HL Deb 29 July 1839 vol 49 cc924-7
Lord Brougham

rose to call their Lordships' attention to a bill, framed with the greatest care, and founded upon the soundest principles. This bill proceeded from the Real Property Commissioners, who, after much inquiry, had produced a report on the subject of tenures. He should state shortly to their Lordships what the objects of the bill were. A great part of the landed property of the country was built over by towns, or it was situate in the neighbourhood of towns, and was, therefore, likely to be built over, and much of this property was held by the tenure called copyhold. Lord Coke, and after him Mr. Justice Blackstone, said that this tenure, though not of a high family, was of a very ancient house, corning as it did from the ancient villeins. By degrees those villeins obtained possession of their lands, and there grew up a firmer title, but still in the eye of the law the possessors of those lands were merely tenants-at-will, although under very peculiar circumstances; the will of the lord being determined by the customs of the manor. Now, the manner in which the customs arose in each particular manor, formed the groundwork of the bill which he had the honour to propose to their Lordships. In each manor the customs varied, and constituted a code of law which, however different from that which obtained in other parts of the kingdom, was the law of that manor. Now, let them only look at the consequences of this. The position of the ground, and its quality, whether wood, river, or mine, the state of the inhabitants, the degree of their civilization, the amount of property held by the lord, the amount of property held by the tenant—nay, more, the mere caprice of the lord, became severally the origin of all the diversities in the customs of manors which had since sprung up. There was not a greater diversity in the laws which affected the customs of France before the Code Napoleon amalgamated and melted them all into one, than at this moment was to be found in England. The first diversity respected the enjoyment of land, particularly the leasing power. Generally speaking, the tenant could not lease for more than a year, but with the consent of the Lord he might grant a lease for a longer term. In many manors, however, the copyholder might lease for seven years, in others for nine, in others again for life, and in one manor the custom was for the copyholder to lease for life and forty years afterwards. In like manner the custom varied in different manors as to the amount to be paid to the lord for his license to lease. The amount was sometimes perfectly indefinite, and the Lord of the Manor might demand whatever sum he pleased for his consent, and consequently the copyholder in many instances could not lease at all. In other manors the tenant might lease on payment of a fine certain, and the amount of that varied in different manors. So much as to the mode of enjoyment as far as tenure was concerned. But there was another diversity. The timber which grew on copyhold land could not be cut down by the copyholder without the consent of the lord in many manors, and indeed it was a common proverb all over England, "The oak will not grow except on free land." So with respect to the enjoyment of underground property; mines and minerals generally belonged to the lord, but by special custom to the tenant, and sometimes the property was to a certain extent in the lord and to a certain extent in the tenant. The consequence was, that in these cases the mines could not be worked without the joint consent of the lord and the tenant. So again, as many diversities prevailed in the customs affecting free bench or dower, and the transmission of the copyhold property by descent. The widow of the copyholder was sometimes entitled to a third of the property for her dower, sometimes to a moiety, and sometimes to the whole. Then, again, when the property passed by descent, it came sometimes to the eldest and sometimes to the youngest son; in some manors all the brothers took together, and no son at all; sometimes it passed to the youngest daughter, sometimes to all the daughters in coparcenary, and sometimes the eldest daughter took all. There was equal variety in respect to the conveyance of the property, whether by transfer inter vivos, or by will, and also in respect of the amount of the fine payable on the transfer. Then, again, the customs differed with respect to heriots. Their Lordships knew that a heriot was the best chattel which the tenant had, and he believed that the race horse Smolensko was once claimed as a heriot. (A noble Lord, Waxy was also taken as a heriot). But the evil did not stop here. If a piece of copyhold land descended according to the custom of gavelkind, all the sons had to pay a heriot, and if the land were divided for building purposes, it might so happen that 90 or 100 heriots would be payable. He had said enough to show their Lordships that they ought to get rid of these diversities in the law, which without doing much good to the landlord, were exceedingly injurious to the tenant. It was proposed, therefore, to give facilities for voluntary enfranchisement, and failing that, to have recourse to compulsory powers. The tithe commissioners, who had judiciously and successfully carried the Tithe Commutation Act into effect had consented to take the superintendence of this measure. There was no compulsory power under the bill, with the exception that a binding power was given to the majority of copy-holders over the minority; and whenever the lord of the manor, together with more than one-half of the copy-holders in number, and more than three-fourths in value, assents to enfranchise all the copyholds, the provision was made to enable them to avail themselves of the power of the commissioners by appointing valuers, obtaining reports, settling disputes, and fixing the amount of compensation to the lord. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving, that the bill be read a second time,

Motion carried.

Lord Lyndhurst

trusted the noble and learned Lord did not intend to press the measure forward this Session, because many noble Lords interested in the matter had left town with the impression that it would not be brought on.

On Lord Brougham

moving that the bill be committed,

their Lordships divided:—Content 28; Not-Content 39: Majority 11.

Bill put off sine die.

Lord Lyndhurst

begged to state, that he did not object to the principle of the bill, but to its details; and that he should be happy to assist his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) in framing and passing a measure similar in principle next Session.