HL Deb 11 May 1855 vol 138 cc397-401

said, he wished to call the attention of their Lordships to the subject of Estate Bills, and would conclude by laying on the table a Bill to provide for the cheaper and more expeditious granting of powers hitherto obtainable only through special Acts of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord said the necessity for the legislation he proposed arose from the fact—notorious to every one—that the greatest proportion of the landed estates in the country was held by persons who were not the absolute owners in fee simple, but who had only limited interests under marriage and other settlements;—the consequence of the general use of settlements being that the present possessors of property had only life interests in it. He would not stop to inquire whether it was a beneficial state of things, but he would take the facts as they stood; merely observing that he thought that, on the whole, the limitation of property by marriage and other settlements had been conducive to the welfare of individuals and beneficial to the community. Their Lordships need not, however, speculate on the policy of settlements of property; but he desired them to contemplate what had been the evil results from them. In consequence of the owner not being the absolute owner, he was not able to deal with his property in the most beneficial manner, sometimes for himself or his family, and in other instances for the community at large. It was usual in settlements to give a power to grant agricultural leases, but something more was wanted; settlements frequently omitted to provide for leases for the working of mines, &c.; sometimes the power of granting long building leases was wanting, and in other cases powers were required for exchanging or for selling a portion of the estate and investing the proceeds in land more advantageously situated. In well-drawn settlements these matters were generally provided for by anticipation, but it often happened, especially in small estates, that they were overlooked. How was this want at present remedied? By a very objectionable and expensive course—by the very objectionable mode of obtaining the required powers by private and special Acts of Parliament—by privilegia granted to meet each case. Although these Acts of special legislation were managed very ably by his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) the Chairman of Committees, yet even he would admit that they were attended with great difficulties. Before such a Bill was allowed to pass, it was referred to two Judges by a standing order of their Lordships' House; that, he thought, involved the inconvenient course of mixing up judicial and legislative matters, and it was incumbent on their Lordships to make some better provision in regard to this class of Bills. Again, these private bills were attended with great expense. He had a list of sixteen cases of private bills taken at haphazard within the last five years, and he found that the average cost of each of these sixteen bills, which were for leasing, for sales in exchange, or for mining, was 1,270l. There were fourteen or fifteen of these bills every year brought in; so that from 17,000l. to 20,000l. a year was spent on this species of private legislation to enable parties to do what they ought to have the power of doing without an Act of Parliament. But that was not all; for though 1,200l. was the average cost, persons having small properties were absolutely debarred from obtaining the required powers, except at a ruinous cost, yet it was as important to the owner of a settled property of 200l. or 300l. a year to make the most of it, as to the owner of a property of 100,000l. a year. The expense was, in fact, a bar to such applications, and it was a mockery to tell the owner of a small property that he could get relief. That being the state of the case, what was the remedy to be found? He saw no difficulty in recommending one which experience had already approved in analogous cases, by enabling similar things to be done without the interference of the Legislature. By the Ecclesiastical Leases Bill, ecclesiastical persons requiring the power of leasing were enabled to do so. A similar power was given in the Charities Act of two years ago, and the Charity Commissioners had reported that these clauses had been exercised with great benefit. The Municipal Corporations Act gave similar powers. It might, of course, be said that these cases were not those of tenants for life, but they stood in the same category as the cases to which he now referred, and afforded an illustration of the kind of provision which those who had limited interests in property demanded. It was a rule with his noble friend the Chairman of Committees that, if an application for an Estate Bill came before him recommended by the Court of Chancery, it was adopted. [Lord REDESDALE: That was not an absolute rule.] No, but that was the ordinary rule. He proposed that any person whose necessities required that powers should be given of leasing either agricultural or mining property, of granting building leases, or the sale or exchange of property, should apply at once in a summary manner in the Court of Chancery to one of the Judges at chambers. The Judge, if he approved, could give the requisite authority at once, and his authority would be just as good as if an Act of Parliament were passed. The result of this change would be a saving of some 20,000l. a year, besides the facilities which would be afforded for the advantage of property as well as the present possessors. The Bill which he proposed to lay on the table had one further object. He thought that a tenant for life should have the power of leasing without applying to the Court of Chancery. This was not new legislation, for it was so old as the time of Henry VIII., at which period tenants for life were empowered to grant leases for 21 years. He proposed by this Bill to enable tenants for life, unless where the settlement forbade such a power, to grant agricultural leases for a term, not of 21 years, as was done by the Act of Henry VIII., but for a term not exceeding 14 years. In the case of mining leases, he proposed that a certain portion of the rent should be retained for the benefit of the inheritance. The noble and learned Lord then presented, A Bill to facilitate leases and Sales of Settled Estates.


thought the country would be very much indebted to his noble and learned Friend for the introduction of this Bill. The expense of obtaining Acts of this kind, as stated by his noble Friend, was hardly credible, though he new of his own knowledge that in the case of a noble Lord in that House, who found it necessary to apply to Parliament for certain Acts granting him leasing and other powers, which he considered necessary, the cost of obtaining them exceeded, he believed, the sum of 5,000l.; while in another case the cost of passing the requisite Acts of Parliament amounted to something more than 6,000l. The observation of his noble and learned Friend was exceedingly just when he declared that the expense of these Bills was such that the owners of small estates, who might be equally entitled to obtain powers from Parliament, were excluded from privileges which the owners of larger estates ob- tained, so that the present system operated with the utmost injustice. His noble and learned Friend had also stated with great propriety that there could be no objection to give this power to the Court of Chancery instead of vesting it in the Legislature, because everybody knew that if a case was recommended by the Court of Chancery to this House it passed the Legislature almost as a matter of course. He thought, therefore, that giving the Court of Chancery the power of dealing with these applications instead of recommending proceedings to that and the other House, was a proper provision. The principle involved in the Bill had been over and over again recognized by Parliament, and he thought that their Lordships could have no objection to adopt it. As to the particular clauses, of course they had as yet no opportunity of judging of these, but he highly approved of the principle and objects of the Bill, and believed it would be hailed with the greatest satisfaction by the whole country.


said, he did not think the whole expense of obtaining these Acts would be saved by the new scheme proposed. One great object which they would have to keep in view was that persons should retain the security they now had that the intentions expressed in their wills would be fairly and reasonably carried out. Under the present mode of procedure they certainly had that security, and no doubt the noble and learned Lord had taken care to provide that except where special and strong reasons existed for a different course, the arrangements contemplated by a testator should not be interfered with. As to the expense of obtaining these Acts it was unquestionably heavy in many instances, though he did not think, if the whole number were gone through, it would amount to anything like what the noble and learned Lord had stated. The heavy costs mentioned by the noble and learned Lord behind him (Lord Lyndhurst) must have been occasioned by many more than one Bill.


Yes; in the one case there were five, and in the other six Bills; but in each instance they were applicable to one property.


That explanation set the matter in rather a different light. Many of these Acts were got for not more than 500l., and, unless under special circumstances, he did not see why they should necessarily amount to so high a sum as had been alluded to.


rose to express his entire concurrence in the principle of this Bill. The object in view was a most laudable one, and he earnestly desired that that object should be gained:—it would tend to the better cultivation of the soil, and add to the general prosperity of the community. No doubt the measure was framed with great caution, so as to guard against an improper interference with settlements, and against the conferring of powers not contemplated by testators: has an example, he would refer to the Bill of Sir Thomas Wilson, as to which Parliament, by repeated decisions, had expressed its belief that Sir Thomas Wilson, by granting powers of leasing with respect to certain estates, and witholding them in other cases (although he did not expressly forbid them), really indicated his wish that they should not be granted. Would the powers of enclosure sought for by the heir of Sir Thomas Wilson be granted under this Bill? He hoped not. He hoped that the repeated decisions of the two Houses of Parliament upon the construction of the will would not be reversed, and that they should not unhappily live to see Hampstead-heath covered with houses, streets, and squares. He viewed with satisfaction the introduction of the Bill and trusted it would meet with the approbation of all their Lordships and the support of the Government in the other House of Parliament.

Bill read 1a.

House adjourned till Monday next.