§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he was not inclined to take up their Lordships' time at any length. There would, he felt, be no advantage in doing so, for this reason—that the Bill was practically identical with the English Bill, which their Lordships read a second time the other night. The Bill for Scotland, in essential respects and even in minor respects, was identical with that for England, so far as the difference in Scotch legal proceedings and language admitted. There were a consi- 2037 derable number of variations of the kind he referred to as necessary to enable the measure to be applied to Scotland. He thought that the only parts of the Bill that were especially Scotch were Clauses 27, 28, and 29. Clause 27 had been introduced for the purpose of remedying a hardship—perhaps he ought rather to say a possible hardship—which might arise in consequence of the Scotch Hypothec Abolition Act—namely, the possibility of a tenant being removed from his holding between Whitsuntide and Martinmas at a time which would cause him considerable loss, and when he would not be able to have a way-going sale for his crops. He was informed that that was a hardship which had seldom, if ever, during the time since the Act came into operation, been experienced; but there was, he believed, a certain apprehension among Scotch tenant farmers that such a thing might happen, and it had been thought well, he believed with a very general agreement of Scotch opinion, to prevent the possibility of such a case occurring. The next clause—the 28th—dealt with the determination of tenancies by lease, and it prolonged very considerably the legal time of notice which was necessary in Scotland for terminating a lease. That notice was now 40 days, and this clause required that notice of six months' should be given in all leases for a less period than three years, and a notice of two years in all leases for longer periods. That was a question which had been raised for several years in the other House, and it was embodied in a Bill introduced, he believed, by a Scotch Member last year, and carried on the second reading without a Division. The third peculiarly Scotch clause—the 29th—was one that dealt with the power of bequest of his lease by a tenant. Their Lordships would know that the Scotch lease, unlike the English system, was not personal, but real property, and descended absolutely to the heir-at-law. It was believed that it would be a matter of great convenience that a tenant should be able to bequeath his lease as he could bequeath the stock on his farm, and that there should not be that legal separation between the lease and the tenant's property on the farm which existed at pro-sent. That proposal also met, he believed, with very general approval. In fact, he believed he might safely say that 2038 there was a very large and not far from unanimous concurrence of Scotch opinion in "another place" in favour of this clause. Beyond those clauses, and the necessary technical variations to which he had referred, he really thought there was nothing with which he could usefully trouble the House. If any further explanation were needed, he should be quite prepared to give it; but he was not aware of any other part of the Bill which required explanation. With the exceptions he had mentioned, adapted to Scotch law and Scotch circumstances, the Bill was practically the same as that to which their Lordships the other day gave so favourable reception, and without further observations he would now ask that it be read a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord President.)
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
said, he saw by the newspapers that his noble Friend the Secretary of State for India (the Earl of Kimberley), in a post prandial oration he made last night in the City, passed an encomium on their Lordships in their legislative capacity; but lie thought his noble Friend might have added that their Lordships were about the most good-natured Assembly in the world, because he must say that though they felt that the lateness of the Business generally was not the fault of the Government, he was bound to say, in the matter of the two Agricultural Holdings Bills, that it had been the fault of the Government. He must complain, especially with regard to the Scotch Bill, not only of the extreme lateness of the period at which the Bill came to them, but of the extreme lateness of the period at which in the other House most important alterations were made. They knew by the ordinary channels of information what was going on in "another place." Those who were interested in a Bill of this kind were able, by having recourse to the ordinary sources of information, to know pretty well what was being done in the other House of Parliament; and he endeavoured to follow the progress of the Scotch Bill with some interest naturally, to know what the intentions of the Government were; but he must say that he did not know, until he saw this Bill reprinted, of some of the most important alterations which had been made by the 2039 right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate. His noble Friend in his speech which he had just made had skimmed very lightly over some very thin ice. It was upon the understanding that the principle of this Bill was identical with that of the English Bill that he had expressed himself the other night in favour of the second reading of both Bills; but he found that there was a most important omission in the Scotch Bill, which made it not merely different in detail, but fundamentally different in principle. He thought he would make that plain to their Lordships. The 1st clause of this Bill omitted the Proviso that was put into the English Bill as the result of the compromise made after the defeat of the Government. It was moved in the other House by an hon. Friend of his (Mr. A. J. Balfour) during the progress of the English Bill that the principle of compensation should be the Lincolnshire custom, which was that the outlay of the tenant should be the maximum of his compensation. On a Division, in a not very empty House, the Amendment was carried against the Government; but in the course of the discussion the willingness of the Government was expressed to meet the objections of those who moved the Amendment to a certain extent, and to put in a Proviso by which it should be made clear that nothing should be adjudged to the tenant as the result of his improvement which was clearly due to the inherent capabilities of the soil. That was agreed to by a great number of Members in the other House as, on the whole, a not unfair settlement of the question; and he was himself, although not on the whole satisfied, willing to agree to that compromise. But what was his astonishment to find that the Scotch Bill in the 1st clause omitted this most important provision. Let him point out what might be the result of this change. The principle of the Bill, which was explained to their Lordships the other night, was that the value of the outgoing tenant's improvements, for the purpose of fixing the compensation, should be the value to the incoming tenant. He was not going to contest or to argue that in common parlance that was an unfair description of what was meant by compensation to the tenant—namely, what was the value to the incoming tenant. That was a very 2040 fair colloquial description of what they meant; but he really hoped they would not go further into this custom of embodying in Acts of Parliament on most important questions as to the rights of men colloquial expressions which, however fair they might sound to the ear and in conversation, were not really capable of accurate judicial interpretation. By the words "value to the incoming tenant," they might mean the whole letting value of the land, taking these words by themselves. Let him put a case which had happened to himself on his own property. There was a considerable portion of land which had been used as a market stand. It was in the immediate neighbourhood of a town of considerable importance. The situation was valuable; but the land was utterly worthless—for agricultural purposes not worth 6d. an acre. He was advised that the reclamation of that piece of land would pay well; and he spent on it no less than £18 an acre. It was immediately let at a rent of three guineas, or about 17 or 18 per cent on the outlay. That was a very handsome return. What would be the operation of an improvement of the kind under the words "value to the incoming tenant?" The whole of that value was duo to that improvement. The land was utterly worthless before, and it was now worth three guineas. Was that what they were going to give to the tenant? That was a new and a very cheap way of purchasing land. That was not what the Government meant. Of course, he knew that. It would be grossly unfair; and, therefore, he said "the value to the incoming tenant" was one of those loose conversational expressions which ought not to find a place in an Act of Parliament without some principle to guide it. Unless their Lordships wished to provide that in Scotland the tenant should be able to appropriate the whole of the land by executing certain improvements, they must insert the same provision in the Scotch Bill as had been inserted in the English Bill. This was not an unimportant matter. It was a matter of vital interest to all concerned; and, according to the Amendment of which he had given Notice, he had added the Proviso in the English Bill. There were some other points to which he wished for a moment to direct the attention of the House. Though he 2041 was not going to contest the principle of the Bill, he did not admit the argument which his noble Friend brought forward the other night—namely, that the Lincolnshire limit was unfair to the tenant. So far as he knew, in 99 cases out of every 100 the compensation clue to the outgoing tenant ought to be limited by his outlay, for this reason—that there were very few cases indeed in which the same outlay would not be made by the incoming tenant, if the improvement were performed by himself. Building, drainage, manures—all those items of agricultural outlay were essentially improvements which diminished with the lapse of time. It was impossible that the value to the incoming tenant could be more than the outlay of the outgoing tenant; and when his noble Friend quoted a letter in The Times newspaper, and said that this principle was simply that of "Heads I win; tails you lose"—
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
I quoted that from the letter of Mr. Clare Sewell Read.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
observed that, at any rate, his noble Friend used an argument of that kind, which was one of the most fallacious arguments that could be used. The relation of landlord and tenant was not that of two men playing at a game of chance, in which one man said—"Heads I win; tails you lose." It was a question of bargain between one man who had and the other man who hired; and in general these two men were competent to make a fair bargain for themselves. But there were some cases in which he believed the value to the incoming tenant might be more than the outlay of the outgoing tenant. For instance, there was one matter that applied more to England than to Scotland—the planting of orchards. He did not know how many years must elapse before the capital invested in planting orchards was recovered; and he thought it fair to say, in the case of the incoming tenant coming into land that had been planted with apple or pear trees, that the land was worth more to him than the mere outlay of the tenant, because his own outlay could not have compassed the immediate return that the outlay of his predecessor would. That was a case where he admitted that the principle of valuation 2042 more than the outlay might apply. There was another case not so applicable to Scotland, but very common in England—that of laying down land in permanent pasture. He said at once that he admitted the application of the principle to that case, because he thought the turning of land into permanent pasture was one that might involve considerable and serious sacrifice for some years to the outgoing tenant. The incoming tenant got something more than the mere cost of the operation of turning the land into permanent pasture. Therefore, he was not going to contest the principle of the Bill, provided it was limited in the manner he referred to; but he only wished to repudiate some of the arguments which had been brought forward in favour of it. There were very few cases in which it could be just to charge the new tenant any sum greater than the outlay; but he thought the Government were fairly entitled to include them. Another point to which his noble Friend had referred was one, in his opinion, of very great importance. He knew nothing which more clearly illustrated the practical ignorance of many men who drew up such Bills as these in regard to the Scotch system of agriculture than the point of notice to quit. The English Bill provided that, in future, the notice should be a year. His noble Friend wished their Lordships to enact that in Scotland it should be two years. Look at the difference between the two countries. In Scotland all the lands, except crofts, were let on 19 or 21 years' leases. The tenant had not only one or two years' notice to quit, but he had 19 years' notice to quit. He knew exactly when his lease came to an end, and when he was likely to be removed. By the present law, notice was to be given within 50 days if the landlord made up his mind to remove the tenant; but he need hardly say that this was an arrangement which rarely came into operation, for the reason that in 99 cases out of 100 long before that time expired they came to a new bargain. Let them look what the essence of the alteration in the Scotch Bill was. Parliament said to the landlord and tenant—"You two gentlemen, in a pure business matter, must make up your minds what your bargain is to be two years before the time." Was there ever such an 2043 absurd interference with individual freedom as that? What was in the minds of those who drafted such a measure as that? He would tell them what was in their minds. They were thinking of an Irish eviction. They were thinking of a case in which the landlord made up his mind that lie was going to turn out his tenant. He admitted that if the landlord had made up his mind to turn out his tenant, it might be reasonable to give him notice two years before; but, in 99 cases out of 100, that was not what occurred. He could only say for himself, with 35 years' experience as a landlord, with some hundreds of tenants, that he did not know of one single case in which he had made up his mind to get rid of a tenant without giving two years' notice. He remembered, some years ago, a large tenant of his, holding a very important farm, writing to him two years before the end of his lease, and asking him if' he was going to continue him as his tenant. He answered him, as Scotchmen were apt to do, with another question—"Are you going to continue me as your landlord, because it is just as much your business to decide whether you are going to continue on the farm as it is for me to decide whether I will let it to you." The tenant's answer was—"That depends on what you will offer me;" and he replied that the time had not come for that. The result was, that they came to an agreement in the course of the next year. What this Bill said was that the landlord and tenant must make up their minds two years before.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
rejoined, that these things were highly provocative of disagreement between landlord and tenant. What he did in his own case was to consider the question of renewing the lease seven, nine, or 12 months before the expiry of the lease.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
His noble Friend said that was not enough; but, perhaps, he would allow those who knew their own business to have their own opinion on the matter. It was as gross an interference and absurd an interference with the freedom of the tenant as it was with the landlord. Let them look at what would happen if the Bill passed. 2044 He should go on in the old fashion, and so would his tenants; but the Act would compel them, if they wished to get rid of each other, to give notices to that effect. A more injurious thing could not happen. He should say—"A very foolish Act of Parliament has been passed, which compels me, if I wish to get rid of you, to give two years' notice. Never mind that; you and I will come to an agreement in the course of the next two years." He thought one year's notice, which was the provision in the English Bill, was a fair average time. A year before the end of the lease men were generally able to make up their minds—the tenant as to the amount of rent he wished to offer, and the landlord as to the rent he wished to ask. Very often that ought not to be decided until 12 months before the end of the lease. A few years ago there was a very sudden fall in the price of dairy produce. The tenants in his part of Scotland were in the depths of despair. They thought American competition would infallibly lower their prices so much that they would not be able to pay half the rent they paid before. No doubt if these prices had continued, they would have been quite right. Were they to compel a landlord to make an agreement to let his farm under these conditions? Both tenant and landlord ought to be able to make up their minds up to the last possible moment; and, that being his opinion, he had given Notice of an Amendment to this effect. In all the circumstances of the case he did not believe that any such Bill was necessary in order to promote agricultural progress. He was acquainted with the agricultural progress of Scotland, and was proud of it. He believed that no country in Europe had made such rapid advance during the last century as Scotland. Let them bear in mind what a short time it was since the conclusion of their great Civil War. He himself had seen a man who remembered, to use a common expression, "the '45." Let them look at the condition of Scotland at that period—the country covered with poor hamlets, thatched cottages, people living under the same roofs as their cattle. Now the country was covered with flourishing farms and thriving homesteads, many of which belonged to the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon). Every county 2045 in Scotland had made a similar advance. That advance had been made under a system of entirely and absolutely free contract. Landlords had laid out enormous sums of money. No man could count up the sums which the landlords of Scotland had spent on the improvement of the country since the beginning of the present century, or since the conclusion of the Civil War. Tenants said they had done a great deal of this improvement. So they had, and a most admirable class of men they had been; but the tenants had executed these improvements on the same principle on which labourers had done—they had executed them for valuable consideration they had generally actually received. It was only during the last five or six years, when seasons had been very disastrous, that the system of 19 years' leases had been objected to, and that the present feeling of discontent had arisen. The Bill, in his opinion, would do nothing, or very little, to alter that discontent; but considering that the Government had thought it necessary, on the recommendation of a Royal Commission, to bring in a Bill for England, where, in general, there were more reasons for it, he should not resist the second reading of a Bill of the kind which applied to Scotland. There was another point on which he wished to say a few words. Several English proprietors had said to him lately that drainage was not always advantageous. That might be perfectly true. He did not think there was much danger in common arable land in drainage being done by any tenant that was not likely to be valuable. But it was quite certain that those who drew up the Bill had not before them the peculiar circumstances of Scotland. In England nearly the whole area of the country had been arable for centuries. There was no reclamation of waste land, no great moors to he reclaimed, as in Scotland; and his noble Friend must see that the question of drainage must differ in a country where a vast portion of the estates consisted of moor and mountain country. Not only might drainage be sometimes mischievous; but in regard to some kind of land—for instance, on moors—it would be the most injurious thing they could do. There was a certain plant growing in the bogs of Scotland which was a most valuable food for sheep, and if 2046 they drained these moors, they would destroy that plant, and so injure the sheep. It might very well happen that a farmer might find it agreeable to himself to drain certain parts of his land. He might do the greatest possible damage to the land; in fact, he might utterly ruin it, and under this Bill the landlord could not say a word in opposition. He thought that so unreasonable that he proposed to add a Proviso that it should be competent to the landlord to object to any drainage operation; that, upon that objection being registered and sent to the tenant, the latter should not be at liberty to go on with the operation until there was an appeal to the Sheriff, whereupon the Sheriff might appoint a competent person to report whether the drainage would or would not be injurious to the land to be drained, and to the adjacent land, and that his report should be final. He might remind the House that mountainous land injuriously drained might not only be injurious to the landlord as regarded the land on which the drainage took place, but also highly injurious to the arable land at the foot of a hill. The tenant of a mountain farm might, by his drainage works, utterly destroy the farms of the tenants in the valley below, and the Bill, as it stood, would do nothing to prevent such mischief. He hoped that the House would receive with favour the Amendments which he intended to propose in Committee. If they were not to be favourably received, he should be unable to vote for the second reading of the measure.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, he thought the Bill had been introduced at a very opportune period. There were differences between the present and the English Bill; but, substantially, they were the same. There was, for instance, under one of the clauses the power of assignation by bequest. That he could not help thinking was a clause which should have an eminently desirable effect in Scotland. There was also the clause giving two years' notice to quit, and he confessed he was somewhat surprised at the objection that had been taken by the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) to the clause. The expression "notice to quit" was in some sense misleading; but he imagined that the explanation of the introduction of those 2047 words in the clause might be somewhat simpler and different from that which the noble Duke suggested. Might it not be the custom which had recently been prevalent of making a re-arrangement as to a lease? That custom had been found to be useful and acceptable, and he presumed it had suggested itself to the farmers as one which could he imported into the Bill. Further, he believed that a Bill had passed the House of Commons some time ago in which there was a provision of two years' notice to quit. It might be true that the provision in regard to assignation by bequest might be open to some of the objections stated by the noble Duke. This question of assignation might be referred to the Sheriff's Court, and this was one of the examples of the litigation which the Bill might encourage. He was not sure that an occasional resort to a Court of Law was such an unmixed evil as some noble Lords seemed to suppose. There might be a great deal of silent discontent without any power to bring the matter before any Court, and that was, at least, as deleterious as coming before a Court and having the difficulty settled once for all. The decision of the Sheriff might occasionally cause a good deal of unfavourable comment on one side or the other; but the Sheriff occupied a position which commanded the confidence of the country, and he believed that no tribunal could be more safely resorted to in respect of these cases. It had been said by several lukewarm supporters of the English Bill that although it would not do much good, it probably would not do much harm. He supposed a similar remark might be made by noble Lords with regard to the Bill now before the House. His own opinion, however, was that the Bill was very far from being milk-and-water legislation. The enacting provisions were not of a very extensive kind; but, apart from the actual force of the enactments, he thought their Lordships ought to take into account the effect upon the country which this Bill might reasonably be expected to have. The minds of the farmers of Scotland had for some time, and especially during the past year, been in a somewhat unsettled state. This Bill, he trusted, would be recognized as a skilful and successful attempt to meet a very difficult and delicate problem; 2048 and he believed it would be accepted in that sense by the farmers of Scotland as a body, and in that way it would indirectly tend to do a vast amount of good.
said, he agreed with a great deal that had fallen from the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll) as to the effect which the Bill was likely to produce in Scotland, and as to the question of whether it was really required in the interests of the agriculture of that country. He agreed almost entirely with that part of the noble Duke's speech; but, at the same time, he was not prepared, any more than the noble Duke was, to recommend their Lordships to refuse their consent to the second reading of the Bill, because, if for no other reason, for this one—that if their Lordships were to reject the measure, he believed the tenants throughout Scotland would imagine that their Lordships had withheld from them a very great gift. They would greatly magnify what they thought was likely to be done for them by the Bill, and the demand for legislation would be very much stimulated. That was the chief ground on which it seemed to him desirable that the Bill should become law. At the same time, he thought there were in the Bill some phrases and expressions which were likely to lead to much harm and litigation. The noble Duke pointed out the great danger of introducing colloquial expressions, and making them part of the law of the land. In the 5th clause, for instance, the words "fair and reasonable compensation" occurred; and in the 6th clause he found the words "according to the rules of good husbandry." Now, he could not help thinking that a great deal of litigation would rage round the meaning of these two expressions; and he was apprehensive that before a year was out there would be a considerable amount of litigation and arbitration with regard to the meaning of these phrases. What he also dreaded was that there would grow up in Scotland a class of men who would make it their occupation to become referees, or umpires, or whatever they were called in the Bill, and these men would be men who had failed in farming, who had become bankrupt and lost their farms; they would turn to this business as a means of livelihood, and he ventured to think that in that prospect there was much danger of 2049 dispeace. On the other hand, he was not able wholly to agree with some of the criticisms which the noble Duke opposite had made upon the Bill. For example, he ventured to think that there was something to be said for the provision requiring two years' notice to quit. He confessed that he differed from one of the noble Duke's high authority and acute mind with very great hesitation on a point of this kind; but it did seem to him that this provision might become a useful one in this respect. The noble Duke himself pointed out a very easy way of evading it. He did not mean evading it in a bad sense, but avoiding any possible difficulty consequent upon it, by the landlord and tenant mutually giving each other notice before the commencement of the term of two years. But what he hoped the result would be was that a certain number of years before the termination of the lease the landlord and tenant would make up their minds as to whether they were likely to make a fresh bargain at the end of the lease then running. If they were then to agree on a new lease, which was to begin from that time for 19 years, it would save a great deal of the difficulty of arbitration as to the value of manures and other things that were provided by the first part of the Schedule. There would be two or three years before the expiry of the old lease; and there would, therefore, be no temptation to the tenant to run out the farm during the last two or three years of the old lease. That was a result which was most desirable, alike in the interests of the landlord, the tenant, and the public at large. It would secure that the land would be kept in a uniform high state of cultivation during a long period of years. In cases where tenants were going to be removed from their farms this argument would not apply; but in the very large majority of cases — certainly in the large majority of cases of which he had experience—the tenants would be continued from one lease to another. He thought it was not necessary to put in the words as to the "inherent value of the soil" not being taken into account when the tenant received his compensation. On this point he was quite prepared to find many noble Lords sitting on that side of the House disagree with him. There were a class of improvements which ought always to be executed 2050 by the landlord; but if the landlord was so blind to his own interest as not to execute improvements of the kind, he ought to have a gentle pressure put upon him by the Bill to induce him to execute these improvements. He confessed that, at first sight, he had some sympathy with those who thought that, in no circumstances, should the compensation to be given to the tenant exceed the outlay he had made. That was a very plausible idea; but he thought that, in many cases, it would work considerable hardship, and it would have this bad effect—that it would seem to put the landlord and tenant on a different footing as to compensation. The tenant might, and probably would, in most cases, get a great deal less than he laid out in these improvements; and he did think, if in consequence of the great skill of the tenant, the value of the improvement which he had made turned out better than he expected, he (Lord Balfour) did not see any very great hardship to the landlord in giving the tenant the value of his skill, under such circumstances. If an Amendment, such as that which had been suggested, were put in the Bill it would have an appearance of hardness and too great severity, and he should not be inclined to recommend it. On the other hand, there were one or two points in which he thought this Bill contrasted unfavourably with the English Bill. The Lord President, in introducing it, said it was the same in all respects as the English Bill; but if the noble Lord would turn to the 12th clause he would find that there was a somewhat important omission in the Scotch Bill. In the corresponding clause in the English Bill the tenant was bound to produce not only the documents of evidence which might be in his possession, but vouchers and samples. He did not believe that the security which was given in the English Bill, as it now stood, would be sufficient for the purpose for which it was intended; but he thought the omission of the provision in the Scotch Bill would place the landlords in Scotland in a worse position than the landlords in England. He should be inclined to ask the Government to go even further than the provision in the English Bill. It did not seem to him that the mere order to produce the documents and vouchers which might he in the possession of either 2051 party was sufficient; because, if evidence was in the possession of either party, and was likely to tell against him, there was no restraint upon him from destroying that evidence, and if it was destroyed it was obvious it could not be produced. No doubt, an act of that kind would be the act of an unscrupulous man; but, in passing an Act of Parliament of the present description, they should take care that the unscrupulous man should have no advantage over one who was scrupulous as to his conduct. He should, therefore, like to ask the Government whether they could not see their way to introduce a clause which would put it in the power of the landlord to test the quality of the fertilizing substances and feeding stuffs which the tenant was likely to use? That would be a protection, not only to the landlord, but to the tenant. It was conceivable that some tenants might enter into collusion with manure merchants and others to have fictitious bills made out, on which they might obtain compensation. But he also thought it would be important, in the interest of the tenant himself, that much greater facility should be given for analysis of the stuff which he bought under the name of feeding stuffs and artificial manure. The tenant would not often incur the expense of the analysis; but if the opportunity was given to the landlord of doing so, it would be worth the landlord's while to undertake the expense, and he thought it would be largely done. He had, in connection with this matter, given Notice of an Amendment to the English Bill, which secured the main object he had in view. With regard to the clause dealing with the assignment of leases, he thought that was a power which must be subjected to very searching criticism by their Lordships. It was a power which struck at the very root of one of the chief privileges of ownership of land—namely, the selection of the tenant. They heard on all hands that the landlord was responsible for the good cultivation of the soil of which he was the owner—that lie was the trustee of the nation, and all that sort of thing; but if they were going to take away from the landlord the power of selecting his tenant, how was the argument to be maintained in the future? No doubt, he should be told that there was only assignment in the case of death; but 2052 even if that was so, he thought it would work a great deal of hardship. Leases in Scotland were for 19 and 21 years. That was a large slice out of any man's life; and if a second term of the same length was entered upon, it meant, undoubtedly, that a comparatively small number of men, even if they entered upon their first term at 21 or 25 years of age, would reach the end of the second term. It was possible, under the Bill, that the lease might be assigned to a man with whom the landlord might not be able to work amicably, and that the landlord would have this man as a tenant for a long period. The clause would be a hardship in that way. He thought it would work an inequality between landlord and tenant. For example, if a tenant who died bequeathed a lease which was not, in current phraseology, a good bargain, the assignee would, of course, refuse to take it up; but if the bargain was a good one, the assignee would be glad to get it and take it up. Therefore, the operation of the Bill would bind the landlord, and not the tenant or his assignee. That was a position of inequality in which it was hardly fair to place the landlord. At the same time, he desired in this matter, as in all others connected with the Bill, to be most fair and reasonable; and he was bound to say, from his experience, and from discussing the matter with many men, both landlords and tenants, that he believed this was a power which would be greatly valued by the tenants in Scotland; but if it was to be given, it would require to be hedged about by greater safeguards than he found at the present time. The clause, as it now stood, would scarcely be just and satisfactory to one of the two parties chiefly concerned in it. He only desired to add that, in his own opinion, no such Bill as this was really necessary—at any rate, it was so in only a very small proportion of cases. It would do an exceedingly small amount of good, and it ran the risk of' doing a considerable amount of harm. But, at the same time, as great expectations had been raised in Scotland with regard to it, he thought it would be most unwise in their Lordships, by rejecting the Bill, to disappoint these expectations.
THE MARQUESS OF HUNTLY
said, he believed the Bill would do a great deal of good and no harm. After hearing 2053 the speeches made the other night, and the speech made by the noble Duke, he felt there were in that House a certain number of Rip Van Winkles. It would appear from them that this question had not been before the country for the last generation, and had not been thrashed out by the Royal Commission on Agriculture. The present Bill was drawn on the lines of the Report of that Commission, and it was believed by the great majority of agriculturists to be a measure which would be of the greatest benefit to agriculture generally in Scotland. The noble Duke the other night asked their Lordships to consider this question in a practical way; but tonight he had dealt with it himself in a very impracticable way. The bugbear which the noble Duke raised as to a tenant reclaiming land would disappear when they remembered that it required the consent of the landlord. The noble Duke was very eloquent on the necessity of limiting the compensation by the outlay; but a tenant in some cases might fairly ask for a little more than the outlay, and they ought not to lay down a hard-and-fast rule. They were to protect the incoming tenant by a system of valuation; and he was not afraid, like the noble Lord opposite (Lord Balfour), of men setting up as valuers. He hoped they would enter the business duly qualified, and those men who understood the business would really be the protectors of the landlord and the incoming tenant. As to the noble Duke's allusion to drainage, there certainly was a peculiar moss in the Highlands which grew on the top of the hills, and drainage would damage it; but no tenant would be silly enough to go and ruin his grazing. A Proviso might, however, be put in to cover that point. He should like to see words inserted which would secure that drainage should be done according to the specifications served upon the landlord or his agent. As to the bearing of this Bill on agriculture, he felt that some noble Lords rather forgot the feeling that existed in the country in favour of a measure of this sort. He did not speak in the discussion the other night, because he was afraid the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) might class him among the manure merchants, implement makers, or busybodies; but he would now remind their Lordships that in 1874 he 2054 brought forward a Bill which was almost exactly like this Bill. He was then left by himself, and he received a very severe castigation at the hands of the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), who was afterwards President of the Royal Commission. Then, in the following year, when the Agricultural Holdings Bill was brought forward, he entreated that it should be made compulsory. As the noble Earl (the Earl of Wemyss) said the other night, the nine years since then had worked great changes; and when they read the evidence given before the Royal Commission they would unquestionably see this was the least modicum of agricultural change which was required for the benefit of the country. It was not one Party that demanded it, but agriculturists as a whole. He was sure these Bills would not have been agreed to if the agriculturists of England had not a great friend in the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), because he thought the opposite Party would be very fond indeed of throwing these Bills out altogether. [Cries of "No!"] At all events, he was pleased to hear from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Salisbury) that he threw the responsibility of the measure on the Government. In doing that the noble Marquess threw upon the Liberal Party something they were very pleased, indeed, to receive; and he foresaw that would form the peg on many platforms in the Recess for orators to hang a tale upon. He would cordially vote for the second reading.
§ LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
said, that the Report of the Royal Commission on Agriculture had been referred to on various occasions, and some persons seemed to look upon that Report as Gospel; but he thought it was a very ill - edited document, and he had no scruple in saying so, since it was clear that the noble Duke the President of the Commission was not the author of it; also, because the noble Duke had told the House that the Report had been accepted unanimously by 20 Members of the Commission. It was impossible for 20 persons of different classes, some of whom had little knowledge of agriculture—as, for instance, Mr. Stansfeld—to be unanimous upon a Report, unless it was colourless, or, as this Report 2055 did, contained all sorts of opinions, from which anyone might pick and choose what he liked. The House would remember that a short time ago the noble Earl who introduced a Bill for altering the mode of payment of tithes (Earl Stanhope) stated that the Bill was in accordance with the recommendations of the Report of the Agricultural Commission; and the noble Duke the President of that Commission had contradicted him. Such a recommendation was, however, to be found in two places in the Report; first, at page 18, where it was given as the opinion of several witnesses, and again at page 32, where it was given as the opinion of the Commission. If the noble Duke had been the author of the Report, he could not well have forgotten these paragraphs. However, although the Report of the Commission recommended that the power of distraint should be limited to two years, the Government Bill proposed to limit it to one year only. This would be very prejudicial to small farmers, and would diminish instead of increasing their credit; for as long as the landlord gave time to a tenant, other creditors also thought that be might get round, and give him time. As to drainage, lie agreed with what had been already said against giving unlimited power to tenants to drain as they pleased. He remembered a case similar to those mentioned by the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll). One very wet season, someone asked why some land had not been drained, as there was plenty of fall and facilities for draining, and it was said that to do so would have spoiled the best summer pasture on the farm, and the only land on it which did not suffer from drought.
THE MARQUESS OF LOTHIAN
said, he accepted this Bill, believing that its principle was one which had been accepted by the whole country—which ought, therefore, to be embodied in legislation. At the same time, he thought that in drawing up this Bill too much consideration had, perhaps, been given to the case for the tenant, and not enough to that of the landlord. The noble Duke who spoke at the beginning of the discussion (the Duke of Argyll) had referred to the question of drainage, and that was a point in regard to which he thought a good deal of alteration ought to be made in the Bill in Committee. The 2056 noble Duke had given Notice of an Amendment which, to a large extent, he would support. The noble Duke proposed that the landlord should have the right to appeal to the sheriff to put a veto upon drainage proposed to be carried out by the tenant. He did not think he should like to go so far as that; but he should like to suggest that the tenant should give notice to the landlord of his proposal to drain, and that the landlord should have the right to refer the matter to the Land Commissioners, under whose direction a Report should be drawn up stating whether the proposed drainage was necessary or not. He thought that would do away with the wrong that might otherwise be done to the landlord. The Bill seemed to him to be based on two assumptions—the first, that the tenant had large capital; and the second, that he would employ it for the best interests of the soil. Now, there were many tenants who knew nothing at all about drainage, and drainage could not be satisfactorily carried out without a great deal of money. A. farmer might do irretrievable damage to a farm by over-drainage or bad drainage. He therefore held that a tenant should not be able to spend large sums of money without some guarantee to the landlord that it would be properly laid out. Then he thought injustice might be done to a tenant under the clause entitling a landlord to compensation for any deterioration of the holding caused by the tenant during the tenancy. Landlords, as a rule, had not claimed such compensation. Moreover, the Bill had been drawn without reference to improving leases. Under an improving lease, land might be let to a tenant at a very low rent, and yet at the end of the lease a tenant might come down upon the landlord for heavy compensation; and the effect of this would be that landlords would be averse to granting improving leases; and, should this be the case, it would be very prejudicial both to landlord and tenant, and to the country generally. He must congratulate the Government upon the omission of the word "ish," which had proved so great a stumbling-block to many Members in "another place."
THE EARL OF GALLOWAY
considered that the Bill would unduly interfere with freedom of contract between 2057 landlord and tenant. Nothing could be more injurious to the interests of the country than such interference, and he had seen no reason to change his opinion; but they had got far beyond that. He need not refer to the measures that had been passed within recent years, and he did not see that there would be any good now in re-casting this measure; but he wished to refer to one or two points in regard to which he thought the Bill ought to be amended. With regard to the question whether the notice to quit should be for one or for two years, he confessed that for himself he had never had much difficulty with his tenants; and certainly he had always found that the best arrangement was to give considerable time in coming to an understanding in regard to renewing the lease. He believed that was very much the best method; but it was quite another thing to lay that down in an Act of Parliament. There might be great hardship in that on both sides, as had been pointed out by the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll); and he, therefore, hoped the Government would give way on that point. The next matter to which he wished to call attention was the 29th clause. He could not imagine anything more objectionable than the power of assignation given by that clause. A landlord might find himself in great difficulty between relatives who were proper assignees, and possibly some other individual who had been an assignee before the death of the tenant. He also considered it was necessary to have some analysis of the manures which were put into the soil. He could not imagine anything more important than that there should be such an analysis, both in the interest of the tenant, to insure that he was not putting the wrong stuff into the ground, and also in the interest of the landlord, to insure that he would not be made to pay for what had never been put into the ground. If the Bill were amended in the directions he had indicated, he did not think there would be any objection to its passing into law.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
said, he had had an opportunity of expressing his opinion on the English Bill, and he should not be justified now in entering at any length upon a discussion of this measure. But one or two remarks had been made in the course 2058 of the discussion to which he should like to allude. The noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Huntly) said that the pith of this Bill was the interest that it gave to the incoming tenants. For his own part, he entirely demurred to that description of the Bill.
THE MARQUESS OF HUNTLY
remarked that what he had said was that its chief object appeared to be to protect the incoming tenant.
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
, resuming, said, his idea of the Bill was that it was in the interest of the incoming tenant, of the outgoing tenant, and of the landlord. If the Bill had any one direction more than another, it was to induce the tenant who was in the occupation of the farm to lay out as much money as he ought to do for the improvement of the soil, knowing quite well that he would be recouped for the outlay. But the interests of the outgoing tenant and the landlord were, as they ought to be, considered in the provisions of the Bill. The noble Lord (Lord Stanley of Alderley) seemed to treat the matter as if the Report of the Royal Commissioners was under discussion, because the noble Lord drew attention not to the Bill, hut to the Agricultural Commission. The noble Lord stated that the Report was very badly edited; that they did not know where the Report began and where it ended; and, further, that noble Lord asked what could be the merits of a Report on Agriculture when he found the name attached to it of Mr. Stansfeld, who know nothing about agriculture. For his own part, he had not the honour of Mr. Stansfeld's acquaintance when he was appointed to that Commission; but he would say that there were none of his Colleagues during the whole inquiry who paid more attention to the evidence brought before them than Mr. Stansfeld, and that Gentleman signed the Report because he was convinced by the evidence of the witnesses of the necessity of the conclusions to which the Commission had arrived. Therefore, he demurred to the statement that Mr. Stansfeld was not as competent as anyone on that Commission to sign that Report. What he wished to draw attention to, however, was Clause 29, and he had a very strong opinion that that clause was objectionable. It enabled a tenant to assign his lease in the case of his death, 2059 The noble Lord (Lord Carlingford) had said that as he could assign his stock, so he ought to be able to assign his lease; but it seemed to him that the two things were totally different. By assigning the stock there could be no injury to anyone; but by assigning the lease to an assignee, a great deal of mischief might be done, not only to the landlord, but to the district. The tenant might assign the lease, and the landlord had no power whatever to object to the assignee, unless he could show that he was not a good farmer, or had not sufficient money to carry on the farm. These, to his mind, were very important facts to be laid before the sheriff; but he considered it would be a very great curse to a county and to a property to have a man as a tenant who was an habitual drunkard. The assignee might also be a man of a very immoral character, which was also an objection, but one which the sheriff would not be able to sustain. But there was another objection, and he did not know that it was not worse than either of those he had mentioned. The assignee might be an exceedingly bad tempered man. None of these three cases would justify the landlord in going to the sheriff and complaining of the assignee. It might so happen that if the tenant of a farm assigned his lease and died in the first year of his tenancy, the holding would be settled for 18 years on a man of the most objectionable character. The only power which the law now gave was that the heir-at-law succeeded to the property; and this clause, he contended, should either be struck out, or the power of the landlord to object to the assignee ought to be very greatly enlarged, so as to include the points to which he had called attention. On the whole, he thought that it would be a great misfortune if the Bill were not to become law this Session.
§ LORD CARLINGFORD (LORD PRESIDENT of the COUNCIL)
said, the reception of the Bill by noble Lords from Scotland was one that could not fail to be gratifying to those who were in charge of the measure; and although some important points had been mentioned which would require to be carefully considered before they came to the Committee stage, which he supposed would be on Monday next, he thought there were scarcely any of those remarks which 2060 required now to be commented upon. But with reference to what had just fallen from the noble Duke (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon), the noble Duke appeared to forget that the lease under the present law went absolutely to the heir-at-law. He could not imagine what safeguard the landlord could possess with respect to the character or temper of the heir-at-law, any more than lie would have as to the character and temper of the tenant's assignee. As the law at present stood, the tenant was not only under that which appeared to him the great disadvantage—and an unsound state of things—of having his lease governed by one law of succession, and his stock by another, but, however objectionable to the tenant as well as to the landlord the heir-at-law might be, the tenant had no means of setting him aside. The lease went absolutely to the heir-at-law; and, as far as he could understand the case, it would appear to him to be a great improvement both to the landlord and to the tenant that the tenant should have the power of choosing the party who was to succeed to the residue of his lease. As to the point raised on the 1st clause by the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll), who objected very much to the omission at the end of that clause of the words which referred to the inherent capabilities of the soil, the noble Duke attributed much greater importance to the phrase than the Government did. He did not think there was any difference in principle between the noble Duke and the Government; but they did not attribute anything like the importance to the words that was given to them by his noble Friend. They were not in the Bill as originally drawn, and had been accepted on the Motion of a Member of the other House; and the reason why they were not in this Bill was a very simple one—it was simply that nobody had proposed to put them in. Therefore, they had not been put in; and his noble Friend would have seen from tonight's discussion that all the noble Lords from Scotland did not share his views in regard to the importance of those words. He could only say that the matter would receive consideration when the Committee stage was reached.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.