§ MR. ACLAND
, in rising to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the action with reference to Agriculture of various Public Authorities, with a view to consider the expediency of recommending that some one Department be made responsible for dealing with administrative and legislative questions affecting Agriculture, said, he did not propose to revive the debate on local taxation which had been opened by his hon. Friend (Sir Massey Lopes) the other evening in a speech remarkable for its ability and for the success which had 489 attended it. He differed from the hon. Baronet in many respects, but when he gave notice on the first night of the Session of his wish to move for a Committee to inquire into the incidence of local taxation, it was not his intention to trespass on a subject which his hon. Friend had made his own. His object merely was to clear up certain questions as to the relation between tenants and landlords, and between country parishes and town parishes, upon which there had been a great deal of misunderstanding, tending to create an undue sense of grievance, and an expectation of remedies which he thought impossible. He did not wish to anticipate another debate, to which country Members were looking forward with great interest on the introduction by Her Majesty's Government of their intended measure for the establishment of County Financial Boards. Neither was it his intention to ask for the appointment here, as in foreign countries, of a Minister of Agriculture, whose duty it would be to nurse up farmers. But what he did intend was to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the action with reference to Agriculture of certain Public Authorities. It had been said that his proposal was to introduce new functionaries, new officers, new salaries, and in fact, as he had heard it stated that morning, a new "Circumlocution Office." But that was not the case. Public authorities were already engaged with a great deal of business which affected the interests of agriculture and the production of food in this country. The public authorities connected with that subject were of two kinds, local and Imperial. Among the local authorities were magistrates, Boards of Guardians, Highway Boards, Turnpike Commissioners, Sewers Commissioners, and Commissioners of Taxes. But he did not propose an Inquiry into all the details of those various local bodies. He desired more particularly to direct attention to the Imperial authorities established in the metropolis; and they included the Home Office, the Privy Council, and the Board of Trade; while subordinate to these were the Copyhold and Inclosure Commissioners, the Cattle Plague branch (when called into existence by the Privy Council), the Health Office, the Local Government Office, and the Statistical Office of the Board of Trade. It was not a question of creating 490 new offices or cutting out new work, but of re-distributing existing work and concentrating and fixing responsibility. What was desired was that there should be a Department generally accessible to those interested in agriculture, and that it should be represented in Parliament by some responsible Minister. He did not, on that occasion, appear as the representative of an aggrieved interest, nor to plead for a re-adjustment of burdens as between different descriptions of property. He did not ask the House to charge on the mercantile classes the burdens at present borne by the land, still less did he ask the House to tax the hard earnings of the professional man for the benefit of agriculture. But he asked the House gravely to consider this question—were there, or were there not, in the laws of England as they now stood, or in the relations of those who, in different ways, were connected with landed property, causes which tended to impede the application of capital to the cultivation of the soil? Agriculture in these days was mainly a question of capital; and he asked whether the laws of holding and the tenure of land, the administration of the law, and the powers of various authorities, local or Imperial, tended to hinder the free and secure use of capital in agriculture? He was not aiming at centralization. He had not forgotten the words of the President of the Board of Trade last Session, nor had he forgotten the kind words uttered by the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gathorne Hardy), in which he warned him that in any plan for promoting a better system of local government, it must be borne in mind that the impulse must come from without. He thought he should not be accused of unduly promoting centralization if he said that the following were legitimate functions for a central authority, namely—first, to remove obstacles to the employment of capital arising from obsolete customs or bad legislation; secondly, to endeavour to protect the weak from having their money spent for them on imprudent outlays, and to prevent the cost of improvident works from being cast upon posterity; thirdly, to collect, test, systematize, and diffuse correct information on agricultural subjects. Only that morning he heard some practical farmers talking of the agricultural statistics laid before the House by 491 the statistical branch of the Board of Trade. They spoke warmly of the use of those statistics, but thought they ought to be more rapidly collected, and brought out as soon as possible after the harvest to be of service to the farmers, whereas, at the time they were now published they only enabled them to guess at what other people were doing with the wheat they had grown. In the fourth place, in cases where they had to struggle against obsolete customs and petty local interests, and where they could not mate progress without the Concurrence of those locally interested, he thought the State might take the initiative in stimulating local action, and guard against improvident expenditure. Lastly, he thought it a legitimate function for the Executive Government, under the sanction of Parliament, to raise a standard of professional competence for persons intrusted by law with responsible public duties affecting the interests of others. We plumed ourselves on being essentially a practical people, who thought that scientific knowledge was likely to mislead men rather than to be a safe guide to them in the management of their affairs; but those who had reflected upon the sufferings of the lower orders, and had examined into the misery existing among the crowded population of towns, and the scattered population of villages, must feel convinced that it was of the utmost importance that men charged with public responsibility should give some proof of sound education and scientific knowledge. But, supposing an Agricultural Department to have been appointed, it might be asked, what on earth was there for it to do—and what did they want with a Department to help people to do that which they could do better for themselves? He would answer by enumerating five of the subjects which, in his opinion, required the intervention of the best knowledge, guided by the best experience which the country could produce. Some of these were already in action in various branches of the Executive, while others were in their infancy, though, he thought, it would be admitted that they were all subjects which were growing daily in importance. The first related to the exchange and transfer of land, and the improvement of land and cottages. Those who had watched the proceedings of the Commission ap- 492 pointed to inquire into the employment of women and children, and who were aware of the disclosures which would probably result from that investigation, as to the condition of cottages in this country, would admit that he was not now speaking of a subject which was unimportant in itself, or of one which had not been carefully attended to by many proprietors of the soil. It was, however, also true that over a very large proportion of the land in this country cottages were in a very neglected state, and in need of the most careful attention on the part of the Legislature. Many of of the duties connected with this subject were already discharged by the Copyhold and Inclosure Commissioners. In the next place, there was the whole question of internal communication in the country. He was not here going to speak directly of railways, although he must repeat, in passing, what he had said last year. His remarks, on that occasion, had since been greatly misrepresented. It had been alleged that he had brought forward a Motion for saddling on the overburdened ratepayers broken-down railways, and branches of railways which did not pay as commercial enter-prizes. The proposal which he really did make was originally suggested to him by a Conservative county Member, now deceased; and it was to the effect that one of the functions of the projected Department should be to facilitate the construction of railways on a cheaper system than was usually adopted, and to push them into holes and corners of the country where, as ordinary investments, they would not be successful. But what he thought called for early legislation was this,—to bring under some combined system of management the whole of the roads and bridges in the rural districts. In every county there were a number of bridges, with 100 yards of turnpike road on either side of them, under the management of irresponsible Justices of the Peace; then there were the highways, under the supervision of the Highway Board, and then roads under the Turnpike Commissioners. With regard to the bridges, he believed a fearful indictment might be made out against our ancestors by simply printing a map indicating the positions of the county bridges, with reference to the county histories, showing what families were connected with the districts where the bridges had been 493 erected. He understood that the late Secretary of State for the Home Department had contemplated introducing a Bill to establish a uniform system of county management for roads, and he hoped the idea would be carried out by the present Government. There was obviously a great waste of money in consequence of there being three or four systems for the management of roads and bridges, and the aid of Parliament and of a wise and vigorous Executive was required in order to bring about a change in the existing state of things. The third subject to which he would draw attention was the regulation of the cattle traffic. Of course that subject came under two heads, but he referred not so much to the importation of cattle from abroad as to internal traffic. Cattle wore frequently sent very long distances, and as a matter of humanity to the animals themselves this was a subject which ought to be no longer neglected. The fourth subject he would refer to was the management of watercourses or river basins on a large scale, with a view to drainage, irrigation, sewage, and the water supply of towns. The latter question, of course, could not be separated from that of the proper use of water in agricultural districts. Fifthly, there was a subject which of itself would have justified him in considering the question he had brought forward; and in regard to this subject he could appeal to the high authority of the right hon. Gentleman who now occupied the Chair, and with whom, in 1847, he was associated in supporting the Bill introduced by Mr. Pusey, Member for Berkshire. For fear of provoking controversy, he would not state by what influences the progress of that measure was impeded. However, it reached a Select Committee, and came out of it with several important provisions, one of which was that the compensation of outgoing tenants should be arranged by two valuers and a third person to be appointed by them; but in the event of their being unable to agree the third person or umpire was to be appointed by the Inclosure Commissioners. Sanctioned by so high an authority, he would suggest as a fifth subject, which might be safely and usefully delegated to a public authority connected with agriculture, the appointment, when called upon by the parties interested, of an independent umpire to 494 secure fair play to both parties in regard to the compensation of outgoing tenants. This was a somewhat delicate subject to touch upon, as the tenant-farmers were not directly represented in that House to any great extent. Many county Members must know very well that the great hindrance to the increase of the production of food in this country was that farmers could not always farm with confidence. They could not look forward more than six months; for though there were counties in which, by a mutual good understanding between the landlord and tenant, many valuable and liberal customs had grown up and considerable confidence existed on each side, yet he regretted to say that that confidence was not felt in other parts of the country. Farmers, following new modes, could not feel secure with less than four years before them. If he were to relate what had come within his own knowledge during the last three months, and were to repeat what had been said to him by many electors as to their reasons for voting in a particular way, hon. Gentlemen would, he thought, admit that this subject was a very important one. The difficulty to be overcome arose from the circumstance that, although some permanent improvements—such as those in fencing or farm-buildings—were capable of precise statement and arithmetical division according to the number of years over which they respectively extended, yet such a test could not be applied to the condition of land and the state of the tillage. There was an element of uncertainty in the question of compensation for crops and manure which must at last call for the services of valuers, and the difficulty was that both the landlord and the tenant-farmer distrusted the men. He felt assured the farmers wished for nothing but justice in the matter, and that the visionary views in that respect which used to be entertained had been abandoned. He hoped, he might add, that the principles which he sought to recommend would not be looked upon as being at variance with ordinary economic action; and now came the question what were the arrangements which would be likely to work best in carrying into effect the objects to which his Motion related. He had very little experience as to the discharge of official duties, but he would mention a plan which had been sug- 495 gested to him by a gentleman who was intimately acquainted with the subject which he had ventured to bring under the notice of the House. That plan was to unite all that related to health and agriculture under one new Department, to be called the Ministry of Health and Agriculture. Such a scheme was, however, in his opinion, open to the objection of being much too large and too novel to be projected full grown at once before the public mind. He thought it therefore better, on the whole, to look in another direction. A gentleman of very great practical knowledge had informed him that he thought the best thing which could be done was to build on the Inclosure Commission, to expand the duties of that Commission, to concentrate the offices under one head, to bring that head under one of the higher Departments of the Government, and to place in such hands all the duties which might grow up in connection with land. Now, that was a plan which was not, perhaps, very different from the scheme which he would wish himself to propose; for notwithstanding the Motion which had been made by the hon. Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) it was, he believed, the fact that the Inclosure Commission still stood upon the Estimates for something like £20,000 a year. It was quite true that a system was growing up, having been set on foot by the Chief Commissioner (Mr. Darby) by which the expense of working that Commission would be thrown on the parties interested, still the charge remained in the Estimates; and between the money which had been voted for the Commission and the future receipts of the Commission there would be abundant money to meet the expense of any Department or branch connected with agriculture which the House might wish to set on foot at the present time. In the Estimates there were expenses amounting to considerably over £100,000 a year for subjects connected with agriculture, and of that amount upwards of £70,000 he thought he found was spent in salaries more or less connected with agriculture. And yet everybody was under the impression that there was no branch of the Government responsible for dealing with agriculture, and no one Office to which farmers could go with confidence for assistance. There were, in his opinion, very strong reasons why the Board of Trade instead of the Privy Council 496 should be looked to to deal with the new duties, and his right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade would have felt gratified if he had been behind the scenes that morning and witnessed the proceedings of a sort of farmers' parliament which had been held at the Salisbury Hotel for the purpose of expressing their views on the subject. Among the practical men thus assembled a general disposition had been manifested to look to the right hon. Gentleman and his Department as likely to do for them that which they had so long wanted. After a very searching discussion, the meeting had, he might add, come to the resolution—That this Chamber considers it desirable that there should be a separate Government Department for Agriculture, presided over by a permanent officer.Now, he thought he might presume to interpret that resolution, which had been unanimously passed in the following way:—The meeting did not, in his opinion, mean by the words "a separate Government Department," the creation of a new responsible Minister, because the idea of many was that a Minister of Agriculture was not a thing to be thought of for one moment. The words, "a separate Government Department" might, therefore, be fairly construed to mean a distinct branch in a Government Department, while the words "permanent officer" might be regarded as meaning a gentleman of the same intelligence and skill as were known to be possessed by such gentlemen, for instance, as were at the head of the railway and marine branches. The names of Mr. Porter and Mr. M 'Gregor had been mentioned at the meeting as having rendered great service to the trade and agriculture of the country in former times. The words "permanent secretary" were employed in the resolution as first proposed, but it was dreaded that if it were adopted in that shape a gentleman might be appointed who would have to go out of Office with the Government of the day, and that agriculture would come to be made a party question, which was looked upon as being likely to prove extremely prejudicial to the agricultural interests. As to whether the subject could be best dealt with by a Committee or a Commission, he would only say that was a question with respect to which he did not desire to press his own views upon the 497 House, and he should be perfectly content to leave the matter, where it should be—in the hands of the Government. He would not offer any general observations on the subject, beyond saying that whatever tended to hinder the application of capital inevitably tended to depress the labouring class, and ultimately to injure the interests of the great landed proprietors of this country. The hon. Gentleman concluded by making the Motion of which he had given Notice.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the action with reference to Agriculture of various Public Authorities, with a view to consider the expediency of recommending that some one Department be made responsible for dealing with administrative and legislative questions affecting Agriculture."—(Mr. Acland.)
§ MR. GOLDNEY
said, he had been connected with agriculture for a good many years, but he had that night heard of a good many calamities to agriculture of which he had never heard before. He would not offer any opposition to the Motion if he believed that any practical result was likely to be arrived at by the appointment of such a Committee; but it would be impossible and absurd for any Committee to attempt to deal with one-tenth of the subjects as to which the hon. Member (Mr. Acland) had addressed the House. He had taken down the heads of these subjects as the hon. Member proceeded with his address, and their number and variety were really astonishing. First he was desirous that the relations between landlord and tenant should be settled; then those between country and town parishes; next, that County Financial Boards should be formed not only to grapple with subjects as to which complaints had been made to the House, but upon a still wider basis. Local authorities and magistrates, who at present acted, it was almost alleged, improperly, were to be superseded; and not only they, but Imperial authorities likewise. For instance, the Home Office, the Board of Trade, the Inclosure Commissioners, the Board of Health, the Stationery Office, and several others were to be amalgamated, and their functions transferred to some office of agriculture, which was to possess representation in Parliament. The laws of England also were to be brought under review, more especially those Containing clauses affecting the employment of capital and labour; the employment 498 of capital was to be assured; the existing law, which, according to the hon. Member, tended to prevent the investment of capital, being revised with that object, and some system of local government devised under which the money spent by the farmers would be secured to them. "We," said the hon. Member, "are struggling against local interests." He did not explain who "we" were, but went on to contend that there should be a standard of computation for valuers. Not content with an enumeration of general subjects, the hon. Member had invited attention to several others having branches which would require attention at the hands of the Committee. His first head, being the general subject of the transfer of land, it branched off into the improvement of land, and the improvement and sanitary arrangements of cottages. Head No. 2 took a wider range, and affected the whole internal communications of the country. There was to be a combined system of management with regard to turnpike roads, county bridges, and so forth. But the hon. Gentleman must know what a time was occupied last year upon one of these subjects alone—that of turnpike roads; and the Home Secretary had now declared his intention not to deal with that question, because it was not yet ripe for legislation. The third head related to the regulation of traffic; the fourth covered the drainage and water supply of the kingdom; while the fifth launched into the matter of compensation to outgoing tenants. This question of compensation was treated as a great grievance, and the hon. Member spoke of the timidity of landlords as a difficulty in the way of its settlement; but the matter settled itself by a valuation between the incoming and the outgoing tenant, and all that the landlord had to do was to hand over the farm from one to the other. How, therefore, there was room for timidity on the landlord's part he really did not know; and he had never heard of any case of the kind in which, if a difference as to value occurred between the two parties, there had been any difficulty in finding an umpire. Latterly a very general practice had grown up, under which the terms of the letting and holding were stated in writing, and very much simplified matters between the parties. But even that did not satisfy the hon. Gentleman. Not content with an umpire, he sought the intervention of 499 some public body. The hon. Member claimed credit for having shown that a necessity existed for the various measures which he had suggested. He had certainly suggested a great many more than could ever be carried out in any Session of Parliament. It would be far better to take up some one subject and grapple with its difficulties than to launch out into general platitudes affecting the subject of agriculture. He quite agreed with the hon. Member that any grievances affecting the agricultural interest should be redressed, and all he believed that the agricultural interest and those representing it wanted was fair play.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he could not but think that whilst there was much force in what was said by the hon. Member who had just sat down, he still had, to some extent, misapprehended the hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion. He (Sir Stafford Northcote) thought that the object in the statement which had been made, was simply to lay the ground for inquiry as to whether it was desirable to institute a Department that should look to such of these matters as were fit to be attended to by a Department of the Government. Upon that point they were anxious to hear the opinion of the Government; and from his own experience in connection with the Board of Trade, he was satisfied that some improvements in the organization of Government Departments was desirable. There were a great many questions which were now unfortunately distributed between different Departments, such as the Board of Trade, the Home Office, the Privy Council, and various other Departments; and it was an object of considerable administrative importance to see whether some arrangements could be made to bring such matters into a state of greater efficiency; and he hoped that in some form or other the Government itself would agree in the appointment of a Committee. He thought that if they entered into an inquiry they should do so without committing themselves upon the subjects to which he had adverted. He hoped that if they supported this Motion, or gave any encouragement to the opinion that something was required to be done, they would not be held to express any opinion upon the various details to which attention had been drawn. He also hoped that they would not on that occasion be 500 led into a discussion of the merits of the different questions that had been adverted to. His hon. Friend (Mr. Acland) was bound to make a pnrimâ facie case in support of his Motion; but in doing so he might possibly have expressed himself in a way which to some hon. Members seemed open to question.
§ R. PELL
said, that he agreed to a great extent with what had fallen from the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Acland), though he could not go so far as that hon. Member had done. Without going into details, he thought that it would be admitted by everybody who was in any way acquainted with land, that considerable inconvenience, if nothing more, arose from present arrangements as to questions which were of great importance to the owners of land and to agriculturists. At a time of which the House must be sick of hearing, though to agriculturists it was one of terrible trial and suffering, it was with the greatest difficulty that the owners or occupiers of land could ascertain to what Department they were to go for information and relief. They went to a variety of offices, and eventually found themselves among pens, ink, and paper, in some office not far distant from the House of Commons, and connected with the Stationery Department. But, although they were thus shifted from office to office, they did not find that any greater consolation was given to them. As far as he was concerned he thought that the question of the relations of landlord and tenant was far beyond the province of any such inquiry as was now sought for. It appeared to him that the settlement of that question ought to be left to the parties themselves who were immediately interested in it. The House would no doubt agree with him in thinking that the health of the people and the fertility of the soil were intimately connected, and that the main object of legislation in respect to those two points ought to be the getting rid of a vast quantity of matter from towns which was calculated to injure their health, for the purpose of applying it to the land where it would greatly promote agricultural interests. With this subject a Department of State might deal most efficiently, but no private Member could deal with it. If there were, as alleged, tracts of land we should have difficulty in cultivating, there were large tracts of land, well 501 situated with regard to climate and elevation, which remained sterile, because there was no statesmanlike arrangement for utilizing upon them the waste of great cities. In this matter alone there was a greater field of usefulness for a statesman than there was in attempting to interfere in the relations between landlord and tenant.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. Member who spoke last but one ably pointed out a vast variety of functions which the Motion of the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Acland) contemplated to be discharged by one permanent official. It had been stated, and with truth, that, owing to the fulfilment of the greater part of the work with which the Inclosure Commissioners had been intrusted, that the Commission was approaching the point of dissolution; he (Mr. Newdegate) supposed that their complaints had touched the feelings of the hon. Member for North Devon. And then the hon. Gentleman spoke of the advantages of referring those matters to the Board of Trade. Now, he (Mr. Newdegate) heard a complaint uttered the other day which might also touch the feelings of the hon. Member for Devon—a complaint emanating from the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade—namely, that the functions of that Board were purely consultative, and he said that he should be glad to be intrusted with some administrative functions. If the Motion of the hon. Member for North Devon were adopted, the right hon. Gentleman would no longer have occasion to utter such a complaint, inasmuch as he would then have an abundance of active duties to discharge. Although the hon. Gentleman said he did not attempt to establish a central authority, every word he spoke pointed to the establishment of a central authority with a power that would operate in the shape of a direct interference with the ownership and the occupation of land. He (Mr. Newdegate) remembered the Bill to which the hon. Member for North Devon referred as having been introduced by himself with reference to this subject and brought before the House years ago. The result of the consideration of the matter then was that he (Mr. Newdegate) moved for a Committee to inquire into the subjects appertaining to agriculture, inquired into the agricultural customs, the con- 502 ditions on which land was occupied throughout England and Wales. It was in 1848 the Committees was appointed, and the result of their investigation was a direct recommendation that no specific legislation on the subject should be adopted; for the circumstances of the various localities, of the individuals holding land, and their tenure, was so complex that it was impossible to frame any general law to regulate them. The Committee, however, recommended that every facility should be afforded for carrying out and the giving effect to voluntary agreements which should be made in writing between landlords and tenants, and an alteration of the law with respect to fixtures was made. He was happy to see that since that period the practice of such written and specific agreements was gradually increasing. Those written documents being stamped were legally producible in Courts of Law, and the conditions under which they were given could of course be enforced. These agreements might be made to comprehend, not only buildings if erected by the tenant, nor roads and fences if erected by the tenant, but drainage, if carried out by the tenant, but also the application of manures and certain other processes of cultivation. All the subjects alluded to might thus be comprehended in a written form, and under such an arrangement the relations of landlord and tenant might be certified in such a manner as to prove serviceable to both parties. When the hon. Gentleman said there were impediments to the application of capital for agricultural purposes, he should recollect that the agriculture of this country was in advance of every other country in the world. Although admitting that there remained something still to be done in the way of improvement, surely no one would say that the process by which agricultural interests were advancing so rapidly ought to be interrupted. In Ireland a largo proportion of the land had returned to grass. That was the effect of legislation. Years ago the Freetraders had insisted that a larger proportion of the land of this country ought to be devoted to the production of meat, and argued that the supply of fresh meat was far more important than the production of corn. But how was the view of the hon. Member for North Devon to be 503 reconciled with that of those who hold that agriculture in this country was advancing? An hon. Member near him, whom he had had the pleasure of hearing that evening for the first time, called attention to the advantages arising from good supplies of water, and the application of the sewage of towns to the land. He (Mr. Newdegate) would remind him and the House that an hon. Gentleman, a relation of the Speaker, who had proved himself to be as able a public officer as had ever served Her Majesty either at home or abroad, was at that moment engaged in an inquiry upon this subject with the view of recommending such general measures as were material for the promotion of the best interests of the country—for the establishment of out-ports for the main arterial drainage of towns and the conservation of water for the purposes of irrigation. That gentleman was Sir William Denison, who has undertaken to discharge this important task. With respect to the utilization of the sewage and the application of town manure to the land that system, was being rapidly carried out in his own immediate neighbourhood with the best result. In the requirements made for the establishment of a central authority in respect to agriculture, it was remarkable the tendency to reaction in the course Parliament was pursuing. There was a tendency to reaction, and it had assumed a curious form; it was a tendency towards Imperialism that was marked in the allusion which the hon. Member for North Devon had made in commendation of the French administration of roads. The House should beware of this Imperialistic tendency towards reaction. He remembered the day when the agricultural interest was congratulated on being liberated from the swaddling-clothes of Protection. It appeared to him that they were trying to envelope agriculture in the swaddling-clothes of official interference. As a county Member who had witnessed the progress of all those improvements in agriculture he could not accept the maternal care of the hon. Member for North Devon. And he should feel much disappointed as to the effects of the Reform Act if he did not find that the interests of the tenant-farmers, aided now by the influence of the £12 occupiers, received due attention in that House. He, however, would warn the 504 tenant-farmers against that interference with their interests which they had seen in the course of the legislation of the last Parliament. He referred especially to the late Act in respect of the Poor Laws, in which powers of taxation were granted to the Poor Law Board, and of interference with the discretion of the Guardians in the appointment of their own officers. Those powers went far to abrogate the principle of self-government and of local taxation. And when the tenant-farmers were asked to subject themselves to that which was in the nature of Imperial official interference, he for one would recommend them to pause and submit the points on which they wished to be governed by law rather than allow it to be supposed that they desired the superintendence of direct, uncontrolled official interference.
observed that if a Committee were appointed to consider one of the subjects which had been named—that of roads—much good might result from it. Some counties had their roads under the management of the Highway Boards, while in other counties that was not the case. As far as his experience enabled him to judge he found the Highway Boards worked better than he could have expected them to do; but on the whole he should like to see the system extended so that the minimum area of road management should be the highway district. He believed it would be impossible to have any general measure applicable to all the turnpike roads, but there were a great number of turnpike roads which would soon come on the rates, and the ratepayers would not receive them with satisfaction. The ratepayers were calling for a larger area on which turnpike roads might be charged. Though he would be glad to see turnpikes abolished, he admitted it would be rather hard on small parishes to have to pay the whole expense of turnpike roads. He should wish to see a larger district, whether the highway or the county district. He also thought the subject of bridges in rural districts ought to be taken up by the Committee, as there frequently occurred conflicts between parish and county authorities in respect to the obligation of erecting bridges in places where they were absolutely necessary, but where, in consequence, the erection was indefinitely postponed, to 505 the great inconvenience of the inhabitants in the neighbourhood. The highways, the turnpike roads, and the bridges would afford a Committee ample material for inquiry.
§ MR. CORRANCE
remarked upon the incongruity of the many subjects that had been grouped together by the hon. Member as subjects for inquiry by a Committee. The legislation, he said, which had been effected recently, in respect to agriculture, was of a very haphazard character. At the time of the cattle plague he had been in correspondence with no less than three Departments of the Government on that subject—namely, the Home Office, the Board of Trade, and the Board of Education. From the first Department he received a courteous and official reply; from the second a considerate answer; and from the third such a response as impressed him with the notion that that; Board had not much knowledge of the: subject upon which it was writing. It appeared to him that they were in want of some distinct and definite Government authority to whom they could apply in all such cases. Some few days ago a Question was asked the Government in that House whether there was not a recent outbreak of the cattle plague in Germany? The answer was, that the Government had no cognizance whatever of such circumstance; but the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. W. E. Forster) added that the Dutch Government having received such intelligence had sent a special commission to inquire into the facts. Now, that statement suggested to him (Mr. Corrance) the necessity for the establishment of an authority in this country to take special cognizance of such matters, and to institute a special inquiry into them, as the Dutch Government had done. The hon. Gentleman who introduced this Motion intimated his desire to bring this question of rates under Imperial management. He (Mr. Corrance) trusted that the cost would be provided out of Imperial funds. He confessed he entertained a strong opinion as to the supervision of the Board of Trade in those matters of agriculture—an opinion which was confirmed by what had recently taken place. Some few days ago they had received an assurance from the Head of the Government that the question of local taxation would receive the best considera- 506 tion of the Government. In a short time afterwards, the President of the Board of Trade, rising in "another place," expressed almost a censure upon his Chief, for what he had said on the subject in this House. The right hon. Gentleman might have some reason to complain of the manner in which his propositions were received in that House; but the hon. Gentleman must admit that episodes of the class to which he had just referred might lead to differences of opinion, even among those who had the same object in view.
§ LORD F. CAVENDISH
said, as he understood it, the sole object of the Motion at present before them was that there should be a Department for agriculture, just the same as there was for trades and manufactures. When Chambers of Commerce met they at once knew what Department of the Government to go to for information, or for what they desired; but persons who required information respecting agriculture had to wander from one Department to another, and thus, many important matters were entirely neglected.
Sir, during the short discussion that has arisen there seem to have been two subjects before the House; one of which has led to a great deal of criticism, and the other of which appears to have been almost entirely forgotten. That which has been much criticized is the speech of the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Acland); but that which has been for the most part forgotten is the Motion of my hon. Friend, as it appears upon the Paper. Now, I propose to ask the attention of the House to the Motion on the Paper, which is for aSelect Committee to inquire into the action with reference to Agriculture of various Public Authorities, with a view to consider the expediency of recommending that some one Department be made responsible for dealing with administrative and legislative questions affecting Agriculture.At first sight this looks not an unreasonable proposition; but if we look to the constitution of the different Departments of the Government, and what is the practice, and, perhaps, the inevitable practice, I think we will find that the Committee of Inquiry sought for will not in all probability attain the results expected from it. Agriculture, in this matter, is exactly in the same position at present as every other interest in the country. 507 I am not defending that position, but only explaining it. Take, for example, the interest with which I have been more intimately connected—the great cotton trade of Lancashire. The Factory Acts are under the Home Office. An Act was passed last year for collecting cotton statistics under the Board of Trade, and so you might go through almost all the interests of the country, and find that for some things you come to the Board of Trade for information; and for certain other things you come to the Home Office. I am not about to say that that is a good state of things; for in all probability some have an inconvenience, and some have a difficulty and a circumlocution with regard to these things that might possibly be avoided; but I doubt very much whether a Committee will be the best means of attaining what is desired, because I presume the Committee would, take evidence from the heads of the different Departments—it may be conflicting evidence, and in the end the Committee may not be able to come to a conclusion so satisfactory to the House and the country as a conclusion arrived at by consultation and consideration by the heads of Departments themselves. I will not go over all the points of my hon. Friend's speech which has been criticized, it seems to me, I will not say with indifference, but certainly with no great desire to comprehend what he was driving at. It is quite obvious that my hon. Friend did not in the least intend that all those subjects which he mentioned should be referred to the Committee; but he thought that if there was one Department of Government to which persons connected with land and agriculture might apply, there were occasions with regard to nearly all those questions on which application might be made to that Department, and that advice and assistance some way or other should be rendered. That is a very fair proposition. I thought he included questions in his speech, respecting which, if I was at the head of such a Department, I should not like to come before me. I listened to the string of subjects which he referred to, and after dealing at length with the question of the transfer, and exchange, and improvement of land and cottages; with the question of internal communication; with the question of the cattle traffic, and the cause of humanity as connected with that traffic; 508 with the questions of sheds, drainage, and irrigation; and, after speaking at some length on what, in the presence of hon. Gentlemen opposite, he evidently felt to be very delicate ground—tenant-right and confidence of tenants in their landlords—I listened for a moment and expected him to turn to the Board of Trade and ask them to propose some regulation on the subject of game, and it is not unreasonable that he should have sent any one to that Department. Now, I have here a card which I found in the office. It relates to six important Departments, and the various heads of those Departments number no fewer than fifty-seven. The Commercial Department is under eleven, the Railway Department under seven, the Harbour Department under seven, the Marine Department under twenty-one, the Financial Department under ten, and the Statistical Department under only one, which is not subdivided. With regard to the latter, I am sorry to say, it is not so satisfactorily managed as it might be, and it is intended to put it into such a condition as I think will enable it to furnish more correct and speedy statistics to the country. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is of opinion, and I suspect that the heads of all the other Departments who have had to do with home affairs are of opinion, that there might be some improvement—that some things might be taken from the Board of Trade to the Home Office, and some from the Home Office to the Board of Trade. It would, no doubt, be of advantage to have some plan by which any one coming from the country would have to ask for only one office instead of running the risk of losing his way as he passed down "Whitehall. But trade and agriculture are in this matter precisely on the same footing. It is not, therefore, a question for the farmers to take an especial interest in. My own advice to them would be to come as little as possible to any Government office. My hon. Friend said in his speech what was very gratifying for me to hear, that the gentlemen with whom he has been holding a small parliament this morning—indeed, I would venture to call it a matter of great importance—had great confidence in me, and hinted that they regarded my present position as a very satisfactory one. I take hon. Gentlemen opposite to witness whether, looking to 509 the past, I did not do to the best of my ability that which was highly advantageous to agriculture. I recollect a county Member who has retired from this House telling me more than once that he thought I had been the best I friend of agriculture he knew of, although during the whole of that time I was engaged in those labours he was one of my staunchest opponents. I think agriculture had never less cause to complain than at present. The landlords never had better rents nor the rents more punctually paid than at the present time; and I think that the prospects of agriculture as regards the farmers are very satisfactory. When I found my hon. Friend had put this Motion on the Paper and also that one had been given notice of by another hon. Member on the subject of local taxation, I could not help remembering a story an eminent physician once told me. He said he was sent for very hastily one morning to attend a lady of rank, who wished instantly to consult him. When he called on her she said she felt very well—that she never had been that she knew of better in her life—certainly she had not been so well for many years—but she told him she had sent for him because she felt satisfied something was going to happen to her. Now, that is just about the condition of agriculture. She never was so well in all her life, yet she is about to call in the House of Commons, the Board of Trade, and I know not what, to help her under an apprehension that something is about to happen. I, however, advise hon. Gentlemen, the friends of the farmers, and the farmers themselves, to look to agriculture, and to consider that the sun and showers and industry are better for them than anything the House of Commons or Government Departments can do for it. With regard to the particular Motion before the House, I think, when I tell my hon. Friend that at this moment my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department is considering whether it is not possible to make some—I will not say any considerable—but certainly some not unimportant changes in the direction to which his Motion refers—that it will be attempted to bring things that are in some degree alike and connected into one office in order that there may not be that running about to two or three offices that the hon. Gentle- 510 man opposite spoke of—I think he will consider that it is not necessary to press this Motion for the appointment of a Committee. There is no disposition on my part, and there is none on the part of the Government, to resist an inquiry which would be probably attended with useful results, and least of all is there any disposition to resist such an inquiry in the case of an interest which is so powerfully represented on both sides of this House. For myself and for my right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department, I can say that the question, so far as I have indicated, shall be considered, and if it appears that we can discover anything that bids fair to secure this result—and I think there are things that may be discovered in the direction of the Motion of my hon. Friend—it shall as far as possible be carried out, and probably the objects of his Notice and of his speech may be accomplished without the appointment of the Committee for which he has asked.
§ MR. ACLAND
said, he felt much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the clear view in which he had presented the subject. His only objects were to obtain an inquiry in the most effectual manner, and, after the promise made on behalf of the Government, he thought it unnecessary to press his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdraw.