HC Deb 19 November 1884 vol 294 cc12-22

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he hoped the Government would not raise any difficulty in the way of passing the second reading of a measure that involved very important principles. The Bill was one which might fairly be regarded as a simple corollary to the Land Act; and by accepting it now without opposition the Government would be enabled without delay to get into the consideration of the Ways and Means. It was right that he should state generally the provisions of the measure, with I which, however, the House was doubtless already familiar. It was not introduced, as a matter of fact, for the first time. He believed as early as 1852 such a measure was introduced, and in 1878 a Bill was also introduced very much in the same form as that for which he now claimed the attention of the House. It was then drafted as an original Bill. At present it was merely put forward as an amendment of the Land Act of 1870, its effect being to make the latter more workable and more popular. One point in which the Land Act was defective was the manner in which tenants in country towns and villages were liable to be treated, and were as a matter of fact treated; and the object of the present Bill was to give the tenants a right in regard to the improvements which they effected in their houses in towns and villages. The House was, no doubt, aware that the Land Act might be said to give a claim to tenants to get some compensation or consideration for disturbance, and also for improvements. This Bill purported to extend to the towns only one of the rights recognized in the Land Act, and it was in its terms an obviously fair and just measure. It had reference simply to the bonâ fide increase to the letting value brought about by the expenditure of the tenant, and provided compensation for such improvement. That was surely a fair, moderate, and just proposition. When the Land Bill was first projected for Ireland, the claims were confined practically to one for compensation for improvements; and if that most reasonable claim had been conceded at once, it would doubtless have resulted in great satisfaction, and have prevented much of the subsequent demands made being urged so strongly. Now, in this instance the case of a man rebuilding or improving a house to such an extent as to make it practically a new house should clearly claim attention and sympathy; and if that blot was removed early, there would, doubtless, be no further agitation on the subject. But if, on the contrary, they rejected this very simple and just amendment of the existing law, they would very probably have the tenants in the towns making an effort to be included in all the provisions of the Land Act. Though this point now raised was dealt with comparatively quietly up to the present, it would at the next Election form a very important subject of agitation, and attract considerable attention, unless the Government, by a Bill of their own, or by accepting this one, granted a simple measure of justice. There were very few Members of the House who had not, at some time or another, been in Ireland, and they must have been struck by the dilapidation visible in the houses in the country towns and villages. There were certain towns, no doubt, that were more or less an exception to this rule; and if they came to look into the subject they would generally find that where the town looked well, where the houses were good, and where some attention seemed to be paid to appearances as well as comfort, the town would be found to be owned by someone who resided at or near it, and who took a kind of pride in it. Unfortunately, they would find that this was not the case with the great majority of towns. The landlord, as a rule, resided at a distance—in another country it might be—and treated the whole thing with neglect. It was really, in such a case, not the tenant's interest to improve his house, and the landlord only looked to receive his rent, and thus it was a town was permitted to fall into a state of neglect and decay. If anyone took the trouble of going into a good house in a good town, and, addressing the occupier, expressed his pleasure at seeing the house in such a satisfactory condition, attributing it to the landlord, he would find that, in most cases, the reply would assure him that the landlord had really had nothing whatever to do with it—that it was the tenant who had, at his own cost and risk, effected the improvements. The tenant might, no doubt, add an expression of a belief that under the circumstances the landlord would not put him out of a place where he had created a business; but, at the same time, the evil existed so long as the risk of confiscating these improvements and that business prevailed. These improvements were really the property of the tenant, and yet the man who created them would be liable to be swept away without any compensation. In towns where dilapidations were visible tenants would doubtless spend money in improvements if there was any security for it. In the last debate on this subject it was stated in effect that there was freedom of contract, and that in that way a safeguard was provided; but really that was not so, and even landlords in such cases could not be said to have freedom of contract, for in very many instances houses were tied up in settlements, and owners had very often only a life interest. In some cases they might give long leases, no doubt; but in any case the evil prevailed, and the course now suggested by the Bill would tend to remove it. The shop system in Ireland differed in a large measure from that in England and other places. They often engaged in general business, and had occasion frequently to extend their business premises. He had often seen such extensions effected in a great many towns where the occupiers knew that they were doing so at their own risk, and that the fruits of their own industry and enterprize were liable to be taken away from them without any consideration. This question also affected the labourers. There was great inconsistency in providing special powers for the erection of labourers' cottages, and yet leaving the law in such a state that no one, except the landlord, had any interest in making improvements. Many cottages, which were unfit for occupation, would be improved if security were given for the improvements. He could assure the Chief Secretary for Ireland that there was a good deal of feeling in Ireland in favour of this Bill, although that feeling had not been expressed in a noisy manner. A very large number of shopkeepers, Poor Law Boards, and Town Councils had written to himself, and other Members of Parliament, drawing attention to the necessity for a measure of this kind. Many of the requests which he had received were for a much larger measure; but he thought if this Bill were passed it would remove the real root of the injustice. If, however, this measure were not granted, it would be very hard to prevent those shop-owners who saw their property confiscated demanding at the next Election a much larger measure, and raising a cry to include them in the whole of the principles of the Land Act, instead of being satisfied with this one improvement clause. There was one point to which he wished in passing to allude—namely, as to the size of towns to be comprehended within the scope of the Bill. The Bill provided that the Act should not apply to any holding situate in any city, town, or county of a town containing, according to the last published Census, a population of 20,000 and upwards. This was a point, however, that could be settled in Committee. It was also provided by the Bill that the provisions of Section 4 of the Landlord and Tenant Act, 1870, should apply not only to any holding in Ireland which was wholly or partially agricultural or pastoral in character, but also to any holding in Ireland of which the value should not exceed £50 a-year as valued under the Acts relating to the valuation of rateable property. The Bill had been drafted by Queen's Counsel; but if the Government or the House objected to its wording he was quite willing to modify it. All he asked was that they should establish the principle that improvements in buildings in towns should not be confiscated. Moreover, he confined his request to improvements which added to the letting value of the property. If a tenant built a conservatory he might not be entitled to compensation on that account, because it might not add to the letting value of the house. But if the tenant enhanced the value of the premises he ought to be credited with it. That would be nothing out of the landlords' pockets, and it would help greatly to improve the condition of the Irish towns and villages.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Colonel Nolan.)


I am afraid the Government cannot take the course suggested by the hon. and gallant Member. He has put forward this Bill in a modest way as a mere amendment and corollary of the Land Act of 1870, as if it were an innocent and natural extension of the principles of land legislation in Ireland. But the Government cannot accept any proposal of this sort, at all events on those grounds. The legislation which Parliament has given of late years upon the subject of land in Ireland has been based upon principles which do not apply to this question at all. The habit has been to treat the agricultural industry as different from all other industries there. I will not now go into the reasons and arguments for that conclusion; but it is generally admitted that there are principles which apply to the agricultural industry, and which do not apply to others; and then, in the case of Ireland, there was, as everybody knows, this state of things—that agriculture was practically the only industry of a large part of the country, and, there being an obvious limit to the available land, there was a great competition for holdings; and that created a state of things which required individual treat- ment; but in the towns to which the hon. and gallant Member wishes to extend a particular clause of the Land Act very different circumstances exist, and, instead of there being too many tenants desirous to occupy the holdings, there are too many holdings for the tenants that present themselves. In fact, the tenant, instead of being at the mercy of the landlord, is the master of the market to a very great extent. The whole conditions are altered when you pass from agricultural holdings to the holdings in the smaller towns, so that whatever ground there may be for interfering in the question which has been brought before the House by the hon. and gallant Member, it cannot be upon the ordinary ground upon which Parliament has proceeded in the case of agricultural tenancies. A very wide description may be applied to the nature of the improvements touched upon by this Bill. The hon. and gallant Member has gone so far as to speak of the creation of a business as being an "improvement" in the ordinary sense—that a business may be got together in a certain shop, and that if the shopkeeper is summarily, and without compensation, ejected, he loses his business. No doubt, there may be cases in which it is a sad blow to a business if a shopkeeper has to remove; but it would be a very nice question how far a business attaches itself to the individual, and how far to the premises. At any rate, I do not think that the principle of compensation for loss of business has ever yet been applied in other cases. Then, as to the improvements, I think before we dealt with that subject we should require to have some sort of understanding as to the nature of the improvements. If anything were done, we might, perhaps, follow somewhat the lines of the Agricultural Holdings Act by dividing improvements into different classes, which are dealt with in different ways. That would probably be a more likely line for the House to follow than the mere extension of a clause in a Land Act which really does not apply to the subject. And, supposing we are to deal with the matter at all, why should we confine our interference to the small towns? The hon. and gallant Member says his proposal does not go beyond tenancies in the small towns; but why? There is, of course, something in what he says about the sentiment of the small towns being in sympathy with the agricultural tenants; but I imagine that if any provision of this sort is required anywhere, it is more required in the large towns than in the small, because there is greater competition for houses and shops in the large towns; and, therefore, the state of things is more nearly related to that which prevails in some parts of the country with regard to agricultural holdings. Again, if this is to be done for tenants in towns in Ireland, why should it not be done for those in England, Scotland, and Wales? There is no reason why a different system should be adopted for one country and not for the others. Therefore, I say that to ask us to extend to the smaller towns in Ireland this principle, on the ground that it is a mere corollary and extension of the Land Act, is to ask Parliament to commit itself to a principle which, if it were accepted, ought to be extended to the whole of the United Kingdom, and to the large as well as the small towns. We have a Royal Commission sitting on the question of the housing of the poor in our large towns. Of course, I do not know what course that Commission will take; but it is quite possible that they might recommend something which might have the effect of protecting and strengthening the interests of tenants in the large towns. But surely we ought to proceed cautiously on one system in this matter, and we cannot be reasonably asked to embark upon any such course of proceeding as this Bill prescribes, upon the ground, that it is a mere application to a similar class of subjects of a principle already applied in Ireland to the land, whereas that principle was applied for special reasons which are not applicable to the new subject. If there is a case for dealing with the interests of tenants of houses in towns, it is a case entirely separate and distinct from agricultural questions; and Parliament, if it desired to deal with it, must deal with it on separate principles, and for separate reasons altogether. On these grounds, it is not possible for the Government to assent to the Bill, and I think the House will probably be disposed to decline to proceed with it.


said, the Chief Secretary had just made what appeared to him to be a rather curious sort of speech. He could not quite understand whether the objection raised by the right hon. Gentleman was that his hon. and gallant Friend did not go nearly far enough and make a more comprehensive measure. Towards the close of his observations the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that if this measure was good for anything it was good for large towns and for England and Scotland. Well, he quite agreed with that; but his hon. and gallant Friend was concerned naturally more for the interests of his own country; and, therefore, he had limited himself in his Bill to Ireland, and modified it so as to give it what he hoped would be a better chance of passing the House. The right hon. Gentleman, however, having said that this Bill should have applied to larger towns, and to England and Scotland, did not go on, as one might at least have expected, to say that the Government intended to do anything for those large towns, or for England or Scotland. On the contrary, he conveyed the idea that the question was so large that the Government ought not to deal with it at all. That was a fair deduction from the reasoning of the right hon. Gentleman, who had gone on to argue that there was a radical difference between the interests of occupiers in the country and in the towns. But the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of a Government which was showing that as to suffrage there was no difference between the country and the towns. The right hon. Gentleman should remember that the tendency of all legislation in recent years had been to remove these imaginary differences and distinctions, and to show that if a man has an interest in a house in a town he is as much entitled to the protection of the law as a man in the country. The right hon. Gentleman had urged that the landlord in the country was the master of the situation, but that in towns the tenant was the master. [Mr. CAMPBELL-BANNERMAN: In the smaller towns.] And yet he went on to speak of the Commission now inquiring into the housing of the poor. Did that not apply to small towns as well as to large? If the Chief Secretary would just go over to Ireland, and take the trouble to inquire into the subject, he would very quickly learn that his statement was anything but accurate, and would get out of his mind the notion that the tenant was the master of the situation. The right hon. Gen- tleman had not given one single reason against this Bill, except, indeed, that the principle of the Bill erred on the side of too great moderation. He could, however, assure the Chief Secretary and the House that this was but the beginning of a great movement—of a great agitation, with which some Government would have to deal, and perhaps it would be found that the action which the Government now refused to take would then come too late.


said, he could not altogether concur in the remarks of his right hon. Friend. A Committee of the House of Lords, of which Lord Salisbury was Chairman, had, in 1873, drawn up a Report which stated that a case for Parliamentary consideration had been made out for the question of the improvement of land and the dwellings of the poor as being matters of great public interest. He did not think, therefore, that it was possible altogether to disconnect the towns and the country in this matter. He could not congratulate his right hon. Friend on the observations he had made having an economical character. It had been stated by him that it was not desirable to support the Bill, because in the towns of Ireland a different state of things prevailed from that which was observed in the rural districts. In the towns, it was said, there were too many buildings seeking for tenants, while in the country there was great competition for rural holdings. He thought the right hon. Gentleman would see that this was a strong argument in favour of the principle of the measure. It was precisely because in the agricultural towns there might be many more holdings to be let than there were persons desiring to take them that it was the interest of the landlords not to improve the holdings in the same manner as if there was an eager competition for them. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of the wide interpretation which might be given to the subject of improvements mentioned in the Bill; and he proceeded to speak of a business established in a shop which would be difficult to separate from the improvement rendered to the real property. That observation had been met, however, by the hon. and gallant Member, who expressed his intention to limit compensation for improvement to the increase in the letting value, and every- thing really turned upon that. The appointment of the Royal Commission which was now sitting to consider the question of the housing of the poor might be a reason for encouraging this House to look forward to the probability of the subject being dealt with in a more comprehensive manner; but that fact did not absolve the House from expressing an opinion as to whether it was desirable or not that the principle of compensation for improvement in urban districts should be affirmed. He thought the limit of £50 mentioned in the Bill was too low, and the20,000population mentioned in the measure too high. Without approving of the form and structure of the Bill, but having regard only to its principle, he should vote for the second reading.


thought that when the Chief Secretary considered the nature of the relations existing between landlords and tenants in agricultural towns in Ireland, and those which existed between landlords and tenants in England, he would find it very difficult to apply the same principles in dealing with them. In the small country towns of Ireland, the improvements were made almost exclusively by the tenants. In many cases, indeed, the houses were really the property of the tenants; they were morally theirs, for they had built and maintained them. The suggested difficulty that improvements might be effected that were not suitable for the tenant might be amended in Committee by the adoption of an Amendment, providing that the interest of the tenant should be circumscribed by the increase of the letting value of the tenement. Under the circumstances, he thought the Government would do well to allow this Bill to proceed, without waiting for the time when they might be able to apply its principles to the whole of the United Kingdom.


in supporting the Bill, said, he did not think the principle involved was a question between landlord and tenant in the same sense as that which was involved in the Land Act. In most of the small towns in Ireland with which he was acquainted the house property was principally in the hands of middlemen. But while he was prepared to support this stage of the Bill, he wished to point out to the hon. and gallant Member that, in his opinion, the Bill, as at present drawn, went far beyond the question of compensation for improvements, and would neutralize one of the most beneficial clauses in the Land Act—namely, the exclusion from the benefits of the Land Act of purely pastoral holdings. ["No, no!"] That, however, was a question for Committee; and he hoped the Government would see their way to affirm the principle of the measure.


agreed with the Mover of the Bill that there was practically a very great identity of feeling between the agricultural and small town tenants. Small shopkeepers in Ireland were also, in many instances, occupiers and cultivators of small farms in the neighbourhood; but, while they could claim agricultural improvements, they had no such claim in respect of their dwellings. He failed to see any substantial distinction between agricultural and urban tenants. The Chief Secretary seemed to ignore the fact that the claim for compensation on the part of both classes of tenants was based on a common principle of equity. Surely what was fair and equitable in the one case was equally just in the other. The objection of the right hon. Gentleman to the Bill, because it was in the nature of piecemeal legislation, was answered by the fact that piecemeal legislation had already been given in the case of the Land Act. The same reason which induced piecemeal legislation in the case of agricultural tenants equally applied to holders in towns, and constituted a precedent for further beneficial legislation of the character proposed by this Bill.


said, he should give his warm support to the Bill. Tenants in towns required and deserved protection as much as those in the country. In England they knew how many wealthy families had been enriched by confiscating the property of their tenants in their improvements; and his only regret was that the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Nolan) had not framed his Bill to apply to every town in Ireland, be the population 1,000 or 2,000. He was surprised that leaseholders had submitted so long to see their property confiscated.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 32; Noes 40: Majority 8.—(Div. List, No. 18.)