§ EARL DE LA WARR
moved for a Return of Landowners of 500 acres and upwards in each county in England and Wales, showing those who have contracted themselves out of the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act up to the 1st of June, 1876. The noble Earl said, that when the Bill was passing through Parliament, it created much interest in that House and in the country. The Act was of a peculiar kind, as it contained a permissive clause which would render it harmless whenever its operation was not desired by landlords. It seemed to him that some information should be obtained for the purpose of showing in what manner the measure had been received by landowners; especially as it was commonly stated and believed that a very large proportion of the principal landowners in the country, including some of those who were promoters and supporters of the measure, had contracted themselves out of its operation. He was not aware that there could be any objection to, or difficulty in 1261 obtaining, these Returns; but if any difficulty should be found it would be very small, as there was plenty of machinery existing at the Board of Trade through which the Returns could be obtained.
§ Moved that there be laid before this House, Return of Landowners of 500 acres and upwards in each county in England and Wales, showing those who have contracted themselves out of the provisions of the Agricultural Holdings Act up to 1st June 1876.—(The Earl De La Warr.)
THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
said that he regretted very much it was not in his power to assent to the proposal of his noble Friend. As his noble Friend had thought proper to cast some aspersions upon the Act, he (the Duke of Richmond) as the introducer of the Bill into Parliament thought he ought not to remain silent; and therefore he said that he thought then and thought now that the Bill was a great boon to landowners, to tenants, and to all engaged in agriculture. And when his noble Friend said that the Act had been some time before the country, and that it was desirable to have some information how it had been received, he must beg to inform his noble Friend that those who desired to contract themselves out of the Act were allowed until last month to do so. He objected to the Motion on two grounds—first, there was no machinery by which the Government could get the Returns—there was no Department which could call for such Returns—the Board of Trade could not do so. Secondly, if the Government could ask for this information, he thought nothing would be more unfair, inquisitorial, and objectionable than for the Government to step in and ask what arrangements had been come to between a proprietor and his tenantry. If any one came to him and asked him whether he had contracted himself out of the Act, he should be very much inclined to ask that person to mind his own business.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
said, he was sorry to hear that they could not have this Return, as it was now proposed to extend the operation of the Act to Scotland. He thought it would be well to know how many landowners had contracted themselves out of the Act. When the Act was passing through the House last year the two prophets—the noble 1262 Earl near him (Earl Granville) and the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) entertained different opinions as to the value of it, the noble Earl predicting that it would be a great failure, and the noble Duke prophecying that the great bulk of the proprietors would come under the Act. He (the Earl of Camperdown) would be glad to know whose prophecy had been the more accurate, and whether this sort of legislation could be usefully applied to Scotland. He had obtained some information, and it was to the effect that the great bulk of the landowners had contracted themselves out of the Act. At any rate, several public bodies, including the Duchy of Lancaster and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, had done so; and he believed that he had seen in the newspapers that the noble Duke and the noble Earl sitting near him (the Earl of Derby) had done the same thing; but he could hardly bring himself to believe that those noble Lords who had considered that such legislation would be good for the country would contract themselves out of it. Without being asked, he would confess that he had put himself under the Act. If the Return were granted it might turn out that he was the only person in England who had done so. The Return would be interesting as showing who were the persons who like himself had been so unfortunate or so ignorant as to put themselves under the Act.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, he was quite ready to satisfy the curiosity of his noble Friend. On no personal ground would he feel justified in depriving his tenants of any advantage which the law might give them. The facts were these: In the neighbourhood of his residence his tenants held a meeting among themselves without being influenced by him, and they came to a resolution—an unanimous one, he believed—that they were quite satisfied with the state of things now existing, and did not wish for additional legal protection of their interests. That was a very satisfactory condition of affairs; and he did not see that there was any obligation, moral or social, on him or any other gentleman, to press on a tenantry who were entirely satisfied an Act designed to afford legal protection to those who wished for it. At the same time, if any of his tenants preferred to be fleeced under 1263 the system enacted by the Act he was perfectly willing to give them the benefit of it.
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, it was satisfactory to be acknowledged as a prophet. He had not referred to the report of his speech of last Session, but he believed what he said was in substance this—that the Act would prove useless, because it would not be called for in the case of good landlords like his noble Friend (the Earl of Derby), and because landlords who were unwilling that their tenants should have the protection of the Act would contract themselves out of it.
§ EARL DE LA WARR
said, he did not think this Return could be called inquisitorial—at all events by comparison with the yearly Returns asked for by the Board of Trade from persons engaged in agriculture, who were invited to answer no fewer than 38 questions connected with their stock and crops. Moreover, it could not be very inquisitorial, because when a landlord contracted himself out of the Act all his tenants must know it, and consequently all the world also. At the same time, he would not press his Motion.
§ On Question? Resolved in the negative.