HL Deb 27 July 1869 vol 198 cc776-8

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee, read.


said, he did not intend to proceed with the measure at this period of the Session. He wished, however, to explain that he dissociated it entirely from what was now called the land question, for it did not affect the ownership of land or the legitimate rights either of owners in fee, leaseholders, or occupiers, but was simply designed to remedy the flaws and obscurities of the existing law, so as to enable parties connected with the letting and holding of land to establish and recover their rights without much expense. In 1860, Mr. Cardwell introduced a measure based on the same principle as this Bill—namely, contract between man and man; but, unfortunately, it permitted implied conditions and constructions which rendered engagements made under it uncertain and obscure, and it expressly recognized, though without defining, implied contracts. Its terms, more- over, were extremely ambiguous, though its principle was admittedly sound. Irish landlords and tenants also were grateful to the noble Lords who in a former Session bestowed so much attention on the present Bill in a Select Committee, particularly to the noble Earl below him (the Earl of Clarendon) and to Earl Grey, who devoted so much assiduity and trouble to it. It had not been pressed in the present Session, on account not of any want of confidence in its provisions, but on account of a question totally different from that of an amelioration of the law having been raised. The question now discussed in newspapers, speeches by agitators, and, he was sorry to add, by many Members of Parliament at the late election, who ought to have known better, was whether the present occupiers were to take possession of the land by lease or in fee simple, regardless of the rights of the landlords. If an occupier obtained a Parliamentary title to a lease under the name of fixity of tenure, he would practically become the owner — in other words, it was confiscation. Mr. Bright, to whose scheme the noble Lord opposite (Lord Dunsany) had referred, desired the creation of a class of small proprietors; but he (the Marquess of Clanricarde) very much doubted whether the condition of any country had been improved by taking land or any other property from large possessors and dividing it among small proprietors. Such measures had not proved satisfactory in France and other countries. To any such scheme as that of Mr. Bright there must be three parties —landlords ready to sell, tenants ready to buy, and the State ready both to buy and sell. Now, he ventured to predict that the only parties who would enter with alacrity into such a project would be the landlords. No doubt plenty of land-lords would be willing to sell their property if offered the full value; but he doubted if Parliament, however strong this or any future Ministry might be, or however many dissolutions might be resorted to, would ever be persuaded to buy the land in order to sell it to small proprietors. As to giving occupiers by Act of Parliament leases for twenty- one, thirty-one, or sixty-one years, this would virtually be conferring on them the ownership of the land. It would, moreover, be a despotism hitherto unknown in any country to insist that an occupier should be made to continue in his occupation for a considerable number of years. Even in Russia the policy of binding men to the soil had been abandoned. He was sorry that such a project had been started at a time when horrible crimes were being committed connected with the land, for he was convinced that the principle of this Bill—that was to say, the principle of regulating the relations between landlords and tenants—was the best that could be proposed. He was told, indeed, that it did not go far enough; but he had no objection to going further, provided the principle of voluntary and well-defined agreements between landlord and tenant was adhered to. Unless the Government introduced a measure at the commencement of next Session, he should re-introduce this Bill, and should endeavour to press it through both Houses. The Government were supposed to be bound to take up the subject, and in that case he entreated them to lose no time, for there had been already too much hesitation and paltering with it, with very mischievous consequences. He would urge them in the shortest space of time consistent with that personal relaxation to which they were entitled as well as private Members, after the labours of the Session, to frame a measure, which need be no Cabinet secret, but should be made known to Parliament and the country at the earliest possible date. he had now to move that the Order for the House to be put into Committee be discharged.

Motion agreed to: Order discharged.