HL Deb 09 August 1875 vol 226 cc755-60

Commons' Amendments considered (according to Order).


said, he did not propose to ask their Lordships to disagree with any of the Amendments made in the other House, except three or four which were purely of a verbal character, and he would move such an Amendment at the end of Clause 19.


could not allow the occasion to pass without some observations, though he promised to be merciful in the length of them. The Government were now in the unfortunate position in which he found himself during the five years when he had the honour of conducting the Business of the late Government in this House. Long before this period of the Session he used then to hear strong complaints, many of which came from the leading Opposition Bench, and elaborate speeches against the introduction of Business so late in the Session. He could not help fancying that if he had made the present Motion during these five years, he should have heard the complaints renewed. The thin state of the House would have lent point to those complaints, and he would remind their Lordships that when they divided last week only 19 Peers were present, and by the aid of only two of these 19, the Government were able to sanction an irregularity strongly condemned by the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees. If during his five official years he had said on such an occasion as this that the Bill was not a new Bill, and had been once considered in this House, the answer would have been that nine pages of Amendments had been made in the Bill in "another place," containing changes not only in important details, but in what had been described as the central principle of the Bill, so that their Lordships had really to consider a new Bill. He believed, also, that if he had stated that the Bill was of an urgent and important character, he should have been told that, while some persons disliked the Bill, and while others liked it, because they thought it might lead to further legislation of which the great majority of their Lordships would not approve, the great mass of persons were very indifferent and, excepting his noble Friend opposite and the Prime Minister, nobody thought the Bill of great importance or great urgency. Now, he adhered to the principle which he laid down when in office. He thought the House ought not to refuse to consider Bills, merely because it might be personally inconvenient to them to remain in town so late in the Session; and, as to himself, he did not propose to obstruct the consideration of these Amendments. He thought it was right, however, that their Lordships should look at them a little more closely than seemed to be contemplated by the noble Duke. During the discussions in this House he was bound to say that the noble Duke—not only in his opinion, but in the opinion of others who could speak with much greater authority—conducted the measure through Committee with great ability, great firmness, and great tact; and according to the view of the noble Duke the Bill left this House in a consistent and comprehensive shape. One clause, enabling landlords and tenants to contract themselves out of the Bill, was thought an awkward and invidious way of securing freedom of contract, and the Government in this House were so impressed with the force of the argument that they omitted the clause. It appeared, however, that the Government had, for the second time, re-considered this subject, for he found that a clause to the same effect had been re-introduced. He now came to a point of much greater importance. Objections were made in the course of the discussions here to the principle of the letting value, but it was described as being the essential principle of the Bill. In the other House, however, the Prime Minister—who seemed inclined to differ from his Colleagues, however able and devoted they might be—said the principle had been adopted mainly in the interest of the remainder-man, and ended by describing this principle, which their Lordships were told was the essential principle of the Bill, as one which was capricious and fallacious. It was, consequently, omitted from the Bill. He (Earl Granville) rejoiced that that had been done, for he thought that principle would have led to great uncertainty, risk, and fraud. He had now to call attention to the first class of improvements, and with regard to them he found that the tenants of limited owners were put in a perfectly different and an inferior position from the tenants of absolute owners. Both classes were to be compensated in the same way as regarded the original cost; but the former had a limitation imposed upon them that the sum should not exceed the addition made to the letting value of the land. A vicious principle was thus introduced into the measure, because by far the larger number of the tenant farmers of this country held their lands, he believed, under limited owners. He could not conceive anything more unjust than this clause, for why should a limited owner be in a worse position by law than an absolute owner of an estate? It was extremely unfair to the limited owner that he should be overweighted in this competition. Suppose a compensation case were tried before a land surveyor, who would be almost necessarily ignorant of law, in what manner could he be satisfied whether the landlord was the absolute owner or whether he was only a limited owner? He foresaw that in some cases very great difficulties would arise on this particular point, and this would greatly multiply the number of persons who, he believed, had already determined not to come under the provisions of the Bill. He trusted that this part of the Bill as it now stood would be altered. He made these remarks in no hostile spirit, although he should not be surprised to find the noble Duke opposite equipping himself in adamantine armour in order to meet his attack. In conclusion, he would hazard no prophecy, but could not help feeling a little alarm at the benediction bestowed on the Bill by a Conservative Member of Parliament, an eminent solicitor in this great town, who said that, whatever other merits it might possess, it was certainly a measure that would be of infinite advantage to the profession to which he belonged.


said, the noble Earl would himself endeavour to equip himself in adamantine armour whenever he expected to come in contact with what he called a hostile spirit. On the present occasion, however, it was unnecessary for him to seek the protection of any very strong adamantine armour; but he would simply reply to the comments of his noble Friend. There was no question that that part of the Bill which related to letting value had been altered in the other House; but it was retained for the purpose for which alone it was absolutely necessary— namely, the protection of the limited owner. It seemed to him to be in the nature of things that the absolute owner must be in a better position than a limited owner. As to the difficulty anticipated by his noble Friend with regard to the land surveyor's decision, he did not think it was at all likely to arise. On so large a subject as the present it was not unlikely nor unreasonable that in the House of Commons there should be various opinions. He believed some of the Amendments to be improvements on the original Bill, and he should therefore propose that they be agreed to.


observed, that the Bill in the shape in which it left their Lordships' House was much more favourable to the tenant than it was now.


said, the observation of the noble Lord who had just spoken was an entirely just one. At the same time, it should be borne in mind that the change which had been made in the Bill was made in a House in which there was a considerable number of Representatives, not merely of the owners of land, but also the occupiers of land; and he believed he should be correct in saying that no division was taken against the change in the other House. With regard to the observations of the noble Earl (Earl Granville), he (the Lord Chancellor) desired to say that this was the first measure of the kind with which he was acquainted which allowed the owner of land—that was to say, those who were interested in the possession of land—to enter into contracts with their tenants without either obtaining the consent of, or serving notice upon, the remainderman, and the experience of all of them had been that former legislation on this subject had failed, because tenants for life were required before they could take any steps to improve land, either to obtain the consent of the remainderman or to serve a notice upon him with reference to that subject. With regard to improvements of the second and third class, an owner, who was not an absolute owner, would be just as powerful as the most absolute owner. He might make any agreement with his tenant that he liked within the four corners of this Bill. With regard to improvements of the first class, as to which the noble Earl had spoken, the tenant could not make them without the consent of the landlord.


thought that the clause, as amended by the Commons, would be a fruitful source of litigation. The effect would be that whenever a tenant proposed to make an improvement, he would have to inquire into the title of his landlord; and whether he was a limited owner or not, he ventured to say that in 99 out of 100 cases he would simply go and ask whether he might make such and such improvements. There was no reason why a tenant for life should not give compensation on the same principle as an absolute owner. He did not think that the criticism, which had been made upon the Amendments were by any means satisfactorily answered.


said, that, speaking as a layman, and looking at the matter in a practical point of view, he wished to make one remark. He did not believe that the portion of the Bill which referred to first-class improvements would receive any extensive application, except in the case of those who were official limited owners. The vast majority of landlords made all these improvements themselves; but an official limited owner, like a Bishop or a clergyman, had not sufficient permanent interest in the estate to make such improvements. As far as other owners were concerned, he believed that in almost any market town the tenant farmers would be able to say which estates—taking in the whole country—were the property of limited owners and which were entailed. As to the objection that the Bill was permissive, the Government thought it absolutely essential to maintain freedom of contract, and the manner in which this object was to be attained they regarded as a mere matter of detail. The advantage of the provision on that subject was, that it would prevent a general issue of notices to quit. Most of their Lordships were now aware that the vast majority of tenants were satisfied with the existing state of things, and would see the adoption of the Bill with considerable reluctance—not because it would not be profitable to them, but because they did not like changes. The Bill had therefore to be framed to meet those cases. It was of great importance, indeed, that the provision in question should not be distasteful to either landlords or tenants, and it was difficult at first to ascertain in what direction their tastes would run. As the discussion went on, however, the Government were enlightened on that point, and he did not see that they had done wrong in accepting an alteration.


, referring to the opinion of the Duke of Rutland and himself, as to the time of entry in Derbyshire, recommended six months as the term of notice, in order that tenants might be prevented from exhausting the land.

Amendment agreed to.

Remaining Amendments agreed to, with Amendments.