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necessary improvements he could not get his money back. opinion, which at first was so ready to condemn, was compelled to acquit him. There are plenty more innocent and even benevolent leaseholders in London who are in exactly the same position.
The leasehold system is the chief cause of the demoralisation of the building trade in the metropolis. Let it not be thought that the public who groan under this evil are the only victims. Taken as a body, the builders would prefer to do good work; so would the artiBut they have no option in the matter. They must build in accordance with the demand, and the leaseholder protects himself, as far as he can, by the purchase or erection of property which will last his time or a little longer. Compare the splendid old houses of Chester, and Shrewsbury, and Ludlow, with the houses of cards which are built nowadays. The men who built these ancient houses built. them to outlast the children's children of the first possessors. With us it is otherwise. Periodic confiscation hangs like a dark shadow upon the investor. In this age the devil of shortsighted greed is powerful enough if left alone, but we offer a premium to his operations when we say to the leaseholder that if he builds honestly, after a certain number of years have expired the honest work which he has put into a house shall be of no value to himself or to his children. The leaseholder, the builder, the tenant, the workman, are alike degraded by the system of urban leaseholds.
So many examples of hardship under this system have come under my notice that my difficulty is that of selection. One or two must suffice. A person had bought the remainder of a lease on a Westend estate, and towards the end of the term he sought a renewal. The terms offered were as follows:-1. That the original ground-rent should be increased from £10 to £80 per annum. 2. That a fine of £1,400 should be paid for the privilege of renewal. 3. That £500 should be expended in repairs by the lessee.
Let me cite another case. A tradesman who held the lease of a house on the estate of a certain noble lord inquired upon what terms he might have a renewal. He had, first of all, to pay two guineas for the information, and every inquirer after a house on that estate has to pay a similar fee. For his two guineas he obtained a printed form on a single sheet of paper, with a few lines filled up in writing. From this document he learned-1. That he could not have a renewal for a longer term than twenty-five years. 2. That he must accept the landlord's title without investigation. 3. That he must pay all legal and other expenses. 4. That he must, in future, pay a ground rent of £50 instead of £10. 5. That he must pay a fine of £860 five years before the original lease ran out 6. That he must half rebuild the premises. The man had built up a valuable business, which he would to a large extent lose if he removed elsewhere; so that the landlord's terms virtually amounted to a demand that he should buy at full value
the goodwill of the business which he had built up by years of industry.
In a pamphlet issued by the Devonport branch of the Leaseholds Enfranchisement Association there is a remarkable testimony from one of the principal tradesmen of the town. He says, "I have for years never known what it is to have a quiet day or night. The thought that at any moment, by some one's death, my house shall become the property of another, and that by that other my business shall be taken possession of, my own and my children's bread, our very life support, shall be placed under the hammer of the auctioneer -in my waking hours, as well as in my sleeping dreams, it is the burden of my life." In place of the haunting uncertainty put the deadly certainty, and you have exactly the position of hundreds of honest and industrious London tradesmen.
Outsiders have no idea of the extortions practised on some of the great London estates. Among the letters I have received from London tradesmen let me quote the following as a sample: "I purchased the remainder of a lease in Paddington, having eight years to run, and when the lease ran out last year the landlord compelled me to put the house in thorough repair, and the work was to be done under the supervision of the landlord's surveyor, or the agent offered to do the repairs for £220. I, however, did it myself, and had great difficulty in getting the work passed. I had to supply two new marble mantlepieces, new flooring, new doors, new lead gutter-pipes, &c. My solicitor told me that I was powerless. The next tenant had to pay a premium, and what for? On the improvements I had made, and of which the landlord had robbed me. The house where I now reside I purchased in 1866, and have spent £1,000 in bricks, mortar, and decorations on it. In eighteen and a half years it returns to the duke, and although the business, if still kept up, would be worth £1,200, I lose the value of the business and also of my outlay."
Over a large part of Wales the utmost term granted to leaseholders is sixty years. According to a Swansea solicitor, who is secratary of the Liberal Association, there is at least one large landowner who never grants more than fifty years. To a large extent the industrial Welsh towns have been built by working men through the agency of building societies. I will take a town in North Wales and a town in South Wales as examples. Blaenau Festiniog, the headquarters of the slate trade, is a town of 15,000 inhabitants. One of our honorary secretaries has recently visited the place. The houses are built of stone and mortar as hard as adamant. More than half the houses are owned by quarrymen, as leaseholders. When their wages amounted to £3 or £10 a month they made an effort to become owners of their own houses. Wages have gone down tɔ £5 or £6 per month, and at the same time the rates for
school board and sewerage and local improvements have considerably increased. Only by the exercise of the strictest thrift can these people hope to pay for their houses, shilling by shilling, and yet they cannot expect even their own living children to enjoy the benefit of their self-denial should their children live to old age. In the same town there is a co-operative store, just completed, costing over £1,000, the lease of which is only fifty years, and places of worship, which will all have to be bought back again from the landlord half a century hence. I find exactly the same conditions at Pembroke Dock, in South Wales, where half the houses are owned by dockyard men; and, indeed, over the most enterprising portions of the Principality the same blighting influences are felt. But even in districts near London the shortened term exists. The more attractive the form of labour, the more exacting are the terms of the landlords. Take Woolwich dockyard and arsenal for example. The Government offer fair wages for good workmen; the landowners of Plumstead take toll of those wages by fixing the term of their leases to a miserable limit of sixty-two years. The law allows the great landed monopolists to use their monopoly in such a way as to make the creation of a great permanent class of workmen-proprietors an impossibility. By dint of industry and self-denial the father buys his own house at its full value, but the son in many places, or the grandson in others, has to begin the purchase over again, the accumulated savings of the past generations being swept into the capacious pockets of the lords of the land. This confiscatory system, I maintain, is a great deterrent to thrift. Does any one say that the date of the confiscation is so remote that it is not taken into account? I should like to know what chance Post Office Savings Banks would have if they were reconstituted on a similar basis.
The most ingeniously and flagrantly unjust development of the leasehold system has yet to be described. Leases on lives, or life lotteries, as they have been aptly called, are largely prevalent in Cornwall and Devonshire. Until my recent visit I had but a faint idea of the extent of the evil. Let me accordingly cite a few typical cases. The names of three persons are put into a lease, and when those three persons die off the lease expires.
A piece of land worth £2 an acre as an agricultural rent was let for building purposes at £9 an acre, and divided into eleven plots. On one of them a poor man built a house which cost £60. The landlord's terms were a ground-rent of 16s. 6d. per annum. lease was for three lives, and one in reversion. The landlord exacted £5 for the original lease, £1 as a heriot on the falling in of each life, £10 on nominating the life in reversion. Thus, beside receiving a yearly ground-rent of four times as much as the agricultural value, the landlord exacted at various times £18, and on the expiration of the fourth life, twenty-eight years after the lease was granted, he
took possession of the house itself and sold it for £58. An officer of one of our branches had the case from the lips of the widow of the man who built the house, and has tested her accuracy. These landlords are they which devour widows' houses.
Had I space I might multiply such examples. One more must suffice. An aged widow at Devonport was left with three leasehold houses to support her. The last life on one expired, and then she managed upon two. The last life on the second expired, and then she lived by letting most of the rooms in the third house. Then the steward of the estate called upon her to prove that the last life on the remaining house was still in existence. The man had emigrated to the United States and had gone west, and this old woman, eighty years of age, was called upon to hunt over the Western States for proofs of his existence. As she could not perform an impossibility, at the end of six months she had to give up possession, and, but for the charity of a nephew, a working man, she would have had to go into the workhouse. No sooner had she left the house than it was sold for £400.
I must cite yet one more case, illustrating the hardships suffered by country tradesmen. A tradesman who had built up a business erected new premises at the cost of £1,000. In twenty-six years the three lives on the lease had expired. A short time before the man himself died. When the last life on the lease had expired the widow had to leave, and the house and shop which her husband had built was let to a stranger for £45 a year by the landlord. Is it surprising that this abominable system has been called by its victims "The curse of Cornwall"?
In all the towns where the Association has held meetings it has been heartily supported by both Liberals and Conservatives, and the audiences have been large and enthusiastic. The speeches of those who have personally suffered from the system would supply me, if necessary, with an almost unlimited number of cases. Let me cite, however, the more general testimony of Mr. Samuel Smith, M.P. Speaking at a Liberal meeting at Chester a few weeks ago, with a full knowledge of the working of the leasehold system in Liverpool, he said, "No one could doubt that in the large cities of this empire not a little injury had been done to the health and welfare of the people from what he might call the unwholesome and wretched system of leasehold tenure. It had led to the supply of poor, mean, and rotten habitations, and it had almost of necessity permitted them to fall into irrepair in the latter years of the lease, when the property was about to pass into the hands of a stranger. He thought that one of the measures which a reformed parliament would deal with would be to convert this leasehold property under some fair principle into freehold property." Even the Times substantially admits the strength of the case against ground landlords. It does
not accept my Bill, but it uses it as a warning to the ground landlords of London and the great towns. The warning will be disregarded; most ground landlords, indeed, are hardly in a position to take advantage of it. I do not think that it would be difficult to prove that in the end the enfranchisement of leaseholders would be advantageous to them. Lord Pembroke and other peers deplore the fact that permanent owners of landed property are so few. Mere regrets will not increase the number; let them assist me in this practical effort to multiply small freeholders without confiscation and injustice.
Thus far we have met with little serious opposition, except from those who hold that property is robbery, and who dread its wider distribution lest the realisation of their communistic dreams should be thereby retarded. The Spectator, however, has made an attack upon my proposal which embodies most of the objections that are likely to be urged against it by practical politicians. Some of these are covered by the arguments I have already advanced; others I will briefly notice.
The Spectator urges that little and poor landlords are the landlords whom it is most difficult to compel to improve. This is no argument at all against occupying owners, who are the best of all improvers. There are already some three-quarters of a million of members of building societies in this country, and the time, I trust, is not very remote when a thrifty and prudent workman will as soon think of hiring furniture as of hiring a house. My critic is so ignorant of workmen houseowners that he imagines it would be impossible to compel men of this class to spend £5 on the making of a new drain. If he were to express such an opinion in an assembly of such men he would be received with a shout of derision. As to little and poor landlords, who are not occupiers but investors, he forgets that we have a multitude of these already, the product, and the victims very often, of the leasehold system. My proposal would at once get rid of the jobbers in the fag-ends of leases, who are the curse of London slums, for henceforth there would be no fag-ends to job; while the honest owners of old leases would for the first time be able to keep their property in gocd repair, because for the first time they would have a chance of getting their money back if they spent it on improvements.
My critic declares that farm tenants want freeholds as much as householders, and have a better claim to them. I deny both propositions. It may be true that most of the large tenant farmers prefer to put their capital into an agricultural business rather than into a small freehold. It is arguable that some of these sho ild have fixity of tenure; but I must not run off into side issues. It will be quite time to consider the claim of the farmers when the claim is made. The assertion that their claim is better than that of the