HC Deb 18 March 1925 vol 181 cc2279-81

I beg to move, That leave be given to introduce a Bill to amend the Improvement of Land Act. 1899. The need for this Bill has arisen owing to a doubt as to the interpretation of the accumulation of Acts of Parliament dealing with settled estates and with owners' residences and the immediate cause of it is a correspondence which has taken place between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Scottish Board of Agriculture as to the right or power of owners of settled estates to borrow money from improvement companies for the improvement of mansion houses or residences on those settled estates, within the extended powers which the Law of Property Act of 1922, Section 65, purported to give them. Section 65 of that Act, as that Act did not come into immediate operation, was re-enacted in Section 3 of the Agricultural Credits Act, 1923. I mention these matters with diffidence and regret, because it is a very bad case of legislation by reference, and very complicated and difficult to explain in simple language, but the Ministry of Agriculture, having discovered a doubt as to the interpretation of this Act and. consequently, of the borrowing powers of these owners of settled estates, suggested that I should take the course which I am now taking of asking the leave of the House to introduce this Bill.

Let me try to make clear the present situation with regard to these settled estates. From 1870 onwards Parliament has passed a series of Acts of Parliament extending the rights of the owners of settled estates to pledge the capital security of these estates for the purposes of works and improvements of one kind and another. Now the owner of a settled estate can do very nearly as much in that way as the owner of a freehold estate, and the common and convenient practice in the majority of cases has been that when the owner of a settled estate wishes to borrow money to carry out an improvement on his property he does so from one of the improvement companies established by Parliament for the purpose. When Parliament, in 1922 and 1923, passed the most recent extension of the rights of owners of settled estates to borrow and charge upon their properties, it was apparently overlooked that in the Improvement of Land Act, 1899, there is a proviso, in Section 1, Sub-section (3). limiting the powers of improvement companies to lend to owners of settled estates for the improvement of their mansions, and the object of this Bill is to repeal that proviso, so as to make it clear beyond all doubt that an owner of a settled estate who wants to carry out this improvement may borrow from an improvement company for the purpose in the same way as he may, under the Acts of 1922 and 1923, borrow from some other source for the same purpose.

In these days since the War the need for this power has become rather general, because there are so many owners of settled estates who find it impossible to continue to live in the mansions on their properties, and they find that, in order to make them lettable, it is necessary to expend money on improvements, such as electric light, water supply, bath rooms, and things of that kind. They may go to their banker or other source and borrow money for this purpose, but if they go to an improvement company, established for this very class of business, it is doubtful whether they can do so, unless this Bill is passed. I am afraid this matter is so technical that I may have failed to make my meaning very clear to the House, but I thought it necessary to take this the only opportunity that I shall have of explaining briefly the purport of this Bill, which I hope and think will not be met with any opposition in any quarter of the House.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Colonel Courthope and Sir Douglas Newton.