§ *MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.),
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said that many of the reasons which might guide the House in coming to a decision on the principles of this Bill were discussed last Monday on the Agricultural Rating Bill. On that occasion he was glad to find that hon. Members opposite held the same opinion as he did as to the condition of agricultural land in England and Wales at the present moment. During the last Session of the late Parliament, a Bill which in many respects was on all fours with the present was read a second time in the House of Commons, and the principles underlying that Bill were further affirmed by the Central Chamber of Agriculture. In addition to this, he judged from a Bill which was before the House this Session amending the law relating to agricultural tenancies, introduced by some hon. Members opposite, that there were many hon. Members who held that some considerable alteration ought to be made in the present law governing agricultural holdings. There was also the Government Measure dealing with the subject. The present Bill, unlike some others, undoubtedly did modify existing contracts as well as to some extent establish a restriction on future contracts as between landlord and tenant. Interference between these classes of contracts, as between other classes of contracts, was by no means unprecedented; but as between landlord and tenant, they had 1448 the present Agricultural Holdings Act, the Hares and Rabbits Act, and other Acts, which undoubtedly, to some extent, modified the right of contracts as between landlord and tenant. The present system of free contract, modified to the extent he had indicated, had undoubtedly resulted in late years in agricultural land in England going backward instead of forward in cultivation. The President of the Local Government Board on Monday made use of this expression: ''The present state of things had resulted in a terrible deterioration in the land itself, and in consequent loss to the community." He did not think that this view was in the least overstated. The truth was, that not enough money was spent on the land at present; there were not enough labourers on the land, and the land was labour-starved. This condition of things was not universal; there were still places where land was in a very high state of cultivation; but the state he had described was very common, and he thought that it might fairly be called general. Hon. Members might say that there were other trades in a state of terrible distress—small shopkeepers for instance—and why, therefore, bring forward legislation to interfere in contracts between a special class. He thought that the action of the Government on Monday was an answer to that argument. There were two great national evils arising from the present condition of land and the depopulation of the country districts. As the land was deteriorating, so surely was it producing less of our home food supply. It was also well known that town populations gradually degenerated when kept in towns. A few generations carried perceptible deterioration in physique, and the strength of our population had been kept up entirely through the streams of fresh blood which the country districts poured into the towns. But the present condition of agriculture might probably result in a great national disaster— namely, a distinct lowering of some of our finest national physical characteristics. He believed that this Bill would tend to stop the growth of this evil, and even if some modification of private rights were contained in the Bill, he believed that if they could secure those great national objects, the modification would 1449 be justified from his point of view. [Cheers.] He had always considered that landlords were as good as any other people. [Mr. DAVITT: "Of what use are they?"] A resident country landlord was very often of the greatest possible use. He was very often a public-spirited, generous man. [Mr. DAVITT: "With other people's money."] Against landlords as a class he did not wish to say a word, but there were exceptions among them to the rule of excellence, there were absentees, and most of them, like the rest of mankind, not unnaturally wished to sell the commodity of which they had the disposal at the best possible price. Some landlords had no money to spend upon the improvement of their land, and others who had money refrained from expending it in that way because they saw no likelihood of obtaining an adequate return. The capita] which he desired to see invested in the land for the purpose of increasing its fertility and providing employment for the labourers was the tenants' capital. At present, a tenant who expended capital on a farm was liable to lose it when he left the holding, and to have the rent raised on his own expenditure. In the discussion of last year the President of the Local Government Board seemed to think he could dispose of that argument by pointing out that of late years there had been few cases of increase of rent. It was true that rents had been lowered, but the tenant who had farmed well and cultivated the land to the highest pitch did not get the same remissions as the bad tenant. [Ministerial cries of "Oh!"] He referred hon. Members who doubted the accuracy of his statement to the evidence given before the Royal Commission. Some tenants did not spend money on their farms because they had no capital; some, no doubt, had not conducted their business well, and others were fond of other pursuits besides farming. The President of the Local Government Board would probably say that they paid too much in rates. For his part he could not believe that they had lost their capital through excessive rating. An ordinary farmer holding 300 acres in Norfolk, at £1 per acre, might possibly be saved £15 by the operation of the Rating Bill of the Government, but it was not a sum of that kind that had 1450 caused the farmers' extreme difficulties. Every argument used the other day by the President of the Local Government Board with reference to the burden of rates applied tenfold to the burden of rent. Speaking at Hull, on August 6th 1885, the present Secretary for the Colonies said:—There is only one thing that can benefit the farmer, and that is a fair rent fixed by an impartial tribunal.It was a fact that many a good farmer who worked hard and lived economically found himself on each succeeding New Year's Day poorer than he was 12 months before. The reason of this was that he had been paying more rent than the land was worth. Hon. Gentlemen opposite would, no doubt, say that rents had nothing to do with low prices; that farmers could impose their own conditions on the landlords; and that the real remedy for agricultural depression would be to improve prices. He agreed with the opinion expressed by the Secretary for the Colonies in 1885, and did not believe that prices could be improved by artificial means. The only way to relieve the farmer was by diminishing his burdens—the burden of rent in the first place; secondly, the burden of tithes; and thirdly, the burden of rates. In their endeavour to alleviate these burdens, the Government were beginning at the bottom instead of at the top, which was where they ought to begin. Last year the President of the Local Government Board said that there was no great complaint about the rents, and that that showed that the rents were fair. On this point he would like to read a paragraph from the minority Report of the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire said in his Report:—It may be assumed that where accounts are kept, in general there will have been more organised and persistent effort to make ends meet. And, in fact, these accounts include several cases of farms where there has been exceptional success during the bad times. Taking the 63 accounts, which seem sufficiently precise for our purpose, and drawn from the following counties, Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Beds, Northants, North Riding, Warwickshire, Herts, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Cambridgeshire, Dorset, South Wilts, and Northumberland, it appears that these accounts cover 36,648 acres, and that the average tenants' profit per annum over the whole has been 1451 £6,930 15s. 11d., the average annual loss has been £4,615 15s. 11d. Deducting losses from profits, the net profit over the area of 36,648 acres has been the annual average of only £2,315 to be divided among 63 tenants. In other words, these accounts, so far as they can be taken as an illustration of the general position, and I have given above cogent reasons for inferring that they place the position in a much more favourable light than if we had before us the accounts of the unfortunate men, who are reported to be on the verge of bankruptcy in many districts, these accounts show that the average annual net profit over these typical farms has been only 1s. 3d. to the occupier.The hon. Member went on to show in his Report that the average rent, subject of course to deductions, was about a guinea an acre, which would mean, he supposed, about 15s. net. In the face of such facts as these, he did not understand how anyone could affirm that the landlord had borne his proper share of the economical fall in prices. It was obvious that in such cases as those referred to by the hon. Member in his Report, practically the whole of the profit on the farm was paid away in rent, and the tenant had been living on his capital. It was quite natural that landlords should wish to get the best prices they could for their commodity, and it was true that reductions and remissions had been granted. Remissions, however, left a farm more burdened with rates than it would be if the allowance had been made in a permanent form, and it was obvious, also, that the reductions made had either been made too late, or had not been large enough, or perhaps both. The farmer was generally represented as a grumbler, but, as a matter of fact, during the last few years he had exhibited a patience worthy of Job, and his fidelity to the landlord, as disclosed in the evidence given before the Royal Commission, was exemplary. Some landlords complained that they received no interest on sums expended on buildings and improvements. They forgot that these improvements, when made, became part of the farm, and that their value as investments depended upon the money-producing capacity of the farm as a whole. It did not matter what the cost of buildings and improvements might have been to the landlord, the proper rent was only what the land was worth as a money earning commodity. It was said that rents must be on the whole fair because there had been no wide- 1452 spread complaint on the part of the farmer. The farmer's ideal had been high prices. He had looked to Protection or Bimetallism, or a sudden change in the market before going for a further reduction in his rent; but they knew that ideal was hopeless, and that the only chance was to get the rent and other burdens made easier. A farmer had written to him giving him the reasons why it was not possible for him to go more strongly for a reduction of rent. He said, in the course of his letter:—It, no doubt, appears to those unacquainted with agriculture, inconceivable that landowners are receiving rents altogether beyond value, and that tenants can be found willing to pay such rents. A study of agricultural law and conditions of tenancy will, however, at once show the intense difficulty that a tenant farmer experiences in obtaining rent reduction, and the enormous loss he suffers on leaving a holding. Consequently he is not in a position to assert himself and grapple with the difficulties that beset him. If he approaches his landlord upon the subject of rent reduction, he is instantly referred to the agent, and his request is at once refused. If the farmer goes further and vacates the holding, the cruel and unjust laws not only permit, but actually encourage the landlord to confiscate the whole of the improvements that the tenant farmer has carried out. This means that the farmer on quitting a farm is deprived of property in the shape of manures, plantations, buildings and various other things, that frequently cost him hundreds of pounds. It is true that there is an Agricultural Holdings Act, under which a tenant can claim for some improvements, but it is so clumsily drawn, and requires the fulfilment of so many unreasonable and awkward conditions, that landlords and agents manage entirely to evade its operation in nine cases out of ten, and so purloin the tenant's property. Rather than be deprived of his possessions wholesale in this manner, a farmer usually prefers to continue his tenancy and struggle against adversity, and hopes that times may alter, the landlord continuing to exact excessive rent until the tenant's capital is exhausted and his ruin completed. He is then turned out and another tenant takes the farm, frequently at a rent that would not have been accepted from his predecessor.He did not believe that was very much exaggerated. It represented pretty truly the condition of affairs. At any rate, the writer was entitled to speak for the county in which he lived, Worcestershire, where he told him the rents were 50 per cent. higher than they ought to be. The fall in rent did not in the least agree with the fall in the margin of profit. On cereals the latter had almost entirely gone, but rents had only been 1453 reduced on the average by 30 per cent. Rents had not fallen to anything like the extent that the capital value of the land had fallen. Twenty years ago land could not be bought to pay more than 1½ or 2 per cent., whereas gilt-edged railway debentures could be bought to pay 4 per cent. Now the rate on the latter had fallen to 2½ per cent.; and land could be bought to pay 4 and even 5 per cent. [Several HON. MEMBERS: ''Where?"] Advertisements to that effect might be seen every week in the London newspapers. [Laughter.] The Bill tried to meet these several points so far as legislation could. Of course it was impossible to put back into the pockets of the tenants the money they had lost; but it was possible to make such conditions that the farmer who still had money and new tenants would be induced to improve the cultivation of the land. The points of the Bill were these The Compensation Clauses of the Agricultural Holdings Act were increased. A certain amount of security—not a fixity—of tenure was given. Then there was a provision for the revision of rents, so that the rents might not be raised upon a tenant's own improvements, and that the tenant's improvements might not stand in the way of a reduction of rent. Relief would also be given if the conditions of farming became worse and economic rent became less. The tenant also secured under the Bill greater freedom of cultivation, as well as freedom from distraint. Equally the tenant might have his rent raised if times were better, and might also be made to suffer in pocket if he allowed the land to deteriorate. It would, no doubt, be said that he was creating bad blood between landlord and tenant. That was certainly not his intention. He acknowledged the good feeling that prevailed, and hoped that it would continue. He could not see how bad blood could be created by establishing a tribunal of an impartial third person to decide vexed questions that would arise. There would not, he believed, be so much business under the Bill as some imagined. Landlords and tenants would continue to arrive at settlements among themselves, but where they could not do so it was desirable that there should be a tribunal to which appeal could be made. Procedure must be cheap, and therefore he had gone straight 1454 to the County Court. He recognised that the County Court Judge could not be expected to discharge these difficult and delicate duties. The Bill, therefore, provided for a trained arbitrator, to whom the work should be delegated, reserving only points of law for the County Court Judge. Among other provisions, he might mention was one under which improvements might be made merely on notice, and not necessarily with the consent of the landlord. This might seem rather strong. His reason, however was cheapness of procedure, the landlord being sufficiently protected by the clause that empowered the arbitrator to treat such alterations, if not improvements, as deteriorations. As regarded compensation for disturbance, the chief objection taken to the clause in the Bill of last year was the use of the word "unreasonable," and this year he had steered clear of that word. The great crux of the Bill was the 10th Clause, dealing with the definition of fair rent, and on that point he would be glad to receive suggestions from both sides of the House. The other debateable point was the abolition of distraint for rent upon which he knew there was great difference of opinion, not only among hon. Gentlemen opposite, but among tenant farmers themselves. ["Hear, hear!"] He was sensible of many drafting mistakes, but they could all be corrected in Committee. He hoped the House would believe that this was really an honest attempt to remedy a great and substantial evil, and he was certain that if the House thought the Bill would tend in any way to check the deterioration of land in general and the depopulation of the country villages, they would be ready to give it a Second Reading. He begged to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *MR. D. BRYNMOR JONES (Swansea District)
said, he should not have taken part in a Debate on a Bill of this kind if he had not had some experience in the administration of the Act of 1883, and as a member of one of the Commissions for the consideration of agricultural topics heard the views of hundreds of witnesses. The Act of 1883 attempted to give a tenant on leaving his holding compensation for improvements made by him so far as they were unexhausted at the termination of the 1455 tenancy. Twelve years experience of that Act had disclosed defects in its provisions. The Bill now before the House contained two distinct sets of provisions, one aiming at the defects in the Act of 1883, and the second endeavouring to introduce improvements in the condition of the sitting tenant. The three defects in the Act of 1883 were, first, its procedure for settling disputes; secondly, the unjust effect of Section 7; and, thirdly, the Compensation Clauses and the Schedule. As to the procedure his view was that the special machinery provided was cumbrous, expensive and dilatory. It was a strange combination of the method of arbitration and the method of a County Justice. It had all the defects of both systems of settling disputes while it deprived the parties of the characteristic benefits of each. He instanced a case that had come under his notice as County Court Judge. His hon. Friend in this Bill did not propose to do away with arbitration, but only that if the dispute could not be settled, the parties should at once be able to go to a Court of Justice. The County Court was selected as the tribunal, and an agricultural arbitrator was to be appointed, to whom the Judge of the Court should delegate his jurisdiction for the purposes of the Bill. He wished now to call attention to the extreme severity of Section 7 of the Act of 1883. Under that section a tenant who wished to claim compensation was required, two months at least before the termination of his tenancy, to give notice in writing to the landlord of his intention to make the claim. A certain amount of confusion of thought was apparent in the construction of this section. He thought the notion that the tenant should be required to give some notice before the determination of his tenancy was confused with the idea that he should give particulars before he was heard before the Umpire. It was one thing for a tenant to give proper particulars of his claim before he went to the Court or the Umpire, and another thing that the giving of the claim a certain number of days before the determination of the tenancy should be a condition precedent to his right of claim at all. The whole claim of a tenant in one case which had come under his notice was 1456 according to his recollection defeated by the fact that he had omitted accidentally to give the notice required by Section 7. He did not think there could be any reasonable doubt as to the expediency of altering that. This Bill did not stipulate that no notice should be required, but if by accident the tenant omitted to give his notice in time, it proposed that the Court should have the right to give relief against this accidental omission. There was another defect in regard to Section 7 of the Act of 1883, which, considering how prevalent written agreements were, he thought ought clearly to be dealt with by the House. The tenant had to claim compensation two months before the determination of the tenancy, but by the interpretation clause of the Act of 1883 the determination of the tenancy was defined in such terms as to include a determination by forfeiture. A clause which was in the usual agreements of one of the best-managed estates in Wales was to this effect, that if a tenant became bankrupt or insolvent, or suffered his person or effects to be taken in execution, or did a number of other things, it should be lawful for the landlord to resume possession, and the tenancy was at an end. If the rigour of the law was to be exacted by a landlord, the moment a man got a committal order under the Debtors' Act of 1869 in a County Court made against him, the landlord could, by taking advantage of this proviso, get rid of any possible claim for compensation which the tenant might have. He, therefore, did not think the House could entertain a doubt that some Amendment of the Act of 1883 was necessary, and he appealed to hon. Members opposite not to throw out this Bill, as it was a very easy matter to dissever extensions of the Act of 1883 from Amendments of the defects of that Act. He earnestly trusted that the hon. Member opposite, who was going to move an Amendment to the Bill, would consider whether every object he could possibly gain by pressing his Amendment would not be gained by allowing the Bill to be read a Second time, and to be sent either to a Committee of the Whole House or to one of the Grand Committees. He would leave the Amendment of the compensation clauses and the schedule to be dealt 1457 with by Members more practically acquainted with the question of the Act of 1883. The desirability of amending the Act was shown by experience, and by a great body of evidence given by all classes before the Royal Commission on Agriculture and the Welsh Land Commission. The new provisions of the Bill raised questions of almost vital importance not only to the landed interest and the tenant-farmers, but to the whole community. ["Hear, hear!"] The existing system of land tenure had three great defects. The first was the possibility of merely capricious eviction; the second, the hampering of efforts on the part of the cultivators of the soil to deal with the effects of competition, by the complicated and restricted covenants contained in the written agreements; and the third, the unequal division of profits among the joint producers of agricultural produce. Speaking broadly, he had not found in regard to the estates throughout Wales which he knew any tendency at the present time on the part of landlords under ordinary circumstances capriciously to exercise the power of eviction, but these evictions did sometimes take place. For instance, he might refer to the case of Mr. John Thomas, of Troedyrhiw, which had been recently before the House. A more complicated set of clauses than those contained in most of the written agreements it would be difficult to find, and instead of having all the agreements written out at such great length they proposed that if any dispute arose as to what was a reasonable course of working the tenant might be able to appeal to the agricultural arbitrator. In regard to the unequal division of profits, the true economic aspect of the case was often obscured by the use of the word "rent." The landlord was assumed to, and generally did, supply the tenant with a farm fully equipped with proper buildings, fences, roads, and so forth, and the tenant was supposed to stock the farm, and to supply the necessary agricultural implements. So far as the landlord was concerned in equipping the farm he was joining with the tenant in a speculative business. The landlord and tenant were partners, but could they conceive, when they looked at the matter in the light in which he presented it, of an untruer or 1458 an unsounder basis than this partnership? One partner could send away the other, after perhaps 20 years' connection, on one year's notice. One had the right to fix arbitrarily the share of the profits which the other partner was to get. That was the economic defect of their existing land system. Bearing that in mind, he did not think, however, that, having regard also to markets at the present time, a system of peasant proprietary would be a good method of production. He thought their existing system of production by landlords, tenant-farmers, and labourers, was on the whole a good method of production. Many reasons tended to show that a man was better off, under a good landlord, than if he were a freeholder or a yeoman farmer. He was not one of those who believed that this country would be better off—that agriculture would be benefited—by the creation of a peasant proprietary. This Bill, in fact, was founded on much the same principles as the Workshops Act and the Coal Mines Act. In fact, it was necessary to regulate the conditions of the agricultural industry. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were right in their contention, and he believed they were, that it was of great importance that the agricultural industry should be prosperous, then that prosperity concerned, not one industry, but the whole nation. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) did not say that he brought forward his Bill on Monday to benefit the landlords, or benefit the tenants, or benefit the labourers. He based his whole claim for that Bill on the importance of this industry to the nation at large. Then they had a right to appeal that the relief should be properly distributed amongst all the joint interests. He hoped they would sever the two sets of provisions, and that the fate of the Bill would not depend on the second set. He seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend, believing that the Bill rested on a fair basis, and would place the relations of landlord and tenant on a more just and secure footing. ["Hear, hear!"]
*MR. VICTOR CAVENDISH (Derbyshire, W.) moved to leave out from the word "that" to end of the Question, in order to add the words—
This House, while recognising the desirability of modifications in the existing law
relating to agricultural tenancies, is of opinion that it has not been shown that the reversal of the general principles, which have hitherto governed such tenancies, is either desired by or is desirable in the interests of the various classes engaged in the cultivation of the soil in Great Britain.
He need not say anything as to the first part of the Amendment, as that had been generally accepted by the House; and as to the other portion of it, he contended that the Bill went far beyond a reasonable amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act. He complained that the Bill introduced two months ago had only been in their hands for a week, but he made no complaint against the hon. Gentleman opposite, who had introduced the Bill in a way to which no exception could be taken. ["Hear, hear!"] He must remind the House that the Government had undertaken since they came into office to bring in a Bill dealing with the question. As to the remarks of the two hon. Gentlemen, they had pointed out, particularly the seconder, that there were Amendments required in the Agricultural Holdings Act. He should not follow the hon. Member into the technicalities. He seemed to separate the Bill into two parts. On the contrary they should deal with the Bill on its merits. They had, in fact, dealt with it as they found it, and it was not possible to cut it into two sections. He believed that arrangements were better left to be settled between landlord and tenant than to call in third parties. The short time he had been a landlord he had endeavoured to do his best—[cheers]—and it was the object of most landlords, the vast majority of them—to act fairly ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition Benches]—not to tie down the tenant with vexatious restrictions and to drive him to pay an excessive share of profits in the form of rent. They wished to keep their tenants; they did not wish to change them; they wished to act fairly by them, and not, as he had said, impose vexatious restrictions upon them. There was much in the Bill among the clauses dealing with compensation which he should personally be prepared to accept, but there was one feature permeating the Bill and vitiating almost every clause of it, and that was the Court of Arbitration. ["Hear
hear!"] The principle, if applied, would change fundamentally the whole system of land tenure in this country. ["Hear, hear!"] He did not think that a great change like that appeared to be necessary, and he did not think that the hon. Members had brought forward any evidence of it, nor did he think that they had proved that the change would be advantageous to either the landlord or the tenant. He did not wish to import Party bias into this question, but he had been much threatened before the Election as to what would happen to him if he voted against a similar Bill to this. He thought the last Election showed that they had not much to fear from the rejection of this Bill—[cheers]—or the effects that it would have on the opinion of the Electors. ["Hear, hear!"] The Bill if passed must undoubtedly lead to a class of land legislation with which they were unhappily too familiar in the case of Ireland; and knowing the facts in regard to Ireland the House could not be too careful or too cautious before it initiated by the passing of this Bill a long series of enactments dealing with land in England. He did not know exactly how many Irish Land Acts had been passed since 1890; but he believed they numbered at least 10, and that the question was as complicated and as difficult of settlement as ever was evidenced by the fact —which he mentioned without any disparagement of the Chief Secretary— that the last Land Bill took 2 hours and 50 minutes to introduce. [Laughter and cheers.] It had been the hope of the author of every Irish Land Bill that at last a final solution of the land difficulty had been found; but the representatives of the landlords and the representatives of the tenants must admit that the final solution was still a long way off. That was a warning of the danger of initiating legislation of the same nature in regard to land in England. What would be the effect of the Bill if carried? In his opinion it would establish in this country—in a modified form perhaps— the system, known as the "Three F's"— ["Hear, hear!"]—with the inevitable result, as in the case of Ireland, that the whole relations between landlord and tenant would be altered. ["Hear, hear!"] The English landlord would
become a pensioner and a rent-charger on his estate, as Mr. Gladstone described the Irish landlord when he introduced his Land Act of 1870. ["Hear, hear!"] The landlord's present relation to his land would be destroyed. He would have no inducement to spend anything on his land, and his sole desire would be to get as much rent out of it as he could possibly manage. In England, at any rate—whatever might be the case in Ireland—the vast amount of money which had been spent on the land for the development of permanent improvements had come out of the pockets of the landlords. That was a state of things which he desired to see continued, and which the large majority of the landlords would do their best to continue; but if the Bill were passed there would be no inducement to the landlord to put his hand in his pockets for the improvement of the land. The old friendly relations between landlord and tenant would be reduced to a commercial basis. The landlord would try to extract every possible penny from the tenant, and the tenant would be bound down by hard and fast rules.
§ *MR. VICARY GIBBS (Herts, St. Albans)
seconded the Amendment. He had never seen so immoderate a Measure so moderately put forward. ["Hear, hear"! and laughter.] In fact, if he had not read the Bill, he should have had no idea whatever of its nature from the speeches of its Proposer and Seconder. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Bill had urged that the County Court should be adopted as the Land Court under the Bill. The hon. Gentleman was an eminent County Court Judge, and feeling as he did that there was nothing like leather, he desired to see the work of the County Courts extended. [Laughter.] Indeed if all County Court judges were like the hon. Gentleman it would be well, if such a Land Court were to be established, that it should be the County Court. The hon. Gentleman had said that in his belief there was no ground for saying that the landlords of England were, as a class, guilty of capricious evictions. But the hon. Gentleman quoted a case from Wales in which the tenant said he had been evicted because he had given evidence before the Royal Commission. That was a mere statement of the tenant. 1462 But if the statement were true, he would ask the hon. Gentleman whether it was not the fact that the landlord could have been punished and compelled to reinstate the tenant under the existing law.
§ MR. BRYNMOR JONES
said, that what he had stated was that the Commission had expressed no opinion as to whether there had been an infringement of the Witnesses' Protection Act; but that the Commission were unanimously of opinion that no adequate reason had been suggested by the landlord for the notice to quit.
§ *MR. VICARY GIBBS
said he took that to mean that the tenant's statement was unsupported by the Commission. He defied any one to give an illustration of any business, outdoor or indoor, in which the partners were contented with 3 per cent. on the money they had put into it. Yet, if they examined the Bill, they would see that, in the opinion of its authors, a return of 3 per cent. was adequate for the landlord from the partnership he had entered into with the tenant. It had been said that in Norfolk people were withdrawing from agriculture because of its unsatisfactory character as a business, and that great inconvenience was caused by the labourers being drawn into the towns; and as a cure for these evils the hon. Gentleman proposed to relieve the land from some portion of its burden of rent by a revision of the rents. But was rent a burden on land economically in any other sense than that the purchase price paid for it was a burden on land? A farmer who purchased his farm and the next man to him in possession of a similar farm for which he paid rent were exactly in the same position. If they were not in the same position the freeholder could undersell the tenant. You might take property from a landlord and give it to a tenant, and thus make things better for the tenant, but you did not thereby necessarily improve the condition of agriculture, and you did help to produce a feeling of insecurity to which the Mover and the Seconder of the Bill owed their position on the Opposition side of the House. He represented an agricultural constituency, and, although he voted against the Bill of 1895, he did not hear from any constituent a word of objection to the vote. He did not believe that this Bill was what the farmers of the country wanted; 1463 they wanted Protection—[Opposition cheers]—and nothing else would satisfy them; and this Bill would not give it. The Bill might be called a Bill for the abolition of leasehold tenure, for no man in his senses would grant a lease after this Bill became law. For then a lease could be revised against a landlord's interest; and practically he would never be able to get it revised to suit himself. No landlord expected a yearly tenant to pay more rent than he was willing to hold his farm at, because he knew that if he did, the farm would be injured in proportion to the excess of rent demanded. This bore upon a mistake made by hon. Members opposite in dealing with this question. They forgot it was essential to the working of our land system that there should be mutual confidence between landlord and tenant. This condition existed, as hon. Members practically admitted, in the majority of cases, and they proposed to do away with it altogether, and to introduce a third party to make a bargain between landlord and tenant. There was something almost touching in the confidence of hon. Members in themselves to manage other people's business for them better than they could do it for themselves. No amount of failure and disaster seemed to weigh with them. They went on saying:—Business is bad; we will make it good by Baying you shall be put upon certain terms to be decided upon by an arbitrator,who may be a local auctioneer or a farmer who has failed in business. A Memorandum prefixed to the Bill said that it was intended to offer increased inducements for the application of labour and capital to the soil. How could the proposed interference give greater confidence in a bad business? An Irish Member asked him of what use landlords were. One of the uses of them was to supply capital for the working of this national industry. What did it matter whether the labour and the capital were provided by the same man, or the capital was provided by one and the labour by the other on terms upon which they mutually agreed? This Measure would drive capital more and more out of agriculture. He was in favour of meeting it with a direct negative, but would second the Amendment as expressing his views. 1464 The Bill was inopportune because the Royal Commission, having finished the taking of evidence, was about preparing its Report on this very subject. It seemed to be almost indecent to propose legislation without waiting for the recommendations of the Commission. There had been no demand for the establishment of Land Courts in England. As to compensation for improvements, at present a landlord's assent was required before a tenant could embark on the erection of buildings and expenditure of that character. Of course it was a tenant's business to make the best of a farm as he found it, and, if he did not like its condition before he entered upon it, he ought to say what he required. Under this Bill, if a poor landlord without capital had some bad land and let it at a low price, the tenant might make costly improvements or additions which would lessen its value to future tenants, and, by claiming compensation, deprive the landlord of his property altogether. The Bill abolished the right of the landlord to express an opinion on improvements the tenant proposed to make, although they might not increase but, on the contrary, might seriously diminish its letting value. They would be told that an incoming tenant was to pay the value of improvements. [Mr. CHANNING: "There are the words of the present Act."] Yes, but if he did require an aviary, or did not want to grow hops, the so-called improvements might be only encumbrances, of no value to the incoming tenant. There were differences of opinion as to the grubbing up and the planting of hedges. An agent in the south of Ireland had told him that in 20 years he had grubbed up more hedges, and thereby done more mischief than anyone else. Surely the owner of a property ought to say what he would consent to have done in such a matter. The Schedule showed that the Market Gardens Act of last year had been overlooked. To include "cleanliness of soil" among the improvements was to offer a sort of prize to a tenant for doing his bare duty. A tenant was not entitled to compensation for increasing the fertility of the soil by good farming; and therefore the Bill offered compensation to a tenant for not having neglected his duty. It might be desirable to have a record of the condition of a holding if it 1465 could be kept on reasonable terms; but it would involve enormous expense and trouble, particularly if it included plans to show every drain; and if landlord and tenant did not see any necessity for a record, the keeping of one could not be enforced. If records are kept there could be no reason why they should be deposited at the County Court, it would be enough if copies were kept by landlord and tenant. The Bill would make a great change in our system of land tenure, which, it was admitted, worked well in the main. The Bill did not embody the three F's; but it laid a keel for them; it was a stepping stone towards further change in the law. Mr. Everett, a former Radical Member of this House, and a practical farmer, said that he had the three F's, and he could not see that he was better off than others who had not them. The Land Courts were introduced mainly on the recommendation of witnesses who spoke for Lancashire, and whose evidence was not supported by the Report of the Central Chamber of Agriculture. He would ask the hon. and learned Gentleman who had seconded this Bill whether there was any precedent for the Judges of Courts in this country delegating their powers to others?
§ *MR. BRYNMOR JONES
A County Court Judge may in some cases delegate his functions to the registrar.
§ *MR. VICARY GIBBS
would ask whether, in a matter of the slightest importance, the powers of County Court Judges had been delegated to third parties. County Court and other Judges were appointed on account of their capacity to administer justice, and not because of their capacity to make fortunate selections out of the community.
§ *MR. VICARY GIBBS
And still less were they appointed to leave to other people the management of that which it was their duty to perform. He could not see why, if this matter was to be conducted by the County Courts, they should not work on the same principle as the Admiralty Courts, which had to deal with questions as technical as 1466 farming, but which did not delegate their powers, having an assessor to sit with them. He hoped, however, the present; Bill would never advance to that stage. These Courts were to determine what were reasonable conditions of tenancy and fix a fair rent, and in Clause 10 the inexplicable statement was made that the value of the tenant's own labour was to be calculated in fixing the fair rent. What was the meaning of that?
§ *MR. PRICE
I have not, perhaps, very fully defined the instructions to the arbitrator, but I wanted to indicate the view I and my colleagues took of what the proper method of computation should be.
§ *MR. VICARY GIBBS
knew the clause was introduced with a view to enable the Judge to fix a fair rent, but what did the clause itself mean, and what was the meaning the Judge was to draw from it. That was what he desired to know, and it was a point as to which the hon. Member had given no information whatever. It meant, in his opinion, that the arbitrator was to consider what the capacity of the particular tenant was. The judicial rent was to last three years. In the Irish Bill it was for 15 years, which some considered too long and some too short. That showed that the fixing of a rent by a third party for a period of years was unfair and useless. It was unfair against the tenant in a falling market and unfair against the landlord in a rising market. As to the compensation for disturbance, he admitted that the promoters had made this Bill more moderate in restricting the claims of the tenant than the Bill of 1895. But who was to gauge the loss sustained by the tenant by reason of his quitting his holding? What was to be the measure of the damages? Were they to be the out of pocket expenses the tenant incurred by leaving his holding? Was there to be a sentimental charge for leaving the old home of his fathers? [Mr. PRICE: "No."] He was glad to hear that. Could the tenant make a sort of Alabama claim for what he would have got out of the farm if he had remained in it if there had been a good season? He could see nothing in the Bill to prevent the arbitrator holding that. Whether or not it was 1467 desirable to alter the present Law of Distress he was certain the alteration would not be to the benefit of the farmers but rather to their disadvantage with regard to advances from their bankers, and their immunity at the present time from having to pay advanced rents to their landlords. He begged to second the Amendment.
§ On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,
§ *MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
said that an absolute fallacy ran through the speeches of the hon. Members for Hertfordshire and West Derbyshire, that the procedure suggested by the Bill was compulsory—that in the settlement of all questions arising between the parties they would be compelled to go to arbitration under the procedure of the Bill. In the case of the Agricultural Holdings Act no one ever dreamed of calling it in in every case of dispute, and in the same way the procedure of the Bill before the House, if it became law, would not be called into operation except in rare cases. All Acts of this nature were Acts which rather laid down what should be an equitable relation between the parties, and in 99 cases out of 100 the parties concerned observed the equitable rules thus suggested without setting such an Act in motion. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire questioned the advisability of allowing tenants to carry out improvements in their own way, and instanced the case of grubbing up fences. In the county which the hon. Gentleman represented there was a striking illustration of how a farm could be thus improved. The success of Mr. Prout at Sawbridgeworth was mainly due to the removal of fences, which he was free to do. Tenants were more likely to improve their holdings than to deteriorate them, and his hon. Friend had inserted in the Bill a proviso which seemed to amply protect the landlord against any abuse of the right in question. The hon. Member for Hertfordshire and another hon. Gentleman pointed to what they considered the miserable condition of things in Ireland resulting from the Land Acts. He thought the wonderful increased deposits in the savings banks 1468 showed how much that legislation had done for Ireland. This was essentially an economic question, and he had been at some pains, as a Member of the Royal Commission, to analyse very carefully ail the facts and figures with regard to the economic position of the farmer, and especially the important series of farm accounts which had been supplied to the Commission. The first fact established by that analysis was that the tenant farmers of this country had been doing their duty by the land. Although there had been an enormous decrease in the gross receipts from the land, and an enormous diminution in the result that was to be divided between the two parties, and part of which must necessarily be applied to the keeping up and working of the land, the tenant farmers had kept up their outlay on the two great reproductive items, namely, labour and the fertilising of the soil. The facts were very remarkable. He would take the accounts from a farm in Wiltshire of 827 acres. The charge for labour on that farm for a period of nearly 30 years had averaged £774, and during the last two years it was practically as high as it ever was, while the outlay on fertilisers had risen from £713 to £1,193. On a farm of 424 acres in Lincolnshire the accounts showed that the average yearly charge for labour during the last 11 years was £452. In the last two years—those two disastrous years, 1893, 1894—the charge for labour instead of diminishing had increased to £480. The charge for feeding-stuffs and manures had also increased. On another farm in Lincolnshire labour had averaged £434 and stood at £480 and £487, while fertilisers had risen from £229 to £271, and he could give similar instances from various parts of the country. Much less was received from the working of farms than was received 20 years ago, and yet the farmers were found to be spending large amounts, even increasing amounts, upon the two most important elements of outlay. It seemed to him quite obvious that if the returns were so very much reduced, and if at the same time the two essential reproductive items of expenditure were not only not diminished but rather increased, there ought to be, in order to make ends meet, and 1469 give tenant-farmers a small profit on the working of their land, a substantial reduction in the non-productive items, such as rent and rates. Her Majesty's Government were proposing a substantial reduction in the rates, and he had admitted the other day that in the first instance the relief would go to the tenant-farmer. But in respect to rent, what did the figures laid before the Agricultural Commission establish? They established the fact that, after all the outgoings for labour, fertilisers, rent and taxes, there was practically nothing left for the tenant farmer. The result of the 63 farm accounts gave a net average annual profit to the tenant of only 1s. 3d. an acre, while the owner was drawing an average of 21 s. an acre. Then, too, they had full accounts furnished them of 29 great estates in England. Those estates covered 440,000 acres, and in 1892 the rents—not the agreed rents, but the rents actually received — amounted to £535,000. After deducting all the landlord's outgoings, the net rent in 1892 was no less than £303,000. If distributed over the acreage, the gross rent was 24s. 3d. an acre, and the net income very nearly 14s. an acre. Anyone who weighed carefully these figures and the farming accounts would say that the economic pressure at the present time fell unfairly on the tenant farmer. Clearly, the tenant farmer should bear some part of it, but he must be like others, content with a smaller margin of profit, but he put it to any impartial man on these figures whether the tenant farmer was not bearing a disproportionate share of the loss at the present moment. There was the farm in Wiltshire to which he had previously referred. It had been occupied since 1868 by father and son. Taking the period of depression since 1879 the total rent paid amounted to £10,044, and, after allowing five per cent. interest on the capital invested, the tenants had made a loss of £1,381. The tenant said that, but for the private means which his father and he possessed, they could not have lived on the returns of the farm. Then there was a farm in Bedfordshire of 922 acres, a comparatively good farm. In 12 years the owner received in rents £13,241, an average of £1,120 a year, or 24s. an acre, whereas the total profits of the tenant were only £1,800, or 3s. 3d. an acre. 1470 On a farm in Norfolk of 750 acres, while the owner's rent during 11 years was £7,964, the tenant's profit during the whole of that time was only £225. To take grass farms, on a farm in Northamptonshire of 431 acres, the owner had drawn in five years £3,357, while the occupier had lost £561, or one-seventh of his capital. A sheep and dairy farm in Yorkshire showed an average rent £749, and average net profit £21; that was to say, the rent had been 35 times larger than the profit of the tenant. On a farm in Lincolnshire of 1,200 acres, highly kept up, the rent had averaged no less than £1,579, and now stood at £ 1,250; the owner had drawn in 10 years £15,793, while the accounts proved that the tenant had employed a capital of £7,407 in keeping the farm at a good and uniform level, and not only had he received nothing, but he had lost nearly £400 of his capital. There was a remarkable set of accounts from one farm in North Yorkshire of 837 acres, in prime condition. The figures showed that in 15 years since 1879 the total profit was £55 5s. 8d., or £3 13s. 8d. a year, and the tenant had sacrificed the interest of £10,000 of capital during the whole of that period, giving the whole of his skill and labour to the farm, while the landlord had received in rent £13,887. Taking the whole of the 11 accounts for Lincolnshire they showed for 7,601 acres an average rent of £8,845, while the average net loss of the tenants over this area was £640 a year. The tenant-farmers had shown, what indeed he knew from his own knowledge of his own county, that they were not stinting labour. He believed they were doing their best for the land and for the labourers, and were largely paving for labour out of their own capital. It might be said he was wrong in saying that rent was a non-productive item of outgoing. So far as it went back to the land in repairs and improvements, of course it was a reproductive item, but he challenged altogether the theory that because the capital of landlords had so largely been available for the improvement of the land and it was the highest honour and glory of English agriculture that it had been so applied—that that was a sufficient justification for the enormous rents that were being charged all over the country—enormous, he meant, 1471 in relation to the small share of gross profits which was left over for the tenants. He had argued, and was willing to argue again, that the tenants had substantially paid for the improvements the landlords had carried out. The sums invested by landlords in years past had long ago been paid out of the pockets of the tenants in the shape of rents, and present rents represented some return on the money invested. The reason that they asked for this alteration of the law was the plain fact that the best type of farmer was not in a position to make a fair bargain. The competition was keener in bad times for the few farms that were well kept up. The Mover of the Amendment referred very naturally to his relations with his own tenants; but on how many estates in England was it the case, as on the Holker estates, that the farms had not been revalued since 1826? With regard to the question of arbitration as to rents, in all agricultural compensation cases there must inevitably be some conception in the mind of the arbitrator as to the value of the land. It was impossible to deal adequately with the remaining value of the tenants' improvements unless, in the mind of the arbitrator, there was some consideration of the value of the land. There were hon. and right hon. Gentlemen even connected with his own Party who seemed to have one standard of equity and justice when they crossed St. George's Channel, and had absolutely no compassion or regard for men in similar circumstances when they happened to be working honestly and quietly and loyally on English farms, and doing their very best to keep up the fertility of the land. There was no distinction in principle between the farmer who spent money in buildings and drainage and the farmer who spent it on fertilizers, which were exhausted in three, five, or 10 years; there should be a property right in the one case as in the other; the man who put capital into the land to develop it was entitled to have it protected. There was no violation of principle in extending to the English farmer exactly the same protection that was afforded to the Irish farmer with regard to the money he placed upon the land. Some Members might think that the economic questions involved could take care of themselves, but he held 1472 that the interests of agriculture ought to be regarded as those of the nation, and that their policy should be, even if it involved some sacrifice, to secure the fullest development of agriculture. If there was greater security of tenure, and a fuller assertion of the property right of the tenant on his improvements, there would be a development of agriculture such as we had never seen before, and there would be successful farming all over England, while it would be an enormous advantage to all concerned to place the relations of landlord and tenant once for all on an economic and commercial basis.
§ MR. J. LLOYD WHARTON (York, W. R., Ripon)
said, it had been suggested that the provisions of the Bill were in accordance with the recommendations of the Central Chamber of Agriculture. In the absence from the country of Lord Grey, he was acting Chairman of the Chamber, and he wished to state that, while undoubtedly portions of the Bill were in accordance with the suggestions of the Chamber, its main feature was not. That main feature was the creation of Land Courts; the Yorkshire farmers, at all events, did not want them; and he believed they simply shared the feeling of the great body of English farmers. Some of them were threatened before the late General Election with the loss of their seats for opposing the Bill of the hon. Member for Devonshire; but his own majority was increased; and he believed that he did not suffer at all for having opposed that Bill. He opposed it because he thought it a bad Bill, and he believed this to be a bad Bill too.
§ MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
said, he was sorry that an hon. Member who had urged that no reasons had been given for drastic legislation was not in his place to hear the figures adduced by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire, which clearly showed that there was great necessity for drastic change in our system of land tenure. The hon. Member for St. Albans sought to discount the evidence by which the changes proposed were supported before the Commission; but there was the evidence of Professor James Long, who said he was in favour of fixity of tenure, judicial rents, compensation for disturbance, and free sale. There were 1473 influential witnesses before the Commission who favoured the provisions of the Bill for the creation of Land Courts. If there were no other reason for the Bill there was this, that on political platforms and in the House they were told that the condition of agriculture was so desperate that we were within measureable distance of a national calamity. We had the best land in the world, and yet the foreign and colonial producer could undersell us in our own markets. It was, therefore, high time some steps were taken to bring about a change. The Bill proposed change. First, it proposed to give security to the farmer by making improvements in the conditions on which he held land; secondly, it proposed to set up tribunals for fixing fair rents; and it was mainly on account of the second proposal that he supported the Bill. The condition of agriculture was admittedly desperate; it was time some new remedies were tried. It was not alone a farmers' question; it was a question of making the best use of the land of England, of getting out of it the utmost it would produce. This was a question of vital concern to the whole community. It was said that it was possible to secure to the farmer all he ought to have without Land Courts; but this he denied. A man who put capital and brains into farming needed to be secure in the possession of his improvements, and also in the possession of his holding at a reasonable rent as long as he continued to farm properly. There was no fixity of tenure in the Bill, but there was a clause providing for the revision of rents; and a revision of rent at stated periods a farmer must have before he could carry on his business properly. The English farmer was not able to realise from the sale of the produce grown upon his farm a sufficient amount to provide a margin of profit after payment of his outgoings, and the first of these was the large item of rent. In 1894 the amount of rent paid was, in round numbers, £46,000,000. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are the amounts remitted included in that?"] The sum he had named was the amount on which the landowners had paid income tax, and he imagined that they did not pay income tax upon more than they received. ["Yes they do," from the Ministerial 1474 benches.] He was glad to hear they were so liberal, but he should like to have some better proof of it. The next outgoing was the expenditure on labour Taking the number of the agricultural labourers in England at 852,000, and the average wage at 14s. a week, the labour bill came to £31,000,000. The stable expenses and the maintenance of horses he estimated at £15,000,000. In local rates the farmer paid 2s. 3d. in the pound on his rental, or about 3s. 2d. per acre. The total sum paid in. rates on the cultivated acreage in England, including orchards, market gardens and nurseries, was about £5,000,000. Then there was the tithe, amounting in England and Wales to about £4,000,000. [Mr. JEFFREYS: "That is the gross amount. The net amount is about £3,000,000."] There was also the question of the farmers' interest on capital. It would be seen from these figures how large a part of the outgoings took the form of rent. In fact, it was the rent that absorbed the farmers' margin of profit. They had been told that the farmer was a free agent, and that if his rent was too high he could get it reduced. The farmer, however, was not a free agent, because the amount of land available was limited, and the population desiring to go upon the land was ever increasing. That was the reason why Land Courts must eventually be established. The landowners had a monopoly of the land, and that prevented the natural fall of rents which would take place if there were an absolutely free market. These statements would probably be challenged by hon. Members opposite, and he would be told that farmers could make their own terms. Did hon. Members opposite deny that there was keen competition for good farms in England to day? [Several HON. MEMBERS: "Yes!"] He referred hon. Members who denied it to the evidence given before the Royal Commission by the witnesses from Lincolnshire. If there was no keen competition for farms, would it be possible for the average rental of agricultural land in Great Britain to be 28s. an acre? Reference had been made to the enormous sums which landowners had spent in improving their property. On this point he could cite some figures which 1475 were worth consideration. The late Sir James Caird, one of the greatest authorities upon agricultural matters, showed that from 1856 to 1875 the selling value of agricultural land had gone up by no less a sum than £331,000,000, and that the expenditure of the landowners upon it in that period did not exceed£60,000,000. In other words, in 20 years the landlords of this country had spent one year's income upon their property, while rents had gone up in the meantime so much as to increase the aggregate value of their estate by £331,000,000. He was afraid that he had occupied too large a portion of the time of the House, and, therefore, he would conclude by saying that he looked upon this question of agricultural distress and its remedies as a national one. He hoped that in the remarks he had made hon. Members would give him credit for honestly believing, as he had said, that this question was one entirely of the amount of rent which the tenants had to pay. It was because he held that opinion that he supported this Bill, which contained a proposal to set up an independent tribunal that would have power to fix fair rents. Did any hon. Member sitting on the other side of the House suggest that they desired that the tenants should pay more than a fair rent, or that the tenant farmers were entitled to a fair share of the result of their time, their labour and their capital which they had put into the land. It was because he believed that this Bill went in that direction, and would not only secure to them that which belonged to them and their families, but would tend to improve the condition of agriculture in this country that he should give it his most hearty support, in the hope that it would effect such a change that we should no longer be compelled to look abroad in order to supply our wants.
§ *MR. ABEL HENRY SMITH (Christchurch)
said that he did not intend to follow the hon. Gentleman who had last addressed the House into the figures which he had laid before them, because he would rather leave it to the House to judge of the value of those figures in connection with the Bill which was now under discussion. He had two reasons for wishing to trespass upon the time of the House. In the first place he was a farmer, and, therefore, had somewhat 1476 more practical experience of the details of farming than most hon. Members had; in the second place it had been his duty to study the evidence that had been given before the Royal Commission, and although perhaps he had not examined that evidence with the same avidity as the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, he thought that he might say that he was fairly well acquainted with the contents of the somewhat ponderous Blue-books in which that evidence was embodied. He must say that the views that he had previously held on this question had been confirmed by that evidence. He did not think that the farmers of this country could complain of any lack of friends in that House, seeing the numerous proposals for their benefit that had been recently introduced into that House. He thought he might leave it to that House and to the country to decide who were the true friends of the farmer. The Measure was certainly a compulsory one, and it gave the tenant the power of dragging his landlord before a new tribunal in order that his rent might be judicially fixed. He must ask to be allowed to join previous speakers in commending the moderation and even meekness of the tone of the hon. Member, who had moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and his agility in skating lightly over the more drastic clauses of the Measure. He regarded the performance of the hon. Gentleman in that respect as a most creditable one. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the case of the absentee landlords. But what had driven those landlords from their homes? It was the legislation that had been carried through Parliament during recent years by the Party opposite, and if this Bill ever became law, which he trusted it would not do, it would tend more than all to drive landlords from their estates. The hon. Gentleman had said that tenants' capital had been almost entirely lost. No one could regret that fact more than he himself did, but he must point out that farmers could not go on for years in the face of a continually falling market without incurring very serious loss. He must say that he had heard with astonishment the hon. Gentleman's statement as to the capital value of the land, and that it was possible to purchase 1477 land to pay five or six per cent. The hon. Gentleman did not appear to be aware that estates had long been in the market without the unfortunate owners being able to find purchasers for them. The hon. Gentleman who had seconded the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill had spoken of the subject from a Welsh point of view. The Welsh Land Commission had been appointed on the 1st April 1893, and since that time they appeared to have been wandering over Wales with the object of collecting evidence, without having been able to arrive at any conclusion in relation to the question. The hon. Gentleman had made a most interesting speech, because he had devoted it to those clauses to which the Conservative Agricultural Members had no objection. The hon. Gentleman had spoken of the defects of the Agricultural Holdings Act, of the capricious evictions, which, however, never took place, and of the restrictions upon cultivation. He might say that those restrictions were a terror only to bad farmers, and that no farmer who cultivated his land in a proper manner was ever interfered with by his landlord. This Bill was certainly of an extraordinary character. Certain clauses, containing harmless necessary provisions, were sandwiched in among clauses of a most objectionable and revolutionary character. He was glad that the hon. Member for West Derbyshire had moved his Amendment, because he, for one, should have regretted to have been driven to vote against the whole Bill, while approving of several of its provisions. The clause which provided for a record of the condition of the holding was a most valuable one, because it would give greater security to the improving tenant, and would afford an excellent guide for valuers. He also approved of the clause which placed the landlord and the tenant upon an equal footing with regard to notices. Those clauses had been borrowed from the Scheme of i he Central Chamber of Agriculture. He strongly objected, however, to the clauses which gave the tenant a right to make first-class improvements without the consent of his. landlord, by which he might easily ruin a needy owner; to that which provided for compensation for disturbance, by which the owner would be deprived of the control of his 1478 own property; and to that which gave judicial conditions of tenancy and judicial rents. Those provisions showed the drastic character of the Bill, and he did not hesitate to say that most occupiers in the country objected to them. The farmers were generally in favour of freedom of contract, and of making their own terms with their landlords. The evidence before the Commission on the point was almost all one way. Even in. Lancashire the Federation of Tenant Farmers' Associations, with 700 members, were totally opposed to judicial rents. Mr. Edwards of Cheshire, in reply to questions put to him, said:—We have security of tenure—we have all the freedom of cultivation that we desire. The practical tanners of Cheshire have been generally in favour of making their own arrangements with the landlord. I have never had any fault to find with the landlords.Mr. Tread well of Bucks, said:—If anyone mentions a demand for judicial vents he is almost hooted down in my district. A farmer can make a better bargain for himself than any lawyer.In Devonshire the hon. Member for South Molton had won over a few followers, but it appeared, from Mr. Rew's Report on that district, that most of the farmers who voted in favour of certain Resolutions did not fully realise the precise consequences of such a course. Mr. C. S. Read of Norfolk, said:One man in 1,000 might be foolish enough to argue it, but I have never heard any farmer argue it, except one or two fiery spirits who go in for all sorts of reforms. We let them talk and we do not take any notice of what they say.It was remarkable that almost all the witnesses bore testimony as to the excellent relations that existed between the landlords and the tenants. The fact was that if rent were to be abolished and all the fanners were to be turned into freeholders, they would not be much better off than they were in the present state of things, and in truth, freeholders were as much the victims of agricultural depression as the tenant farmers were. The Amendment declared that reform of the Agricultural Holdings Act was necessary, and both the Conservative Members and the Government were pledged to such reform, so 1479 as more fully to secure to the cultivators the value of their improvements which their industry had achieved, and that increased fertility which their judgment and skill had given to the land, and to encourage good farming and ease, to some extent, the pressure which was threatening to overwhelm our great national industry.
§ *MR. GEORGE LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
said, that if all landlords were like the Duke of Devonshire and the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment it would have been unnecessary to have introduced this or any other Measure. There were, however, bad as well as good landlords, and this Measure was intended to apply to the bad landlords. It was essential if British agriculture were to hold its own that the old methods of cultivation should be changed, and no such change would be accomplished unless the farmer could obtain security for the additional capital he would have to invest in the land. The chief point of the Bill, as he understood it, was the appointment of an outside authority to fix the rent. He admitted that the bulk of the evidence given before the Royal Commission on Agriculture was against an outside tribunal for fixing the rent, but he must draw the attention of the House to the fact that they had before that Commission the most influential farmers of the country, the men who were best able to make their own bargains. He thought it was an undoubted fact that tenant farmers had lost an enormous amount of capital during the last 20 years— ["hear, hear!"]—but they had been paying rent all the time. The hon. Member who spoke last referred to Mr. Treadwell. That gentleman was a noted sheep-breeder who farmed a little over 900 acres on the estate of Baron Rothschild. The present rent was £1,344 2s. with 20 per cent. abatement for the past two years. He said in his evidence, "I am losing my capital year by year." There could be no doubt in this case that the landlord could afford to give a greater reduction of rent. Mr. Treadwell went on to say that the wages of his labourers were paid out of his capital. If it were not for the labourers there would be no rent to be paid at all. Then there was the case of Mr. Epton, who paid £1,200 a year rent. That 1480 gentleman said, "All my profit is gone, and I am losing my money besides." Then there was another case, one of the most painful, that of Mr. Stuart, a tenant in Scotland. His evidence was as follows:—Q. You said just now there were six tenants bankrupt out of 14. I presume they had been paying rent the whole of the time?—A. Yes.Q. And the reduction of rent—33 per cent.— took place when the tenancy changed?—A. When the new tenant got the farm.Q. Did the old tenants get any reduction?— A. The old tenants were refused a reduction in several of these cases.Q. Although by-and-bye at that rent they became bankrupt?—They did.That was a state of affairs which demanded some remedy. The men who were farming the land could not be free agents in dealing with the landlords, because the whole of their capital was invested in the soil. Their remedy was to ask the landlord for a reduction of the rent, but if it was refused they could only quit the farm and, leaving the major part of their capital in the soil, go to another neighbourhood. That was not freedom of contract. The President of the Local Government Board, to whose speech he listened on Monday with great interest, said:—In 99 cases out of every 100 a change of tenancy in these days is accompanied by a considerable fall in rent.That meant that they were charging the present tenant too much. Mr. Rew, in his Report on North Devon, said—He was bound to say that it was more common to protest against present rents as excessive than to say landlords ought to reduce them; a case was put before him by one witness who was the occupier of 500 acres and had been 35 years in the farm. Up to four or five years ago this tenant had held the farm on lease, it was then re-valued by a well known valuer who put the rent at £525 a year. The agent, however, asked £570, and the tenant was obliged to agree to that rent or quit the farm.It was estimated that the cost to a tenant of quitting his farm for a new one was 20 per cent. on his capital, and it was not much less. One of the great evils of the system had been that rents had not been reduced soon enough; and he dared say that the Conservative Party in ten years' time 1481 would be saying themselves that rents had not been sufficiently reduced. The systems of remissions prevented the tenant from getting an adequate reduction. He had no doubt that this Bill would not affect a single hon. Member opposite; all they wanted to do by its means was to make the bad landlords into good ones. The rents now were fixed either by the landlord, by the agent, or by competition; but an experienced and capable valuer would be able to adjudicate them much more fairly. There was abundant competition for farms, as had been proved over and over again by the evidence before the Commission; and when there was so much competition it was almost certain that rent would be raised to an abnormally high pitch. In regard to any other commodity, when the demand overtook the supply they could increase the supply, but the land was a limited commodity, and could not be increased. There were some clauses in the Bill that he could not support, but the time to express his objections would be in Committee, if the Bill ever reached that stage. He was not afraid that the tenant farmers of the country were going to spend too much money in improvements, nor did he think this was desirable; but he did think it was desirable to have some power to stimulate the landlord to make improvements which were so essential for a change of cultivation. The value of improvements was the value of an incoming tenant, and if there was no such value nothing would be paid for it; therefore the landlord had ample security in that respect. He objected to a tenant having to give the landlord notice for making permanent pastures. There had been during the last year an increase of something like 4,000,000 acres of permanent pasture; and if a tenant by this means increased the value of a farm he ought to be paid for it when he left the farm. The object of the Bill was to inculcate the spirit of self-reliance amongst the tenant farmers.
§ *THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. WALTER LONG,) Liverpool, West Derby
said, the way in which the last speaker proposed to teach farmers to help themselves was by placing them in leading strings under the control of an outside authority. 1482 ["Hear, hear!"] He gathered from the Debate that there was a general desire on the part of those responsible for the Bill not to disturb the existing relations between landlords and tenants; and they had heard the familiar suggestion that the Measure was intended to apply only to bad landlords. But the Government could not be a party to the House giving its assent, by allowing the Second Reading, to a Measure containing principles such as those to be found in this Bill, either because there was a desire to maintain these good relations or because of the assurance that it was only intended to apply to bad landlords. ["Hear, hear!"] The Seconder of the Motion for the Second Reading had appealed to the hon. Member for West Derbyshire not to invite the House to reject the Measure in its entirety because it contained a principle with regard to the revision and settlement of rent which was regarded as unsatisfactory. But it would be almost impossible for any committee to disentangle from out of its clauses those parts of the Bill which applied to the creation of this new tribunal and to deal only with those parts which applied to the Agricultural Holdings Act. It was true that earlier in the Session he had, on behalf of the Government, given notice of a Bill to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act. He did so because they had promised to bring in a Measure of that kind; and it had not been proceeded with because he had received many representations that it would be desirable that they should know the mind of the Commission which was inquiring into the matter before dealing finally with a question of such great importance. [Cheers.] He ventured to hazard the remark that if the Government had introduced that Bill and asked the House to proceed with it, hon. Gentlemen opposite would have been foremost in denouncing them for not waiting for the Report of the Commission. The Government desired and were prepared to deal with the reform of the Agricultural Holdings Act in a manner which they believed to be liberal and comprehensive, and which would have for its object the removal of any just and legitimate difficulties which now stood in the way of the recovery by the tenant of that outlay for which he was fairly entitled to be compensated when 1483 he left his holding. They did not, however, believe it was just to ask that compensation should be given to a sitting tenant. ["Hear, hear!"] The really important part of the Bill was found in the change which it proposed to make in the land tenure system of the country. They had been told that the landowner received a share of profits altogether out of proportion to what the occupier had received, and strong statements had been made with regard to the increased value of land and the position of the owner generally. Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to regard the position of the landowner as one which the House could altogether afford to disregard. But if the landowner had been to so large an extent the cause of the agricultural difficulty, it was a remarkable thing that the evidence put before the Royal Commission on Agriculture on behalf of the farmers themselves had been with few exceptions against any proposal of the kind put forward in this Bill. [Cheers.] Whatever might have been the condition, economic or otherwise, which led the House to establish a tribunal of this kind in Ireland, the House had always held that there had not been found hitherto, and there was not to be found at present, any condition of a similar character which would justify the creation of a similar tribunal in England. He maintained that the assertion so freely indulged in by hon. Gentlemen opposite of the incapacity and inability of the tenant farmers to manage their own affairs constituted in itself an insult to the intelligence of the tenant farmers of the country. ["Hear, hear!"] It was remarkable that hon. Gentlemen who warmly supported the Measure which the hon. Member for South Molton himself introduced last year did not succeed in the General Election which followed in strengthening their position in the House—[cheers]—and, if he remembered aright, the hon. Gentleman who seconded the Second Reading on that occasion was one of the first county Members to lose his seat by a very large majority. In view of these facts he was entitled to say that those who supported the policy of creating an outside tribunal to interfere between landlord and tenant had not been able to adduce in support of the proposal any 1484 evidence drawn from the farmers as a body, or to secure from amongst the tenant farmers anything like an adequate measure of support and sympathy. ["Hear, hear!"] They had been told that tenants had been obliged to pay their rent out of capital, and had in consequence gone bankrupt. But the Bill, even if it passed as it stood, would not prevent such a possibility. The Bill, far as it went, did not propose that the tenant should pay no rent at all. "Hear, hear!"] There was, he thought, a great deal of misunderstanding as to the system which it was said obtained in some parts of the country of letting farms by competition. Such a course was the exception and not the rule, for in the management of the vast majority of landed estates competition and the selection of the highest bidder as tenant found no place. The common practice of arriving at the rent by discussion between the tenant and the landlord, and sometimes the agent, was most equitable in its result, and if it were interfered with, greater harm would be done the tenant than the landlord. ["Hear, hear!"] He asked the House not to accept as reliable the statement that if a rent tribunal had been in existence 25 years ago, the tenants whose hard cases had been quoted would be in a better position to-day, because, as was said, they would have to pay less rent. It was conceded by every impartial student of the agricultural question, that during the past 40 years enormous sums had been spent by the owners of estates on improvements of a permanent character, and he submitted that if 25 years ago the owner of the land was deprived of the right of settling the condition under which his property should be managed or of coming to terms with his tenants and thereby turned into the position of a man holding a life charge upon his land, the advantage which the tenant might have derived from a reduction in rent—if there was a reduction—would be more than counterbalanced by the injury done him by the landlord ceasing to expend money on the improvement of the land. ["Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member for the Harborough Division seemed to think that the agricultural depression was due to the fact that the produce of the country was not so good 1485 as it ought to be. That might be true in regard to some forms of dairy produce, but it was due, not to the incompetence of the farmer, but to the fancy of the consumer. But he maintained that in no country in the world would they find the land producing more cereals than the land of Great Britain; and he asserted that, regarded as a whole, the land of Great Britain was ably and fully cultivated. ["Hear, hear!"]
§ MR. LOGAN,
interposing, said, that, doubtless, in regard to the production of cereals, other countries were behind us; but what he said was that in France and Belgium a much larger population was maintained per acre than in this country.
§ *MR. LONG
said he believed the hon. Gentleman was perfectly right in that; but he was certain the hon. Gentleman would not get much sympathy from the cultivators of the land in Great Britain if he told them he desired to see them living the lives of the cultivators in Belgium and France. [Ministerial cheers.] The Government believed that this Bill, so far from doing good, would do great harm. However benevolent the intentions of its promoters might be, its effect would be to alienate the owners of the soil from the occupiers of the soil, and to do lasting injury to an industry which badly needed assistance. He was glad that hon. Gentlemen who had been denouncing the agricultural proposals of the Government had got the opportunity of producing their own alternative proposals for the relief of the agricultural industry. He was confident that 99 per cent. of the agriculturists, if they were on the one hand offered the proposals of the Government, and were on the other hand offered the proposals of this Bill, they would, as practical men, reject the Bill as calculated to do more harm than good. For those reasons he hoped the House would, by a large majority, support the Amendment. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said he had supported the Land Tenure Bill of last year, because he desired to prevent any arbitrary conduct on the part of landlords towards tenants; and he still believed that such conduct, if it were exercised, should be suppressed. But this Bill entirely differed from the Bill 1486 of last year. It proposed to set up a Court to fix the rent between the landlord and the tenant, in the hope thereby of preventing the force of competition from affecting certain classes of tenants. At present, rents were arrived at by a process of bargaining between the parties, and the tenant agreed to pay what he thought would give him a reasonable chance of making a living. They could not alter that unless they made the tenant a mere caretaker or hind in the employment of the landowner. The fixing of rents by the Courts had not prevented competition in Ireland. If they gave the tenant fixity of tenure they must give him free sale also, and although the rent might not be increased, the purchase-money would still supply the force of competition they desired to get rid of. He thought the Bill would be utterly futile, and therefore intended to vote against it. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 133; Noes, 247.—(Division List, No. 110.)
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
§ Resolved, That this House, whilst recognising the desirability of modifications in the existing law relating to agricultural tenancies, is of opinion that it has not been shown that the reversal of the general principles, which have hitherto governed such tenancies, is either desired by or is desirable in the interests of the various classes engaged in the cultivation of the soil in Great Britain.