HC Deb 17 November 1911 vol 31 cc754-63

With respect to statutory small tenants the following provisions shall have effect:—

  1. (1) A statutory small tenant means and includes a tenant from year to year, or leaseholder, not otherwise disqualified in terms of this Act, in regard to whom Section two of this Act provides that he shall not be held an existing yearly tenant or a qualified leaseholder, and the successors of such tenant or leaseholder in the holding, whether his heirs, legatees, assignees (if assignation be permitted by the lease) or not:
  2. (2) Except so far as expressly applied by this Act, the Landholders Acts shall not apply to statutory small tenants:
  3. (3) A holding which is or has been held by a statutory small tenant shall not be merged in or amalgamated with any other holding as defined in the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1908, except with the sanction of the Board:
  4. (4) Except in any case where the landlord satisfies the Land Court that there is reasonable ground of objection to a statutory small tenant (hereinafter in this Section referred to as the tenant) and the Land Court find accordingly, the tenant for the time being shall, notwithstanding any agreement to the contrary, be entitled on any determination of the tenancy to a renewal thereof on the terms and conditions hereinafter specified:
  5. (5) Except so far as varied by this Section, the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts, 1908 and 1910, shall apply in the case of the tenancy of a statutory small tenant in the same manner as if the tenancy were a lease, and for the purposes of those Acts and otherwise the tenancy, as renewed from time to time, shall be deemed to be a lease current for the period of renewal:
  6. 755
  7. (6) Subject to the provisions of the last-mentioned Acts and of this Section, the landlord and the tenant may agree upon the terms and conditions of the renewed tenancy:
  8. (7) Failing agreement, the landlord and the tenant may apply to the Land Court to fix an equitable rent or to fix the period for which the tenancy is to be renewed, and the Land Court may thereafter determine the rent to be paid by the tenant or the period of renewal, or both, as the case may be:
  9. (8) In determining the rent the Land Court shall, so far as practicable, act on their own knowledge and experience, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district, including the rent at which the holding has been let, the proposed conditions of the renewed tenancy, the improvements made by the landlord and tenant respectively, and the then condition and value of such improvements; and shall fix as the rent to be paid by the tenant the rent which, in their opinion, would be an equitable rent for the holding between the landlord and the tenant as a willing lessor and a willing lessee: Provided that they shall allow no rent in respect of any improvements made by or at the expense of the tenant or any predecessor in title for which he or his predecessor, as the case may be, has not received payment or fair consideration from the landlord or his predecessor:
  10. (9) Subject as aforesaid, the terms and conditions of the renewed tenancy shall (except so far as agreed to be varied) be those of the determining tenancy, in the same way and to the same effect, as nearly as may be, as if the tenancy had been continued for the full period of renewal under tacit relocation, and the tenant shall be entitled, if he so desires, to a renewal on those terms and conditions:
  11. (10) The Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts, 1908 and 1910, as applied by this Section, shall be varied as follows (that is to say):—

In the Second Schedule to the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1908, the Land Court shall be substituted for the Board, and where in terms of that schedule a person is nominated as arbiter by the Land Court his remuneration shall be paid by the Land Court:

(11) In the event of the landlord at any time failing to provide or maintain the buildings and permanent improvements suitable to the holding, in so far as the tenant is not required by common law or by express agreement in writing to do so, it shall be lawful for the tenant to apply to the Land Court to so find and declare, and if the Land Court after hearing parties (if they desire to be heard) shall so find and declare, the tenant shall as from the date specified in the finding become a landholder, and the definition of landholder in this Act shall include such tenant and his successors in the holding, being his heirs or legatees:

(12) It shall be lawful for the Board to provide model forms of agreements for optional use by landlords and tenants under this Section, provided that nothing herein contained shall make the use of any such form compulsory:

(13) In the event of any dispute arising as to whether a person is a statutory small tenant within the meaning of this Act, it shall be competent for the Land Court to determine such question summarily:

(14) Section two (as amended by this Act), Sub-section four of Section six, and Section twenty of the Act of 1886, Section two of the Act of 1887 down to the word "summarily," and Sub-section nineteen of Section seven, Sub-section four of Section eight, Section twelve, Section twenty-five, and Sub-section one of Section twenty-six of this Act shall, with the substitution of "statutory small tenant" for "landholder," and "equitable rent" for "fair rent," and with any other necessary modifications, apply for the purposes of this Section as they apply for the purposes of the Landholders Acts.


I beg to move, to leave out this Clause, Some of us are unwilling to accept the compromise that has destroyed the essential features of this Bill, and as it was when it was introduced by the Secretary for Scotland on three different occasions. That Bill of the Secretary for Scotland was passed twice through the House of Commons by very large majorities, and it was twice rejected by the House of Lords. At two elections—at three it may be said—the Government obtained its commanding majority in Scotland from the fact that the Scottish Members were elected upon the principles of that Bill. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Yes, because before 1906 the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had before that sketched the principles of a Bill of this kind. Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man's principles were adopted by the Secretary for Scotland in drafting his Bill.

The simplicity of the principle of that Bill has been destroyed by the acceptance of this compromise. Clause 32 embodies a number of provisions which are totally inconsistent with the main principles of the Bill. The main principles of the Bill are that small tenants should be rendered independent of the dictation of the landlord, and that they should be able to get at fair rents the holdings which they have been occupying. Under the provisions of this Clause none of those objects can be obtained. In fact, all the grievances that Scotland has been complaining of for so many years in regard to these small holdings are crystallised by the terms of this Clause. The Lord Advocate will tell us that this is not so, and that the position of the statutory small tenant as created by this Clause is exactly all that could be wished by him. He has been saying that in Scotland. But he said that equally about the Clauses of the Act of the Secretary for Scotland passed on two different occasions in this House. It cannot be that both are true. One or the other must be. Either the former Bill was not satisfactory, or the present Bill, as now amended, is not satisfactory. We have never had in all the speeches that the Lord Advocate has made an explanation of the inconsistency of his position in regard to the two sets of provisions. The first thing that I object to in this Clause is that the small tenant is not able to get security of tenure if his landlord can prove a reasonable ground of objection. The Crofters Act has no such provision. Why should it be introduced here? It puts the man under the thumb of his landlord.


The crofters made the improvement; this man made none.


What we want in Scotland is to free the small tenant from the domination of the landlord. Under this Clause that is not possible. I have never been quite able to understand what the conditions are which are embodied in this Sub-section (7): "failing agreement." Does that mean failing agreement with regard to general conditions, or failing agreement with regard to rent, because if it only means failing agreement with regard to rent then the tenant has no possibility of escaping from the conditions which previously existed; they are stereotyped to the end of the chapter.

On the other hand, the Lord Advocate says the obligation for fair rent provided by this Clause is exactly the same for all practical purposes as the fair-rent Clause in the Crofters Act. If that is the same thing—I refer to the principle of fixing the rent according to the Small Landholders Act, in which Act we should not have all the considerations provided for by the long operations of Section 8—the principle of competition is noticed by that Clause. It is quite true it is not in as bad a form as that of the compromise originally agreed to by the Lord Advocate, because at that time it was much more general. It is now definite as between landlord and tenant, as between a willing lessor and a willing lessee. We got the Lord Advocate to modify that, and we are very much obliged to him for it, but unless these words which note the principle of perpetual rent are omitted, and unless we return to the wording by which a fair rent is fixed, we shall not get rid of the difficulty. Again, the question of the constitution of the Court comes in as a matter of importance. So long as the Land Court is composed of people who will administer this Bill on the principle which the crofters' Commissioners have administered the Crofters Acts, it is all very well, but if in the course of time, when the persons appointed on the recommendation of my right hon. Friend disappear, and when a Government from the Opposition comes into power, we may have a set of persons appointed who are not at all in sympathy with the Crofters Act, and we may have a number of men more insistent on the landlord side than upon the tenant's side. The whole thing is a question as to how the Act is to be administered. If it is going to be administered with a view to carrying out the principles of the Crofters Act, then the Lord Advocate is all right in saying this is a most admirable Bill. On the other hand, if it is going to be administered in a spirit inconsistent with the Crofters Act, then the agitation will continue in Scotland. At the present moment the Scotch people have been so long put off that they are sullenly acquiescing in the acceptance of this measure. But it is not with a good will, and unless the Act is administered in a way consonant with the administration of the Crofters Act we shall have new agitation against this compromise, and it will be found that no real settlement has been arrived at.

5.0 P.M.


I beg leave to second this Amendment if only for the purpose of giving the Lord Advocate an opportunity of justifying this proposal. The hon. Baronet opposite interjected an observation when it was said that certain men would not come under this Act under the same conditions as the crofters. He said that this was because they had not carried out any improvements or something of that kind.


The small tenant is a man who has had the greater part of his improvements made by the landlord.


This Section lays down certain conditions, failure to comply with which determines that the man shall not be regarded as a crofter in the sense of the 1886 Act. I think those conditions are rather hard. It would be as easy for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle as for a man, even if he had made these improvements, to satisfy the requirements of this Section. It seems to me that this proposal puts the tenant at the mercy of the landlord. Sub-section (4) of this Clause, seems to destroy entirely the security which we had been led to believe was to form a part of this Bill. It gives the landlord the right to say whether or not there shall be a new condition set up in a new lease at the termination of the one running. In this way it puts the tenant at the mercy of the landlord, and practically defeats the object of this Bill. Sub-section (7), as it is framed here, denies to the tenant any right of appeal for a renewal of his tenancy on fair conditions unless he gets the assent of the landlord, and obviously that is unfair.


Both the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded this Amendment know very well that it is practically impossible for me to accept this Amendment. The Bill in its present form divides small tenants into two categories, those who have made their own improvements and those who have not and whose landlords have made them. Those who have made their own improvements are placed under the crofter tenancy, and those who have not are placed under a separate category. The difference between the two is appropriate to the different circumstances. The difference is not one which touches essentials. The small tenant whose landlord has made the improvements has conferred upon him security of tenure and the right to have a fair rent fixed. He may, when his present tenancy comes to an end, demand as a matter of statutory right the renewal of that tenancy, subject to this condition only, that if objection is taken to him upon personal grounds by the landlord, a neutral and independent and impartial tribunal shall decide whether or no he is a suitable man to have his tenancy extended. There is one other distinction, and one only, between the two categories. The small tenant who has not made his own improvements but whose landlord has is not entitled, if he himself makes improvements upon the farm without the landlord's consent, to claim compensation for them at the end of the tenancy. He is placed in exactly the same position as that which the small tenant is placed by virtue of the Small Holdings Act, 1908, which was passed when a Liberal Government was in office. That Act had two defects, and two only. First, it did not give the small tenant security of tenure; and, secondly, it did not give the right to have a fair rent fixed. Both these defects have been remedied in the present Bill, and, so far as I can see, the position of the statutory small tenant is as good, if not better, in every respect as the position of the crofter. I therefore submit it would be fatal to this Bill, dangerous to agriculture in Scotland, and grossly unjust to these statutory small tenants if this Clause were rejected.


The Lord Advocate has attempted to justify the Clause by saying the position of the new small tenant will be equally as good as that of the crofter; but he has not attempted to meet the points which have been raised. He has not told us whether the words in Sub-section (7), "Failing agreement," refer to other conditions or to the rent only.


Obviously only to the rent.


Then it means the man has got security of tenure on the conditions which have been previously existing, and he can never get out of those conditions, however obnoxious they may be to him. That is a thing which no small tenant understands at this moment. It is the universal belief that all the conditions of tenancy can be revised by the landlord, but, as the Lord Advocate has now told us, it is only the question of rent that can be revised.


And the period.


Yes. Besides that there is the question of the reasonable ground of objection. The existence of this reasonable ground of objection in itself shows the security of tenure which is claimed does not exist. I would like to ask, with reference to what the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) said, what proportion of the qualified persons who would come in as statutory small tenants would get in on the crofter condition? I fancy that 90 per cent. of these people have gone on to land on which there is already a house, and they are not likely to be fools enough to take land for a short time if a house has to be put upon it, and subject themselves to all the disagreeable results that will follow. If the Government proposal is an ideal solution, why was it not applied five or six years ago? Evidently it is of no use dividing the House, as hon. Members have been hypnotised by the Lord Advocate; but I warn the right hon. Gentleman that he has by no means got to the end of his trouble on this matter.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: In Sub-section (1), paragraph (1), leave out the word "whether" ["whether his heirs"], and insert the word "being."

After the word "legatees," insert the words "if the bequest is permissible in law, or."


I beg to move, in Subsection (1), paragraph (7), after the word "fix" ["to fix an equitable rent"], to insert the words "a fair and."

The Lord Advocate has just told us that there is no dissatisfaction with this Clause on the part of anyone who understands it. I venture to say, with all respect, there is one expression which no one will understand, and that is the subject of my Amendment. There has been a good deal of speculation and suspicion in Scotland as to the meaning of the word "equitable." I understand that the Government agreed to insert that word in order to please our Friends on the other side, but I am driven to the conclusion that there is some deep meaning attached to the word and that when the Bill becomes law we shall discover that the statutory small tenant has not the same security for the fixing of a fair rent as the small landholder. I believe that will cause very much dissatisfaction. I do not ask him to take out the word "equitable," I only ask that the word "fair" should be inserted alongside it, so that the Clause will read, "failing agreement, the landlord and the tenant may apply to the Land Court to fix a fair and equitable rent."


I beg to second the Amendment. If the Opposition think there is no difference between the meaning of the word "equitable" and the word "fair" they should have no objection to the insertion of the Amendment.


I can give abundant assurances to my hon. Friends that there is no occult meaning about the two words in question, but their insertion has contributed greatly to the smooth passage of this measure.


What the hon. Members mean to say is that the words "equitable" and "fair" are exactly the same. When the hon. Member uses the word "fair," I suppose he would mean "beautiful" and "nice." There is another meaning which is "equal" and "impartial."


I understand the meaning equally with the Noble Lord.


If the Noble Lord attaches the same meaning to the words "equitable" and "fair," why did he object to the insertion of the word "fair," which is the word used in the Crofters Act. That word has had a recognised meaning for twenty-five years, whereas the word "equitable" is unknown. We shall have to see what meaning the wit of lawyers can attach to it. What meaning the Noble Lord attaches to it is not of much importance, because it is the lawyers and not he who will have to interpret it.


I am quite content to leave it to the lawyers.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and negatived.


I beg to move, in Sub-section (8), to leave out the word "a" ["between the landlord and the tenant as a willing lessor."]

The object of the Amendment is to make it clear that an ordinary non-competitive rent is intended. That will be made clear if we leave out the word "a," so that the Sub-section will read, "would be an equitable rent for the holding between the landlord and the tenant as willing lessor and willing lessee."


I beg to second the Amendment.


I prefer the words of the Bill. This is one of those cases in which the indefinite article is better than an indefinite idea.

Amendment negatived.


I beg to move, to leave out Sub-section (11), and to insert instead thereof, (11) Where the landlord, refuses to execute, or refuses his consent to the tenants executing, any building or permanent improvements required for the cultivation and reasonable equipment of the holding, and in respect of which, under the Agricultural Holdings Acts, the tenant is not entitled to compensation unless the landlord consents, the tenant may appeal to the Land Court to declare that upon executing the improvements to the satisfaction of the Land Court the tenant shall, as from the date specified in the finding become a landholder, and the definition of landholder in this Act shall include such tenant and his successors in the holding, being his heirs or legatees. This is to get rid of the indefiniteness of the wording of the Clause. No one could say from the wording of the Clause when the remedy would come into operation. It is always difficult to prove from a negation. We want something which will produce a definite term at which the landlord must do what is wanted.

Amendment not seconded.