HL Deb 17 June 1895 vol 34 cc1239-44

, who rose to move the Second Reading of this Bill, said, that it had passed through the other House with little or no opposition; and as far as he knew, it had not been regarded there as being in any sense a contentious measure. At the same time it dealt with a question of no small importance to many persons who were engaged in the market-gardening industry, an industry which had been developed in recent years in certain districts to a considerable extent, and which had escaped much of the depression which had weighed lately so heavily on other branches of agriculture. The Bill had been prepared in the interests chiefly of the market gardeners of South Worcestershire, who carried on their business under somewhat different conditions from those prevailing in other parts of the country. The need for some legislation of this kind had been generally felt in Worcestershire for some little time. It had been realised by men of both political parties, and all residents in the district; and repeated promises of assistance had been made by the present Member for Evesham, and by the late Member (Sir Edmund Lechmere) who himself introduced in the other House a Bill framed on very much the same lines as those of this measure. He hoped therefore that their Lordships would be disposed to give their assent to the main provisions of the Bill. It might possibly be found necessary to amend some of the details in Committee. It could not be said that the Bill embodied any new principle, for its object was simply to extend the application of the Agriculcultural Holdings Act of 1883 to certain cases which at present were not adequately provided for in that measure. It proposed merely to give to market gardeners advantages similar to those already conferred upon other agriculturists. The object of the Act of 1883 was—in the first place, to secure compensation to agricultural tenants for improvements like manuring and draining effected by them in the ordinary course of their industry; and secondly, to secure compensation for exceptional improvements made by them if they had obtained the written permission of the landlord to make them. These provisions, useful as they might be to meet the case of an ordinary farmer, were of but little use to meet the case of the market gardener, for improvements, held (under the Act of 1883) to be exceptional improvements, on ordinary farms, were essential and necessary in the case of the market-garden industry. For instance, the planting of fruit trees and bushes, and the erection or enlargement of buildings, were not unnaturally considered (under the Act of 1883) to be exceptional improvements, and the consent of the landlord must be shown before compensation could be claimed. But both these things were absolutely essential to the market gardener's business; they were as necessary as manuring or draining was to the ordinary farmer. It was proposed, therefore, in this Bill, that, where land was used as a market garden with the knowledge of the landlord, improvements of this kind should be taken out of the category of "accidental" improvements, and that with regard to them a market gardener should have the same rights of compensation as were already possessed by other agricultural tenants with regard to ordinary and necessary improvements. He might be asked why market gardeners should not be left to obtain the written consent of the landlord before undertaking these improvements, and it might be said that such consent would not be withheld if the improvements were so obviously necessary. If that objection were raised, he would point out in answer that it was proposed that general consent must still be obtained before the land could be treated as a market garden. But he maintained that, once that general consent had been given further consent ought not to be necessary, for when a landlord agreed to let his land as a market garden he knew quite well what the tenants would have to do; and to compel the tenant to obtain consent in respect of every detail of his work would be to worry and harass him in a quite unnecessary manner. As a matter of fact the unworkable character of the Act of 1883 in this respect had been so fully recognised in South Worcestershire that there was no instance on record of a market gardener having attempted to make use of the measure. This Bill was wanted to prevent the possibility of the infliction of great hardship. A tenant might have effected a number of improvements and might have thus increased considerably the letting value of his land, and yet he was liable to be deprived of the benefit of those improvements by having his tenancy terminated or by having his rent increased. This possibility of hardship was specially felt in South Worcestershire, where the market gardeners carried on their business under rather exceptional conditions. Nearly all the market gardeners in this district were tenants, not freeholders; and practically all the tenancies were annual, and the improvements were effected by the tenants and not by the landlord. Under these conditions it was always within the power of an unscrupulous landlord to deprive a tenant of the benefits of the improvements effected by him. Happily there were but few cases in which that power had been exercised, and a custom had grown up under which an outgoing tenant was able to obtain from an incoming tenant a sum of money as compensation in respect of improvements effected. This custom, however, was felt to be inadequate, mainly because it lacked legal force or sanction. The landlords had never formally recognised it and could ignore it altogether if they liked. Although such conduct had been very exceptional, the fact that it was possible must detract from the selling value of the goodwill, for no man would give the same amount of money for property, respecting which there was an element of risk, as he would give for property of which the enjoyment was secured to him. Just to the extent to which the price was thus depreciated, the outgoing tenant lost the compensation to which he was in fairness entitled. Such was the nature of the grievance which called for legislation. How did this Bill propose to remedy it? The measure was practically divided into two parts—the first part dealing with the future, and the second with the past. With regard to future tenancies it provided by Subsection 1 of Clause 3, that where the written consent of the landlord had been obtained to use the land as a market garden, the provisions of Section 34 of the Agricultural Holdings Act should apply to all fixtures or buildings affixed or erected by the tenant for the purposes of his trade in the business of a market gardener. Under this clause these fixtures would become the absolute property of the tenant, and would be removable by him at the end of his tenancy. But by this Section 34 of the original Act the landlord's interests were very carefully safeguarded, stringent regulations being laid down with the object of securing that no injury should be done to his property by the removal of these fixtures. By Sub-section 2 of the 3rd clause of this Bill, certain improvements, as far as concerned market garden, were eliminated from the first schedule of the principal Act, which schedule defined the improvements to which the consent of the landlord was necessary. Section 4 gave a definite legal sanction to the customs at present prevailing, according to which by private arrangement between the incoming and the outgoing tenant, without any necessary reference to the landlord, the former was enabled to take over with the tenancy all rights of compensation possessed by the latter. Section 5 simply enabled a tenant to claim as his own, and to dispose of as he thought best, any fruit trees or bushes which might have been planted by him, but not permanently set up, and with regard to which, therefore, he would have no claim for compensation. Clause 4, which dealt with the second main proposal of the Bill, aimed at placing tenancies, already existing, on the same footing of advantage as those which might be created in the future. It did so by providing that where land had been cultivated as a market garden to the knowledge of the landlord, all rights of compensation established by the previous clause should hold good with respect to any improvement as to which no written notice of dissent on the part of the landlord had been received. The Bill was not in any way intended to be a self-contained measure. It was merely an adaptation of the Agricultural Holdings Act to a special set of circumstances, and was to be read in connection with that Act. He hoped their Lordships would see their way to meet the wishes of a large and very deserving section of the agricultural community, at any rate in South Worcestershire, by giving legislative sanction to this Bill. He begged to move its Second Reading.


was very pleased to be able to say to the noble Earl that Her Majesty's Government entirely approved of the provisions of the Bill so far as they went, and they were quite disposed to support the Second Reading.


did not imagine anybody would desire to demur to the principle of the Bill as laid down by the noble Earl. It appeared to be a Bill on a subject of detail with which many of their Lordships were not closely acquainted, and more careful examination in Committee might be necessary than was ordinarily given in order to insure that the details of the Bill answered to the description given of it. He further threw out the suggestion that a small Select Committee might be useful for considering the Bill. However that might be, he thought the general tenour of the Bill was undoubtedly very beneficial, and he hoped their lordships would consent to give it a Second Reading.


asked whether, as a matter of fact, these market gardens were sold now in the market, because the noble Earl spoke of the present state of the law interfering with the goodwill, implying that the goodwill was saleable now?


said, the goodwill was saleable by private arrangement between the incoming and outgoing tenant. There were cases in which it was put up for auction, but those cases were rare.


said, the noble Earl spoke of taking over the machinery of the Act of 1883 so far as valuations and matters of that sort were concerned, and incorporating them in the present Bill. No doubt the arrangements under that Act were very perfect, but they were also extremely expensive, and he hoped his noble Friend would consider, before the Committee stage, whether the machinery provided by the Allotments and Cottage Gardens Compensation Act of 1887, on account of its simplicity and inexpensive character, might not be better adapted to meet the provisions of this Bill.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.