HL Deb 28 March 1876 vol 228 cc691-5

, in presenting a Bill for amending the Law relating to Agricultural Holdings in Scotland, said: My Lords, it will not be necessary that I should detain your Lordships at any length upon the subject that I wish to bring under your consideration. The matter was so fully gone into in both Houses of Parliament during last Session, and the Bill that was passed as to Agricultural Holdings in England was so thoroughly and fully considered, that it leaves very little for me to say. Your Lordships will recollect that when I had the honour last year of introducing the Bill into this House, I stated that it was the intention of the Government to deal with Scotland in the same manner as they were then dealing with England, and that I should, if it had been possible, have introduced Scotland into the Bill which was then before the House, had we not found that to deal with England and Scotland in the same Bill might lead to inconvenience and confusion, and moreover that it might have tended to delay the English Bill in such a manner as to interfere with its becoming law last Session. Accordingly, we told the House that while we intended to bring in a Bill for Scotland in the same manner as for England, we intended to bring in a Bill for England in the first place, and that all the arguments that would be brought in the discussion would apply to dealing with Scotland, and that we should be able to bring in a Bill relating to that country which would, I hoped, commend itself to the approval of your Lordships. My Lords, I do not think that a Bill with reference to Agricultural Holding in Scotland is of so great a necessity as the Bill on the same subject was in England; and for this reason—that whereas in England I think I am justified in saying that leases are the exception, in Scotland the exact reverse is the order of things, and the exception in Scotland is where there is no lease. No doubt there are a certain number of holdings of no very great size, as to which probably there is no lease; but inasmuch as the Bill includes holdings as low, I think, as two acres, there are very few cases which will not be brought within the scope of this measure. And, at the same time, I must observe that it is my experience that when you get down to holdings of two acres in Scotland, you will not find much unexhausted improvements when the holding has terminated. But, my Lords, the great advantage which we see in this Bill, as applied to Scotland, is the same advantage as we saw in that applied to England; that for the first time it recognizes in that country the presumption of law in favour of the tenant—that the tenant has a legal right to be recouped for the money which he has put into the soil, if at the time of giving up his holding any portion of the benefit of the money so laid out is unexhausted, and which he would lose if he were obliged to give up the holding before he had reaped the fruits of his labour and capital. The Bill for Scotland—with the exception of some few changes in details which are made necessary by the different circumstances of the two countries—is exactly the same as that which has been passed for England. Like the English Act, the Scotch Bill will not interfere with leases, nor with the freedom of contract. The Bill, as in the English Act, sets out in the various clauses the terms of years in which improvements are exhausted or unexhausted, and therefore it gives a very good intimation of what is right and fair between landlord and tenant. It will also place the limited, owner in the same position as the limited owner in England was placed by the Bill of last year. With regard to the Bill itself, that is all I have to say. But I will very shortly explain to your Lordships where it differs from the English Bill. There has been inserted in the Scotch Bill a clause which has not up to this time applied to Scotland, but which it is very desirable should be applied—I mean the clause which stands in the Bill as the 48th clause, where you are dealing with buildings. I am not speaking of fixtures such as are dealt with in the Act of 1875, because we have inserted in the Scotch Bill a clause of precisely the same character as in the English Bill; but I have embodied in this Bill which I hold in my hand that part of the Act of 1851–14 & 15 Vict. c. 25—which has reference to the building of cottages when put up with the written consent of the landlord. The clause which I now put into the Scotch Bill is not in the English Act, and for this obvious reason—that the Act of 1851 applied in that country, and therefore it was not necessary to re-insert that provision in the Act of 1875. I do not think it is necessary for me to go at any great length into the objects of the Bill. They are really precisely the same as in the Act which was passed last year, and I will only point out to you very shortly where it is necessary to vary from the form of the English Act. First of all, the English Act commenced on the 14th of February last, and we propose that this Act shall commence on the 1st of June, 1877; that will give a full period of two terms before it is brought into operation, supposing it finds favour in your Lordships' eyes and it passes through the House of Commons. With respect to the determination of the tenancy, we have put in a provision to suit the practice which is prevalent in Scotland when the time of giving up the house and the crops varies in point of time. The provision we have put in is in Scotch phraseology— Provided that where there is a separate ish or term in the contract of tenancy, then that the last ish contained in the contract of tenancy shall be taken as the determination thereof. There is a similar definition of the determination of the tenancy in the Sheriffs Court Act. With regard to the defini- tion of the owner of land, the Act defines him to be the person who is capable of disposing of it. With regard to the various clauses of the Bill, we follow exactly the phraseology of the English Bill clause by clause. In respect of the "classification of improvements," it has been necessary to make some alterations so as to leave out those provisions in the Scotch Bill which are not applicable to that country. Clause 5 is the first clause; in that we have struck out the words "planting osiers, hops, and orchards," simply because they are not planted in Scotland. In the second clause we strike out "chalking, claying, and marling," which are unknown in Scotch agriculture, and therefore we only leave in "loaming and limeing the land." Then, with regard to the 16th clause, we leave out "tithe rent charge," because it is never paid by the tenant in Scotland; and in regard to the 24th clause, the powers of the Sheriff are to be exercised by him whether he is within or without the county; and we allowed that power because there is no official in Scotland corresponding to the Registrar in England. In Scotland the appeal is to be given to the Court of Session; whereas in England it is to one of the Divisions of the High Court of Justice. The clause relating to married women in the English Bill is struck out of this, it being provided for in the common law of Scotland; and the powers which in England are exercised by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are to be exercised in Scotland, with respect to ecclesiastical lands by the Presbytery of the bounds, and with respect to charity lands by the Lord Advocate. Then, in regard to the notice of removal, which was a question that caused considerable discussion during the passing of the English Bill, that has been under consideration. The practice in Scotland has been that there should be a 40 days 'notice, and that in the absence of such notice, by what is called "a passing of the location," it would be the full term of a year. We propose to alter that, and to give a full year's notice in all cases, as in the English Act. The provision does not apply to leases, nor to any interference with contract. In respect of freedom of contract we have followed the course of the Bill of last year, and, indeed, after the eloquent address of my noble Friend opposite (the Duke of Argyll), even if I were inclined to do—which I certainly am not—I should have very great difficulty in persuading your Lordships to interfere with the freedom of contract. These are the parts of the Bill as to which I have endeavoured to point out in what respects it differs from the English measure, and in all other respects it is as like it as it can be made. I propose that it shall now have a first reading, and that your Lordships shall consider it on the second reading on Friday week.

Bill for amending the Law relating to Agricultural Holdings in Scotland, presented by the Lord President.


said, it would not be expedient to discuss the Bill until it was in print. If, as he gathered from the statement of the noble Duke, it was to be mutatis mutandis the same as the English Bill, the effect would be very much less in Scotland than in England. Probably the indirect effect of the English Bill had been somewhat considerable in inducing parties to have leases; but the Scotch Bill could not have that effect, because the universal practice in Scotland was to have leases. If the measure would increase the power of limited owners to make improvements and charge them on the inheritance that proposition would have his hearty concurrence.

Motion agreed to:—Bill read 1a. (No. 44.)

House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.