§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President.)
THE EARL OF AIRLIE
said, that as in the opinion of his noble Friend who had introduced the Bill (the Duke of Richmond), there were reasons which rendered it expedient that there should be legislation of some kind on this subject, he should not say anything further on that point than that he concurred with his noble Friend. But in respect of the Bill itself, this very important question arose—namely, whether it was of such a nature as to satisfy all the reasonable requirements of the tenants, while it maintained freedom of contract; whether it should secure compensation for improvements where both landlord and tenant were willing to come within its provisions; or whether it should be compulsory, and compel both landlord and tenant to come under its operation, excluding freedom of contract altogether. Now, if the compulsory principle ought to be adopted, this Bill was worthless; but, on the contrary, if freedom of contract was to exist, then it appeared to him that there was no deficiency in the Bill which might not be amended in Committee. There were a considerable number of gentlemen who were entitled to speak with great authority on agricultural subjects, who condemned the Bill because it was not compulsory. One of those gentlemen said that because the Bill did not set aside freedom of contract and was not compulsory, it was not worth the paper on which it was printed. That gentleman, and those who acted with him, professed to repre- 920 sent the tenant-farmers of the country. Well, he much doubted that they did speak the opinion of the great majority of the tenant-farmers in respect of this Bill. Let their Lordships take the case of Scotland. Before Easter a deputation from the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture waited on his noble Friend opposite (the Duke of Richmond), and placed in his hands two resolutions which, he believed, had been unanimously agreed to at a meeting of that body. Those resolutions were—1. That if the hindrances which obstruct agriculture were effectually removed and producers were thus made safe to apply their means freely in developing the capabilities of the soil, there would be a largo and rapid increase to the production of food and to the resources of the country.2. That if all laws of privilege and unequal presumption adverse to the producer of food were effectually taken away, there would be no need to interfere with freedom of contract.Of course, it was very difficult to ascertain what was the opinion of the majority of the tenant-farmers; but he would remind their Lordships of a rather remarkable election in the county of Cambridge last winter. A gentleman who was said to have been brought forward by the great landlords of the country withdrew, and an hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Rodwell), who beyond all doubt was the candidate of the tenant-farmers, was returned. That hon. and learned Gentleman said that, though he was in favour of compensation, he was utterly and entirely opposed to doing away with freedom of contract;—so that the tenant-farmers in that country were not in favour of doing away with free contract. It seemed to be generally admitted that the landowners of England were not disposed to deal unjustly with their tenants. A gentleman who was one of the strongest advocates of a compulsory measure—Mr. James Howard, of Bedford—spoke the other day in terms so eulogistic of the landowners that as he was one of that body he was almost afraid to quote them. Mr. Howard told his noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond) recently that he had no indictment to bring against the landowners, and he stated on the other occasion to which he had just referred that they had done their duty nobly. But one of the arguments put forward by the advocates of compulsion was, that the presumption 921 was now against the tenant, and that limited owners had not power to charge the land with compensation paid for improvements. The Bill before their Lordships met that argument. It altered the presumption of law in favour of the tenant who had made improvements, and it enabled the limited owner to charge the estate with the compensation paid for those improvements. Mr. Howard was reported to have made these observations in his speech at Hexham—He spoke rather feelingly upon this question, because some years ago he took two farms belonging to two friends of his, who were limited owners and had not the power to enter into an agreement to pay compensation. He (Mr. Howard) however drained the land 4 feet deep and 30 feet wide, and since that time one of his friends had died and the estate of the other had changed hands; so that in a year or two he had to give up the farms and he had no claims upon the owners.But the Bill now before them would have completely met this grievance of Mr. Howard's, inasmuch as it gave power to owners of settled estates to charge their properties in respect of compensation to tenants for improvements made by them. It was said that this Bill would be of no use because landowners would contract themselves out of its provisions. Without claiming for landowners the possession of sense superior to that of other men, he thought it fair to assume that in the conduct of their business they would be guided by their own interests; and every landowner knew that, in the long run, it was for his benefit that the tenant should have security for improvements. Such security gave the landlord a better tenant and better rent, and rent more punctually paid. The probability, therefore, appeared to him to be that instead of setting themselves to make the Bill of no effect, the great bulk of the landlords would—he did not say adopt this Bill, but set themselves to act in accordance with the spirit of those provisions in their dealings with their tenants. In saying this, he was not speaking on mere conjecture. He believed the landlords and tenants of Norfolk had lately met and agreed on a scale of compensation, which scale had been adopted in that county. A similar step had been taken in other parts of England; and if a considerable number of landlords became parties to such 922 agreements their conduct would bring a pressure to bear upon others—for the latter would see that those who had adopted the principle of compensation got better rents. It was one thing to be in advance of a law of this kind; it was quite another thing to be behind it. He thought that those who advocated the setting aside of private contract were bound not only to show that their object would be effected in that way, but also to show that it could not be effected in any other way. He would not venture to indulge in prophecy; but it seemed to him more reasonable to suppose that landowners having a regard to their own interest would endeavour to frame agreements in accordance with the spirit of the Act, than to assume, as the advocates of compulsion did, that they would set themselves to make its provisions of no effect. Those who advocated the setting aside of private contract as between landlord and tenant had been at great pains to show what no one denied—that there were other cases in which private contract had been set aside by the Legislature. Mr. Howard referred to railways; but it must be borne in mind that railway companies came to Parliament to ask for certain powers, and Parliament said that if those powers were granted it would be on certain conditions. There Parliament imposed conditions no doubt; but the action of the railway company was voluntary from beginning to end. No one asked it to come to Parliament, and no one asked it to take the Bill if it did not wish to do so with conditions annexed. He was willing to admit that if a case were made out for Parliamentary interference with free contracts as between landlord and tenant, that interference would be justified; but he denied that such a case had been made out. Again, they were told that in this case other interests besides those of landlords and tenants ought to be consulted, because the public had an interest in the matter. He was glad to accept that issue. It would not be hard to show that compulsory legislation in reference to the relations between landlord and tenant would be injurious not only to both those classes, but to the public at large, for not only would it work injustice between the parties themselves, but it would be likely to affect the public in a way the promoters did not appear to have foreseen, and against which they 923 had failed to guard. The Lincolnshire custom was very much held up to commendation. No doubt it worked well in Lincolnshire; and his noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond), when introducing this Bill, said that if he could have seen his way to doing so he would have been glad to have adopted it for the whole country. But his noble Friend could not see his way to doing that, and he believed that those best acquainted with the subject concurred with his noble Friend in thinking that no attempt of the kind would prove successful. The Lincolnshire custom had grown up under a system of free contract. In an interesting collection of letters written by Mr. Caird, it was shown that in Lincolnshire itself modifications had been made in the custom as it existed formerly—and that in some cases the landowners had found it necessary to limit and define it. In the case of Lincolnshire it should also be borne in mind that they had a body of arbitrators who had been trained to undertake the duties of arbitration, and a scale of compensation which was the result of long experience. They had no such body in a great part of England and Scotland; and if the Bill were made compulsory, questions of great importance would be left to the decision of arbitrators who had had no previous training. It was difficult to guard against fraud. Suppose, for instance, a tenant held two different farms lying close beside one another, and that he wanted to hold one and give up the other. He might consume feeding stuff on the one he intended to keep and charge compensation for it as against the farm he was about to surrender. He should not wish to have to act as arbitrator in such a case as that. A very curious light was thrown on this branch of the subject during the sittings of the Select Committee on Improvement of Land, presided over by the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Salisbury). Mr. Sanderson gave this evidence—Therefore what you know is only by hearsay? (as to the failure of drainage executed by the landowner with money borrowed from the Land Improvement Company.)—Only by hearsay. There was a case in Lincolnshire I was employed upon some years ago, where an incoming tenant was to pay a certain amount for drainage done by his predecessor. I was agent for the owner of the estate. He appealed to me that he would not pay the charge. I examined 924 the drains; they were 16 inches from the surface and full of soil. They were never examined by the valuer who assessed the difference between the incoming and outgoing tenant.The other day he (the Earl of Airlie) heard of a Scotch farmer who, in reply to a person who said to him that a requirement for the production of receipts would be a check against fraudulent claims for compensation, said he knew men who would give him as many receipts as he liked for a glass of whiskey. In a letter written to The Times some time ago by Mr. Hope, who had had experience as a tenant farmer, that gentleman remarked that in the consideration of this matter the interests of the consumer ought to be regarded. That was very true. Was it for the interest of the consumer that the outgoing farmer should be over-compensated? Certainly not, because in 99 cases out of 100 the consumer paid what the incoming tenant had to hand to the outgoing one. If the incoming tenant paid too much he had the less capital to lay out on his farm. He was not speaking on this point merely from conjecture; it was well known that in the counties of Surrey and Sussex, where the customs were very onerous, the condition of agriculture was, or till a recent period had been, more backward than in any other part of England, and the reason was obvious—the incoming tenant was so burdened by the payment of exorbitant sums to the outgoing tenant, that he had but little capital left for the proper cultivation of his farm. Some gentlemen who spoke on this subject always assumed that the whole of the expenditure on a farm was made by the tenant, and that the landlord had no outlay at all. Landowners knew that not to be the fact; but he was very much afraid that if they were exposed to extravagant claims for compensation they would restrict their outlay as much as they could. Then it was to be remembered that every year men who had made money in commercial and other pursuits showed an anxiety to invest in land. He did not think that such men would continue to invest their money in land so freely as they had done hitherto if that freedom of contract, which was the life and soul of business, and to which they had been accustomed all their lives, were to be abolished by Act of Parliament. Two years ago the advocates of legislation for giving compensation did not go 925 so far as they did now. At that time they were content that the claim for compensation should not extend beyond improvements made with the consent of the landlord; but now they went much further, and wanted that the claim should be held good whether the landlord had consented or not. Mr. Howard was reported to have made use of these observations in his speech at Hexham—With respect to Clause 9, which made the previous consent of the landlord indispensable with regard to permanent improvements, it was a very natural provision for the owners to wish to see inserted in the Bill; but he was strongly of opinion that it would act disadvantageously to their interests, inasmuch as it would check the outlay in permanent improvements, and the great object of legislation was to encourage outlay on the part of the tenant in making improvements. Looking to the facts of the case, that the enjoyment by a tenant of his improvements would lessen his claim for compensation, that at the end of 20 years his claim altogether ceased—looking also to the fact that should he quit before the expiry of his lease his landlord would have the satisfaction of a valuation, and that the outlay had been of a suitable character and had added to the letting value of his holding—surely the interests of the landlord were amply secured without this proviso of previous consent.He would mention to their Lordships a case within his, own experience. A few years ago he had occasion to let some land in the neighbourhood of Dundee. This land he knew would, before very long, be required for a reservoir in connection with a proposed supply of water to the town. He felt anxious to facilitate the object which the promoters of that scheme had in view, and, in order that he might be in a position to do so, he entered into an arrangement with the tenant to whom he was letting that he should be allowed to re-enter on the land at a short notice, and that compensation for improvements should not go beyond a certain amount. Subsequently the promoters of the water scheme did come for the land, and he was able to sell it to them at a price which certainly was satisfactory to himself, but which appeared to them to be reasonable. Now, if he had not provided against large claims for compensation, the town of Dundee might have had to pay 30, 40, or 50 per cent more than they actually did for the site of a reservoir; because the compensation would not have fallen upon him, but upon the town. But he ventured to think that a good supply of pure water for the town of Dundee was 926 of much more importance than that a bushel or so more grain per acre should have been grown for a few years on this land. They could import any quantity of grain, but they could not import supplies of water for their great towns. There was another consideration in connection with this matter. Complaints were being made of the overcrowding in great towns; and in the other House of Parliament the Government had introduced a Bill to, in some way, remedy that state of things. But increased space would be required now and in the future, and the burdening of land with indefinite and, it might be, exorbitant charges for compensation would stand in the way of the acquisition of sites for building. It appeared to him, therefore, that from whatever point of view they looked at it—whether from the point of justice as between landlord and tenant, or from that of justice as between the incoming tenant and the outgoing one, or from that of consideration for the interests of the public—freedom of contract ought to be upheld. For those reasons he believed his noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond) was right in not proposing a compulsory measure, and in inserting safeguards against extravagant claims under this Bill. Having said so much, he wished now to submit that in one or two respects the Bill appeared to be a little one-sided in favour of the landlord. Clause 14, having described the several things which, under the Bill, should be regarded as waste, concluded with these words—But nothing in this Act shall prevent any act or thing not specified in the section from being deemed waste diminishing the letting value of the holding.That certainly appeared to be a little one-sided. Then, as to the terms at the expiration of which improvements were to be deemed exhausted, the term in the case of a house was 20 years as the Bill was now worded. Well, there was no denying that a house must be somewhat the worse after 20 years; but it might be worth something even after that period. Then, again, as to "liming," to which the term of seven years was applied. It was stated that in some places liming was good for 14 years. As to the provision in Clause 20, giving power to the Referees and the Umpires to administer an oath, and providing that any person giving false evidence 927 should be deemed guilty of perjury, that seemed to be a strong measure, seeing that the appeal from the Umpire was to the County Court and not to a criminal tribunal. It might, however, be right. As to the appeal, it would be from the nominee of the County Court Judge to the County Court Judge himself. He had not made those criticisms in any spirit of hostility to the Bill, but because he thought the points to which they were directed ought to be looked to by the noble Duke and their Lordships' House. With regard to the Bill as a whole, he did not think it would produce any violent or sudden change. Indeed, he did not think that even a compulsory Bill would give those who advocated it all that they expected from a measure of the kind. Some of them seemed to think, for instance, that it was a great evil that we had to exchange our manufactures for food. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) lamented that the other day at the Farmers' Club; but with great respect for his hon. and learned Friend and those other gentlemen, he had thought that one of the benefits of the repeal of the Corn Laws was to enable us to make such an exchange. He believed that the Bill would give a considerable stimulus to good farming; that the progress made under it would be steady and continuous; and that there would be no risk of that re-action which might be the consequence of a more stringent measure. For the reasons he had stated, he thought his noble Friend had exercised a wise discretion in not making the measure compulsory.
THE MARQUESS OF HUNTLY
said, he could not say he regarded this measure with the same pleasure that had been manifested by the noble Earl who had just spoken (the Earl of Airlie). As, however, the attempt at legislation which he made last Session was pronounced by the noble Earl to be ill-timed, and by the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) to be crude, he could not but regard this Bill as a recognition that his attempt was neither so ill-timed nor so crude as it had been pronounced to be. There were only two provisions of the Bill to which he thought it necessary to draw attention, to both of which his noble Friend had already referred. The first of these was the right to appeal to the 928 County Court from the reference to arbitration. Was not this unusual and somewhat absurd? In the Irish Land Bill arbitration and resort to a Court were given, but only as alternatives. The parties could not have both arbitration and appeal. After two men had agreed to settle their differences by the assistance of two arbitrators mutually chosen, and an umpire appointed by the arbitrators, who ever heard of an appeal? The second point, to which reference had been made by the noble Earl was this—the great difference in the Bill between the definition of deterioration and that of improvement of land. Surely Clause 6, defining "Improvements," should have a corresponding clause to the Proviso in Clause 14 equally applicable to the landlords. In Clause 14, after an enumeration of acts of waste, it seemed rather one-sided to provide that—Nothing in this section shall prevent any act or thing not specified in this section from being deemed waste diminishing the letting value of the holding.The real question, however, was as to the principle of the Bill, and if it was made optional to the landlords and tenants to contract themselves out of the Bill, as was provided in Clauses 37 and 38, the statute would become a mere dead letter. From the speech made by the noble Duke when introducing the Bill, he was led to believe that the object of the Bill was to introduce a custom where a custom did not exist; but the adoption of the Bill was optional and the security illusory. He believed that with one single exception all the Chambers of Agriculture, some 30 or 40 in number, which had met during the Recess, had carried resolutions against the Bill, and there had been published a number of letters from farmers saying that the Bill was unsuitable. On the occasion of the first reading, the noble Duke, when asked why he did not give a right of appeal in the case of claims by owners of small farms, said that the man with 20 acres would never lay out a shilling that would entitle him to compensation. But did not the owners of orchards, who in many cases were the holders of only small farms, lay out money in improvements? The noble Duke, when introducing the Bill, said it would "satisfy all reasonable and moderate men." He did not concur with the noble Duke; but he believed it would satisfy reasonable 929 landlords, who already gave their tenants as much as the Bill would afford them, and that it would also satisfy immoderate and unreasonable men who would snap their fingers at it.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
said, that if their Lordships failed to be guided to a wise decision in relation to the subject with which the Bill dealt it would not be from want of criticism on it. He had carefully considered the remarks that had been passed upon the measure by the various Chambers of Agriculture; and while he admitted that there were some parts of the Bill that required amendment, it struck him that the objections referred principally to matters which were subjects for consideration in Committee rather than on the Motion for the second reading. The extreme objection to the Bill appeared to be that it preserved the principle of freedom of contract—but that to him was the chief merit of the measure. It might, perhaps, be said that if it only maintained the principle of freedom of contract, the Bill was not wanted at all, because, as the law now stood, the landlord and tenant could make any agreement that they thought mutually beneficial. But he did not think that was quite correct. He thought it would be very advantageous that some rules should be laid down by Parliament for the guidance of landlord and tenant, and to which both parties might appeal as suggesting a fair basis for mutual agreement. But freedom of contract was the essence of the Bill, as it was of most dealings in this country. The framers of the Irish Land Bill had tried in every way to prevent freedom of contract from being introduced in that measure; but whenever an attempt was made to prevent by legislation freedom of contract, cunning was sure to step in and defeat that legislation. He was sure he should speak the opinion of all who had watched the working of the Irish Land Act when he said that in the case of that measure the attempt had been evaded, and means had been found to set its provisions at defiance. But their Lordships would recollect that in the case of the Irish Act Parliament had insisted that, while freedom of contract was destroyed in the case of small holdings, it must be preserved in the case of large ones. Now, what was regarded as a large holding in Ireland was looked upon as a small one 930 in this country; so that in upholding freedom of contract in the case of English farms the noble Duke was only following the precedent laid down by Parliament in the case of the Irish Act. Farmers were, as a rule, perfectly well able to manage their own affairs and to make their own agreements—very frequently, indeed, they knew more about these matters than their landlords did. As a class, the landlords of England were a body of men who would not take an unfair advantage of a tenant. He did not wish, however, to praise them for this, because he believed such a course of action was dictated by the most powerful motive—namely, the motive of self-interest. It was their interest not to drive hard and unfair bargains with their tenants, because in the long run such a policy would not answer. He was persuaded that if their Lordships attempted to interfere to prevent landlord and tenant, being free and competent contracting parties, or if their Lordships attempted to lay down a hard-and-fast line by legislation from which no departure was permissible, we should again set to work the ingenuity of lawyers who would try to evade the Act. Therefore, whatever provisions their Lordships might see fit to introduce in Committee he earnestly hoped they would not go the length of making any change in those clauses which preserved freedom in contract. There were not the same reasons in the case of England which existed in the case of Ireland. There was not in the sister country any very large outlet for commercial enterprize, and consequently those persons who were precluded from obtaining agricultural holdings on fair terms had not the opportunity of carrying their capital elsewhere. But no one ever maintained that those conditions existed in this country, where there was an ample field for the employment of any amount of capital and enterprize. Sometimes he remarked with astonishment the number of energetic men who were still content to carry on the business of agriculture with the moderate returns it generally gave for the capital invested as compared with capital invested in strictly commercial undertakings. Their Lordships must be aware from personal experience of the extreme difficulty of obtaining a skilful tenant who was willing to devote himself wholly to agriculture and not to be 931 diverted into some of the minor branches of commercial enterprize—such as auctioneering, valuing, and other occupations which would take him more or less from his proper work of agriculture. When a landlord succeeded in getting a good and improving tenant on his property, he was very loth to part with him. This being the case, he submitted that no cause had been shown why the freedom of contract should be interfered with, and why these provisions should be left out of the Bill. On the contrary, every reason of prudence and of policy would dictate their retention. He was convinced that if in an evil moment Parliament was induced to sanction their omission, the measure would be fraught with serious injury to the interests of the very class of the community whose welfare it was ostensibly intended to promote.
§ THE DUKE OF SOMERSET
said, this was in no sense a Party question, but it was one in which their Lordships, as landlords, were largely interested, and therefore it was most important to give it a fair consideration and to carry out, as far as they could, what he understood to be the principle of the Bill—namely, compensation to the tenant for his improvements and compensation to the landlord for waste. He put altogether aside a great deal of the talk there had been in the country about the position of the agricultural tenants. It was said, for instance, that the farmers were the great improvers and that the greater the power given to them the greater would be the improvement of the land. He maintained, on the other hand, that the land was improved by the owner, who looked to permanent improvements more than was done by the tenant, who looked to more immediate profit. He deprecated any change which would disturb the harmony at present existing between landlord and tenant. It was said that if the productive power were increased, the farmers would devote their whole energies to feeding the people cheaply. Well, when the farmers opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws, they had not the same anxious desire to see the people cheaply fed. Again, it was said that the agricultural labourer would profit by the Bill. But a farmer, whether he were an owner or an occupier, strove to invest his money profitably; and if, on the one hand, he looked to increased production, on the 932 other he looked to economical labour. The Agricultural Returns showed that between 1872 and 1874 no fewer than 600,000 acres of land were laid out for permanent pasture. This was partly owing, perhaps, to the demand for animal food, but far more to the fact that the labourers had exhibited restlessness, striking for higher wages, and leaving their work without notice, and that the tenants were arming themselves against the future by laying out their lands in permanent pasture, on which it would not be necessary to employ so many men. Passing to the principle of the Bill, he agreed that compensation to tenants for agricultural improvements was just—but not exactly in the direction in which this Bill went. He found fault with almost everyone of its provisions, from the first to the last. First, as to the date at which the Bill was to come into operation, he pointed out that it ought to come into operation either at Michaelmas or Lady Day. Then the landlord's written consent was required for all permanent improvements; and he did not deny that some supervision was required as to what might be done by the tenant under this term; but, on the other hand, no limit had been placed on the extent to which a limited owner might charge his property. Then as to the second class of improvements—those which the tenant might do without the landlord's consent, there was no restriction at all. A tenant might, for instance, fancy to grow hops, and for that purpose kilns must be erected. Now, the cost of a kiln would be about £1,000, and this must be incurred if the plantation of hops were allowed. As regarded Kent or Sussex the power to plant hops might be very useful; but he should be very sorry to see hops planted on his land, and should object very much to have to pay for them. He thought there ought to be a much more careful schedule with regard to artificial manures, and that in all cases of proposed artificial manuring of land the tenant should give notice to the landlord, in order that he might have an opportunity of considering whether such manuring would be useful to the land. It was of great importance that some Bill should be carried on this subject which would satisfy both landlord and tenants that the Legislature desired to deal fairly between them; and he thought 933 that when the Bill got into Committee they might be able to impart such a character to it.
§ THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
rejoiced that the noble Duke who had just sat down (the Duke of Somerset) approved the principle of this Bill—namely, that tenants should be compensated for unexhausted improvements; but he thought that the principal part of his remarks were more calculated for Committee than for the present occasion, when the question before their Lordships was the second reading of the Bill. The remarks of the noble Duke were well worthy of attention, and with regard to one or two of them he thought the noble Duke was not at all wrong. He hoped that the noble Duke would put down his suggestions in the form of Amendments, and that other noble Lords who objected to clauses of the Bill would also give Notice of Amendments before the House was asked to go into Committee on the Bill; and he could assure them that if they were put formally into shape, they would receive due consideration. The noble Duke was wrong in supposing that landlords would be bound under the Bill to bear the expense of any experiments conducted by their tenants except such as proved successful, and added value to the rental of the farm. The noble Duke, on the other hand, was light in saying that it would be sufficient to estimate the value of manures which had been sunk in the soil, and therefore the Bill provided that ample time should elapse after the manures had been used before any attempt was made to estimate the amount of value which their application had added to the farms. If a landlord and tenant chose to settle the amount between themselves they could do so; but in the event of their disagreeing it was provided that a settlement should be arrived at by the employment of arbitrators, an umpire, or, if necessary, the County Court. There was nothing in the Bill to prevent landlords and tenants following custom if they chose, for the Bill was voluntary. If it had been compulsory—as was desired by the noble Marquess who had spoken in the course of the debate (the Marquess of Huntly)—the contracting parties would not have been free to follow custom, but would have been bound within the strict letter of the Act. The Bill of the Government was intro- 934 duced with the purpose of laying down some just principles on which compensation might be based as between landlords and tenants, leaving it to the parties themselves to arrange their own contracts. If iron rules were to be laid down for regulating the relations between landlords and tenants, it would inevitably follow that all custom must come to an end, and that the labourers would speedily raise an outcry to be strictly protected by law instead of abiding by the customs regarding service and other things connected with their state which now existed. He hoped their Lordships would bring their experience as landlords to bear upon the Bill in Committee, in order that such modifications might be introduced as might mould it into a thoroughly satisfactory measure.
THE EARL OF MORLEY
thought it would be some satisfaction to the House to know that some of the details of the Bill were to be modified in Committee, and with that understanding he was prepared to support it. He agreed with the principle on which the Bill seemed to be based—that there should be a presumption in law in favour of the tenant where improvements had been executed during his tenancy; but it was also important that care should be taken to provide against the property of the landlords being deteriorated in value through careless or incompetent farming. One of the vital principles of the Bill was embodied in Clauses 5 and 7, which provided that the compensation to tenants should be based, not upon the cost of the improvements, but upon the additional letting value of the farms which the improvements might create. It might happen that an expenditure of, say, £1,000, on a farm would add £100 a-year to the letting value, but it would be hard upon a landlord to compel him to pay to his tenant as compensation the capitalized value of £100 per annum. Again, the letting value of land might be raised by the construction of railways, the erection of buildings in its neighbourhood, or many other causes entirely apart from the action of the tenant; and therefore the utmost care ought to be taken in accurately defining the principle on which the tenant's claim to compensation was to be based; for it would be very difficult for the valuers and arbitrators to distinguish how much 935 of the increased letting value was really due to the improvement. Again, with regard to the classification of improvements, he thought the Bill was very imperfect. For instance, it entirely omitted all reference to the laying down of permanent pastures—one of the most important improvements that could be effected on a farm. As far as the first class of improvements was concerned—he referred to permanent structural improvements—he thought it ought to have been omitted from the Bill on the ground that, as was generally admitted, such improvements ought to be made by the landlords themselves; and as the Bill required the tenant to execute them with consent of the landlord it left things much as they were, except with regard to limited owners, and it appeared that it would be far better to deal with this part of the question in a separate Bill such as the noble Duke had promised to introduce. With regard to the improvements generally, it was provided that in the case of limited owners the cost was to form a charge on the estate. This principle was all very good, but there was no limit fixed to the amount which might be expended, nor any adequate provision that the improvements so charged should be such as actually to increase the value of the property. A provision of this kind was made in reference to loans made by the Lands Improvement Commissioners, and a similar one ought to be included in the present Bill. With regard to the question of compulsion, he thought it eminently desirable that freedom of contract should be preserved. The manner in which freedom of contract was preserved in the Bill he did not approve of. The provision that either of the contracting parties might, by giving notice to the other, exclude himself from the operation of the Bill, appeared to him to be absolutely unique in our Statute Book. He thought the Bill ought to be made generally applicable where there were no leases or written agreements, but that landlords and tenants should be allowed to come to what terms they pleased. In conclusion, he expressed a hope that the country would accept the Bill in the spirit in which it had been framed—namely, that the tenant should have compensation for improvements which he had made, while the landlord should 936 have a remedy against the deterioration of his land. He thanked the noble Duke for the introduction of the Bill, and trusted that it would be so improved in Committee as to prove beneficial both to landlord and tenant.
§ LORD HENNIKER
would not say the Bill was entirely satisfactory, for it required amendment; but, speaking generally, he believed it was an honest, straightforward attempt at legislation. No Bill could be so comprehensive as to include the requirements, or even necessities, of every locality, and, more than that, no Bill could deal satisfactorily in detail with the subject. If anything, this Bill went a little too much into detail. The soil and the mode of carrying on farming operations varied so much, even in the same county, that it must be impolitic to lay down any but a very broad rule. In his own county, almost every field on some farms required a different treatment: therefore, any measure which might be passed should lay down the broadest rules possible. One of the principal reasons for the cry for legislation, and for legislation of a compulsory character, was that tenant farmers very of tenrushed into the farming business without due consideration and without sufficient capital. It was said that persons in this position required protection; but he did not think legislative interference was likely to be a benefit to either landlord or tenant. In other branches of business no one thought it politic that the Legislature should protect people who could not protect themselves. It was worth consideration whether the state of the labour market, and the fact that farmers were at the present time rather unsettled, had not helped to make the cry for compulsion, and whether the desire for stringent legislation was really so great as it appeared to be. There were three classes of grievances—a real grievance, an imaginary grievance, and a grievance which was hardly a grievance at all—one which was an exceptional grievance, or which affected only a small number. This question seemed to belong to the latter category. By the most energetic advocates of a compulsory measure it was acknowledged that legislation was only required for exceptional cases. The fact was that landowners, as a rule, gave more liberal agreements than any of the Bills that had been proposed; and where no agreement existed, there would 937 be, nine times out of ten, such a liberal custom of the locality, or of the particular estate concerned, that the tenant had ample security. It was said it would take 20 or 30 years to bring a measure of this kind into operation, whereas five years would bring a compulsory measure into full force. But it was far better to act gradually in a matter of this kind—especially when it was acknowledged that out of 10 cases it was generally only in one that there was any hardship or injustice. Surely there was no ground for disturbing all existing arrangements and setting landlords and tenants by the ears. It was said the landlord had too much power in fixing the rent; but there were two safeguards—first, the tenant ought to know what rent he should give, and, secondly, no sensible landlord would ask more than would give the tenant full opportunity of farming advantageously. Bad tenants generally offered too high rents; most landlords were pretty well aware of this. In 1873 he had a farm to let, and one or two applicants offered, broadly speaking, to give "more than anyone else" for the farm. He knew what that meant; it meant either no capital and no qualifications for farming, or an intention to take as much out of the land as possible, without putting anything into it. It was said that tenant farmers were buying land all over the country. That was true to some extent; but, at the same time, he had known many well-to-do farmers sell their own farms, and farm them or others as tenants, reaping the benefit of 10, 12, or 15 per cent for their capital, instead of 3½ to 4 per cent. at the outside, while it was invested in land. There was something, too, in the fact that almost every Englishman wished to possess land. Every owner of purely agricultural land would be a richer man by investing his capital in almost any other security; but land was preferred on account of the pleasures, the occupation, and the opportunities of leading a useful life, which its possession afforded beyond all other kinds of property. He objected to compulsion as unnecessary, for it was as much to the interest of the landlord as the tenant to give liberal agreements, and he particularly objected to any approach to turning a landlord into a rent-charger. Tenants, too, would find such 938 a change to be to their disadvantage. He had been told by more than one Irish landlord that the present state of affairs there made a landlord afraid to spend money on his estate, and that the tendency was to obtain as much rent as possible, leaving the rest, as it were, to take care of itself. As to compulsion, he would say no more than that he believed it was not necessary, and that, if the whole tenantry of England were canvassed, a majority would be found to be opposed to it. Some persons thought, he might add, there was no necessity for legislation; but in that view he did not join, for he thought, as a general rule, it might be said in agricultural matters—Modus vincit legem. Customs were no longer applicable to many places where they existed, and it would be a boon that a good sound rule or custom should be laid down, having all the force of legislative enactment, and a good measure, laid upon broad lines, would be pretty generally followed. Landowners would see that it was wise to alter the custom of the country when it could be ameliorated. His own agreements were nearly according to custom; but he saw where he could alter those agreements beneficially in many respects. He was also of opinion that the customs of his own county might be amended. It was everything to a tenant to have a fair valuation, and if a too high valuation were given by any Bill it would be injurious. In Lincolnshire, taking a calculation upon which he could depend, already quoted in public, he found that 10 farms under the Lincolnshire custom, with an average rent of £1 10s. 4d. an acre, were allowed for compensation, for average of cake allowed 5s. 10d. an acre, for artificial manures 5s. 5d. an acre, and for seed, labour, improvements, and fixtures £1 8s. 1d. an acre, making in all £1 19s. 4d. an acre. Now, in his own county, land might be said to let for 25s. to 30s. an acre on the average, taking heavy land and light land, and yet the valuations were said to come to from 50s. to £3 an acre, and even in some cases to £4 an acre. Surely there must be something which required revision; the much-praised custom of Lincolnshire, with £1 19s. 4d. an acre, and his own county, with a much higher valuation. He would—for he would not attempt to go into details, take one instance—the 939 payment for tillages. These must be taken by valuers more or less on trust; excessive sums were often paid when it was of no benefit to the incoming tenant, and a far better plan was to pay for results, as in Norfolk, for roots. He believed a Michaelmas entry to be the best, for the farming year began, as it were, then; but, if carefully looked into, there was hardly a single custom of any agricultural locality which did not require revision. The Lincolnshire valuers had lately revised their custom; why should not valuers in other counties do the same? He wished for a moment to turn to one or two of the provisions of the Bill. One of the most valuable and important was the year's notice. He was not sure that this or the extended proposal of two years made by the Prime Minister would not have satisfied very many requirements, with a payment for permanent improvements, under proper restrictions. A simple measure—the simpler the better—was what was wanted, leaving small details to be settled as much as possible by those chiefly interested in different localities. Nearly, if not all other improvements were paid for by the incoming tenant, and a satisfactory arrangement could be easily arrived at. However, the Bill must be taken as it stood. Draining, he thought, should be allowed for over 12 or 15 years, instead of 20; but no draining by wood or straw. The difficulty was, how draining was to be valued—whether it were really properly clone. There was a great deal of difference in the mode of draining, and if it were not done properly it was worth but little as a permanent improvement; while if it were well done 20 or 25 years, or more, would not exhaust its value. Ten years was the Lincolnshire system. Clause 33, he might add, would do more than any other, perhaps, to bring the Bill into practical operation, for it would give a fair power of charging a settled estate if the Bill were properly revised, so that the present powers of borrowing were not brought into collision with it. However, details were for Committee, and he would not enter further into them. He did not speak as wishing to legislate for landlords alone, but as much in the interest of the tenant, the labourer, and for the increased production of the soil. While he admitted the Bill might, and probably would, lead 940 to increased production, it must be remembered that doubling the produce, or anything of that sort, with the increased cost of labour, was not possible; that much land was now brought into cultivation which did not pay the enterprizing people who brought it into cultivation; and that sometimes two or three sets of tenants might be ruined before any one was really benefited by it. The labourer must be considered, too. If too much were put upon the landlord by stringent rules, cottages, which were required in some places, must be paid for by an increased rent; they were required principally for the good of those who farmed the land, and the labourer would be the sufferer. What was required was some broad simple rule which would encourage tenants to farm in the best possible manner up to the day they left their farms; not complicated rules which would be constantly broken, from the fact that they were inapplicable to certain districts and certain systems of farming. It was said in his county that the best year for a farmer was the year of leaving the farm, the worst when he entered it. This was not to be got over in a moment, and certainly not by regulations which, if carried out compulsorily, would do away with all those farmers who were struggling against difficulties; for if they had to pay excessive valuations for artificial manures, and so on, no one but men of large capital would stand against it, and the occupation of land would become a monopoly. It was natural to skimp a farm when one was not likely to reap the benefit. That was a shortsighted policy now, and it would not be got over in a moment. It was because he believed this Bill would lead to the desired result, to the greatest possible freedom of action on the part of the farmers which could be allowed—and he should like to give all the freedom it was right and fair to give when it had been fully discussed by their Lordships and in the House of Commons—that a measure was necessary, and that it did all, if not more, than the law could usefully do at the present moment, he gave his cordial support to the second reading.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL*
It seems to be the general understanding of the House that this Bill is to receive a second reading at your Lordships' hands. According to Parliamentary usage, there- 941 fore, we are to be held as having assented to its principle. And to this I have no objection, provided it be a little more clearly understood what the principle is to which this assent is given. I confess I am not wholly satisfied with the explanations and definitions of principle which have been given, either tonight or on the former occasion when the Bill was first introduced by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond). Allow me then, my Lords, shortly to describe what I understand the Bill to be—what it says, and what it proposes to do. The Bill begins by laying down in the definition clause this sound principle—that the relation of landlord and tenant is simply a relation of contract; that however much, and however happily, in some respects, this relation may be modified and obscured by habit, and tradition, and hereditary feeling, yet at bottom, and in the eye of the law, the relation of owner and occupier is simply and purely one of mutual contract. But inasmuch as over a considerable part of England there seems to be hardly any distinct consciousness on either side that such is the nature of the relation—inasmuch as owner and occupier go on together, sometimes for generations, with no written contracts whatever, this Bill proposes that we—Parliament—shall suggest the substance of a contract which we consider to be equitable; which we will assume to be the contract between the parties where none other now exists; to which we shall give special advantages, in cheap and easy methods of enforcement; and on behalf of which we shall give special powers to limited owners. The Bill then goes on farther to say that when the two parties already have, or desire to have, a different contract of their own, we are not to interfere. Now, my Lords, on this description of the Bill, which I believe to be substantially accurate, and is stated without prejudice either one way or another, it is obvious that more than one important question of principle may be raised. In the first place, it may be asked whether any sufficient reason has been shown why Parliament should do for these particular contractors what it has not done, so far as I know, for any other contractors whatever; whether any necessity has been shown for our interference in the matter? I do not wish to debate this question now, 942 because English landowners seem disposed to admit, and I am not disposed absolutely to deny, that in cases where there is no written contract, and where the parties hardly seem to be aware that their relation is one of contract at all, there may be points in which it may be wise to change or modify the presumptions of the law. So far, and so far only then, do I feel myself committed on this matter by assenting to the second reading of the Bill. Then there is another question raised in this Bill, which may well be considered a question of principle. Supposing it to be expedient that Parliament should suggest the terms of a contract in the absence of any other, are we so sure that this contract which we suggest is so certainly the best—still more, are we so certain that it is the only good one—that we are justified in withholding from every other the advantage of the new machinery which the Bill professes to provide? And if this be considered a question of principle, then I must at once say that I do not assent to the principle of the Bill. It appears to me that the object aimed at—of establishing some definite and equitable bargain on the subject of agricultural improvements—may be, and will be, attained in many different forms of contract—many of them quite as good, some of them, perhaps, greatly better, than the one you have suggested, and I see no reason whatever for confining the advantages of your cheap machinery to the particular form of bargain you have embodied in this Bill. Again, the same question arises in a still more important matter when we find that this Bill contemplates the same restriction on the new powers it proposes to confer on limited owners. This is a matter, clearly, on which law can operate with effect; one which is, beyond all question, within the legitimate province of legislation. I am disposed to think that, in all our legislation hitherto, we have been too careful of the interests of the "Remainder-man," and too little careful of the interests of the existing holders of estates, and of their tenants. And if, as I believe, they will make, and ought to be free to make, other contracts quite as good as, or better, than that which you have drawn up, there is no sense or reason in so confining the powers which you are to give to limited owners that they shall 943 not enjoy the benefits of the Act unless they adopt your particular form of contract. Again, then, I say that if this be in any respect a principle of the Bill, I do not assent to it in agreeing to pass the second reading. Lastly, my Lords, we come to the declaration in the Bill, that although one particular contract is suggested and recommended, it is not to be enforced; but owners and occupiers are to be free to make what bargains their mutual interests may dictate, whenever these are deliberately entered into and recorded. Of course, on this point the question has been raised whether if you recommend you ought not also to enforce—whether you ought not to compel owners and occupiers, whose relation you have declared to be one of contract, to make this particular contract whether they approve of it or not? My Lords, on this question I must at once declare that I think the Government are right in stopping short when they have established a change in those presumptions of the law which hold good in the absence of special contracts, and that any attempt at compulsion in such matters would be wrong in principle, and must be futile in practice. And yet, even in this matter, I cannot approve unreservedly of the Bill as it now stands. On the contrary, it appears to me that if it had been the aim of the promoters of the Bill to put freedom of contract in the form most obnoxious to popular prejudice, and most injurious to all concerned, they could not have devised a better form for the purpose than that which they have chosen; because it is a form which compels every owner to put himself in the invidious position of appearing to desire to evade the intentions of the Legislature, when in reality he may wish nothing more than to fulfil those intentions—or may have already done so—only in another and in a better way. But I will not dwell on this, because I cannot but believe that my noble Friend opposite will listen in Committee to any well-founded arguments against the particular form in which he has sought to give effect to the principle of free contract; and I will now, therefore, with the permission of the House, state rather more fully than has been done hitherto in this debate the grounds upon which, as it appears to me, it would be both wrong and useless to attempt compulsion in the matter 944 of bargain or contract between the owner and occupier of land. Although this may not be the question raised seriously here, it is the question raised by many out-of-doors, and I think it well to discuss it carefully and respectfully to those whose opinions, or at least whose first impressions in favour of compulsion, are not much represented in this House.
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will not suppose that I am going to do anything so foolish as to waste the time of this House in discussing the abstract right of the State to do this, that, or the other. Such a question is more fit for a debating society, or a young man's club, than for either House of Parliament. I know of no abstract limitation on the ultimate right of the supreme power of the State in respect to legislation. I hold that even the right of religious liberty—perhaps the most sacred of all—cannot be affirmed without certain limitations; and it is really the idlest of all questions what, under supposed conditions, Parliament has or has not the right to do. Only this I will venture to lay down as a principle, or a practical rule never to be forgotten—that as individual freedom is the foundation of all liberty, a heavy—the very heaviest—burden of proof lies on all those who propose any new restraints upon it. Nothing short of the very strongest arguments of necessity ought to obtain a hearing in favour of such proposals, and the highest presumption must always be held against them.
I turn, therefore, my Lords, at once from the abstract question to those practical considerations which must really determine the action of Parliament in all such matters. I begin, then, by at once making two admissions to the advocates of compulsion. The first is, that the sort of contract which is suggested in this Bill in respect to improvements is equitable in its principle. I say the "sort of contract," because I do not admit it to be the only good or the only equitable form of contract, or even in all cases the best. I mean simply that when a tenant not under lease, but sitting without other security of tenure than a yearly holding, and paying a full rent, executes improvements which add to the letting value, and is deprived of that holding before he has had time to recover by increased 945 profits the cost of his outlay, that tenant ought to be compensated by the owner. I say I admit at once that this is only equitable. And the second admission I make is this—that the public have some interest in this equity being observed in the contracts between owners and occupiers of land. Now, my Lords, I know that there are many persons who will say, and who do say, that, these two admissions being made, the question is settled in favour of compulsory legislation. I never hear this conclusion urged—upon this ground alone—without wondering whether the method and the habits of political reasoning are not in as rude a condition as British agriculture is by some supposed to be. The public has an interest in equitable contracts being made in every trade and occupation whatever. The public has a deep interest in the equitable adjustment, for example, of such disputes as those now leading to disastrous results in South Wales. But it does not in the least follow that Parliament should interfere to enforce such adjustment. But, without going into the innumerable cases of the same kind which are connected with the relations between employer and employed, let me illustrate the question by reference to the public interest in the progress of agriculture. Those who have read the evidence taken before various Parliamentary Committees during the last 30 years know the quantity of that evidence which goes to prove that nothing so much hinders the progress of agriculture as the want of capital, and the want of knowledge among the occupying or cultivating class itself. The public has the deepest interest in these evils being remedied. But does it, therefore, follow that it would be wise or just to pass an Act of Parliament requiring, for example, that no farmer should hold land who cannot show that he has capital to the amount of, say £5 per acre? My noble Friend behind me (the Earl of Kimberley) says that this is far too little. Well, say £10 an acre. Are we compelled even to consider the expediency of such a law because we admit, as we may most fully do, that there would be a great increase of productive power if the poorer class of tenantry were replaced by a class of capitalists? And in like manner with regard to ignorance of even the rudiments of scientific agriculture, the public 946 has a direct and immediate interest in the occupying class having greater intelligence and knowledge. There is at hand a popular and ready machinery—much admired by many—that of competitive examination. I have no doubt whatever that immense public benefit would arise if every farmer were required to have at least a certain minimum of knowledge in the art of agriculture. But does it therefore follow that it would be either just or possible to enact by law that no man should be allowed to take an agricultural holding who could not secure a certain number of marks in an examination before the Civil Service Commissioners? I need say no more, surely, on this head—that the two admissions I have made, the one that this sort of contract is equitable, the other that there is a public interest involved in the prevalence of some such bargain, do not in the least compel us to the conclusion that we should resort to compulsory legislation. I submit that something much more specific in the way of argument is required if this conclusion is to be established. But then it is further urged that Parliament has already interfered with the freedom of contract in other cases, and it is only adding one more case to a long and increasing list of compulsory enactments. In answer to this I might stand, in the first place, upon the principle that the burden of proof lies absolutely on those who propose any and every new restriction of personal freedom. But if the appeal be made to experience, and to the analogy and course of legislation in recent times, and if it could be shown that it would really be according to that analogy to impose by law this particular bargain upon owners and occupiers of the soil, I should be disposed to admit that it would be primâ facie a ground for favourable consideration. But to this test I am not unwilling to appeal, and I think I can show to your Lordships that the teachings and experience, and the presumptions of analogy, are all against, and not in favour of the proposed compulsory legislation.
My Lords, I suppose there never has been in the history of the world a people or a Parliament so little governed by theoretical and abstract considerations as the people and Parliament of this country. They hardly ever legislate on any abstract principle whatever. It may 947 be said with truth that they always legislate by rule of thumb—moving on in the paths of political progress as occasion and necessity may require. Is there some ancient liberty which has been found to lead to intolerable evil?—it is restrained. Is there, on the other hand, some restraint which has been found to be needless or injurious?—then freedom is restored. And so the Parliaments of this country have proceeded from time to time, never asking themselves any theoretical questions whatever as to what is and what is not the legitimate province of legislation. But although they have been singularly untheoretic, they have been endowed in the highest degree with the noble gifts of political instinct; and it will generally be found that some principle can be traced in what they do after it has been done—just as the unconscious growths of language are found to have arisen according to those mysterious laws which govern the development of human speech. Let us, then, look back to the course which legislation has now taken during the course of the last two or three generations, and let us see whether there is not some principle to be traced—and whether that principle is or is not in favour of this kind of interference with individual liberty which is now urged upon us. It is perfectly true that there has been a steady advance of compulsory legislation in one direction; but it is equally true that there has been as steady a retreat of such legislation in another direction. It is quite true that one great province has been more and more invaded; but it is equally true that another great province has been more and more vacated. It is perfectly true that a great number of restrictive laws have been enacted, but, concurrently with this legislation, another great series of restrictive statutes have been one by one repealed. And now, my Lords, I ask, can we trace no principle in this double movement? Can we, in looking back over its course, arrive at no general result in respect to the teachings of experience on the kinds of restraint which it has been found, wise or unwise, to lay on personal liberty? I venture to think that one great principle comes out as clear as day. We have found it wise to repeal all laws whose object it was to regulate the price of anything or to secure the remunera- 948 tion of any class. First we repealed all laws which attempted to regulate the price of labour, whether with a view to cheapen or to enhance it; then we repealed all laws to regulate the price of manufactures; then all laws to regulate the price of food, or the price of money, or the price of ships, or the remuneration of the various classes who are concerned with the great interests which these laws affected. Now, my Lords, let us observe that the one common element in all these laws was that they all aimed at securing by legislation some purely economic result; and the great principle which lies at the root of their condemnation and abandonment is simply this—that individual men are always in the long run the best judges of their own pecuniary or economic interests, and that the interests of the public and of the State are best served, on the whole, when men are allowed in all such matters to pursue freely their own natural instincts and desires.
And now, my Lords, let us look for a moment, on the other hand, to the character of the restrictive laws which it has been found necessary to enact. We have placed restrictions on the hours of factory labour, because we found that a whole generation was growing up under conditions of the utmost moral and physical degeneration. We have put restrictions on labour in mines for the same reason. We have put other restraints on management of mines for the protection of human health and life. We have restrained individual freedom in the matter of education, to avoid, if it be possible, the dangers of ignorance. We have forbidden under the Truck Acts the payment of wages in kind, in order to prevent fraud and to secure that wages should be really equal in value to their nominal amount. At this very moment we are considering the necessity of further restrictions with a view to the saving of life at sea; and I, for one, honour the exertions of Mr. Plimsoll in a cause which is the cause of humanity and mercy. Now, my Lords, if we look back to this series of laws we shall see at once that one general character belongs to them all. They are all laws aiming at some moral, and not at any purely economic, result. And the great principle which underlies them all is this—that whilst economic benefits and results are not only sufficiently but are best provided 949 for and secured by leaving men perfectly free, the very intensity and eagerness of this pursuit of wealth often lead them to sacrifice all moral considerations—considerations of health and of life itself; and this to such au extent that it becomes sometimes an absolute necessity to protect these highest interests of all by restrictive laws. This, then, is the double result of our experience as a nation and as a Parliament—that restrictive legislation for the attainment of purely economic ends is not only needless but injurious; and that it is the very power and efficiency of the motives which work for these results which compel us frequently to interfere for moral ends. Need I ask, my Lords, to which great class would belong a law forcing a particular bargain upon the owners and occupiers of land? Are British farmers starving? or are their children growing up a puny and almost imbecile race? So far as I have had occasion to observe, the ample presence and the prosperous outlines which belong to the typical English farmer have, as yet, suffered no serious diminution. The results we are invited to secure are all of the purely economic kind; and I venture to affirm, that so far from the course and analogy of our legislative experience leading in the direction of restraint on individual freedom in this matter, its teachings and its lessons are all condemnatory—loudly condemnatory—of any such attempt. I am not now saying, for a moment, that there can be no possible legislation which is not open to this objection. Changes in the presumptions of law in the absence of contract belong to a wholly different category; and I am not now arguing against the expediency, or even the necessity, of some changes of this kind. I am now arguing exclusively on the question, whether it is wise, or expedient, or legitimate, according to our well-established principles of legislation, to attempt to secure to the occupiers of land certain pecuniary terms in their contract for the hire of farms? And this, I venture to say, belongs to a class of legislation which Parliament has more and more found it wise, and even necessary, to abandon. But here we encounter, my Lords, a special plea—a plea for peculiar and exceptional treatment. In some Papers which have been circulated to hon. Members of the House by Mr. 950 Howard, the well-known advocate of compulsory legislation in this matter, I find it stated broadly that no freedom of contract really exists in the case of farmers; and the speech of one gentleman is quoted and re-quoted, with much approbation, in which it is said that—"He would be a bold man who would say that there was equal contracting power between an owner and an occupier of land."
Now, my Lords, I do not wish to come under the condemnation of being a very rash, or even a very bold man, and therefore I will not now make any general assertion on the subject. But perhaps it may be permitted to me to undertake the humbler task of testing, by a little examination in detail, what is the meaning attached to the word freedom in such passages as these—What is the kind of restraint on freedom which is complained of in the case of the farmer? I will, therefore, take two cases, to one or other of which every offer of a farmer for a holding must belong. I will take, first, the case of a farm which is vacant, and which is in the market. For every farm so circumstanced there are generally some four, or five, or six competitors, sometimes many more. Well, we will suppose that one of these farmers says to the owner—" I will give you 30s. an acre for that farm, but on condition only that on the termination of the tenancy you agree to recognize my claim to such and such items of compensation." To this offer we will suppose that the former replies—"Your offer, I dare say, is a very fair one from your own point of view; but there are five other men, all of whom have offered me the same rent, without those compensations at the end of the tenancy which you demand. This shows that the article I offer is worth the rent you offer, without the conditions you attach; and if those conditions be attached—it is worth more. Will you advance on your offer as to rent? and then I shall be disposed to agree to your other conditions." The offerer replies, we will farther suppose, that he cannot advance on the rent of 30s. an acre, and that even this rent he will only give on the conditions referred to. Under these circumstances, he does not get the farm, and it is let to another, not subject to the compensation clauses. Now, where is the want of freedom in this transact- 951 tion,as regards the disappointed offerer? Clearly his want of freedom consists in this—that some five or some dozen other men have the same freedom as he has, and they all consider it consistent with their interests to offer for the farm without the conditions on which he insists. And what is the demand now made on Parliament by the friends of this offerer? It is simply this—"We do not consider this man free so long as these dozen other men are allowed the same freedom. Deprive them of their liberty of contract, and then only will our friend's liberty be secured." Is this a reasonable demand? and, if so, what will farmers say to an agricultural labourer who asks wages far higher than other men are willing to work at? Is this labourer not free to contract unless dozens of other men are in like manner to be deprived of the same liberty? Or when a labouring man goes to buy meat, and only offers 8d. a-pound, what is it that deprives him of his liberty to secure the meat at that price, except this, that hundreds of other people are willing to give 10d. or 1s.? Where is this argument to end which asserts that there is no freedom when the pressure of competition determines economic results?
Then, my Lords, let us look at the other supposed case—that of a farm which is not vacant, but occupied by a tenant who desires to hold under new conditions as to compensation on removal. What prevents him going to his landlord and saying—"I want to hold under new conditions?" What but this—that such new conditions will probably involve a re-valuation? He may very probably have been holding at a rent not revised for many years—possibly even for some generations; and the owner may very fairly say—" I have every reason to believe that scores of men would give the same rent, and even a much higher rent, for this farm, without any new conditions. You already have, in the lowness of your rent, an ample compensation for any improvements you may effect. But if you wish new conditions I have no objection, provided there be a new valuation corresponding to advantages you seek." If the tenant declines these terms, and chooses rather to remain as he is, where, again, is the limitation of his freedom? Does it not consist entirely in this—that he knows he is sitting at a low rent, and 952 that numbers of other persons would be willing to give as much, or more, on the same conditions? His want of freedom, therefore, in this case also, resolves itself into this—that others are not deprived of their freedom in order to enable him to enforce his own conditions. It is the old story. It is competition that is really complained of; and the demand for compulsion is simply the old demand of legislative protection against those results which are the natural effects of freedom in this as in every other trade. But the public have no interest in restraints being placed on the competition for farms. On the contrary, this competition is one of the essential conditions of an improving agriculture. To restrict competition has been the endeavour of every class and every interest in turn. Each in succession has had its plea for special treatment and exceptional laws. Each class-interest has urged these pleas with the most perfect sincerity and simplicity of heart—"We are a class specially circumstanced. Our industry is exceptionally important to the country." And what, during recent years, has been the reply of Parliament to all such pleas? It has not been any denial of the importance of the classes concerned, or of the importance of their industries to the public interests. On the contrary, it has been substantially this—"We admit your importance. We admit the immense interest we have in the success of your industry. But argument and experience have at last taught us, that both you and your industries will flourish best in the atmosphere and under the stimulus of freedom." And, my Lords, if it be against all principle, and all the analogy of our legislation, to attempt compulsion to attain purely economic results in the trade of farming, it is not less evident that any such attempt must fail. If it is competition, and nothing else, which prevents this desired bargain from becoming general except on advanced terms of rent, the same pressure of competition will prevent any compulsory law from securing to the farmer any pecuniary benefits, wherever these do not rest on the sound basis of intelligent contract, and are not guaranteed by the sense of mutual interest. You cannot prevent competition from determining rent; and whatever artificial statutory conditions you may attach to holdings will be discounted in the form of advanced rents. 953 Any attempt at compulsion must result in a general re-valuation of farms; and although there is certainly no public interest involved in rents being so low as to dispense with skill, and knowledge, and exertion—although, on the contrary, low rents mean simply bad and lazy farming—I should regard it as a great misfortune that any change of this kind should take place generally, suddenly, and under the antagonisms which must arise out of a desire to escape from the inevitable injustice of compulsory laws upon such a subject.
And here, my Lords, I cannot help asking, what ground of necessity has been laid for asking Parliament to pass a law so exceptional in principle, and sure to be so inconvenient in practice? Is it true that English farmers are, in any appreciable number of cases, suddenly deprived of their farms without compensation for any improvements they may have made? I do not see that even any allegation is made to this effect. No one feels more strongly than I do that tenancies at will, or yearly tenancies, without any written agreement on the subject of compensation in the event of removal, is the most unwise and unsatisfactory footing on which agricultural holdings can be placed. But it is a great mistake to suppose that under this system—bad and slovenly though it be—tenants do not generally enjoy a large, often a very large, pecuniary compensation in the shape of comparative lowness of rent. They may hardly be conscious of it; and, indeed, this is one of the greatest evils of the system. But where farms are rarely re-valued, and rents run on from year to year, and sometimes from generation to generation, those rents are almost always far below the market value. It is curious that the only specific case which is quoted by Mr. Howard as tending to show the necessity of legislation, confirms this fact in a remarkable degree. It is in the case of an estate which Mr. Howard tells us "belonged to a noble family, upon which the tenants had dwelt securely, but which came into the market and was bought by the Crown: even under the Crown the tenants were not safe; they had been paying the average rent of the neighbourhood, but had to submit to an enormous rise of rent, or to break up their homes and go." Now what does this case prove, except that 954 the tenants of this estate had been holding—how long I know not—at a rent "enormously" below the market rate; or in other words, that they had been enjoying in this form of a low preference rent an "enormous" compensation for whatever other disadvantages may have attached to their position? The allegation that the rents were equal to the average of the neighbourhood may be quite true, but this only proves that a very low rate of rent generally prevails wherever this system of tenure obtains, and farmers must remember that they cannot enjoy compensation in both ways—both in lowness of rent, and also in capital sums paid to them on termination of the tenancy. In this case the Crown, acting in the interests of the public, appears to have found that the tenants on this estate had been holding at rents "enormously" below those which other farmers were willing to give. And it must never be forgotten that this is the only test of value in farms, as in everything else. Rents, indeed, ought not to be regulated by the reckless acceptance of whatever sum anybody may promise to give; but they must—and in the public interests, they ought to be—ultimately regulated by what good and solvent men may be able and willing to pay; and this case quoted by Mr. Howard is an indication of what I believe to be the truth, that when there are no agreements for compensation, or no written contracts at all, farms in England are constantly and habitually let much below the market value; so that the tenants are, in fact, enjoying considerable annuities over and above the rate of profit on cultivation which would be sufficient to attract competent men. I have myself known of cases where, on the test of competition being applied, it was found that the tenants had been sitting at rents 50, 60, and even 70 per cent below the market value. These may be extreme cases; but the general prevalence of low rents in districts where there are no agreements is certain. And if this be true, and in exact proportion as it is true, the tenants are already in full enjoyment of compensation for any improvements they evermake—greater, probably far greater, than they could ever claim under any compulsory legislation.
Again, my Lords, I guard myself against saying that I look on this as a 955 satisfactory system. Very far from it. But this brings me to another point of great importance. Legislation is urged upon us because it is alleged that "customs"—legal customs—protective of the tenant's interests, like those of Lincolnshire, are not extending. We are told that now it is some 30 years since Mr. Pusey's Committee sat, and that very little progress has been made in the spread of legal "customs." Even this does not appear to be strictly true. But if it were true it would be irrelevant. For the really important question is not whether these "customs" have extended, but whether reasonable private contracts have extended. "Customs" at the very best are nothing but bad and cumbrous substitutes for special contracts. They are always tending to abuse, always liable to become more and more onerous to incoming tenants, until in some counties they have become a serious obstruction to agriculture. The evidence on this head is conclusive. Nothing can be more mischievous than that farmers should be set to think, not how they can profit by good and careful husbandry, but how they can profit by making up a heavy book against those who are to succeed them. And even the best customs, such as that of Lincolnshire, are necessarily changing from time to time, as experience teaches, and as it requires modification of the rules. Moreover, it is the greatest mistake to suppose that even in Lincolnshire the custom has been the cause of the improvement of the county. On the contrary, it was the improvement of the county that gave rise to the custom. It arose simply from the example of a wise and successful private contract, which gave rise to others, and so gradually spread over that and some adjoining districts. But private contracts written and recorded are in all cases better than such customs, which are nothing but contracts erected on the vague basis of presumption. Other counties have improved quite as much without any such custom. Therefore I contend, that the non-extension of legal customs is of no consequence whatever, if it be true that private contracts have been, and are now, extending rapidly. Yet, strange to say, in the First Report of the Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, I find that they have confined their inquiry to the extension of "customs," excluding 956 altogether the far more important question of the extension of special contracts having the same end in view. Now, my Lords, I will venture to say that, without inquiry into this, the other inquiry is of very little value. "Customs" may not be extending, for the very reason that special contracts of a much better kind are being everywhere adopted. I have been lately making some inquiry into this point, and the result is, that from personal knowledge I can affirm that special contracts in respect to compensation for improvements are being adopted rapidly over numerous English counties. I have lately seen several of these contracts—and some of them have been drawn up within the last two or three years as nearly as possible in the very terms recommended by local Chambers of Agriculture. I do not say they are all perfect; but I do say, that the very worst of them are better than any general Parliamentary contract you can possibly impose. They will, and they ought to, vary with local circumstances—with the growing intelligence on the subject, both of owners and of occupiers of the soil. There is no root of bitterness in the relations between landlord and tenant in England—nothing to prevent those changes from taking place by mutual agreement in the forms of contract and of tenure which I heartily believe are often much required in the interests of both. But the worst lesson you could teach to the occupying class, is to lead them to believe that Parliament either can, or ought to, make their bargains for them.
For these reasons, my Lords, and for others with which I shall not now trouble the House, I hold that whatever legislative changes are made should be confined to changes simply in the presumption of the law, and that no attempt should be made to interfere with that complete freedom of contract which is the very breath of life in this, not less than in all other, industrial pursuits.
§ LORD WAVENEY
supported the Bill, maintaining that a tenant was fairly entitled to compensation for any outlay he might have expended on his holding.
THE MARQUESS OF BATH
said, that what the farmers or their friends demanded was not in itself unjust or immoderate, but he believed that in reality they possessed it already. He was not disposed to object to the general tone of 957 the measure introduced by his noble Friend; but he was disposed to think that Her Majesty's Government had not sufficiently considered the difficulties which were innate in the subject. It seemed almost as if the Government had patched up a Bill anyhow from the several measures which had of late years been laid before Parliament and simply flung it upon the Table of the House; but he thought it would be found an extremely difficult measure to work. The Bill, which professed merely to deal with the relations between landlords and tenants, would, in fact, materially alter, if it would not absolutely destroy, the present law with respect to settled estates in this country. The 4th clause defined the word "landlord," as used in the Bill, as meaning "the person entitled to possession of land subject to a contract of tenancy, or entitled to receipt of rent reserved by a contract of tenancy whatever be the extent of his interest." This would include all persons sub-letting to under-tenants land which they held on lease, and would empower such persons to make charges upon such sub-let holdings in respect of compensation due, which charges could be made to extend over—say 20 years, notwithstanding the fact that the leases under which they held from the original owner had not more than a tenth part of that time to run. The noble Marquess proceeded to comment on some provisions of the Bill; and was understood to object to the clause providing that the landlord on paying to the tenant the amount of compensation found due to him under the Act might obtain a change on the holding in respect thereof; that in the case of limited owners it opened a door to collusion between the owner and tenant. With regard to the clauses relating to procedure in respect of claims for compensation—the Bill provided that where the parties did not agree upon the amount of compensation, the difference should be settled by a reference to a single referee or to two referees with an arbitrator, with a final appeal in cases over £50 to the Judge of the County Court, he thought an appeal to the Inclosure Commissioners or perhaps to a Superior Court, would be preferable. Although he thought these arbitration clauses might give rise to difficulties they did not extend beyond what might 958 be amended in Committee; and as he approved of the general principles of the Bill he should give it his support.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
My Lords, one point which has been brought out by the debate is that all the speakers with the exception of a noble Marquess (the Marquess of Huntly) have been in favour of freedom of contract: another is, that while the Government have been greatly complimented for having introduced the Bill, the clauses of it have been generally condemned. For myself, I am willing to give the Government credit for the best possible intentions in the matter; but I own I do not think they have acted wisely in bringing the present Bill before your Lordships at all. My Lords, the Government have been credited by the country with being a Government specially called upon to introduce, and with being in a most favourable position for passing, important questions of social reform—and they seem to have had that opinion of themselves, to judge from the very large group of Bills which they have either presented or promised. Their Bills appear to us to be all somewhat of one character. I do not know whether your Lordships have ever observed in the streets little boys carrying bunches of small balloons brightly and variously coloured, and looking light and graceful. I believe these balloons can be had for a penny a-piece, and that you can buy a whole bundle on very much reduced terms. They are very fine to look at, and their lightness makes them float easily; but when you come to examine them closely, you will find they have absolutely nothing in them. That, I believe, is the character of most of the measures which the Government have introduced. They deal with interesting subjects; they have very attractive titles; and when you examine them, either they have nothing at all in them, or they contain clauses by which no one need be bound. This description I think applies to the present Bill. The noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond) grounded its introduction on two principles—first, that it would increase the producing power of the country of food for the people; and second, that it would meet the grievances of tenant-farmers, and place them in the position to obtain any compensation to which they might in equity be entitled. Upon the first point 959 I confess I am not competent to give an opinion whether the noble Earl's (the Earl of Derby's) dictum that the produce might be doubled is accurate or not, but I do not see how the present Bill can materially affect that increase. With regard to the second, I may say I have communicated with a good many landlords, both strong Liberals and strong Conservatives—all of them, I believe, wealthy, and all liberal in their dealings with their tenants—and with the result that this principle would seem to fail, for not one of them has told me that he intended to leave himself under the operation of the Bill. I will go so far as to say I have a very strong suspicion that the great majority of the landowners in your Lordships' House will follow the same course. Now, if this course be adopted by the wealthiest and most enlightened landlords of this country, how can you expect that the pauper landlords—the greedy landlords—those whose conduct furnishes the only ground for legislation of this sort—will leave themselves under the operation of this Bill? Without compulsion it is impossible for the Bill to have any effect. I cannot make out that in any case it would cause a large increase in the production of food; and, as regards the grievances it is intended to remedy, I have a very shrewd belief that the great majority of tenant-farmers do not care about it at all. I believe that, although some of them are discontented with the present state of things, they think it better for themselves, on the whole, not to screw up their relations with their landlords too tightly. Those who are contented with their landlords will not trouble themselves about the Bill; while those who have grievances, those who would make demands for compensation, would regard it as the merest mockery that ever was offered them. In giving a "presumption of law" as between landlord and tenant, the Bill may be useful; but that is the sole argument which can be urged in its favour, and I doubt very much whether this will prove of any value in the circumstances which I have described. The Bill, therefore, will fail in its two main principles. I believe, then, that the Government have acted unwisely in stirring up this question at all at the present time, and then in introducing a Bill which will prove inoperative. In my observations I have carefully ab- 960 stained from going into matters of detail, because there is a unanimous agreement that the Bill should pass the second reading, and an opportunity will be afforded for fully discussing the various clauses in Committee.
§ THE DUKE OF RICHMOND
My Lords, I confess I felt some commisseration for my noble Friend (Earl Granville) when he approached that portion of the Bill which deals with the very important subject of freedom of contract; because he must have felt—and I think his remarks showed clearly that he did feel—the impossibility of answering the very cogent arguments urged by the noble Duke at his side (the Duke of Argyll) in its favour. My noble Friend, as he frequently does, addressed us in a most agreeable and pleasant manner, and likened some of the measures which the Government have brought in to those balloons which we see carried about the streets. This, I must say, seems a little premature, seeing that most of the measures alluded to have been introduced in the House of Commons, and have not yet come before us; and I venture to suggest that, until they do, we are not so competent to say what is inside of them as my noble Friend appears to think himself to be. The simile which my noble Friend has employed seems to be a favourite one on his side of the House. If I mistake not, your Lordships have been described by an eminent statesman as being "up in a balloon." It seems to me there must be something very fascinating to noble Lords opposite in that simile of a balloon. My noble Friend went on to say that I had stated, in the speech with which I introduced the Bill, that the two principles which had guided the Government in introducing the measure were, first, to increase the food-producing power of the country; and, secondly, that I expressed my belief that unless the tenant had security for the capital which he invested in the soil we could not expect our resources to increase to a very great extent. Now, my Lords, I adhere to every one of the statements to which the noble Earl has referred. It is, of course, a question of degree as to how far a measure of this kind will affect the object; but I lay down, without fear of contradiction, the principle that the greater the security which a tenant has for the money which 961 he has expended on his farm, the more likely will he be to extract from that farm the greatest possible amount of produce. My noble Friend went on to argue that the Bill was really of no use without compulsion. On that point I entirely differ from him. He also made another assertion, from which I equally dissent. He said that the great majority of the landlords of this country would not allow themselves to be brought within the purview of the Bill, and that therefore, so far as they were concerned, it would be useless. I believe the exact contrary will be found to be the case. I am of opinion that if the Bill be a good one, if the compensation proposed to be given for unexhausted improvements is based on the fair and sound principle on which it is in this measure, then both the landlords and tenants of the country will be very glad to be brought within its operation. I will give my noble Friend an example of what I mean. We are told by those who are acquainted with the custom which prevails in Lincolnshire that it is one of the best which could be devised specially for that part of the country. We find, accordingly, that this custom meets with the general approval of both the owners and occupiers of land. But the custom was one which existed not by the intervention of Parliament, but simply because it was believed by both landlord and tenant to be good. The interference of the Legislature was not, therefore, required. And so it will be with regard to this Bill if the manner in which it deals with unexhausted improvements and the relations between the owners and occupiers of the soil are just, as in the case of the Lincolnshire custom. Then the owner and occupier having regard to their own interests will come within its operation—and that, I believe, will occur in the great bulk of instances. If the Bill is a good one, both parties will come under it, and if it be a bad one you have no right to pass it. If you look upon it as not, perhaps, bad altogether, but unjust in some of its details, then I will merely observe that no one will be entitled to compel a man to come under its provisions. My noble Friend then went on to say that it was unwise of the Government to stir up the question. My noble Friend seems to have a great knowledge of all agricultural pursuits, and I should like 962 to know from him whether, if the Government had introduced no measure on this question, he would have said nothing on the adoption of such a course? This subject was brought under the consideration of the House of Commons two or three years ago. On this point, I may add, I must join issue with the noble Marquess who spoke early in the evening (the Marquess of Huntly). I beg to assure him that it was not in consequence of the noble Marquess's "attempt at legislation" towards the close of last Session that we took up the question. A Resolution on the subject had been proposed in the other House. It was opposed by the Government, and the Prime Minister said that the Government would look into the matter, and, if possible, come forward next Session with some measure dealing with it, seeing that it agitated so much the minds of the agriculturists throughout the country. It was in consequence of that statement, and not of my noble Friend's attempt at legislation, that the present measure was introduced. My noble Friend does not, perhaps, read the agricultural papers, but if he did he would find that the subject is one which has been discussed by almost every Agricultural Chamber during the last 18 months. The Government, therefore, I contend, could not have allowed the Session to pass over without taking some action on the question one way or the other, and they were, under these circumstances, of opinion that by introducing a Bill themselves they would be dealing with it in a more satisfactory manner than if they were to wait until a Bill had been brought in by some independent Member of either House, with the inevitable result that it would ultimately fall into the hands of the Government, who would then have to carry through Parliament provisions for which they were in no way originally responsible, and in which, probably, it would be necessary to make alterations which would be attended with a great degree of trouble. As to the provisions of the present measure I can assure the noble Marquess behind me (the Marquess of Bath) that he is in error as to the mode in which they have been prepared. The Government have given the subject the greatest consideration and have observed in dealing with it the utmost caution. He also says that we have picked out 963 the Bill from somewhere—whence he did not distinctly indicate—and have flung it on the Table to be considered by your Lordships. But if the noble Marquess had been in the House when I moved the first reading he would be aware that I endeavoured to state the details of the measure as fully as was in my power. I must also notice some other observations which fell from the noble Marquess. He says the limited owner can enter into collusion with his tenant under that clause of the Bill which enables him to put up permanent and expensive buildings, and then under the Bill raise money and charge the estate with the money so expended. I beg, however, to assure my noble Friend that nothing of the kind can be done under this measure. In the first place, if a tenant puts up a building with the consent of the landlord, then when he goes out the compensation to be awarded him is to be paid by the landlord in hard cash out of his pocket, and then only will he be able to get the money made a charge on the estate. There can, therefore, be no possible collusion. Besides, I do not think that it ought to go forth to the country that landlords and tenants are likely to combine together in so very doubtful a proceeding as that to which the noble Marquess has called attention. The noble Marquess next seems to be very much alarmed at the idea of the appeal being made to the County Court Judge, and to prefer the Inclosure Commissioners. Now, I have the greatest respect for the Inclosure Commissioners, but I venture to suggest that the County Court Judge would be likely to have more experience of the locality in which he was living. Then the noble Marquess made some remarks about the appeal to the Judge from a referee appointed by himself. The noble Marquess loses sight of the fact that when the County Court Judge is asked to appoint an umpire he will do so without inquiry as to the facts to be brought before the umpire. All he will have to do will be, with the advantage of a knowledge of the people in the locality, to select an impartial and competent man. I will now touch one or two remarks made by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Somerset)—and in regard not only to them but to other remarks that have been made I wish to say that it will be my duty to consider them carefully, not 964 with the view of objecting to them, but for the purpose of making the measure as satisfactory as possible. There is some force in the criticism of the noble Duke as to the importance of requiring that notice should be given to the landlord of an improvement for which it is intended to claim compensation, and I think that a provision in accordance with that suggestion may with advantage be inserted in the Bill. In regard to other observations of the noble Duke, I would say that I think it has not been sufficiently borne in mind that the key-note of the Bill is the principle that the improvement for which the tenant seeks compensation must be an improvement which has added to the letting value of the holding. Clause 14, which deals with what is called "compensation for waste," has been condemned as an unfair clause framed too much in the interest of the landlords. I may say with regard to it that it was borrowed from a measure framed by the Chambers of Agriculture, and therefore has the approval of that body. A difference between the provisions as to waste and those as to improvements was also commented on; but it must be borne in mind that you can define an improvement, but cannot define a waste. With regard to the classes of improvements specified in the Bill, we were desirous, on the one hand, not to restrict them to too small a number, and, on the other hand, not to include a great variety of minor improvements; and we believe that what we have put down will really meet the requirements of the case. As to the principle of freedom of contract, about which something has been said, I will content myself with declaring on behalf of the Government that we hold that principle to be one of paramount importance. I would never have put my hand to the measure if I had thought it interfered with that freedom; and if a provision interfering with it should be inserted by this House or "elsewhere," it will be tantamount to throwing out the Bill, for I, for one, would not be a party to any such measure. In the provisions as they stand, there is, I believe, no such interference. As to Clause 38, I intend to propose in Committee that it be struck out, and that the following be inserted in its place:—This Act, in the absence of or subject to any contract in writing between the landlord 965 and tenant, shall apply to all contracts of tenancy taking effect after the commencement of this Act.For the purposes of this section, a contract of tenancy from year to year, current at the commencement of this Act, shall he deemed to take effect from and after the end of the first year of tenancy begun and completed after the commencement of this Act.Except as aforesaid, this Act shall not apply to any contract of tenancy current at the commencement of this Act.The Act will come into operation on the 1st of January, 1876. The end of the first year of tenancy began and completed after the commencement of the Act will, in the case of Lady Day entries, be Lady Day, 1877, and in the case of Michaelmas entries, Michaelmas, 1877; and therefore in cases where, at Lady Day or Michaelmas, 1877, there is no contract in writing between the landlord and the tenant, the Act will begin to apply. There would thus be ample time given to persons interested to study the provisions of the measure. I am speaking now of year-to-year holdings—not of leases. What I have indicated will, I think, be a satisfactory way of dealing with the matter, and it seems to me that with such a provision all parties would, so to speak, slide easily into the operation of the measure. fit was the intention and desire of Her Majesty's Government that the Bill should become law this Session. I hope that your Lordships will be able to agree to the details in Committee, and that the Bill will be sent down in time for the House of Commons to pass it into law this Session if they think fit to do so. 1 can conceive nothing more unsatisfactory than that a question of this sort, which touches the relations between landlord and tenant, should remain open and in a state of uncertainty.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
desired to make some remarks in support of the Bill on political grounds. It could not be said that this Bill was necessary on agricultural grounds, for, or the one hand, the greater part of England was governed by customs of tat country, fulfilling all the objects of this Bill—customs which were gradual extending themselves to those places which did not yet possess them; and, or. the other hand, the Bill was unnecessary on the noble Duke's own showing, since as he said on the first reading, the small holders did not require it, because they 966 had no money to lay out on what were called improvements; and the larger tenants, who had money to lay out, were perfectly well able to protect themselves by covenants and leases. It must, however, be admitted that this Bill had become necessary on political grounds, and in order to meet a factitious demand, caused by the agitation of a mixed body, composed of enthusiasts, sciolists, vendors of artificial manures, essayists, and political speculators. The greater part of these writers had more acquaintance with the theory than with the practice of farming; but it was not possible to blame them, when it was remembered that the principal impulse had been given to this school by a leading Member of Her Majesty's Government, who laying aside, or deserted, by his habitual caution, stated ex cathedrâ that the produce of England might be doubled by better farming. Now, when it was remembered that the agricultural produce of England was higher than that of any country on the Continent of Europe, it might be assumed that if the noble Earl (the Earl of Derby) had been speaking of Foreign instead of Home Affairs, he would have been careful to state that the produce of England might be quadrupled or quintupled, so as to make it more abundantly clear that he was merely making things pleasant for his Lancashire entertainers; and it might be safely asserted that outside of the Island of Laputa there was no place except the towns of Lancashire where it would be believed that a farmer could obtain any quantity of produce by any amount of reckless expenditure, or that the moderate increase of yield which might be obtained by high farming could be indefinitely sustained, without the soil being exhausted, since it was impossible to force nature. The aims and objects of that portion of the agitators for high farming enforced by legislation were entirely opposed to the interests of the small holders, and to the aims of the political advocates of legislative interference with farming, since they would have the effect of driving out all the small holders. The enemies of the landed interest, who just now, for the purposes of this Bill, affected an earnest desire for increase of production of food, were very inconsistent; for they were the same men who prevented the Government from taking efficient pre- 967 cautions to prevent the entrance of diseased cattle into the country, and the contamination of the herds of the country, which they hastened to say were of small importance as compared with the quantity of imported cattle. In the same way, and owing to the outcry which would be raised by these same men, however great might be the danger to be apprehended from the Colorado beetle, Her Majesty's Government would not venture to prohibit the importation of American potatoes, even though all the potatoes of this country should be lost by their not doing so. The objection which had been made in some quarters to this Bill, because it was not compulsory, was based on theory only, and made in ignorance of the facts of the case. In the first place, it would be unnecessary to substitute the provisions of this Bill for the various customs of the country, each best suited for its own district, and which need not be abolished for the sake of uniformity; and, secondly, the hardship of allowing a landlord to notify that he would not abide by this Bill was a purely imaginary hardship, since after it had become law it would be impossible for any landlord to refuse the provisions of this Bill, unless some equivalent custom already existed, or unless he was prepared to offer his tenant some equivalent arrangement. With regard to the clauses of the Bill which provided for compensation to be paid by a tenant for deterioration of the farm, he regarded all such provisions as entirely valueless and illusory, except, possibly, as a set-off against tenants who, besides ruining their farms and themselves, might be tempted by this Bill to claim compensation for doing so. As the noble Duke was not of this opinion, he hoped he would give their Lordships some information on this point derived from his personal experience. According to his own experience and that of all his acquaintances, when a tenant got in a bad way a landlord was fortunate if he got rid of him, even at a loss, and he did not believe that these provisions of the Bill would be of much use south of the Tweed. With regard to the objections to the clauses extending the powers of limited owners, made by the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Bath), he disagreed with them entirely, and it seemed to him that anyone who heard that noble Marquess' speech would suppose that he was a believer in the 968 doctrine of metempsychosis, and expected to return to this world as his own remainderman.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House, on Thursday next.