§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. WAUGH
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he would give a brief review of the various efforts made over a long period to sweep away the cumbersome system of copyhold tenure, according to the recommendations of various Commissions and Select Committees on the subject. In 1832 a Royal Commission on Real Property made an elaborate Report, in which they pointed out—That one of the great evils of the tenure arises in the multiplicity and uncertainty of customs in different manors. Each manor had for itself a system of laws to he sought in oral tradition or in the Court Rolls, or proceedings of the customary Court kept often by ignorant and negligent stewards; but the great evil which is universally experienced where this tenure prevails arises from the check to improvement occasioned by the conflicting rights and interests of the lord and the tenant. These directly interfere with the profitable enjoyment of the soil, and eventually diminish the public wealth.They were of opinion that enfranchisement should take place by agreement between landlord and tenant, and that no compulsory enfranchisement would work. Legislation on real property followed on this Report, but copyholds could not be touched by any general law. The Dower Act was passed, but that Act did not affect the customary widow's right called "free bench." The Fines and Recoveries Act dealt with copyholds, but so imperfectly that the cost of conveying copyholds was increased. The Inheritance Act was also passed; but that, again, did not affect customary descents. He had known many expensive law suits arising out of customary descents, irregular and contrary to the course of the ordinary Law of Inheritance. In a recent case a man died entitled to a small estate, partly freehold and partly customary, leaving two sisters. The eldest became entitled to the customary land as customary heir, while the freehold land became theirs as co-heiresses in equal shares; but the younger sister 1272 put the elder to a cost of more than £600 to prove her customary right. The Wills Act embraced lands of every tenure; but it was not an unmixed good to copyholders. Testators were apt to leave their freeholds and copyholds to two, three, or four trustees, and when that was the case the lord of the manor claimed a fine and a-half and sometimes two fines for the admission of the trustees, greatly increasing the expenses. It was true that the land subject to copyhold tenure was dininishing to some extent; but under the operation of the Wills Act and the division of tenements the mischief was intensified in the shape of fees to stewards. He might instance one estate where a testator left an estate in Wales to his three sons equally; it turned out that about eight acres of it was copyhold, subject to a fine, certain, of £2 5s. to the lord of the manor and one steward's fee, if kept intact; but the steward, as he was entitled to do, admitted each brother to a third, charging them 15s. each for the lord of the manor and no less than £7 each for his fees, increasing them 200 per cent. and being a perpetual charge of about 2s. 6d. per acre on the lands for fees alone. In another case, a small copyhold tenement was subject to a small rent of 3s. 6d., and to the render of a hen to the lord of the manor annually. The tenement had been divided into 16 parts. The lord of the manor became entitled to 1–16th of a hen from each tenant, but the steward became entitled to 16 full fees. In other words, his fees were increased 1,500 per cent by the division. It was high time that these practices were put down. He might also give instances of the wrong felt by the soizure of heriots by the lord of the manor. In particular, he might mention a case where a gentleman became a trustee of a marriage settlement, and it happened that about an acre only of the land settled was copyhold subject to heriot. The trustee died. He was a horse racer. He had a stable of valuable horses. At his death the lord of the manor came to seize the best horse, which was worth several thousand pounds; but the stableman having persuaded him that a certain horse was the most valuable, he took it away, subsequently discovering that it was aged and blind in one eye. Various attempts had been made to redress the 1273 grievances to which he had referred. In 1838 a Select Committee was appointed to inquire into the subject of copyhold tenure, and that Committee recommended that a very short time should be allowed for voluntary enfranchisement, to be followed ultimatey, if it became necessary, by compulsory enfranchisement. This was followed in 1841 by the 4 & 5 Vict. c. 35, appointing Copyhold Commissioners for five years, and it was anticipated that in that time, by commutation and by voluntary enfranchisement, copyholds would disappear. But from 1841 to 1850 the progress towards enfranchisement was very small; and in 1851 another Select Committee collected a mass of evidence on the subject, and they came to the conclusion that semi-compulsory enfranchisement should be tried, but that after a lapse of three years it should be made compulsory on both lord of the manor and tenant. The Commutation Clauses in the Acts of 1841 and 1852 were found to be inoperative, and in 1858 an Act was passed repealing them; and since 1858 nothing further had been done to expedite enfranchisement. In 1881 he brought in his Bill, founded on the recommendations of 1838 and 1851; but the Bill was blocked. Again, in 1882, he introduced it, and he now presented it with amendment to meet objections then raised, more especially by the hon. and learned Member for West Somerset (Mr. Elton). The hon. and learned Member published a pamphlet on the Bill of 1882, condemnatory of the Mineral Clause introduced into that Bill, which had been left out of the present Bill. The hon. and learned Member, on the general question, wrote as follows:—It has long been a general opinion that it is expedient to promote the gradual enfranchisement of copyholds, and to remove that complexity in our tenures which is the admitted reproach of our law. It is time to do away with the inanities of the 'lawless hour' and the 'whispering court,' the 'shifting acre' and the 'flying fee simple,' the 'ming land' on which the tenures are so mingled that they can never be known, the ridiculous oath of fealty, suit and service, and arbitrary fines and heriots, 'which add a sorrow to death.'The Bill, in fact, was aimed at removing that "added sorrow to death" which the hon. and learned Gentleman so eloquently described. Every Member who desired to simplify the 1274 transfer of land and to establish a Land Registry should support the Bill. The chief provisions of the Bill were in the first two clauses, the remaining clauses dealing with details. First, it provided that a lord admitting or enrolling a tenant after December 31st, 1885, should give notice of enfranchisement within 12 months, failing which the land should not be subject to any fine, relief, or heriot, or any subsequent admittance or enrolment. But the lord or tenant might at any time after the date mentioned enfranchise the land under the compulsory provisions of the Acts, incidental expenses apart from compensation to be borne by the lord of the manor. The notice of enfranchisement must be accompanied by an offer to take a certain sum, and that—if accepted by the person to whom the notice was sent—would be the amount of compensation. He had also introduced a clause which would enable a tenant or owner, or a lord, in respect to land rent, liable to a heriot or other manorial incident, to compel the extinguishment of such rent or heriot; but he had not made this compulsory—it was open to either side to get it redeemed. At present there was some doubt about the law on the point; but the wording of the clause made it clear and distinct that every man having or holding land subject to a heriot might get that redeemed. Another matter with which the Bill dealt trenched somewhat on the Ground Game Act. The Saving Clause, which excepted from the operation of that Act any special right of killing or taking ground game to which any person other than the landlord, tenant, or occupier might be entitled, had created many anomalies. In many cases lords of manor had rights to keep up ground game on land to which land they had no right whatever; and in order to prevent any such thing in future this Bill would make the right to game a question of compensation, not of reservation, so that so far as any owner of land was concerned he might give notice to enfranchise the game and pay compensation for it. He would not enter upon further details; but he trusted the House would consent to abolish those anomalous relics of feudalism, which had been so ably condemned by the hon. Member for West Somerset (Mr. Elton) in his pamphlet, and would read the Bill a second time.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Waugh.)
§ MR. ELTON
said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. In his opinion, the exaggerated charges connected with copyholds to which the hon. Member had referred were due, not to the nature of the tenure, but to the rapacity of the steward of the manor. In fact, the steward had no right, by custom, to charge a greater fee than he was entitled to in the reign of Richard I., which was 3s. 4d. for admission, besides the value, quantum meruit, of any services he might render to the entering tenant. He had always found that if objection was made to the demand of the steward the charge was at once reduced to a proper amount. One great objection to the Bill was that under it the copyholder would have to pay £4 for enfranchisement, which many copyholders could ill afford to pay. In the well-known horse case the lord was deceived by the racer's costume being placed upon an old hack, and he was thus led to choose the wrong animal. In that case, by some rare misfortune, the stables must have been erected upon a small plot of copyhold land in the midst of a large freehold estate. For his own part, he had no objection to these ridiculous customs being put an end to. Without relying on archaic illustrations he might say that a copyholder was a lessee under very restrictive and uncertain conditions, and having a fluctuating rent. Under some of those conditions he could not cultivate his land properly, and he was unable to make the best use of his property. He objected to this Bill on several grounds. In the first place, this Bill was a great deal more than a mere little useful copyhold enfranchisement measure, inasmuch as it proposed to compel enfranchisement and to abolish the jurisdiction of every local Court in the country to which people came by any local custom or tenure. It applied not only to Copy-bold Courts, but to Borough Courts, Hundred Courts, and County Courts, in the old sense of the term. The consequence would be that if the Bill passed a multitude of useless and vexatious rights would be called into operation for the purpose of being extinguished. The Bill proposed to abolish all tenures 1276 except free and common socage held from the Crown. A great portion of the land of England was held by mesne landlords, whose existence was revealed only by inspecting their charters, but who were practically never seen or heard of. Between the Crown and the actual freeholder of the land there stood this class, having shadowy rights of escheat and jurisdiction. This Bill would awake some 20,000 or 30,000 courts baron, lords of the manor, and seigniors, after the sleep of centuries, who would set going the question as to what the profits of the tenure and the escheat were worth, and he had had personal experience of what were such claims of escheat where railways took land in the North of England. In many such cases, where the right to escheat would not be worth 2s. 6d., it was alleged that, owing to the fact that many of the tenants were illegitimate and did not make wills dealing with their copyholds, the rights of escheat were very valuable. Another objection to the Bill was that the Enfranchisement Clause was unnecessary, inasmuch as a vast amount of enfranchisement of copyholds had taken place, and was taking place, and would always take place whenever the landlord and the tenant could agree upon terms. In such cases as these it was the policy of the law to allow people to remain quiet, and not to force them unnecessarily into litigation. There were an enormous number of manors in which the customs were regulated by Private Acts of Parliament, or by decrees enrolled in the Courts of Exchequer and Chancery. In such cases the fines had been so reduced as to cause no inconvenience at all. When the fines were fixed, either by Act of Parliament, by decree, or by custom, he thought the copyhold tenure ought to be allowed to remain. He thought he had shown that a universal compulsory measure of enfranchisement would produce great hardship in a very large number of cases, especially in the North of England. His next objection to the proposed enfranchisement was that it would be effected in the wrong way. He admitted that he approved several clauses in this Bill, which was a hardy annual, and which he had read for several years in succession; but his approval of those clauses was dependent on the introduction of several other 1277 clauses which would entirely alter the scope of the measure. There were three ways of promoting the enfranchisement of the copyholder. It might be done by authorizing the copyholder on every admittance to compel enfranchisement, and we might go so far as to enact that every application by a copyholder should compel him to enfranchise. But this Bill proceeded in exactly the reverse way. It proposed that the victim should execute himself, and pay most of the expenses of the proceeding. The Bill threw the initiative on the lord of the manor, and there were no valid reasons for making him the operating party. He thought it would be found that the greater part of the expense, even when there was an appeal to the discretion of the Commissioners, fell, at present, upon the person who made the application; but now it was proposed to shift that burden to the lord. There were, then, two plans—either the copyholder might be the first person to initiate the proceedings, or the lord might be the first person to initiate them. But there was also a third, and, in his judgment, a better plan. The provisions of a great measure like this, for altering the tenure of land in England, ought to be carried into effect by official machinery. They might be enforced by the Land Commissioners appointing Assistant Commissioners to go round the country and to revert to the old scheme, mentioned by the hon. Member, of commuting by district. That scheme was sanctioned by an Act passed in 1841, but it would not work in consequence of the clumsy way in which the clauses of the Statute were drawn. The Assistant Commissioners ought to ascertain how much it would cost to enfranchise each district, and the expense would probably be found to be so large that it would have to be defrayed out of Imperial Funds. Any Bill for universal compulsory enfranchisement, unless it were effected by means of a Government Commission, must cause very great injustice to a large number of copyholders. He had pointed out some injustices, and there was another which he would now mention. Copyholds were divided into two principal classes. Some copyholders had a perpetual tenant-right, while others had a doubtful or precarious tenant-right. In the North of England the copyholders had succeeded in establishing that they had in future perpetual 1278 tenant-right. In the East and the Middle of England the copyholders succeeded in the same way in establishing their tenant-right, but on the condition, as a general rule, of their paying large fines. Then there was a small number of copyholders, whom he might call conventionary copyholders, mostly in Devonshire and Cornwall. He wished to refer also to the West of England tenure, where it was unsettled whether the tenant-right was precarious or perpetual; and it would be highly undesirable to revive a controversy which, on account of its enormous cost, was generally left alone. In many cases, perhaps, it might be settled by showing that the fines were uncertain in amount; but in other cases the fines were relatively certain, as, for instance, where the homage or a third person had to determine what they should be. There was one very famous case of tenants for lives in which their conveyances expressly stated that they only held for life, yet the Lord Chancellor of that time determined that they had a perpetual tenant-right or right to renewal. On the Church estates and the estates belonging to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and the Colleges, the tenants, as things stood at present, had no right of renewal at all. They were a very worthy and prosperous set of men, resembling the statesmen in the North of England and the yeomen in the West. The Bill would abolish that class of yeomen altogether, inasmuch as everybody who admitted a copyholder hereafter must initiate a proceeding which would give him a fee simple. He maintained that the Bill would not only be unjust to the small copyholders, whom it was proposed to charge with a great part of the cost of valuation, and with the very much exaggerated stewards' fees, but also that it would oppress out of existence a small and meritorious class of peasant holders. He objected to the ultimate appeal being made to the Land Commissioners, because they were likely to treat the claims of the copyholders in a way which was not in accordance with the traditions of the law. The chief object of compulsory enfranchisement was to put the matter in such a groove as to give the lord a right to the minerals. With regard to the minerals, he thought a tribunal had been chosen which disregarded the decisions of the Law Courts. The custom of heriots 1279 was, he admitted, an absurd one. He moved that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Elton.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said. in the first place, he desired to congratulate the House upon having the advantage of the presence of the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down. The hon. and learned Member's ability and knowledge of the subject were known to the whole Profession, and it was, therefore, a great advantage to have him in the House. The House had listened with great interest to the very able exposition which he had made on the subject—in fact, the hon. and learned Member, he (Sir William Harcourt) was happy to say, was one of the most advanced land reformers with whom he was acquainted. The speech they had listened to only showed the progress they had made upon these questions, when they found the Conservative Member for West Somerset getting up and delivering sentiments which he (Sir William Harcourt) was afraid would shock the right hon. Member for North Lincolnshire (Mr. J. Lowther), whom he saw sitting on the Front Opposition Bench. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also said in a book which he had published that—Our ancestors appear to have been content with this high-prerogative doctrine, this 'skimble-skamble stuff,' to use Hotspur's phrase, notwithstanding that its history was as false as its etymology. They believed, or professed to believe, that all their freehold estates were derived from the caprice or charity of their ancient, masters, and deemed it to be the height of a grand and superlative ingratitude to cry aloud and clamour against their lords, who were nothing else but their good and great benefactors. The Englishman is even now too apt to sit 'in the mire of feudalism;' and he has shown himself willing, as long as agriculture was prosperous, to govern himself and his property according to archaic laws and customs—the antiquarian's quarry and delight—which in many cases ceased to be practically useful before the Kingdom of England was established.He thought everybody was agreed that it was time this skimble-skamble stuff" was effectively dealt with. The existing condition of things was of no 1280 use to anybody. They were no use to the law, and they were very oppressive to the copyholders. He did not understand the hon. and learned Gentleman to condemn compulsory enfranchisement. Indeed, if he were not mistaken, the hon. Gentleman had a Bill of his own for compulsory enfranchisement.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he was sure he might speak of the hon. and learned Gentleman as not an opponent of compulsory enfranchisement. The principle of compulsory enfranchisement had been already adopted by very high authority, and he submitted that the cry of confiscation ought no longer to be heard. He believed this Bill had the sanction of the Land Commissioners, as well as that of the Incorporated Law Society, and, therefore, it could not be said to involve an invasion of the rights of property. While, no doubt, the House would be prepared to give the most careful consideration to all objections that were raised, he suggested that the proper time for their discussion would be in Committee, when these details could be considered more satisfactorily than by the whole House. With regard to heriots, the hon. and learned Member opposite said that the part of the Bill dealing with that subject was unnecessary. For himself he could not controvert the opinion of so great an authority on that point; but, this again, was a proper matter for consideration in Committee. It might be that that part of the Bill was mere surplusage, although he was rather disposed to believe that something more was required than the existing law afforded to get rid of heriots; but, by all means, let them get rid of heriots which involved great inconvenience and injustice. The House had had a very instructive discussion; and it was to be hoped that the hon. and learned Member opposite would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and that either the House, or a Select Committee—which would perhaps be the better course—would have the advantage of his knowledge and learning on that subject, in order to make that a really effective Bill for carrying out the enlightened views on Land Law Reform which the hon. and learned Gentleman had so well expressed.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
, in supporting the Amendment, asked who demanded that Bill? Not the lords of manors, because they could enfranchise now; not the tenants of manors, because they could enfranchise now; not the public, for not a single Petition had been presented for the Bill. No one, in fact, in England wanted the Bill except the Incorporated Society of Solicitors. It was not surprising that they should promote such a measure, because it would commute stewards' fees into solicitors' fees; and if the Bill became law, the amount of money that would pass into the hands of the solicitors of the Kingdom would be counted by hundreds of thousands of pounds. Those who desired the enfranchisement of their copyhold lands could obtain it under the existing law, choosing the time most convenient for themselves; but if enfranchisement were made compulsory by that Bill, it would come upon many of them at once against their will, and they would be required to pay a large sum of money, which many of them had not got in their pockets. If the Bill were really an object of public importance, the money for attaining it ought to be provided by the public, and not by individuals. He desired as much as the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill to simplify tenure. But it would not be simplified by a Bill of 45 clauses, which no one could understand who had not been trained in the law.
§ MR. ARTHUR ARNOLD
said, he had listened with pleasure and profit to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for West Somersetshire (Mr. Elton), who must, he thought, have left on the mind of the House a distinct impression that our Land Law system still remained very much what it was called 200 years ago by Cromwell—"An ungodly jumble." He had himself seen, near London, a field ploughed up, and yet the trees in it permitted to stand, to the great detriment of agriculture, because the tenure was copyhold. This was a question which materially affected town communities, especially some of the more thriving manufacturing towns of Lancashire. Take, for example, the town of Accrington, which was, perhaps, the most thriving town in all Lancashire. That town was built almost entirely upon copyhold land. Sir James Caird, who was the highest authority on this subject, 1282 had declared that the question of Copyhold Enfranchisement affected town even more than agricultural communities. The Copyhold Courts of Lancashire were generally held in April and October; and although the surrender of a copyhold might take place on the 1st of May, the succeeding Court would not be held till the following October, and the Rule would not be returned to the new possessor until the April of the following year. Thus, under the ordinary circumstances of the sale of copyhold land, eleven months might elapse between the time of the surrender and the taking of possession by the new tenant. It frequently happened that copyhold plots of land, consisting simply of patches of about 500 square yards, were mortgaged, and when the mortgagee died there had to be presented to the jury of the Copyhold Court what was called an inquisition. This jury was generally composed of men without knowledge on the subject, and the chairman of the jury would bargain with the solicitor representing those interested in the land as to how much was to be given to the jury for signing the inquisition, and it invariably happened that that money was spent in drink or in dinner. [Mr. WARTON: Hear, hear!] The hon. and learned Member for Bridport might think that an admirable system of land tenure. He did not. The reasons why they ought to make progress with this subject was very evident. He agreed with much the hon. and learned Member for West Somerset said as to the somewhat cumbrous machinery of this Bill. He should have been very glad if the present Bill had been simpler. Sir James Caird, the Chief Commissioner, whose opinion in regard to the compulsory enfranchisement of copyhold carried great weight, said that the measure which he would prefer and which would be the simplest would be that in a term of years, say 30 years, the power of enfranchising copyholds should cease, and that all copyhold lands should then be freehold. That undoubtedly was a very simple method of dealing with the question. For his part, he should prefer to see the period of 30 years reduced to 10 years, and that during the period of 10 or 30 years, as the case might be, either lords or tenants might make use of the compulsory powers of enfranchisement that existed. At the expiration of the 1283 period which might be fixed he thought that all copyhold land should become freehold. The great objection he had to the Bill, however, was that it gave no indication of the time at which there would be an absolute extinction of copyhold tenure, and he hoped that in Committee a definite term would be decided on.
§ MR. C. S. READ
said, that in the County of Norfolk there was still a large amount of copyhold land. He remembered that when the Copyhold Enfranchisement Act was passed it was believed that at the end of 20 years all the copyhold land would become freehold. They had not seen much of the vexatious action of copyhold tenure when the manors were in possession of the landed proprietors in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, however, it had been the custom for many years past that wherever a manor was announced for sale a speculative lawyer came forward as a purchaser, and then the position of copyhold tenants was by no means pleasant. It seemed to him that the lord of the manor was a man of kingly prerogative. No length of time seemed, apparently, to bar his rights. In his part of the country he had this distinct advantage. If there was a piece of copyhold land lying in the middle of the estate, it was for the tenant to prove what portion of it was freehold, and the lord of the manor could claim the best portion of the estate as representing his copyhold. The very pith of the question was to distinguish between what was copyhold and what freehold. As an illustration of the injustice of this Copyhold Law, he might mention that 40 years ago a relative of his had a common allotment made to him of half an acre of land. His relative was a very good farmer, but a very bad lawyer. He concluded that because the other allotments were freehold his was the same. The allotment of half an acre was covered with furze, and its value was about 10s. a-year. It was cultivated as a garden, and then his friend proceeded to build a house upon the ground. After he died the lord of the manor came down upon his representatives and compelled them to be admitted as copyhold tenants. The result was that in order to enfranchise this small piece of ground and the buildings thereon the representatives were compelled to pay 1284 £200; whereas if it had been known that the ground was copyhold it could at first have been enfranchised for £5 or £ 10. In a case where the copyhold tenure was fine-certain, he did not think there was anything to complain of in the law respecting it. That was an easy method of recording the title to it, and there was only a small quit-rent to pay. But the great majority of copyholds in Norfolk were fine-arbitrary in their character, and the result was that the lord of the manor, upon the admission of a new tenant, always demanded two years' improved rental. Another curious part of the story was that if the cultivation of a piece of copyhold land was foul or neglected, and the buildings became in any way dilapidated, instead of the lord of the manor receiving the two years' disimproved rental, he maintained that this condition of affairs had been brought about by the waste of the tenant, and therefore persisted, and generally succeeded, in getting two years' rental as if the ground had been in a good state of cultivation. He was clearly of opinion that this copyhold tenure was a great hindrance to agricultural improvement. Farmers and others could not improve or build upon their land without subjecting themselves to an increased fine. It was therefore from the agricultural point of view that he supported the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HASTINGS
agreed with what had been said with regard to this Copyhold Law being a considerable hindrance to agricultural progress. He ventured, however, to point out another great social question in which copyhold tenure constituted a distinct hindrance to improvement in respect to its bearing on the transfer and the tenure of land. That question was the housing of the working classes. He was quite certain that wherever land was held under copyhold tenure in the vicinity of growing towns it was a distinct hindrance to the proper housing of the population. He would give the House an instance of this within his own knowledge. A few years ago, within his own constituency, and near a growing town, a piece of land amounting to 10 acres was sold for building purposes. It was proposed to erect on this piece of land houses for artizans. In the course of the building operations the land was divided into 40 quarter acres. When it had been so 1285 divided, and when the houses had been erected, the lord of the manor came forward and claimed 40 heriots in the place of the one heriot to which he had been before entitled. He submitted that a system which permitted an injustice of that kind must necessarily operate to restrict, if not prevent, the building operations which were needed for the proper housing of the working classes. He would give another instance of hardship and oppression also taken from his own constituency. A dairyman owned a small piece of copyhold land, and earned his living by keeping three cows. He died and left a widow and three children. His widow was anxious to provide for the children by carrying on the business of the dairy. Before this could be done, however, the lord of the manor came down and seized as heriot the best of the three cows, and the woman was consequently ruined. She became a bankrupt. No doubt this was an exceptional case; but if he had no other reason for giving his hearty support to the Bill of his hon. Friend, this reason, in his opinion, would be sufficient—that it would make a clean sweep of an old and barbarous custom, which was opposed to civilization and the interests of the people. Any system of law or land tenure which permitted oppression of the kind he had mentioned was one which the House ought, in the best interests of the landowners themselves, at once to sweep
§ SIR R. ASSHETON CROSS
said, if his hon. and learned Friend went to a Division on this matter he should be compelled to support him in voting against this Bill. He was perfectly aware of the difficulties which surmounted the question of copyhold tenure, especially with reference to large towns. In the North of England, where he resided, and where there was a large number of copyholds, no difficulty was experienced. As a rule, the fines were small; and certainly the title was always very clear. With reference to the observation that fell from the hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) to the effect that the country people knew nothing at all about the matter, he thought he was correct in saying that the remark had no reference, at least, to the part of England with which he was more intimately connected. He had never heard of the smallest difficulty being felt in the matter. At the same 1286 time, he was one of those who would be glad to see the system of land tenure in every way simplified, and the cheaper the law could possibly make this transfer of land the better he thought it would be for all parties. He thought the Bill the House was discussing was a very cumbrous one, and that if it was passed into law he felt sure that the result would be disastrous so far as expense was concerned. He could not agree with the suggestion that had been made that copyholds should become freeholds after a period of 30 years. In that case the promoters of the Bill would really subject themselves to a charge of confiscation. He did not approve any such proposition as that made by the hon. Member for Salford, or Sir James Caird, because he thought it was an invasion of the rights of property. In reference to the provisions of the Bill dealing with the enfranchisement of land, and the disputes that were likely to arise between the tenant and the lord of the manor, he could not conceive anything more likely to create a greater amount of litigation from one end of the country to the other. If there was any body of men who were likely to reap any advantage from the Bill he believed it would be the solicitors who were engaged in settling the disputes. The subject of the measure was of such importance that it should be dealt with, not by a private Member, but by the Government. Such large interests throughout the country would be affected that no private Member could possibly hope, nor should he be allowed, to carry through the measure. And in the event of a Bill of this kind passing, the only way in which the enfranchisement of copyholds could be brought about would be by the appointment of a Commission especially charged with the duty of carrying it into effect; and this Commission should have Assistant Commissioners to go through the country carrying out the work of enfranchisement. If the thing were left to the stewards, the temptation would be too great for them, and the law charges would be enormous. The question of minerals should be made perfectly clear in any Bill of this kind, and they could not take the lord's rights away without giving him compensation; and yet if they came to value them they would find it a very difficult thing to do. If the minerals were to be handed over to the tenant, it might be that he would find 1287 himself to pay a much larger sum than he could possibly afford. This question, in short, was left in such obscurity, and would lead to so much litigation, that if his hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Somerset persisted in his opposition to the Bill he should feel himself compelled to vote with him.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, it had been his lot to deal with copyholds in various capacities. He had officiated as steward of a manor, and he had to act in another case for the tenants. Nothing was more unpleasant to him in the whole of his professional career than the stewardship of a copyhold estate. He got rid of his difficulties, however, in the one case by the enfranchisement of the copyhold, and in the other case by his duties being transferred to another. To some members of his profession, copyhold stewardships might be more profitable than they were to him; but he believed that the majority of gentlemen who held the office of steward would be glad to see copyholds enfranchised on reasonable terms. Objection had been taken to the compulsory powers of the Bill; but by some hon. Members it seemed to have been forgotten that compulsory powers were in existence now. The Bill, therefore, did not embody a new principle in the direction of compulsion. The measure might possibly act prejudicially to small copyholders; but this could be guarded against by the Committee to whom the Bill would be referred in the event of its being now read a second time; and it might be deemed by the Committee desirable to confine the operation of the Bill to copyhold tenure of a certain amount. Attached to many copyholds, particularly to those he was acquainted with in his own county, there was a peculiar tenure, known as borough English, by which an estate descended to the youngest instead of the eldest son, and it created very considerable difficulty. Supposing a gentleman who held an estate partly freehold and partly copyhold died intestate, the freehold portion of the estate would go to the eldest son, and the copyhold portion, which might be in the very centre of the estate, to the youngest son. He could not conceive anything that would lead to a prettier family quarrel than the separation of an estate in such a manner. Then, again, fines were difficult to settle, and they led to considerable squabbling and contention in the assessment of them. He did 1288 not attach much importance to the stewards' demands, because, as a rule, stewards wore not so exacting as seemed to be imagined. If a steward were too exacting an appeal was provided by the Bill. There was another matter dealt with by the Bill, that of quit-rents and heriots. The latter, as was well known, was the right to the best beast of a deceased, and instances had been given him of the seizure of these by the bailiff of the manor whilst the corpse was un-buried, and under the very windows of the room where it was lying. It was high time that a custom involving such deplorable consequences should be put an end to. Upon the whole, he (Mr. Gregory) considered the Bill a valuable one, and he hoped it would be referred to a Select Committee competent to deal with all the questions which might be raised. He was prepared to vote for the second reading of the Bill, in the hope that they would be able to put copyholds upon a fair and reasonable footing, that they would be able to abolish the system of heriots, and that they would be able to get rid of the objectionable tenures which many copyholds involved.
§ MR. DODDS
said, that on every occasion when Bills of this description were introduced they had been brought under the consideration of the Incorporated Law Society, which made suggestions for their improvement, and he believed that the present measure had the approval of the Society, at all events in its main principles and provisions. A great portion of the property in the County of Durham was of copyhold tenure, held under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and in respect to such property it was found that the cost of conveyancing was a great disadvantage. He had enfranchised under the existing system several copyholds, some belonging to himself and some to other persons, and he believed that a necessity did exist for the Bill of the hon. Member for Cockermouth. He, therefore, hoped that it would be read a second time, and would then be referred to a Select Committee, by whom the details could be satisfactorily settled.
§ MR. TYSSEN AMHERST
said, that, while he did not consider himself justified in opposing the Bill, he was of opinion that the proposed changes would not benefit the tenant; indeed, it would be a great hardship on him at the present moment to be called upon to meet 1289 the necessary expenses. This was not a Bill to promote enfranchisement, but to compel it. As the law stood at present, it was in the option either of the lord of the manor or of the tenant to compel enfranchisement. He, therefore, held that a great deal of the Bill was entirely unnecessary. Why should it be made compulsory on both parties to enfranchise whether they considered it for their own interests or not? One of the principal reforms of recent legislation with regard to land tenure was the simplification of title; but one of the best registrations of title was that of copyhold tenure. Again, the tendency of recent legislation was to relieve the present tenant for life from burdens; whereas the effect of the Bill would be to increase the burdens to which he was subjected. It appeared to him that there would be endless litigation under the Bill when it came to a matter of questioning rights.
MR. J. LOWTHER
said, he could not share in the view of the Home Secretary that this was a measure which could be objected to only as regarded details. A good deal of the very able speech of his hon. and learned Friend who moved the rejection of the Bill was very properly directed to matters of detail; and, no doubt, should the Bill proceed further, a great deal of attention would have to be given to such questions. But the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill had wholly failed to show that any person in the position of a copyholder who desired to be relieved from that status, and to acquire his estate in fee simple, was unable to do so under the existing law. He ventured to think that the object of Parliament ought to be to simplify procedure and diminish costs. This Bill, however, would largely increase costs. With reference to the question of minerals, the Bill of 1882 distinctly reserved the right of a lord of the manor to come upon the land dealt with under the Bill to search for and, if need be, to work minerals on payment of the proper compensation to the tenant for so doing. He should like to know why that clause had been omitted from the present Bill? The fact of its omission had not unnaturally created some anxiety in the minds of those who had a shrewd suspicion that there was something underlying the scheme which the House knew nothing about. He had heard it suggested that the clause had been left out in consequence of, and in de- 1290 ference to, the suggestion of those who were interested parties; and he should be very glad to have that impression removed. Why should the lord and the copyholder be compelled to enter into expensive proceedings? If either party could, at his own instance, set the machinery of the existing law in motion, who was aggrieved by the status quo? Those who might take advantage of the opportunity of benefiting themselves by the scale of fees were, as far as he could see, the only persons who were interested in the promotion of the Bill. The existing law allowed either party to terminate a copyhold tenure at his discretion; but he could not think why the House should be asked to place obligations on a class of Her Majesty's subjects for no object whatever except to establish a sentimental uniformity. He hoped the House would not adopt a scheme of this kind.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he regretted the want of spirit shown by some Members of the House. When a Bill had been shown to be unnecessary, and was altogether weak and absurd, yet they had not the determination to oppose it. There were some people who would not stand up for their own interests, because they were afraid someone would blame them for so doing. The hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. C. S. Bead) had argued against the Bill by saying that copyhold was sometimes an admirable tenure, and that the title was simple and convenient; but because he was lord of several manors he stated that he should not vote against it. Valuable property was lost because many hon. Members had not the nerve to stand up and oppose Bills which they knew to be mischievous in their character. The Incorporated Law Society had been spoken of in the debate. That was a Society of solicitors, who would receive the most benefit from the Bill. The scheme was warmly supported by solicitors, because it meant an increase of costs. The prospect must be delightful to the Incorporated Law Society. The entire object of the Bill was "Costs, costs, costs." Even where a mortgage had been given, by this Bill they were to come in and raise a new charge, by compelling the tenant to be enfranchised whether he would or not.
§ MR. TOMLINSON
said, that the question of minerals, which had been dealt with in the Bill of the previous Session and omitted in this, was one, 1291 not only of the greatest importance, but one which was of great difficulty, and had operated to diminish the number of enfranchisements. The law now empowered either party to compel the other to enfranchise the land, and the only explanation of the slowness of enfranchisement was that it was for the interest of both lord and tenant not to enfranchise. The Bill was of an ill-digested and incomplete character. The hon. Member for Salford (Mr. Arthur Arnold) had told them that Sir James Caird, a great authority on the subject, had put forward a totally different scheme. That seemed a reason for not supporting the present Bill. He thought they had better wait for that. He would oppose the second reading of the Bill, not because he admired the copyhold tenure, but because the Bill did not provide a satisfactory mode of dealing with it.
§ MR. W. LOWTHER
said, he was anxious to prolong the discussion until the House got an answer from the hon. Member for Cockermouth (Mr. Waugh) to the questions which had been addressed to him during the debate.
§ MR. WAUGH
, in reply, said, if the Bill were sent to a Select Committee he would be able to satisfy hon. Gentlemen opposite that it would diminish the costs of enfranchisement more than 100 per cent. perhaps 200 per cent in some cases. He did not propose to meddle with the minerals at all; and he might state that he regretted having, in a weak moment, introduced a clause on this subject into the Bill of 1882. Many of the tenants strongly objected to that provision on the ground that it would interfere with their rights. If he was asked why he proposed to interfere with the status quo, his reply was the expenses of enfranchisement were so great at present that many tenants were deterred from undertaking it. He believed that the Bill now before the House would meet the general wishes with regard to the whole question of copyhold.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 123; Noes 41: Majority 82.—(Div. List, No. 36.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.