§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS (Glasgow, Camlachie)
moved an Amendment to the Address respectfully submitting to His Majesty that the present system of the letting of smaller houses in the burghs of Scotland inflicts great inconvenience and hardship, and calls for reform in the interest of landlords, their factors, and the tenants. He said he would not apologise for bringing forward this grievance in the form of an Amendment to the Address. Scotchmen did not, as a rule, obtrude their grievances on the House, and he hoped, therefore, that the matter to which he now called attention would receive careful consideration. He had during the fourteen years he had been a Member of the House endeavoured to get an opportunity for bringing this 303 topic before the House, but without success. The grievance to which the Amendment referred was one which bore hardly on the operative classes in Scotland, and affected one half, if not three-fourths, of the population in that country. The system of tenure of which they complained was one which involved the holding of houses for long periods of time causing great hardships to thousands who, on account of the exigencies of their occupations, or for other reasons, had to change their places of abode at short notice. It was the practice of landlords to demand that tenants of houses in January or early in February should sign an agreement by which they became tied to the houses for a period of seventeen or eighteen months, without break or release, and compelled to pay the rent whether they occupied the house or not. If the tenant lost his work, or was forced to move to another place, he remained under obligation for the rent of the house for the whole period; that was felt to be a great hardship, very grievous and inequitable, and one which could be reformed without injury to any interest concerned. This grievance was felt by all occupiers of houses rented at under £30 and £40, but he was dealing more particularly with the case of those whose houses were rented at less sums. The necessity for Parliamentary action in legislation arose because the landlords practically acted together. They sent in these demands, termed "missives," all at one time; and the tenants were compelled to return them signed within ten days, under penalty, in event of non-compliance, of having their houses let over their heads. The tenants were really unable, under the circumstances, to help themselves. Besides, the question of the rates and taxes had to be dealt with, so that these could be collected from the landlords, and recovered by them from the tenants along with the rent, as in England. All this was necessary in the interest of everybody, under the conditions of life in the industrial centres in Scotland prevailing at 304 present time. The present system was antiquated and a relic of the time when houses had gardens attached to them. In the old days it was most reasonable that a man who proposed to occupy a house should fix upon his house early in the year, and so got possession of the garden at a time when the operations incidental to cultivation could be carried on. There were no gardens now. The system thus prevailing in Scotland still, had long ago become unknown in England, where, he believed, it would not be permitted for one day. It was a state of affairs which had become intolerable to the minds of the working classes. He submitted that the grievance was very great; that the subject was very important—and suggested as a remedy that the House of Commons should enact that whatever period be fixed for the payment of the rent, the same should become the period of the tenure. It was shorter tenancies that were wanted, and more frequent payments of rental. These would be easier met by people whose wages came in in small sums, and to whom accumulation for quarterly or half-yearly payments was difficult or impossible. The point was to make the tenancy and the period of payment of rent of shorter date, as in England. In almost all the centres of population in Scotland there had been established now many associations for the purpose of finding a remedy to this great evil. The chief corporations in that country had also taken up the subject, and condemned this system. The town council of the great city of Glasgow had convened a conference of Scottish corporations and burghs last week on the subject. Public opinion was demanding in determined voice that a reform should be effected, and at once; very many Members of Parliament wore pledged to support the reform. He thought that he had said enough to show that this question should be dealt with by the Government at the earliest opportunity, and that some reasonable remedy should be provided for a state of affairs which was not consistent with the 305 comfort or welfare of the working classes of Scotland. He did not propose his Amendment in any hostile spirit to the Government; he was only anxious that a Bill, which had been drafted on the subject, should pass its Second Reading, and be remitted to a Committee upstairs for detailed consideration. He begged to move.
§ MR. FINDLAY (Lanarkshire, N.E.)
said he had much pleasure in seconding the Amendment. He trusted that the proposal of the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment would receive the serious consideration of the Government, so that the law, which at present was a serious burden on the working classes, would be amended at the earliest possible opportunity.
At the end of the Question, to add the words, 'But we humbly represent to Your Majesty that the present law and practice in the letting of smaller houses in the burghs of Scotland, and the missive system prevailing in connection therewith, by which tenants are required by landlords in the month of January or early in February, in each year, to sign a missive form taking their dwelling houses and becoming responsible for the rent thereof, from the term of Whit Sunday until the term of Whit Sunday in the year following, stands in need of immediate amendment and reform, we respectfully submit to Your Majesty that the present practice inflicts great inconvenience and hardships in the cities and larger burghs especially on these classes who have to change their dwellings at any other time of year than the term of Whit Sunday, and that the reform called for is really in the interest of landlords and their factors as well as of the tenants."—(Mr. Alexander Cross.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there added."
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. THOMAS SHAW,) Hawick Burghs
said that this was a subject which had been brought before the House year after year by his hon. friend opposite, with much pertinacity, and he congratulated him on his admirable assiduity. He would not 306 now discuss the merits of the Bill to which the hon. Gentlemen had referred, and he did not question that public opinion in Scotland had been ripened on this subject by the hon. Member's praiseworthy efforts. The hon. Gentleman had referred to the association of the burghs of Scotland, which had taken up this matter. He understood that only two days ago arrangements were made for that association to visit the Secretary for Scotland; and he would ask the hon. Member to accept his assurance, in behalf of the Secretary for Scotland, that the representations of the association would receive sympathetic consideration on the part of His Majesty's Government. It was only fair to state that there were two sides to the question, even from the point of view of the working classes; the possibility of making easy the quick dishousing of larger numbers, say, at the instances of a single capricious owner or employer, would have to be considered; and there were elements for discussion when the topic was brought before the House in the shape of a Bill. In these circumstances he thought that the subject was not one of sufficient magnitude to justify an Amendment to the Address, and he suggested that his hon. friend, having received the assurance he had now given, would be good enough to allow the main business of the House to proceed.
§ MR. R. DUNCAN (Lanarkshire, Govan)
said that, as an employer of labour, he could state that the existing law in regard to the tenancy of houses in the burghs of Scotland often proved a great hardship to the working classes, and he hoped that it would soon be amended.
§ MR. ALEXANDER CROSS
said that he accepted the assurance which the Lord Advocate had given, and he asked leave to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question again proposed.