Legislature ought to intervene and prevent them making use of their property as they pleased, and that, either by an inelastic and rigid law, or by the interposition of some official of the State, all 1255 questions between landlords and tenants should be disposed of. The collision of these two schools of thought raised the question whether we should retain that freedom of contract under which Great Britain had so long been, if not the first, among the first of the agricultural nations of the world, whether in regard to the quality of produce or the beauty of our herds and flocks. There were in the Bill five proposals of great scope on which he desired to comment. The second clause was, perhaps, the most important of the whole Bill, because it gave power to a tenant to make any improvements whatever, nominally with the consent of the landlord, but practically without it. An arbitrator, it was true, was to be called in; but for the first time an arbitrator or umpire was to decide, not a question of fact, but a question of opinion; and that was a very broad distinction. A tenant might want to turn an ordinary farm into a dairy farm, and, having done so, he might leave, having made an unsuccessful experiment at the expense of the landlord. Or a tenant might wish to increase his dairy produce, and for that purpose insist on building byres for cows which might be useless to the next tenant. An arbitrator, arbitrarily appointed, was less likely than the landlord, or his agent, to know the best method of working an estate. By limiting a landlord's power to work an estate the Bill would take away from him a property which was real and valuable, and expose him to the possibility of great expense at the mere ipse dixit of an arbitrator; and this was a doctrine which the Opposition could not accept. The clause in the Bill as to freedom of cropping proposed to sweep away the restrictions which centuries of experience had shown to be necessary. Freedom of cropping to an industrious and skilful tenant was a wise concession on the part of the landlord; but it was a very different thing to propose that all should have this freedom alike—good tenants and bad, experienced tenants and novices—and liberty to try experiments at the expense of the landlord. For centuries a system of rotation of crops had been found to be essential to agriculture, and it would not be to the interest of landlord or tenant to alter it. 1256 With regard to the clause as to compensation for disturbance, was it not the duty of a landlord caring for the land, and anxious to get the best results from it, to get rid of a tenant if, long before he could prove it before an arbitrator, he saw that the tenant was farming the land badly? Besides, he himself did not see why an indifferent tenant should be compensated when his landlord deemed it desirable to get rid of him. The Bill made no distinction between a bad tenant and a good tenant disturbed by the mere whim of the landlord.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL
But before you could show good and sufficient cause before an arbitrator a skilful person would discover that the tenant was injuring his land.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL
Yes, but to pretend that an arbitrator can look round the estate and say, "It is not what it was three years ago" is absurd, and no one knows that better than the hon. Member for South Molton. Continuing, Captain Bethell said the hon. Member for South Molton said the Conservative Party were in the habit of placing difficulties in the way of the reform of agriculture. However that might be, the Conservative Party had always declared their wish and anxiety to give tenants full and complete compensation for the money they might have expended on improvements. The Central Chamber of Agriculture in 1894, when the hon. Member was President, considered the subject fully and made certain suggestions, but none of these supported the view of the promoters of this Bill. There was no suggestion from that representative body that the tenant should be allowed to make vast improvements and incur pecuniary risks without the consent of the landlord. On the contrary, the Report of the Chamber confined itself to some important questions of 1257 detail about which there might be differences of opinion, but which certainly would not have met with united opposition from the Conservative Benches. Under these circumstances he was quite unable to give his support to this Bill. On the contrary, he felt he was justified alike by the views held by his constituents and considerations of equity to oppose a Bill of this sort to the best of his ability. In his constituency the view was expressed that the Agricultural Holdings Act should be modified, if possible, in the sense of trying to make the obtaining of compensation cheaper than it was now, but he had never heard recommended the changes proposed by this Bill. To make the obtaining of compensation cheaper was extremely difficult. The hon. Member for South Molton proposed to substitute one arbitrator for the existing possible three. He did not know whether that would satisfy the farmers, but it was admitted that to make the obtaining of compensation cheaper was one of the most difficult questions in connection with the Agricultural Holdings Act. In conclusion, on the ground of duty to his constituents and equitable considerations, he begged to move:—That this House, while acknowledging that the Agricultural Holdings Act may be amended with advantage, refuses to sanction a measure containing provisions which it believes would be detrimental to the interest of owners and occupiers alike.
§ MR. J. M. RICHARDSON (Lincoln, Brigg)
said that, as he represented a Division of one of the largest and most highly farmed districts in Lincolnshire, and had been born there and lived there all his life, he might perhaps claim to be acquainted with the requirements and wishes of the tenant farmers of that part of the country. He wished to draw the attention of the House particularly to that portion of the Bill which related to the abolition of the law of distress, because that would peculiarly affect the Lincolnshire custom of tenant-right under which generations of tenant farmers had held their farms, and which would destroy the cordial relations between landlords and their tenants on which the prosperity and well-being of agriculture depended. The present certainly was not the most opportune 1258 time for introducing a measure of this kind, and it would have been better if the hon. Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) had waited for the Report of the Agricultural Commission. The hon. Member should certainly have submitted the measure to the various Chambers of Agriculture throughout the country, in order that they might have considered it and have expressed their views with regard to it before he had introduced it into that House. If such a measure were introduced at all it should have been brought in on the responsibility of the Government when it might have been discussed in a full House. If the hon. Member for South Molton thought that he was benefiting the smaller tenants by this Bill he was very much mistaken, because the present law of distress operated greatly to the advantage of such smaller tenants. Under the existing Lincolnshire custom it was the practice for the landlords to give their tenants four months' credit and in many cases twelve months' credit, but if the law of distress were abolished landlords would be compelled to insist upon the punctual payment of the rent, and in that case the small farmer would have to sell his corn directly it was reaped, at considerable disadvantage. With regard to the Lincolnshire custom, Mr. Wilson Fox, the assistant Commissioner appointed by the Royal Commission on Agriculture, in his Report, said:—''That the custom has existed so long in Lincolnshire that all parties are thoroughly accustomed to it; that the procedure is simple and inexpensive; that the valuers are a body of men frequently with a thorough practical knowledge of farming, on whose impartiality, experience, and judgment the farmers rely; that moderate compensation is given both on the claim and counter-claim. But I believe the real success of the custom lies in the procedure. The cardinal difference in the procedure of the custom, and of the Agricultural Holdings Act, is this, that in the former case all negotiations take place between outgoing tenant and incoming tenant, the landlord in practice having nothing whatever to do with the proceedings, unless there happened to be no incoming tenant, whereas under the Act the negotiations practically take place between the outgoing tenant and the landlord.Lord Carrington also said, in reference to this subject, that the Lincolnshire custom was better than any Agricultural Holdings Act could be for the tenants. Again, Mr. Wilson Fox, in his Report, said that the tenants also recognised that 1259 the Act was less beneficial to them than the custom. They said:—We are all satisfied with the custom. We want nothing else. Nothing can be better for us. The Agricultural Holdings Act is for the landlords, and the custom for the tenants. He would only make one further quotation upon this point from Mr. Fox's Report. The farmers at Grimsby said:—We feel perfectly secure under our custom. We take out what we put into the land'; or of the farmers at Horncastle; Men farm high up to the end of their tenancies, as they are properly compensated.'With regard to the proposed abolition of the law of Distress, Mr. Fox said:—I found nearly all the Lincolnshire farmers in favour of the present law of distress. They stated that it enabled landowners to give them credit for rent, and that its abolition would particularly injure foremen and labourers, with but little capital and no credit, who were anxious to take small farms. It was generally stated that landowners in Lincolnshire very seldom put the law into operation. In more than one case I heard of it having been done rather with a view to help the tenant than the landlord. At the meeting at Horncastle, at which 42 farmers were present, Mr. Taylor Sharpe, who was one of the few witnesses in Lincolnshire who advocated a Land Court, spoke strongly against the abolition of the law of distress. He said the present law was most distinctly beneficial for farmers, and that it would be disadvantageous to them to alter it. A resolution was unanimously passed in favour of its retention, and at the meeting at Grimsby it was stated; The law of distress is in the interest of the tenants.' The Lincolnshire Chamber of Agriculture stated: ' It is an advantage to tenants to have the law of distress, as they are enabled to take farms with less capital.' At the meeting at Brigg the following statement was made by a farmer and endorsed by those present: 'Keep the law of distress as it is. The tenant had much better fall into his landlord's hands than anyone else's. We believe the landowners take the best men they can, and do not believe the existence of the law of distress enhances the value of land.' At the Grimsby meeting it was said: 'On the whole the law of distress is beneficial to the tenant farmers.' The Lincolnshire Agricultural Society spoke in favour of the retention of the present law. They stated it made little difference to men with capital, though, if its existence did injure them through the value of rent being enhanced, they were still in favour of the law, as its abolition would injure men of smaller moans. I have before me replies from a number of persons who are in favour of the law remaining as it is, including Mr. Sowerby, Mr. Grummit (President of the Kesteven Society) Mr. W. H. Ward, Mr Norton Scorer, and Mr. Richard Bettinson. Several small tenants who had been foremen or labourers said that if the law of distress were abolished it would prevent small men rising.1260 He had never heard of a landlord objecting to his tenant putting down permanent pasture; on the contrary, the landlord frequently supplied the seed for the purpose. If the Bill became law it would do a great deal to weaken the cordial feeling that now existed between landlords and their tenants, and that at a time when agriculture was in a most deplorable condition. As to compensation for unexhausted improvements, that was a subject for arrangement between the outgoing and the incoming tenants, and both ought to be protected. He begged to second the Amendment.
§ *DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
said, that the privilege of introducing a Bill on a Wednesday afternoon was not to be lightly thrown away by a private Member, and he thought that the hon. Member for South Molton would have been qualified for a lunatic asylum if he had refrained from introducing this Bill because the Agricultural Commission had not reported, or had waited until the measure had been submitted to the Chambers of Agriculture. In his opinion the Amendment was their old friend the Law of Hypothec in disguise. He congratulated the Conservative Party upon having the golden opportunity offered them of showing their real interest in the tenant farmer by supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. The object of the Bill was to remove difficulties that now existed in the way of agriculture, and which prevented the Agricultural Holdings Act from being as useful as it otherwise might be. They were told that the compensation was to be such compensation as fairly represented the value of improvement to an incoming tenant, but he did not quite, understand on what practical principle this asset was to be assessed or what practical arrangements were to be made between incoming and outgoing tenant. The Bill laid down a very broad proposition with regard to compensation for improvements, and suppose neither the landlord nor the tenant had got any money to make improvements which were absolutely necessary what was to happen then? [Laughter, and Mr. T. W. RUSSELL: "Go to the State."] His hon. Friend the member for Ireland [laughter] said "Go to the State". Well, something of the kind must be introduced, some form of loan on easy terms must be suggested, by 1261 which an impecunious landlord or tenant, or both, might lay their heads together and so be enabled to get money to start afresh. His hon. Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill, was severe on the provisions with regard to freedom of cropping. He should have thought that experience, instead of crystallizing these old-fashioned ideas and notions, would have abolished all the absurd restrictions by which tenants used to be bound. He had himself some experience of practical agriculture, and he had found it enormously to his advantage to give the tenant, under certain restrictions, laid down in this Bill, [ironical laughter]— hon. Members who laughed had not apparently taken the elementary precaution to read the Bill—freedom to cultivate the land as he pleased, up to the last five or six years of his term, when he was expected to put the land back into the state of rotation under which he took the farm to begin with. Personally he should like to see rents also fixed by arbitration. He was glad to see the principle of arbitration running all through the Bill, and he presumed the County Council would be able, from their knowledge, to appoint a man of experience in the county to carry out the duties of arbitration. The remarks of his hon. Friend opposite on the subject were bogey remarks. Clause 6, dealing with compensation for disturbance, raised a point of the highest importance. The Bill practically gave the tenant fixity of tenure, and unless that was provided, and unless absolute security was given that the rent would not be raised on a tenant's improvements, unless these great principles could be firmly established, then the condition of agriculture was hopeless indeed.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
desired to approach the consideration of the Bill in the spirit of the hon. Member who introduced it; that was to say, that it was not an electioneering or humbugging device but a genuine attempt to benefit agriculture. The real point at issue, however, between himself and hon. Members opposite was whether the Bill would have the effect of bringing more capital to support the national industry of agriculture or not. The whole of the Bill was based upon the conception that there was in the possession of tenant farmers at the 1262 present time a certain amount of capital which they were not inclined to use in consequence of the restrictions to which they were at present subject, but which they would use if those restrictions were removed. He contended, on the other side, that the capital at the command of the tenants was not the only capital which was to be considered, but also that supposed to be at the command of the owners of land. And what he was afraid of, what, he thought, practical experience would be inclined to teach, was that to proceed to legislate on the principles of this Bill would be to frighten away from agriculture more capital than they would induce to be expended upon it. That was not an unreasonable way in which to examine this question. The principle of the Bill seemed to strike a heavy blow at one of the main reasons which induced owners to spend money upon their land—namely, the feeling of ownership and the pride of possession. If they took away from owners that pride of possession and told them they were not fit people to manage their own estates, and that they must subordinate their opinion of what was right and helpful to the opinion of an arbitrator, a third person, they would deprive owners of one of the main reasons which, hitherto, had induced them to spend money freely in support of agriculture. It was hard that it should be assumed that the owners of property were the only class who knew nothing about the land and were not interested in the development of the laud to the utmost extent. When the hon. Gentleman set free some of the capital he had sunk in other industries and invested it in agriculture, his desire for the development of agriculture would be less difficult to understand. The tendency of the Bill would undoubtedly be to reduce the interest of the landlord in the land, and thereby to discourage him in spending money on his property. He thought that reason alone was sufficient to justify his attitude of opposition to the Bill. He objected to the Bill on the broad ground that its proposals tended to frighten away capital from the land, and although it might have the support of the President of the Board of Agriculture, those who regarded agriculture from a national point of view could never look upon it 1263 with favour. He, therefore, thought that the principle of overriding the owner of property by an outside arbitrator was a dangerous principle, and formed one of the chief blots of the Bill. No doubt they should hear expressed in the course of the Debate the extremely prejudiced, bigoted, and bitter principles in regard to the ownership of land which prevailed amongst some Members who never missed a chance of denouncing landlordism. But as extreme prejudice and extreme bitterness were always allied with extreme ignorance, he hoped those views would not carry weight with Members who desired to come to a sensible conclusion in the matter. The remarks of the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire were more relevant to the Scotch system than to the English system. The hon. Member suggested that the practice in Scotland was to allow the tenants free cropping during most of the term of the lease, but to insist during the last year or so that they should stick to the strict terms of the agreement. But it should be remembered that, while in Scotland there was a system of long leases, in England the system was one of short leases and annual tenancies. At present English tenants were declining long tenancies. They believed they were better off under short leases than under long leases. Therefore, the objection as to long leaseholders did not come into play in England generally. The hon. Member who preceded him expressed the desire that a Court should be established for regulating matters in dispute between owners and occupiers. That did not come within the purview of the Bill; but the friends of the agricultural interest should strongly set their faces against any suggestion which went in the direction of establishing in England that system of dual ownership which had been the curse of Ireland. It was suggested by the hon. Member who introduced the Bill that in it there lay the germs of a possible development of the English land system towards the Irish system; but he was sure all friends of English agriculture would agree that that would be a most fatal tendency to introduce into English land legislation. But the question was, would it be advantageous to the tenant that he should be encouraged by legislation of this sort to embark on the 1264 agricultural schemes on which the promoters of the Bill desired that he should embark? It was laid down in the first clause that, where a tenant had spent money on improvements, he should be entitled at the determination of his tenancy to obtain from the landlord such sum as fairly represented the value of the improvements to the incoming tenant. He understood the spirit of the clause and the force of the arguments that could be addressed in its support. But he should like to relate to the House a case that had come within his own practical experience within the last few days. A friend of his, a tenant, took a large farm which he desired to occupy for feeding purposes, and on which he expended his capital with a view to making it a feeding farm. He asked the landlord for a large expenditure on buildings in order to qualify the lands for a feeding farm. At least £500 was spent on buildings. Within the last few months the tenant gave up the farm. His successor turned it into a dairy farm, considering that it was impossible for him to carry on the farm profitably as a feeding farm, and absolutely the work that was now going on on the lands was the demolition and destruction and conversion of the whole of that £500 worth of buildings. Therefore every tenant would be at an absolute loss in such expenditure on improvements, should a change in agriculture make the improvements worthless to the incoming tenant. For that reason he thought it would be much wiser to continue the present system, under which the landlord found the money for the improvements if he considered them necessary, and ran all the incidental risks. Then there was another objection to the clause. Many of them were interested in the development of small holdings, and desired to do everything possible to encourage owners of land to carry out that policy. But the Bill militated against the system of small holdings, because it would make the breaking up of large holdings much more difficult than hitherto. It might often happen, for instance, that the landlord intended to break up a farm into small farms at the determination of the existing tenancy, but if a large number of buildings were erected at a great cost in the centre of the farm, the landlord 1265 would be absolutely unable to break up the farm for small holdings, no matter how desirous he might be to do so. He also thought the provision under which the tenant could claim for improvements a curious one. It was manifestly taken from the schedule of works laid down by the Central Chamber of Agriculture, for which the consent of the landlord was required. But under the Bill, if the assent of the landlord had not been given, there was to be a reference to an arbitrator. That was an overriding of what the united wisdom of the representatives of the Chambers of Agriculture thought sufficient for the purpose. It was rather hard, indeed, that what that large and representative body considered sufficient a few months ago, should not be thought sufficient for the application of the principle of the Bill. With regard to permanent pasture, he considered that, practically and really, there was no difficulty to be met as the matter now stood. He did not think that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill could give any instances of landlords having refused to assist tenants to lay down land in permanent pasture.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
said, then the question was whether the tenant was right or the landlord right in that instance.
§ *MR. LAMBERT
I lived close to the farm which I rented, while the landlord lived a long distance away.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
said, there were many cases in which the owner was as well acquainted as the occupier with the character of the land. He had had cases in which the tenants were anxious to lay down permanent pasture on land of a nature and quality which would not carry permanent pasture. In these circumstances, it was rather hard that the landlord should have to be responsible for money which, in his opinion, was going to be wasted. He entirely agreed with the hon. Member that the tenant should be compensated for the consumption of corn grown upon his own holding—indeed, he believed he was the first Member to advocate that principle in this House. Hitherto it was generally understood that there was to be no limit to good farming, and he, therefore, did not 1266 think it wise to lay it down that a tenant should only farm so far well, and that unless he got more he was not to farm as well as was possible. There ought to be a straightforward arrangement that he should do his best provided he was assured that he would be recouped for all money which he had spent upon his holding. The hon. Member said, with what seemed on the surface great justice, that he would provide that the owner should be recouped for any deterioration in the condition of his farm owing to bad farming. That was easy to say, but unless an owner interfered very promptly—as, perhaps, in the future he would have to do—with a tenant who did not seem to be farming well, he would probably find, when the deterioration had taken place, that the tenant had no money out of which he could be recouped. Therefore he believed that, although the proposal seemed fair, the landlord would practically have a very small chance of obtaining compensation, while, on the other hand, the position of a tenant who had a claim was assured. He believed the abolition of the law of distraint was not desired by the general body of the tenant farmers, who distinctly acknowledged that the law had enabled them to receive that consideration and credit which, at various times in their career, was of vital importance to them. This was a measure of which advantage would be taken only by the richer and larger occupiers. The larger tenants would be able to force the landlord's hand in reference to his expenditure upon his estate, and of necessity he would be obliged to give up other expenditure which he might have contemplated on smaller farms. That concentration of expenditure could not be beneficial to agriculture generally. Concluding, he said, nothing could be more dangerous or subversive to agriculture than the introduction of uncertain arrangements, which might give rise to litigation, and the Bill contained many points which would be severely contested, and which would lead to almost unending disputes. Who was to determine what was an unreasonable reason why a landlord should wish to get rid of his tenant. On his side of the House they were willing to guard jealously, rigidly, and generously, the rights of a tenant with regard to his expenditure on the 1267 improvement of his holding. But that ought to be the limit of his claim on his landlord. In opposing the Bill, he did not mean to suggest that it did not contain provisions which might be introduced into another Bill with advantage. But from his experience he was convinced that the Bill, instead of introducing a greater flow of capital to the support of agriculture, would frighten capital away, and therefore it must, in the long run, be detrimental to the interests of all classes connected with agriculture, whether labourers, occupiers, or landowners.
§ *MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said, the House had heard three interesting speeches from the Benches opposite. He could not help wishing that they had had the advantage of the presence of his hon. and gallant Friends the Members for Holderness and for Shropshire at the Central Chamber of Agriculture and the Royal Commission on Agriculture, when the subject was discussed closely and in detail, and when evidence was taken on these subjects. He had been on both those bodies, and was convinced that in that case their views would have been different. With respect to the view taken of the Bill by the hon. and gallant Member for Holder-ness, that it was of a revolutionary character, and contained proposals which such practical bodies as the Chambers of Agriculture in the country would not assent to that view had absolutely no foundation. He would challenge contradiction to this statement, that the whole of the main proposals of the Bill, with the single exception of the proposal that related to the abolition of the Law of Distress, had been, in one form or another, at one time or another, or in one place or another, adopted by the Central and Associated Chambers of Agriculture, and had received the support of those bodies, which were composed of the most practical agriculturists of this country.
MR. GRANT LAWSON (York, N. R., Thirsk)
asked the hon. Member whether he intended to convey that the question dealt with in Part 3 of the Schedule of the Bill with regard to laying down permanent pasture had been considered and approved by the Central Chamber of Agriculture?
§ *MR. CHANNING
said, there were, of course, points of detail of that kind in the Schedule to which his remark would 1268 not apply; permanent pasture had been placed in Part 2 by the Chambers; but what he intended to state was, that the main proposals of the measure had received the assent of the Chambers of Agriculture.
§ CAPTAIN BETHELL
asked whether the hon. Member referred to the provision enabling the tenant to make first-class improvements without the consent of the landlord?
§ *MR. CHANNING
said, he was just about to mention that the Committee appointed by the Central Chamber of Agriculture to consider necessary Amendments of the Agricultural Holdings Act, in the first draft of their Report actually approved the very principle which both his hon. and gallant Friends opposite condemned as so revolutionary and unsatisfactory—namely, giving to the tenant the right to compensation for first-class improvements made by him without the consent of the landlord, but with the approval of an arbitrator. The proposal, headmitted, was afterwards struck out at the final revision by a narrow majority; he alluded to the point in order to remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that it had been considered and in one form approved by the Chambers of Agriculture. He hoped, in those circumstances, that the whole subject would be discussed in a thoroughly practical spirit. The proposal to give freedom of cropping and sale of produce had been sharply criticised, and a great deal had been made of protecting the landlords against the deterioration of the land, but he would point out that the Bill gave protection, because it insisted that there should be provision made against the deterioration of the soil. He would have preferred the words of the clause in his own Bill requiring that an adequate manurial return should be made; but not only did this Bill give protection to the landlord in this particular clause, but it also protected the interests of the owner in two other directions demanded by the Central Chamber of Agriculture. It proposed that the landlord should have the right of claiming for dilapidations and deteriorations under the Agricultural Holdings Act, and not to have to wait as now till the tenant had made a claim for improvements. There would be nothing to prevent him from giving notice of his claims for 1269 damage, whether the tenant claimed for improvements or not. Another clause provided that a scheduled record of the condition of the holding, of the several fields, buildings, drains and roads, should made at the entry upon new tenancies, and a similar record could be obtained at any time by either party in existing tenancies. This afforded a starting-point for the protection of the land lord and the tenant alike. He was glad to hear the remarks of his hon. and gallant Friend as to the principle he was willing to assent to in dealing with this question of agricultural land, that the, right of the tenant to his improvements should be rigidly and generously guaranteed, and in his opinion the Bill did exactly what his hon. and gallant Friend desired. In regard to the Bill, he would mention that it was, with the exception of two clauses, made up of the more important clauses of his own Bill, which had been for some years before the House, and the main principles of it were laid before the House in the Resolution debated on June 9th, 1893, and the House then assented without division to very nearly every proposition contained in this Bill. There was then some talk of a Select Committee, but it was not moved for. The Amendment now standing on the Paper was to the effect that this measure would be detrimental to agriculture. It had been argued that it would frighten away capital, but his main reason for supporting the Bill was to prevent the drain on tenants' capital. A great deal had been said in this debate as to landlords' capital. Nobody recognised more than he did the splendid service to agriculture of the English landlords in the past two or three generations in the equipment and upon the repairs of their estates, but he would submit that there was lurking under the reasoning dealing with this subject a fallacy which deserved to be exposed. Some people still entertained an idea that with regard to this outlay, made by landlords upon their estates, it should be treated as if it were a permanent and perpetual investment, and that, even where the whole outlay had been repaid in rents, the landlord was entitled to interest upon the whole value which he and his predecessors had expended on their estate, 1270 as if it were tithe rent charge or consols. He had come upon an amusing instance of this in one of the reports of the Assistant Commissioners. An Essex landlord expended in the purchase of his estate, and in improvements upon it, £200,000; the landlord admitted that the present value of the estate was only £50,000 if put up for sale in the market. This was no doubt lamentable, as was also the fact that the rental of the property had fallen from about £7,000 to below £4,000 a year. The landlord put his case in these words—I have no rent from my land; I have only 4 per cent. on the cost of buildings, drains, and fences.The fallacy lay in the contention of the landlord that the rental ought to be calculated as interest on the whole of the £200,000, instead of upon £50,000, the present value of his estate. Upon this, after deducting 33 per cent. for repairs, he would still have 5½ per cent. interest upon the market value of his estate. He wished they could do something to raise the value of agricultural land; but a landlord could not fairly expect a greater interest than the immediate market value of the land enabled him to claim. Such a fallacy led to mischief and unjust overrenting. The whole of this Bill rested on a principle which might be very fully illustrated from the evidence of the Royal Commission; but which he would not now attempt to deal with at any very great length. The principle upon which he insisted was that the whole future of agriculture—the past, the present, and the future of agriculture—depended upon the retention in the hands of the tenant farmers themselves of adequate capital to do the every-day work on the farm, to keep the farm in good cultivation, and to make both ends meet in the outgoings. That capital should not be allowed to be whittled away or cut down, either by over-renting or by restrictions preventing its application to the every-day work of the farm. The right hon. Member for Sleaford (Mr. Chaplin), had quoted, a few days, ago, a striking passage from Mr. Hunter Pringle's report on Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire as to the disastrous and almost bankrupt position of farmers. That might be slightly exaggerated, but in any case 1271 he would remark that in Northampton-shire many farmers made enormous personal sacrifices to carry on the work of their farms, and many of them were doing their best, even now, at a loss, to keep up their farms in a satisfactory and efficient manner. Was it not then, he asked, still worth while to move in this matter? When once the capital of the tenant, however capable he might be, was cut down below the indispensable minimum, they had the beginning of the end. He had to cut his expenses down one after another, and, if he broke, the new man had to spend half his capital to get the farm into good heart again, and then had not enough left for working it. If he went in turn, the farm wreckers, who were the very pests of agriculture, came in to complete the destruction of the holding. This Bill would encourage the good farmer and enable those pests to be swept away. The key of the whole situation was that it was impossible for agriculture to go on satisfactorily where the tenant's working capital was cut down too low. Rents must be reduced, so that the tenant was left in enjoyment of his own improvements. He would, no doubt, be told that there had been enormous reductions of rent all over the country, but he did not think that the reductions were really sufficient. The fall in agricultural rents in the 20 years between the seventies and 1892 was about 20 to 25 per cent., that was to say from about 50 millions to a little less than 40 millions; but Mr. Giffen's figures given to the Commission showed that the fall in the value of the total agricultural products of this country in the same period might be put down at the difference between 300 millions and 200 millions sterling. Those figures created the presumption that rents had not been reduced in proportion to the fall in prices. Another point to which he wished to draw special attention, and which afforded a real lesson for the future, was that the reductions of rent had always been behind the time at which the real pressure had come upon the tenant. Agriculture in Essex began to decline in 1875, and the drop in rents did not take place till well on in the eighties. Last year he visited a farm of 300 or 400 acres, where up to 1885 the rent was £548, including the tithe, with possibly 1272 occasional abatements. In the old times it supported 12 labourers with their families. Now it was let for £150, the landlord paying the tithe, and no labourers whatever were employed. He had spoken to both tenants, the former and the present, and he came to the conclusion that if the reduction in rent had been made as prices fell the original tenant would probably have been able to carry on the farm satisfactorily, to the advantage of the landlord as well as to his own. A great deal had been said in praise of Lincolnshire, and he therefore wished to refer to evidence by an important land agent, which showed where the mischief had begun. This agent said of an estate in North Lincolnshire:—Matters continued steadily there up to 1887, and the reason was that the tenants were all men of substance and capital, and they bore the loss for some considerable period without troubling the proprietors. In 1887 there had to be a reduction of 40 per cent., and since then it had been a serious case all through.''This showed that the overrenting of the tenants had led to the depletion of their capital, and had led gradually to the deterioration of the land, and to disasters to agriculture generally. There was another point which had been established by many practical witnesses before the Commission, and that was that the heaviest reductions of rent had invariably been given to new tenants or to old tenants who had let their farms run down', while the best tenants, who had tried to keep up their holdings, had not been able to obtain adequate reductions. That was the key of the whole situation. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford had quoted a passage from the recent Report of Mr. Hunter Pringle with egard to Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, he would quote another passage from that Report which expressed what he had found in many districts to be the opinion of the farmers as to their condition. Mr. Pringle said that many cases had been cited as to big reductions having been made to new tenants and even to sitting tenants who had let their farms run down, while reductions had been refused altogether, or extended in lesser quantity, to the better class of tenants, so that the helpless position of the latter became vividly apparent. The landlord was 1273 thus practically at the mercy of the unscrupulous tenant, while the good tenant was at the mercy of the landlord; and on many estates a distinct penalty attached to good farming, and a clear incentive to bad farming—a complete contradiction of what ought to be, and what this Bill was meant to secure. It was no wonder that many of our best farmers were demanding compensation for disturbance. The men who had done their best to keep up the fertility and the letting value of their holdings complained, and they had a right to complain, that the refusal of an adequate reduction of rent made their rents inevitably inclusive of the value of the tenant's improvements. The tenant had a clear right, if he had kept up the value of his holding, to claim such a proportionate reduction of rent that the value which he had created should not be made the subject of rent. One of the tenant farmers before the Agricultural Commission put the whole case in these words:—''The capital of the tenant is necessary for the cultivation of the soil, and legislation is of little use after he is ruined. I do not wish to be a joint owner with my landlord; but I hold I that he should not have my improvements and live on my capital any longer.Those words touched the very principle of the Bill. It respected the rights of the landlord in the control of his own estate. It left to the landlord the absolute right to choose his own tenant and to get rid of any tenant, good or bad, at his own pleasure. The only thing which the Bill did, and which any Bill worth the paper it was printed on must do, was to ensure that the tenant should not be rented on his own improvements. When a tenancy was determined, and the new rent for a renewed tenancy was calculated, the tenant had the right to call in an arbitrator to see that the remaining value of his improvements was allowed for. The Bill only imposed this one restriction on the full rights of the landlord—that where the landlord turned out a tenant without fair and just cause, or refused to renew the tenancy, or to grant reasonable conditions of tenure, the tenant should be able to claim under the ordinary principles of compensation a fair allowance for the loss which he had to face owing to removal. He was aware that this Bill 1274 did not go far enough to suit some of his hon. Friends. Several of them were extremely anxious to introduce the Irish system into England. He did not think this necessary himself. He agreed with Sit James Caird, the Duke of Richmond, and others, that the best system for the tenant farmers of this country would be long leases under conditions which would guarantee the rights of both parties. But the evidence before the Commission had convinced him that absolute fixity of tenure was not a popular demand in this country. What the tenants of this country really wanted was the right of continuous occupancy on fair terms; and the one lease which he found was thoroughly popular with the tenant farmers was that granted by Lord Tollemache to the tenants on his Cheshire estates. It gave to the tenant fixity of tenure for 20 years as against the landlord, but at the same time gave him the right to leave at 12 months' notice. [Laughter.] He would tell the hon. Member opposite that this lease was shown, to be to the advantage of the landlord also. The witness before the Commission who spoke on this question added that the tenants were willing to pay higher rents for the farms on this estate, and the land was better cultivated. The hon. Member for the South Molton Division, whom he congratulated on his admirable speech in introducing this Bill, had made a suggestion winch he wished could have been put before the House, but which had been struck out of the Bill in its final form. The original suggestion would have enabled a tenant who had been a considerable time in his holding to obtain the fixing of a fair rent by an arbitrator, that rent to run for a certain period if the landlord consented to it. But the proposal gave to the landlord the right of dissenting from the rent, and of giving notice to quit to his tenant, paying him in that case compensation for disturbance. The promoters of the Bill had preferred on the whole to put before the House the most moderate and workable proposals which really met the case. There was nothing in the Bill which could not be moulded in Committee in such a way as to arrive at a result perfectly satisfactory to all parties. Last year the House had a useful experience in arriving at a solution of these difficulties in dealing with the Bill of Sir 1275 Edward Lechmere; and this year in dealing with the Bill of the hon. and gallant Member for Evesham (Col. Long), which had passed its Third Reading. This experience should lead the House to consider, frankly and fairly, proposals such as were now before them. There must be a difference of opinion as to many of the details of the Bill, but he had said enough to show that the Bill touched, in a moderate way, the root of the matter—namely, the depletion of tenants' capital and their insufficient security in respect of improvements and tenure—and that it would do immense good in encouraging the cultivation of the soil. Some reference had been made to permanent pasture, and he should like to refer to the valuable evidence given by Mr. William Stratton, the well-known agriculturist, who farmed an immense area in Hampshire. That evidence exactly illustrated what this Bill would do. Mr. Stratton said that he had laid down a quantity of pasture, and that, as he would have no claim to compensation in respect of the improvement, it would actually pay him best to break it up and to take the crops off it before he returned the land to the owner. The present state of the law was a positive inducement to rob the land of its fertility, accumulated by laying down to permanent pasture, whereas the whole of this fertility ought to be handed over to the landlord to the benefit of all. The Bill was intended to remove evils with which the Agricultural Holdings Act failed to deal, and to carry out the principle of that Act where it failed to operate. It was consonant with the advice given by some of the wisest men who were acquainted with the subject of Agriculture—Sir James Caird and others. It was, also, largely consonant with the proposals of the Associated Central Chambers of Agriculture, and, in his opinion, every one of the proposals in the measure could be fully substantiated and supported by the best and most direct evidence laid by the ablest and most practical witnesses before the Royal Commission on Agriculture.
§ MR. A. B. FORWOOD (Lancashire, Ormskirk)
wished to say a few words about this Bill, as it represented a large and very important agricultural constituency, where, probably, there was higher-class farming than in any other 1276 part of the country. If the Bill had been confined to an endeavour to secure to the farmer the fullest possible compensation for the labour and money expended by him on his holding for the purpose of effecting improvements, the measure would have commanded his earnest support. But the Bill went much farther than that. One clause had been spoken of as giving fixity of tenure, and he did not think that the House, on a Wednesday afternoon, could reasonably be expected to agree to a measure which contained that principle, which was one with which they were all familiar in connection with Irish land legislation. There were several points as to which he would like an explanation. With reference to Clause 2, he wished to ask what was to happen in the case of a property mortgaged to the full extent? What chance would a tenant have of obtaining compensation on quitting his farm on such a property as that? Clause 5 said:—Where a tenancy is terminated by reason of the landlord unreasonably, and without good and sufficient cause, refusing to grant a renewal of the tenancy, or requiring a higher rent on more onerous conditions as terms of such renewal, the tenant, upon quitting the tenancy, shall be entitled to compensation for disturbance.There was on definition here of what was good and sufficient cause. Would a change in the ownership of the estate be "good and sufficient cause," justifying the new owner in giving notice to any of the tenants? The determination of what was "good and sufficient cause" was intrusted to one arbitrator. Surely the experience gained in the case of Ireland ought to warn them not to place implicit faith in arbitrators' decisions in matters relating to land. Clause 6 said:—Compensation for disturbance shall mean, in addition to any compensation due to the tenant for improvement under this Act or under any agreement in respect of such improvements, a further compensation in respect of the loss which the arbitrator shall find to be sustained by the tenant by reason of quitting his holding.Supposing that a tenant, occupying under a landlord whose rents were reasonable and moderate, received notice to quit, and supposing he thereupon took a farm elsewhere where the rental was much higher, would the loss which that farmer sustained be measured by the difference 1277 between the two rents? If the promoters of the Bill intended that it should be so measured there clearly would be an incentive to landlords whose rents were reasonable and fair to raise their rents. In his part of the country it was the custom at present for farms to descend from father to son without alteration in the rent, but under this compensation-for-disturbance clause the landlord would be sorely tempted to raise the rent. There would be a tendency to let farms at nominal high rents and to grant abatements of such rents when they might be required. Such a system would be very disadvantageous to the farmer, who, when he entered into a contract, ought to consider the rent named therein as fixed, and ought not to depend upon chance abatements. The Bill would do much to disturb the good relations generally existing between landlords and tenants, and he did not believe that it would have the effect of securing to the farmer that full compensation to which he was entitled for the labour and money expended by him on improvements.
§ *MR. SAMUEL WHITBREAD (Bedford)
thought that a good many of the conundrums put by the right hon. gentleman who had just sat down could be answered very simply. If a landlord, with a view to guarding himself against unreasonable claims for compensation under this Bill, were to ask a very high rent for a farm, he probably would not get a tenant. That was the answer to one of the right hon. gentleman's questions. Then the right hon. gentleman asked whether, when a tenant quitted a low-rented farm and went to another for which a higher rent was asked, he would obtain compensation in respect of the difference between the rents? The answer was, that no arbitrator could possibly take such a circumstance into consideration. He would have to consider the circumstances in which the tenant had left the farm, and those only. Then the right hon. Gentleman raised another point. The right hon. Gentleman asked how the tenant would be encouraged to embark capital on the land, when possibly the land might be mortgaged up to the hilt and he would not be able to get compensation when he went out. That was rather a serious topic for consideration, because the question arose, was it 1278 for the interest of the community that the land should be held by anyone who had mortgaged it up to the hilt? According to the right hon. Gentleman's own showing, the landlord would not be able to do the improvements and the tenant would not be allowed to. Thus the right hon. Gentleman raised a very serious consideration, because if the House refused to pass this measure or some measure like it, the land would be left in this condition, that where the owner could not do the improvements the tenant was not allowed to. He did not, of course, defend the whole of this Bill, and there were some points to which he would like to call the attention of his hon. Friend. He did not himself believe in the kind of general register which was suggested. He could not conceive that it would work well in practice. He did not know, however, that his hon. Friend attached any very great importance to that point. With regard to the question of compensation for corn consumed on the farm, that question had been much debated of late years, and last year and the year before it had been prominently forward owing to the low price of corn. In a great many instances it had paid the farmer better to consume the corn on the farm than to sell it. Of course his hon. Friend did not mean that the farmer was to receive compensation for the ordinary feed of his horses. What he supposed he meant was, that if there was consumed on the farm corn which in ordinary circumstances might be sold at a profit, the farmer should be entitled to compensation for that. If that were the interpretation of the wording, he thought the provision was a just one, and he would be quite ready to support it. The speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for the Newport Division was a practical speech, and was made in a conciliatory tone. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman could have shown that this Bill would discourage the application of capital to the soil, he would, he thought, have proved his case, and would have found him amongst his supporters. But he did not think that the hon. and gallant Gentleman introduced any proof of that at all. He talked about the Bill as removing the owner's interest in the soil. How did it remove the owner's interest? 1279 Suppose an owner found a tenant who came to him and said:—Here is an undoubted improvement on the farm which I should like to carry out myself with my own capital, because I think I can do it better and cheaper than you can.Did the hon. and gallant Gentleman mean to say that the owner would take less interest in that man than in the man who made no improvements in his farm? Then the hon. and gallant Gentleman called attention to the position the tenant would be in. He said the tenant might make an improvement and spend perhaps £500 in buildings, which at the end of his tenancy were found not to be suitable to the holding and of no value to the incoming tenant. Surely the tenant who was going to make the improvement was the best judge. He knew the risk he was running. If he embarked his capital on a fancy venture, he had no one to blame but himself. He could not believe that an owner could have any objection to letting a tenant try certain experiments on his own risk.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
My point was, that the diminution in the owner's interest arose from his having under this Bill not so much power over his property as he had before. With regard to the other point, I said I thought it was unfair to the tenant, who might be misled into spending his money in not exactly the right way.
§ *MR. WHITBREAD
contended that if the tenant were a man who understood his business, he would not embark his capital unless he knew the venture to be a sound one. With regard to freedom of cropping, great objection was taken to that because it was supposed it would deteriorate the quality of the land. He remembered that in the South Midlands landlords objected very much to the growing of potatoes, because they considered they exhausted the soil. The same objection was taken to turnip seed, but practical experience had shown that in order to grow these expensive and exhausting crops, farmers were obliged to put more into the land and the land did not suffer. He looked upon every bit of security given to the tenant as a double security for the landlord, and on its general principle he was glad to support the Bill which had been introduced so ably by his hon. Friend. 1280 He believed it would place farming upon better commercial conditions than it occupied at present. He had always been in favour of getting rid of the law of distress. Who had not heard of the tenant who was keeping on under difficulties, and who went to his landlord and said: "Oh, let me go on and give me credit. You know you have your remedy. If the worst comes to the worst, you have the power to distrain, and you are certain, at all events, of your year's rent." Who did not know the result of that? Who did not know the difficulty of resisting an argument of that kind? And who did not know how it always ended? Instead of being compelled to pull up his tenant when he had something to go out with, the landlord let the unfortunate man go on until he had nothing left. For these reasons, and believing that nothing Parliament could do would help the farmer so much as to try and put his relations with his landlord on a more absolutely commercial basis and business footing, and believing it would encourage men to look on farming as they looked on other businesses, and prevent them from taking more land than they had capital to work, and take them away from those vague expectations that would never be realised, he supported this Bill.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. HERBERT GARDNER,) Essex, Saffron Walden
thought the House would agree with him that they were to be congratulated most heartily on the tone and temper of the Debate, and upon the practical ability by which the speeches had been characterised. If Wednesday afternoons were always as profitably spent, he should be in favour of their occurring as often as possible After the weighty speech of the hon. Member for Bedford there was not much left for him to say in regard to some of the speeches. Perhaps the most direct antagonism was shown by the hon. and gallant Member for Holderness, who moved the rejection of the Bill. That hon. Member stated that he had five objections to the measure, but, he noticed, as he went on he confined himself to two. He objected first to the principle that any improvements whatever might be made by the tenant without the consent of the landlord, and he instanced the example of a 1281 farm which a tenant might take as a dairy farm, and which afterwards proved to be of no use for that purpose. That argument was ably answered by the hon. and gallant Member for the Newport Division of Shropshire, who, having taken the precaution of reading the first clause of the Bill, remembered that the tenant was only to receive such compensation as fairly represented the value of the improvement to the incoming tenant. The other objection of the hon. and gallant Member was in regard to freedom of cropping, and he wished that the hon. Member had read Clause 12 of the Bill, by which the landlord was thoroughly safeguarded in this respect.
§ *MR. GARDNER
said, that he had understood the hon. and gallant Member in that sense. They had had the pleasure of hearing a speech from the hon. Member for the Brigg Division of Lincoln on this occasion, who had practical knowledge on the subject, and who had come latest from an agricultural constituency; he had not been very severe in his criticisms—indeed, he confined his objection to one clause, which dealt with abolition of distress for rent. The hon. Member pointed out that it would be a matter of great regret to his constituency if distress for rent were abolished; but surely there were other counties outside Lincolnshire which were not in the position of that Arcadia. It would be open to the hon. Member to move in Committee the insertion of the words "except Lincolnshire," and then the whole of his objection to the Bill would be done away with. He thought the House would have observed that the dominant note of the Debate was an ardent desire to forward any scheme which might assist the farmers of the day in returning as far as possible to the paths of prosperity. With those sentiments the Government heartily concurred. Agricultural depression had been prevalent for many years past, but in certain parts of the country it had never existed in such an acute form as at present. The question of agricultural distress was, perhaps, the largest of our domestic questions, and if it were possible to obtain any panacea for agricultural distress, there would be no limit to 1282 the Parliamentary time he would desire to devote to it. Unfortunately, there was no immediate possible remedy; agricultural distress was common to all parts of the world. It was not the fault of the fiscal system, of the landlords, or of the Government of any one country; and if they were to get any remedy at all it would rest not with the State, but mainly with the individual. One of the most important methods of encouraging the individual to remedy agricultural distress was by enabling him to obtain adequate compensation for improvements, greater security of tenure, freedom in making such improvements, and freedom of cultivation. He believed that to be the general opinion of the House. As to whether the provisions of the measure would be detrimental to owners and occupiers alike, he would refer the House to a very efficient guide, which he thought it would accept, namely, a Resolution which was unanimously passed in the House on June 9, 1893. That Resolution, which was moved by the hon. Member for the Harborough Division of Leicestershire, was to the following effect:—That in the opinion of this House amendments of 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.He contended that the principles of this Bill were almost entirely the principles of that Resolution. Clause 1 of the Bill carried out the first part of the Resolution, and Clauses 2 and 3 carried out the latter part of the Resolution relating to greater freedom for making improvements. He thought it was very important that in regard to the question of improvements the landlords should be encouraged as far as possible to make the improvements themselves. To secure that it was necessary that the greatest facilities possible should be given to the landlord in the first instance to make permanent improvements himself. That was carried out in the Bill, and if further facilities were necessary 1283 they might be proposed in Committee. But the debateable point was the reference to the arbitrator when the tenant wished to make improvements and the owner objected. Hon. Gentlemen opposite received this with wonder and amazement. But this very principle was contained in the first Market Gardeners' Bill brought into the House by an hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Lechmere) whose loss they all regretted. The right hon. Member for Dartford was not only a Member of the Grand Committee which considered this Bill, but a consenting party to that very clause. The cheapening and simplification of the settlement of compensation cases and other differences between landlord and tenant was dealt with in Clauses 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 of this Bill. Clauses 4 and 12 dealt with the giving of greater security and freedom to cultivate the soil, Clause 4 also giving compensation for damage by game. The latter idea was not a new one. He understood it was a principle of common law already. If imported into this Bill it became statute law. But probably adjoining owners and occupiers would find it cheaper to refer the matter to arbitration than to resort to courts of law. Clause 12 provided for greater freedom of cropping and sale of produce. The abolition of the landlord's right to distrain for rent was expressly set forth in the Resolution the House accepted two years ago, and against which hon. Gentlemen opposite made no protest. It might be said that the methods by which these principles were carried out were not perfect. That might be so. But the House was not dealing with details at this moment, and it was perfectly open to the House to accept the principles of the Bill; and alterations in the methods by which they were carried out might be proposed in Committee. The Bill seemed to him to be an honest attempt to deal fairly, equitably, and thoroughly with a difficult subject. So he should heartily support the Second Reading, and the Government would be 1284 prepared to give earnest consideration to the methods by which the Bill proposed to carry out the objects he had referred to. The principle of compensation for disturbance, whether good or bad, was not included in the Resolution of the Member for the Market Harborough Division, so he could not press it on hon. Gentlemen opposite as he could other principles affirmed in that Resolution. As to Clauses 4 and 5, how did they carry out the objects hon. Gentlemen had at heart? They did not create Land Courts, tenant-right, or fixity of tenure.
§ *MR. GARDNER
said, he was not responsible for that hon. Member's interpretation of the clauses. In his own opinion they did not provide those three objects, but contained a mild flirtation with them. When a tenancy was terminated unreasonably and without sufficiently good cause then compensation was to be awarded. But his hon. Friend the Member for the South Molton Division should set out what he meant by "unreasonable." It was excessively difficult to find out what was unreasonable. His hon. Friends might say that if a landlord dismissed a tenant because he was a Liberal or Tory—and such a thing might occur—that would be unreasonable. But what about the politics of the arbitrator? The arbitrator might think it a very reasonable thing to dismiss a man of a certain political colour. The arbitrator should have directions as to what he was to consider reasonable or not. Suppose again a man had a farm for which he had a good tenant, but had also a son who wished to take to farming, and that he, after due notice to the tenant, proposed to take the farm over and put his son in. Would that be reasonable or not? Whether it would be right or wrong, there must be some indication to the arbitrator what line he was to take. A tenant holding a home farm might be got rid of because, although a good 1285 farmer, he was a bad neighbour. Would that be a reasonable ground for getting rid of him or not? The arbitrator must have some indication that he might be able to give such a uniform judgment as might be accepted as a true and proper judgment, not only in one instance, but all over the land. But it did not at all follow because he did not see eye to eye with his hon. Friend on this clause, that he should object to 99 other provisions of the Bill with which he was thoroughly in accord. The principles of these provisions were contained in the Resolutions which the House unanimously accepted, and in supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, which he should do, he should be supporting a measure which tended to give effect to those principles. That was the position of the Government in this matter. What would be the position of hon. Members opposite if they followed the hon. and gallant Member for the Holderness Division into the Lobby, and brought about the rejection of this Bill? The Resolution of June 1893 was unanimously accepted by the House. Why did not hon. Members opposite object to it? It was not open to hon. Gentlemen opposite to take credit for having supported the Resolution of 1893, and at the same time to oppose the present Bill which embodied the principle of that Resolution. It was obvious that those hon. Members opposite, who for some reason had omitted to oppose the Resolution of 1893, were now anxious to repair that omission by opposing this Bill. In giving their support to the Second Reading of the Bill, the Government believed that they were giving effect to the Resolution of 1893, and he must say that he had never had more pleasure in giving a Vote than he should have in voting for the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
said, that the question which the House had been engaged in discussing that afternoon was one of such enormous importance to the landlords 1286 and tenants of the country, that he thought it was impossible that the Debate could be concluded on that occasion. Upon what grounds did the right hon. Gentleman ground his support of the Second Reading of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that he based his support of the Bill upon the Resolution of June 9, 1893, which, he said, was unanimously adopted by that House. He owned that the circumstances under which that Resolution was carried had passed altogether from his memory. He, however, had referred to "Hansard" to see what were the circumstances under which it had passed. The Resolution in question was moved as an Amendment to the Motion that the Speaker do leave the Chair, and it was allowed to be carried unanimously, in order that it might become a substantive Motion, so that another Amendment traversing the whole of the Resolution might be proposed upon it, and it was on this alone that the Minister for Agriculture relied for this justification in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill. He gave the hon. Mover of the Bill every credit for having the best possible motives in introducing the measure, but he must say that in the speech in which he had moved the Second Reading of the Bill he had been very much more moderate than the Bill itself was. In his opinion a measure more uncalled-for and more inopportune than the present Bill had never been brought before Parliament. It was a Bill which was extreme in its provisions, and was calculated to inflict serious injury upon the tenant farmers. The hon. Member for North Devon had given his testimony that the measure had the unanimous support of the fanners in that part of the kingdom. He found that these views had been imported into a neighbouring district—that of Dorset—with the result that had been announced that afternoon. The hon. Member for North Devon might possibly find the next time he visited his 1287 constituency that he had mistaken the views of the tenant farmers of his district on the principles of this Bill. He did not desire to unduly press the point that appeared to him to be of great importance, and was one that deserved the consideration of the House—that the whole question which they were then engaged in discussing had been referred to a Royal Commission on which the hon. Mover of the Bill was himself sitting—neither would he dwell upon the fact that the great bulk of the evidence which had been given before that Commission was opposed to the principle which was embodied in this Bill. What he relied upon chiefly was, that the opinion of practical farmers was opposed to the main principle of the measure. That was his opinion, and he was certainly entitled to give expression to it. When the Report of the Royal Commission was before that House he should be perfectly ready to take his share in discussing a measure of this kind. It was, however, upon totally different grounds that he was going to base his opposition to this measure that afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman opposite did not deny that this Bill went far beyond anything in legislation that had been attempted on this question previously. What were the circumstances under which this Bill had been brought forward? It had been introduced at a time when it was a matter of notoriety that the tenant farmers of this country were in a more commanding position than they had occupied for the last 50 years, and when they were able to make the most advantageous terms for themselves. Let him give the House a conclusive proof of the accuracy of that assertion. Rent was the first consideration of a farmer, all other conditions being of minor importance to him. The evidence that had been taken before the Royal Commission showed that the rents of the tenant farmers had been enormously reduced of late years, and, upon the matter of rent, farmers had no difficulty 1288 in making such terms as they pleased. It was because these conditions were, in the great majority of cases, satisfactory at present that no claims of this sort were made. In its main principle, the Bill was still more objectionable. The general principle underlying the Bill was that fussy interference, so cherished and loved by the modern Radical, between different classes of the community. Its great object appeared to be to substitute for those friendly and happy and desirable and amicable relations which for generations had subsisted between the landlords and the farmers of England—a system by which everything under the sun was to be settled by arbitration. The position of agriculture was bad enough already, but it would be done to death if the hon. Member opposite and his friends had their way. If a shed was to be built, or a barn enlarged, or an old wall mended, they were to call in the arbitrator, and it must not be forgotten that that proceeding was always followed by the arbitrator's little bill. They had heard a great deal from the hon. Member for Bedford about the importance of freedom from all restrictions with regard to cropping. But who should know better than an owner who had looked after his estate, or a competent agent, what was the best system of cropping for a particular farm? This Bill proposed to establish a hard and fast system, and yet the promoters must know that the circumstances varied in every locality. In some circumstances nothing was so beneficial as perfect freedom of cropping; and wherever that was the case they might be quite certain that that freedom was granted already. In the case of a farm adjacent to a town, where the whole of the produce, hay, straw, and roots, was brought to the market, they had the means of replacing it by manure, which could be put on the land without loss or expense, to the convenience and advantage of both the farmer and the owner. But that was totally different from the case of those 1289 great corn and wheat farms in Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, or Cambridge-shire, miles away from a town, and even from a railway station. If all the straw and materials of that kind were to be sold without restriction, no doubt the tenant might make a great profit in the first year, and possibly even in the second year; but his farm would not be worth cultivating any longer, and he would leave it on the landlord's hands. They were told that by the Bill such a tenant could be called upon to pay adequate compensation. But how was the landlord going to get it? A man who left a farm in that condition was not usually possessed of the means to pay much compensation; and therefore, although the provision was in the Bill, the unfortunate landlord would have to whistle for his money. Again, if a landlord refused to renew a tenancy, the arbitrator was to decide how much he was to be fined. He could not conceive on what ground of justice a landlord was to be compelled, after having given full compensation for every kind of outlay to which the tenant was entitled, to give anything more because the tenant left the farm. The President of the Board of Agriculture had called upon the hon. Member in charge of the Bill to explain what he meant by unreasonable eviction. He would ask a further question. Was it an unreasonable eviction if a landlord took his land back because he desired to resume possession of it himself?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, he had put a practical difficulty before the hon. Member and desired an answer, though it was quite clear he was not likely to get it. It seemed to him that the authors of the Bill had positively exhausted their ingenuity in providing work for arbitrators all over the country, and whatever might be the effect of the Bill upon agriculture itself, it would make the fortune of 1290 arbitrators and valuers. The one complaint on the part of agriculturists to-day was the enormous expense of their business, the difficulty they had in making both ends meet, and yet by this Bill, if the House was so foolish as to accept it, they would add to these expenses upon every possible detail. The hon. Member was quite superior to all these considerations. He had devised a system which would be known in future as the system of farming by arbitration. It would be a new experience, certainly in this country; he doubted very much whether it was likely to be a successful one. He was reminded of the old motto of one of the most beneficial agricultural institutions of this country, the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Their motto in regard to husbandry was ''Practice with Science," and it was under that motto—before these amateur efforts at legislation with regard to land came into fashion—that the English landlords and the English farmers achieved the commercial supremacy of the world. Whether the practice of husbandry by arbitration was likely to lead to similar desirable results was a very much more questionable problem. But that was the principle, and that was the general effect of the Bill. Everything, however small, in connection with farming operations was liable to be done by arbitration, and nothing was to be left to the uncontrolled arrangements of the two parties principally concerned. Whatever might be the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he was perfectly persuaded that the moment they understood it, there was no class in the whole country who would resent this interference with their affairs so bitterly as the English farmers. He would like, to deal for a moment with some of the effects of this interference. The President of the Board of Agriculture asked how the Bill was going to injure the tenants in the way indicated in the Amendment. He would endeavour to answer that question. Take 1291 the case of a landlord who had already made an enormous outlay of capital upon his estate. Like many other landlords at the present time, he was terribly hampered by the great falls which had occurred in his revenue. Some of the best landlords in England had told him within the last 12 months that they had been reluctantly compelled to curtail the outlay on their estates; and, in his judgment, with present prospects, to go on laying out capital on landed property was simply to throw away good money after bad. For what had been spent already landlords were getting little or no return, and there was no prospect of return for anything to be spent in the future. Under Clause 3 of the Bill, if an arbitrator so decided, a tenant might make permanent and costly improvements of any kind, and for all these improvements the landlord would be held liable. It was not one tenant on an estate, but many, and even all, who would be empowered to do this, and so a landlord might be involved in enormous liabilities against his own will. He was certain landlords were not in a position to meet the claims the Bill would impose upon them. But how was this to be ascertained? Was the arbitrator to hold an inquisition into the private affairs of the landlord? A more intolerable proposition could not be made. If it was intolerable, how were landlords to be protected from a system which would drive them into bankruptcy? The answer to be made would be that the landlord would have to pay only the value of an improvement to an incoming tenant; but how was that to be ascertained? Was it to depend upon the increased letting value given to a holding? If that was to be the test, he must remind the promoters of the Bill that upon almost every change of tenancy within the last three or four years there had been found to be, instead of an increased, a decreased letting value. So the improverished landlord, already at the end of his resources, was to pay com- 1292 pensation whether there was an increased letting value or not. Observe, too, how wide was the discretion given to the arbitrator. If the arbitrator thought that an improvement would increase the productiveness of the holding, that was to be sufficient to justify him in authorising the improvement to be made. But you might very well increase the productiveness of a holding, and at the same time diminish the profits made from it. Unfortunately, at present prices high farming did not pay. It was just the men who had farmed the highest who had suffered most during all this depression. Yet it was proposed that a landlord should pay compensation upon increased productiveness, whether there was any profit or there was not. Again, liability was to rest upon the landlord for improvements made at any time within three years of the Award. Was there ever a more thoughtless provision than that? Within that period there might be a complete revolution in prices. An improvement which might be fitting now might be absolutely unfitting three years hence. He could not conceive anything more injurious to the tenant farmer than the passing of such a Bill, for it would compel the landlords in self-defence to cease to let their farms at all, and take their holdings into their own hands. The Minister for Agriculture would admit that nothing could be worse for the tenant farmer than that. The extraordinary position into which we should be driven by these new proposals would be that we should have farmers willing to take farms, and landlords anxious to let them, but absolutely debarred and prevented by the provisions of this measure. There was a provision as to drainage, the effect of which did not appear to be apprehended by the promoters of the Bill. It was proposed that compensation should be given for drainage without the consent of an arbitrator. Were hon. Members aware that already in many of the best farming districts in England 1293 drainage improvements could be made and compensation could be claimed without the consent of either landlord or arbitrator? Who ever heard of a farmer in Lincolnshire farming under the Lincolnshire custom, who had to ask permission for the drainage of his farm when the circumstances and conditions of the land required it? This provision in the Bill was a distinct limitation of the right to compensation which had been enjoyed in many districts for a hundred years. This was another unexpected result of amateur legislation. To the surprise of everybody the Bill provided that a tenant might ask consent of the arbitrator to make repairs and then claim compensation for them. He was always under the impression that the first duty of a tenant at present was to keep in repair a farm which was in good order when he entered upon it—to keep it in tenantable repair. Now it appeared he was to be compensated for doing the first thing he undertook to do. The hon. Member for Bedford had criticised with severity the provision that a scheduled report of the condition of a farm was to be made at the time the farm was taken. He did not pledge himself to the adoption of that proposal, because he saw considerable difficulties in the way of carrying it out; but he was sure if it could be carried out it would be a most desirable addition to the law. Home-grown corn stood on a different footing. But the real difficulty was this: was it possible to devise means which would effectually guard against fraud? If that condition could be fulfilled, there was very little difference between farmers and valuers; but until he had seen a scheme which would effectively prevent fraud, he must qualify his acceptance of the proposal. As to the law of distraint, he differed altogether from the hon. Member for Bedford. An alteration would be a great benefit to the other creditors as against the landlord; but as to the great majority of farmers, it would be a most injurious blow to their interests. The great capitalist farmer, who took up several thousand acres, might like to get rid of the law of distraint, because it would give him practically am monopoly; but for the smaller owners, and the labourers who had by thrift acquired small capital, no more cruel blow could be devised than the 1294 abolition of the law of distraint. In the midst of all the troubles with which agriculture had to contend, there was a new and added terror arising from this fact—that there were a number of Gentlemen in the House representing counties with which they were in no way whatever connected except politically; Gentlemen on whom it was no reflection to say that they had no practical knowledge or experience of either the owner-ship or the occupation of land. The hon. Member for West Devon was a case in point. Although the hon. Member made a most moderate speech, he displayed a positively alarming ignorance of the principal facts and features of the present situation. These were the Gentlemen who were now endeavouring to instruct not only the farmers, but Parliament, in regard to this question. This proposal was an absolute and complete revolution in the relations between landlord and tenant, and on that ground he should oppose it, though it must not be supposed that he was opposed to any amendment of the existing law. On the contrary, he supported the suggestion that the Agricultural Holdings Act could be amended with advantage. He served on the Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture appointed to consider this very question. They were a body of practical men, perhaps more competent to deal with the question than the author of this Bill. They made an exhaustive Report, and he believed—without pledging himself to the details of the Report, which required careful consideration—that it afforded a very fair basis for the solution of the question, and might at the proper time become a proper subject for the consideration of the Government of the day. He was as ready as any hon. Gentleman opposite to entertain any well-considered proposals for the reform of land tenure; but he was not prepared to accept the crude proposals contained in this Bill. He would entreat the House, whatever they might do in regard to this question, not to run away with the idea that it was going to be any remedy for agricultural depression. An hon. Member had complained of him for deluding the farmers by talking of the currency question in connection with agriculture. Would the hon. Member deny that the whole of the evidence proved that the fall in prices 1295 was the whole cause of agricultural depression? And unless that state of things could be changed, there was no hope of permanent improvement. He had always been in the habit of telling his constituents the whole truth on any question in which they were interested, and why should he withhold his deep conviction that there was only one remedy for their present distress? The hon. Member said that Parliament would never consent to proposals of that kind. But how did he know? Even the hon. Member for South Devon, who seconded the Bill, said that the time was coming for a reconsideration of economic principles if the greatest industry in the country were to be saved from ruin. The Minister of Agriculture said that the depression was felt in other countries as well; but that was rather a reason for seeking an international arrangement. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill said that the only remedy was self-help. If by self-help he meant enabling the farmers to help themselves to other persons' land, it was a remedy of which he did not approve. Confidence was one of the great things required to induce capital to embark in agriculture; and it was these wild proposals made day after day in the House of Commons with regard to the land which did more than anything else to shake confidence. It was too true that agriculture had fallen on evil days; but the worst and most cruel blow would be when its disasters were crowned by the well intentioned interference of those who professed to be its friends.
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 216; Noes, 199."—(Division List, No. 82.)
§ Question put accordingly, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 218; Noes, 189.—(Division List, No. 83.)1296
§ Main Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill read 2°.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to the Standing Committee on Trade, &c."—(Mr. Lambert)—
§ It being after half-past Five of the clock, and objection being taken, further proceeding stood adjourned till Monday next.