HL Deb 28 July 1887 vol 318 cc279-91

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, that an apology was due to their Lordships for his thus early intervening in their Lordships' debates. He hoped, however, that an excuse for him would be found in the fact that, in common with his hon. Friend Sir Edward Birkbeck, he was responsible for the Bill in the House of Commons; and as the Bill and himself reached their Lordships' House on the same date, he could not refuse the request of his hon. Friend to take charge of it. The Bill was a very simple one; but he would like, with their Lordships' permission, to say a few words with, regard to its scope, its necessity, and the machinery by which they hoped to carry its objects into effect. Their Lordships would observe that the provision of allotments was not within the scope of the present Bill. He desired to express the satisfaction with which he remembered that their Lordships had lately agreed to the second reading of a Bill brought in by the noble Earl (the Earl of Dunraven), and that the Government had lately in "another place" introduced a Bill almost exactly upon the lines of one which he had the honour to introduce last Session. As he had said, he remembered that with satisfaction, because it manifested the interest which their Lordships took in the subject. When this question was first mooted, he called together the delegates of the Spalding Division of Lincolnshire, who were elected by the labourers, to confer with him as their Member, and from their experience they pointed out cases in which very great hardship had occurred. In some of these cases weekly tenants had been turned out of their allotments at seven days' notice, just before the harvest, thereby losing crops varying in value from £4 to £4 10s. Exactly the same experience was reported to Sir Edward Birkbeck in Norfolk. The artizans of Nottingham, to the number of 1,600, were also allotment holders, and were extremely interested in the success and the passing of this Bill. With regard to the machinery by which they proposed to carry out the provisions of the Bill, the first essential present to their minds was that it must be cheap. The sum in dispute being so small, it was absolutely necessary that any valuation which might be come to should cost so little that it would not make any appreciable reduction on the sum to be received by the outgoing tenant. The idea struck him at the time that it might be possible to get it done for nothing. He recollected—and he believed their Lordships would bear him out—that it was said there were only two classes in the community who worked for nothing—namely, magistrates and Members of Parliament. Members of Parliament had now so many onerous duties cast upon them that they could not be expected to give much time to such a matter as this. The analogy at once struck him of the public footpaths, which were ordered to be closed occasionally after being inspected by two magistrates. The framers of the Bill had often been asked why magistrates had been selected as the class from which arbitrators should be drawn. The simple answer was that they were the only people who were likely to give their services gratuitously. He, therefore, ventured to express a hope that their Lordships would not only give a second reading to the Bill, but that, unless urged by very serious considerations, he might suggest to their Lordships that they might do so without any amendment. He fully admitted the right of their Lordships to amend either that or any other Bill at their discretion; but he desired to point out a circumstance which ought to be known to them. The self-styled champions of the rights of tenants in Ireland in the House of Commons persistently blocked that obviously simple measure of tenant right as often as he introduced it, and it was only by a ruse that they obtained a second reading on a Wednesday afternoon, he commended that consideration especially to two noble Lords opposite, who were identified politically with that Party. But as he was sure that their Lordships did not wish to play into their hands and give them another opportunity of wrecking the Bill, he trusted that no Amendment would be introduced in Committee, which would have the effect of returning the Bill again to the House of Commons. He had, he hoped, shown at not too much length what was the scope of the Bill. He had shown how simple, and yet how adequate, was the machinery by which they hoped to carry it into effect, and the necessity which had been proved to exist for its provisions. He had been told that the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Bramwell) intended to move the rejection of the Bill; but he confessed that he was at a loss to know upon what grounds. If it was upon the ground that it was an interferences with the freedom of contract, he would remind their Lordships that, especially in modern times, many contracts had been considered to be contrary to public policy, and as such had not been enforced by the Legislature, and that that had been especially the case where Parliament had had reason to suppose that one of the two parties to a contract was not precisely in the position of a free agent. If, on the other hand, the noble and learned Lord intended to oppose the Bill as an interference with the rights of property, he owned that he should be still more astonished. He contended that the Bill was, in the highest sense, a Bill to prevent the confiscation of property. It was a matter of how they denned the word "property." Surely they should not be told that that alone was property which descended to them from their ancestors, whilst that was not property at all which they created by their own manual labour and exertions. The noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Argyll), in the eloquent speech which he addressed to their Lordships on the occasion of the second reading of the Criminal Law Amendment (Ireland) Bill, claimed the right of the labourers of this country to combine in order to protect, and, if necessary, to raise the price of their labour. Nay, their Lordships had gone further, and had admitted, by passing the Allotments Bill of his noble Friend near him (the Earl of Dunraven), the right of labourers to be provided with a field for the employment of their spare capital—namely, their spare labour. Surely, therefore, it followed that it was still more the duty of the Legislature to protect from confiscation what was actually labour in its concrete form. He therefore asked them to read the Bill a second time, in the firm conviction that it was a simple, a just, a necessary, and an adequate measure. He felt sure that by doing so they would express their sympathy for, and their determination to protect, the form of property—for he adhered to the word "property"—which resulted from an industrious desire on the part of the labouring classes of this country to attain to an honest independence.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a,"—(The Earl of Winchilsea.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day three months, said, that he spoke with considerable reserve in the presence of the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies (the Earl of Onslow), who knew so much more about the question than he did. But he had a justification in the opinion of a noble Lord (Lord Tollemaehe), whose authority on the subject would be recognized, and who had written to him a letter in which he expressed his opinion that the Bill would deter many landowners from granting allotments, and his hype that the Bill might at least be postponed until the provisions of the Government measure were before their Lordships. It was not with any ill-feeling towards allotments that he moved the rejection of the Bill; he was in favour of granting allotments—they were both profitable and agreeable to those who had them, and made them feel that property in land was for their benefit as well as for that of others. But this Bill, he believed, would operate against the object of the promoters of it. At present nobody was under any obligation to give an allotment. The effect of the 5th clause of the Bill was that no one should grant an allotment at all unless he granted it on the terms specified in the clause. Were their Lordships prepared to pass a Bill which said that no allotments should be granted except on particular terms, when it was absolutely certain that many persons would object to those terms? Another mischief about this provision was that it was a direct invitation to dishonesty. A man who had entered into a bargain that he would observe certain terms and conditions and would exact no others was by a provision, of this sort invited, after he had had the benefit of his bargain, to depart from it, and to get out of the person with whom: he had contracted more than had been stipulated for. The argument brought forward by the noble Earl was that tins was only an extension of the principle which was put in operation by the Agricultural Holdings Act. He strenuously I opposed that Act when it was before their Lordships' House. Moreover, it was a fallacy to say what was continually being stated—namely, that one exception from a general rule was a warrant for another. That was not so, for every exception from a general rule must be justified by the circumstances of that particular case. He maintained that there was no valid reason for making this particular case an exception to the general rule. He submitted to their Lordships that the clauses of the Bill were very objectionable; but the fundamental error of the measure was in providing that unless allotments were granted on certain terms they should not be granted at all. The second error of the Bill was that it offered a direct inducement to fraud; and, further, the clauses were unreasonable in themselves, and held out to anyone who was unwise enough to grant allotments such a possibility of litigation that any prudent man would be disposed to say—" I will have nothing to do with granting allotments on these terms." With no desire to oppose the granting of allotments, which he hoped would be granted more numerously, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment moved, to leave out ("now") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day three months").—(The Lord Bramwell.)


said, he hoped their Lordships would not agree to the Amendment of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell), on the ground he had given that a Government Billon the subject had been introduced into the other House of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, he was sure, would not make any apology for moving his Amendment, seeing that he always proposed Amendments to almost every Bill of any kind in that House. He said, in justification of the course he took, that he had received a letter from some noble Lord in that House saying that it would he possible for his noble Friend who had introduced the Bill to postpone the second reading until the Government had announced their intention, which he said they were going to do next Monday. But, as a matter of fact, Her Majesty's Government had already fully explained their Bill, and he regretted that the noble and learned Lord had not been acquainted with the fact. Had the noble and learned Lord not read the explanation given by the President of the Local Government Board? If he had, he would have seen that Mr. Ritchie, in explaining the provisions of the Bill, explained why provisions with reference to compensation were not included. The reason why there was no provision for compensation was that such provision was contained in the very Bill which was now before the House for second reading, and Mr. Ritchie then said he hoped this Bill would pass. Mr. Ritchie said that compensation for outgoing tenants was to be left to the promoters of this Bill, which he hoped might become law. He (the Earl of Dunraven) submitted to their Lordships that if they rejected this Bill they would be rejecting what was practically a portion of the Government Bill which would have been included if it had not been already contained in this Bill. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell) went more largely into matters of detail than was usual on the question of second reading, and he did not propose to follow him into these matters of detail; but he would refer to his objection that the consent of the landlord should be made in writing. He asked what was to happen in cases where the consent of the landlord had been made, but not in writing. That seemed to be a somewhat frivolous objection, and he almost expected him to ask what was to happen in cases where landlords did not know how to write. The noble and learned Lord said the provisions in Clause 5 were a distinct incentive to dishonesty and fraud. He could not see how the contention was to be made out. The noble, and learned Lord did not show any proof of his proposition. All that Clause 5 did was to prevent what was scarcely too harsh a word to describe as dishonesty on the part of some landlords. The object of the Bill was to prevent landlords doing what 99 out of 100 landlords never dreamt of doing, and that was to refuse reasonable compensation for certain improvements, such as drainage, &c. The noble and learned Lord said there was a good deal of difference between the present case and the case of tenant farmers affected by the Agricultural Holdings Act. But if it was necessary to protect tenants under the Agricultural Holdings Act, he thought there was à fortiori very strong need for protection of the class of men who cultivated those small allotments, and whoso ease this Bill provided for. The objection of the noble and learned Lord seemed to be scarcely worthy of the attention of the House. He hoped their Lordships would agree to the second reading of the Bill, not only on account of the value of the measure itself, but because it practically formed part of the Bill in the other House of Parliament in the hands of the Government.


said, he was greatly in favour of allotments, but he was not sure that both in the Bill now before their Lordships, and also in the Government Bill, a little too much was not done by compulsion as regarded both landlord and tenant. In his opinion they legislated a little too much in making everything compulsory, and leaving nothing to be done by agreement. He objected also to the proposals for setting aside contracts, as they seemed to be now a prominent feature of all land legislation. Another point was that there were two Bills on the same subject. It was sometimes difficult enough to interpret one Act, and it was unreasonable that there should be two on the same subject. He did not wish to oppose the Bill; but for the reasons he had stated he could not give it hearty support.


said, that, as he had charge of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1883, in its passage through the other House, he was glad to hear the noble Duke who had just sat down say that, notwithstanding his objection to this Bill, he was not going to vote against it. The Bill was supplementary to the Agricutural Holdings Act, 18S3, and extended the right to compensation to a class of persons who were not included in that Act—namely, persons who occupied small plots of land for a shorter period than one whole year. The Agricultural Holdings Act, 1875, excluded persons who held less than two acres from the benefits of compensation; but the Act of 1883, which repealed that of 1875, extended to persons holding not more than two acres, provided they held for a terra of not less than one year. This Bill extended the benefits of the Act to persons who hold for less than that period. This extension was consistent with justice and common sense, if it We re assumed that the Act of 1883 was consistent with justice and common sense. This Bill gave compensation not only to a new class of persons, but gave it for certain things not included in the Act of 1883, such as labour and unbought manures. He would remind their Lordships that under the Act of 3883 no person was allowed to contract himself out of the provisions of that measure; and, therefore, they ought to give the humbler class of tenants similar protection by means of this Bill.


said, he hoped that their Lordships would not consent to pass a measure containing a clause intended to facilitate the violation of contract. No subject had been so prolific of delusion as that of allotments. The question had at one time even led to a change of Government, and the unhappy author of the Amendment in the House of Commons which, restored Mr. Gladstone to Office was after wards ungratefully referred to by him as "a certain Mr. Jesse Collings." It had been shown that nearly three-fourths of the agricultural labourers in the country were in occupation of allotments or of cottage gardens of about a quarter of an acre. He had had personal experience on the subject, inasmuch as more than 40 years ago he had been consulted by his father, about arrangements to supply allotments as close as possible to the different hamlets near his residence, and at the end 10 years it was found that nearly all of a special set of 15 allotments particularly close to the cottages for which they had been provided had passed into the hands of one man; while at the end of 20 years all the plots had been voluntarily surrendered by the holders on the ground that they were rather an incumbrance than an advantage to them. If there was a subject upon which more cant was preached about the country than another it was upon this question of allotments. When the multiplicity of Statutes had been so fully recognized as an evil that we were constantly having Bills passed, and more brought in for their consolidation and codification on, different subjects, the introduction of two separate measures this Session on the small question of allotments, instead of one dealing with the whole of it, rendered it, quite apart from the merits or demerits of the particular Bill, a distinctly retrogade piece of legislation, especially as Parliament had already been considering more than one measure dealing with the subject this Session.


said, that if anything in the world would tend to increase the misrepresentations and delusions existing with reference to the subject of allotments, which had been denounced by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Bramwell), it would be the hasty rejection of this measure on such grounds as those put foward by him. Their Lordships had, rightly or wrongly, passed the Agricultural Tenants' Compensation Bill, which concerned the tenant farmers, and which contained a clause which prohibited them from contracting themselves out of the provisions of the measure, and it was now proposed to reject a provision which was intended to protect in the same way the poorer classes of agricultural tenants. The other Bill was not before their Lordships, and they ought to consider the present measure on its own merits, without reference to the other Bill. The suggestions of the noble and learned Lord who moved the Amendment were worthy of consideration in Committee; but they gave no ground for rejecting the Bill on the second reading. On the whole, it appeared to him that their Lordships would do well, when a Bill was presented to them with a good and a just object, to give it a second loading, oven if its provisions were imperfect.


said, he was willing to admit that since the time of the Agricultural Holdings Act there had been no great agitation on the part of allotment holders for a measure of this sort; but it was the function of their Lordships to mete out just and even handed legislation to all classes of Her Majesty's subjects. After the Agricultural Holdings Act, which dealt with the tenant farmer, Her Majesty's Government thought they were faking a perfectly consistent course in legislating for the labourer. The noble and learned Lord who moved the rejection of the Bill was, no doubt, perfectly consistent in the course he had taken; but he thought their Lordships would incur a grave charge of inconsistency if they refused to allotment holders an advantage which a few years ago they conferred on tenant farmers. The noble and learned Lord had raised an objection as to the power proposed to be given to the magistrates in Petty Sessions to appoint an arbitrator. He admitted there might be certain objections to that; but when he came to look round he really did not see any other body which would fulfil the duty better. The Land Commission and the Boards of Guardians had both been suggested; but the former body could not have the necessary local knowledge, and there were many objections which might be urged against Boards of Guardians. He wished to support the second reading of this Bill, not only as representing Her Majesty's Government, but also as the landlord of a very large number of allotments. He firmly believed the Bill would be a boon both to landlords and tenants, and he trusted that their Lordships would give it a second reading, and, if the noble and learned Lord should press his Amendment to a Division, that they would express their opinion by a majority sufficient to show their sympathy with, a hard working and deserving class. The two Bills now be- fore Parliament We re entirely separate, and dealt with quite different subjects.


said, that the I Bills were not entirely separate, because Mr. Ritchie had stated that the reason why the question of compensation was not included in the Government Bill was because of the measure now under consideration. He, however, rose for the purpose of asking his noble and learned Friend to rest satisfied with the debate that had taken place, and not to press his Motion to a Division. There was one argument used by the noble and learned Earl (the Earl of Selborne) against which he wished to protest—namely, that because in some former Bill—the Agricultural Holdings Act—they had legislated in this direction for a superior class of tenants, they should for the sake of consistency road this Bill a second time. Did the noble and learned Earl mean that those who had opposed this principle in the Agricultural Holdings Act in every way in their power were now to withhold their opposition? In opposing measures of this sort they were righting for the principle of freedom and liberty of contract. In the circumstances, however, he advised the withdrawal of the Amendment, with the view of renewing the opposition on the third reading, if the Bill had not been amended satisfactorily in Committee.


said, he thought that a good deal of loose language was used when legislation which was said to interfere with the freedom of contract was spoken of as introducing some principle unknown to the law of the land in former times. Any two persons were perfectly at liberty to come to terms and make any agreement they pleased; but the question was, what was the agreement the community would enforce? The Legislature determined that there were certain agreements which were opposed to public policy and expediency, and that the force and power of the community should not be used for the purpose of compelling obedience to them. That was a matter as old as the Common Law itself. He was afraid there was too much of a disposition in some quarters to raise this kind of interference with freedom of contract into a sort of fetish, as if it were a modern principle, unknown to the law in former times. It had always been the law, so far as he knew, that contracts which were contrary to what was called public policy could not he enforced by the State. In the case of the Agricultural Holdings Act there was a question of public policy or expediency, and in the present instance also it seemed to him that a question of expediency arose; and it was just as competent for Parliament as for the Courts of Justice to say whether, in their view, certain contracts were contrary to public policy.


said, that the Bill had his warmest and most hearty support. It was a perfect farce to increase the number of allotments in England if it were not insured to the labourers who rented the allotments that the fruits of their labour should not be arbitrarily taken away. As to the expediency of dealing with the question in more than one measure, the exigency of the case required it. The Bill before their Lordships had passed through the other House of Parliament before the Government Bill was introduced, and it would have been both, improper and inconvenient to incorporate its provisions in the Bill of the Government.


said, that the Bill before the House should be taken on its merits, and not because it was connected with any other Bill. He entirely agreed with the main objects of the measure before the House; but he doubted whether its provisions were well adapted to carry out those objects. The measure ought to harmonize as much as possible with the customs of the country. He agreed with very much which had fallen from the noble and learned Lord and the noble Duke.


said, he wished to associate himself with other landlords, I and, like many of them, he had taken a great interest for many years in the allotment question. He had also, like other landlords, had a good deal of experience in allotments. With regard to the Bill now before the House, upon the the face of it he thought it was perfectly right and just; but he feared that practically it would have the effect of deterring many landlords from granting allotments. If allotments were granted, he had remarked that the voluntary principle answered a great deal the best. But he had also felt, and avowed his opinion frequently, that there were certain cases in which compulsion was required, he also believed that if compulsory powers which could be easily carried out were contained in Acts of Parliament they would very seldom have to be exercised, because if landlords knew that if they did not give allotments they could be compelled to do so, there would be very few estates without abundance of allotments. Although he very much feared that this Bill would have the effect of deterring people from giving allotments, still, as the House was evidently in favour of the measure, and as probably his noble and learned Friend, if he divided, would be left in a very small minority, he hoped the Amendment would be withdrawn.

Amendment (by leave of the House) withdrawn.

Original Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.