HL Deb 17 April 1845 vol 79 cc855-9
The Duke of Richmond

rose, pursuant to notice, to move the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the expediency of a legislative enactment being introduced, to enable the possessors of entailed estates to charge such estates with a sum, to be limited, for the purpose of draining and otherwise permanently improving the same. The noble Duke said, he had brought forward the Motion in accordance with his often expressed conviction, that they were bound to do all in their power to encourage agricultural improvement. By the formation of societies and the exertions of the wealthier classes of the tenants, much had been lately done; and his object was to carry out as far as possible the advantage to be derived from thorough draining. He was not asking for the establishment of any new principle, for the Montgomery Act allowed the holders of entailed estates in Scotland to expend money on the permanent improvement of the land, and charge on the estate three-fourths of the money so expended. In 1840, Mr. Posey's Act gave facility for the expenditure of money in draining on English entailed estates; but that Act had, unfortunately, not been found as efficient as it had been hoped it would prove. Its partial failure had in great measure arisen from the facts, that persons, before raising money for improvements under it, must carry their application to the Court of Chancery; and the landlords of England so dreaded that Court and its Masters, that nothing could induce them to go before it. If the Select Committee were now granted, he believed that in Committee much advice and suggestion could be given, that would have the effect of promoting better cultivation, and encouraging the expenditure of large sums of money on the soil, instead of capital being wasted on railway disputes and contentions, either at home or abroad. If they would induce parties to advance large sums on the security of entailed estates, to be laid out in permanent improvement, much benefit would be conferred on the country at large. For instance, as matters now stood, if a man succeeded to an entailed estate, he could not afford to spend much of his income on improvements, for he had only a life interest; he knew not how long the property would continue in his possession; and out of his income he was naturally anxious to provide for his wife and children. The holder of an entailed estate had, therefore, not the same means of improving that he whose estate was unentailed had. On a former occasion when a Bill of this kind was introduced, it had been stated that if they passed it they would get rid of entaied estates; but he (the Duke of Rich, mond) thought the contrary would be the effect of this Bill. He believed that by taking proper precautions against fraud, and giving the power asked for to the holders of entailed estates, they would be taking one great step to strengthen and; maintain entail, by removing one of the inconveniences alleged against it. One great advantage of giving encouragement in the way he proposed, to the investment of money in improving entailed estates, without making it necessary to go before Chancery, would be that of providing employment for that large and meritorious class, the agricultural labourers, many of whom were now in the distressing situation of seeking for work without being able to get it. His proposal tended to carry out the healthy and rightful principle that every honest and meritorious labourer should be always able to have a good day's pay for a good day's labour. The Report of the Commission of which his noble Friend (Lord Devon) was at the head, relative to the agrarian condition of Ireland, contained, he believed, a recommendation that facilities of the kind he asked for should be given to the holders of entailed estates in Ireland; and he did hope that England would not be excluded from participation in these advantages. The noble Duke, after again dwelling on the importance of removing the delay and expense involved in the necessity of going before Chancery for power to raise money, concluded by submitting the terms of his Motion.

The Duke of Cleveland

seconded the Motion. He thought the noble Duke had chosen the best course in moving for a Select Committee, instead of proceeding by Bi11 in the first instance. He had no doubt that when the inquiry was entered into, the measure would be found to be of the greatest practical utility. They were all aware of the low ebb to which agriculture had sunk at this time, and such a measure would tend to relieve occupiers and labourers from their present distress. The only way permanently to better the condition of the agricultural labourers was to improve the land, and one method of doing that was by drainage. But to be of any value the drainage must be effectually performed, and this was a most expensive operation when properly and thoroughly effected. Indeed, so great was the outlay required, that it could not be expected from a mere life-tenant of an entailed estate. The class of improvements to which the noble Duke's Select Committee referred were altogether of a permanent character, and therefore they ought to be charged on the estate itself, and not to be defrayed, save in a fair proportion, by the life-tenant who made them. He had no doubt right would be done in the matter; and as the projected alterations had in view by the noble Duke would be highly beneficial to land in general, he willingly assented to the appointment of the Select Committee, and hoped that a Bill would ultimately be brought in on the subject.

Lord Ashburton

said, that when the Bill to which the noble Duke had referred was in progress through Parliament, he had expressed his apprehensions that the effect of the restrictions, compelling the landowners to have recourse to the Court of Chancery before they could commence a drain, would be to throw insuperable obstacles in the way of this class of improvement; whilst, on the other hand, he had been of opinion that without some such check as that, estates would be loaded by their life-tenants with heavy charges for improvements, the money for which might possibly be applied for other purposes than effecting such improvements. On the whole, however, if proper precautions were taken to insure the application of the money charged for permanent improvements, and likewise if care were taken not to jeopardize the rights of property, he saw no objection to the measure which was likely to result from the noble Duke's proposition to appoint a Select Committee. He, however, must warn him to provide proper securities against charging estates permanently with the expenses of a thorough system of drainage on the land; and the best way of effecting this would be to provide a clause by which a power, similar to that conferred by the Gilbert's Act for constructing glebe-houses, would be given to life-tenants, to carry the sums expended in improvements over a given number of years, the charge becoming extinct by liquidation at the end of that period.

Lord Beaumont

said, that the last observation of the noble Lord induced him to say a few words on the present subject. Their Lordships, perhaps, were aware that there were in existence what were styled Land Draining Companies, the operations of which were conducted upon scientific principles. These companies undertook the drainage of estates upon the principle of advancing the sums necessary for the purpose, and of repaying themselves gradually out of the increased rental which the land thus improved brought in; and so successful had their operations been that the surplus had very soon wiped off the incumbrance thus imposed on the land. The Bill which was in prospect would thus come in aid of the views of these companies, and enable them more effectually and generally to carry out the principle upon which they were founded. Persons having a life-interest in estates would thus be encouraged and enabled to treat with the draining companies, and at the same time avoid charging the land with a permanent debt, whilst at the same time they would not be deprived of the fair enjoyment of their property during their life-tenancy. As the matters to which he referred rather belonged to the details of the Bill than to the question of the appointment of a Committee, he should say no more at present than to express his cordial concurrence in the proposal of the noble Duke.

On Question, agreed to; and Committee appointed.

Their Lordships adjourned.