§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. MACALEESE (Monaghan, N.)
In rising to propose the Second Reading 1179 of this Bill, I do not propose to detain the House for any very lengthened period of time. I am rather in favour of the principle of limitation of speeches, advocated with great ability, if I may be allowed to say so, by an hon. and gallant Gentleman on the other side of the House, and to be consistent, therefore, I propose making my professions to harmonise and correspond with my practice. From my place in these high latitudes I have been able to observe that inexperienced members like myself always receive indulgence when coming forward to address the House, and can at all times rely upon the fact that the worst that can befall them is to get good-humouredly laughed at. The footsteps of the novice, even of the grey-bearded novice, if there be compatibility in the term, are liable to be dogged and followed by mistakes; but in the words I will use I am certain I shall not be harshly judged, but be allowed a generous indulgence. One of the principal things justifying the existence of a legislature is the conscientious desire of its members to frame laws with the honest and earnest intention of making those laws in such a way as to operate for the general good, and so to equalise burdens that no shoulder shall be made to bear more than its due proportion of weight. The Bill which I have the honour now to bring forward in the name and on behalf of the party to which I may say I am proud to belong, proposes to give relief to a large and important class of tenants in towns, who have long been subject, I regret to say, to very harsh and arbitrary treatment. I am free to confess that it is an adopted Bill, a little less marked in its features, perhaps, than if its origin was entirely due to myself, but commanding, all the same, such advocacy as I am able to bestow upon it. It is a matter of history, and therefore need not be dwelt upon by me, how hon. Members on this side struggled and struggled with fairly good success to disembarrass the agricultural industry of Ireland by the removal of heavy obstructions that blocked the progress of the plough and prevented poor Irish farmers from all chance of competing successfully with producers in other countries. Much has still to be done before it can be said that the Irish land question has reached its final solution; but while we are waiting for the complement of our labours in that direction, it is meet and appropriate, at 1180 least according to my view, that some effort should be made to remove burdens of an oppressive character whose incidence is certainly very heavy upon thousands of over-weighted tenants in our towns. This Bill is not by any means the first attempt made by Members from Ireland to secure some relief for Irish town leaseholders. Irish Members one after another for years past have vainly tried to impress upon Parliament the necessity of doing something to help town leaseholders. Up to the present time these efforts have been without any beneficial result; but one has realised in moving along that there is great virtue sometimes in repetition, and in keeping in mind the inculcation that, even should success not follow the first effort, whosoever would win a cause must not be dashed by failure, but try again. For years a large, and I may say a deserving, class of town tenants have been at the mercy alike of ground landlords I and middlemen, with evil results, traceable, unfortunately, in all our Irish towns. To bring some relief to these tenants is the object of the present Bill, and although I must admit that it is to some extent a hoping against hope to look for a speedy and satisfactory remedy, yet I do not quite despair of seeing some remedial legislation carried to benefit these sufferers. The Irish question—the ever present Irish question—which resembles the poor in that you have it always with you, has many sides and many variations of aspect. It presses itself upon the attention of this honourable House in many ways; and I think I may say, without venturing dangerously far into the unsafe realm of prophecy, that it is likely to remain with you at least until you have recognised and conceded the right which we claim to make our own laws, in our own Parliament, in the capital city of our own country. The question of improving the position of town tenants is by no means a minor phase of the great work of regeneration which the Irish Members have on hand. It bulks largely among the reforms which we regard as vital to the well-being not only of our decaying towns, but of Ireland generally. And did we possess, as we ought to possess, a legislature of our own, no time would be lost in adjusting the evil methods of leasing which now prevail. Many causes contribute to the decline 1181 which unfortunately is drying up the springs of prosperity in our Irish towns. Among these are high railway charges and tariffs, which by their prohibitory character destroy all chance of successful competition and strike at the very root of all local industries. But the prohibitory railway rates are perhaps only secondary in their blighting effects to the evils of rack-renting which oppress all the cities and towns of Ireland. Why, of all the melancholy sights to be seen in a tour through our unhappy country, none is so depressing as the decaying aspect of our towns. Without going outside the Division which I have the honour to represent in this House, I could furnish examples of disappearing towns, or perhaps I ought really to say of towns which have disappeared, that are very sad to contemplate. What is now the hamlet or village of Glasslough, in County Monaghan, was fifty years ago a thriving and populous town; but about that period it suited the then lord of the soil not only to check the growth of the community, but to use the arbitrary power with which the law unfortunately armed him, to level the place at one fell stroke and to scatter the inhabitants to the four winds. Enyvale, in the same district, is another town similarly fallen. Its roofless houses may be likened to spectres, with their tottering gables crumbling to ruin; and its deserted street is a standing argument of the utter incapacity of Englishmen to govern Ireland. These are not the only instances I could furnish of ruined towns in the Division I represent, but they are sufficient for my purpose, more particularly as I desire to not unduly prolong my remarks. In the town of Monaghan, where I reside, if a reduced and constantly decreasing population be accepted as an evidence of decay—and I confess I can see no evidence more convincing or conclusive—if something be not done to stay the march of ruin, a few decades will reproduce in our county town what we see with much sorrow in other places, and our streets and squares will be as silent as God's acre itself. And what is most to be regretted in this connection is that what is true of the places I am referring to is still more true in its application to towns in other provinces of Ireland less favoured than Ulster. I will not weary the House, but I advance the general principle that the prosperity of our country is marred by many causes, 1182 one of the chief of these being the power enjoyed by town landlords to dictate terms of tenancy which directly lead to the downfall of many honest and deserving traders. I am contemplating the case of the poorer class of tenants, but not those alone suffer from the imperfect state of the law—a state that has come down to us from a time when feudal ideas prevailed universally among legislators, and the Statute-book is but a receptacle of those ideas crystallised. The rich trader and the poor together suffer in this connection, and it is in the interest of both that I ask the House to accept the principle of this Bill. To bring forward examples of the evils which follow the system of leasing in Irish towns would be an easy task. That system was well exposed some years ago—so far back, indeed, as 1886—by the hon. Member for North Mayo, and in the debate at that time* convincing arguments were used and instances advanced of how injuriously this antiquated law worked out for the prosperity of the country. I am not going to wade through the special cases I find reported in that debate, but I may say that exposures were then made which resulted in the appointment of a Committee to investigate the subject, which Committee, however, following many venerable examples, for a time looked wise, but after much palaver flickered out without doing anything practical. Town leases are so many stumbling-blocks in the matter of industry in Ireland, and, indeed, in Great Britain. The powers enjoyed by town landlords to dictate their own terms of tenancy are a fatal barrier to improvements, and until a Bill be carried to change the condition of things now prevailing it is use less, I fear, to look for the prosperity we desire. At the time I refer to it was generally conceded—and, indeed, it is generally conceded still—that to the system of tenancy prevailing Irish towns largely owe their decay; but Parliament does nothing to speed reform. Only yesterday in this honourable House we had the, shall I say, humiliating spectacle of Ministers acknowledging a grievance of the first magnitude in regard to Ireland, and pleading as an excuse for their inaction that they were unable to invent* For Debate on the Second Reading of the Tenure of Town Houses (Ireland) Bill, 24th February, 1886, see The Parliamentary Debates [Third Series], Vol. cccii., page 1117.1183 machinery by which redress could be provided. If there be any substance in that excuse, what a commentary it is upon the resources of a Government whose friends claim for it the possession of all the political virtues, and the patriotic ones as well! Under the system which this Bill is designed to revise it was at all times impossible to have any general development of industry. Leases range from twenty-one to 100 years generally, and as the lessee on the expiry of his agreement must walk out and forfeit all improvements which he has made, and all increase of business he may have brought to the premises, or else consent to pay a fine for renewal and an increase of rent as well, hon. Members will easily realise how important it is to make the change for which the Bill provides. This Bill will go some way to remedy this state of things by providing for an arrangement by which lessees may acquire certain reversions and also the freehold of premises by purchase. It is not by any means a one-sided measure, designed to affect lessors injuriously, but simply aims at the erection of a system which, to some extent, may stop the progress of decay Lessor or lessee may avail of its provisions as inclined, and, as in the case of those agricultural tenancies within the embrace of the Land Laws, may have recourse to the Land Commission or the county courts when the parties themselves may be unable to agree as to the amount of the purchase money, the question of title, or any other doubt or difficulty in any transaction under this Bill. I need not point out that measures of this kind, to be dealt with exhaustively, ought properly to be brought forward and pioneered by hon. Members of good experience, for they are not only liable to suffer, but actually do suffer, from falling into hands like my own. However, all things have their compensations, and in this case these are not wanting, for alongside with me are hon. Members whose capable advocacy of this Bill, as I venture to think, will go far to convince the House that the measure is not only desirable but necessary, and that its passage will mark another advance towards the establishment of happier relations between Great Britain and Ireland. Without further trespassing upon the time and patience of the House, I beg to move the Second Reading.
*MR. FIELD (Dublin, St. Patrick)
, in seconding the motion, did not think it necessary to go into any lengthened explanation of the provisions of the Bill, because it would be just so much time lost. Undoubtedly this was one of the most serious questions with which the time of Parliament could be occupied. His reason for saying that the time taken in explaining the Bill would be wasted was that the lawyers in the House would constitute generally a critical element in regard to the drafting of the measure, and when the Bill, if read a second time, was referred to a Committee a great number of its provisions would be changed. It might, however, be stated that the Bill had been drawn by one of the most eminent lawyers in Dublin, with great experience in this line of work, and therefore, as a whole, the Bill was fairly drawn. It could be seen by the provisions of the measure that the promoters were really desirous of being fair to both sides, because if either the landlord or the tenant objected to what was arranged he could summon a jury. The main object of the Bill was to remove certain disabilities under which town tenants laboured at the present moment in Ireland. This question should be looked at from a broad point of view. It was one of public importance, affecting a vast number of the community in the three kingdoms, and in examining this subject the House should not stop short at the anatomy of existing institutions, but should penetrate into the secret functions of what the law ought to do, and its relations to those who are affected by it. The House should revert to the originating condition of things, and get at the root principle. What was really the trend of modern movement? Every Member of the House would admit that at the present time the trend of population was to the aggregation in large numbers in cities and towns. The agricultural population had to a certain extent disappeared from the three kingdoms, and therefore this was a matter of vital importance not alone to Ireland, but also to Great Britain. The system of land monopoly here existing was exceptional, and was in contradistinction to that of any other country in Europe. Unless that system was changed it might ruin England just as it had almost ruined Ireland. According to Tacitus, "Great estates ruined 1185 the empire." It was a long cry from Tacitus to Gladstone; but in 1871 Mr. Gladstone's Commission stated "that on the Continent great estates had almost totally disappeared or were fast melting away." The right hon. Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland appeared to think that land nationalisation was rather an insane idea, but God created the land for the people and certainly not for the landlord. The right hon. Gentleman was doubtless a Biblical scholar, but he could not find a single passage in the Bible which stated that the land was created for the landlords. He (the hon. Member) simply desired to make as many people as possible the owners of the soil and of the houses they occupied. The law and customs in England differed entirely from that in any other country in the world, and public opinion required to be educated on this matter, because at present it did not recognise this fact. England was exceptional in regard to a great many things. This country had a railway monopoly, such as was not tolerated in any other State in the world. It had adopted Free Trade—a principle entirely opposed to the trading systems of the rest of the universe. It supported a poor law system unknown elsewhere. In this as in other matters the Britisher had the idea of supremacy—that he was right and all the rest of the world was wrong. Where did all the land legislation come from? It came from the Roman law. The Roman laws were the basis of the civilisation of the present time. The Roman Code by degrees came to be adopted in all Western Europe, with the result that there was in Western Europe that which there certainly was not in Great-Britain—namely, a peasant proprietary and ownership of houses. In all places where English law had not penetrated the Roman Code, otherwise known as the Civil Code, absolutely prevailed. What did the Civil Code lay down? It provided that no man should grow rich at another man's expense. What did the system of landlordism in town in Great Britain and Ireland mean? It simply meant that the landlord did grow rich at another man's expense; under the system rack-renting was encouraged, and there were wholesale evictions, the appropriation of property and improvements, and the destruction of business which had been built up by years of toil and labour 1186 on the part of the tenants. Reference was often made to the "sacredness of contract," but in this question there was only one man free to contract, and that was the landlord. It was not a case of a contract at all. The tenant was obliged to remain in his premises in order to preserve his business; he had no freedom of contract to go elsewhere, because by so doing his business would be destroyed. This grievance was seriously felt all over Ireland. He (the hon. Member) was doubtless looked upon as a revolutionary character, but in regard to this matter he had presented no less than forty petitions from various towns in Ireland, some of which towns professed the most conservative ideas in general politics. In this matter he was also supported by an association comprising his most determined political opponents. This was not a political question in that sense, but an economical problem calling for an immediate solution. There was a particular reason why the people of Ireland asked for this measure. They could not afford to pay the high rents which Englishmen and Scotchmen were able to bear, as the people of Great Britain were much more prosperous than the people in the cities and small towns of Ireland. Another reason for this Bill was that there had been so-called exceptional legislation in Ireland in regard to the land, and it was felt that town tenants should have exactly the same privileges as were given to agricultural tenants. The agricultural tenants had judicial rents and fixity of tenure so long as that rent was paid, and why should not the town tenant have equal justice? There was a pamphlet on "Overcrowding in Towns" written by Mr. Boulter, and the hon. Member for South Tyrone had written to him—I fully approve of the proposal, and can see no reason why the benefits conferred on Irish farmers with the best results should not be extended to the British workman.If that was so, why not to the Irish town tenants generally? There was a popular fallacy that a man's house was his castle. It was nothing of the kind. It was a phrase which had grown into a proverb, sanctified by usage, but the real fact was exactly the opposite. A man's house was not his castle. Ninety per cent. of the occupiers of those houses could not claim them as their castles. On the contrary, they were only the sentries of the 1187 commanding officers, the landlords. This question touched the very root of society. The family constituted the home, and the home-life was the real and stable foundation of society and of the State, the centre of civilisation and Christianity. A man's home was sacred whether he be rich or poor, peer or peasant, and to make a happy home was the object of every sensible citizen in this Empire. From that point of view it could be claimed that the subject under discussion affected every family in the United Kingdom, because security in the home was realty the basis and foundation of the peace of mind which ought to belong to every man who fulfilled the duties of citizenship. On this subject poetry might be quoted, although it would have very little effect. The House was so material that it looked at nothing except from the business point of view; sentiment was ignored, although sentiment was mainly at the bottom of all men's actions. According to Burns—To mak' a happy fireside climeFor weans and wife,That's the true pathos and sublimeOf human life.And a statesman in the highest sense of the word, John Bright, said, "The glory of a nation was in the happiness of its cottage homes." Where were the cottage homes in Ireland except in the labourers' cottages, and why should not the tenants in towns enjoy peace of mind in security of tenure and improvements? But to return to the Civil Code. What had it to say about these town tenants? Irishmen were often accused of disregarding "law and order," but he desired to base all his arguments on law and order, and it was in the interests of law and order that the passage of this Bill was desired. The Civil Code stated that "building land rent must be low." That would be a revelation to tenantry in this country. "The tenure must be in perpetuity if the rent is paid." "Leases of building land having a right of sale, and reserving neither pre-emptions nor right of fine to the landlord." This doctrine might sound rather new, but if by its enunciation knowledge was imparted to legal Gentlemen on either side of the House, doubtless they would be grateful for it. The doctrine, however, was perfectly equitable, because the right of the landlord was safeguarded by the perpetual rent, for the payment of 1188 which there was abundant security in the buildings which had been erected by the tenant. On the other hand—and this was a point upon which the greatest stress and emphasis should be laid, because the safety of the people should be the business of the law and of Government—the community could provide for themselves and their families homes of their own, from which they could not be evicted as long as they paid their rent. Further, the value of this holding which they had themselves created could be realised by them if circumstances occurred which rendered it desirable or necessary that they should leave the premises. In view of the fact that this system worked out fairly to both parties, he submitted that, with certain modifications, such a proposal to amend the existing laws should be supported by both sides of the House. This was not a party question, and if the matter were discussed rationally, with toleration, and in a conciliatory spirit, he believed that most men, except those who had enormous personal interests at stake, would be prepared to agree to the necessity of such an Amendment of the law. Since he had been a Member of the House there had been a number of measures introduced from both sides, dealing with the acquisition of workmen's dwellings, leasehold enfranchisement, town tenants, and other matters, all pointing in the one direction. Conservatives always professed to be the champions of property and of the rights of property. If that was so, the man who created the property was entitled to the championship of the Conservatives. This view had been practically endorsed by the present Leader of the House, who on 19th January, 1895, said at Manchester—I have myself been concerned in the passage of a great measure for Ireland, having for its object the advancement of money to enable the tenants to buy their holdings. I regard it as of enormous importance that the number of owners of houses and, if possible, the owners of land, should be multiplied.The writer of the pamphlet which had been referred to, on the subject of overcrowding, had had communications with a number of eminent persons, including Lord Salisbury, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Roberts, and Mr. Chamberlain, and nearly all were in favour of this scheme. But such a state of things could only be brought about by some such measure as that now under consideration. Practi- 1189 cally nothing had yet been done by Parliament, but he hoped he would now be supported by the Conservatives up to a certain point. As to the Liberals—there were not many of them present. They professed to be the friends of Ireland, but sometimes when Irish business came on they were conspicuous by their absence from the debate. The Liberals, however, claim to represent progress and development. That being so, he could claim the Liberal votes for this Bill. If, therefore, he could claim both the Liberal and the Conservative votes, what was there to prevent the measure passing into law? But he had been long enough in the House to know that where a measure of genuine reform was concerned, it was exceedingly difficult to get a Government to act. A Government always wanted details of a scheme. But for what purpose were the members of the Government intended? Were they merely ornaments? He contended it was the duty of a Government to deal with every large question such as this to the best of their endeavours, in order that the wants of the people might be satisfied and development and progress ensured. That view ought to be endorsed by every citizen. The House was now engaged in considering practically the terminable leasehold system. This was not merely an Irish grievance. He would quote the points of the arguments of the Leasehold Enfranchisement Society in England—That the terminable leasehold system, as regards buildings, is of quite modern origin, and is due, not to any public demand, but to the necessities of owners of settled estates, who could not develop their property except by obtaining enlarged leasing powers from the Legislature.That the Legislature never gave its deliberate sanction to the terminable leasehold system, which was introduced by Private Bill legislation, and accordingly never came under the purview of Parliament.That the owners of settled estates have made frequent attempts to thrust the terminable leasehold system upon the people of many of the great industrial towns, but have almost everywhere failed, either because their monopoly was not sufficiently complete, or because they could not act in concert, or because the people would not submit to exorbitant conditions.That, as regards occupying leaseholders, there is no financial difficulty in converting their holdings into freeholds, paying the ground landlord fair compensation.That wherever the terminable leasehold system prevails, sooner or later the middleman, or speculator in the fag end of leases, makes his appearance, whose vicious practices 1190 are due not so much to himself as to the system which creates him.The hon. Member believed, from his experience, that the middleman was much worse than the ground landlord. Although ground landlords used to the full their legal powers, they were not quite so exorbitant as the middlemen in their demands. The pamphlet also stated—That dual ownership means divided responsibility, and that the division of responsibility inevitably involves, in the end, neglect and decay.That was perfectly true, and accounted for so many of the towns in Ireland being in a state of decay. Kingstown was a notable illustration of that fact. The leases in Kingstown would expire in two or three years, and in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining reversions of the leases the whole place was in such a condition that it was a disgrace. That certainly was not a benefit to the landlord any more than to the tenant. The law should be such as to enable both parties to preserve their fair rights and allow the community to develop. The next paragraph of the pamphlet was—That at the very outset leasehold tenure compels builders to borrow at higher rates, and consequently to charge inflated rents in any place where freeholds are few and far between.The hon. Member desired it to be perfectly understood that in advocating this present proposal he was speaking against his own interests, as, outside his business, what little property he possessed consisted in ground rents. He had, however, never advocated, either in the House or out of it, any principle which he was not prepared to have applied to himself. Therefore, though a ground landlord, he believed that ground landlords should bear a reasonable and fair share of the taxation in the locality from which they derived their rents, and he was perfectly willing to bear his share if such a system was adopted. The last paragraph of the pamphlet was as follows—That the terminable leasehold system relieves ground landlords from their due share of local taxation, and subjects leaseholders to periodic confiscation, thereby discouraging thrift, enabling ground landlords to compel tradesmen to buy back the goodwill acquired by a lifetime of industry, and destroying the patrimony which a man would otherwise leave to his children.There was one very important point not dealt with in that pamphlet. The terminable leasehold system was of com- 1191 paratively modern origin. Originally short terms of ninety-nine years had no connection whatever with the building and occupancy of houses, but were used for other sorts and classes of transaction, such as mortgages, by freeholders desirous of retaining their freehold and encumbering as little as possible their freehold interest, or the system was utilised for securing annuities. In former times the limited value of leasehold interests was considered, and rightly so, of little value when compared with the interest in realty or freehold. In fact, at the time it was regarded as only good enough to secure a temporary mortgage loan, and when first used it was looked upon as giving an interest not much greater than that which a banker now regarded as being created by a deposit of title deeds as security for an overdraft or renewal. That was how this terminable leasehold system originated, but it had gradually developed until it had become a national evil common to the three kingdoms. The hon. Member maintained that inveterate customs which had become crystallised into laws that were opposed to public welfare should be superseded by the superior force of law, and it will be necessary to prohibit the operation of those customs if it was shown that they exclusively benefited a certain privileged section of the community at the expense of less favoured individuals, and of the community at large. The national policy ought to be equal justice and equality of opportunity for every member of the State. This question had come up in connection with the local taxation system. In 1886 a Commission was appointed, and the inquiry was resumed by several subsequent Commissions until 1894. About 1,500 pages of evidence were printed, but not a line of legislation resulted. Witnesses were examined from Tipperary, Tralee, Waterford, Queenstown, Kingstown, Dublin, and other places at the early sittings. Extraordinary cases of individual hardship were proved, also instances were given of whole townships about to be appropriated by the ground landlord, who did not contribute to the local municipal rates, yet were enabled under the present law to seize not only the house, but also utilise the roads, sewers, public utilities and material improvements which were created and maintained by the ratepayers, and this 1192 enhancement of value made it more difficult for the occupying taxpayer to obtain reasonable terms. But there were State reasons why the power of eviction and appropriation should not be confided to one or a few select individuals. Continental nations did not allow such arbitrary powers to privileged persons. In 1884 the late Lord Randolph Churchill moved for and obtained Reports by Her Majesty's representatives abroad on the system of tenure of dwelling-houses in the countries in which they resided. He (the speaker) had obtained a Return in continuation of those Reports, but it really contained nothing new, and therefore he desired to quote a few extracts from the Reports supplied on the motion of the late Lord Randolph Churchill. Her Majesty's representatives were asked—To furnish a report upon the system of tenure of dwelling-houses in the State, where you reside, distinguishing houses in towns from houses in the country, whether such houses are generally freehold or leasehold, and whether the system of letting land on long building leases prevails to any extent.One of the queries was—Are such leases confined to the neighbourhood of towns, or are they usual in the country as distinguished from the neighbourhood of towns?Mr. Victor Drummond, in his Report on the system of tenure of dwelling-houses in Austria, said—When the ground is sold it can be sold in small or large lots for building or other purposes, as the case may be, provided that no public rights are interfered with; the use of the ground sold is entirely left to the purchaser to do what he likes with, the sale being the transfer of proprietary rights. When property is sold for building purposes it rarely sold subject to the reservation of a rent or other annual or periodical payment; in such a case it would not be considered the property of the lessee or tenant until the amount agreed upon for the term is paid.That was practically the Civil Code reproduced in Austria. The Report also said—There is no difference made between town and country; in a case where by chance a personal agreement should occur it would follow the same rule, but leases, as carried out in England, in both town and country are unknown.Then came the Grand Duchy of Baden—Property in small lots for building sites is sold as a rule in Baden at a fixed and definitely stated price, without the intention of sale or purchase as 'building site' forming an essential of the contract.1193 In Bavaria—As 'latifundia' does not exist in Bavaria, where large estates are limited in number, the system of leasing estates and letting land or building plots plays a very subordinate part; whereas in Great Britain the farmers, renters of building plots, and builders form a highly important class.Leases for 60, 99, or 1,000 years are unknown in Bavaria.As a proof of the extent to which everything in Bavaria favours the principle of separate ownership in landed property (even in miniature), may be mentioned the so-called 'Herbergen' or working-men's dwellings in Munich and its suburbs, in which different floors of the same houses are owned by different people.Building land can be legally sold or let on the condition that the purchaser or hirer should build houses on it; but land is never let, and very seldom sold on such conditions, since, as a general rule, no necessity exists for them.Hon. Members might think these were fairy tales, but they were actual Reports from Her Majesty's Consuls abroad, and they showed how absolutely exceptional the British system was as compared with that which obtained over the rest of Europe. In regard to Belgium—There exists no distinction in the system of tenure between urban and suburban dwellings in Belgium, as both are governed by the same rules and regulations. Houses are regarded as private property which the owners let for a term to be determined by the parties interested; in the case where there is no agreement in writing the terms of the lease are determined by the usage of the locality.Houses are, as a rule, freehold property. Leaseholds exist only to a very limited extent, and are tending generally to disappear.The creation of ground plots for building purposes has only lately come into vogue, and this practice only exists in Brussels; the system was first introduced by a French building contractor, who erected houses on sites situated on the central boulevards, which are the property of the municipality.The Report from Denmark stated—It will be seen that in both cases such houses are almost invariably freeholds, or 'arvefaest' (hereditary tenures), of which I have given an explanation.These Reports showed that in the majority of countries the system was absolutely unknown. The Danish Report later on explained that this hereditary tenure bore some resemblance to Ulster tenant right and to the "emphyteuta" of Roman law. As to leasing land for building purposes, the Report stated—The leasing of land for a term of years conditionally on its being built over is altogether foreign to Danish practice.In towns, as in the country districts, the practice of erecting tenements on leaseholds 1194 may be said to be unknown in Denmark. The fee simple of the land having been purchased for sum down, the landlord either builds himself or re-sells the freehold for building purposes.In regard to the condition of things in France, the Report stated—Since the Revolution of 1789 all property in France, whether urban or rural, is freehold ('franc-alleu'), that is to say, so long as there is no contravention of the law as regards the welfare of the community at large, the right of owners of property to deal with it as seems best to them is free and absolute.In France property can be sold, and is not unfrequently sold, in small lots, so as to enable persons to build houses on it. These sales may be unconditional, in which case the purchaser is bound by such restrictions only as are of usual application to buildings of all kinds, and refer to the character of the work done, to sanitary arrangements, and to the consideration due to neighbours.Instead of being sold in building lots, land is sometimes let for a term of years, upon condition that houses are built on it; that an annual or other periodical rent is paid by the lessee; and that at the end of the term the houses should become the property of the landlord.The next Report was from Germany—Plots of ground, leaving out of consideration cases where they are leased for temporary purposes for specified terms, can only be sold as freehold property.The old 'institution' of heritable leases ('Erbpacht'), ceding the usufruct of a piece of ground in perpetuity in return for a yearly rent was abolished in the year 1850.Therefore the system which it was desired to uphold in this country had been absolutely abolished in Germany. Further—The law places no restriction on the subdivision at will of such ground into any number of larger or smaller lots, or on the sale of such lots.Even since then there had been a great advance; and why?As a result of thirty years painstaking thought and steady labour, the new German Civil Code recognises the legal conception based upon the consideration of the duties which an individual owes to the community, over the arrogant idea which lays stress on the absolute right of property-owning members of society. In Germany it is now laid down that in almost every case judges are given more extensive discretionary powers than heretofore to interfere with rights, power, and property.In view of the fact that the vast majority of those who live in towns must be tenants in the nature of things, particular care has been taken to neutralise the advantages possessed by the owners of houses and building sites.In this country the legislation was in exactly the opposite direction; instead of taking care of the tenants this country 1195 always took care of the landlords. In Germany, also, the custom with regard to leases was unknown. Then came the Report from Greece—The system in regard to tenure of dwelling houses which is almost universally followed throughout this kingdom is that of freehold. This system may be said to prevail absolutely in the country, and also with few exceptions in the towns.The practice of letting ground on building leases is as yet unknown in Greece.In towns, as in the country, lots are sold unconditionally. Should the purchaser of a lot intend to build thereon, the only restrictions which are imposed on him are that he should observe certain regulations which may be laid down by the town architect or the chief police in regard to alignment and sanitary provision.Houses when leased are usually let for a year; occasionally for three or four years, the rent being paid quarterly in advance. The landlord has the right to eject and seize all goods in the house in case of non-payment of rent. In such cases the landlord is considered first creditor.Freehold property is the almost universal custom.I may mention that in the cases of houses which are let the landlord is bound to keep the house in repair and to pay all taxes and rates. Landed and household property is sold in Greece by a simple notarial act, without other formalities.In the Grand Duchy of Hesse the practice was almost the same. In Italy—Property is sold in small lots for building houses thereon.The system of stipulating a rent or other annual or periodical payment has been very much abandoned, and owing to facilities afforded by the laws of the country for redeeming such rents, which are called 'canone,' or 'censo,' it is generally the practice to pay off these rents created in former times, so as to make the property freehold.The stipulations under such contracts, called 'emphiteosis' depend upon the covenants made by the parties, or in default of special covenant the general rules laid down in the Code Civil, Article 1556 and following, are applied. Certain clauses, however, are binding upon all contracts of this kind.The principal point in connection with Italy to which the hon. Member desired to direct attention was the following—Inasmuch as the Italian law enables tenants, under an 'emphiteosis,' to redeem the rent by paying an amount of money equivalent to twenty times the amount of the yearly rent, and, if the rent is payable in kind, the value is to be calculated at the average market price of the produce during ten years then proceeding, it follows that a contract of 'emphiteosis,' which was originally intended for the amelioration of the property, by building or otherwise, is reduced to the simple payment of a certain yearly interest at 5 per cent. on a fixed nominal sum of money, which sum of money is not easily to be realised by means of 1196 conveyance, it will not increase in proportion, as the value of the property may be rising, and it will be liable to depreciation in proportion as the value of money decreases.Long leases in the ordinary form for any period above thirty years are not permitted.In the Netherlands—Land is constantly sold both in small and in large plots for building cases, and in such cases, almost without exception, unconditionally, so that both the land itself and the houses or other buildings erected thereon by the purchaser become his absolute or freehold property.It may indeed be assumed as a general rule that property in land or houses in the Netherlands is held by the proprietor as a freehold, no limited ownership, such as copyhold and others which exist in England, being known in this country.I am assured that the system of letting or hiring land on building leases finds no favour in this country, and may be said to be almost, if not absolutely, unknown here.In Norway—Land is let at an annual ground rent for building purposes, either for a term of years or in perpetuity. In the latter case the conditions of lease are not very different from those mentioned in the answer to Query 1—namely, that sales are made both unconditionally and at a perpetual annual rent. On the expiration of the terms of a lease for a specified number of years the tenant remains owner of the house, which he is at liberty to remove.The next Report was from Portugal—The system of letting land on long building leases is practically unknown in Portugal. Houses are either freehold, leasehold, or held by 'aforamento' or 'emphyteosis.'The Report from Roumania stated—The legislation of this country being based on that of France the sale of lots of land for building purposes is entirely unconditional, and reservations of rent are totally unknown.The next country dealt with was Russia—If by freehold is to be understood tenements the owners of which are at the same time the owners of the ground, it may be safely asserted that tenements in general, and especially in towns, are freehold.It would also appear that the system of letting land on long building leases does not prevail in Russia.In Poland—The system of leasehold obtains only in the towns, but it is scarcely known, and is never more than a peppercorn rent—a few kopecks.In Servia—Land sold for building purposes is sold unconditionally. No houses are built except on freehold ground.It follows naturally that it is a most unusual thing for the purchaser of the land sold for building purposes to bind himself by 1197 any covenants restricting him from dealing with it as he likes.As to Spain—Absolute freehold is the tenure which most generally prevails throughout the greater part of the Spain of to-day, whether as regards lands or buildings, country or town.In regard to Sweden—The system of letting land on long building leases cannot be said to prevail to any great extent in Sweden.The law prescribes absolutely nothing as to the use of the ground, and the purchaser is free to deal with it as he likes.The usual term for ground leases in Sweden is fifty years, but contracts for shorter periods are frequent, also for the lifetime of the lessee and of his wife if he be married.In the large towns there are no ground leases, the properties are freehold.The Report from Switzerland stated—In the first place, it appears that the English notion of degrees of estate in land is not only absent from the Swiss law, but is almost incomprehensible to the Swiss themselves. Absolute ownership is the only condition known to them, and they possess no ideas of such tenures as exist in England, namely, building leases for ninety-nine years, copyhold, estate in tail, and so forth. The question of farm leases is a separate matter. These are in general originally made for short periods, and not infrequently renewed from year to year.No such leases obtain anywhere in Switzerland.In regard to Turkey—Property which was alienated from the domain land and converted into 'vakonf' either by the Sultans of the time being or by others under the Sovereign's sanction. As this kind of 'vakonf is nothing else but the appropriation by the Government of a portion of the public revenue, such as the tithes and ground rents, to some special object, it cannot strictly be called 'vakonf.'Property is generally sold in small lots, so as to enable persons to build houses thereon.Such leases are rare in towns, but more rare in the country as distinguished from the neighbourhood of towns.They thus had the fact that in Turkey to-day absolutely more favourable terms were given to the Turkish tenant than the English or Irish tenant could get from his landlord. He need not go any further afield in order to prove his case. He trusted that the House would take into consideration the arguments he had brought forward. He hoped he had shown conclusively that the law now existing in England, Ireland, and Scotland was opposed to the general run of the law all over the civilised world, and that it was contrary to the general welfare of the community that a class of privileged 1198 persons, through the agency of statutes partially manufactured in that House and sanctioned by another Chamber, and insidiously converted into custom, should be able to exercise the powers to which he had referred. At the present moment the ground landlords in villages, towns, and cities throughout the three kingdoms had it in their power, on the termination of a tenancy, to evict the tenant, to confiscate his improvements, and to destroy his business, unless he was willing to submit to any terms, however exorbitant, that might be imposed upon him. Such a state of things ought not to be permitted by any legislature which had at heart the welfare of the community and the development of its prosperity. Those who came into direct contact with the people were well aware that the greater the prosperity of the tenant, the better able he was to pay his rent, and he, therefore, trusted that hon. Members, bearing this in mind, would be willing to deal with this question in a manner which would be mutually advantageous to both landlord and tenant. He had great pleasure in seconding the motion, and he trusted the Government would give its support to a scheme which must be productive of peace and prosperity, and which must add to the permanence of the progress of the community at large.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Macaleese.)
§ *MR. SMITH-BARRY (Huntingdonshire, Huntingdon)
We have had a very long and interesting speech from the hon. Member, but it has travelled over so wide a range of subjects that I fear we may possibly have forgotten by this time that the measure on behalf of which he spoke is called "The Tenants in Towns Improvement Bill for Ireland." I am very glad the hon. Member has widened the debate, and has admitted that the Bill is not an Improvement Bill for town tenants at all, but is a large, sweeping, and comprehensive Bill for leasehold enfranchisement. It is a Bill which, whether leasehold enfranchisement would be proper or improper, and whether we approve of it or not, the House could not possibly be expected to pass under the circumstances of to-day. The hon. Member has said that the object of the Bill is to enable occupiers, but not appa- 1199 rently also the owner of the fee simple, to acquire the rights of the middlemen. But such a measure should be reciprocal, and if the occupier is to have the right of buying out these interests, ought not the ground landlord to be granted an equal privilege? The Bill would enable any occupier of a small dwelling to acquire the fee simple by purchase at a price to be fixed by the court named in the Bill. But the measure is not limited in its operations to towns, and, as I read it, it would enable any person occupying a house with an acre of land in any part of the country, whether in or out of a town, to purchase his holding compulsorily in the same way as if he were living in the middle of a large town which was terribly overcrowded. Then how is this transfer of property to be made? As the hon. Member told us, the tenant or occupier is to serve a notice upon the Land Commission, and that body will thereupon send down Sub-Commissioners to look into the case and to fix a price which is to be paid for the holding. If the property is under the value of £300 the matter goes before the county court judge. Either party is to have the right to call in a county court jury to assess the price. Where the value is over £300 the Land Sub-Commission is to deal with the case. What kind of tribunal is it that is to decide such questions as these? I do not wish for the moment to speak disrespectfully of the Irish Land Sub-Commissioners, although I have had to do so very often in the past, and possibly may have to do it again in the future. But I may say this, that they are not a body which has earned the confidence of the landlords, nor, so far as I can judge, have they the confidence of the tenants.
§ *MR. SMITH-BARRY
They were appointed because they are supposed to have some knowledge of agricultural land. But now it is proposed to ask them to consider, discuss, and assess most valuable rights in relation to town houses. That is one of the objections I entertain to the way in which this Bill is framed. There is another. I observe that there is no provision whatever that the person whose property is to be compulsorily taken shall have given him anything extra on account of the sale being compulsory. Now, we know 1200 that in all cases of compulsion, where sales are made to railway companies or other public bodies, something extra is given on account of the sale being compulsory, and I cannot help thinking, from the general tenure of this Bill, that a similar provision has been deliberately and expressly omitted from it. It is compulsory, too, that the middleman or the landlord shall accept the price which is put upon the holding by the court, but apparently the lessee is in a far more favourable position, and is not bound to accept the decision of the court. If he thinks the bargain is a good one, he will take it and go on his way rejoicing; but if, on the other hand, he arrives at the conclusion that it is not sufficiently advantageous, he can slip out of it, and the only penalty he incurs is that he cannot again apply to the court for a period of five years, when, and only when, he must pay up the cost of the first trial. I think the Bill itself is badly drafted, and on that ground alone ought to be rejected. The hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division has admitted that this is not really an Irish question. I entirely agree with him. The question of leasehold enfranchisement is a question which must be dealt with as a whole. It is a question which does not concern Ireland in any greater degree than it concerns England and Scotland. The system of tenure in the three countries is practically identical; in some places the leases may be longer, and in others they may be shorter; customs may vary, but the principle is the same throughout. The hon. Member for North Monaghan, who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, tried to make out that there was some analogy between agricultural tenancies and town holdings. But the great reason why this House dealt so drastically with the Irish landlord was because it was shown that the customs with regard to agricultural holdings in Ireland differed widely from those prevailing in Great Britain. The hon. Member has quoted at length from a large number of pamphlets, as well as from the evidence given before the Town Holdings Committee, as to the difference of customs and systems of land tenure all the world over. He has said that the leasehold system in this country was one which never had any sanction at law. I will tell him why it exists here, and why it does not exist in other countries. In the United 1201 Kingdom it has grown up gradually to meet the public convenience, and it has never been deemed necessary specially to legalise it. A system has been created which has proved convenient to all the parties concerned, and I submit that this House and the country should be very slow to change it. The hon. Member quoted a good many things, but he did not quote the Report of the Town Holdings Committee, which was appointed at the instance, I believe, of the hon. Member for North Mayo in the year 1886, which sat during the years 1886, 1887, and 1888, and which reported in 1889. There was an enormous amount of evidence submitted to that Committee. I believe something like 103 witnesses were examined, and in their General Report the Committee say—The Committee agree with the opinion that the plan of letting land for building upon an annual rent, which is a leading feature of the leasehold system, possesses considerable advantage and convenience; and they have, on the whole, come to the conclusion that, except in places where the sentiment of the district is strongly opposed to leaseholders, houses are built and building estates are developed more rapidly on the leasehold system than on that of freehold purchase, and that in consequence of the large supply of houses thus caused, occupiers obtain the benefits of lower rents and greater opportunities of selection.That is one conclusion that this Committee came to. Among other things in their Report they quoted the opinions of a great many gentlemen who gave evidence before them—men of very large and wide experience, who were able to speak authoritatively on the subject. They quoted, for instance, from the evidence of Mr. Vigers, a man of enormous experience in the valuation of house property in London and elsewhere. He said—My experience leads me to the conclusion that houses built upon leaseholds, with the supervision of the freeholder and his agents, are better built, as a rule, than those built upon freeholds; and where there is a freehold and leases are granted, the property is under supervision, and in my experience does not get into such a very bad state as it does when it is in the hands of very small freeholders.The Committee quoted that opinion, and apparently thoroughly endorsed it. There is a great deal of matter in that Report which I must pass over, but there are one or two subjects to which I feel I ought to refer. In the General Report 1202 there is a review of advantages and objections. The Committee say—It will be seen from our previous observations that we are not of opinion that leasehold enfranchisement would, on the whole, have much practical effect in improving the quality of houses built. We think that under some circumstances, as where terms of leases are very short, or (as under the life system) of uncertain duration, it would have this effect. On the other hand, we are of opinion that the oversight of the ground landlord on well-managed estates undoubtedly has in this respect a beneficial operation. Upon a general view, our conclusion is, as before stated, that the quality of building depends upon other circumstances than those arising from tenure. Nor are we satisfied that the bad state of repair of much house property in large towns, or the unsanitary condition of many of the dwellings of the working classes is to any large extent to be attributed to the leasehold system. As regards excessive rents, we are not inclined to think that leasehold enfranchisement would have any appreciable effect in reducing them, and, as before stated, we think that the leasehold system rather facilitates the building of houses and so increases the supply.A special part of the Report is devoted to Ireland, and this being an Irish Bill, I think I am justified in quoting one or two extracts. For instance, I read—The case of Ireland being in some respects different from that of England and Wales, it has appeared convenient to deal separately with this branch of our inquiry. At the same time, most of the general considerations, bearing on the questions referred to us, and the arguments for and against the existing system, and the remedies proposed for the evils alleged to exist under it, apply to a large extent to the countries in common. We have not, therefore, repeated these considerations and arguments at length, but have thought it sufficient to indicate in what respects they are, in our opinion, applicable to the special circumstances of Ireland as shown by the evidence laid before us.Then they go on to say—Of the remedies proposed, a measure of leashold enfranchisement, though accepted by many of the witnesses, is also stated, even by some of those favourable to it in theory, as not likely to assist the working classes, and even the poorer shopkeepers, on account of their inability to procure the money necessary for the purchase of the reversion, unless it is advanced by the State.I think these constitute fairly conclusive answers to a great deal of what was said by the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division. I have, however, one more quotation—With regard to the remedies suggested, the Committee, on reviewing the evidence laid before them, do not recommend the adoption of a measure of leasehold enfranchisement for Ireland. Such a measure has not practi- 1203 cally been advocated as likely to confer any considerable benefit on the working classes, partly, no doubt, in consequence of the comparative unimportance in most parts of Ireland of manufactures and of mining and other similar industries; and it has not been urged that any number of the working classes would be likely to avail themselves of the powers of purchase proposed to be conferred.The Report suggests that Ireland in regard to this matter must be treated in the same way as England, and that should be quite sufficient in itself to induce this House to have nothing to say to the Bill. I would especially like to call the attention of hon. Members opposite to the fact that this Report was adopted by twelve votes as against seven, and that included in the majority was an Irish Nationalist whose name is very much revered and carries with it a great deal of weight with hon. Members opposite, even at the present time. I refer to Mr. Biggar, who not only voted for the adoption of the Report, but voted with those who are opposed to the principle of leasehold enfranchisement in nearly every division which took place while the Report was under consideration. Mr. Biggar was a man who, upon social questions which were not inscribed upon the Nationalist banner, was very apt to take sound, independent views, and I think the fact that he was a strong supporter of the Report should not be forgotten by hon. Members opposite. We have heard a good deal from the hon. Member and others as to the advantages of the freehold system over the leasehold system. We have heard a good deal about overcrowding—a very big question, no doubt, which will have to be dealt with one of these days. We have heard also something as to the quality of the houses built under the two systems. But it has never been possible to show, so far as I know, that the class of house built anywhere under the freehold system is better than that erected under the leasehold system. There have, however, been most remarkable instances in different parts of the country where houses built under the freehold system have deteriorated, and where whole districts have become worse. There have been two celebrated cases in London—at Soho and Bedfordbury. At Soho, at the end of the last century, a part of the Portland estate was sold to the small freeholders, and that district, instead of being one of the best residen- 1204 tial parts of the metropolis, has gone down and down until it is possibly one of the worst parts of London. Again, in the case of Bedfordbury, this was originally part of the Bedford estate. Years ago it was alienated, with the result that it became one of the worst parts of London. It became a very Alsatia. It was a mass of little miserable streets and dens, and its condition became so great a public scandal that at last the Board of Works had to buy it up, and they sold it to the Peabody trustees. It has been stated that large rents are exacted under the leasehold system. Let us see what was the evidence given before the Town Holdings Committee on that point. I will confine my remarks to one case—the town of Southport. Now, that town may be divided practically into two parts, one half being under the freehold system and the other half under the leasehold system. The leasehold sites are double the size of the freehold sites, while the rent, or its equivalent, of the leasehold sites is only about half that of the other. That is a very remarkable fact, and if it be the case in a town in Lancashire, inhabited by cool, hard-headed people, is it not still more likely to be the case in towns in Ireland, where people, bidding against one another, are apt to lose their heads and to enter into bargains which they subsequently regret? Now let me give two Irish instances. Evidence was given before the Town Buildings Committee with regard to both Tipperary and Queenstown. Tipperary, like Southport, is about equally divided under the two systems, and apparently there is no special reason why one portion of the town should develop more rapidly than the other. But I would ask anybody who knows the town if it is not a fact, that the part which is under the leasehold system is not by far the most prosperous of the two portions? Again, in the case of Queenstown, that portion which has been alienated from the leasehold system is the very part where the slums are to be found, where there is little business done, and where the most disreputable people are quartered. I ask, who is likely to be benefited by this measure of leasehold enfranchisement? Will it beneficially affect the traders? I cannot think it will, because they could more profitably use their capital in the development of their businesses, and would thereby get a far higher rate of 1205 interest for it than they would if they sank it in purchasing their freeholds. The hon. Member suggested that one effect of the Bill might be to make the working man a more law-abiding citizen. Well, if we can make the Irish working man more law abiding and more conservative in the best sense of the word—and I am not using the word in a political sense—if we can make him more contented and prosperous, I, for one, shall be very happy to do everything in my power to bring that about. But is it to the interest of working men as a body that I they should become the owners of their dwellings? A working man must live near his work, and so long as his work remains in the one place it is all very well, and it is to his advantage that he should own his dwelling. But suppose the work goes away and he has to follow it, then is it to his advantage that he should be saddled with a freehold house, which he may not be able to sell for what he gave for it, because the prosperity of the town is dwindling? Is it not far better for him to be free to follow his work, rather than to be tied down to one place? Unfortunately in Ireland, as we know, industries which are started do not always succeed. We have seen creameries started and fail. Let us hope that all these creameries will prosper, but, unfortunately, a great many of them do not prosper. I have no doubt many hon. Members opposite are aware of what happened in Portlaw. A factory was established there, and quite a considerable town of working men's houses was built, but not one in ten is now occupied. The factory is, I believe, shut up, the place is absolutely ruined, and the workmen have had to seek employment elsewhere. Where would these men be if they had bought those houses and had to remain in them, work or no work? As regards the middlemen, I do not think they would get any valuable consideration for the rights which they would be asked to surrender under this Bill. I am not prepared necessarily to defend all middlemen in the country, or to say that the manner in which they have conducted their properties has always been to the public benefit; but I would remind the House that a great many of them, especially in the small towns, are by no means rich men. In many cases interests are held by trustees for widows and orphans, and if they are compelled to 1206 compulsorily surrender their rights for what would probably be very inadequate compensation a very cruel hardship would necessarily occur. Moreover, the money that would be received would have to be invested elsewhere. We heard the other day during the debate on the Financial Relations question that money which ought to belong to Ireland was being invested in England and elsewhere, because there were so few means of investment in Ireland. But the compensation received for property under this Bill would necessarily swell the stream of money flowing from Ireland to this country. Then again the Bill would not be to the benefit of the ground landlords. We know the feeling with regard to landlords in Ireland generally, and it is very unlikely that they would get any fair play.
§ *MR. SMITH-BARRY
There is a difference of opinion between the hon. Member and myself on that point which I need not now discuss. The effect of this Bill must be that the ground landlords would lose control over the general mass of their property, which at the present moment I maintain they exercise with very great advantage to the community. If holdings are picked out here and there all possible schemes of improvements will be prevented in future. In my own estate I know how very important it has been to be able to acquire houses from time to time in order to pull them down for the benefit of the rest of the estate. I do not think this Bill is in the interest either of the towns or the general community. It is bound to check building operations. Who is going to build houses on a large scale if they are liable to be expropriated at prices to be fixed by the county court or the Land Commission? If all freedom of sale and purchase is to be taken away it is practically certain to check building operations, and the result will be that no building will take place except on plots of land which have been purchased. Land will have to be purchased, and in many cases it would be exceedingly difficult to acquire it. In Ireland the great mass of the estates are settled estates, and the landowner has no power to sell, although he may have power to lease. The expansion 1207 of towns will necessarily be arrested, and the last case of the towns in Ireland will be worse than the first. There is practically no demand at all for this Bill in Ireland. The evidence before the Committee showed that there was a much stronger demand for it in England than in Ireland. Possibly fortified with the opinion of the Committee, the party opposite put down leasehold enfranchisement as one of the items of the Newcastle programme. Since then, however, if it has not been entirely given up it has certainly been dropped out of the programme, and it is perfectly clear that hon. Gentlemen opposite have discovered that leasehold enfranchisement is not by any means a popular thing in England. We are all anxious for the improvement of the Irish towns, but what is wanted is more capital, and more security. If the towns are to be improved let the urban authorities impartially put in force the powers given to them under the Sanitary Acts. Let them condemn hovels and rookeries, let them provide good water, drainage and lighting, let them build artisans' dwellings in suitable places where they are necessary, but do not let the rights of property be further interfered with. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL (Dublin, St. Stephen's Green)
Anyone who has read the various clauses of the Bill cannot fail to be struck with the extreme contrast between the moderation of the speech of the hon. Member who introduced it and the extravagant and revolutionary character of the Bill itself. The hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin referred in the course of a very discursive but interesting and good-humoured speech to the proceedings of the Parliamentary Committee which considered this question, but he neglected to tell the House that in the forefront of the final Report of that Committee, which was issued in 1889, is to be found the following conclusion—The legal right of the ground landlord to resume possession of the land and buildings at the termination of the lease is incontestable, and is, in the opinion of the Committee, the only basis on which the respective rights of lessor and lessee can be dealt with.That is in the forefront of the Report, and yet the proposition of the Bill is in direct contradiction to that conclusion. In violation of the rights of property, it 1208 proposes to legalise on the part of every lessee a breach by him of the contract which, either by express words or implication, is contained in every lease—namely, that on the determination of the lease the lessee will surrender the property to the lessor. The arguments adduced to support such a strong invasion of the rights of property, so far as I have been able to follow them, were briefly as follows. It was said that where a tenant during his lease constructed improvements in the premises, he had on the determination of the lease to elect either between eviction from the premises and the confiscation of his improvements, or submit to an exaggerated rent, the increase in which represented the value of his own improvements. Now, in the first place, I think it is an exceptional case in which, on the determination of a lease, the landlord, when the tenant is willing to take a new lease, imposes an increased rent which in any way amounts to a fine upon the tenant's improvements. I think it is often forgotten that when, on the determination of a long lease, the lessor, as a consideration for a renewal of the lease, requires an increased rent, the consideration of that is not the improvements effected by the tenant, but is the increase which the natural course of events has added to the value of the site. We are all familiar with many cases—and this is especially so in the city of Dublin—in which, owing to the accident of the particular determination of business or commerce to districts which in former years had little or no value, sites have suddenly acquired a high commercial value. In Belfast municipal improvements have opened up and developed districts for business purposes which, before these were executed, were not suited for business purposes, and the immediate consequence was an enormous increase in the ground value of the premises, in no way to be attributed to the efforts of the tenant, and to the benefit of which, on the determination of the lease, the landlord, both in law and justice, is entitled to obtain his fair share. It is also suggested that in the case of expiring leases there is a tendency on the part of the lessee, at the fag end of the lease, to allow the premises to get out of repair, and that that is an injury not only to the landlord but to the community. The Committee of 1889 dealt with this, and suggested that to meet the case of a tenant who 1209 during the currency of his lease had executed improvements which bona, fide increased the letting value of the premises, and also with a view to put an end to the system of dilapidated premises during the fag-end of a lease, legislation of a certain character was desirable; but their suggested legislation never took the form of the enfranchisement of the leaseholders. The furthest the Committee were prepared to go was to suggest that in the case of all future contracts the lessee or tenant on the determination of his lease should be entitled to compensation for improvements erected during the currency of the lease, provided they added to the letting value of the holding. But the proposals contained in the present Bill go much further. They necessarily involve, if they mean anything, which I very much doubt, that the meaning should be taken from the purposes mentioned in the preamble—the enfranchisement of existing leases, enabling the lessees not only to acquire the intermediate interests, but to extinguish that of the owner of the property. That is open to the observation, in the first place, that it is a very violent invasion of the rights of property, and is practically legalising at the hands of one section of the community the confiscation of the property of another section. Unfortunately we in Ireland are not unfamiliar with that form of legislation, but I do not know that the example of the past is so encouraging as to induce this House to extend that principle much further. At any rate, I can hardly conceive that it is likely to conduce to the prosperity and welfare of any nation that time after time successive Governments should encourage one section to confiscate the property of another section of the community. But, in the second place—and this is a consideration of much more importance to hon. Members who are familiar with this process of legal confiscation—I cannot imagine anything more calculated to retard the improvement and development of towns, not merely in Ireland, but in England and Scotland, than any system of this kind which would stereotype, in the hands of the present occupants, the existing condition of their houses. In past times, as well as in the future, landlords are entitled to look forward to—and, as matter of fact, they do anticipate—the period when the leases will fall in, and when they will be enabled by a uniform scheme of de- 1210 velopment to improve the buildings and develop the town. The fact that a very large portion of the area is in the hands of one landlord, the fact that the leases will generally fall in at the same time, is generally availed of to carry out a broad scheme by which the architecture of the buildings is improved, to the ornament of the town. But a curious element of this Bill is that it enables any individual occupant of one house to buy that house and leave the landlord with the balance of his property in such a form and condition that it would be impossible for him to develop it on any uniform or co-extensive plan. Further than that, the power conferred on the ind vidual occupier to acquire the fee-simple of the house he occupies will unquestionably interfere with much-required and long-wished-for public improvements and the extension of artisans' dwellings. Suppose that, in one of these blocks occupied by lessees where leases are about to expire, this provision is availed of by one or two lessees, they would by that means be enabled to defeat any scheme of general improvement which the landlord of the entire block was prepared to adopt when the leases fell in in the natural course of events. I most sincerely congratulate the hon. Member for North Monaghan, who introduced this Bill, on the very able and moderate way in which he did so, but we have at the same time to deal with it in the light, not of what the hon. Member said in introducing it, but of what the measure itself proposes. There is one remarkable defect in the Bill, and that is that it is entirely one-sided in its proposals. What I mean to say is, that while the occupying tenant or lessee can, by compulsion, acquire the property not merely of the intermediate lessor but also of the owner in fee, there is no power in the owner in fee to compel the purchase of the leases. If there are a number of tenants holding a particular block of premises, each under a separate lease, any one lessee may pick out a small lot, another may do the same, and so in that way the landlord's property may be cut up piecemeal. The effect of that would necessarily be to greatly diminish in the hands of the owner the value of his property. It is exactly the same as if there were to be introduced into these leases an option on the part of the tenant to buy without any obligation on his part to purchase. Anyone who knows anything of the real property market must admit that if there is an option on the 1211 part of the tenant to buy even against the will of the lessor that unquestionably diminishes the value of the whole of the lessor's property. But another fact has to be borne in mind. In many of the towns and cities of England and Scotland, as well as Ireland, ground rents are one of the principal sources of income of the corporations. Take the case of Liverpool. According to the Report of 1889 there were in Liverpool leases which were about to fall in to the value of twelve millions; while the annual income of the University of Oxford from leaseholds is about £150,000. I know myself that in the city of Dublin a large portion of the property which belongs to the ratepayers consists of property which they hold in fee, the leasehold rents from which go to the reduction of the rates. In the case of the city of Dublin there never was any difficulty as between the city and their tenants in the former obtaining, on the determination of a long lease, a substantial increase of rent from the occupying tenant together with an obligation to erect a considerably improved building in place of the old structure. The striking instance given by the right hon. Member who moved the rejection of the Bill as to what would happen in portions of a district held by occupiers in fee is exactly what one would expect; because so long as occupiers in such districts hold their premises in fee they have lost all incentive or even power to improve the condition of their surroundings. They are only interested in the houses they own, and have no interest in improving the condition of the houses surrounding them. The contrary is the case where the property belongs to the ground landlord, because as the leases fall in, he is able to replace the antiquated and dilapidated structures by more modern buildings; and therefore it is natural that in the instances given by my right hon. friend the freehold portions of the district he cited became practically slums. Now, the preamble of the Bill suggests that the object is to facilitate the acquisition in fee by working men of the houses they occupy. The hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of the city of Dublin, who has devoted many years to this matter, and is therefore calculated to speak as an authority on the subject, stated, with his usual candour, that he was an advocate of land nationalisation. I can only say that any hon. Member who approaches this 1212 subject impressed with ideas of land nationalisation is not likely to impress his views on the majority of this House. The preamble says that it is intended to secure for working men the fee simple of the houses they live in. I have already referred to the conclusion which forms the basis of the Report of the Committee of 1889—namely, that in their opinion the right of the landlord, on the determination of a lease, to get back both house and land was incontestable; but I would like also to inform the House what was the conclusion of the majority of that Committee on this question of working men becoming the owners in fee simple of the houses they live in. Here it is—The suggested leasehold enfranchisement would not materially benefit the working classes either in London or in most other large towns.The secretary of the Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Company gave a remarkable piece of evidence before that Committee. He informed them that in all their dealings with working men who had acquired or sought to acquire the fee simple of the houses in which they lived, he found that in twelve to twenty-five years the houses so sold had come back to the company. And really that is inevitable. When we consider that working men must necessarily live near the locality of their work, and that the fluctuations of trade may drive them from one neighbourhood to another in search of work, we at once see that working men would never care to become owners in fee of the houses in which they live, except in the possible case where their work would be permanent. I would refer to the well-known case of the slate quarries in Wales. Permanent work will naturally attract permanent residents; but in other cases it is impossible to expect that working men will either care or desire to spend a substantial sum in the permanent acquisition of homes which they may be compelled to leave the next day or the day after. In the case of Ireland this fact is exceptionally true. I think I would be right in saying that throughout the length and breadth of Ireland there is not one per cent. of working men who are owners in fee, or who would care to be owners in fee of the houses they occupy. In Dublin, which is an old city, the artisans are unfortunately compelled to live under that worst of all systems, the tenement system, which is the 1213 foe of all industrial thrift and the parent of the curse of drink. That system unfortunately compels these men to submit to monotonous toil from six o'clock in the morning to six in the evening, and that is bad enough; but when in addition it also compels them to spend the balance of their lifetime in the stifling atmosphere of these tenements, I myself see no room or prospect for the improvement of the men who are doomed to such slavery. But what is the remedy for this state of things? I never heard it suggested that it could be remedied by any scheme by which these men should become owners in fee of the houses they occupy. The remedy is, first of all, the extension of the system of artisans' dwellings. The Dublin Corporation have become alive to the necessity of this, and are doing well by conferring that benefit on the working men. The other remedy is a more careful attention to and a more rigorous enforcement of the laws of public health, so as to compel the landlords to provide occupiers with decent sanitary appliances. Belfast is a comparatively new city, with unlimited opportunities for extending its boundaries. Consequently the marvellous development of its commerce has enabled it to erect artisans' dwellings which are suitable and numerous enough to accommodate the hives of artisans that are swarming in that busy centre. But has it ever been suggested that the artisans of Belfast have shown the slightest anxiety to become the owners in fee of the dwellings they occupy? Even in that remarkable staple industry of shipbuilding, which we all hope is a permanent industry, what are the views and ideas of the artisans? When the Local Government Act was passing through this House the consolidated poor rate was thrown upon the occupier and to be levied from him. Formerly that rate was paid by the landlord, and recovered by him from his tenant. But the citizens of Belfast were so much impressed with the danger of loss of rates that would arise to them by the wandering and migratory nature of the artisans that a determined effort was made by the hon. Members representing Belfast to have Belfast exempted from the provision which threw the rate on the occupier. I am aware, on the authority of those responsible for the collection of rates in Belfast, that it is anticipated, as the result of that provision in the Local Government 1214 Act, that there will be a leakage of from 25 to 30 per cent. in the amount of the poor rate, the reason being that the men only hold their houses as weekly tenants, and that they are here to-day and away to-morrow, and that it is therefore impossible to recover arrears of rates. I take these two cases as fairly typical of the condition of the working men in Ireland. I can see no prospect of any agitation on the part of the working men to become owners in fee of the houses in which they live. So much for the principle of the Bill. As to the Bill itself, in the first place it contains on its face one incurable defect which, even if the Bill were passed into law to-morrow, would at once have the effect of nullifying all its provisions. That defect is that while it contains most elaborate machinery for enabling existing lessees to extinguish all intermediate leases and acquire the fee simple, there is no provision whatever to prevent them, once they have become owners, granting new leases themselves the very next day. So that the evils, instead of being remedied, would only be intensified. You would be converting lessors into landlords who would be the owners of only one house with none of the responsibilities of landlords.
May I interrupt the hon. Gentleman? Such is not the object of the Bill at all. On the contrary, the object is to abolish the leasehold system, and make it impossible for such a thing to exist.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
I quite understand that that is the object of the Bill; but if the hon. Member will take the trouble to read the Bill, the introduction of which he has seconded, he will find my statement is absolutely correct. From beginning to end there is not a line to prevent the new owners letting their house on lease at the highest rack rent they can get. I am not concerned with what is the object in the mind of the hon. Gentleman; I am only concerned with what is in the Bill itself. This is not a matter of drafting, but one of the principle of the measure. I repeat that a fatal defect on the face of the Bill is the fact that it contains nothing to prevent a recrudescence, in a worse form, of the very evils which it is proposed to remedy. I would like to say a word as to the draftsmanship of the Bill. Cer- 1215 tainly in this respect it is a monster in deformity. I am, of course, perfectly aware that it is an ungracious thing, when a Bill is introduced more for discussion than anything else, to criticise very minutely the form of the measure; but this Bill is of such an extraordinary character that, although I have taken several days to study it, I am at the present moment absolutely at a loss to know exactly what it is that it proposes to accomplish.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
Perhaps the hon. and learned Member is not aware that this Bill was drafted by an eminent Unionist lawyer.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
I can only say that, in my opinion, the lawyer gave very bad value for his money. To make that plain oven to the intelligence of the hon. Members opposite who are closely wedded to the principle of the Bill, let us take the preamble. I am entitled to say that the object of the preamble is to let those who read the Bill understand what it is that the Bill proposes to accomplish; but the House will be surprised to hear that while the preamble of the Bill sets out three distinct objects to be attained, the subsequent provisions of the Bill destroy each and every one of these objects. What is the first proposal as set out in the preamble? It is that—Whereas in nearly all the towns in Ireland the owners and occupiers of business premises and private dwellings have between them and the owners in fee several intermediate lessees who have certain terms outstanding between such owners and occupiers.So far so good. It then proceeds—And whereas it is expedient that such owners and occupiers should be enabled to acquire the intermediate interests between themselves and the owner in fee, so that owners and occupiers may be encouraged to make improvements in their holdings.Now, if that means anything, it is that the object of the Bill is to prevent the occupiers of business promises and private dwellings in the towns and cities of Ireland becoming owners. But what does the Bill itself do when you come to analyse its sections? It does not confine the right of enfranchisement to lessees or leaseholders in the towns and cities. It gives a definition of a holding which is wide enough to include a house with an acre of ground anywhere in Ireland, either in the country or in the town. But that is not bad enough. When you come to the clause which enables the 1216 application to be made, it throws over town and city and the definition of holding, and enables the lessee of any lease to apply for enfranchisement. In other words, any tenant, agricultural or pastoral, town tenant or village tenant, publican or sinner, any person in Ireland who has an existing lease, can, under the terms of this extraordinary Bill, apply to redeem all the intervening interests. But it does not stop there. Apparently, if you read the preamble, its purport and object is not to give a right to acquire the fee, or to assert a right to acquire the interest between the tenant and the owner of the fee; but when you come to Section 4, it provides that, in addition to acquiring the intervening interests, the final or occupying tenant can also acquire the fee. That contradicts the preamble.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
I can understand that; but having given in Section 4 the power to acquire the fee, which is not raised in the preamble, when you come to prescribe the application, it can only be made in the case of intervening interest and excludes the fee. So that from beginning to end this measure is not only illogical and absurd, but self-contradictory in all its terms. Take another matter, which I am sure will be a revelation not merely to the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division, who seconded the motion for the Second Reading of the Bill, but also the hon. Member who introduced it. The preamble recites that the next object of the Bill is, "That the occupiers of small houses of the working classes shall be entitled to acquire the fee of the houses in which they live." Well, from beginning to end there is not a line in it which enables that purpose to be carried out. There is no machinery, no provision, no legislative suggestion by which working men could by any chance become the owner in fee of the houses they occupy.
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
The hon. Member says that a working man can acquire his house in fee if he holds it under a lease; but can he say that there is a single artisan in Ireland that holds his house under lease? I never heard of one; and certainly they must be a very small percentage of the total artisan population of Ireland. I say that from beginning to end of the Bill this, 1217 which is put forward in the main front as one of the objects of the Bill, is entirely lost sight of when the Bill itself comes to be considered. I have, perhaps, trespassed unduly on the time and attention of the House. I hope, however, that it will not be said or suggested that, either speaking for myself or as representing opinion on this side of the House, we deny altogether that occupiers under these leases suffer from no grievance or disadvantage. I myself am entirely in accord with the view expressed by the Committee of 1889, that is to say, that in two respects there may be grievances from which the occupiers suffer. One is the case where, on the termination of a lease, the lessees, having made substantial permanent improvements during the currency of the lease, are compelled under threat of eviction either to abandon those improvements to the landlord or else to pay such an increased rent as would amount to the confiscation of their improvements. Now I am entirely in favour of legislation that would be confined to cover that grievance. I find the ground entirely covered by the suggestion of the Committee of 1889, that in the case of all future contracts there should be power, on the determination of the lease, to award compensation for bona fide improvements which increased the letting value of the holding, and that in the case of existing contracts there should be such power in all cases where improvements were made with the consent of the landlord in writing.
Without interrupting the hon. and learned Gentleman, might I ask him will he support a Bill of the nature he suggests?
§ MR. J. H. M. CAMPBELL
I may assure the hon. Gentleman I am not in the least disconcerted by his interruptions, which are kindly meant. It will be sufficient to consider that when the opportunity arises, but it certainly does not present itself in the Bill before the House. It is because I consider that this Bill is vicious in principle, impracticable in its application, and impossible of comprehension that I have great pleasure in seconding the Amendment of my right hon. friend for its rejection.
To leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'"—(Mr. Smith-Barry.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. SEALE-HAYNE (Devonshire, Ashburton)
I had no intention of addressing the House this afternoon, but so great misrepresentation of the Report of the Committee on Town Holdings was made by the right hon. Member for Huntingdon that I think it my duty to correct what I have no doubt is an unintentional mistake. Of course, it is perfectly possible to extract from that Report evidence of land agents and lawyers in support of the present system of long leases. They make their money by long leases. But when the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to persuade the House that the Committee reported against the enfranchisement of leaseholds, he is in error. I admit that the Committee reported against the enfranchisement of leaseholds as a general scheme; but they recommended the enfranchisement of leaseholds in certain areas and under certain conditions. At page 40 of the Report it is stated that—The Committee recommend to Parliament the adoption of a measure for empowering local authorities to facilitate enfranchisement in the manner already described.What is the "manner already described"? If you turn back to page 39, you will see the Committee say—We think the local authority might properly be empowered to acquire by agreement, or, if necessary, by compulsory purchase, the reversionary interest in the property within the area in question, and to sell the reversion of the house to such occupiers and leaseholders, either for a price paid down at once, or payable in instalments over a period of years.It is therefore true that the Committee were in favour of applying the principle to limited areas. I should like to put before the House two views of leasehold enfranchisement. I believe there are no countries in Europe, except England and Turkey, where such a thing as a long building lease is known. It is entirely peculiar to this country. We do not shine in the artistic merits of our buildings. On the contrary, many of our English towns compare most unfavourably with Continental cities. The reason is obvious. People will not spend money except on freehold. They spent as little as possible on leasehold. The 1219 palaces of Genoa and Northern Italy were not built on building leases. The system of building leases has never permitted the erection of fine artistic buildings. Even in London the few artistic buildings we have are built by noblemen on their own estates. This restriction on building enterprise affects the working classes, because if there are facilities for expending money, and the man who expended it has some hope of its coming into the pocket either of himself or his descendants, instead of going to some rich landlord, as is the case now, there would be more work for the working classes and for the better class of labour.
§ SIR E. DURNING-LAWRENCE (Cornwall, Truro)
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but all the clubs in Pall Mall are built on leasehold.
§ MR. SEALE-HAYNE
I was referring to private houses, but I think, if the clubs in Pall Mall were not built on leasehold, instead of being mere copies of other buildings, they would be far finer than they are now. The enfranchisement of long leases has been spoken of as an invasion of the rights of property. The laws of this country prevent the tying up of landed property or any sort of property beyond a certain length of time, but a landlord can create a lease for any time he pleases, and there we have, of course, the evil of "the dead hand" with its grasp upon the land, and all sorts of covenants imposed upon tenants. I cordially endorse all that has been said on behalf of the Bill, and I intend to vote for it.
§ MR. VICARY GIBBS (Hertfordshire, St. Albans)
said he knew nothing about Ireland at first hand, but looked upon this question by the light of common sense, or, if he did not possess that qualification, then he fell back on the evidence of the Town Holdings Commission. The evidence of Irish witnesses, representing the Corporations of Dublin and Waterford and other places, went to prove that a measure of this kind was not desirable in Ireland. One of the hon. Gentlemen who spoke in the debate had expressed himself as being in favour of a multiplication of freeholds, but with that view he (Mr. Gibbs) could not agree. The Bill was one which it was very difficult to grasp the meaning of, and he had thought the hon. Member for the St. Patrick Division of Dublin would have thrown some light upon it, but this he had not thought 1220 proper to do. The Bill itself would not affect, apparently, a very large number of persons. It was called a Bill to improve the position of tenants in towns, but he would prefer to call it a Bill for the multiplication of unsanitary areas in towns, for, as was well known, where there were a number of small freeholds in a town they were mostly insanitary areas, whereas in the case of a large private estate it was put under proper management, and a certain amount of money was spent in improving and managing it. The tenure of land in Ireland had always been different to that in England, but there was no evidence to show that the tenure of house property differed in any way. Although the hon. Member who seconded the Bill made some observations upon terminable leaseholds, not a word appeared on that subject in the Bill, which was a small middleman's Bill. Such a Bill had been objected to by two of the greatest jurists of Ireland, and he could not see that the position of the working class would be improved. He noticed that there was a provision which excluded, under certain conditions, the occupier, and it was a monstrous thing that a house a man was living in could be taken away and given to a middleman. If the position of the working classes was to be improved by such a Bill there might be something to be said in its favour, but it did not appear that that would be the case, and therefore he should vote against it.
§ MR. WILLIAM REDMOND
said the Attorney General for Ireland had not yet spoken on the resolution, and there was very little time to go into the details, so he would only call attention to the fact that there was not a town in Ireland which had not passed resolutions calling upon Parliament to interfere to protect the leaseholders and prevent property which they had built being practically confiscated. They asked merely for the right to continue in the premises which they had built by their own industry, and this Bill was to enable the occupier who had rebuilt up his premises to continue to occupy them without having to pay an exorbitantly increased rental. It was not an Irish question only; it affected the people of England as well. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon did not approve of the Bill, which was quite natural, because the hon. Gentleman was the owner of town pro- 1221 perty, and therefore he opposed it just as in the old days the owners of rural properties opposed any legislation which they felt would interfere with their rights over their broad acres. This question of tenure was not an Irish question merely, it largely concerned Great Britain, where in many cases leaseholds constituted a heavy tax on industry, and if this Bill was not passed now the time would certainly come when some legislation would take place in order to remove that tax. The question the House had now to consider was the broad question of principle. If a case had been made out for legislation to protect the tenants in the towns of Ireland, then the House might vote the Second Reading and leave the details for some future time. He hoped that the Bill would be read a second time.
§ MR. BROADHURST (Leicester)
said he was a supporter of leasehold enfranchisement and always had been. The Commission which was appointed in 1885 for the purpose of considering the great problem of housing the people dealt with the question of leasehold enfranchisement, and, whatever else might be said, their Report on that subject was conclusive. The majority of the Commissioners were not men who were in the habit of advocating the plunder of landlords, or any other class of the community. They were told by the hon. Member for St. Albans that this Bill proposed to plunder the landlords, that it proposed confiscation, and that it was breaking contracts. Why, the Tory Government had done nothing in the last five years but break contracts. It had been the basis of their legislation. If so great a party as the Conservative party legislated in that direction, how could they find fault with such a person as himself if he attempted to follow so great an authority? He was quite willing to follow those great statesmen on matters of this kind. On these grounds he was glad to have the opportunity of voting for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. ATKINSON,) Londonderry, N.
I do not propose either to follow the hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill or the hon. Member who seconded it, into the many topics with which they dealt. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the motion not only "surveyed mankind from China to Peru," but dealt with physiology, 1222 Biblical history, the Civil Code, and sociology, and gave us his views on the different military systems of Europe. He referred to many authorities, all of whom he desired to press into service, from the patriarch Abraham, through Justinian and Mr. Gladstone, down to a gentleman who published a pamphlet the other day on leasehold enfranchisement. It is not my intention to follow him in his rambles over these interesting fields. When you come to contrast those opinions with the Bill before the House, he seems to be in the position of a man who is riding a runaway horse, because the Bill has taken him in every direction in which he does not intend to go, and in no direction in which he did intend to go. The Bill would defeat the objects the hon. Member seems to have in view, and it would effect other objects which he does not desire. Nor shall I follow the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huntingdon with respect to his representation of what was decided by the Committee on which he himself sat. Of course, it would be absurd to deny that in every portion of this kingdom interest is taken in the question of leasehold enfranchisement. I do not think that hon. Members have really understood what this Bill does, for it goes far behind any system of leasehold enfranchisement ever suggested, or any system of compulsory purchase ever suggested by any responsible person, or ever recommended by any Committee that ever sat. I can perfectly well understand that there should be controversy and difference of opinion as to which of the prevailing systems is best in regard to building leases. There is, first, the principle that obtains in many parts: when a man desires to build a house in a town he acquires ground to build upon, and becomes the freehold tenant. There is the other system that prevails in Scotland, where a man gets a perpetual rent. The systems differ in different localities. Some localities are in favour of one system and some of another. Some of the most successful towns, such as Birmingham, have been reared into their present position by adopting the leasehold system, while others have adopted the system of freehold tenure or perpetual rents. What the Committee report is that there is no superiority of one system over another. It is very much a question of the custom the people are used to. It cannot be fairly said that the freehold system rather than the leasehold system 1223 permits public improvements or secures for the inhabitants of towns better dwellings. But, however that may be, that is not really the object of this Bill at all. The real object of this Bill is to enable every occupier who carries on any business in any premises, even if he only be a tenant from year to year, if he only got in yesterday and only sells beef, or beer, or tobacco for a week, to come immediately, without the sanction of any authority, without the approval of Parliament, and without any investigation whatever, against the will of any person above him, and compulsorily buy up the property. There never was such a system ever suggested. I do not know what inherent virtue there is in a man who gets into business that he should have the power conferred upon him to compulsorily acquire the premises he occupies. It is better than the powers enjoyed in connection with the public service, sanitary reform, or the great schemes for public improvement. All persons, corporations, and companies actuated by such desires have to go to Parliament to ask permission to put in force compulsory purchase. Not so the occupier in my hon. friend's Bill. The moment he gets into occupation and spends five shillings in repairs, he, without anybody's authority, can immediately acquire the property of everybody above him. The hon. Member recommended the Bill to a certain extent on the ground that it would give a boon to the working classes. I wish to strip it of that pretence; it is a false pretence. The suggestion that it is really of any benefit to the working classes is quite absurd. Working men as a rule do not carry on business in their premises at all. They do not take leases of their dwellings, they do not purchase their dwellings, they do not effect improvements on their dwellings, and they are outside this Bill altogether. As a rule the ordinary artisans in great towns are merely temporary tenants. They are here to-day and gone to-morrow, following, wisely in many instances, the labour market. I quite admit that sometimes they are permanent, but in many cases they are not. A Bill which was passed in 1896 is of use of them. It provides that where they desire to acquire an interest in their holdings they can get the local authority to lend them money to do so up to the sum of £400. There is no provision of that character in this Bill. All mere 1224 occupiers who do not carry on any business and do not make improvements or acquire any interest in the premises are excluded from this Bill. If this Bill were passed into law any tenant who carried on business even for a week could get a compulsory purchase of the premises, though he might only be a yearly tenant. I cannot conceive of any man who did not wish to be deprived of his property altogether letting his property to anyone. There never was any Act passed, so far as I have heard or read, that conferred compulsory powers of such a character on any individual class of the people, with a result which would really benefit no one except possibly here and there an individual who wished to acquire the property in which he carried on his business. What is there to justify such an invasion of the rights of property? If you take away all I the advantage a man seeks or hopes to secure in buying, improving, or building property, I do not know what class of the community you benefit. You would have no great improvement schemes. Nobody would be interested in making them if the return you look forward to is so precarious, and, with legislation of this character, might be filched from you any day. That is not the way to promote improvements on the outlay of capital for securing better dwellings for any class of the community. I have listened with great I attention to the mover and seconder of the Bill, and I have endeavoured to discover what is the justification for the measure. What justification is there for taking arbitrarily, against a man's will, property which he owns, and which he has let under a particular contract to a particular individual? I confess that no justification, in my mind, has been put forward at all. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill said that leasehold enfranchisement was the cause of the decay of the Irish towns. Why, there never was a more preposterous reason ever put forward. The decay of the Irish towns is simply due to these two facts: First of all, that there is no manufacturing in Ireland; and, secondly, that the small towns have been connected by railways with the great centres. The small towns were never anything but places of distribution; they were never centres of manufactures. The hon. Member gave us no reason why a system of compulsory expropriation should be established which exists in no other case and in no other 1225 nation. He said it would be inconvenient for traders occasionally not to be able to acquire a freehold interest in the premises in which they carry on their trade. It must be remembered that some of the most successful towns in this country have grown to what they are under the leasehold system. Birmingham is entirely under the leasehold system. Outside the boundary of Dublin a town has grown up tinder these conditions, and, as has been well pointed out by my hon. and learned friend the Member for the St. Stephen's Green Division, so far from the acquisition of the landlords' interest being facilitated by private individuals, at different points it would retard it. There is, I submit to the House, nothing more likely to retard any general scheme of improvement than to allow opposing interests to grow up here and there. However one might feel disposed to look with favour on any well-considered legislation which would secure tenants' compensation for improvements they might have effected in towns, on the part of the Government I must give my strenuous opposition to the adoption of any system of general confiscation whereby a man who comes into occupation but yesterday can come in and acquire compulsorily the interest in a particular holding of all above him. So far as to the principle, and so far as to the absence of any justification of its adoption; but what shall we say of the machinery? It is said that in the event of the parties being unable to agree, it is to be referred to the Land Commissioners, not to decide whether compulsory powers shall be put into force or not, as Parliament decides what shall be done in the case of bodies both in England and Ireland seeking compulsory powers. No, no; the person to give the compulsory powers is the occupier himself. The function of the Land Commissioners is merely to decide on the amount of compensation to be given. One of the peculiarities of the Bill is this, that while there may be questions between the parties both as to the title and as to the amount of compensation, the question that is to referred to the Land Commissioners is the amount of compensation, and questions of title are reserved to the jury. The hon. Gentleman who claims to be the father of this Bill is a legislative discoverer in that respect. It is the first occasion on which I ever saw it suggested 1226 that the legal tribunal should determine on the amount of money to be paid, while the complicated question of title is to be determined by jurors. The Land Commission, I believe, has many virtues, but at all events it was created for a purpose—to decide disputes between landlord and tenant of agricultural land. It is to be presumed that the Commissioners are qualified for that purpose, and that they have chosen a staff qualified for the duties thrown upon them, but I believe it is said that it does not give satisfaction to either side. Then, at the present moment, it is unable to overtake its work. It is largely in arrear. Hardly a day passes that the hon. Member for East Kerry, I think, does not put to me a series of questions as to the amount of arrears of work in different portions of Ireland, and when there is some faint prospect that the anxious tenants will have their rents fixed. I do not think, if Ireland were ransacked, enough Commissioners could be secured qualified to decide between landlord and tenant in the rural districts, and qualified as well to deal with all those reversionary interests of houses occupied in any part. At all events, they have no staff. The men have not been appointed for that purpose, and they would deal quite as unsatisfactorily with the questions submitted to them as the jury the hon. Gentleman has in contemplation would deal with the questions of title that may arise in connection with any of the properties to be acquired. The definition in the Bill of a holding is wide enough to embrace almost everything, while the definition of a lessee includes an ordinary tenant from year to year. I do not think it has been contemplated that large tracts of land in Ireland and considerable portions in the towns are owned by corporations, churches, and charities of different descriptions. The definition of "holding" is so wide that, under the Bill, the Corporation of Dublin would, if the lessees or occupiers so desired it, be found landless in a week. The hon. Member for Waterford would find the most useful hospital that exists there deprived of its principal means of carrying on the functions it discharges. These are not landowners in the ordinary acceptation of the term. As the property of these different corporations could be acquired on the payment of a certain amount of money, the sum obtained would not be productive of anything like the 1227 income derived at present. I have only one word to say in conclusion in regard to this. The object can best be seen with reference to value. The provision with reference to value was correctly described as confiscation of the landlord's property. The clause upon that matter provides nothing at all for consequential injury that might be done to the remaining portion of the property in the hands of the landlord. Anyone acquainted with the conditions under which compensation for consequential injury is given for lands taken by railways and other great public bodies knows that the amount of compensation given to the owners with respect to the property remaining in their hands exceeds in amount the compensation given for the property actually taken. Common justice requires that it should be so. It may be that there are two or three houses together, and a house on one side is taken. There may be vast injury done to those not taken, exceeding in amount the value of the premises actually taken. There is no provision for any such compensation in this Bill. On the contrary, compensation is limited to the value of the thing actually taken, and it leaves out of account altogether the injury that may be done to the property remaining in the landlord's possession. On the general principle that this is an endeavour to put the principle of compulsory purchase to an unjust and inequitable use, that no considerations have been brought forward to justify a Bill of this character, that if carried it would not do anything in the way of solving the great problems in connection with the housing of the working classes, but would act in a contrary direction, that it would defeat the objects the hon. Gentleman has in view, and that it goes beyond any project ever put forward for the enfranchisement of leaseholders, I oppose the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *SERJEANT HEMPHILL (Tyrone, N.)
I observe that the Government, of which my right hon. and learned friend is a distinguished ornament, is always very ready to hold out promises to every class of the community, but when any attempt is made to realise the hopes so held out some excuse or other is found for starting objections. It has become the fashion lately in dealing with Private Members' Bills to disregard very much the principle which underlies a Bill, and to criticise very minutely and very 1228 astutely the phraseology of the different sections. That is the course pursued on the present occasion. I understand that this is a Bill for leasehold enfranchisement in towns. If there is any question in which the public, not merely in Ireland but in England, are interested it is the question of leasehold enfranchisement. I understand how hon. and right hon. Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House have a holy horror of the very name of leasehold enfranchisement, because it is a class of measure that strikes more or less at the root of property and the monopoly which has been for so many centuries held in land and houses by the propertied classes. But the time has come for emancipating the public generally from that monopoly. That is the principle underlying this Bill, and it is the issue which, whenever the time arrives, will be put before the country, not only as affecting Ireland, but as affecting England and Scotland. What I particularly deprecate on the part of the right hon. Gentleman is that he does not manfully grapple with this principle, and, as representing that side of the House, say that they will not consent to have anything in the shape of a leasehold enfranchisement measure. What are the evils this Bill is really intended to meet? In Dublin, Cork, Queenstown, and Tipperary, and other towns throughout Ireland, there are leases originally perhaps for 99 years or perhaps 999 years. These leases are let and sub-let, and in many cases there are three or four intermediate tenants between the head landlord and the occupying tenant. The consequence is that there is no one really interested in improving the property, and if the occupying tenant towards the close of the lease is foolish enough, for the sake of his business or otherwise, to enhance the value of the property when the lease expires he loses the entire benefit of it. It is against that mischief that this Bill is levelled, and accordingly we find in the twenty-fifth section "that no one shall take advantage of the provisions of this Bill unless the unexpired term shall in all not exceed the period o[...] fifteen years." It will only apply towards the expiration of those long leases. I was pleased to hear from my right hon. and learned friend one observation which leads me to hope that perhaps if this Bill is not carried—I do trust, nevertheless, that it will go to a division in order that we may 1229 know who are in favour of leasehold enfranchisement and who are not—he would not object to a Bill if it merely entitled tenants in towns to compensation for improvements. Perhaps I took a more liberal view of the remark than he intended. There is no reason in justice why the provisions of Mr. Gladstone's
§ land code, which is confined to agricultural holdings, should not also apply to town holdings.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes, 100; Noes, 188. (Division List No. 96.)1231
|Abraham, William (Cork, N. E.)||Flavin, Michael Joseph||O'Connor, Arthur (Donegal)|
|Ambrose, Robert||Fox, Dr. Joseph Francis||O'Connor, Jas. (Wicklow, W.)|
|Asquith, Rt. Hn. Herbert H.||Goddard, Daniel Ford||O'Connor. T. P. (Liverpool)|
|Atherley-Jones, L.||Gold, Charles||Oldroyd, Mark|
|Austin, Sir John (Yorkshire)||Gourley, Sir E. Temperley||Palmer, George W. (Reading)|
|Austin, M. (Limerick, W.)||Gurdon, Sir W. Brampton||Paulton, James Mellor|
|Baker, Sir John||Harwood, George||Pickard, Benjamin|
|Bayley, Thomas (Derbyshire)||Hayden, John Patrick||Power, Patrick Joseph|
|Blake, Edward||Hayne, Rt. Hn. Charles Seale-||Price, Robert John|
|Broadhurst, Henry||Hedderwick, Thos. Charles H.||Reckitt, Harold James|
|Bryce, Right Hon. James||Hemphill, Rt. Hon. Charles H.||Redmond, John E. (Waterf'd)|
|Buchanan, Thomas Ryburn||Hogan, James Francis||Redmond, William (Clare)|
|Burns, John||Holland, William Henry||Reid, Sir Robert Threshie|
|Buxton, Sydney Charles||Horniman, Frederick John||Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)|
|Caldwell, James||Jacoby, James Alfred||Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)|
|Cameron, Robert (Durham)||Kilbride, Denis||Schwann, Charles E.|
|Campbell-Bannerman, Sir H.||Lawson, Sir W. (Cumberland)||Shaw, Thomas (Hawick B.)|
|Causton, Richard Knight||Lewis, John Herbert||Steadman, William Charles|
|Cawley, Frederick||Lloyd-George, David||Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)|
|Channing, Francis Allston||Macaleese, Daniel||Tanner, Charles Kearns|
|Colville, John||MacDonnell, Dr. M. A. (Qu'ns C.||Tennant, Harold John|
|Condon, Thomas Joseph||M'Crae, George||Thomas, Abel (Carmarthen, E.|
|Crilly, Daniel||M'Dermott, Patrick||Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan, E.|
|Crombie, John William||M'Ewan, William||Thomas, David Alf. (Merthyr)|
|Curran, Thomas B. (Donegal)||M'Ghee, Richard||Wallace, Robert|
|Davies, Sir H. D. (Chatham)||Maddison, Fred.||Warner, Thomas Courtenay T.|
|Dewar, Arthur||Mellor, Rt. Hn. J. W. (Yorks.)||Wason, Eugene|
|Doogan, P. C.||Molloy, Bernard Charles||Webberburn, Sir William|
|Dunn, Sir William||Montagu, Sir S. (Whitechapel)||Whittaker, Thomas Palmer|
|Edwards, Owen Morgan||Morley, Charles (Breconshire)||Wilson, John (Govan)|
|Emmott, Alfred||Moulton, John Fletcher||Woods, Samuel|
|Evans, Sir F. H. (South'ton)||Norton, Capt. Cecil William||TELLERS FOR THE AYES—|
|Fenwick, Charles||Nussey, Thomas Willans||Captain Donelan and Mr.|
|Field, William (Dublin)||O'Brien, James F. X. (Cork)||Patrick O'Brien.|
|Allsopp, Hon. George||Campbell, J. H. M. (Dublin)||Faber, George Denison|
|Anson, Sir William Reynell||Cavendish, R. F. (N. Lancs.)||Fergusson, Rt. Hn Sir J (Manc'r)|
|Archdale, Edward Mervyn||Cavendish, V. C. W (Derbyshire||Field, Admiral (Eastbourne)|
|Arnold, Alfred||Chamberlain Rt. Hn. J. (Birm.||Finch, George H.|
|Arrol, Sir William||Chamberlain, J. Austen (Worc'r||Finlay, Sir Robert Bannatyne|
|Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John||Chaplin, Rt. Hon. Henry||Firbank, Joseph Thomas|
|Bailey, James (Walworth)||Coddington, Sir William||Fletcher, Sir Henry|
|Baird, John George Alexander||Coghill, Douglas Harry||Flower, Ernest|
|Balcarres, Lord||Cohen, Benjamin Louis||Foster, Colonel (Lancaster)|
|Baldwin, Alfred||Collings, Rt. Hon. Jesse||Foster, Harry S. (Suffolk)|
|Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r||Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready||Galloway, William Johnson|
|Banbury, Frederick George||Colston, Chas. Edw. H. Athole||Garfit, William|
|Barnes, Frederic Gorell||Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)||Gedge, Sydney|
|Barry, Rt Hn A H Smith-(Hunts||Cooke, C. W. Radcliffe (Heref'd)||Gibbons, J. Lloyd|
|Bartley, George C. T.||Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)||Gibbs, Hn A. G. H. (City of Lond.|
|Beach, Rt Hn. Sir M. H. (Bristol||Cotton-Jodrell, Col. Edw. T. D.||Gibbs, Hon. Vicary (St. Albans)|
|Beckett, Ernest William||Courtney, Rt. Hon. Leonard H.||Giles, Charles Tyrrell|
|Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull||Cubitt, Hon. Henry||Gilliatt, John Saunders|
|Bill, Charles||Curzon, Viscount||Godson, Sir A. Frederick|
|Blundell, Colonel Henry||Dalkeith, Earl of||Goldsworthy, Major-General|
|Bond, Edward||Dalrymple, Sir Charles||Gorst, Rt. Hn. Sir John Eldon|
|Boulnois, Edmund||Denny, Colonel||Goschen, George J. (Sussex)|
|Bowles, T. Gibson (King's Lynn)||Dickinson, Robert Edmond||Goulding, Edward Alfred|
|Brassey, Albert||Doughty, George||Graham, Henry Robert|
|Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John||Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers-||Gretton, John|
|Bullard, Sir Harry||Doxford, Sir William Theodore||Greville, Hon. Ronald|
|Butcher, John George||Elliot, Hon. A. Ralph Douglas||Gull, Sir Cameron|
|Hamilton, Rt. Hn. Lord George||M'Killop, James||Seely, Charles Hilton|
|Hanbury, Rt. Hn. Robert W.||Maple, Sir John Blundell||Sharpe, William Edward T.|
|Hanson, Sir Reginald||Mappin, Sir Frederick Thorpe||Sidebotham, J. W. (Cheshire)|
|Hare, Thomas Leigh||Marks, Henry Hananel||Sidebottom, William (Derbysh.|
|Haslett, Sir James Horner||Martin, Richard Biddulph||Smith, James Parker (Lanarks.|
|Holder, Augustus||Maxwell, Rt. Hon. Sir H. E.||Smith, Hon. W. F. D. (Strand)|
|Hill, Rt Hn A. Staveley (Staffs||Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire)||Spencer, Ernest|
|Hoare, Edw. Brodie (Hamps'd||Middlemore, J. Throgmorton||Stanley, Sir Henry M. Lambeth|
|Hoare, Sir Samuel (Norwich)||Milward, Colonel Victor||Stirling-Maxwell, Sir John M.|
|Hobhouse, Henry||Monk, Charles James||Stone, Sir Benjamin|
|Hornby, Sir William Henry||Montagu, Hon. J. S. (Hants)||Strutt, Hon. Charles Hedley|
|Howard, Joseph||Moore, William (Antrim, N.)||Sturt, Hon. Humphry Napier|
|Hozier, Hn. James Henry Cecil||More, R. Jasper (Shropshire)||Thornton, Percy M.|
|Hudson, George Bickersteth||Morrison, Walter||Tollemache, Henry James|
|Jebb, Richard Claverhouse||Morton, Arthur H. A. (Deptford)||Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray|
|Jeffreys, Arthur Frederick||Mowbray, Sir Robert Gray C.||Tritton, Charles Ernest|
|Jenkins, Sir John Jones||Murray, Charles J. (Coventry)||Vincent, Col Sir C. E. H. (She'ld|
|Johnston, William (Belfast)||Nicol, Donald Ninian||Vincent, Sir Edgar (Exeter)|
|Kenyon-Slaney, Col. William||Percy, Earl||Warr, Augustus Frederick|
|Kimber, Henry||Phillpotts, Captain Arthur||Webster, Sir Richard E.|
|King, Sir Henry Seymour||Pierpoint, Robert||Welby, Lt. -Col. ACE (Tauntom|
|Knowles, Lees||Pilkington, Rich. (Lanes New'n||Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)|
|Lawreace, Sir E. Durning-(Corn||Platt-Higgins, Frederick||Willox, Sir John Archibald|
|Lawson, John Grant (Yorks.)||Powell, Sir Francis Sharp||Wilson, John (Falkirk)|
|Lecky, Rt. Hon. William E. H.||Pretyman, Ernest George||Wilson, J. W (Worcestersh. N.)|
|Leigh-Bennett, Henry Carrie||Pryce-Jones, Lt.-Col. Edward||Wilson-Todd, W. H. (Yorks)|
|Leighton, tanley||Purvis, Robert||Wodehouse, Rt Hn E. R. (Bath)|
|Lockwood, Lt.-Col. A. R.||Rankin, Sir James||Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm|
|Loder, Gerald Walter Erskine||Rasch, Major Frederic Carne||Wortley, Rt. Hon. C. B. S.|
|Long, Col. Charles W. (Eves'm||Remnant, James Farquharson||Wrightson, Thomas|
|Long, Rt. Hon. W. (Liverpool)||Rentoul, James Alexander||Wylie, Alexander|
|Lonsdale, John Brownlee||Ritchie, Rt. Hn. Chas. Thomson||Wyndham, George|
|Lowther, Rt. Hn. James (Kent)||Robertson, Herbert (Hackney||Yerburgh, Robert Armstrong|
|Macdona, John Cumming||Robinson, Brooke|
|MacIver, David (Liverpool)||Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES—|
|Maclure, Sir John William||Samuel, Harry S. (Limehouse)||Sir William Walrond and|
|M'Arthur, Charles (Liverpool)||Savory, Sir Joseph||Mr. Fisher.|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Words added.
§ Second Reading put off for six months.