HC Deb 22 February 1899 vol 67 cc258-60

On the order for the' Second Reading of this Bill,


Mr. Speaker, this opens up a very old subject which has been before the House and before the Town Holdings Committee for many years, and its object is to facilitate the purchase by the occupying tenant of the freehold of the premises in which he lives and carries, on his business. Of course it is impossible at this hour of the day, when we shall adjourn in a few minutes, to enter at any length into this very large and complicated question. Some 10 or 12 years ago this House appointed a Committee, which sat four or five years, to consider the question of the occupation of holdings by tenants in England, Scotland, and Wales, and that Committee, on which I had the honour of a seat, gave considerable attention to the general system of the tenure of land and the way in which it was possible to reform it. At that time there was, as there is now, a very strong feeling amongst, a great portion of the community, especially the community residing in the large towns, and, above all, in London, that there is considerable hardship in the present system in which land and houses are held, and that it would be only right and politic, both from a social and political standpoint, to give greater facilities for acquiring freehold to those who occupy houses either for residence or for purposes of business. The Committee inquired with great care into the various questions connected with the subject, and, although they were in favour of a freehold tenure, yet they pointed out that in many large towns, such as London, where the leasehold system largely obtained, the property was more regularly looked after when the landlords happened to be good landlords than it would have been had it been freehold. But that is not the real point at issue. The real point is whether it is a matter of political advantage that persons should be encouraged to obtain the freehold of the premises in which they live and carry on their business. I believe that in London there is a keen desire on the part of occupying tenants to obtain the freehold of their houses and places of business, so that they may extend them and adapt them to the purposes for which they are required. They have a strong objection tot improving their property when they know that on the expiration of their lease the landlord will reap the benefit. I venture to think this is not a matter which concerns one particular section, of the community only. The adoption of the principle of this Bill would enable a large number of persons to become better citizens and better off, and in every way to improve their position, and consequently the position of the country. It is a common thing to say that when a man takes a lease he knows exactly what he is doing; that is true, but, on the other hand, in many places it is impossible for a man to obtain anything more than a short lease. I am aware that there are in London very many excellent landlords —the Duke of Westminster is one—who do their best to promote the welfare of the districts in which their property lies, but I think it would be socially and politically better in every sense if the great tract of land now in the hands of the Duke of Westminster was owned by hundreds and thousands of individual freeholders. I would be the last person to suggest that we should do anything which would be unjust to the present landlords, but I think it is desirable that some steps should be taken to facilitate in every possible way the acquisition of freehold, and to increase the number of freeholders in the Metropolis. I am fully aware that it is impossible for any private Member to get a measure of this enormous importance through this House, but I venture to say that there are a great number of honourable Members on this side of the House who have in times past pledged themselves to' consider this great question. It has been my lot to attend a large number of political meetings in London, and, apart from party politics, I say emphatically that there is hardly a subject which is more popular with many persons than the idea of being able, in some fair and equitable manner, to obtain the freehold of the holdings they occupy. I do not wish in any way to suggest that simply the leaseholder should have the right of purchasing the freehold on fair terms, because, as has been frequently pointed out, the leaseholder is often not the occupier. The Bill that I am moving does not give the leaseholder who is not also the occupier the right to purchase, but limits the right to the actual occupier. I know, Mr. Speaker, that by the rules of this House I cannot dwell any longer upon this subject, but I am glad to have had the opportunity of urging upon the Government the desirability at some convenient time of dealing with this question, and I trust that even in this Parliament something will be done in the direction I have indicated.

Debate stood adjourned.

House adjourned at thirty-five minutes past Five of the clock.