HL Deb 01 March 1887 vol 311 cc862-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it had been the subject of a great deal of discussion both in and out of Parliament for several years. It had been before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1884. It was passed in 1885, and came up to their Lordships' House very late in the Session. The Second Reading of it was then refused. In 1886 the Bill again passed the House of Commons, and, although in some details it had been altered, in essentials it was the same Bill as passed by the House of Commons in 1885 and 1886. The Bill contained a vast number of details of a technical character; and the measure was a proper one to lay before a Select Committee. He was, therefore, glad to find that the noble Earl opposite (Earl Stanhope) had put down a Motion that in the event of the Bill being read a second time he would move that it be referred to a Select Committee. The object of the Bill was to accelerate and facilitate the enfranchisements of copyhold. There were two propositions in connection with this subject which he thought should be established—(1) that the extinction of copyholds was a matter of great public interest; and (2) that the extinction would not proceed to any efficient extent unless some pressure of law was put on the parties interested in them. The Real Property Commissioners, in their Third Report of 1882, did not recommend compulsion, but only that some facilities and inducements should be offered. Nothing was done on that Report with regard to copyholds. The matter, however, was specially inquired into by a Committee of the House of Commons which sat in 1838. That Committee was of remarkable strength, including, as it did, the then Attorney General (Lord Campbell), Sir Robert Peel, Sir James Graham, Mr. Shaw Lefevre, and a number of county Gentlemen. They said that— The abolition of this tenure would not only be of great public benefit, but should be made, if possible, a national object. They are also of opinion that no plan which merely leaves the option to the parties to enfranchise will meet the exigency of the case, and they are therefore desirous of seeing a plan of enfranchisment introduced which shall have a due regard to the rights as well of the lord as the copyholder, but which shall be eventually compulsory on both. And they concluded— They earnestly desire that measures may be speedily taken to accomplish this object with reference as well to lands of customary as of copyhold tenure. It appears to them that the best mode of effecting it would be by giving every facility to enfranchisement for a short term of years, and that after that period the enfranchisement should proceed on the compulsory principle. That Report led to the passing of the Act of 1841, which was the first Copyhold Enfranchisement Act; but the measure applied compulsion in a peculiar way since abandoned, and its machinery was so clumsy that it did not work at all. Only voluntary enfranchisements took place under this Act, and they only reached a yearly average of 42. About 10 years later the matter was again made the subject of inquiry by a Committee of Parliament, who again advised compulsion, and in the result the Act of 1852 was passed. That Act gave, with compulsion, an impetus to enfranchisement, and during the six years of its operation the yearly average was 243. Further compulsion was applied by the Act of 1858; and up to the end of 1883, the latest date to which he could find any tabulated account, there were about 13,000 enfranchisements under it, or an average of 554 yearly. And with all this effect of compulsion there had been no complaint—at least, no audible one—from the parties subject to it. He observed by the tables that of late years there had been a considerable decrease in the number of copyholders enfranchised, and he was told that this was due to the circumstance that the Treasury desired that the office fees should be increased so as to make the parties, in fact, pay the office expenses, and to the rule—a very unjust one as he thought—that the applicant should pay the costs. The present Bill altered the rule about costs, and introduced provisions intended to enable the parties to get what was tantamount to a statutory award for themselves without resorting to the office at all. There were still a great number of copyholds left. In Lancashire, he believed, there were considerable tracts where the whole land was under copyhold, and their Lordships were all familiar with them in different parts of the country; while those who had the greatest experience, and were most conversant with the working of the copyhold system, were most strongly of opinion that it was desirable to give a fresh impulse to their enfranchisement. What, then, was the amount and measure of the compulsion proposed by the Bill? It proposed that on the next ad- mittance the lord should serve on the tenant who came to be admitted a notice of enfranchisement, and if he omitted to do so he should be subject to certain, penalties. With such notice the Bill proposed that the lord should be bound to serve a statement of what he was prepared to take as compensation for enfranchisement. Now, if there was to be any compulsion at all it was impossible to conceive any that would create a less amount of vexation than those provisions. The Bill imposed the very minimum of trouble and expense. The notice is to be given when the lord must be holding a Court for admittance, and has the tenant face to face with him. And the offer is to be made when the lord is demanding his fine, and therefore must have been estimating the improved value of the holding. There were two other clauses which affected compulsion—Clauses 10 and 11—which dealt with sporting rights, and removed them from their present position as manorial incidents which could only be enfranchised by consent, into the category of other incidents, which could be enfranchised in the ordinary way. By Clause 32 the parties were enabled by a memorandum of enfranchisement to obtain that which was equivalent to a statutory award; and there were other clauses connected with it, and drawn with the intention of enabling the parties to dispense with the assistance of the Commissioners, thereby saving time and cost. Clause 44 directed the Commissioners to publish a scale of compensation for the guidance of valuers and parties, it was proposed that compensation should be by way of rent-charge wherever it was of less value than £25—that was to say, whenever it amounted to £1 a-year. That clause had been recommended by the Incorporated Law Society; but he had inserted it rather as affording a basis for discussion in Committee than from any notion that it would be accepted as it stood. It was a subject on which there were great differences of opinion. Other clauses dealt with the payment of rent-charges. Others of considerable importance gave powers to limited owners to give discharges for compensations, to retain small sums, and to charge their payments upon the settled estates. But he would not now go into further detail. He attributed considerable importance to the fact that this measure had received the approval of the Incorporated Law Society and of the Land Commissioners. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Hobhouse.)


said that he should not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, because he understood that it was the general desire of their Lordships that it should be read a second time, with the object of its being referred to a Select Committee. He opposed a somewhat similar measure which was brought forward in 1885, on the ground that it proposed to make the enfranchisement of copyholds compulsory, and it was rejected on the Motion for its Second Reading. He fully admitted that the copyhold tenure was a bad one, from which the greatest possible good was not obtainable, and he believed it would be a good thing if, by the wave of a magic wand, the whole of the copyholds could be turned into freeholds. But it should be left to the decision of the landlord and tenant whether that tenure should be converted into freehold.


said, he was anxious to state at once that, although he did not altogether approve of some of the proposals of the Bill, he did not intend to oppose its Second Reading. He thought that this measure was a great improvement upon the former one. In the present Bill there was, at all events, an effort to preserve the rights of the two parties to the enfranchisement. It was clear that, in the interests of both parties, and in the interests of the public, it was desirable that something should be done to improve the existing law in regard to copyholds. Every lawyer had admitted over and over again that the copyhold tenure was a bad one, and that it had given rise to questions of great difficulty with regard to the minerals lying beneath the land subjected to it. The noble and learned Lord who had last spoken had objected to the enfranchisement of copyhold lands being made compulsory; but it must be remembered that unless some pressure were brought to bear, people would not be induced to move in the matter. He was glad to find that the machinery of this Bill was much more simple and less expensive than that proposed to be established by the measure of 1885. He hoped that when the Bill came to be examined by a Selcet Committee, it would be still further improved.


said, that as his noble and learned Friend had accepted his proposal to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, he should support the Second Reading. While admitting that it was desirable to get rid of copyhold tenure, he did not think that there was a great demand for it on the part of the public, seeing that yesterday a Petition had been presented from 269 manors against it. Moreover, the enfranchisement of copyholds was proceeding, if not rapidly, at least satisfactorily—554 enfranchisements a-year—and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had enfranchised 2,500 copyholders. He thought that it was unjust to the landlords, whose interest was remote, to require them to defray the cost of valuation, of fixing the boundaries, and of ascertaining the quantity of minerals beneath the surface out of the almost nominal fines which they received. He would like to see a clause introduced which would guard the rights of the lords of manors to the minerals on the land. There were many complicated clauses and difficulties in the Bill which would require to be carefully dealt with by the Committee. He hoped that power would be given to call for evidence.


said, that this measure was one in which great interest was taken in certain parts of the country, and especially in Lancashire. There was a large tract in Lancashire where the lords' interest was so small as to be of very little value. Those copyholds were considered of much greater value to the stewards, and on enfranchisement the stewards got an amount of compensation far exceeding any which the lords got. A tenure of that description was kept up much more in the interests of the steward than of the lord, and therefore their lordships would not be surprised that the feeling in that part of the country in favour of enfranchisement was very strong. He would ask his noble Friend to consider this question of stewards' compensation. As far as he saw, if the lord was to get anything under £50 the steward was to get £4. He would like to see it provided that when the lord gained only a few shillings the steward should not gain a few pounds. He thought it would not be impossible to devise a scheme by which a certain number of copyhold tenants might act together so as to reduce the cost. There were many cases in which people would enfranchise if something were to force them, but who would not unless some such compulsion were applied. As to what his noble and learned Friend (Lord Bramwell) had said about the public interest being only the interest of those who possessed the land making such arrangement as they pleased; he thought that if a law of tenure was prejudicial to the public interests the public had a right to provide that it should not exist. He was very much struck by what he had seen when taken professionally to a manor on which certain enfranchisements were to take place. As he went along he observed the most striking contrasts. On some holdings there were new, handsome, and costly buildings, while on others the buildings were squalid and mean; and he was able at once to put his finger upon the holdings which had been enfranchised and upon those where no enfranchisement had taken place. He quite admitted, however, that the Bill ought to be carefully scrutinized in Committee.


said, he was willing to admit that they ought to simplify the law so as to make registration of title more possible, and, therefore, he would not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. But he must demur to what his noble Friend in charge of the Bill had said as to the burning desire of copyholders to enfranchise land. With regard to what his noble and learned Friend had said about the unimproved condition of the buildings on unfranchised holdings, he would observe that the laws gave the copyholders a perfect means of securing themselves against the slightestloss or inconvenience arising from their desire to improve. All they had to do was to enfranchise the house on its unimproved value and to improve it afterwards. What probably was the case on the holdings of which his noble and learned Friend had spoken was, that where men had capital they enfranchised and put up good buildings, and where they had not the bad buildings remained. He was aware that there were parts of the country, such as Lancashire, where serious inconvenience did arise under the present state of things. But the returns on the subject were not a sufficient guide as to the number of enfranchisements. It was only the copyholds enfranchised by the Land Commissioners which were given. There were a large number besides which were enfranchised. It was more costly to go to the Land Commissioners than to enfranchise by agreement. It would certainly be a great public advantage if anything could be done to simplify land tenure; but it was not necessary to do anything which would tend by worrying the copyholder to force him into enfranchisement when he did not desire it, and he thought the Bill would have somewhat that effect as it at present stood. If it was thought necessary to compel copyholders to enfranchise, it should be done by a direct Act, with as little expense as possible to the persons interested, and by a law which all classes of persons could clearly understand.


said, he thought a sense of obligation must be felt by the House and by all those who desired to promote reform of the law, to his noble Friend (Lord Hobhouse) for bringing the subject forward and putting this Bill into the greatly improved form in which it stood. Whether the inconvenience of copyhold tenures was greater or less, all were agreed that it would be a good thing to get rid of them; and this Bill, which would at least accelerate and facilitate their extinction, was therefore a step in the right direction. He hoped that the Bill might emerge from the Select Committee and become law this year.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.