HL Deb 19 February 1872 vol 209 cc639-43

asked the Lord Privy Seal, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any steps for ascertaining accurately the number of Proprietors of Land or Houses in the United Kingdom, with the quantity of land owned by each? He should not trouble the House at any length, because he understood that the suggestion he had ventured to put into his Question was acquiesced in and would be acted upon by the Government. They all knew that out-of-doors there was from time to time a great outcry raised about what was called the monopoly of land, and, in support of that cry, the wildest and most reckless exaggerations and misstatements of fact were uttered as to the number of persons who were the actual owners of the soil. It had been said again and again that, according to the Census of 1861, there were in the United Kingdom not more than 30,000 landowners; and, though it had been repeatedly shown that this estimate arose from a misreading of the figures contained in the Census Returns, the statement was continually re-produced, just as though its accuracy had never been disputed. The real state of the case was at present a matter of conjec- ture; but he believed, for his own part, that 300,000 would be nearer the truth than the estimate which fixed the landowners of the United Kingdom at a tenth of that number. He entirely disbelieved the truth of the popular notion that small estates were undergoing a gradual process of absorption in the large ones. It was true that the class of peasant proprietors formerly to be found in the rural districts was tending to disappear—for the very good reason, that such proprietors could, as a general rule, obtain from 40 to 50 years' purchase for their holdings, and thereby vastly increase their incomes. In the place of that class, however, there was rapidly growing up a new class of small owners, who, dwelling in or near towns or railway stations, were able to buy small freeholds through the agency of societies which existed for the purpose. He believed this new class would fully replace, and perhaps more than replace, the diminution in the other class to which he had referred. He apprehended that through the agency of the Poor Law Board it would be easy to obtain statistical information which would be conclusive in regard to this matter. The returns ought to include the name of every owner and the extent of his property in acres. He did not wish to have included in the Return the exact dimensions of very minute holdings; that could be met by giving the aggregate extent of holdings not exceeding an acre each, the number of separate owners being stated, but not the extent of each holding. He need not waste words in explaining the statistical interest and value of a Return of this nature. He was told that in Scotland a Return of the kind actually existed, and was kept up without inflicting annoyance upon anybody, or causing any great trouble or expense. He thought it might be a question also whether holdings on lease ranging from 75 to 999 years, ought not also to be included; because a man who held under such a lease as that was for all practical purposes very much more the possessor of the soil that was covered by the lease than was the nominal owner, whose only right was that of enforcing certain simple conditions and receiving the amount of ground rent stipulated in the lease. He could not conceive that an inquiry such as he had ventured to suggest would involve any interference with the private concerns of any persons. Any man, by the use of his own eyes, and by personal inquiry, could obtain an approximately accurate idea of the holdings of every landowner in his own parish, but it was only the State which could take a similar survey over the whole country.


thanked his noble Friend for having put the Question now under consideration; but desired to ask further whether Her Majesty's Government would cause to be prepared and presented to Parliament a Return of the number of entails now existing in this country. He believed much misunderstanding existed with regard to this question, and that, instead of their being numerous, there were very few remaining. In the present day most persons succeeded to their property under marriage settlements, and it ought to be generally known that hardly any good solicitor would willingly draw up a marriage settlement unless it included a power of sale. Under these circumstances, property of this class was easily disposed of if families wished to dispose of it, and he, for one, failed to see what more was to be desired.


thought this a subject the importance of which could scarcely be overrated, and trusted that Her Majesty's Government would be able to furnish the Return asked for by his noble Friend. This, he thought, might easily be done through the agency of the Poor Law Board. A vast amount of ignorance existed in regard to the question, and it was surely time such ignorance was dispelled by means of documents possessing all the weight of Parliamentary Returns, and whose accuracy could not be disputed. There ought to be no alarm raised by such a Return as was asked for, because the rental need not be inserted in it, although even that was given in Scotland. In order to show the great errors into which the public might be led even by Government Returns, he would mention a fact brought under his notice by the noble Marquess sitting near him (the Marquess of Salisbury). According to the Census of 1861, the number of landed proprietors in Hertfordshire was only 245. The noble Marquess, however, doubted the accuracy of this statement, and after taking the trouble to investigate the matter for himself, he found that the number of landed proprietors in the county of Hertford at that time, according to the rate-book, was 8,833. According to the Returns of 1861 there were 29,235 landed proprietors in England; but if a proportionate error prevailed over the whole country that prevailed in Hertfordshire, the actual number would be 994,338. He hoped the Government would see their way to granting the Return which had been moved for.


said, his attention had been called, as had that of his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Derby), to the absurd statements made in certain newspapers, and at some public meetings, respecting the wonderfully small number of landed proprietors in this country. The fact was, that very few persons were returned in the Census under the designation of "owners of land." He had looked over pages of the Census Returns of landowners. They appeared under various designations—"Gentlemen, merchants, shopkeepers, farmers, &c." Very few called themselves "landowners." Indeed, what the Census professed to give was the occupation of the persons enumerated, and the ownership of land was not an occupation. In fact, the Census Returns did not profess to give either the number of landowners or the amount of land which they held. He thought it exceedingly desirable, however, that the gross misrepresentations on this subject should be corrected. For statistical purposes, he thought that we ought to know the number of owners of land in the United Kingdom, and there would be no difficulty in obtaining this information. He held in his hand the valuation of a parish, giving the name of every owner, a description of the land, the estimated area, and the estimated rental, and such returns existed for every parish in England. He quite agreed with his noble Friend that it might not be desirable to give the rental, although he might remark that this was already done in Scotland. He had in his hand the valuation roll of the county of Edinburgh. He believed that in Scotland no objection had ever been taken to publishing the amount of rental; but it might not be desirable or necessary to do so in this country. What he proposed to do was to give a nominal list of every owner of land to the extent of one acre or upwards in every county of England, together with the quantity of land which each owner has in the county. In regard to owners of less than one acre, he thought it would be sufficient to state their number in each county without specifying their names. The same process would be gone through in Scotland and Ireland. He hoped to be able to lay these Returns on the Table before the end of the Session.


urged that the 999 years leaseholds ought to be included in the Returns.


said, that there would be great difficulty in ascertaining the precise tenure under which property was held. He quite agreed with the noble Marquess that owners of property held for 999 years, as well as land under similar tenures, should appear as owners—and he thought it might be done. The valuation lists, however, to which he had referred only gave information as to the ownership of land and the quantity owned. In his judgment, the best plan would be to treat as owner the person immediately above the occupying tenant.


suggested that the Returns should give fair descriptions of the land, stating whether it was in cultivation, woodland, or moor.


remarked that the Government could not undertake to state the description or quantity of the land. An attempt to do this would lead to inextricable confusion.