HL Deb 08 August 1919 vol 36 cc637-40

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Preamble says that this is "an Act to amend the law as to notices to quit given to tenants by owners of agricultural land prior to the sale of such land." The object of this Bill, which I may remind your Lordships was originally introduced by a private member in another place, is to deal with the situation that has arisen in consequence of the serving of notices to quit prior to the sale of agricultural estates, or on the completion of purchase. As your Lordships know, very large numbers of sales of agricultural estates are taking place at the present time, and the bulk of these sales occur during the summer months. The result is that tenants who have had notice to quit often find that they are kept in considerable uncertainty until the sale takes place, and afterwards, as to whether they will or will not have to leave their holdings. Many of these are Michaelmas tenancies, and when the land is bought by a private purchaser there is very little time between the sale and the expiry of the notice for the tenants to be able to find out whether or not the notice is to be a good notice and they are to leave their tenancies.

As your Lordships know very well, a great number of these sales are to syndicates, who of course only buy with the object of re-sale, and in that case it is even more difficult for the tenants to know whether or not they will have to leave their tenancies. This is being felt by farmers throughout the country as a legitimate grievance. Generally they are anxious to remain upon their holdings, and owing to the state of uncertainty they therefore cannot make arrangements some time before to move if necessary to other farms. This condition of uncertainty is obviously very bad for good agriculture.

The short effect of this Bill is that notices to quit are made void if the land is sold before the notice expires. The result of that will be that this land could not be sold with vacant possession. To that extent there will be a limitation on the freedom of sale. There is an exception to this general rule in Clause 3, which provided that "this Act shall not apply to a contract for sale to a Government Department or local authority for the purpose of providing small holdings or allotments, or for any other public purpose." I think the reason of that exception is clear, because where the Government is trying to obtain land for some immediate purpose it would be contrary to public policy for this delay to occur. Moreover, where a Government is obtaining land for housing or small holdings, or what not, it is obvious that the notice to quit will be valid, and therefore no such tension or uncertainty will exist and there will be no necessity to give pro tection. I think your Lordships will see that there is, owing to the large number of sales which are taking, place, a legitimate case for protection of tenants in the event of those sales to which I have alluded.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Peel.)


My Lords, my noble friend has explained the purpose of the Bill so clearly that I have very little to add to what he has said. There have been a great many additional sales of land in the last few years, and personally I believe that is a very good thing. I think it is a very good thing that landed property should be disseminated into as many hands as possible, and also held by those who have capital adequately to equip and. maintain it, and not remain in the hands of those who are too impoverished to do so. But while I think that these sales are in no way contrary to the national interest., I do deplore, more than I can say, the custom which has grown up only in the last, few years of giving every tenant on the estate notice to quit before the sale. I think I am right in saying that such a thing was hardly known ten years ago, and certainly twenty years ago was wholly unknown. It has now become very customary, and it has had two deplorable effects.

The first is that it has given a feeling of insecurity in their tenure to a great number of occupiers of land, who were conscious that they had been doing their duty by the land and who had no wish to be disturbed or to break their relations with their landlords. In the second place, it has given most unwholesome facilities to syndicates to speculate in land. If land passes from its present owners to future owners We want it to go into the hands of men who as owners will feel responsible for the land and do their duty by it; but in too many cases land is bought by a syndicate who have no intention whatever of holding the land or fulfilling any responsibility towards it, but who simply use their temporary possession in order to sell the farms or portions of the farms at the greatest possible profit to themselves, a process which has still further increased the sense of insecurity and injustice on the part of existing occupiers.

As I understand this Bill, it is so devised that while it puts no impediment in the way of sale, it renders void a notice to quit given prior to the sale, so that the onus of giving the notice will no longer fall on the seller but will rest on the purchaser. As the notice cannot be given till the next, Michaelmas or Lady Day—whenever the tenancy commences—it may mean that the purchaser may have to wait for eighteen months or two years before he can get possession. That will, I venture to think, be a very strong deterrent to many of these syndicates. It will not suit them to hold the land so long, and they will be less keen on their speculation. Therefore on all grounds I welcome this Bill. I have expressed publicly on the platform, and I am glad to be able to express here, my very real sympathy with the occupiers of land in the position in which they have found themselves by the growth of this habit of giving wholesale notices to quit preceding the sale.


I should like to ask a question. Assuming that the negotiations for sale had taken place, and that notice was given between then and the actual date of the sale, would the Bill apply in that case?


Yes; if the notice was given before the contract of sale.


I mean if the contract was signed but the date of sale had not been reached?


If the contract were signed, it would apply.

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