§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, the subject with which this Bill deals has already been discussed by your Lordships on the Report of Lord Haversham's Committee, and in that discussion, which took place on March 7 last, I stated that we proposed to introduce a Bill embodying some of the recommendations of that Committee. The recommendations contained in this Bill are the Committee's, third, fourth, and fifth recommendations. I do not think it necessary to say anything about the other recommendations, because in the course of the recent discussion we gave the reasons why we were not prepared to take up any of the recommendations with regard to purchase. But, besides those, there were other recommendations of considerable importance, and those are the ones dealt with in this Bill. Only one of those recommendations—the fourth—which is embodied in the first clause of this Bill, can be considered in the least degree controversial.
Clause 1 enacts that when notice is given to a tenant to quit for the purpose of sale, he shall be entitled to serve a counter-notice, which will enable him to remain in occupation of his farm for a year after the notice to quit would have taken effect. Legislation on this particular point has, in our opinion, been rendered necessary by the practice which has quite recently arisen, at least on any large scale, of giving notice to quit to the tenants before the land is put up for sale. This clause does not, of course, in any way apply to cases where what I may call the usual procedure up till the last few years still obtains—namely, of selling the land without serving notice to quit on the tenants. we do not for a moment maintain that this provision in Clause 1 is, or can be considered, a sovereign remedy for the hardship which is occasionally created when land is sold over the tenant's head. Neither this recommendation nor any of the other recommendations of the Committee, nor, indeed, any recommendation that has ever been put forward, can meet that position; for the simple reason that where you have a man who is anxious to 933 purchase land for his own occupation nothing that you can devise will prevent him from doing it, and when a person has made up his mind to purchase occupied land for this purpose somebody has to be dispossessed. That is the position which has to be faced, and the kind of disturbance that is thus created is bound to go on.
But there is something besides that. Under the present system a great deal more disturbance and uncertainty is created than need be the case. I think this disturbance and uncertainty in the aggregate causes as much hardship as the actual hard cases themselves. The Committee expressed the opinion that actual hard cases are of extremely rare occurrence. The thing that happens at the present time on the majority of those estates where notice to quit has been served is something of this kind. The landowner, having made up his mind to offer land for sale and to afford the purchasers vacant possession, gives notice to quit to his tenants, and then within comparatively few months—two or three months—of the time when that notice would expire he puts the land up for sale. The tenant is thereby placed in a very difficult position. He has not the faintest idea as to what his fate is going to be. His land may be purchased by a person who is prepared to keep him on as a tenant on the old terms, or who might keep him on but exact a higher rent; but he may find that his farm has been purchased by some person who intends to occupy it himself. The position, therefore, is that until within something like three months of the time when his notice to quit expires he is in a state of complete uncertainty, and it amounts in a great many cases to the same thing as giving him three months' notice to quit. Within this period it is extremely difficult for the tenant to find another farm, and I have no doubt a great many cases have occurred where tenants have borrowed money to purchase their farms when they might very well have remained tenants. It came out in evidence before the Committee that, broadly speaking, the tenant farmers in this country desire to remain tenant farmers, and only purchase their land as a last alternative.
One cannot, of course, foresee exactly what will be the effect of allowing the tenant to serve this counter-notice, but the probabilities are that it will have the 934 effect of stopping this new practice of serving notices upon tenants and thereby allay a great deal of uncertainty. It will, of course, give to the tenant time, after the sale has taker place, to make his arrangements should it become necessary for him to quit his farm; and instead of giving him three months to look round, it may very likely give him fifteen months; for if the landlord holds the sale at the same time as ho otherwise would have done, there will still remain after the sale has taken place a few months of the original year's notice to run, and there will also be the whole of the counter-notice year to run. That will give the tenant ample time in which to try and arrange terms with his new landlord, and, if he finds that he is not to be allowed to remain in possession of the land, it will give him time to look about and find another farm before he has to leave his present one, and that will make the whole difference to him.
It has been suggested that the provision in this clause may have a bad effect in that it will prolong the period of uncertainty for the tenant; that a landlord will give notice, and, instead of holding the sale nine months after the time that he has given the notice, will hold it twenty-one months after. But, in regard to that, I would point out that a landlord who was selling a large portion of land on which there were a number of tenants could never be sure that the whole of his tenants would serve him with a counter-notice, and unless the whole of the tenants did so he would be in the difficult position of having a certain number of farms thrown upon his hands which he would have to farm up to the period of the sale, and I think that would act as a considerable deterrent to landlords taking that course. In cases where there was only a single tenant concerned, the date of the sale might be fixed according to whether or not counter-notice had been served. But, even so, matters would not be worse than they are now, and the tenant would be at any rate no worse off than he is at the present moment.
This particular proposal was put before the Departmental Committee during the course of their deliberations, and it is interesting to observe the measure of support which it obtained. The proposal was put by the Committee before, I think, the majority of the witnesses who attended, 935 and it was supported by, if not all, at any rate a great majority of those to whom it was put, and I think the names are rather interesting. Among the witnesses who expressed themselves as in favour of the proposal were Mr. C. W. Tindall, land agent, surveyor, and valuer, who was nominated to give evidence by the Surveyors' Institution; Mr. W. G. S. Rolleston, President of the Central Association of Agricultural and Tenant Right Valuers; Mr. Samuel Vergette, principal of the firm of Messrs. Fox and Vergette, auctioneers and land agents; Mr. Robert Gray, land agent; Alderman Illtyd Thomas, representing the Glamorgan Chamber of Agriculture; and Mr. Packard, Chairman of the Farmers' Club. Besides that, I think this recommendation was the most strongly supported on the Committee of any of their important recommendations. Ten members of the Committee were in favour of it, and out of the whole of the witnesses and members of the Committee before whom this proposal was definitely and explicitly placed, Mr. Frank and Captain Weigall, two members of the Committee, were the only two who opposed it.
The strongest point in the opposition to this proposal is undoubtedly the contention that it may reduce the selling value of the land. I think there is no doubt that an intending purchaser who attached great importance to immediate possession would probably be prepared to pay a rather less high figure than he would if he was going to get vacant possession. But the man who wants immediate possession for the purpose of occupying the land is the man who is going to cause the greatest amount of hardship to the outgoing tenant. It is the fact that there are a certain number of people of that kind who really do want land and mean to have it. It is through the existence of those that these rather rare cases of hardship do arise. After all, you can only look at what actually does happen when land is sold. It is beyond dispute that when a landowner sells his land he becomes a very much richer man than he was before. The prices which land is fetching at the present moment make a man, from a financial point of view, better off. In other words, it is an extremely profitable transaction; and there is no question about it that the chief contributor to that, the person who has contributed largely to 936 that accretion of wealth on the sale of the land, is undoubtedly the tenant. You have, in these special circumstances where the tenant has to quit immediately after the sale, a case of hardship at once created; and where you have a transaction which is going to enrich the landlord and may very possibly, and probably in fact will, impoverish the tenant, it seems to me nothing more than common justice that you should have some give-and-take arrangement by which the tenant should not be made to suffer more than is necessary. If, as would be the case, the landlord got a little less price for his land, still the tenant would be saved from possible heavy loss, and it seems to me that it is only fair and right that the landlord should give up something for the benefit of the tenant.
The second paragraph of Clause 1 deals with land which is bought for the purpose of small holdings, and we have followed the recommendations of the Committee in subjecting land of that kind to different treatment. We admit the principle which I have just stated, but we apply the remedy in a rather different form. The tenant of land which has been bought for small holdings will be entitled to compensation under the Small Holdings Act, 1910. That compensation, as your Lordships are aware, is paid out of the Small Holdings Fund. Broadly and approximately speaking, as far as our experience in cases that have arisen under the Small Holdings Act, 1910, can be taken as a guide, the compensation that he would receive may be regarded as equivalent to the amount that is usually paid to a tenant when it is desired to obtain possession of his land a year before the notice expires, so that, though the procedure is different, judged from a financial standpoint the treatment is the same. Clause 2 will do away with the system of six months' notice. That, I am glad to say, is a system which has already largely died out. It is probably a survival of the days prior to the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1875. The clause hardly needs justifying when one considers that agriculture is an industry which has to be conducted on a yearly basis. Clause 3 deals with what may be called reasonable exceptions. Clause 4 is important, because it enacts that disputes arising as to the notice to quit—and I think there are bound to be disputes arising about it—shall be settled by arbitration.
937 That is the whole of the Bill. As I say, it is a comparatively small Bill, but it is an attempt to deal with what undoubtedly is a rather serious feature in agriculture at the present moment. We believe that this system of counter-notice will alleviate, as far as any legislation can alleviate, not cases where a man has made up his mind to buy land for his own occupation and buys it and turns the tenant out, but a great deal of the rather unnecessary uncertainty and consequent hardship and loss of money created by this new system of serving notices to quit in the case of sales. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Lucas.)
§ LORD HYLTON
I should like to ask the noble Lord a question with regard to Clause 4. Is the system to be that of the single arbitrator, against whose decision there is no appeal?
It is to be the system laid down in the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, as a member of the Committee who signed the Report which has formed the subject of the noble Lord's speech, I should be sorry in any way to oppose a measure which in any sense, or at all events in my own opinion, carried out that Report. But while I concur with a great deal that the noble Lord has said in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I cannot agree that the Bill will meet the difficulties which the Committee discovered in the course of their investigations, or that it will, to use the noble Lord's words, alleviate, as far as legislation can alleviate, the hardships which tenants have to suffer. I think it is clear, reading the Report of the Committee and then reading this Bill, that this is a most inadequate attempt to deal with the problems which we found existing. It scarcely touches the fringe of the real question, and I am bound to say that it is a very great disappointment to me, and I think it will be to other members who served on that Committee, that after the many months of labour we bestowed on the question there should have come out such a really insignificant Bill as the present one appears to be.
938 The noble Lord has stated the difficulties which the Committee were appointed to look into, and he also stated, what certainly appears in the evidence, that the number of cases of hardship which had arisen owing to the break-up of estates and other causes was not very great. But, in addition to actual cases of hardship, it was quite obvious to all who heard the evidence taken before the Committee that the operations of the Small Holdings Act and other things had brought about a feeling of real anxiety among tenant farmers which was doing away with the sense of security which tenant farmers always possessed before recent legislation. The security which a tenant has in carrying out his agricultural operations is of vast importance to him, and not only to him, but it has an effect upon the condition of agriculture; and keeping that in view I agree at once with the noble Lord that it is necessary that some legislation should be brought forward to meet those cases. This Bill, at all events, does not meet the difficulties. That was obviously the opinion of the Committee themselves, because they made it, I think, abundantly clear that in their view the only possible scheme to meet the case was a scheme of State-aided land purchase. That appears from the evidence of the great majority of the witnesses who came, before us, and the principle of State-aided land purchase was agreed to by every member of the Committee, except, I think, one.
The fact that a Bill of this nature has been brought forward seems to show that the Government do not fully appreciate the real difficulty with which they have to deal. Or it may be that, finding the solution which the Committee had recommended so entirely against their view of the future of the land system of the country, they prefer that these difficulties should, go on rather than that they should meet the case by adopting the only solution which we know of so far. The Government have ignored altogether this main solution and have seized upon one comparatively small recommendation—a recommendation which is only part of a much larger scheme. That recommendation is embodied in the first clause of this Bill, and it has already been explained to your Lordships by the noble Lord who has moved the Second Reading. I should like to point out—and the Report of the Committee will confirm me—that this particular solution, that of 939 a counter-notice, was proposed merely as supplementary to our main solution of land purchase. The noble Lord will find that in the earlier part of the Report. It was for those who could not afford to buy that this was suggested. And following the actual recommendation in the Report the noble Lord will find that we stated that the clause would require exceedingly careful drafting to meet the difficulties. Yet we have in this Bill merely the crude and bald statement of the Committee themselves translated in almost the exact words.
The object for which we proposed this recommendation was to deal with those particular cases where, owing to the very short period which could elapse between the sale of the farm and the expiry of the landlord's notice, there could not be sufficient time for the occupier to make his arrangements with the new owner, or, in the event of the new owner not agreeing to continue him, to find another place. This Bill will not meet that in any way. The noble Lord has suggested that, although it will not meet it, owners will not take advantage of this hole in the clause, for reasons which I could not fully understand. It seems to me quite obvious that owners will take advantage of it. Owners want to sell nowadays with vacant possession because purchasers require vacant possession. The scheme in this Bill merely postpones the evil day for the tenant and does nothing more. An owner gives notice, say, at Michaelmas, 1912, for his tenant to leave at Michaelmas, 1913. The tenant replies with a counter-notice, which gives him an extended period up to Michaelmas, 1914. The owner merely postpones his sale until June or July of 1914, and, if he sells the land, the tenant is in exactly the same position as he would be if this Bill had not been passed, with the added disadvantage that he has had two years of uncertainty instead of one, and that must have an effect upon the whole of the operations of the tenant throughout those two years.
I say that this measure cannot help the tenant in any way. It has another disadvantage. Under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908, a tenant has certain advantages—if they are advantages, and of that I am not quite certain—of free sale of produce and of free cropping his land, but that power of free sale and free cropping 940 does not continue after notice has been given or received by either side, so that directly the counter-notice has been given there remain two years in which the tenant cannot avail himself of the advantages, if they are advantages, of that Act. In the first part of the clause with which I have dealt I can see no advantages whatever to the tenant. I cannot see that it meets the difficulties we want to meet in any way at all. But we see a much further disadvantage to the tenant in the proviso to this clause. The proviso is in connection with purchases by the county council. A tenant receives notice to quit, say, in October, 1912. He thereupon gives a counter-notice. Therefore he is quite safe in his farm until October, 1914. But in June or July, 1913, a county council come in and say, "You have to go out in two months; we want this farm." You provide in this clause that the counter-notice shall not apply when a county council wish to buy a farm for small holdings. The result is that, although this tenant has this additional period of security, he can be turned out at short notice by the county council, and he would in that case be in a much worse position than under the ordinary notice from his landlord.
I hope that your Lordships will not pass this proviso. I know the reason for it. It arises from a remark made by the Committee, but it will require a great deal more thinking out before it is passed into law. The main question of the counter-notice, I believe, could be amended so as to make it of real advantage to the tenant. With regard to Clause 2, I think it is of considerable importance that the ordinary notice to quit should not be less than twelve months. Agriculturally speaking, anything less than twelve months is unsound. Prior to the year 1908 the notice to quit required by the Common Law was six months. Then by the Act of 1908 the period was increased to twelve months, unless some other agreement had been come to between the landlord and tenant. Now it is proposed to make the twelve months compulsory on the landlord's part but not on the tenant's part. The result is that, in the case of an agreement where six months' notice to quit is required, the tenant will still be allowed to give six months' notice, but any agreement on the landlord's part for less than twelve months' notice will be void.
§ LORD CLINTON
Then what is the meaning of the words "by a landlord"? The clause runs—A. notice given by a landlord to determine a tenancy from year to year of a holding or any part thereof on a date earlier than one year after the date of the service of the notice shall be void.It would meet my point if the words "by a landlord" were left out, but as the clause at present stands it applies to a notice given by a landlord only. Of course, there are obvious exceptions which will have to be made in the case of the purchase of laud for building and other purposes, but as far as I can see they are all properly covered by Clause 3. I have criticised this Bill in the way I have done because I think it is in many respects a sham. It appears to have been brought in because it was expected that the Government should do something on the publication of the Committee's Report. But although it is a sham, it seems to me that it would be possible to make it into a useful measure, and for that reason I am not inclined to oppose it on Second Reading.
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence for a few minutes, as I was Chairman of the Departmental Committee on whose Report this Bill is founded. I am bound in honour to say that personally I owe thanks to the Government in that they have found it possible to embody in this Bill several of the recommendations of the Committee over which I presided. I differ very much from some of the remarks of my noble friend opposite, though I am bound to say that we were greatly indebted to him for his wise and experienced assistance on the Committee. He is probably second to none in this House for his knowledge of agriculture generally and the relations between landlord and tenant. I should like to point out to him that this Bill, in Clauses 1 and 4, which are the principal clauses, follows exactly the recommendations of the Committee. Indeed, Clause 4 is the ipsissima verba of the Committee's recommendation. Perhaps I may be allowed to read Paragraph 32 of the Committee's Report—The majority of the witnesses were in favour of a longer notice to quit in all cases where the land is intended to be put, up for sale, and with a view, therefore, to mitigate the injury and possible 942 hardship inflicted at present on a tenant the Committee recommend that, in cases where a tenant receives notice to quit for the purpose of sale, the tenant should be empowered to serve a counter-notice churning that the notice to quit shall not take effect until one year after the original notice would have expired.The Committee went on to say—The Committee think further that any question as whether or not a notice to quit has been given in connection with a sale or offering for sale should, in default of agreement, be referred by landlord or tenant at any time after the giving of notice to arbitration under the Agricultural Holdings Act. 1908.I think any one who reads Clauses 1 and 4 of this Bill will see that they follow exactly these recommendations of the Committee.
The reason for this extended notice is mainly the question of the Michaelmas tenants. If a man receives notice to quit at Michaelmas he has to go on in complete uncertainty until the sale takes place in the following May, June, or July, and in consequence of that uncertainty he cannot deal with his existing landlord and he cannot deal with the incoming landlord because he does not know who he will be, and after the sale is completed he then has only three months or so before the following Michaelmas, when the notice to quit takes effect, in order to look out for another farm. All that is proposed here is that he should have a further year. I do not think my noble friend can be right in saying that a landlord would postpone the sale in order to defeat this provision with regard to a counter-notice. The tenant would not give the counter-notice until the landlord had given him notice to quit. Therefore the landlord would have made up his mind to sell and probably would adhere to that although the tenant had given a counter-notice.
I should like to reinforce my opinion by some of the best evidence we had before the Committee. Mr. Rawlence, of the firm of Messrs. Rawlence and Squarey, of Salisbury, surveyors and agents for the sale of estates, said [Q. 2297]—I think under certain conditions a hardship is no doubt inflicted upon a tenant especially in the case of a Michaelmas tenancy. The sales do not generally take place until May, June, or July. We have to serve the tenant with notice at the previous Michaelmas. He does not know until after the sale takes place who his new landlord is to be, and then the purchase very often is not settled until the following Michaelmas. He either has to sit on and take his risks, or else directly the notice is given he must make up his mind to leave. I make the 943 suggestion that where a sale takes place under these conditions the landlord should state in the notice for what purpose it was served; and provided the tenant has not at least six months after the completion of the purchase to negotiate with his new landlord, he should have the option of compelling the landlord to extend the one year's notice into two years' notice. This would give him plenty of time to negotiate with his new landlord.Then he was asked—Q.—You think the landlord would be sufficiently protected if your suggestion was carried out?A.—Yes.Q.—And you feel, knowing the circumstances in your part of the country, that that would meet all the difficulties?A.—Yes, I should be satisfied with that.Mr. Tindall, who represented the Surveyors' Institute, supported that solution. I will read the question [Q. 2581] and his answer—Q.—Mr. Rawlence put forward a solution which in his opinion would do good in the case of Michaelmas tenancies. He suggested that after the auction sale the tenant should be able to give a counter-notice to his landlord, in answer to his notice, that he (the tenant) would keep on another year, so as to give him time to look round to find another farm. Do you see any objection to that?A.—I see no objection to that at, all.I think your Lordships will agree that this is very strong evidence in support of the proposal in this Bill. I agree with Lord Clinton that tenants on large estates would prefer to remain under their present landlords, by whom they are so well treated, but in cases where estates are sold it will be a great relief to them to know that they can give a counter-notice and remain on their farms an additional year.
On one point I cannot say that I am quite satisfied with this Bill. I cannot understand why my noble friend has omitted all allusion to the Committee's first recommendation, which seems to me an extremely harmless one. It could do no harm to any one, and I believe it would relieve considerable injustice. I refer to the recommendation that—The period of notice of intention to claim compensation for disturbance under Section 11 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908, should be amended.What we say is this—The Committee are of opinion that the provision in the Act with regard to the tenant's notice in writing of his intention to claim compensation is one that could be amended with advantage. At present a tenant is under an obligation to give such notice within two months of his receiving notice to quit or being refused a renewal. The Committee think that the early receipt by the 944 landlord from the tenant of notice of his intention to claim often has the effect of prejudicing the tenant in his negotiations with the landlord for a renewal. We are of opinion that the landlord would be sufficiently safeguarded if the tenant were allowed to give notice of his intention to claim at any time up to a date two months before the determination of the tenancy, and the Committee recommend that legislative steps should be taken to amend the Act accordingly.The period stated in the Act of 1908 gives the tenant a very short time after receiving notice to quit in which to make his claim for compensation. We had evidence that these tenants do not very often employ a valuer at once, and of course they do not know until they do so what they ought to claim. There appears to be no reason whatever why the present period should have been put into the Act, and we think that if it were altered to two months before the expiration of the tenancy it would safeguard the landlord and be much more just to the tenant. In support of that view I would ask your Lordships to listen to an extract from the evidence of Mr. Rolleston, President of the Central Association of Agricultural and Tenant Eight Valuers—Q.—I think your associations are in favour of the time for a tenant claiming compensation being extended. At present he must give notice within two months of receiving notice to quit. How would it be if he were allowed to give notice of intention to claim compensation up to two months before he was turned out?A.—A great number, I should think the majority, of members of our affiliated associations would favour a material extension of the time within which a tenant may give notice of his claim for compensation.Mr. Vergette, principal of a firm of auctioneers and land agents at Peterborough, gave similar evidence—Q.—With regard to the notice for compensation, do you agree with Mr. Rolleston that it would be fairer to allow a tenant a longer time to put in his notice of claim for compensation?A.—Yes, I do. I have often wondered how the present term came to be adopted. Many tenants do not consult a valuer until it is too late. I think the time should be fixed much nearer the end of the tenancy.Q.—You think two months before ho has to quit the holding would be fair?A.—Yes, I think that is sufficient.Q.—You agree with Mr. Rolleston in that respect?A.—Yes, two months before the end of the tenancy.Mr. Cooper Coles, member of the Surveyors' Institute, said—Under Section 11 of the Agricultural Holdings Act the tenant has to give notice of his claim for compensation within two months of receiving 945 notice to quit. If there is any alteration in the Act I think it might fairly be extended so that the tenant could give notice within two or three months of the termination of the tenancy, instead of within two mouths of receiving notice to quit.This was our first recommendation, and it was unanimously adopted by the Committee. I hope that my noble friend will see his way to include this in the Bill, or allow me to bring forward a clause in Committee to carry it out.
§ LORD HYLTON
My Lords, this Bill has been called by the noble Lord who brought it in a small Bill, and my noble friend Lord Clinton spoke of it as an insignificant Bill. But are your Lordships quite sure that it is so insignificant a measure as it appears to be? All agricultural tenancies throughout the kingdom will be affected, and considerably affected, by the clauses of this Bill; and, so far as I am concerned, if I can obtain any support on these Benches I shall do everything I can to prevent the Bill becoming law, at all events in its present form. And for more than one reason, with which I will venture to trouble your Lordships.
This Bill, in the first place, only covers one point in the recommendations of the Departmental Committee over which Lord Haversham presided. His Majesty's Government have picked out one point in the recommendations of that Committee of which they happen to approve, and have thrown overboard those recommendations of which they do not approve. This is, I think your Lordships will agree, a. piecemeal and haphazard way of legislating, in view of the Report of an important Committee like that presided over by Lord Haversham. I oppose the Bill also because, while it can do little good to sitting tenants—and in the opinion of my noble friend Lord Clinton it will do positive harm—it may cause appreciable injury to landowners. The noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture admitted that the Bill will, to a certain extent, act to the detriment of owners in selling their property, and he admitted that landowners in the case of a sale would have to give up something to their tenants. We all know that of late years considerably increased burdens have been placed on the landowners of this country. I will not refer to the seven burdens put upon land by the famous Budget of the present Chancellor of the 946 Exchequer, but now we learn from Lord Lucas that this Bill is to impose an eighth burden.
Another argument against this Bill is that it is a fresh, uncalled for, and one-sided interference with contracts that have been freely entered into between landowners and tenants. It may be, in the opinion of some noble Lords, a small and insignificant measure, yet it is one more measure added to that interference with contracts which is tending every day to cause a greater feeling of insecurity and unrest in this country. As to the actual drafting of the Bill, I will only say a few words. Clause 2, as Lord Clinton pointed out, appears to have been drafted in a rather rapid and ill-considered way. If the noble Lord in charge of the Bill will look at Clause 1 he will see that the word "notice" in line 12 ought to read "counter-notice"; but these, perhaps, are points that can be better discussed in Committee if the Bill is read a second time.
As regards the Report of Lord Haversham's Committee, after what the noble Lord has said to the House and after the lengthy debate which took place here on March 7, I need not detain your Lordships upon that. But you may, perhaps, remember that in that debate the Duke of Marlborough, in a very interesting speech, appealed in vain to His Majesty's Government to indicate to the House what was their general policy with regard to agriculture. The noble Duke got no response whatever from His Majesty's Government in regard to that appeal. All that we know is that His Majesty's Ministers approve of the breaking-up of large estates throughout the country. That being so, I should like to ask why they do not, in the agricultural measures that they bring in, try to facilitate in general the sale of land. The effect of this Bill, I venture to suggest, will be to retard instead of facilitating the movement favoured by the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, and others, of putting more persons on the land. As to the benefits that will result to sitting tenants under this Bill, if it is passed, I think they are very problematical. In the case of large estates sold en bloc, your Lordships are well aware that ninety-nine out of every hundred new purchasers are only too pleased to retain the tenants whom they find already on the land, and the advertisements of 947 sales of landed estates which we see every day in the newspapers invariably contain a paragraph to the effect that the holdings are occupied by long established and respectable tenantry. Therefore this Bill would in no circumstances benefit the sitting tenants where an estate is sold in that way.
The noble Lord in charge of this Bill admitted in the debate on March 7, and he has repeated the statement to-day, that the evidence given before Lord Haversham's Committee was to the effect that there were, as a matter of fact, under existing circumstances very few cases of hardship—that the cases of hardship with which it is proposed to deal now were isolated and very rare. The noble Lord said something further in the debate on March 7. He then said that "hard cases made bad law"; and so the noble Lord on March 7 actually argued in advance against the Bill which he has brought in on May 7.
My point was this, that you cannot by any legislation prevent people who want to buy land for their own occupation buying it. That is the thing which causes the hard cases. What is proposed in this Bill is to try and allay the uncertainty caused.
§ LORD HYLTON
A few weeks ago the noble Lord stated that hard cases made bad law. To-day, however, he brings in a Bill to meet a few hard cases. Where these few hard cases may arise is, of course, in the case where an estate is sold in lots, where notice has been given to the sitting tenants by the vendor, and where the purchaser when the notice expires enters into occupation. That is one class of case. I venture to think that, from the point of view of the community and of agriculture at large, it is of advantage that there should be as many occupying owners as possible; and in these cases, even if there is a hardship on the tenant in being compelled to go out, his successor if he is an occupying owner is more likely to try and make two blades of grass grow where one grew before than any tenant however good a tenant he may be.
But a phase of uncertainty must arise whether this Bill becomes law or not where the present condition of affairs continues, for until the auction takes place nobody knows whether the land will sell or not. The tenant in any case must go through a period of uncertainty. I have every 948 sympathy for such tenants, but surely there are two sides to this question, and I cannot help thinking that the landowner's point of view does merit some small—it may be very small—consideration. After all, an English landowner is in this position. He is not only the owner, for what that is worth, of the soil itself, but he is, in one sense of the word, a partner with his tenant in the occupation of the farm. English landowners provide the farm buildings, farm houses, cottages, and gates, and a considerable portion of the capital with which farming is conducted in this country is provided by the landowner. I do not say that the landowner's interest in these matters is as large as the tenant's. All I venture to say is that the landowner has some right to consideration, and I do not know that the noble Lord in charge of the Bill has made out any particular case why a new fraction should be taken away from the landlord and given to the tenant under this Bill.
Where a contract has been entered into between both parties I have not yet been convinced that the noble Lord on behalf of His Majesty's Government made out a case why the contract is to be broken in favour of the tenant and is to be made a hard-and-fast one as regards the landlord. We have been told that contracts have been broken so often in legislation of late years that we have no right to use the breaking of contracts as an argument against a Bill. We had the Irish Land Acts quoted against us even by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, who told us in a recent debate that we were not to mention the word "contract."
§ LORD HYLTON
The noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack, speaking on the Second Reading of the Coal Mines (Minimum Wage) Bill on March 27, said—I will assume for the sake of argument that this Bill may involve the breaking of contracts. It seems to be forgotten that contracts were broken in Ireland in 1881 when the Fair Rent Court was set up for one class of tenantry, and that by the extension most properly of that Act in 1887 by a Conservative Administration to leases, all leases were broken. Is it fair, then, to turn round now and to say because you are breaking contracts that is a conclusive argument against the Bill'?
§ LORD HYLTON
All I ventured to say was that, after that statement of the noble and learned Earl. I was rather afraid of bringing forward the argument about the breaking of contracts. Lord St. Aldwyn, in alluding on March 7 to legislation on this subject, pointed out that if a measure of this kind became law it would be a considerable interference with the few remaining rights which landlords had over their property, and he very much questioned, I think, the advisability of legislation of this kind. It will be generally admitted that if this Bill is passed it will put a certain spoke in the wheel of land sales. It may not be a very formidable obstacle, but it will have a tendency to prevent sales going off as successfully as they have done, within the last year or two. And I say this, that His Majesty's Ministers have no right to do anything which will interfere with the facilities which exist for sales at the present time after the diatribes—to quote the expression used by the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition—that have been used by leading members of the Liberal Party against English landlords and the present system of land tenure in this country. It is because I think that this is a retrograde measure which will diminish instead of facilitating sales, because it appears to be a very ill-drafted and ill-digested measure that will do little good to tenants and appreciable harm to owners, and because it cannot benefit to any possible degree the agricultural community as a whole, that I shall do everything I can to prevent it finding its way on to the Statute-book in its present condition.
One word on the question of the single arbitrator sent down by the Board of Agriculture and against whose decision there is no appeal. This single arbitrator was the creation of the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, and I wish to warn your Lordships against entrusting further powers to these Departmental inspectors from whose decision there is no appeal. Within the last twenty-four hours I happen, as trustee of a charity the surplus income of which is devoted to London hospitals, to have had brought to my attention a decision given by one of these arbitrators sent down by the Board of Agriculture. Sixty acres of this charity estate in Gloucestershire were taken by the county council for the purpose of small holdings. A very well known surveyor appointed on 950 behalf of this charity, whose name I am quite willing to give to the noble Lord in charge of the Bill if he desires it, valued the land at a rental of 40s. an acre, and was quite prepared not only to prove that land of a similar character adjoining it i was actually rented at 40s. an acre but was in demand at 40s an acre. Your Lordships will be surprised to hear that the arbitrator sent down by the Board of Agriculture decided that the land was to be in future rented by the county council at 17s. an acre. Thin is not a case where greedy landlords will suffer. It is the poor people in the London hospitals who will suffer, and I hope some inquiry will be made into this matter. I have only mentioned this case because I wish to warn your Lordships of what may take place if further powers are given, as is proposed in Clause 4 of this Bill, to single arbitrators against whose decision there is no appeal. I think this measure should receive ample consideration at your Lordships' hands before it is allowed to pass into law.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will permit me to say a few words on this subject, in which I naturally take very great interest. Lord Clinton, in putting the case as he always does in dear and temperate language, told us that he disliked the Bill because it was inadequate as an attempt to deal with a difficult question and tended further to do away with that security which existed before the present Government came into power. I will say a word upon that in a moment. Then he put a point which I think ought to be answered. He stated that if this Bill became law a landlord would have the power to postpone the sale for a year, so that the tenant would still have only three months in which to look round and get another farm. I do not think that any member of your Lordships' House would do such a thing as that. Whatever legislation is passed there are always ways of defeating it. You can, I believe, drive a coach-and-four through any Act of Parliament. But if such a thing as that were done, it seems to me on the spur of the moment and speaking entirely for myself—for I am now able to indulge in one of those shrieks of liberty which people make when they are released from the cares of office—that the best way to deal with it, if constantly done, would be by adding another year on to the period—that is to 951 say, give the tenant a further two years' tenancy instead of the one now proposed.
Noble Lords opposite would, I suppose, say that it would be an outrage to propose such a thing, but I would like to remind the House what was the unanimous recommendation of the Welsh Land Commission which reported in 1896. And when I say the unanimous Report it must not be thought that it is the recommendation of hare-brained and half-cracked Liberal enthusiasts, for those who supported this recommendation included Lord Kenyon, Sir John Dillwyn Llewelyn, and Mr. Seebohm, who was well known as a great authority and a great friend of the late Lord Salisbury. The proposal of these three Conservative landowners was that in the case of the death of a landowner or the sale of an estate tenants should be protected by law in the occupation of their farms at the old rent for three years after such death or sale. The proposal in the Bill submitted to your Lordships to-day by my noble friend Lord Lucas is to give only one-third of the period recommended by that Commission a good many years ago.
I was sorry to hear Lord Hylton state that he would do everything he could to prevent the Bill becoming law in its present form, and I was the more sorry to hear that remark come from a noble Lord who is so universally known and respected as a good landlord. I was pleased, however, when he went on to say that there was no evidence that not giving notice to quit interfered with the price that was given for estates when sold en bloc. But I know of many cases where members of your Lordships' House who have sold estates, not en bloc but in plots, have obtained just as good prices for their land though no notice to quit was given to their tenants as they would have done had they taken the arbitrary course which some landlords have adopted. I congratulate my noble friend in charge of this Bill on the necessity for its introduction. It shows that the present state of agriculture in England, after nearly seven years of Liberal government, is eminently satisfactory. Land, as we all know, is very readily let. If any one has a farm to let there are fifteen or twenty would-be tenants after it. The present condition of things reminds one of the good old times in the seventies, although, of course, it is not quite so good as at that time. 952 Landlords are tumbling over one another in all directions in their intense anxiety to unload their extra land upon the British public at very good and satisfactory prices. And here I join issue with the noble Lord opposite as regards extra taxation on agricultural land. I unhesitatingly deny that there has been any extra taxation.
§ LORD HYLTON
I said on land. I did not use the term agricultural land. I know what the noble Marquess is going I to refer to. He is going to mention the remission on agricultural land, but I find it very difficult to get that remission.
THE MAEQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I will not say anything further on that point Clause 1 of this Bill provides that where the landlord of a holding, in connection with the sale or offering for sale of the holding or any part thereof, gives to the tenant notice to quit, the tenant may within two months after the receipt of that notice give to the landlord a counter-notice in writing claiming that the notice to quit shall not take effect until the expiration of one year from the date on which the notice to quit would otherwise have taken effect. I understand that there are two main objections to that provision. The first is that it is piecemeal legislation and only tinkering with the question. That objection recalls to me the case of a Liberal parson who declared himself to be in favour of Disestablishment and Disendowment, but when a Bill for the Disestablishment of the Church in Wales was brought forward some years ago I happened to meet him in the merry month of May when he was going to one of the celestial meetings and I said, "Of course,; you are going to vote for the Disestablishment and Disendowment of the Welsh: Church?" and he replied that he would I not vote for it because he was not in favour of piecemeal legislation. He went down i to Convocation and announced his in tention of voting against the measure, and of course his statement was received with rapturous applause by his clerical brethren. The noble Lord opposite has brought in King Charles's head in the shape of purchase. I do not propose to say anything upon that. If there was a debate on the subject of Tenancy versus Purchase I we should be able to hold our own, but it is irrelevant to the subject under discussion.
The second objection to the Bill is voiced principally by Mr. Howard Frank, a personal 953 friend of my own, who has sent a circular letter to members of your Lordships' House and who was courteous enough to send me one too. He says—The Bill will not achieve the object. It only delays the evil. It is unfair to landlords and will do more harm than good to tenants.I do not think that is the opinion of the tenant farmers of England as far as I understand it from their representative and mouthpiece, Mr. Colin Campbell, the Chairman of the Farmers' Union. I am not surprised at Mr. Frank's opposition. He is clever enough to seize his opportunity. He recognised that there was I a boom in land and he is rapidly making his fortune. He is an extremely shrewd, go ahead man, and he is, of course, trying to do the best he can for the noblemen and gentlemen who are entrusting their property to him for sale. He talks about the sanctity of contract, and so on. Every Agricultural Holdings Act interferes with the so-called sanctity of contract. Mr. Howard Prank's advice to landlords seems to be this—"One of the two parties to the bargain must get the worst of it. Now do not let that one be yourselves."
It seems to me that the whole situation is entirely reversed. We used to be told that tenant's right meant landlord's wrong. Now the situation, as far as I can understand it, is that if a landlord exercises his rights to their fullest extent he does in many cases a very hard and cruel wrong to his tenants. Mr. Frank quotes Paragraph 23 in the Report of Lord Haversham's Committee, in which they say that the landlord is within his rights in attempting to realise the capital value of his farm. Of course, he is. But have we never heard of a landlord pushing his rights too far? The landlord is no doubt within his rights in turning a tenant out of his holding at three months' notice. I have known a number of cases where notices to quit were given at Michaelmas and the sale did not take place till the end of June of the next year, yet the wretched tenants had to go out at the following Michaelmas. I have known that carried to a terrible extent, and in the case of one estate where large tracts of land were bought up by syndicates families whose representatives had been for 600 years on the land were turned out. Practically every day in England people are turned out with only three months' notice when land is put up for sale. Where on earth 954 is the tenant under present conditions to get another farm? The Government did what they could in the Compensation for Disturbance Bill, but in many cases the man is practically rained. I support this Bill because it will make such a cruel and wicked wrong as that practically impossible.
Your Lordships are popularly supposed to own one-third of the land of Great Britain, and you occupy a very high and honourable position as regards the management of your landed estates. I do not mean for one moment to say that the House to which it is my pride and privilege to belong is extremely popular in all communities throughout the country, but I do say that, however much this House can be attacked far other reasons, no person can attack your Lordships as a body for not having treated your tenants well. You have this great record behind you. I respectfully ask your Lordships to live up to the great reputation which you have so deservedly won in that matter. This House has been willing to provide public money for land purchase. You have agreed that compensation should be paid to a farmer dispossessed for public purposes. Will you not welcome this, after all, very moderate Bill for the protection of the tenant farmers, for whom you have done so much in the past? The result of your sales may be slightly prejudiced. That is a matter of opinion. But those sales will almost invariably increase your already large incomes. You have claimed to be the farmer's friend in the past. I am bound to say—and the farmers have not forgotten it—that you fought the Land Tenure Bill, with its compensation clause, for all it was worth in the House of Commons and in this House, but you generously gave way in the end. You allowed the Bill to pass, and you sanctioned the principle of compensation to tenant farmers. Now my noble friend below me asks you to do a simple and not a very large act of justice to a hard-working, industrious and honourable body of men. If you are going to do it, as I hope you are—the appearance of the House shows that there is no organised opposition to my noble friend's Bill—would it not be a good thing to do it unanimously and graciously? You will then be able to claim to be the farmer's friend in truth and in reality. I earnestly hope that your Lordships will give to my noble friend's Bill the approbation it so richly deserves.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will be grateful to the noble Marquess who has just sat down for the lecture he has given us upon our duties. He is admirably qualified to speak about security of tenure, for the insecurity in this country at present is caused by the noble Marquess's Small Holdings Act. There is not a tenant in England, whose holding is safe, and the noble Marquess knows that quite well. I must say it requires some effrontery on his part to lecture the House on security of tenure when the noble Marquess knows that he is unpopular with every farmer in England because of the insecurity that has resulted from his own Act. Those who go about the country and know what is being said about the noble Marquess and his policy are under no illusion, as he appears to be, as to the unpopularity of the Small Holdings Act.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
I know the noble Marquess did not mention it, and that is the curious part. He wants justice done to all except that portion of this deserving body of men whom his Act deprives of security—a far larger number of the tenants and farmers of England than have been affected by any action on the part of landlords for many years past. Not only is the security of the farmer affected by the noble Marquess's policy, but this arbitrator who is introduced into this Bill is the arbitrator who, as my noble friend Lord Hylton just now said, fixes 17s. an acre in respect of land valued by a valuer at 40s. an acre. The land in question was actually let at the time for 30s. It was not only valued as worth 40s. by the valuer, but was actually let at 30s. Yet this single arbitrator, from whose decision there is no appeal, fixed the rent at 17s. and some odd pence.
The noble Marquess who spoke last and the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill do not seem quite to agree as to whether or not the landlord will be injured by this Bill. I do think it was somewhat unfair on the part of the noble 956 Marquess who has just sat down to speak of the landlords of England unloading their superfluous land. I say nothing about your Lordships. We have been told that the members of this House own one-third of the land of Great Britain. I suppose you all roll in wealth! None of the land is encumbered! None of it is at all an anxiety to you! The noble Marquess knows perfectly Well that many landlords, the ordinary country squires of England, are greatly impoverished. He knows that heavy duties have been placed upon them, but he rides off upon the quibble that the extra taxation has not been upon agricultural land—a remark unworthy of the noble Marquess. The landowners of England are bearing the heavy taxation which has been put upon them, and the moment they try to meet that heavy taxation by getting rid of land you speak contemptuously of unloading their superfluous acres, and so forth. Although Lord Lucas admits that the provision in this Bill will be a detriment to landowners, he thinks they will not suffer very much from it. The noble Lord said that the increased value of land was due to the tenants. I wish the noble Lord the next time he makes a speech on this subject would follow out that a bit. The value of your land is maintained by your tenant if he is a good one, but I have never heard that the value of the land under ordinary circumstances is increased. You might have a tenant who possibly increased the value of the land, but you might quite as often have a tenant who decreased its value. But to lay down as a general proposition that the increased value of land is due to the tenant I believe to be an economical fallacy.
All I said was that the tenant was a contributor, and a very important contributor, to the increased value.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
If land has gone up in value, the increase has not been caused, generally speaking, by anything the tenant has done. As a general proposition that is sound. I do not deny that there are cases where the tenant may have increased the value of the land. But to say as a general proposition that the tenant increases the value of the land is, I repeat, an economical fallacy.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has charge of this Bill introduced it to the House in terms of becoming modesty which go far to disarm our criticism. I thought that the tone of his observations was in agreeable contrast to the tone of some of the observations that proceeded later in the debate from the noble Marquess on the Back Bench opposite, with whose somewhat, i if I may be allowed to say so, superfluous admonition my noble friend the Duke of Northumberland dealt very appropriately a moment ago. The noble Lord in charge of the Bill told us very frankly that the Bill was not by any means in his opinion a sovereign remedy for the disease which we have to treat, and indeed I must say that, so far as I understand it, it appears to me to afford a very microscopic amount of alleviation to those sitting tenants for whom your Lordships' House entertain a very real feeling of sympathy. No one has been found to deny that those sitting tenants whose farms are, to use a convenient expression, sold over their heads, have a Teal and genuine grievance. Nor, I think, in spite of one or two things that have been said in the course of this discussion, will anybody seriously dispute that their hardships have been the result of the action taken by His Majesty's Government in their treatment of the land question. That is put beyond dispute if your Lordships recall what is said in the Report of Lord Haversham's Committee. You will see that in the seventh paragraph of that Report reference is made to the general feeling of apprehension which has been caused amongst landowners, and the Committee dwell upon the necessity of doing something to restore confidence. I do not think we need go beyond the finding of that very important Committee.
During this debate we have been told again that these sales of land which are now proceeding at such a rapid pace are mainly, if not entirely, due to the desire of landowners to make a large profit by such transactions. That was assumed by the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, and the same proposition was advanced by the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire. I think it quite possible that there have been some sales which have proved extremely advantageous to the sellers, but there have been a good many in which it would be idle to represent the transaction as a very profitable one. 958 Most of your Lordships who have watched these events must be aware of cases in which owners have been well content to take twenty-five years' purchase of the net rents—that is, with proper deductions for landlords' expenditure, and so on—as a reasonable price, and if you consider what twenty-five years' purchase of a rental with such deductions means, assuming that you invest the proceeds in trustee securities, you will see that the general result is very far from deserving the kind of description which has been given more than once by noble Lords opposite. There have, no doubt, been sales at a much higher figure, but what do they prove? They prove that in a great many cases the owners of the land have been content to let it at a figure very far indeed below the real market value which it could command. They have been ready to do so and would probably have still been ready to do so if it had not been for the disturbing causes to which I have referred. I was glad that the noble Duke commented upon the observation that we thought we heard Lord Lucas make, to the effect that, if there was a large margin of value, that margin was mainly attributable to the improvements executed by the tenant. The facts are perfectly notorious. There Was a tremendous fall of rents in what we commonly speak of as the bad times, and landlords very wisely and properly have not taken advantage of the improved demand for land in order to raise their rents prematurely to anything like the old figures, and for that reason no doubt in some cases there have been highly advantageous sales of land let below its value on liberally managed estates.
As to the Bill, your Lordships will note that His Majesty's Government, having before them the Weighty Report of Lord Haversham's Committee, have brushed on one side entirely the main recommendation in that Report. The Committee's main recommendation was, of course, that these sitting tenants should receive assistance from the State in order to enable them to purchase their farms, and, as Lord Clinton truly said, these other minor recommendations were merely subsidiary recommendations to meet those cases in which the larger remedy of the Committee might prove not to be applicable. I have already ventured to speak upon this subject in your Lordships' House, and I will not repeat what I then 959 said except to this extent, that I share with my noble friend his great regret that His Majesty's Government should not have seen their way to do something, at all events, to enable these sitting tenants to purchase their holdings. I do not for a moment desire to suggest that any large and indiscriminate scheme of land purchase such as that with which we are familiar in Ireland is applicable to this country. Nor do I suggest that any of the schemes which the Committee suggested is the best scheme for this purpose. But I should have liked to have seen the question taken up by His Majesty's Government, perhaps not in this session of Parliament, but taken up to this extent, that they would have shown a real desire to look into the matter, and, if possible, do something to afford a substantial remedy for the hardship which these people have to undergo.
The Bill itself is, of course, based on the minor recommendations of Lord Haversham's Committee. One or two of the recommendations have, I think, been properly disregarded by His Majesty's Government. I think they were right in not accepting the suggestion of the Committee that there should be a universal notice of two years assumed in all cases where no contract of tenancy exists; and I am also glad, for reasons with which I will not trouble the House, that they did not accept the proposal that a tenant claiming for disturbance should be allowed I to postpone the date at which his claim might be put in. The Bill really deals; with two main points. There is the proposal in the second clause that there should in all cases be a minimum of twelve months notice to quit. That is the recommendation contained in the thirtieth paragraph of the Committee's Report, and a very proper exemption is made in the case of allotments. As to that proposal I have no comment to make. I think it one which your Lordships can well afford to accept. But I hope that we shall hear from whoever answers for His Majesty's Government that this change in the law will be made applicable to both parties, and not, as the language of the clause appears to suggest, to one of the parties only.
The main proposal in the Bill is that contained in Clause 1, under which the tenant is allowed to serve a counter-notice upon his landlord. May I make one or two general observations that apply, I think, to all proposals of this kind? 960 I do not think we ought to allow our sympathy—and it is a real sympathy—with the sitting tenant to blind us to the fact that there are other interests to be considered besides his. There is the interest of the incoming tenant, which ought not to be left out of account. I think we may fairly say that the interest of the vendor ought not to be entirely ignored; and, apart from that, there is the question of the interests of the industry of agriculture. We ought not to do anything, it seems to me, which has a bad effect upon farming and tends to depreciate the productive power of the land. All these things ought to be considered, because it is frankly admitted by His Majesty's Government that this legislation is proposed, not in order to deal with a very large number of cases, but in order to meet a comparatively small number of hard cases of which they are aware. Another observation I venture to make in passing. I think we ought to remember that if the sitting tenant is only entitled to twelve months' notice to quit, that is his fault. There is not a tenant, I believe, who now holds under a yearly tenancy with a twelve months' notice who could not, if he chose to ask for one, get a lease from his landlord. That is a proposition which is established in the Report of the Committee; and I am very glad that it has been established, because we are all familiar with the speeches which are not infrequently delivered in which it is represented that the tenant farmers of this country spend their lives in a state of miserable insecurity, and, as it were, in a condition of servitude because they are denied any security of tenure. If landlords could get their tenants to take leases they would be delighted to let them have them, and that is a matter which should not be left altogether out of account. Then there is the question of the purchaser. The class of purchaser with whom we very often have to deal in these days is the small purchaser, and I believe both sides of the House are in agreement in desiring that these small purchases should be as frequent as possible. I am only saying what is notorious when I say that nothing deters the small purchaser so much as the knowledge that he will be kept waiting an indefinite time before he is allowed to obtain possession of that which he is buying.
With regard to the effect of this clause, I do not think a clearer exposition could 961 have been given to the House than that which we received from my noble friend Lord Clinton in the speech which he delivered earlier in this debate. Lord Clinton established clearly that under this clause a tenant will be entitled to the whole of the original year's notice to which he is at present entitled, plus what my noble friend described as the counter-notice year. That gives, it seems to me, a very long period of uncertainty and suspense, and a period of uncertainty and suspense which will not be very good for the farmer and probably not at all good for the farm. Then is it not the case, as my noble friend suggested, that in frequent cases the effect of this change in the law will be that the vendor will postpone the sale so that the sitting tenant, after all, will not be much better off than he is at present? All these seem to me to be questionable suggestions and to require a good deal of examination before your Lordships agree to accept the proposals which are made to us.
And I am rather relieved at finding that I am not singular in that opinion. Since I came to the House this evening I have heard, upon what I believe to be excellent authority, that there has been held to-day a meeting of the Central Chamber of Agriculture, at which a considerable number of farmers were present. This Bill was under discussion, and I am told that no farmer was found to support it. I am told that the gentleman, a farmer himself, who moved the resolution dealing with the subject criticised the Bill of the Government as one detrimental to the interests of the tenant, disadvantageous to the landlord, and bad for the country from an agricultural point of view. I am told, further, that these opinions were endorsed by a number of leading men who were | present at the meeting. I trust that the noble Lord will make it his business to find out whether the farmers of this country will be really grateful for this Bill. I hope that time will be given to make such inquiries, and that His Majesty's Government will not commit the mistake of forcing the Bill upon the agriculturists of the country unless they really want it. That is all I desire to say. I certainly have no wish to impede the progress of the Bill at this stage. I am quite ready to vote for the Second Reading, but I think it more than likely that when we arrive at the Committee stage a good many noble 962 Lords will be found to offer practical suggestions for improving the Bill in matters of detail.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, we who sit on this side of the House are very glad to think, not only from the concluding words of the noble Marquess but also from the general course of this debate, that your Lordships will be ready to give a Second Reading to this Bill to-day and proceed with the discussion of it during its subsequent stages. It is, indeed, refreshing to hear, for the second time within a short period, criticism passed upon a Government Bill on the ground that it does not go far enough. The noble Lord opposite, Lord Clinton, expressed the opinion that this Bill did not even touch the fringe of the subject, that it did nothing to alleviate the real difficulty. We all know what was in the mind of the noble Lord, who naturally wanted a scheme of purchase which he knows His Majesty's Government are not prepared to recommend the House to adopt. Having made up our minds not to adopt such a system, the question arose, What could we do? and we decided, following the recommendations of the Committee, to do something to mitigate the grievance from which, in our opinion, farmers certainly suffer. Unfortunately, the noble Lord damped our attempt by faint praise. The noble Lord on a former occasion spoke in terms of far higher praise of the provision which this Bill attempts to carry into law. On that occasion he used these words—At the same time it will give a most important safeguard to the tenants themselves, that they will not be turned out at a moment's notice and without having sufficient time to find another farm.
§ LORD HYLTON
I believe it would do so if the clause was properly drafted. But my point is that the Bill as it stands contains a great loophole for escape for a man who wants to sell with vacant possession.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
We are at tempting in this Bill to carry out what the noble Lord himself on a previous occasion said would be a most important safeguard in the interests of the tenant. We shall be very glad, I am sure, to have the assistance of the noble Lord in improving the drafting when we reach the Committee stage, and I hope the result will 963 be a measure of which he will be able to approve as being properly drafted and at the same time as giving these tenants that very important safeguard.
There were two matters, not of the first importance, referred to by the noble Lord to which I should like to give some answer. The first was as to the proviso to Clause 1, in the case of a holding purchased for the purpose of small holdings. I suppose that what was in the minds of the Committee when they considered this question was that some form of compensation should be given to the tenant. They did not at first know for certain whether it should be in the shape of longer notice or whether it should take the form of some money compensation, but in the end they thought that the granting of further time was the best method of giving compensation. But in the cases to which this special proviso refers compensation is already given under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, and therefore unless this provision was inserted in the Bill there would be a double compensation not only of time but also of money. With regard to the insertion in Clause 2 of the words "by a landlord," my noble friend in charge of the Bill asks me to say that he regrets having misled the House in that matter. We shall be glad to consider any Amendment introduced on this point when we deal with the Bill in Committee.
My noble friend Lord Haversham was disappointed that we did not deal with the first recommendation of his Committee. I suppose that the criticism of the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, who expressed his pleasure that we had not introduced legislation dealing with that matter, is a sufficient answer to the noble Lord behind me, and will show him how much more difficult the task of the Government would have been had we met his wishes and introduced such a clause in the present Bill. Lord Hylton criticised speakers on this side of the House on the point that they were not quite sure whether or not landlords would be injured by the operation of this Bill. May I say that in my opinion there will be no real injury to landlords, because this is an entirely modern practice which has grown up within a comparatively short time. It has not become a general practice, and we hope that after this Bill passes into law it will, even to the small extent to which it has obtained, disappear. As to the 964 noble Duke's criticisms, it is unnecessary for me to say anything in defence of the noble Marquess behind me. But may I put it in this form to the noble Duke? As I understand, when these squires of whom he spoke sell their land they have to pay exactly the same taxes and the same duties on the money they get for their land as before they sold it.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
We shall be very glad to discuss that if the noble Duke will initiate a debate on the question of the incidence of rates upon land. I do not know that there is anything more to be said, because, generally speaking, the principle of the Bill at any rate is accepted by noble Lords opposite, who are going to give the Bill a Second Reading. We admit that except to tenant farmers this Bill may not be of great importance; but the Departmental Committee were persuaded by the evidence which was given before them that provisions such as the Bill contains would be of considerable importance to that class. Whether it is so or not, I think that your Lordships' House will be well advised in giving the tenant farmers that security of tenure for which they ask. If their fears are justified, there is a very real need for this Bill; but if, on the other hand, as some noble Lords opposite seem to think, there is no justification for their fears, His Majesty's Government have yet to learn that there would be any real injury if this Bill failed to act in the direction which we intend it should act. This Bill seems to me to illustrate once more the principle which His Majesty's Government have on more than one occasion tried to put into law—that is, to try and make bad landlords act in the same way as good landlords do. Unfortunately, bad landlords do exist, and we know they give notices of this kind to their tenants in cases of sale. It is in order to prevent this that we have introduced this Bill, and I am glad to think that your Lordships intend giving it a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.