§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
said, that in asking their Lordships to give a second reading to this Bill, he felt that his task was considerably shortened and simplified by the fact that the measure embodied, to a great extent, the form and the machinery of the existing Act of 1875 and as far as quantity was concerned, a large part—the largest part—of the Bill did not require explanation or justification from him. But although so much of the present Act, in point of machinery, was preserved, the Government desired to add one thing to that Act which it was admitted by almost universal consent to require, and that was the motive power which should set that machinery in motion. The essential portion of the Bill, the effect of which he would endeavour to state, was contained mainly in Clause 1. What he had called the motive power of the Bill was contained in that clause. That 1st clause declared that a tenant who had made on his holding any improvement, upon quitting his holding was to obtain compensation from his landlord; and. that right was given in the absence of contract, and in certain cases even in spite of contract, to the contrary, under the clause which came later in the Bill. Such compensation under the clause was to consist of such a 1797 sum of money as fairly represented the value of the improvement to an incoming tenant. In that clause, governed and restricted by the clauses which followed, they had the amount of the compulsory principle which the Bill contained, and they had that new standard of compensation, as compared with the existing Act, which they had adopted, and which dispensed with many complications of the Act of 1875, with the compensation periods, and the graduated diminution of the amount of compensation, and so on. And he might say that both of those principles—that of compulsion within certain defined limits, and that of value as the measure of compensation—possessed the sanction and recommendation of the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture. As to the principle of compulsion, he saw that his noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss) had placed upon the Paper a very strong protest against it, and a very lofty declaration of that principle of freedom of contract which he appeared to put on a level with the Ten Commandments; while he seemed to think that the proposal of the Government struck at the very foundations of society. As to the measure of compensation, it would be remembered that the authors of the existing Act had felt a very considerable difficulty, and had changed their proposals several times during the passage of the Bill. In the end, however, they decided to adopt outlay as the measure of compensation with a certain artificial reduction, according to the term of years. Under that system, if the value came within the outlay, then the value became the maximum of the tenant's compensation; if it were greater, then the outlay was the measure of the maximum. That was a system which the Government were certainly not prepared to admit into the Bill. It adopted a standard of compensation of a thoroughly one-sided kind in favour of the landlord or incoming tenant, but not of the outgoing tenant. That system had not commended itself to the mind of the Government, nor to the opinion of the other House of Parliament. They believed that it was not a fair and rational standard to adopt, and that view was supported by some of the best and wisest advocates of the tenants. Mr. Clare Read, in a letter published the other day, described 1798 that system as one under which the landlord would say to the tenant—"Heads I win, tails you lose." It appeared to them that, if the tenant received less than his outlay when what he left behind him was of little value, as it might be, it was but reasonable that when he left behind him as the result of his skill and enterprise a value larger than the outlay, he should not be deprived of that advantage. The Government believed that the standard of value laid down in general terms in the Bill, to be applied in particular cases by competent experts, was the best, fairest, and simplest standard that could be adopted, and that it was a mode of compensation by far the most likely to stimulate and secure the industry of the tenant. But this was limited in the Bill by a Proviso, not proposed by the Government but introduced in Committee, that in fixing the amount of compensation nothing should be taken into account as part of the value produced by the tenant that was justly due to the inherent capabilities of the soil. As to the improvements referred to in the Bill, which were similar to those in the existing Act, they would be found in the Schedule, and were divided into three classes. The first class, contained in Part I., were those which might properly be considered landlord's improvements—namely, those for which it was usual and desirable that the landlord should supply the capital, and which effected permanent changes in the holding. Part II. referred only to drainage. This was a most important improvement, and one which might, they considered, be dealt with separately. They thought it desirable, if it could be brought about, that drainage should be executed by the landlord; but yet it was so important a matter, and in many cases so essential, that if not executed by the landlord, it was their opinion that it should be done by the tenant, and that the tenant in the last resort should be able to execute it and secure compensation for it when done. That was the view taken by the framers of the Bill. The 3rd Part included manures of all kinds, and all those works which produced an improvement of the soil, and were generally executed by the tenant. Then he came to the restrictions on the general enactment in Clause 1. Clause 2 excepted from the application of the Act all improvements executed before 1799 the passing of the Act, except those temporary tenants' improvements which came under Part III. The following clauses dealt with those executed after the Act. With respect to the landlord's improvements in Part I., the consent of the landlord was made essential. As to drainage, under Clause 4, the tenant would not be able to undertake the improvement and claim compensation at the time of quitting his holding, but was bound to give notice to the landlord, so as to give him an opportunity of executing the work himself. Then, if the landlord refused or failed to do this, the tenant was empowered to carry out the work himself, and establish a claim for compensation. As to improvements of temporary effect which, as a rule, could be made by the tenant only, and which it was so desirable that he should make, the Bill imposed no restriction. The Government felt that it was essential that the tenant should be certain of reaping the benefit of his outlay either in the produce of the farm during his tenancy, or in compensation for any remainder of an improvement which he might hand over either to the landlord or to his successor. It had not been thought necessary to draw any distinction between improvements of that kind executed before the commencement of the Act and those executed afterwards. In all other cases the tenant would have no claim for any improvement made before the commencement of the Act. He now came to the clauses which provided that, under certain conditions, agreements between the two parties providing compensation might take the place of the provisions of the Bill. In the case of the improvements mentioned in Parts I. and II. of the Schedule, compensation under any agreement might take the place of the general compensation provided by the Bill. But as to Part III., which dealt with tenants' improvements properly so called, the Bill enacted that agreements between the parties for compensation should be recognized, provided that such agreements were fair and reasonable, and not evasive or illusory. With respect to current tenancies, the Bill said that any existing agreement providing compensation for any specific improvement should hold good and should not be affected by the measure. One clause referred to various matters of set-off which the landlord might put forward against 1800 the tenant's claim. The clause dealing with the subject of notice to quit agreed with the existing Act, with this difference, that it did not make the year's notice to quit absolute, but left it open to the parties to set the clause aside by agreement and to retain the present half-year's notice. Part of the Bill dealt with the subject of distress. It provided that for the future distress should be limited to the amount of one year's rent. It protected to a large extent the live stock belonging to a stranger which might happen to be on the farm, and it protected absolutely agricultural and other machinery belonging to a third party. This limitation of the right of distress did not follow the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, the recommendation of that Commission being that distress should be limited to the amount of two years' rent. The restriction in the Bill to one year, however, was in accord with the opinion of many landlords and tenants, with the provisions of a measure introduced in "another place" by an hon. Gentleman who was a high authority, and with the Report of a Committee presided over by Mr. Goschen. Their Lordships would see that the new legislation they proposed in the Bill was not of a large amount in point of quantity, but it was of great importance in point of quality. They believed that it would make, if adopted by Parliament, a great change. The existing Act, which was very carefully framed, and which formed a remarkable event in the history of their land legislation, especially as proceeding from a Conservative Government, at the same time was an Act which had not produced much direct effect upon the relations between landlord and tenant, so far as compensating the latter for his outlay and improvements was concerned. There was a great difference between that Act and the measure now before their Lordships, which the Government hoped and believed would not be a dead letter, but would work efficiently and provide security for tenant farmers in making those improvements which it was so greatly to the public interest that they should undertake. His noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss) said he was—Ready to promote a well-considered measure for the advancement of agriculture and the im- 1801 provement, so far as possible by legislation, of the relations of landlord and tenant;but that he was not prepared to interfere with freedom of contract and destroy the foundations of society.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
What did the noble Earl mean by his well-considered measure? He was ready to support a Bill provided it were purely permissive, without the slightest element of compulsion. That was what the words meant if they meant anything. He did not think that, in the present circumstances, and with the experience they had now obtained, the noble Earl would be able to satisfy the House that such a measure, however well-considered, would do any good whatever, or have any effect; and he should like very much to see him endeavour to satisfy upon that point an audience of tenant farmers, say, for example, in the county of Haddington. He had great suspicion of the soundness of the application of a principle of that kind, when it was made solely and exclusively by one of the two parties whose relations it was to regulate, and when it was absolutely repudiated by the other. He readily admitted that in these matters the burden of proof lay on those who proposed to depart from freedom of contract; but he entirely denied that Parliament had ever so neglected its duty as to set up that principle as an absolute barrier, which was to leave them no liberty whatever to deal with the various cases that came before them upon their merits. Parliament had frequently interfered with the principle of freedom of contract. He himself was a colliery owner, and his freedom and his pocket in that capacity were far more seriously interfered with by existing legislation than his freedom or his interests as a landowner would be by the provisions of the present Bill. In ordinary times a tenant was not in a position in which he could readily make a sufficient agreement with his landlord for the purpose of protecting and securing his improvements. This was not a theory or a speculation; it was a matter of experience. But he was not anxious to defend the limited amount of compulsion which the Bill would introduce upon that ground. He would sooner defend it on the ground of public policy. At present, want of security 1802 either prevented the tenant from making those improvements which were so desirable, or exposed him to the risk of finding at the expiration of his tenancy that a considerable amount of his outlay was for ever lost to him, with all the heartburning and discontent that must follow. As a matter of public policy, believing that contracts adverse to the tenant's claim were distinctly impolitic, and were upon the same footing as contracts in restraint of trade, and that the absence of safe agreements, upon which the tenant could rely, was a very great public evil—on those grounds they proposed the principle contained in this Bill. They, in fact, proposed by this Bill to create a general custom, which should attach to all tenancies, unless the landlord and tenant bad agreed between themselves in some other way, for which the Bill left ample scope, provided that the agreement were not unfair or unreasonable. That was what they were bound to do if they were to do any good. They had ample experience on this subject, and they had had ample inquiry. They had had eight years' experience of a permissive measure, and they had the advantage of a most thorough and laborious inquiry made by the Commission presided over by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) with such ability, patience, and public spirit; and what was the result of that experience and inquiry? At the time that the Act of 1875 was passed the opinion was strongly held that the permissive operation of that Act would give very little result in the matter of compensation for tenants' improvements. He was not surprised that the experiment of permissive legislation should have been made; it had been made, and they had now the great benefit of that experience, and the Royal Commission on Agriculture had had the benefit of it, and had given them the result of their inquiry, which result was probably known to their Lordships. They recommended that the principles of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875, should be made compulsory in all cases in which compensation was not otherwise provided for, and that it should depend upon the additional value given to the holding. In point of principle, the Bill before the House was substantially founded upon the recommendations of that Report. That experiment hav- 1803 ing been made, the fact being, as proved by all the evidence and Reports of' the Royal Commission, that for the most part, and in the greatest number of cases, nothing had come of it, and that the English tenant farmers did not possess by voluntary agreement with their landlords that security for their improvements which everyone admitted, and many so loudly proclaimed to be essential, he would like to ask their Lordships whether it would be possible for the present Government, or any other Government, to bring in au Agricultural Holdings Bill now which should rest exclusively on the permissive principle? That was the case he had to put, and he ventured to recommend the Bill to the acceptance of their Lordships. He thought it contained two very essential characteristics—namely, moderation and efficiency—which had recommended it more and more, as time went on, to the good opinion of both the great classes with which it had to deal; and he confidently trusted that the general approval of their Lordships would make it the law of the land.
Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord President.)
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
, in rising to move the following Amendment:—That this House, while ready to promote a well-considered measure for the advancement of agriculture and the improvement, so far as possible by legislation, of the relations of landlord and tenant, is not prepared to give its sanction to a Bill which, in agricultural tenancies, forbids free contract in the future and breaks it in the east, thus destroying the foundation upon which alone agriculture, trade, and. commerce can securely rest,said, he thought most of their Lordships would agree with him that it was of evil augury that the moving of the second reading of this Bill had been intrusted to an Irishman, and that it had been moved by his noble Friend, who, in the year 1870, as Mr. Chichester Fortescue, had introduced the first Irish Land Bill. He well remembered the speech in which his noble Friend had moved that Bill. No doubt, he very ably performed his part; but there was this peculiarity in what he had said on that occasion—when he referred to previous attempts at legislation in this direction, he used a refrain throughout his remarks to this effect—"But, Sir, we have made a great advance since 1804 then." He (the Earl of Wemyss) did not know whether it would be five or ten years hence when his noble Friend, or some other noble and heroic Lord, would come down to their Lordships' House to propose further legislation on the same lines, and, pointing to the present measure, would say, in the words of 1870—"But, my Lords, we have made a great advance since then." He did not propose to follow his noble Friend into all the details of the Bill. The noble Lord had said that he (the Earl of Wemyss) thought more highly of the principle of free contract than of the Ten Commandments. Well, he did think highly of the principle of free contract, and certainly more highly than, judging from the legislation of late, Her Majesty's Government and his noble Friend thought of the Decalogue. One Bill was a violation of the Tenth Commandment, by allowing men to covet their neighbours' goods; another Bill was a violation of the Ninth Commandment, by allowing a man to speak ill of his neighbour; and, finally, the principle of the Eighth Commandment had disappeared from the Bill, because the property of one man was to be taken from him and transferred to his neighbour. He knew that in asking the House to pass his Resolution he had a difficult task; but was that Resolution untrue? His conviction was, that every step which they took in this kind of legislation, so far from improving the relations between landlord and tenant, embittered and injured them; and he did not believe that there was any possibility of legislation of this kind improving agriculture, or the conditions under which landlord, and tenant were now standing in regard to each other. His noble Friend had made merry upon the first part of his Resolution; but that was only the padding of the Resolution, the whole substance of it was in the end. It was to the latter part of the Resolution to which he would call their Lordships' attention—namely,That this House is not prepared to give its sanction to a Bill which, in agricultural tenancies, forbids free contract in the future and breaks it in the past, thus destroying the foundation upon which alone agriculture, trade, and commerce can securely rest.Now, was it or was it not true that the foundation of agriculture, trade, and commerce rested on free contract, and 1805 that throughout the civilized world all trading rested on free contract? The Government were asking the House to do away with freedom of contract in the most important commercial relation in the world. He would, therefore, be justified in asking them to pause and consider the question seriously—How was it brought about that the two great Parties in the State were agreed in suppressing freedom of trade in land? They must cross the Irish Channel if they would see how they got into their present position. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Fitzgerald) stated the other day that at one time all that Irish patriots asked for was compensation for improvements made with the consent of the landlords, and anything like the "three F's" was never thought of. Sir George Cornwall Lewis declared that all Ireland wanted was a Poor Law; and Mr. Cardwell, in 1860, only advocated the compensation he had referred to. In 1870, however, a great change came over the Government; a new dispensation commenced, and the Act of 1870 was introduced; while in 1881 all the confiscatory provisions were introduced in the Government Bill which in 1870 had been denounced as too preposterous to be mentioned. On what plea were the changes introduced in 1881?—the plea of justice and remedial legislation. There was a debate on the subject in that House the other night, and all the justice that appeared was the taking away of property from one man and giving it to another, and taking the hard-earned money of the loyal, well-affected, hard-working labourer and artizan, in the form of increased taxation, and giving it to the not over loyal tenants of Ireland. ["Oh!"] What else was the Arrears Bill?
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
Well, that was robbing the Church, which was worse still. He did not desire to use hard terms; but he wished they could take to heart the lines of Burns—O wad some power the giftie gie us, To see ourselves as ithers see us!He should like to give the House the opinion of an American divine, who stated that every muscle of him was Liberal, but over the Irish Land Act his Liberal notions got completely mixed. 1806 Could it be said that justice had been done by these measures, or that they had had any remedial effect? Was it not a fact that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland went about protected in fear of his life, and every Cabinet Minister had at least one detective, and some two or three, surrounding their houses by night and day, while Ireland was in a state of disaffection and disloyalty such as, he believed, had not been known in the present generation? He was in Ireland immediately after the Election of 1879, when the country was in a comparatively peaceful state. He was in Ireland also after the remedial Bill of 1881 had passed, and he could speak to the state of the country during those two periods. After the remedial legislation he found "Boycotting" in full force — school boards, clothing clubs, even a short-horned bull was "Boycotted." The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) declared that next Session, if he had sufficiently recovered, he would tell the House what the consequences of the Irish Land Act were. The consequences were apparent everywhere, in the general demoralization which this land agitation had produced. It could be traced in speeches out of Parliament, at farmers' alliances, and in other matters connected with agriculture. They could trace it in Bills brought in by patriotic and public-spirited manure merchants and agricultural implement makers, who found Parliament by far the best and cheapest means of advertising their wares. And it could be traced in that Bill which they were then asked to read a second time. If they wanted further evidence, let them turn to an inquiry which was made recently in the House of Commons of the Government—namely, whether, having regard to the measures which had been passed dealing with agricultural improvements, the Government were prepared to consider the question of protecting the tenant's mineral and other rights from confiscation by the enforcement of fines on the transfer of leases, and so forth? The answer was that the question touched a matter of great importance, which it would be the duty of the Government to give attention to if it were brought forward in such manner as to make them believe they were called on to consider it. That simply meant that if a sufficient number of votes depended on it, a Commission would 1807 issue to inquire into these matters. There were two noble Lords, supporters of the Government, who, between them, owned the major part of London. He warned them to note the signs of the times, and to keep their political weather eye open. He was under the impression that freedom from State restriction and freedom of the individual in the management of his own affairs were the tradition and shibboleth of the Liberal Party. A Liberal writer in 1860 declared that there was nothing now left for the Liberals to do, and there was no grievance which any reasonable men could complain of; but that writer little knew that Liberalism could go back on all its traditions and all its policy. The Land Bills of 1870, 1881, and 1883 were milestones which marked the backward track in the legislation of the Liberal Party; and if their policy was that of Jack Cade, their dealings in respect to property were those of Dick Turpin. It was difficult, however, to say on which of the two great Parties rested the main portion of the responsility in this matter. No doubt, the Liberal Party were primarily responsible; but they were not alone to blame. The Conservative Party in the House of Lords, if they had fought against this backward policy at all, had only done so to knuckle down to it. The Royal Commission presided over by the Duke of Richmond, if words meant anything, reported in favour of intereference with contract. A friend had told him (the Earl of Wemyss) of an interview with the Earl of Beaconsfield at Hughenden. He was giving him the latest information with respect to public affairs, and began by referring to foreign matters, when he was suddenly interrupted by the exclamation of the noble Earl—"Oh, never mind about foreign affairs. Tell me what they are doing at home." The narrator proceeded to say that the Duke of Richmond's Commission had reported in favour of fixing rent, on which the Earl of Beaconsfield jumped from the sofa on which he sat and cried—"By God, if they have done that, the Government can carry any Land Bill they choose?"
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
I am sorry to interrupt; but when my noble Friend makes these assertions, and when I know exactly what did take place, I am bound not to let my noble Friend make an assertion 1808 which has no foundation in fact. What did take place was this. I am not ashamed to say it—and I think it is most natural that I should have done it—that before I submitted that preliminary Report relating to Ireland to my Colleagues, and before it was published, it was laid before Lord Beaconsfield, and it was published, after I had consulted him, with his sanction and approval.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, he had no doubt that that was perfectly true; but it was equally true that the story he had related was told to him in the language which he had quoted to their Lordships, and that the person to whom those words were uttered told him the story. But, be that as it might, the present Prime Minister had always referred to the Report of the Richmond Commission as the justification for his legislation of 1881. But the question he would put to their Lordships was this—Would this Bill be for the benefit of agriculture? If every line of the present Bill had been in operation during the last 10 years, did they think the state of agriculture in this country would have been a whit more prosperous, or the land in better heart? Certainly not. It was notorious that it was due to the bad seasons, and not to the want of any legislation of that kind, that the farmers had been in the state which they all deplored for the last few years. There was one county in England — Lincolnshire—in which that system existed; and yet that county had suffered as much as any other in the Kingdom. All that kind of legislation was neither more nor less than a bid for the farmer's vote; and he was certain that if the votes had been the other way they would not have have that sort of legislation. It was comical to note—for everything in this world had its comic side—that, concurrently with that kind of legislation, a great part of the time of the other House of Parliament had been occupied in legislating against electoral corruption, and in passing an Act which branded as a criminal, and sent to prison, the man who gave a glass of beer to a voter; while Bills, such as that now before their Lordships, which were nothing but the wholesale bribery of the farming class, were called statesmanship, and remedial legislation. The fact was, his noble Friend who introduced the debate ought 1809 to have dressed himself as a herald, and cried—"Largesse, largesse, largesse, for the agricultural electors!" But would the agricultural electorate, when they came to look beyond their noses, thank their Lordships for that kind of legislation? He thought not. If Parliament was going to step in and enable a tenant to take compulsorily from the landlord compensation for his unexhausted improvements, did they not think that the labourer when he was enfranchised would not say—"It is all very well giving the farmer compensation for his unexhausted manures, but of what value would those manures be but for the hands and the sweat of the labourer who had spread them?" Would not the labourer be tempted to ask them to fix the rate of wages so as to give him the unexhausted value of his labour? Therefore, the farmer, looking at the possible consequences, would not be so grateful to their Lordships as might be supposed. They were, moreover, as in Ireland, shaking the confidence of the commercial classes by this sort of legislation. He feared he had undertaken a hopeless task in calling on their Lordships to resist such a measure as this; but he trusted there might be found a sufficient number to enter a protest against it. Were they quite sure that what they were doing would be popular with the farmers? Governments were too apt to listen to the noisy busy-bodies, to Chambers of Agriculture, and to Farmers' Alliance meetings, and to think that they represented the agricultural classes. That reminded him of the saying, that to listen to the grasshoppers they would suppose they were the only inhabitants of the field in which a herd of oxen were silently grazing. He held in his hand a letter from Mr. Charles Rann, a tenant-farmer, cultivating 500 acres of land on the most improved system, and who was a member of the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society. The writer said he entirely concurred in the noble Earl's strong objection in principle to the Government's Agricultural Holdings Bill; but he protested against the assumption, as unjust to the farmers, that the Bill was one of their seeking, which it assuredly was not; and he added that he had never met with one of that class who showed the slightest interest in the Measure, which was the offspring of the Chambers of Agriculture—not of the farming class 1810 —and was based on the grossest fallacy, and wrong in principle. He (the Earl of Wemyss) had thus cited the opinion of one of the best practical farmers in England to show that the Bill was not desired by the farming class. He had only this more to say, that he trusted a certain number of their Lordships might possibly be induced to raise their voice against that revolutionary kind of legislation. He said, advisedly, revolutionary, because, disguise it from themselves as they might, lay what flattering unction to their souls they might, they had ever since 1870 been passing through the throes of a social revolution. That revolution might not have been accompanied by the usual concomitants of revolution, bloodshed, and gunpowder, although in Ireland those concomitants certainly had not been wanting; but it had been going on through the certain and steady operation of Acts of Parliaments. He would ask their Lordships to enter their protest against measures of this kind—measures which were contrary to all preconceived notions of political economy; and he would ask them in particular to enter their protest against this Bill, which struck, in principle, at the very root of trade, commerce, industry, and national welfare, forbidding free contract in the future, breaking it in the past, and socialistically regulating the affairs of landlord and tenant. On these grounds he begged to move the Amendment of which he had given Notice.
Amendment moved,To leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting ("this House, while ready to promote a well-considered measure for the advancement of agriculture and the improvement, so far as possible by legislation, of the relations of landlord and tenant, is not prepared to give its sanction to a Bill which, in agricultural tenancies, forbids free contract in the future and breaks it in the past, thus destroying the foundation upon which alone agriculture, trade, and commerce can securely rest.")—(The Earl of Wemyss.)
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, that the Bill which was now before their Lordships was a Bill which referred exclusively to England; and if it were not that it was about to be followed in a few days by another Bill of exactly the same character applying to Scotland, he should certainly not have trespassed upon the attention of their Lordships on the present occasion. But having in the House 1811 and elsewhere repeatedly asserted, in very strong terms, the desirability and policy of maintaining the principle of freedom of contract in regard to all such questions, he was desirous of explaining very shortly why he was not able to follow his noble Friend on the Cross Benches in the Resolution he had just moved. In the first place, he was unable to follow him on account of the terms of that Resolution. When he (the Duke of Argyll) first read it he confessed he was disappointed in his noble Friend. He thought his noble Friend was the Simon Pure of Free Trade. He thought his noble Friend was a sort of rock of adamant around which the excitement of political opinion on this subject might have surged in vain. He thought his noble Friend was a standard-bearer, in whose hands the standard of freedom of contract would never shake. What was his astonishment when he saw that their Lordships were asked by a solemn declaration to say whether they were willing to consider some legislative measure which might improve agriculture and the relations between landlord and tenant—
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Yes, as far as possible. He did not think his noble Friend got well out of the Question put to him by the Lord President of the Council—"What was the meaning of those words?" The answer of the noble Lord was that the words meant nothing; that they were mere padding.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
He wondered his noble Friend had shown the House of which he was a Member such want of respect as to ask them, upon so grave and important a subject, to vote the solemn declaration in his Resolution and then declare it was mere padding. Supposing a majority of their Lordships did so, and that the Bill was rejected, and that his noble Friend went to a great assembly of the people of the farming class and was asked, What did the 1812 House of Lords mean by voting a Resolution that there should be some interference with the relations of landlord and tenant, and that his only answer on behalf of this great historic Assembly was that it was mere padding, would such an explanation add to the credit of their Lordships' House? Another reason why he could not agree with his noble Friend's Resolution was that the description he had given of the Bill, open as the Bill might be to objection, was not a fair and accurate description. He stated this broadly—that he would not vote for the Resolution of his noble Friend whatever his opinion on the question of freedom of contract might be. His noble Friend hardly ever referred to the details of the Bill, or to its general character.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
He kept absolute silence on that point, and treated the Bill as if it were nothing but one series of clauses forbidding, invading, and overriding free contract. That was not a fair and just description of the Bill; and he must also say that his noble Friend the Lord President, who was sponsor to the Bill, hardly did justice to his own case when he dwelt on the interference which the Bill proposed to make with freedom of contract, because he failed to point out to the House that the very largest parts of the Bill—perhaps the most important parts of it—were those clauses which did not interfere with free contract, but which, on the contrary, wore intended to elicit and call forth contract where no contract existed. And that was the most important part in connection with the actual state of landed property in England. He recollected asking a noble Lord, the proprietor of a large estate of historical name, and whose Predecessor was one of the most eminent agriculturists that England had ever seen, what were the agreements he made with his tenants in regard to these circumstances, and he replied that he had no agreements with his tenants, but that it was mere custom, mere usage which directed the relations between himself and his tenants. That might be an advantageous system in some cases, but it was not, in his opinion, sound as a matter of business; and one of the most important reasons why he 1813 supported this Bill was, that in future all the relations between landlord and tenat would, as far as possible, be reduced to written agreements, definite in their nature, and giving to both parties a clear view of their respective rights. Since his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss) had rested his whole case against the Bill on an abstract argument about free contract, he hoped the House would allow him to say a few words in reference to his view on that matter. In doing so he would respect the time of the House, remembering above all things that it was not a debating society, but a Legislative Assembly—an Assembly of practical men looking at things from a practical point of view. He asked them from that point of view to look back to the course of legislation during the past 50 or 60 years. At the beginning of the present century the Statute Book was incumbered with a multitude of laws directed in various ways to restrict and protect industrial production, and the relations between man and man on money and money's worth. It was the teaching of the great political economists of that time that all those laws were mistakes, and that in respect to these matters, in the purely economical business relations between man and man, self-interest was the most powerful of all motives, and a sufficient motive to which Parliament should trust for economical progress and success. Accordingly, during the last 60 years one after another of these laws had been repealed—the Laws of Apprenticeship, the Laws of Usury, and the laws dealing with all those items of the Tariff that were directed to the protection of particular industrial pursuits. And, contemporary with all these laws, there had been a long series of Acts bringing the law, for the first time, into relation with human affairs, such as Acts for the protection of life, of health, and of morals. Now, his noble Friend on the Cross Benches had twice or three times been in collision with this House on the application of the abstract principle of Free Trade to the question of legislation, and the majority of the House, or, at any rate, an equality of votes, were against him in the view he took. He (the Duke of Argyll) would not deny for a moment that this Bill was a Bill interfering with individual liberty in the purely economic sense. It was 1814 not a Bill for the protection of life, of health, or of morals. This was a Bill to protect purely industrial pursuits, and to regulate contracts between man and man, His noble Friend who was in charge of the Bill, in the course of his speech, said that the onus probandi must fall on those who recommended any interference with individual freedom in this particular direction. It was a tremendous onus. In the province of purely economic production, in the bargaining for money or money's worth between man and man, there was a tremendous reason against any interference with the law. Now, he would be the last man to say that in all points of value the relation between landlord and tenant was a purely commercial relation. They knew very well, especially in England, that was not so; it was a relation of long and ancient connection, of personal respect and traditional feeling; but as regarded legislation it had always been held to be a matter of business, and, in his opinion, it was most important that it should continue to be so. Then, he would ask this question—Was there any circumstance peculiar to the relation of landlord and tenant which justified and demanded, or called for and rendered expedient, a certain amount of interference with pure matters of business? He had always thought there was one circumstance, and that was this—the state of the Common Law in England in regard to the property and fixtures of the soil. So far as he knew, the relation between a landlord and tenant, between the owner and hirer of land, was the only business relation in which this happened—that the capital of one man at once became the property of another. That was the Common Law of property, and it rested on very good ground. But it did constitute an exceptional circumstance which justified some interference on the part of the Legislature. Now, what was the amount of interference which was justifiable? He would answer that question frankly. His opinion was this—and it was the same opinion as that expressed, he thought, in course of last year by his noble Friend (Lord Hartington) in a speech in Lancashire, when he said that, in his opinion, the presumption of the law in regard to property or capital invested in the soil ought to be reversed, that then the two parties, landlord and tenant, 1815 would be placed on an equal footing, and that beyond that there ought to be no interference with the principles of freedom of contract. He agreed in the opinion thus expressed by Lord Hartington, and he regretted that, under the influence of political position, the noble Lord should have been led to depart from that ground. But, that being his opinion, was he bound to follow it under all circumstances, and under all conditions? Was he not to look at what he called the political situation on this question? He was bound to do so. Every public man was bound to do so. It was all very well to express one's personal opinion; but if he found he could not carry it into effect, he was bound to look at the political side of the question, and see what was the next best thing that could be done. That was the spirit in which he looked at this Bill. What happened in regard to the Agricultural Holdings Bill? His noble Friend opposite would recollect that during the debates that took place upon that Bill he resisted then all the arguments that were advanced in favour of making the Act compulsory. It was now stated that that Act had been inefficient and ineffective. He held, however, that it had, on the contrary, had a very considerable effect, although that effect had not been direct. It had compelled a great many proprietors to make, for the first time, written contracts with their tenants. A great many statements that were made about the so-called failure of the Act were the grossest of fallacies. It was said—"Look how many persons, including the officers in charge of the Crown estates, contracted themselves out of the Act!" But why did those people contract themselves out of it? Simply because they had previously made better agreements with their tenants. It was not that they were unwilling to secure what the Act aimed at, but that they knew that they could obtain those advantages by better and more efficient means. It was not true that landlords contracted themselves out of the Act in order to cheat and overbear their tenants. In the evidence taken before the Royal Commission, there was conclusive evidence that in almost all the counties of England the tenants were unwilling to enter upon the Act of 1875. They disliked the machinery, but above all they disliked the novelty of the pro- 1816 ceeding, and they wished to go on in the old way. It seemed a strange thing that when an Act had failed, because nobody had wished to come under it, the cry should be raised to make it compulsory. There never was such an absurd argument used. New circumstances had arisen since then. There had been great agricultural distress; the tenants had felt themselves pinched in many quarters. Instead of looking to the seasons, which was the real cause of their misfortunes, or to the scale of their rents, the tenants had, as men in distress would always did—asked Parliament to do what was called "something" for them, and under the pressure of that feeling the leading, men of both Parties had committed themselves to some measure of this kind. Under these circumstances, he had only to ask himself this question, Was this a reasonable and moderate compromise in respect to this question of interference with private right? And he was bound to say, looking at the Report which the Government had of the Royal Commission, signed by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) and by the noble Duke behind him (the Duke of Buccleuch), who represented so largo a mass of property in England and Scotland—looking at that Report, he was bound to say that he thought the Government had tried to embody in this Act as reasonable and fair conditions as perhaps it was possible for them to do. Under these circumstances, he accepted the general bearing of the Bill, and its general principle, as at least doing as much good and doing as little harm as any Bill of the kind ever did. With these feelings, he declined to vote with his noble Friend (the Earl of Wemyss), and he should vote for the second reading of the Bill. He should have some Amendments to propose in Committee, and he might as well say what the principal of them were. The Bill applied to existing contracts. That was a very strong measure. Even the Hares and Rabbits Bill, which referred to a matter of urgent and pressing importance—because there was no doubt the farmer could not grow crops if they were eaten up by rabbits—even that Bill was not allowed to apply to existing leases. Indirectly that Bill would have a great effect upon existing leases, because most of them would be unwilling to have one 1817 set of tenants with certain privileges on one side of the hedge, and another set of tenants on the other side without them. Most of them, therefore, by voluntary agreement, had decided to apply the principle of that Act to existing contracts. But the present Bill, unlike the Hares and Rabbits Bill, applied to existing leases. He would submit to the application of the Bill to existing leases except in certain cases. He was willing to apply it to all the existing leases which were silent on the subject. That was a very strong thing to do, because, after all, even although leases were silent upon this particular subject, both parties did know what their rights and privileges were before they came to Parliament. All he should ask the House to decide was this—that the Bill should not override specific contracts in existing leases which referred to this particular matter. The Bill said it should not apply to leases where there was any equivalent for compensation provided in the lease. But what it did not say was this, that it should not apply to leases where there was any specific written agreement or contract excluding such improvements as were mentioned in the Bill. Then, in the case of drainage, the Bill gave a power to the tenant to make unlimited demands on the landlord. The tenant under the Bill might claim for every field on his farm. He thought that was a very strong way of legislating between two business men; but he should not object to the provision where the existing lease provided that a certain sum should be laid out on drainage and no more, and the landlord should not be called on to carry out more than that bargain stipulated. There was one other Amendment which was important in principle, and which he hoped his noble Friend would admit, and that was in regard to the execution of drainage. He knew, from experience, that drainage executed by a tenant was generally rather scamped work. He drained for his own period of occupation and for nothing else. That period of occupation might be very short. He might put in stones, or bushes, or anything else, which was of no value, and at the end of the lease he might claim the full value of such improvements, while it was impossible to estimate the true value of the work without taking up the drains to see how they were constructed. One thing the Bill proposed 1818 to provide was, that the tenant should furnish a specification of the work; but, strange to say, by the terms of the Bill, the tenant having given that specification, need not abide by it. He could not believe that his noble Friend would resist the proposal that where the drainage was done by the tenant, it should be in the power of the landlord to employ Commissioners to inspect the work as it was carried out. These were the principal points on which he would ask the House to amend the Bill. He would not say they were the only points, but they were the chief ones, and he was sure they would receive such fair and candid consideration from his noble Friend in charge of the measure as he had attempted to give to the measure itself.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
said, that, as the author of the first enactment which dealt with tenant's improvements, and as having had the honour to preside for three years over a Royal Commission, which conducted a most exhaustive inquiry into all matters connected with agriculture, besides having been for many years engaged in agricultural pursuits, and having been in constant intercourse with all classes of the agricultural community, he thought that the House had a right to expect an opinion from him on the Bill before their Lordships. He could not help saying that he thought the conduct of the Government with regard to the time at which this measure had been brought before their Lordships' House was a matter open to considerable censure. A measure so largely affecting the landed property of this country, and so preeminently capable of being discussed by their Lordships, should have been brought up to that House at a period when it could have received a full, fair, and complete consideration. That it would receive a fair consideration he had not the smallest doubt; but he thought, judging from the appearance of the House, they could hardly expect to give it that full and complete consideration which they were justified in thinking they should have an opportunity of giving it; and he could not help thinking that the conduct of the Government in preferring the discussion of the Corrupt Practices Bill, which was a measure wholly and solely affecting the other House of Parliament—putting that before the measure then under con- 1819 sideration—was a proceeding which, as he had said before, was open to very considerable censure. They had, however, the Bill at last; and he would shortly express his opinion upon it. He desired to take a practical view of the measure without going into those lofty arguments which his noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss) had imported into the discussion. With regard to the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875, to which attention had been called, he knew that it used to be the fashion to describe it as a failure and a dead letter, and that it was a measure which had had no practical effect; but he agreed with his noble Friend that the evidence before the Royal Commission proved that in many cases it had been productive of considerable good. He recollected in one of those numerous speeches made by the Prime Minister in Mid Lothian he had described the measure as the most abortive piece of legislation it had ever been his good fortune to consider; and he had also stated that two eminent agriculturists with whom he had discussed the measure told him that they looked at the Act but had not read it, as they considered it useless. It had always remained a mystery to him (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) how those gentlemen could have formed a conclusion as to the merits of the Bill before they had read it. His own impression was that neither of those gentlemen nor the Prime Minister had taken the trouble to read the Bill at that time. His noble Friend who introduced the Bill had described the Act of 1875 as one most carefully framed; he (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) hoped that previously to the next Cabinet his noble Friend would remind the Prime Minister that he was wrong on that occasion, and that it was, at all events, a useful measure. He found that out of 63 clauses in the Bill now before the House no less than 35 were taken out of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875. At the time when he had had the honour of introducing that measure it would have been perfectly impossible to have brought in a compulsory measure, and he was bound to say that he regretted that it had now been found necessary and expedient to depart from the principle of freedom of contract. But he thought, as practical men, they must face the inevitable, and that it was desirable when the great bulk of the country were agreed 1820 that something of the kind was necessary that they should accept the principle of the Bill, and that was that the tenant was entitled to be repaid the money he had laid out in the cultivation of the soil, and that if he was not entitled to that by some agreement or compact with his landlord, then it was necessary that Parliament should step in and provide some means by which he should be so compensated. That was in the interests of landlords, tenants, and the whole community alike, because it would improve the condition of agriculture in the country, and induce the tenant to keep his land in high condition up to the very last hour of his lease; and that was one of the great advantages of this measure—the inducement to the tenant to farm as if his lease were never coming to an end. That principle was recognized in the Bill, and in the Report of the Royal Commission—and he wished to call their Lordships' attention to the constitution of the Commission, because it was a Commission composed of men of all classes of society, and of all political opinions—tenant farmers from Scotland, from England, and from Ireland, noble Lords Members of that House, and hon. Gentlemen Members of the other House of Parliament. The Commission was so composed, and numbered about 20 Members, and they came to a Report unanimously agreed to by every Member; and in that Report they said—We are of opinion that, notwithstanding the beneficial effects of the Agricultural Holdings Act, there are many parts of Great Britain in which no such sufficient compensation for his unexhausted improvements is secured to the tenant. In many cases landlords have not offered and tenants have omitted to ask for the fair compensation which we believe it is the interest of both that the tenant should enjoy, and to which we think he is entitled. In some counties and districts this compensation is given by established customs; in some customs are insufficient or do not exist. Upon the most careful examination of the evidence before us, we have arrived at the conclusion that further legislative provision should be made for securing to tenants the compensation to which they are equitably entitled in respect of their outlay, and we recommend that the principles of the Agricultural Holdings Act relating to compensation should be made compulsory in all cases where compensation is not otherwise provided for.They came to that conclusion in consequence of the evidence brought before them. He found, therefore, that on the Commission they were unanimous in 1821 that recommendation; and he believed that, notwithstanding all that had been stated by his noble Friend on the Cross Benches, there was a practical unanimity in the country that something of the kind was necessary. He believed it was now the time to pass a just and moderate measure; and from his acquaintance with the farmers, he knew that they were the very last men in the world who would wish to have anything but a just and moderate measure. He did not think that they went at all with their self-elected leaders, who sought, under the guise of tenant right, to transfer the property of the landlord to the tenant, or had the slightest intention or desire to share in that responsibility of joint ownership, which was so often contended for by those who agitated on the subject. He believed that the tenantry of this country would be satisfied with a just and moderate measure; and he shared those feelings with them, and with those who had dealt with this question, both in the other House of Parliament and in their Lerdships' House, and utterly repudiated the ignoble motives that had been attributed to them by his noble Friend who sat on the Cross Benches. He had listened to his remarks, and really, during the greater part of his speech, he could not help thinking that he was sleeping, and that he had gone back some years, and that they were discussing an Irish Land Bill. The whole of the speech was directed to the mischief of the legislation with regard to Ireland. Then, again, he entirely declined to take his view of the state of agriculture in this country, and of the remedies necessary to be brought forward, from the mouth of an American divine. The noble Lord declared that the country was "now in the throes of a social revolution." He should be very sorry if it were so; but he did not think himself justified in taking so exaggerated a view of the subject. He had made use of language which was very unworthy of him; and he thought they had good cause of complaint of the way in which the noble Lord spoke of them in his letters. The noble Lord had reproduced a good deal of his last letter in his speech; but he observed that he had left out the remarks of which he complained. The noble Lord declared that, disguise the truth as they might under specious phrases—bury it no matter how deep under Agricultural Com- 1822 missioners' Reports—Liberals and Conservatives alike had cast principle and sound economic doctrine aside.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND CORDON
said, that, for his own part, he protested against such a statement. The noble Earl had no right to impute to any Members of the House, or the body of the House, that they were guilty of dishonourable conduct.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
I rise to Order. There is not anything in the words quoted by the noble Duke implying dishonourable conduct. What I referred to are sound principles of government and sound economic principles, and I am ready to repeat that these have, by both Parties, been cast aside.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
said, he must also repeat what he had said, and leis opinion that the words "specious phrases" implied dishonourable conduct.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
Then the noble Lord went on in the same strain, declaring, in phraseology more distinct than elegant, that the two sides of the House were playing a game of grab for the farmers' votes. He denied that. Those who supported and those who introduced the Bill were sustaining those doctrines and principles which they believed to be just, fair, and proper, in the interests of the very large and important agricultural class of this country. He therefore repudiated altogether the statement of the noble Earl that they were playing at the game of grab for the farmers' votes. The noble Lord proceeded to say that they had had 10 years of agricultural depression, and asked the Commissioners to say in what way the Act would have prevented that depression. That showed that he could not have read the Report. At page 24 it was stated that—All without distinction have been involved in a general calamity. It is important that it should be clearly understood so that undue stress may not be laid upon suggestions for legislative changes, which, whether expedient or not, have no direct or immediate connection with the distress of the present.The noble Earl asked whether the Bill would have prevented the distress. The Commissioners answered "No;" and every one with common sense would agree with them. He finished by asking 1823 the House to give their vote against the measure by supporting the Resolution which stood in his name; but instead of moving the rejection of the Bill, the noble Earl brought forward an Amendment which, even if passed, would still leave the Bill alive. If the whole argument of the noble Earl was not a sham, he was bound to move that the Bill be read a second time on that day six months; but, in place of that proposal, he had moved a Resolution which served as a peg on which to hang a very long, very eloquent, but, in some cases, not very correct speech. Whether the Bill went beyond what justice really required or not might be a fair subject for consideration in Committee; but he, for one, should extremely regret if, by any vote of their Lordships' House, the second reading were not carried. At the same time, he was quite certain that, if passed, the measure would have no effect whatever in a great number—perhaps the majority—of cases in the country. He believed, in the enormous majority of instances, things would go on just as before. They were, however, agreed as to the principles on which the Bill proceeded, and he looked at the measure as an honest attempt to settle a very difficult question, and one which, if not carefully dealt with, might entail very difficult and dangerous consequences at some future time. He was aware that it would be improper to deal with the question in detail at this stage; but he would suggest certain points in which he thought Amendments might with advantage be introduced. In Clause 7, line 15, he thought the words "Parts I. and II." should be left out. He could not understand why Parts I. and II. should be put in and Part III. left out. Part III. was the one of all to which the clause should apply. In Clause 2 some words should be introduced to limit the time before which compensation should not he claimed. A tenant might claim for liming done 40 years ago, and though probably no valuer would allow it, still the landlord should not be exposed to the annoyance of having the claim made. He proposed to fix the limit at eight years, just twice the time for which a landlord could claim compensation from his tenants for waste. With regard to the limitation of the Law of Distress, he wished to remind their Lordships that, although the Bill professed— 1824 and, he believed, honestly professed—a desire to confer benefit upon the tenant, benefit would not accrue to all classes of tenants. The persons whom it would benefit were the machine makers and the tradesmen; but the men who would suffer were the smaller tenants, because the landlord could not give them the same credit which he would otherwise give them if he had a longer period over which to distrain. The Bill would not promote the establishment of small holdings—one of the proposals in the Liberal programme. As regarded Clause 42, he should be glad of some explanation as to its meaning. It seemed to him to be perfectly unintelligible as it stood. With regard to items 22 and 23 of the First Schedule, he desired to say that he should move an Amendment in Committee, the object of which was to prevent a tenant laying out an enormous sum during the last year of his tenancy and then sending in a claim for compensation. In conclusion, he hoped sincerely that the Bill would only be amended in these points, and then pass into law. He trusted that by the passing of the Bill an end would be put to that very disastrous state of agitation which had been going on throughout the country, and that the relation of landlord and tenant would be, in the future, as in the past, of a lasting and enduring nature.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, he was surprised at the speech of the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), and did not see how the Resolution was at all incongruous with the noble Earl's (the Earl of Wemyss's) love of liberty of contract. Such a measure as this might well be introduced, in order that the law should be clear where the parties—the landlord and tenant—had not clearly expressed their intentions. There could be no doubt, however, that such a Bill was opposed to the principles of political economy; and he should like to ask their Lordships, therefore, to consider some of the consequences of passing it. Supposing an intending tenant agreed with the landlord as to the rent; they went over the farm and saw that such a field required draining, and the landlord agreed to drain it; then they saw that another field would not bear the expense of draining, and so it was agreed that it should not be drained. Accordingly, they put it in the lease that such a field should not be drained. 1825 The tenant entered upon the holding, and, with this Bill in his hand, he might say to the landlord—"Drain that field; if you do not, I will, and claim compensation." The tenant would thus break his undertaking; and if reproached for doing so, his reply would be—"I cannot do wrong. This is a law passed by an Assembly of English Gentlemen. The House of Peers has said I may do this if I like." He put it to their Lordships whether they were prepared to face such a consequence arising out of this Bill? Where was the necessity for the Bill? Were tenants oppressed in England, or placed in a position in which it was necessary that they should be protected by legislative enactment? Was there a land hunger here? That was not the case. It was the landlord now who sought the tenant. A gentleman in his neighbourhood some time ago said to him—"I have a tenant who has not paid rent for three years, and I am afraid he is going to give me notice to quit." Half the parish in which he lived was seeking a tenant. It was utterly impossible to say there was any such pressure upon the tenants as made it necessary to protect them by interfering with their freedom of contracting. They were told that they had excepted coal mines from the principle of freedom of contract. That was a different thing, because what was involved there was safety to life and limb. But they ought not, because one exception was made to a general rule, to say that it was right to make another exception. The argument of the noble Duke was that the case of the tenant farmer was different from that of anybody else, as he put his capital in the land. So he did; but he put it there upon terms and by agreement with his landlord, and it was his own folly if he made a bad agreement. A man who entered into a building lease might as well, at the end of the lease, claim compensation for improvement. All that need be done was to lay down a Schedule of Rules as to what should be the case when there was no express agreement to the contrary. One obnoxious result of the Bill would be that the landlord would be made a party to a law suit whenever it suited the tenant. The tenant might make a drain which might be no improvement. He would say it was, and there would be litigation immediately. Under the Bill 1826 the compensation was to be a fair and reasonable compensation; but on what principle was that to be adjusted, and who was to ascertain what was fair and reasonable? He said that was a Bill which was calculated to lead to litigation between landlord and tenant; and it seemed to him the hardest thing in the world that a man should not be at liberty to say to his tenant—"Tell me what you want; if I do not like it we do not agree; if I do, let us make some clear agreement." But the Bill said—"No; you shall not." What he should recommend, if that sort of legislation was right, was not that they should permit those agreements to be made and then treat them as a nullity, but that they should prohibit them. They heard in these discussions of indefeasible rights. There was one indefeasible right that existed now which their Lordships could neither give nor take away, and that was the right to call a man who broke his agreement a knave; and he believed it would be freely exercised when occasion arose. The fallacy which he thought had given rise to that Bill was to be found in nearly the last clause—the Prohibitory Clause—which spoke of any contract, or agreement, or covenant made by a tenant, by virtue of which he was deprived of his right to claim compensation. That treated it as though there was a right in the nature of things to compensation. He denied that. When a man entered into a contract he had no other right except that which the contract gave him. If they were to invalidate contracts, let them not do it by saying the contracts might be entered into, but might be broken; but by saying that they should not be entered into, and that there should be a penalty if they were entered into.
THE EARL OF SUFFOLK AND BERKSHIRE
said, he believed that there was among the tenants of the West of England a strong feeling in favour of the Bill; at any rate, they had got into their heads the idea that there was something in the Bill worth having. He, therefore, hoped the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) on the Cross Benches would not press his Amendment to a Division; if he did so, he himself should certainly vote against it.
THE EARL OF CARNARVON
said, he thought it was impossible to deny that the purport, if not the phraseology of his 1827 noble Friend's Amendment was open to objection. The first question he had been asked was whether there was any need for this legislation; and he felt bound to say that, for his part, he did not think there was any necessity for it. On the contrary, he was of opinion that such legislation was mischievous. What was the benefit to be derived from it? It certainly did not tend to relieve agricultural depression; nor would it have the effect of bringing fresh capital on to the land, though it would have the effect of giving leases to tenants who could not have had them on other terms. What the farmers really desired were better seasons and more capital, and, above all, a remission of the heavy burden of local taxation. He did not believe that in the minds of English tenants there was the smallest sense of insecurity in their holdings. The difficulty of the landlords at the present moment was to obtain tenants. The best law of landlord and tenant was that wise and orderly system which had prevailed in almost all those estates with which their Lordships had acquaintance—the law of mutual confidence. One of his greatest fears as to the result of this measure was that it might have the effect of converting that which had been, sometimes for generations or through centuries, the kindly relations of trust, confidence, and friendship between landlord and tenant into the hard and technical terms of written stipulation. He believed himself that confidence was far preferable to written law, and he thought this Bill sailed far too close to those dangerous precipices that trenched on freedom of contract. He did not deny that there might, in some cases, be a difficulty in obtaining contracts, and that there might be cases in which improvements were not duly compensated for; and if Parliament could by any law place this subject on a sounder and safer basis, no reasonably good landlord could complain. What was it, in reality, that Parliament desired to do? He apprehended that what they all desired and what the Bill purported to do was this—to give reasonable security to the landlord and reasonable security to the tenant—reasonable security to the landlord, because it did not, as he understood, interfere with the ownership of the landowner. Land had from time immemorial been bought and sold, and no distinction had 1828 been drawn or ought to be drawn between the sale of land or houses and the sale of any other property. He admitted that between a landlord and tenant there existed a sort of partnership, and that their interests were to some extent mixed up together; but there never had been a question of divided ownership, and if this Bill had the effect of creating an ownership of that kind he should be no party to it. With regard to the security of the tenant, he believed that this Bill purported to secure to him the money he put into the land which he used in the ordinary course of management of an agricultural farm—money expended in unexhausted improvements. He did not think the term "unexhausted improvements" was used in the Bill; he wished it had been, since it would then more distinctly put on record what the Bill meant. But who had the power of defining what improvement was? There was no tribunal in the Bill, and no machinery for defining it. It seemed perilous to leave such a question to be decided without definition. He would not object to umpires, and he invited the Government to give this point consideration. There was a third question which had been raised by persons who complained of the inconvenience to which a tenant was subjected in his liability to removal from his holding. If his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell) was right, that was not a case that was likely to happen at present. But if it did happen, there was no reason why a landlord should not have power to exercise his rights of ownership; and liability to removal was an inconvenience which every tenant was subject to. There were three kinds of improvements dealt with by this Bill—namely, the improvements mentioned in Parts I., II., and III. of the Schedule. With regard to the first class of improvements, they were improvements of a large and permanent nature. He would take the liberty of saying that improvements of this nature made by the tenant were very few in number indeed; they were almost invariably made by the landlord, and he believed they would continue to be so made. As the noble Earl who spoke last (the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire) said, they drew their conclusions from their experience in the past. For himself, he might say that during the many years he 1829 had been connected with land he could not recall any case of a large and permanent improvement having been effected by a tenant; and he would go further, and say he could not recall a single case in which there had been any practically serious difficulty between himself and his tenants. He said this not in any spirit of egotism, but merely to show how effective was the law of confidence and trust between landlord and tenant. Coming to the 2nd Part of the Schedule, he observed that the notice given by a tenant of his intention to commence drainage works might be only a month's notice. That he thought a very short term, for on a great many estates both the landlord and his agent might be absent at the time when the notice was given. The landlord ought to have more to say than he would be allowed to say by the Bill on the question whether the drainage works should be carried out or not. It should be remembered that there was some land which it was desirable to keep in a marshy condition, and that a great deal of drainage was badly done at first, and had to be done two or three times over. The last few wet seasons had created such a panic in the minds of a great many people on the subject of drainage that they were ready now to drain land which they would not have thought of draining some years ago. With regard to the question of awarding compensation for artificial manures, he would only observe that they ought not to overlook the interests of the incoming tenant. If on the land of an incoming tenant a great burden of expenses and obligations were preserved, a serious impediment would be created to the letting and taking of farms. Then with regard to the alteration which the Bill would make in the Law of Distress. A multitude of persons imagined that the law pressed with extraordinary severity upon the tenant, when, as a matter of fact, he derived a certain security from it; because when a landlord knew that there were assets belonging to a tenant in arrear upon which he could lay his hand he was likely to give his debtor time to recover himself. They should be careful lest, by altering the Law of Distress, they should encourage inconvenient ready-money transactions between a tenant and his creditors. In conclusion, he had to say that he should vote for 1830 the second reading of the measure, and should move Amendments in Committee.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
said, he accepted with pleasure the noble Earl's declaration of his intention to support the second reading of the Bill. On the whole, the Bill had met with so much favour and support on both sides of the House that it was unnecessary that he should trouble their Lordships with many observations. He recognized to the full that they ought not unnecessarily to interfere with the principle of free private contract; but it might be right to interfere with it in particular cases. The principal justification for interference in the present case was, to a great extent, an historical justification. It had unfortunately, for a long period of time, been the rule of law that any improvements effected by the tenant immediately became the property of the landlord. Men were so accustomed to that rule that it was excessively difficult to move them in another direction. General custom and practice could not be changed without the intervention of a direct Act of Parliament; and the present Bill had been introduced for the purpose of establishing throughout England that which was the custom in many parts of the country. The Schedules to which the noble Earl opposite had referred were more matters for consideration in Committee than for consideration on the Motion for the second reading of the Bill. A good deal had been said as to the Schedule, and with regard to the 1st Part of the Schedule they thought it would have very little operation, as it referred to the improvements to which the consent of the landlord had to be given. With regard to the drainage, it had been said that some parts of the country were over-drained, and he had no doubt that some parts would be over-drained. But, upon the whole, he thought they might fairly trust that the different parties concerned would know whether or not the land was to be improved by drainage; and he was bound to say he really did not think they would find tenants originating large drainage operations, because, unfortunately, there were very few tenants who had money enough to cultivate their land properly, without their undertaking large drainage operations. With regard to the other point—namely, that a good deal 1831 of drainage was very often of a temporary nature, that was a very cheap and useful operation; but as it lasted only a short time it was obvious that such operations would only entitle the tenant to proportionate compensation. With regard to the manures put upon the land by the tenant, there was, no doubt, a considerable difference of opinion, and there were some who thought that some of those manures were of a very evanescent character, and that the amount of compensation in respect of them ought to be small; but they would, in all cases where the farm was let, he paid for by the incoming tenant, and he believed that the valuer of the incoming tenant would be quite as sharp in matters of payment as the valuer of the outgoing tenant, and there were not likely to be any very unjust results on that particular point. But all the matters in the Bill were so essentially matters of detail that he felt he should do wrong by wearying their Lordships by entering into them at that stage. He entirely agreed with the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) that they must look at the measure as practical men; they could not look at it theoretically, and say that the agriculture of the country had gone on successfully on the whole, and the result had, on the whole, been satisfactory; but they must take the thing as they found it, and must look and see what were the feelings and views of the agricultural community. They were called upon as legislators to consider whether there was anything in the demands of agriculturists which ought to be fairly met; and. when they found that there were reasonable men throughout the country who were asking upon this matter for greater security for the improvements made by the tenant, when they had a Commission so well described by the noble Duke opposite as a Commission composed of men of all classes, reporting strongly in favour of a measure of this kind, and when they proposed a Bill only carrying into effect a principle already agreed upon, he thought they might, with a fair conscience, undertake to legislate on this matter.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I do not think the noble Earl who has just spoken has been very successful in defending that part of the Bill which relates to drainage, or in 1832 showing why drainage should be set aside and separated from other improvements in the Schedule, and why a special power should be given to the tenant to insist upon it. It seems to me that that particular provision has had its origin in the Government taking up the foolish catchword about drainage, which has been going about the country for some time. There is nothing in the reason of things why there should be a greater compulsory power of enforcing drainage than any other improvement. In criticizing the position which my noble Friend on the Cross Benches (the Earl of Wemyss) has taken up, I venture to assure him that I do so with no want of respect for the function he has assumed in this House, for I believe the particular position he assumes is likely to be of considerable benefit to this House; because a great deal of the strength of the House depends on there being in it a number of independent men connected with neither Party, and unembarrassed by their views. But the argument of the noble Earl I understand to be mainly this—that we are pursuing now precisely the same course that we pursued in respect to the Irish Land Bill, and that it will issue in the same disaster. Now, I cannot admit that there is any analogy between the two cases, or that there are in this Bill the objectionable features of the Irish legislation. I go as far in denouncing the Irish legislation as the noble Earl. For its denunciation no language would be too strong; but I think my noble Friend a little injures his cause by mistaking the precise form of objection. It was not because it was an interference with freedom of contract that we disapproved of the Irish legislation. We respect freedom of contract very highly; but I sympathize with the remark of the noble Earl opposite when he said that it was not on a level with the Ten Commandments. One of the most elementary principles of English law is that the law will not sanction contracts which are contrary to morality or the interests of trade. The course of civilization has always been to diminish interference with the freedom of contract; but I do not consider it on a level with the principles which we invoked in our objections to the Irish Land Act. That Act perpetrated wrong and robbery; it took one man's property and gave it to 1833 another, and I think we mistake and confuse thorn in treating these offences as of the same kind as an interference with freedom of contract. There is nothing in this Bill at all analogous to compensation for disturbance. This Bill undoubtedly interferes with freedom of contract; but I do not think that if we pass it, it will lead to any worse legislation on the subject. On the contrary, I am disposed rather to take the opposite view. I do not think that the fact of breaking this principle is attended with all the practical evils which the noble Earl associates with it. No doubt, it would be a very fine thing if we could always legislate on principle; but if we refuse to pass this Bill, the farmers of England, never having had the advantage of experiencing what its provisions are like, will think it to have some extreme merit, and that we are the persons who have taken its benefits from them. On the other hand, if we pass the Bill, they will have such experience of the results of interference with freedom of contract that they will not be apt to come to this House to ask for further measures of the same kind. That is the mode of action we shall have to adopt in much of our legislation; if people ask for an undesirable thing, if it is very bad and very dangerous, refuse it; but if not, give it them, in order that they may learn by experience not to ask for the same thing again. That I believe to be a wise proceeding in the present instance. I do not think this Bill will hurt the landlords very much. If we reject it, it will be entirely on landlords' grounds; but if it is passed, with some modification, I do not think that any just rights of the landlords will be affected. I do not mean that any landlord in this House wishes to take from the tenant that which he has invested in his improvements; and, therefore, the general aim which the Bill has in view is a right and just one, in giving the tenant that which, at all events theoretically, he may sometimes be deprived of now. On the other hand, although I do not believe the Bill will deprive the landlord of anything he may legitimately claim—saving the details which we shall discuss in Committee—I have a strong impression that it will produce a certain amount of inconvenience, to put it in no higher phrase, to the tenant. In the first place, the noble Earl who has just spoken talked of many of us being involuntary occupiers 1834 of land. I doubt whether that involuntary character will attach in the future, for I think we shall find that one of the first results of the Bill will be that a very large portion of the land will be taken in occupation by the owners. Another point upon which I think tenants are more sensitive is the height at which their rents stand. My belief is that, unless certain modifications are introduced into the Bill, the distinct effect of it will be, in all those parts of the country where rents have been below their commercial value, they will be raised to that commercial level. It will happen in this way. You provide that the tenant, when he leaves, is to have the increased value of the farm resulting from his improvements. When the valuer goes to examine it, and finds that the farm is worth from 5s. to 8s. an acre more than the actual rent, he says—"This is improvement;" it is let for 20s., and is worth 28s. He is told also that the tenant has made improvements, and he will say this 8s. comes from those improvements. I do not see by what possible process that argument can be refuted; and the consequence will be that when you have passed this Bill, as a protection the landlords will raise their rents up to the commercial point, so that the difference between the old rent and the commercial rent may not, when a vacancy occurs in the farm, be turned by the valuer into a fine upon themselves. That, I think, is a very serious point for the tenants to consider, and one which, in my opinion, will make the Bill not so acceptable as the noble Earl thinks. Then there is the question of small tenancies. We are told that the great object is to get men upon small holdings; but what will be the consequence? In the first instance, you struck out the provision which prevented the Bill applying to tenancies below two acres, and you enact that in respect of every tenancy below two acres the landlord will be liable to the possibility of litigation which the Bill carries with it. He will say it is not worth his while to fight a man with two acres, who will be a man of straw; and he will let his holding to a larger tenant, from whom, in the event of litigation, he may be able to recover his costs; so that you will directly discourage the system of allotments, and make it impossible for the labourers to obtain small portions of land, to whom they have hitherto been so great a 1835 benefit. But that is not all. There is this Law of Distress. What security can the small tenant give? He has hitherto relied on the Law of Distress for security, but that will be his security no longer.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
No; but it limits it to one year. That is a direct result of the Bill. There has been no point that I think has been more in the forefront of the Liberal programme in recent years than increased facilities for selling land. I think there is a fair chance that this Bill will stop the sale of land almost altogether, because a man will be incurring an unknown liability. It will be utterly impossible for him to know how much compensation is due to those who are tenants on the land, and he cannot, as now, calculate upon the rent and capitalize it; for he will also have to take into consideration that unknown quantity, the amount of the tenant's improvements, or claim for improvements, of which he knows nothing, and which it is perfectly impossible for him to measure. I am not prepared to take the responsibility of rejecting this measure; I am not prepared to allow it to be said that your Lordships, who are mainly landlords, desire to keep back that which is said to be a been to the tenant. I leave the responsibility of passing the Bill to Her Majesty's Government; but in estimating it I retain the opinion I expressed at an early period of the Session, that if the harm it does on the whole is little, the good it will do will be absolutely none.
said, he must enter his protest against the interference with the freedom of contract which the Bill proposed.
§ THE EARL OF WEMYSS
said, he was willing to omit the first part of his Resolution to which the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) objected—namely—That this House, while ready to promote a well-considered measure for the advancement of agriculture, and the improvement, as far as possible by legislation, of the relations of landlord and tenant.Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.
Amendment moved,To leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting ("this House is not 1836 prepared to give its sanction to a Bill which, in agricultural tenancies, forbids free contract in the future and breaks it in the past, thus destroying the foundation upon which alone agriculture, trade, and commerce can securely rest." —(The Earl of Wemyss.)
§ On Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Motion?"
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents 55; Not-Contents 9: Majority 46.
|Selborne, E. (L. Chancellor.)||Carrington, L.|
|Buckingham and Chandos, D.||De Mauley, L.|
|Richmond, D.||Emly, L.|
|Somerset, D.||Fitzgerald, L.|
|Westminster, D.||Gerard, L.|
|Northampton, M.||Hopetoun, L. (E. Hopetoun.)|
|Camperdown, E.||Howth, L. (E. Howth.)|
|Carnarvon, E.||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Devon, E.||Lyttelton, L.|
|Granville, E.||Meldrum, L. (M. Huntly.)|
|Morley, E.||Methuen, L.|
|Mount Cashell, E.||Monson, L. [Teller.]|
|Northbrook, E.||Norton, L.|
|Shaftesbury, E.||Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)|
|Suffolk and Berkshire, E.||Reay, L.|
|Sydney, E.||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)||Skene, L. (E. Fife.)|
|Somerton, L. (E. Normanton.)|
|Strathspey, L. (E. Seafield.)|
|Auckland, L.||Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)|
|Balfour of Burleigh, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Boyle, L. (E. Cork and Orrery.) [Teller.]||Thurlow, L.|
|Carlingford, L.||Wrottesley, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.
§ House adjourned at half past Nine o'clock, to Thursday next, a quarter past Four o'clock.