HL Deb 21 July 1870 vol 203 cc607-13

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, the measure had passed the other House with little opposition, and was there supported by Sir Roundell Palmer—a circumstance which indicated that it proposed no sweeping change in the law. Its object was to enable limited owners to charge their estates, under certain limitations, with the cost of erecting mansion houses thereupon, such charge not exceeding three years' net rental. The principle was already recognized in Scotland in an Act called the Montgomery Act, which had been in operation about a century, and had been found to work well. The Montgomery Act allowed a charge not exceeding two years' rental for the erection or enlargement of a mansion; and a subsequent Act authorized the sale of so much, of an estate as was required to carry out improvements. Dr. Hancock, in his official Report on the landlord and tenant question in Ireland, referring to the Montgomery Act, said— This is founded on the principle that for a proprietor to reside with his family on his estate and discharge the duties of his position is one of the greatest improvements that he can effect upon it. The Montgomery Act accordingly provides that proprietors building mansion houses and suitable offices may charge, within certain limits, a proportion of the expenses to their heirs of entail. The non-residence of Irish proprietors has been a frequent subject of observation, and it is but reasonable that the provision which was adopted in Scotland to prevent the strictness of entails interfering with the building of mansion houses should be applied to prevent the strictness of settlements producing the same result in Ireland. Several noble Lords and hon. Members connected with Ireland had expressed a like opinion; and he had also received numerous representations from English landowners, who, from the absence of a mansion and their inability to charge their estates with the cost of erection, were reluctant absentees. Under these circumstances, the Bill had come up from the other House, where it had received very general support. The Bill incorporated the provisions of the "Improvement of Land Act, 1864;" and required that the mansion proposed to be erected or completed or enlarged should be suitable to the estate; the charge which the landowner was enabled to put on his estate in respect of these buildings was limited to three years' net rental. The increased value resulting from the outlay of any sums expended beyond the charge was to be taken into account; and in cases where it seemed doubtful whether the buildings proposed to be erected, though suitable to the estate, would add to the yearly value of the lands, the Commissioners had discretion as to certifying the improvements. Without their certificate the charge could not be imposed. The charge, unlike other improvements, would not take priority over other charges. The Bill extended to England and Ireland, but not to Scotland.

Moved. "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl of Airlie.)


said, as the measure proposed a serious alteration of the law with respect to settled estates, he thought it was important that their Lordships should have an expression of opinion on the subject from Her Majesty's Government. He did not quite concur with the noble Earl (the Earl of Airlie) in thinking that the Montgomery Act of Scotland was on all-fours with the present Bill. He confessed, however, that he had not had as yet an opportunity of seeing the Bill. His noble Friend had not stated how many years it was proposed to allow for the repayment of the amount expended upon these buildings or improvements.


said, that the Law Officers of the Crown approved the principle of the Bill, which had been amply discussed in the other House, and had met with general assent. It seemed to him of the highest importance to hold out inducements to landowners—especially to Irish landowners—to reside on their estates. Admitting that three years' rental was somewhat excessive, and that the statutory declaration of the owner as to the cost would be an insufficient barrier against fraud, he thought the defects of the Bill could be remedied in Committee. He could not see why a principle that had worked well in Scotland should not work beneficially in England and Ireland.


said, that the value of the estate on which the mansion was built should be alone taken into account, and not, as the Bill proposed, that of the owner's other estates in addition; for in the latter case a gentleman who had a large estate in England and a small one in Scotland might erect on the latter a mansion which to his successor would be useless.


said, he could not admit that a law which worked well in Scotland would necessarily work well in England. In Scotland entails were perpetual; whereas in England and Ireland they were broken after short intervals, and in any future settlements such charges as were thought proper could be placed upon the estate. He objected to the principle on which the Bill was founded. Under its provisions there was nothing to prevent the Commissioners from sanctioning a charge for buildings which might afterwards be an incumbrance and injury to the successors. There was nothing in the Bill which gave the persons in remainder any veto in the matter, no matter how extravagant the proposed charge on the estate. He thought it would be much better to leave any question of this kind to be settled by contract between the parties interested. He thought that the Act of 1864 gave all powers that could be usefully required.


said, that the interval spoken of by the noble and learned Lord might be as long as 20 or 30 years. The Commissioners would naturally refuse to certify the erection of a large mansion on a small estate. It was provided that this Act should be read with the Act of 1864, which provided for the protection of reversions by the power of appeal to the Court of Chancery.


thought the Court could only intervene when one of the dissenting parties was an infant.


pointed out that the 18th section of the Improvement of Land Act provided for the intervention of the Court of Chancery in all cases, and the present Bill afforded greater protection to encumbrancers even than that Act. If the principle of the Act was good, why should it not be applied to Ireland? The Act was valued by all economists, and had been productive of great good by giving limited owners the power of carrying out permanent improvements. The Montgomery Act had proved very beneficial in Scotland by inducing the landlords to reside on their estates; and, in the same way, if extended to Ireland, would be a great discouragement to absenteeism. In no country was it so important that the different classes of society should be knit together, and nothing deterred residence more than the absence of mansions. He knew multitudes of instances of very large estates—principalities indeed, producing £30,000 per annum—the owners of which were frequently absent for 50 years, and who, when they did visit, were obliged to go to a miserable country inn, or to the agent's house. Such entertainment did not encourage men to come from luxurious palaces elsewhere. In that point of view the Bill recommended itself to every man who had the prosperity of Ireland at heart.


said, it would be presumptuous in him to say what effect the Bill would have on Ireland; but he was convinced the Bill was totally uncalled for so far as England was concerned. It would simply encourage that dangerous passion for bricks and mortar which had involved many persons in difficulty or ruin. The Montgomery Act contemplated an improved rental of the estate; but the building of country houses impoverished a landowner, and there were sufficient opportunities in England of opening the entail and charging the property with improvements.


said, he was glad to hear from the Liberal side of the House the principle enunciated that it was desirable that Irish landlords should reside on their estates. It was not often they heard such sentiments uttered on that side of the House—they might slip out now and then by accident—but when they did they ought to make a note of it with joy. He hoped the Liberal party would adhere to the principle that Irish landlords should reside on their estates; but what had been done to induce them to do so? In the first place, the management of their property had been taken from them—they had been heavily fined in regard to their rents, and Parliament had destroyed the Church to which many of them were attached. These were the inducements held out by the Government to the Irish landlords to reside upon their estates. And did they seriously think they were offering any compensation, or in any way retracing their steps, by encouraging them to build country houses at the expense of their heirs? He agreed with his noble Friend (the Earl of Malmesbury) that the passion for bricks and mortar did not require encouragement. But the question was of much more importance, and he exhorted Gentlemen of the Liberal party, now that the game question and the county jurisdiction question were so much the fashion—and now that other measures were being taken, the direct effect of which was to drive away landlords from their estates and induce them to spend their lives in foreign capitals—to make up their minds on the question of policy whether it was desirable or not that landlords should reside on their estates.


said, that the lecture just delivered by the noble Marquess to the Liberal party was not called for either by their recent policy or by this particular Bill. He would not follow the noble Marquess by re-opening the Irish Church or the Irish land question; but he would remind the noble Marquess that Ireland, under the existing law, had not been generally esteemed a peculiarly happy country for landlords to reside in. A great part of it had been disgraced by outrages, and not only the Government, but many persons in the Conservative party — indeed, the noble Marquess himself—had admitted that there was much in the Irish land laws which was unjust to the tenant, and that this was one of the causes which led to those outrages. It was to restore contentment among the agricultural population, and to restrain and prevent outrage in future, that Her Majesty's Government had adopted their present policy. They believed it would succeed, and if it did, it would encourage the residence of the landed proprietary. The Liberal party was a very large one, and included many with whose opinions he did not agree; but he had never heard that it was characteristic of that party to hold that it was unwise to encourage landlords to live on their estates. For himself, he agreed with the noble and learned Lord (Lord O'Hagan), that it was an immense political and social advantage that landed proprietors should be resident. The Montgomery Act had promoted this in Scotland, and he believed its extension to England, and especially to Ireland, would be very beneficial.


said, he did not think the Bill was required. It was not difficult for a limited owner to obtain the power of building a man- sion on his estate if it were required. A short private Act was all that was required, and he thought that the comparatively small expense of this should not be grudged if it was important to expend in this way a large sum—especially as this procedure gave ample securities to the persons in remainder. The Bill was unnecessary, and would enable persons to indulge extravagant fancies in such enlargement of mansions as might be altogether unsuitable.


said, he doubted the propriety of passing this Bill. The object in view could be met by a slight addition to the Landed Estates Act, enabling the Court of Chancery to authorize the erection of mansions as well as other improvements. He had known many instances of applications by the tenant in remainder to pull down a house built by the tenant for life. The Bill would be likely to lead to litigation.


said, that whilst he would admit that there were some objections to the Bill—and, in particular, he thought the power of raising money to enlarge existing mansions inexpedient—still, he believed that there were cases in which the application of the principle of it would be advantageous. It was by no means a revolutionary measure; it was not aimed at the destruction of landed property; its actual object was to enable landlords to reside upon their estates in certain cases. The principle had worked well in Scotland, and no doubt would in this country, and especially in Ireland. As to the objections raised, they could be dealt with in Committee.


said, that the expense of obtaining a Private Bill would be a serious bar to a resort to that process by Irish landlords. He thought this Bill would be very beneficial, and should support it.


said, he knew many Irish landlords who were so apprehensive of the results of the Land Bill that for the present, at least, they would be absentees. The Bill ought to authorize the expenditure of money in fortifying houses; for this would be much better than adding to them in any other way.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.