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ownership of the soil on the part of the occupying tenant.
Before considering whether it be practicable to extend the system of tenant-right by legislation, it is right to inquire in what tenant-right consists. Professor Hancock states it to be “a recogni“ tion, by long-established custom, of the right “ of the tenant to the fair profit of the capital “ vested by him, by purchase or expenditure, in “ the permanent improvements of the land, or to “ the inherited profit arising from such improve“ments, when made by some of his ancestors."* And in a petition to parliament from parties claiming tenant-right, it is described as “entitling 6 tenants to enjoy their improvements, without in“ crease of rent on THAT account; and to compen“ sation when their interest ceases, as a return for “ all labour and capital expended on buildings and “ other useful improvements.” And the petitioners ground their claims on the assertion, that " while “ the soil belongs to the landlords, the dwelling“ houses, farm-offices, fences, gates, and drains, not “ being erected by the landlord, belong to the ten46 ants.”
The tenants have certainly a strong equitable claim, to be remunerated for improvements which
* The Tenant-right of Ulster, &c. by Professor Hancock, page 34.
they have themselves effected, unless through some previous contract, they have already received compensation in some other way. The peculiar circumstances of Ireland have been such, as, in many cases, force them to this expenditure, in order to make the ground useful, or worth the rent paid for it. The landlord, if conscientious, would respect their claims, and would not deprive them of their farms without giving them full compensation, or allowing them to receive it from others. Where this equitable claim is sanctioned and upheld by long-established custom, as in Ulster, it becomes a prescriptive right, which being better understood, is more readily acted upon by all parties.
If we are to consider this custom as giving the tenant a right to retain possession of his farm, so long as the rent be duly paid; and to bequeath it to his heir, or to sell his interest to another, subject to the approbation of the landlord, but not being liable to any advance on the present rent; then there is no difficulty in establishing it throughout Ireland by act of parliament. Its effects would be to convert every tenant-at-will into a copy-holder ; to confer on him a title in perpetuity, so long as he paid his rent; to enable him to assign his interest to another ; to make him, in fact, a joint proprietor with the landlord. Much improvement would certainly result from this security of possession, and from the inducement thus afforded to the tenant, to expend his capital and labour on his farm. But would such a law be just towards the landlord ? would it not, in fact, be a law transferring to the tenant a portion of the landlord's property? If so, we may be sure that it would have injurious effects. A law, which lessens the security of property, shakes the foundation on which improvement must rest.
But the advocates of tenant-right only claim for the tenant, a right to the increased value given to the land by the buildings erected, and the other improvements effected by the tenant himself. They “ admit that the soil belongs to the landlord,” and therefore admit his claim to an increase of rent, whenever the value of land rises from any cause affecting the district generally. This appears to create a difficulty, which may not be much felt while tenant-right depends on custom, instead of statute law ; but which would probably be very serious, if an attempt were made to extend it to the whole country by act of parliament. Disputes would constantly arise between landlord and tenant, involving litigation, and lessening that security which tenant-right is especially intended to give.
That something is wanted to promote the expenditure of capital, in the permanent improvement of the land, is admitted by all. The greater pro
portion of the country is let to tenants-at-will. Certainly, nothing can be expected from these ; liable as they are to be evicted, or to have their rents raised, immediately after having effected the most valuable improvements. Even where a lease exists, unless the unexpired term be of considerable length, there is not sufficient prospective advantage, to have much effect in inducing the outlay of capital. As a remedy for this state of things, it has been strongly urged by many, that a tenant should be legally entitled to claim from his landlord, on the termination of his tenantcy, a payment in money for the value of any permanent improvements effected by him.
In the Digest of Evidence on the occupation of land in Ireland, it is stated to be the most general opinion, that “ if a substantial security were offer“ed to the occupying tenant, for his judicious per“ manent improvements, a rapid change for the “ better would take place—a change calculated “ to increase the strength of the empire, and " the tranquillity of this country ; to improve “ the food, raiment, and house accommodation of " the population ; to remove that paralysis of in“ dustry, which the sworn evidence of nearly every “ tenant, and of numerous landlords, examined “ on the subject, has proved to exist; to call into “ operation the active exertions of every occupier “ of land upon his farm ; to add about five months “ in each year to the reproductive occupation of “ farmers and labourers, which are now passed in “idly consuming produce, accumulating debts, or, “ for want of better employment, perhaps in “ fomenting disturbance. It is difficult to appre“ ciate, as it merits, the probable effects of a mea“ sure that should stimulate the occupiers of land, " to turn the labour of the country to account “ during the five idle months of the year, when “ they are not employed in the ordinary operations “ contingent upon tillage, as at present practised in
But how can such a security be offered ? what are to be considered as constituting permanent improvements ? Who is to be judge? Is the tenant to be at liberty to make what alterations he pleases, and then call on the legal authority to value them ? or is the consent of the landlord to be first obtained ? If the latter, it will produce much difference and bad feeling, should the landlord refuse to sanction improvements, which the tenant may consider of great importance to him, and of great permanent value. By the former, a landlord may be compelled to pay for alterations, which,
• “Digest of Evidence on the law and practice respecting the occupation of land in Ireland," vol. i. page 160.