Mr. Rowlands's Bill for the Enfranchisement of Leaseholders by allowing
any lessee of a house for twenty years to buy the freehold at a price to be fixed by the County Court, was defeated on Wednesday by 181 to 168. It was met by the Government with a fiat rejection, on the ground, as stated by the Home Secretary, that "the measure proposed to remedy isolated cases of injustice to lessees by inflicting a, universal injustice on lessors." That is just, though epigrammatic, the simple fact of the case being that every lessee has contracted voluntarily to abide by the terms from which he now seeks release. At the same time, it is useless to deny that the leasehold system in towns discourages solid building, and impoverishes architecture, and the State ought to sweep away all impediments to voluntary enfranchisement. If that were done, the majorities in favour of legisla- tive breach of contract, which are slowly creeping up, would disappear. The ideal system is that prevailing at Eastbourne, where the Duke of Devonshire allows any lessee to enfranchise, if he will pay so many years' purchase. The only point upon which we are not quite certain, is whether long-continued, custom on an urban estate should not be held to create an agreement. Men buy leases on estates where leases have been renewed possibly for a century, and then find themselves ousted or fined because the "landlord has changed his policy."