HL Deb 06 December 1906 vol 166 cc1119-50

[Second Reading.]

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in rising to introduce this Bill at what used once to be regarded as a late hour in your Lordships' House I think it will be for the general convenience that I should condense my remarks as far as possible; but as this is a measure of some importance, as it has been the subject of a considerable amount of criticism in another place, and as its passage through Parliament is being anxiously watched by the people of Ireland, I fear I shall have to trespass for a few minutes on the patience of the House. First of all, I will endeavour to deal with the principle of the Bill. I am happy in the belief that, whatever opinions may be entertained in different quarters of the House in regard to this measure, no Member of the House, in whatever quarter he sits, can possibly take exception to its principle, because that principle is so eminently just and fair. It is that a tenant at the expiration of his lease or tenancy shall be entitled to receive from the landlord compensation for certain improvements which he shall have made to the holding. That it is an eminently just and fair principle I may cite as authorities such distinguished statesmen and politicians in another place as the ex-Premier, Mr. A. J. Balfour, the late Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Walter Long, and also Sir Edward Carson, who have all expressed their approval of the principle of the Bill. But although the principle is so eminently just and reasonable it is nevertheless obvious that it must be applied with many safeguards and conditions, and in this Bill it is most carefully safeguarded and conditioned.

I would call your Lordships' attention to Clause 1, which states that no improvements shall be entertained except those which at the date of the claim add to the letting value of the holding, are suitable to the character of the holding, and have not diminished the letting value of any other property of the same landlord. There are many further safeguards in the Bill to which it would be more convenient not to call attention to-night.

It has been said in some quarters that the effect of this Bill will be more generally felt in the big towns of Ireland, such as Dublin and Belfast, but the Government hope that its provisions will apply equally or to an even greater extent to the smaller towns and county towns of the country where the community is, on the whole, poorer. I think it is obvious that as the law stands at present, in this respect at all events, it bears more hardly upon the poorer than upon the better-to-do classes of the community. Let me take as an instance a rich man, say a Member of this House, who takes a house for a term of, say, twenty years. At the end of five years he desires to make some addition, say, a billiard room, to the house. He approaches the landlord and asks him to bear the whole or part of the cost, but the landlord declines. The tenant considers whether it is worth his while, seeing that the lease has fifteen years still to run, to make the improvement, and he decides that it is. Accordingly he adds the billiard room or whatever it may be, and spends possibly £1,000 or £2,000. At the end of the tenancy the landlord steps in and reaps the whole or practically the whole of the benefit of that improvement. That seems to me to be a hardship, but not perhaps a very great hardship in this case, because the tenant is probably well able to afford the money, and in the case of a rich man the improvement would generally be made for his own pleasure or convenience. But take the case of a poor man, say a clerk with £150 a year, living in a town. He rents a house of the value of £30 a year, and desires to make some improvements—say to add a bathroom, or to put a bath in the house. I hope your Lordships will agree that a bath is a very desirable accessory in any house. The clerk approaches his landlord, who, having heard that his tenant has a fondness for bathing and would probably put in the bath in any case, refuses to help him in any way, and the tenant has to spend £15 or £20 in making the improvement. I submit that in such a case there is a very great hardship, especially as when it is a poor man it is frequently the case that he is only trying to provide a very modest measure of comfort for himself or his family. As a matter of fact, it may be vitally necessary for the tenant to make some improvement in the house, because I understand that under the law as it stands at present, the landlord of an unfurnished house is not obliged to see even that the house is in a habitable condition.

If your Lordships will allow me I will glance rapidly through the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 applies to existing tenancies, and therefore, in this respect at all events, it is retrospective. The retrospective action of the Bill has been subjected to considerable criticism in another place, and I anticipate it will be somewhat keenly disputed in your Lordships' House on a later stage of the Bill. I think, however, it will be for the convenience of the House if I do not stop to go into details now, but proceed to the other clauses. Practically the remainder of Clause 1 and the whole of Clause 2 provide other safeguards for the landlord. Clause 3 provides for notice being given to the landlord, and Clause 4 deals with the special case of the mesne landlord. Now I come to Clause 5 which introduces the principle of compensation for disturbance. That is no new principle in Acts of Parliament, more especially in Irish Acts. I would point out, however, that in this Bill it is carefully limited to shops and business premises. The reason for the presence of the clause in this Bill, which I think is a very good one, is this. A man establishes a business in a certain locality, and by his own industry and enterprise creates what is known as the goodwill of the business. The goodwill of a business is a somewhat intangible and indefinable class of property, but nevertheless it is an asset which can be and is bought and sold in the open market. If you turn a man out of his shop for business premises, not only do you cause him the inconvenience which any tenant suffers on removal, but you very likely deprive him of that valuable asset the goodwill of his business, and in so doing you may ruin him. In a country like Ireland, where it is not unknown for people to be evicted on account of their political convictions, you have a very distinct grievance, and. one which it is hoped to remedy by this particular clause. Without dealing with the question further at this stage, I may mention that it is the intention of the Government that the raiding of rent shall not in itself be considered unreasonable action on the part of a landlord, and if the Bill proves to be not sufficiently clear in this respect the Government will be prepared to accept or to move Amendments which will make it perfectly clear. Clauses 6, 7, and 8 make further provision to protect the interests of the landlord, and in touching Clause 9, which prohibits contracting-out under the Bill, I will only say that the prohibition exists in a reasonable form, since the clause enables the Court to give effect to a contract if they are of opinion that it was reasonable and was entered into without direct or indirect compulsion. That concludes my survey of the Bill.

The advantages of this measure, in my opinion, are that it remedies a distinct class of grievance where a tenant is unable to obtain compensation from his landlord for improvements, and it prevents a landlord from evicting a tenant from a shop or other business premises, and thereby depriving him of the goodwill of his business, without paying some compensation for so doing. We hope that the Bill may, in some degree, contribute to the cause of law and order and good government in Ireland, because it has not been unknown that where a landlord has sought to evict a tenant and the tenant has thought himself to be in the right, he and his friends have barricaded themselves in the house, the police have thereupon had to lay siege to the building, the population have taken sides—not invariably with the police—and a very pretty fight has resulted. Then, too, it is hoped that the Bill will generally improve the condition of town property in Ireland. It is obvious that if a tenant feels himself secure in that he will receive compensation from his landlord for the improvements he may make, it would tend to the general improvement of town property, and improvements will be made which otherwise would not be carried out.

Before I resume my seat I should like to say one word with regard to Irish landlords, who, I am well aware, can, if they choose, command such a numerous following in this House. I am fully aware of the subordinate position which I occupy in merely enunciating the Irish policy of the Government in this House, and that my own opinions can carry very little weight, but I shall not attempt to I deny that in my view this Bill is more to the interest of the tenants than of the landlords. I hope I may say without offence that I can realise to some extent the difficulties of the position in which they are placed, but I believe that bad landlords—and I am afraid I cannot share the optimism of my noble friend, the President of the Board of Agriculture, with regard to the scarcity of bad landlords —will be under this Bill either compelled to do certain things which they ought to do, or prevented from doing certain things which they ought not to do. In the case of good landlords, however, though I pretend to no intimate acquaintance with the conditions of life in Ireland, I have reason to believe that the Irish Peers include in their number some of the best landlords to be found in the United Kingdom—in the case of good landlords this Bill will really make very little material difference. I will only add, in conclusion, that I hope this Bill, the principle of which is so eminently just and fair, and has been so carefully safeguarded and conditioned— a Bill which is greatly needed and has been asked for by the great majority of the Irish people—will not only pass its Second Reading, but will go through its subsequent stages without very material alteration from the shape in which it has reached us from another place. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, I think we owe a debt of gratitude to His Majesty's Government for the change of mental pabulum with which they have provided us within the last three days. Perhaps they thought that your Lordships were somewhat exhausted after the long and tedious debates on one of the most complex measures ever presented to your Lordships' House, and that a quick-change variety entertainment might be an agreeable novelty. At any rate, we had an opportunity of considering, on Tuesday, the Trade Disputes Bill, yesterday the Land Tenure Bill, and to-day, after completing the last stage of the Bill by which the Radical Party hope to capture the vast majority of the children of this country for the vague and somewhat nebulous religion termed undenominationailism, your Lordships are invited to consider another contentious measure with regard to Ireland. But, my Lords, there is perhaps another reason why we have been considering so many Bills, and that is that the various sections which together constitute the majority in another place are each desirous that some sop should be given to them before the close of the session, and in this particular case it is hardly necessary to say that the sop is intended for the Irish Nationalist Party. It may seem almost unreasonable on their part, considering the sumptuous banquet to which it is understood they are to be treated next year, that they should not have been content to exercise a little abstinence on the present occasion.

This Bill seems to proceed on the lines which generally commend themselves to Radical Governments with regard to Ireland, the lines which commended themselves to the gentleman who was so touched by a charity sermon that he abstracted a sovereign from his neighbour's pocket for the purpose of putting it in the plate. The Bill purports to be one to prevent Irish landlords from confiscating at the expiration of a lease the improvements made by their tenants. I will not say that that pre-supposes that Irish landlords are knaves, but it certainly pre-supposes that Irish tenants are fools, and I think that noble Lords will agree that that has not been our experience of tenants in Ireland. We have found them very shrewd men, eminently able to look after their own business, and as ready to drive a hard bargain as any other section of His Majesty's subjects. If that is so, I submit that when a man takes a plot of ground for building purposes, he considers beforehand what rent he can give, with the full knowledge that when his contract comes to an end the house which he has built will pass from his possession. If a tenant makes improvements in the course of the lease, his natural course in the first place is to apply to the landlord, and my experience is that, if the improvement is a suitable one, in ninety-nine cases out of 100 the landlord will contribute towards the cost. But even if that should not. be so, I presume that the improvements are made for the purpose of profit, and the tenant is quite capable of calculating whether out of the profit which he thinks he will make he can lay aside sufficient for a sinking fund to recoup him at the end of the lease the expenditure he has incurred.

Now, my Lords, in another place and in the public Press, the chief charges against Irish landlords have been three; in the first place, that they demand fines for the renewal of a tenancy; secondly, that they demand an increased rent, and, thirdly, that the terms for which they grant leases are exceptionally short. I should like to ask whether Ireland is the only place where these things occur. Have your Lordships never heard of fines being asked for the renewal of the lease of a house in London? Is it not a very common thing when a lease is renewed for an increased rent to be asked? And as to the question of short leases, there may be much to he said against them, but I should like to mention a case which happened to me only two days ago. I was inquiring about a house on one of the largest properties in London, and was told that a new lease had just been granted from April last for twenty-seven years. I think this is shorter than is given in almost any place in Ireland, and I would mention that when short leases are given in Ireland it is nearly always in cases of renewals and not of original leases.

Though I think there is a great deal that is bad in this Bill I do not intend to ask your Lordships to refuse it a Second Reading, because I am sorry to say that the principle of freedom of contract has been so often interfered with by legislation that I think it would be vain for your Lordships to try to affirm it in the present instance. But if the Bill passes its Second Reading, I think it is quite evident that it will require to be radically amended in Committee. I do not intend to detain your Lordships by suggesting all the Amendments which would be necessary, but I think anybody who reads the Bill carefully will see that it is absolutely impossible that it should remain retrospective. In Clause 3 there are a number of most stringent conditions to be observed before the tenant can take advantage at the close of his lease of the advantages offered by the Bill. Then in Clause 14 the landlord as well as the tenant is able to require that any improvements which may have been made in the course of the lease shall be registered. Now, my Lords, it is quite evident that neither the conditions of Clause 3 nor those of Clause 14 have been fulfilled in the case of existing leases. Therefore I feel sure that I may appeal even to noble Lords on the Government side to see how eminently unfair it would be that existing leases without any of these safeguards should be included in the same category as leases made after both sides are prepared. Another point, not so contentious, but still deserving of the attention of His Majesty's Government, is in regard to Clause 8 dealing with temporary lettings. I believe His Majesty's Government intend to exclude temporary lettings from the Bill, but it seems to me that the clause they have designed for that purpose will not have the desired effect. As far as I can make out, it will not exclude country houses from the operation of the Bill. I will give an instance. Supposing anyone were to take a hunting box in Meath, and, desiring to build new stables to it, applied to the Court. The Court might consider that new stables were a most excellent thing for a hunting box in Meath and would tend to improve the value of the country residence, and consequently with the consent of the Court the tenant might erect the stables, and the landlord at the expiration of the lease would have to pay compensation. But perhaps the landlord would wish to re-occupy the place at the end of the lease, and he might not be a hunting man. On the other hand, though the improvement might have increased the letting value of the house, we all know that it is not very easy to let country places, and the landlord might be at the expense of keeping up those buildings for a considerable time before he found another tenant.

Clause 5, dealing with compensation for disturbance, is the most contentious clause in the whole Bill. As other noble Lords wish to take part in the debate I will not detain the House by giving my own views on the subject, but with your Lordships' permission I will give the views of His Majesty's Government. So recently as the 18th of May the Attorney-General for Ireland, Mr. Cherry, said— The other provisions of the Bill as regarded the compensation for disturbance and right of purchase were on a different footing, and he could not on behalf of the Government approve of the principle of compensation for disturbance or of compulsory purchase being applied at the present time to town holdings. The Chief Secretary for Ireland, Mr. Bryce, speaking on the same occasion. said— The second part of the Bill was Clause 5, which provided for compensation for disturbance and this, he confessed, appeared to be entirely unworkable.…. He entirely dissociated himself from any approval on the part of the Government of the principle of fixing fair rents or compensation for disturbance as proposed in the Bill. I do not think we can find a stronger condemnation of the clause than is contained in those two quotations, and I shall content myself with submitting them to your Lordships.


The consideration of this measure by your Lordships would be as welcome if it was to secure the amelioration of the lot of any class of His Majesty's subjects in Ireland as it would be in the case of any other part of the United Kingdom. But I would remind your Lordships that the Bill brings in a great innovation as regards the rights of urban property in Ireland, and not only in Ireland but, since the tenure of Irish property is the same as in England, it involves an invasion of the whole principle of the tenure of urban property all over the United Kingdom. The details of the Bill are no doubt familiar to your Lordships, and therefore I will not dwell upon them further than to point out that under the Bill as it stands there is a possibility of the confiscation of property which is now secured to a landlord by a previous contract. The terms of urban leaseholds are practically the same all over the United Kingdom. Whether the house stands in Bond Street or in some small village in the West of Ireland, the terms are practically the same. The owner of the land lets a site to another man on certain terms for a certain number of years, and it is for the lessee to determine whether under the circumstances and conditions of the lease it will pay him to do what he desires, and he will improve or build upon the property knowing full well that at the expiration of the lease it will revert the landlord. Such has until now unquestionably been the rule with regard to the tenure of urban property all over the United Kingdom.

But, my Lords, this Bill, owing to its retrospective character, tears up existing contracts concerning urban leaseholds, and although I have listened to every argument and carefully studied the reports of the debates on the subject, I cannot see that any justification has been brought forward for the introduction of so sweeping a measure. As far as I can see, the only argument brought forward to justify the introduction of the Bill is that a precedent has been set by previous Land Acts, and this argument has been adduced also to counteract the natural fears of those who hold urban property in England lest similar legislation should follow applicable to this country. I will only repeat the answer, which, although made many times before, nevertheless remains true, that the system of tenure of agrarian land in Ireland is entirely different from that which obtains in the remainder of the United Kingdom, whereas the system of tenure of urban property in Ireland is practically and materially the same as that which exists in England. That argument has never yet been refuted. That being so, I fail entirely to see why Irish urban property should be treated differently from English urban property, or, should the retrospective conditions of this Bill become law, why later on English urban property should be treated differently from Irish urban property.

There is another objection to the Bill which I am glad to hear His Majesty's Government will probably remove. As the Bill now stands it introduces a system of dual ownership. I believe the great majority of the country are agreed as to the pernicious effects of dual ownership in land or anything else. In order to remove such a pernicious system the Land Act of 1903, which involved £120,000,000 of public money, was introduced as a means of making the best of a very bad job. I understand that His Majesty's Government have no intention of allowing this system to creep in, but. I most earnestly hope that their Amendments will be such as to remove all possibility of it, lest it be said that the road to dual ownership is paved with the good intentions of His Majesty's Government. Clause 5 as it stands says— Where the landlord … unreasonably and without due and sufficient cause requires more onerous conditions as terms of such renewal… Under the circumstances those words would mean that the Court was to decide whether the terms are more onerous; that would mean that the Court must decide what rent ought to be asked; and that involves the fixing of a fair rent. Should a landlord be unwilling or unable to pay compensation for disturbance, the tenant could go on for ever in his holding, which means fixity of tenure. Fixity of tenure and the fixing of fair rents are two of the three great conditions of dual ownership, and as the Bill now stands those two conditions are a part of it.

Another and a greater objection to the Bill—greater than those practical objections to which I have referred—is the moral objection. Though a great deal may be said in favour of the Bill as far as it regards future agreements, in its retrospective character it would do great moral harm to Ireland. The Land Acts which have been so often referred to have, owing to their retrospective character, caused to arise in Ireland the feeling that no contract need be abided by and no bargain adhered to. In consequence, the further feeling has arisen that if only sufficient agitation were raised It would be successful, and consequently that ordinary success in life does not depend upon individual energy and effort, but merely upon the amount of agitation which can be raised. As a fruit of such a belief we have to look back upon some of the most gloomy events of past gloomy years. I would further point out that this Bill being retrospective destroys the financial credit of the Irish nation. It is almost universally agreed that one of the great reasons of Ireland's lack of prosperity is that so little capital is invested in the country. With such object lessons as is afforded by the retrospective character of this Bill, how can you expect any man to invest his money in Ireland? If the Bill is to do good to any section of His Majesty's subjects in Ireland it will be welcomed by the whole of the Irish people. But I believe it ought to be amended in respect of its retrospective character, because if it is not so amended the injury that it will do to one class of Irish subjects is far surpassed by the moral harm which it will do to the whole of the Irish nation.


My Lords, this Bill has led to an interesting and well-informed discussion upon a subject which has naturally attracted a good deal of attention. Lord Denman, in a speech of great clearness and conciseness, has stated the grounds on which His Majesty's Government have deemed it right to adopt this Bill, which certainly has passed through considerable vicissitudes since its first introduction, although it still retains its curious name. It is called the "Town Tenants (Ireland) Bill," and the only thing absolutely clear is that it is not confined to towns or urban districts in the slightest degree. In fact, the word "town" cannot be found anywhere in the Bill except in the title. I do not say that it is not entitled to be there, as a certain amount of freshness is expected in an Irish Bill. The Bill was introduced by a private Member, and, in regard to some of its clauses which were severely criticised in the Standing Committee by the Chief Secretary and the Attorney General for Ireland, it has assumed a somewhat different form, and now, having passed through the House of Commons, it is in a state not at all the same as that in which it was originally introduced. It is quite evident, however, from the speeches of the noble Lords on the cross benches, that it is still open to grave and serious criticism.

The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading said the Bill was intended to help good tenants, and to prevent bad landlords doing any harm. That is a very nice and agreeable phrase. There are in Ireland a great many excellent people, not confined to tenants; their is an occasional good landlord to be found. I do not say the landlords are all good. I would not suggest that of them any more than of any other class. You must take human nature as it is on the average, and I think that if Irish landlords are judged by any ordinary test they will come out of the ordeal as satisfactorily as the landlords of any other country. I remember Mr. Gladstone saying, in some of his speeches on the agrarian question in Ireland, that the landlords had been submitted to the ordeal and had stood the test. Commissions were appointed with a view to founding land legislation, and according to Mr. Gladstone the landlords came out of the ordeal well. After the grave years through which they have passed, and the many trials they have had to face, I hold that any fair statesman must admit that, whatever may be the needs for fresh legislation in Ireland, whether in relation to land or in relation to houses the Irish landlords can compare well with the landlords of England, Scotland, Wales, or any other part of the world. But, my Lords, that is no reason why, if improvements can be suggested which may benefit the tenants without inflicting injustice on others, they should not be considered fairly and dealt with. No one has suggested that anything good in this Bill should not be dealt with justly, and my noble friends on the cross benches have not proposed that the Bill should be refused a Second Reading, but that it should be examined in detail in Committee.

Reference has been made to the retrospective character of the Bill, and upon that my noble friends have founded the statement that although it might be quite reasonable to think out the problem now of what would be a wise and reasonable amendment of the law in reference to future tenants, it is not fair or reasonable to apply ex post facto legislation to people who became tenants years ago under entirely different impressions as to what the law was. It is not fair to spring upon old tenancies perfectly new conditions, and the proposal will require careful examination in Committee. As a result of the changes made in Standing Committee and on Report in another place many precautions have been inserted even with regard to future tenants, indicating that it would not be reasonable for future tenants to be able to make these claims without ample notice to the landlord, and surely it would be out of the question side by side with these precautions in the case of future tenants to say ex post facto that all existing tenants should have a claim against their land lord without any notice whatever having been given to him on the subject.

Another matter to which reference has been made, and which will obviously require much consideration, is whether the proposal to give compensation for disturbance, no matter what words are inserted, is not unreasonable, and how for it is capable of being fairly applied to houses. This is not a question of land, nor is it limited to towns. It applies to any houses in any part of Ireland. It might be the handsomest square in Dublin or the richest part of Belfast or it might be some poor struggling village, or a district where the house was not near a hamlet or village of any kind. Therefore, it is obviously of first class importance to see what kind of a case is made out for such an application of the doctrine of compensation for disturbance, which has hitherto been confined to country districts.

Without going into detail, I may say there are other clauses which also require more than verbal consideration. Contracting out is obviously a matter of importance. I do not say that poor people who may be subjected to injustice through not being able to understand the contracts may not require the protection of being prohibited from contracting out; but in all the Land Acts for which Mr. Gladstone was responsible it was recognised that there was a point beyond which it was absurd to say that a person of means and wealth should not be allowed to contract out. The proposal applies to people with the largest houses in Dublin and the possessors of the great emporiums of wealth in the north, and is it not ludicrous to say that such people should be protected by not being allowed to contract out?

As to the tribunal selected, it does not commend itself to me as one familiar with these matters. I do not object it all to the county court, but I think in appeal to the Court of Appeal in Ireland is quite out of place. That is the highest Court in the country; it is composed of the Lord Chancellor and two, other Judges, and some considerable expense is necessarily involved in going before it. I will not discuss the point now, but it would be infinitely wiser, in my view, to enable appeals to be taken to the Court of King's Bench, where they could be settled by a Common Law Judge regulating the matter by rule, and thus provide a cheaper method of appeal.

Other matters have been referred to, but I do not think it necessary to discuss them now. I do not suggest that the Bill should be refused a Second Reading. I am prepared to consider fairly any proposals for the improvement of the condition of the tenants, but I think that end should be secured without bringing in. all these matters which can be so hardly defended and are so open to attack. Therefore, although the noble Lord in moving the Second Reading expressed a not very confident hope that the Bill would pass through your Lordships' House without any very material Amendment, I cannot hold out any expectation that his hope is likely to be realised.


My Lords, after the speeches to which we have listened I take it for granted that this Bill will be read a second time, though I gather from my noble friends on the cross benches that they do not see any merit whatever in it, and if their speeches were carried to their logical conclusion they should have wound up with a Motion to read the Bill a second time on this day six months. But we are getting tolerably accustomed in this House to objecting to measures root and branch, and then placidly reading them a second time, and proceeding to alter them substantially in Committee. In my opinion, the Bill contains some matters of considerable merit. My noble friends have directed their criticisms mainly to the effect the Bill will have on building leases, but as I read the Bill it does not interfere with an ordinary building lease, that is to say, a plot of land let on lease for a certain rent in consideration of certain buildings or premises being erected upon it. What the Bill mainly affects are the ordinary yearly tenancies in the small towns and villages throughout the country. I think the provisions as regards improvements are likely to be beneficial; at any rate, it cannot be said that they will inflict any great hardship or injustice upon the owners of such property. If a tenant wishes to make an improvement he will have to do what in the ordinary course he does now; he will go to the landlord and ask him to make the, improvement. If the landlord does so, the Bill provides that he shall charge interest and sinking fund for the repayment of the expenditure. If the landlord refuses to carry out the improvement, and, the tenant having expressed his willingness to do the work himself, declines to allow the tenant to do so, the tenant can appeal to the county court Judge, who, if he is satisfied that the improvement is a suitable one and likely to be beneficial to the property, and that the landlord's objections are unreasonable, may empower the tenant to make the improvement, and in that case the tenant would be entitled to compensation on the expiration of his tenancy.

As to the clause giving compensation for disturbance, to which much objection hits been taken, your Lordships must remember that without compensation for disturbance the whole of the former part of the Bill would be useless. There is no question of fixation of rents or of fixity of tenure. Unless some such protection for the tenant is inserted, what would happen? The landlord would refuse to make an improvement and decline to allow the tenant to do it himself. If the tenant got permission from the county court Judge the whole proceedings could be rendered nugatory by the landlord's putting a prohibitory rent on the holding. So that in the absence of fixity of tenure and the fixing of fair rents there is absolutely no protection whatever for the tenant, and all the earlier clauses of the Bill might as well be wiped out at once if compensation for disturbance is eliminated. Under these circumstances merely obtaining recoupment of the capital expended is not sufficient protection to the tenant, because, if he has laid out his money in improvements he can be turned out at the end of the year by a prohibitory rent being placed on the holding and lose his business, good-will and all. Therefore, if you are going to strike out this provision for compensation for disturbance, and, at the same time, not going to insert what I hope will not be inserted, namely, any provisions for fixing rents or giving fixity of tenure, your Lordships may as well cut out the earlier part of the Bill altogether.

It is said, and I think with truth, that there is not the same difference between the tenure of town property in England and Ireland respectively as exists in the case of agricultural property. Intrinsically, as far as I know, there is no difference between the system of town property in England and in Ireland, but during the last twenty-five or thirty years a considerable difference has arisen. There has been Act after Act interfering with the right of the owner of land to do what he pleases with his property so far as agricultural land is concerned. This Bill deals largely with yearly tenancies in towns and villages throughout the country where there is really no gap or gulf between the condition of the town tenant and that of the agricultural tenant near him. It is impossible that the fact that for years the rights of a landowner in regard to agricultural land have been restricted should not have affected the minds of the small holders in villages and small towns. Therefore, although by nature there is no difference between the tenure of town property in Great Britain and in Ireland, the result of the legislation of the last twenty-five or thirty years has been such as to constitute a difference which I think ought to be taken into consideration.

Another point to be remembered is that there is not the same confidence as between man and man between landlord and tenant in Ireland as in Great Britain. There is more friction. It cannot be denied that the relations between landlord and tenant in Ireland are more strained than in Great Britain. I do not say who is to blame for it, but the fact remains that relations have been and are a little strained, and there is not the same confidence that landlords will be absolutely reasonable in the exercise to their rights. I dislike the constant allusions to "good" and "bad" land lords. I do not see what on earth ethic. have to do with the matter. I prefer to say that one man reasonably and another man unreasonably exercises his legal rights, and I think it would be distinctly to the advantage of the majority of landlords, who exercise their legal rights reasonably, that some restraint should be put upon the possibility of other landlords exercising their rights unreasonably.

Another consideration is that many of the owners of these small urban properties are not in a position financially to do much for the betterment of their property, and it would be an enormous advantage if the tenants were encouraged to lay out their capital for that purpose. The great want of Ireland is that capital should be invested in the country, and if the tenant is willing to do so where the landlord is unable to lay out capital on the improvement of the property, it would be greatly to the advantage of the whole community that he should be encouraged in that direction. I will not go into the matter raised by the noble and learned Lord. There may be many matters of detail in regard to which improvements may be effected in Committee. On its general principle I believe the Bill will be an advantage not only to the tenants, but to the landlords also. do not agree with the noble Lord opposite (Lord Denman) that it will be much more to the advantage of the tenant than of the landlord. My own opinion is that it will be greatly to the advantage of the landlord. We all know that there are a few cases where landlords have exercised their rights in a way which every member of your Lord ships' House would consider unreasonable, and those few isolated cases make it extremely difficult for the great majority of landlords to conduct their business in the way they would wish to do.

The Bill does, of course, interfere to a certain extent with liberty of contract, with the right of a man to do exactly what he pleases with his own. But that commenced thirty years ago, and it is hardly worth while troubling the House now with an academic discussion as to whether or not it is advisable in any way to restrain a man in the exercises of his legal rights. This Bill certainly interferes very little with the rights of landlords, and my noble friends from Ireland will agree that it contains nothing which can interfere in any way with the right of a landlord to conduct his affairs in a reasonable, fair, and business-like way, while if it does interfere in some cases to prevent a man exercising his legal rights in an unreasonable way I think that curtailment will be to the advantage not only of the tenants, but of the landlords and of the whole community.


My Lords, if I venture as an Englishman to intrude in the discussion upon an Irish Bill, it is because I have waited in vain until the speech to which we have just listened for any reason for applying this Bill to Ireland and not to any other part of the United Kingdom. Although I have studied previous debates upon this Bill, I have not discovered any attempt to make out that the law or the customs with regard to town tenancies in Ireland were different from those in England or Scotland. The noble Earl Lord Dunraven has made out some difference as regards agricultural tenancies in Ireland as compared with the rest of the United Kingdom, but because agricultural tenancies are on an admittedly different footing and have been legislated for in a different way from the rest of the United Kingdom, is that a reason why we should proceed without any reason whatever to legislate for town tenancies in Ireland on a different footing also? And as has been pointed out, although the Bill professes to deal with town tenancies, except in the title it makes no distinction between town tenancies and house property throughout the whole of Ireland.

The fact is, my Lords, the Government are attempting to make a new precedent of State interference in contracts for town tenancies, and they are doing it by moans of a Bill brought in by a private Member. After all, this is only another of the adopted children of the Government, adopted, if I may say so, without the usual reason for adoption, namely, the absence of children. I should have thought they had plenty of Bills of their own without their adopting and presenting to the House in its present undigested form this somewhat unnecessary and ill-drafted measure. Similar Bills have been rejected by Government after Government, no matter what their views may have been on other politics, and the proposal to give compensation for disturbance has been opposed by successive Chief Secretaries, including the present occupant of the office. Not only has the Bill gone through that experience, but every one of its main provisions has been thoroughly examined by the Select Committee on Town Tenancies, appointed in 1889 by a Liberal Government, and condemned root and branch. In the face of these facts, we are asked at the end of the session to make a complete revolution in the system of contracts for town tenancies, That, surely, is a large order.

The noble Earl, Lord Dunraven, hinted that the Bill had not so wide an application as some thought, and that it did not extend to the ordinary system of building leases. I am not a lawyer, but I have consulted one upon that point, and I am assured that every class of house property, including that to which the noble Earl referred, would come under the Bill. The clauses to which I chiefly take exception are of great importance. The clause providing for compensation for disturbance gives a permanent proprietary interest in this particular class of property to a temporary tenant. I fail to see why a man who borrows money from another man should not, on the same principles, be given a permanent proprietary interest in the money. Can anybody seriously suggest that if any noble Lord borrowed money from a gentleman willing to oblige him, there should be compensation for disturbance when the contract comes to an end? There is really no difference between the two cases that I can see. Then with regard to compensation for improvements: supposing one of your Lordships hired a yacht, a motor-car, of a house-boat, and in the course of the term for which it was hired made certain improvements; should he be compensated for those improvements? If not, what difference is there? I say that there is no difference, and that this Bill is brought in, dealing with this particular class of house property, without any justification whatever in reason or in fact.

This is really an Irish question, but I cannot understand from an Irish point of view how its promoters can regard the Bill as likely to be beneficial to their country. In dealing with a particular class of property in connection with which cheap capital is so important, it cannot be wise to pass a measure which is bound to make capital more expensive. Irish land is already excluded from trust investments, and you are now asked to pass a Bill which will have the effect of putting Irish town property in a similar position. A considerable amount of house property is built by the aid of mortgage, and this Bill will certainly make mortgagees advance less money on a house or charge a higher rate of interest, thereby making Ireland less prosperous by reason of the fact that there will be less opportunity of building houses and less attraction for investing capital. As the prosperity of Irishmen in America is often contrasted with the comparative poverty in Ireland, it may be pertinent to point out that under the Constitution of the United States the Courts of law would quash as contrary to the Constitution the interference with contracts proposed under this Bill. However, as I have said, this is an Irish Bill, and inasmuch as noble Lords from Ireland do not propose to divide the House against the Second Reading. I cannot take upon myself the responsibility of so doing, but I sincerely hope that noble Lords will carry out their promise of seeing that thorough and radical Amendments are introduced in Committee with a view to making the Bill a workable measure.


My Lords, my noble friend Viscount Ridley commented with much effect upon the manner in which His Majesty's Government have lately exercised what I suppose is the privilege of the Government of the day—I moan their right of adoption. Scarcely a week has passed without our being presented to some little stranger of this kind, which has been discovered no matter where, and of more or less obscure or doubtful origin. It is satisfactory to know that by the time they come before your Lordships, they are generally shorn of what I may describe as some of their aboriginal wildness, and I hope that this particular infant may, after it has passed through Committee, find itself in a form which will admit of its being duly qualified for a respectable place on the Statute Book. My noble friend, Lord Dunraven, recommended the measure to your Lordships upon the ground that it contains some excellent provisions. I was reminded while I listened to him of that historical curate who had stumbled upon an extremely doubtful egg at the Bishop's breakfast table, and who in reply to the Bishop said—"Parts of it, my lord, are excellent." My noble friend has found that parts of this particular measure are excellent. There, however, is no doubt that the measure does contain some provisions of an extremely unusual and far-reaching character. What has struck me with regard to some of the Bills which His Majesty's Government have lately brought before us has been that they propose great innovations, changes in the whole of our jurisprudence, changes affecting the social system of those Islands, but that Ministers do not seem to think it necessary to produce any solid backing of evidence to show that these changes, are really called for by the circumstances of the country.

What have we been told this evening with regard to the grievance that is sought to be remedied by this Bill? We are told that there have been in Ireland cases of capricious eviction by town landlords. I think the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading told us there had been cases in which tenants have been evicted for political reasons. I should like to know a little more about those cases. I do not mean to say that if you search the whole country you may not find cases in which landlords have acted foolishly and inconsiderately. But is it the case that there are any considerable number of in tances in which landlords have so acted? What I desire to protest against is the practice of making these great changes in the law of the land in order to catch out a mere handful of foolish and ill-advised individuals. I do not believe for one moment that by so doing you really bring much relief to those whom you desire to help. For one individual whom you are able to coerce by measures of this kind, there are dozens whom you render suspicious and reluctant, and who with the knowledge that they are threatened by such legislation will fail to deal with their tenants in the reasonable and considerate spirit, which they have formerly been in the habit of observing.

Then one word with regard to the provisions of the Bill. The Bill we understand is designed for the purpose of encouraging the improvement of town property in Ireland. But why, in order to encourage the improvement of town property in the future, is it necessary to bring in these retroactive provisions—provisions which will affect parties by whom these improvements were effected, or upon whose property they were effected, but who could have had no kind of anticipation that the law was to be modified in these important particulars? I come to what seems to me far the most important provision in the Bill, viz., Clause 5, under which the tenant is in certain cases to be entitled to compensation for disturbance. My noble friend Lord Arran, in a very convincing speech, demonstrated to the House that what this clause really means is that in the future we shall have the fixation of rents for town property, just as we now have fixation of rents for agricultural property in Ireland. I know that the Chief Secretary stated the other day that in his view the demand for an increase of rent did not constitute an onerous condition within the meaning of Section 5 of the Bill. That shows to my mind a complete misapprehension of the effect of this clause.

Then I come for one moment to the clause under which contracting out is forbidden. My noble friend made light of that, saying that we had left freedom of contract far behind in Ireland. So we have. But surely that observation shows how careful we ought to be in moving further in the direction in which these Acts affecting land in Ireland have taken us. I am no pedant on the subject of freedom of contract, I have always believed that we might well lay freedom of contract on one side when it was necessary to depart from it in order to insure the health or the safety of the public. We have at this moment an excellent Bill on the Table of your Lordships' House dealing with merchant shipping. That is an interference with freedom of contract, and I do not for one moment desire to question the wisdom of the provisions which it contains. But there is all the difference in the world between provisions of that kind and provisions which in effect say to two people who are perfectly able to make their own contracts, "You shall not make such contracts, and if you do, the law will over-ride them." Why should the landlord and the tenant of property in the suburbs of Dublin or in one of the great towns of Ireland not be allowed to make contracts excluding them from the operation of this Bill? It has been pertinently asked, Why are you to give exceptional treatment to Ireland in this respect? What is there in the conditions of Ireland which demand treatment to which town tenants in England and Scotland are not also entitled? We gave to the tenant farmers of Ireland exceptional treatment in regard to agricultural tenancies, but surely your Lordships have not forgotten the reasons by which that great concession was justified. There were two. We were told, in the first place, that the tenants in Ireland made the improvements upon their farms, whereas in England the improvements were made by the landlord. In the second place, we were told that the great mass of Irish tenants were so helpless that they required this protection as they were unable to make contracts for themselves. I am sure the Lord President of the Council will remember how frequently that proposition was enforced by Mr. Gladstone. Can anybody say when you come to deal with tenants of town property in Ireland that the same conditions apply? I do not believe it for a moment. The noble Lord opposite, who moved the Second Heading in an excellent speech, took for his text—what? The case of the town tenant who wanted a billiard-room, and he said that because this man wished for a billiard-room and his landlord might drive a hard bargain, therefore you ought to depart from freedom of contract and introduce all these unheard-of provisions. Could any illustration have been more unfortunately selected? I do not desire to detain your Lordships at this late hour; I am quite ready to believe that this Bill contains some good provisions, and I am prepared to look at them with a magnifying glass. But I believe also that it contains some uncommonly bad provisions, and I hope that when we get into Committee your Lordships will make it your business to distinguish very carefully between the good and bad, and that when the Bill leaves this House some of the bad provisions may no longer find a place in it.


I am very much disposed to apologise to your Lordships for rising again after having inflicted myself upon the House for so lengthened a period earlier in the evening on another subject, but, as your Lordships are aware, I have some acquaintance with Irish matters, and therefore it is perhaps right that I should say a word on this Bill. Lord Oranmore said that the subjects before the House during the last few days have been somewhat numerous, but I am bound to say that in this very interesting debate— which was opened by my noble friend, as the noble Marquess opposite was good enough to say, and I quite agree, in a very capable speech—we have had full evidence that the flexibility of mind enjoyed by your Lordships has in no way become impaired by the variety of subjects we have had lately to consider. The noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, gave us something of a constitutional lecture, and hinted that we were doing something extremely improper in adopting this Irish foundling, and the noble Marquess seemed inclined to back up that criticism. But, after all, everybody knows that this occasional practice of adoption, if not indulged in too often, is common to all Governments, and has often been employed by the Party opposite with, I dare say, very good results. It is perfectly true that Bills taken up in this way often require a good deal of Amendment, and if your Lordships have followed the course of this particular Bill they will have seen that the Government have taken it pretty severely in hand and amended it to no small extent.

There is one singular fact about this House, and that is, that as a rule when questions connected with land come before us we look at them from one point of view. We are undoubtedly a House of landlords—country landlords— but we are also to a wry large extent a House of town tenants, because many of your Lordships are tenants of urban property, but it is only a fortunate few who are landlords of estates of that kind. This Bill attempts to carry out two objects, viz., to give compensation for tenants' improvements in all kinds of town tenancies and to give compensation for disturbance from business premises. The noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Ashbourne) fell into a somewhat remarkable error in regard to this compensation for disturbance when he spoke of houses in the country and houses in fashionable squares. He should, I think, have been aware that it is entirely to business premises that this compensation for unreasonable disturbance is confined. As regards compensation for tenants' improvements, I am inclined to ask your Lordships, is it possible to raise any objection to the principle of compensation to tenants, whether rich or poor, in towns for improvements which they have executed? If noble Lords will look at this Bill they will see that compensation is fenced round with almost innumerable safeguards. There are a vast number of conditions to be fulfilled before the tenant can obtain compensation for any improvements he has made. Building leases have been mentioned. I think if noble Lords will look at sub-section (4) of Clause 2 they will see that a very large number—I should think the great majority—of what are ordinarily known as building leases would fail to become subjects for compensation for improvements under that sub-section. The noble Viscount, and I think also the noble Marquess opposite, said, Why, if this principle is so good, do you not extend it to England? I am bound to say that if you find the same conditions in England as are likely to be dealt with under this Bill I have no answer to that question.


What conditions?


The conditions in which tenants find themselves liable to be evicted from town holdings which they have been unable to get their landlords to improve, and which they themselves have improved. Noble Lords have implied all through that the conditions are the same throughout the United Kingdom in urban matters. I think that is a statement which needs a certain amount of correction. In Scotland, perhaps, the feuar system between landlord and town tenant is almost the universal rule. In England long leases, though perhaps not the invariable rule, are certainly a very general rule. If noble Lords will consider, therefore, I think they will see that under long leases—leases for ninety-nine years and so on — the probability of compensation for improvements being obtained is, of course, infinitely less than it would be for short leases, because it is obvious that the enjoyment which the tenant has had of the improvement is one of the considerations which the Court would have to take into consideration, and, consequently, the tenant would be far less likely to receive compensation. But unless I am entirely misinformed there is this difference; there are a very considerable number of quite short leases in Irish towns. Particularly in the smaller Irish towns is it the case that many landlords will not let for more than thirty years, and that kind of lease, as it seems to me, certainly places the tenant in an extremely unfavourable position, because anything he docs towards the middle of his lease is likely to be almost entirely sacrificed, and probably, therefore, he would let things slide, and improvements would be made neither by the landlord nor the tenant The noble Marquess was not quite fair upon my noble friend behind me when he said he had instanced the case of a person who had erected a billiard room. He did mention that instance, but he mentioned it as one for which a claim for compensation would not in itself be very sympathetically received. But the case he mentioned was that of a poor clerk who added, or wished to add, a small bathroom to his house— and a very laudable thing to do—but he was either prevented from doing it, or, if he did, he got no compensation. Lord Oranmore asked why not have a sinking fund. Well, you cannot have a sinking fund for a bathroom, and consequently small domestic improvements of that kind can hardly be made in that particular way. I do not hesitate to say—and I believe it it is the personal opinion of a great many people of the Party to which I belong— that the extraordinary monopoly value which the ownership of town property confers upon the landlord does lay the landlord under a very considerable debt both to the tenants who are on that property and to the public generally.

Now, my Lords, the Bill as it was introduced erred, from my point of view, in making too much of the tenant. Ireland is a very individualistic country, and it has been, to my mind, the fault of a good deal of Irish legislation that it has clone more for the individual farmer or the individual labourer than it has done for the farming class or the labouring class, and this Bill, as introduced under Irish auspices, erred, I think, in the direction of doing far too much for the actual tenant who is occupying the house and not leaving enough for what I personally should like to see done, namely, a larger share of the monopoly value of these town properties given for the benefit of the community. But as the Bill now stands I do not think that that criticism applies. The retroactive powers of this Bill have come in for some pretty severe criticism. I confess I cannot see on what principle, if compensation for improvements is right at all, an improvement executed with in the last few years, instead of being executed next year, in any way diminishes the tenant's claim. Nor do I see how the landlord is to be the worse off, because if this Bill had been in operation he ought either to have done the improvements himself or allowed the tenant to do them. The fact of the tenant having done them seems to me to entitle the tenant to as much compensation as if he did it in a year or two. At the same time, I do not think noble Lords need be very much alarmed at this retrospective action; I doubt if tenants will get very much under it. I think as a rule it will be difficult for them to show in a great many cases that they have actually increased the letting value, and I am inclined to think from the nature of the tribunal, which is likely to take a severely legal view of these matters, that the actual amount which will be gained by tenants under the retrospective clause will not be very great.

Interference with existing contracts is another point which has been hardly dealt with. It is, of course, easy to say that this is a novel proceeding when applied to urban properties; but it was a very novel proceeding when applied to agricultural property by noble Lords opposite in 1887, when they turned leaseholders into present tenants. I do not know any case of interference with con- tract in any country that was stronger than that. Although I am perfectly certain that noble Lords opposite were quite right to do it, yet it that were right in itself the mere fact of there being no precedent for it is not enough, to my mind, to condemn it. I think it is important to notice that as regards the question of compensation for disturbance the right is very largely protected. It is perfectly true for one thing, as my noble friend said, that the raising of rent is in itself no claim for compensation. It does not mean that an exorbitant rent put on, in the manner my noble friend Lord Dunraven so very clearly described, for a penal purpose might not cause the claim for compensation, and one which could be sustained—and in such a case as that I certainly think it ought to be sustained— but an ordinary raising of rent due to an ordinary increase in the value of the property would, of course, give no claim for compensation, and none of your Lordships would be inclined to say that it ought. I am bound to say I agree also with what has been said as to its being a little late to talk about the power of contracting out as a necessary provision in every Bill of this kind, ft is perfectly true there may be some cases, as Lord Ashbourne said, of owners of large business premises who ought to be able to contract out if they like; but, on the other hand, I do not know that the landlord would undergo any necessary hardship by forbidding even those people to contract out considering how tightly in every respect the power of claiming compensation for improvements is tied up. I am quite sure as regards the smaller tenants it is very important indeed that they should not be allowed to contract out for the same reason as the noble Marquess opposite claimed as a reason for so many of the provisions of the Irish Land Acts, that the contract between these people and a powerful landlord, particularly in the case of a man who holds the whole of a country town, cannot be regarded as a free contract, and therefore undoubtedly the provision ought to be contained in the Bill.

I have every reason to believe that there is a large demand for this measure in Ireland, a demand which is not confined to the South or West of Ireland, but extends, as. was shown by several speeches made in another place, to the North of Ireland as well, and I think the onus of proving that it is not wanted after its passage through the House of Commons lies with noble Lords opposite. As regards the point raised by the noble and learned Lord as to what superior Court the appeal ought to be made, I have no doubt my noble friend behind me with his friends at the Irish Office will take that into consideration in view of the authority of the noble and learned Lord as a former Lord Chancellor of Ireland. I have only one further observation to make. The noble Marquess opposite complained that we had fallen into the habit of bringing in rather drastic legislation, not to remedy wrongs which were of extremely frequent occurrence, but wrongs which were only committed by a few unreasonable people. I am bound to say that I think the harm that can be done to a whole system and a whole class by the acts of a few unreasonable people can hardly be exaggerated, and from that point of view I am in hearty agreement with my noble friend Lord Dunraven when he said that all landlords who conduct their affairs in a sensible, fair, and business-like manner ought to be grateful when a check is put upon those who do the opposite. It is exactly the same criticism, and no doubt the noble Marquess had in his mind the appeal of my noble friend, Lord Carrington. To my mind precisely the same considerations apply. It is perfectly true that the cases may be few, but when you have got what is after all an artificial system in the land system both in England and Ireland, it is amazing what harm may be done by two or three arbitrary people who give evidence all over the country as to the lengths to which an unreasonable person may by law go, and thereby bring the whole system under suspicion. Therefore on these grounds I entirely agree with my noble friend that this is a Bill which Irish landlords ought to welcome.


I only wish to ask one or two questions. I understood the noble Lord who has just sat down to say that this Bill only refers to business premises.


Only as regards compensation.


The other matter that was a little puzzling is this; there was a discussion between two noble Lords as to the question whether or not certain leases were dealt with under the Bill. I find the explanation of the word 'leases' in the definition clause, but I cannot discover in the Bill any reference at all to any leases of any kind. The word does not occur from beginning to end.


In answer to the Question of the noble Lord, I believe that Clause 2 sub-section (4) does deal to a certain extent with the question of building leases, but it is rather a difficult conundrum the noble Lord has put to me to answer on the spur of the moment. I can only tell him that some building leases may be excluded from the provisions of the Bill under that sub-section.


It is rather an odd piece of drafting to put in a definition of a word which does not occur from beginning to end of the Bill.

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