1902 Encyclopedia > Agriculture > General Observations. Of the Tenure of Land.

(Part 97)


Of the Tenure of Land.


According to the method proposed at the outset, we now offer a few observations on several topics connected with out subject.

Of the Tenure of Land

The extent of land in Great Britain occupied by its owners for agricultural purposes bears a very small proportion to the whole area. The yeoman class is still numerous in several parts of England, but must have diminished greatly from that continuous amalgamation of small estates into large ones which has formed a marked feature in our history during the present century. This change, although to be regretted on public grounds, has had favorable influence on the cultivation of the soil, for it almost invariably happens that a larger produce is obtained form land when it is occupied by a tenant than when it is cultivated by its proprietor. As a matter of fact, the land of the country is now, with trifling exceptions, let out to professional farmer in quantities varying from the rood-allotment of the village laborer to the square miles of the Highland grazier. Farms of all sizes are usually to be found in any district, and most important it is that this could be the case; but the extent of farms is chiefly determined by the amount of hired labor employed upon them, and the measure of personal superintendence on the part of the tenant which the kind of husbandry pursued upon them calls for. We accordingly find that in very fertile tracts, in the vicinity of towns, and in dairy districts, they seldom exceed 200 acres; where the ordinary alternate husbandry is practices the average ranges from 300 to 400; in more elevated tracts, where a portion of natural sheep-walk is occupied along with arable land, it rises to 800 to 1000; while that of the sheep grazing of our hills and mountains is limited only by the capital of the tenant. About a century ago there occurred in various parts of Great Britain a similar amalgamation of small holdings into farms of the sizes which we have now referred to as is at present in progress in Ireland. This enlargement of farms, with the employment of increased capital in their cultivation, insures a more rapid reclamation of waste lands, and general progress of agriculture up to a certain point, than would otherwise take place. But as every step in advance beyond this point implies an increase of outlay in proportion to the extent, and the need for closer superintendence, it seems likely that, in future, the size of arable farms will not further increase, but may rather be expected to approximate towards that which at present obtains in suburban districts.

Farms are held either by yearly tenancy or under leases for a specified number of years. The latter plan is that upon which nearly the whole lands of Scotland are let; and it obtains also to a considerable extent in the northern countries of England, in West Norfolk, and in Lancashire. But with these and other exceptions, amounting altogether to about a tenth part, the farms of England are held by yearly tenancy, which can be terminated by either of the contracting parties giving the other six months notice to that effect. This precarious tenure has been attended by far fewer changes than a stranger might suppose, owing to the highly honorable conduct for which English proprietors as a class have been noted. On all the large estates it is quite common to find families occupying farms of which their ancestors have been tenants for generations, or even for centuries. The mutual esteem and confidence which usually subsist between such landlords and tenants are undoubtedly much to the credit of both but not the less has the system, as a whole, operated unfavorably for all concerned; for however numerous and striking the exceptions, it is yet the fact that under this system of tenancy-at-will less capital has been invested in the improvement of farms, less labor has been employed, and less enterprise displayed in their ordinary cultivation, less produce has been received for them by the owners, than in the case of similar lands let on leases for a term of years. These diffract results ensue, not because tenants with leases are abler men or better farmers than their neighbours who are without them, but solely because the one system recognizes certain important principles which the other ignores. It is contrary to human nature to expect that any body of men as freely invest their capital, whether in the shape of money, skill, or labor, in a business yielding such slow returns as agriculture, with no better guarantee that they or their families shall reap the fruits of it than the continued good-will of existing proprietors or those who any day may succeed them as they will do with the security which lease for a term of years affords. It does therefore seem strange that a majority of the farmers of Great Britain should be tenants-at-will, and still more strange that they should be so of choice. It is nevertheless true that a considerable portion of the tenantry of England are even less disposed to accept of leases than their landlords are to grant them. The latter cling to the system because of the greater political influence with which it invests them; the former do so because low rents are one of its accompaniments. Since the removal of restrictions on the importation of foreign agricultural produce, there are indications that neither landlords nor tenants are so well satisfied with this system of tenancy-at-will as they once were. Not only is the granting of leases becoming more common than it has hitherto been, but there is a growing desire on the part of tenants to obtain the benefit of that guarantee for the realizing of their capital which tenant-right affords to enterprising farmer who may have unexpectedly to quit their farms. In certain districts of England this claim, called tenant-right, has been recognised so long that, apart either from written stipulation or statutory enactment, it has, by mere usage, attained to something like a legal standing. In Lincolshire an out-going tenant can, by virtue of this usage, claim from his landlord or successor repayment, in certain definite proportions, of the cost of such ameliorations of a specified kind as he may have made during the last years of his occupancy, and the benefits of which his removal hinders him from realizing in the natural way.

Tenant-right is certainly a valuable adjunct of tenancy-at-will, but still it does not meet the real exigencies of the case, There are feelings inherent in man’s nature which cause him to recoil from exertions the fruits of which are as likely to be enjoyed by a stranger as by himself or his family. This repugnance, and its paralyzing influence, is not to be removed by a mere "right" to pecuniary compensation. It is certainly of tenure --- so far at least as human arrangements can be certain – which will really induce a farmer to throw his whole heart into his business. It is accordingly to this principle that leases owe their value, and by it also that the only weak point in them is to be accounted for. The first years of a lease are usually characterized by an energetic performance of various improvements, whereas towards its close there is usually such a withdrawing even of ordinary outlay as in unfavorable to the interest of both landlord and tenant. There is at present a very generally entertained opinion that this inconvenience would be obviated by engrafting the system of tenant-right upon that of leases. So strongly has the current of opinion been running in this direction that a bill has been submitted to the legislature for the purpose of conferring on out-going tenants a legal claim to compensation for certain specified investments which may have been made by them, but of which their removal hinders them from reaping the benefit. This bill further provided that in the event of a tenant having erected building for his own accommodation without the sanction of his landlord, he should have a right to remove the materials if the landlord or incoming tenant declined to purchase them. Through accidental circumstance this bill was withdraw without being discussed, but it is certain to be re-introduced, and sooner or later to be passed., It is now admitted on all hands that land cannot be cultivated to its full measure of productiveness without a large investment of capital, and that this outlay, when once incurred, cannot be recouped for several years at the least. It is in vain, therefore, to expect that these so much needed investments will be made until those who should make them are secured against having their property confiscated by a six months notice to quit.

It seems to be generally admitted that twenty-one years is the proper duration for an agricultural lease. Such a term suffices to give confidence to the tenant in embarking his capital, and secures to the landlord his legitimate control over his property,. And due participation in its varying value. It is generally felt by tenants that the lease or document in which their agreement with their landlord is engrossed might with advantage be much shortened, as well as simplified in its terms, When treating of the succession of crops we have already expressed our views regarding those restrictive clauses which usually occupy a prominent place in such writing, Such restrictions are of course introduced with the view if guarding the property if the landlord from deterioration; but when he is so unfortunate as to meet with incompetent or dishonest tenants, they entirely fail to secure this object, and yet are a hindrance and discouragement to enterprising and conscientious tenants. It is probable that the existence of the laws of distraint in England and hypothec in Scotland, which gave to landlords a lien over the effect of their tenantry in security for the payment of the current year’s rent, has had its influence in adding to the number and stringency of these clauses, and has encouraged the practice of letting lands by tender to the highest offerer. For the law in question, by rendering landlords to a considerable extent independent of the personal character and pecuniary circumstance of the occupiers of their land, has obviously a direct tendency to render them less cautious than they would otherwise be, and to induce them, when tempted by the promise of high rents, to trust more to this legal security than to the moral character, business habits, professional skill, and pecuniary competency of candidates for their farms.

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