§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
, in rising to move, as an Amendment, after the word "Agriculture," in the 11th paragraph, of the words—And humbly to represent the pressing necessity for securing without delay to the cultivators of the soil such conditions of tenure as will aid and encourage them to meet the new and trying circumstances in which the Agriculture of the Country is placed,apologized for introducing the question at this stage on the ground of its urgency and importance, and the small prospect there was of finding an opportunity for some months to come of discussing the subject of agricultural reforms. This question of Land Reform was discussed during the General Election as one of the most urgent questions for the consideration of Parliament. It was true that now Parliamentary exigencies bad brought the Irish Question to the foremost consideration of Parliament; but 349 the Government had made no proposition to deal with the question, and meantime he thought the time of the House could not be better employed than in considering whether any measure might be introduced to relieve, so far as legislation could do so, the present condition of the agricultural industry. In discussing the question he would assure the House that he had no hostility to the landlords as a class. Few of them were free to manage their estates as they thought proper, oven if they had the inclination to do so; and lie was pursuaded that if they knew their own interest they would as eagerly support the reforms he intended to urge as the cultivators of the land themselves. No one doubted the existence of agricultural depression. The Government referred to the subject in the Speech from the Throne, and, he was sorry to say, in a very hopeless manner. They did not make any suggestion whatever of any remedy. Unfortunately, the Government confessed themselves as incompetent and impotent to deal with this question as with the Irish difficulty. The agricultural depression was keenly felt by all classes. If it were of a temporary nature they would endeavour to bear it as cheerfully as possible, encouraged by the hope of better times; but, unfortunately, it had assumed a permanent character. In former times, if the crop was deficient in this country, the farmer was to some extent compensated by receiving a higher price for his produce. But for the last seven or eight years, although the seasons had been bad, the price of wheat bad been falling; and within the last 18 months or two years the price of live stock had fallen somewhere about 30 per cent. During the last seven or eight years the development of the railway system had opened up the great wheat-producing centres of India and America; and, at the same time, the cost of transit by sea had been very largely decreased. The competition with the foreign producer had now reached an acute stage; and he was convinced that, under the present conditions on which they held their lands, it would be impossible for the farmers of this country to maintain the competition. He did not wish to go into any elaborate calculation as to the relative cost of producing wheat in India and America and this country; but in America the farmer 350 held his land at almost a nominal price. The price of land in the wheat centres was not, perhaps, more than 5s. an acre in fee simple, while nearer the centres of shipment the price would not, perhaps, be more than 50s. an acre. The farmer worked his land himself; and though the wages of labour might be higher, the cost of producing an acre of wheat was less than in this country. A great advantage enjoyed by the American farmer was that he could cultivate his land as he pleased. On the other hand, the British farmer had to pay for his land a very considerable rent. He could not grow such crops as he pleased, and in many cases he could not dispose of his crops in the most advantageous manner. Then, if he intended to develop the resources of the soil, he had no security for his capital. How, then, was it possible for the competition of the British farmer to go on? Would it be possible for their manufactures to prosper if the manufacturers were obliged to carry on their business under similar conditions to these of the farmers? Of course, he should be referred to the Agricultural Holdings Act passed by the last Government; but that Act, as he had pointed out at the time, had been a delusion and a snare. There had been two or three years' experience of it, and there was a general consensus of opinion in England and Scotland that it failed to meet the necessities of the case. Farmers thought it safer to abstain from making claims under the Act, and to allow matters to go on as before, than to attempt to avail themselves of its provisions. One obstacle to their doing so was the clause which provided that tenants should not be compensated for any improvements that were due to the inherent capabilities of the soil. That was a very elastic phrase, which skilful arbitrators made to cover any improvement. Again, tenants under leases were estopped by heavy penalties, which might quadruple the rent, for varying the rotation of crops. Under the clause which enabled landlords to make counter-claims for compensation, landlords had turned to account unsuspected terms in the leases, and in some cases had succeeded in claiming much more than the tenants. In the face of such facts, it was impossible to regard the Act as meeting the necessities of the case. The great object to be aimed at was to stimulate 351 tenants to make improvements by securing to them the advantages derived from them, and the Act altogether failed to do that. With the foreign competition, the decreased cost of transport, and other causes, the natural protection of the British farmer had been reduced by one-half in 20 years. He had no doubt that if the British farmers had fair rents, freedom to make the most out of their land, and security for their capital, they would be able to maintain their position against farmers in any part of the world. The British farmer had, in his proximity to markets, a natural protection equal to not less than 40s. per acre; and, at the same time, the best markets in the world. He held that they ought to be able to hold their position against farmers in any other country, provided they had fair conditions of tenure. An illustration of what might happen in this country had been furnished by the experience of America. Some 30 years ago, when the wheat fields in the Central States of America were opened up by the railway, and wheat from there was delivered in the Eastern States at a price at which it could not be produced in these latter States, it was supposed that the land in the Eastern States would become practically valueless, and no doubt there was a great amount of depression among the farmers for some time; but in almost every case in the Eastern States the farmers owned their own land, and had free scope. So, in a short time, these farmers turned their attention to dairy farming, to poultry rearing, and the produce of vegetables and fruit; and the consequence was that the State of New York was now yielding from two to three times the value of agricultural produce which it did 20 years ago. British farmers wanted the same freedom that had enabled the farmers of the Eastern States to meet their difficulties. Of dairy produce, poultry, vegetables, and fruit we imported not less than £20,000,000 worth annually. He did not say that all that could be produced in this country; but a very large proportion could, if the farmers had freedom to cultivate as they chose. Moreover, there would be a great development in the consumption of these articles if they were supplied in the large towns at a reasonable price. That was the example they had from the Eastern States 352 of America. He did not say that legislation could do everything to relieve the existing agricultural depression. The farmers must do much for themselves; but before they could be called upon to act for themselves they must have freedom of action; they must have security of capital; and they must have the raw material—the land—at a moderate price. He submitted that Parliament ought to secure to the man who cultivated the land a fair rent, and also such freedom and conditions of cultivation as would enable him to make the most of the land. He should, at the same time, have security of capital, so that he might be fully satisfied in his own mind that when he invested his capital in the soil of the country he would have the right to reap the full fruits of his industry, capital, and skill. These were the changes which, in his opinion, were absolutely necessary for any improvement in the condition of the British farmer. With such conditions as these he had enumerated, the farmer would, be encouraged to put capital in the soil; and if his skill and experience were not fettered, as they were now, he could compete successfully with the foreign producer. Referring to the position of the farmers of Scotland under the lease system, he pointed out that Scottish farms were held almost entirely under the system of 19 years' leases. Of late years there had been a great fall in the price of agricultural produce, and the position of these farmers who entered into such leases four or five years ago was a very serious one indeed. They felt it to be impossible to make the rent out of the land, owing to the great reduction in the price of agricultural produce. The farmers of Scotland were very much in the position of a manufacturer who had contracted at a fixed price for his raw material for a period of 19 years, and who found soon after that there was a reduction of 30 or 35 per cent in the price of the manufactured article. The farmers asked either that they should have a re-valuation of their farms by independent and competent authorities, or, if that was denied, that the landlords would allow them to leave their farms. But it was said this would be an interference with contract, and no doubt it would be a great interference; but Parliament had interfered already when the necessity 353 was shown, and of the necessity in this case there was no doubt. He hoped, therefore, Her Majesty's Government would express some opinion on this question favourable to the views which he had indicated. He could assure the House that this was a very serious question in Scotland. Pew could look forward with equanimity to ruin such as was steadily approaching the farmers, and which would overwhelm them if the present rents were exacted. Much the same causes were in operation all over Scotland as prevailed in the West Highlands; and if this Constitutional appeal received no response from Parliament, a state of circumstance would arise with which it might be difficult to deal. He knew that many farmers were looking forward with the greatest anxiety to see what Parliament would do in the matter. Of course, he was aware that a great many landlords had given considerable abatements of rent these abatements, however, were unsatisfactory in this respect—that although they might afford temporary relief to the farmer, they did not secure a future reasonable rent, such as was necessary to induce him to make the exertion necessary to life agriculture out of its present depressed condition. Some landlords were having their estates revalued, and if the re-valuation was real and not a sham, it was creditable and wise. Landlords who made an impartial re-valuation had nothing to fear from any proposal of the tenants, and their conduct would not be interfered with by any action of Parliament such as he suggested. What be really asked from Parliament was to do what these wise and prudent landlords were doing for themselves, in order to put their estates in a safe position. In asking for the support of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Jesse Collings), be said he was himself in favour of the increase of small holdings; and he should be prepared to ask Parliament, at the proper time, to co-operate in assisting landlords and tenants to break up the larger farms, in order to supply a large proportion of the people with land to cultivate. He contended that an increase of small holdings was very advisable in the interests of the landlords and the larger farmers themselves. He would next refer to the case of the agricultural labourer. If they wore to maintain their position in farm- 354 ing a much larger amount of labour must be employed on the soil. In Scotland the married ploughmen with their families composed a most exemplary class. They were sober, industrious, and self-denying, and in bringing up their children they sought to equip them, well for the world; but he was sorry to say that the house accommodation they had was not what it ought to be. For that the landlord was responsible the farmer had not hitherto been in a position to do for the agricultural labourer what he would like to do; but when the farmer was made secure he would find it his interest and his duty to provide the labourer, if not with the "three acres and a cow," of which they had lately heard so much, with at least as much land as he could conveniently cultivate in his spare hours, and in many oases with the cow also. He could tell hon. Gentlemen opposite that the idea of three acres and a cow did not seem quite so impracticable or so absurd to the labourers as it appeared to be to them; and the extension of the system of giving small patches of land to the agricultural labourers by hon. Gentlemen opposite would probably secure more support for Conservatism than the establishment of a Primrose Habitation in every parish throughout the country. The question which he had brought forward was a pressing one. It might be delayed—it could not be evaded; and the longer it was delayed the greater would be the suffering the hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment.
By inserting, after the word "Agriculture," in the 11th paragraph, the words "and humbly to represent the pressing necessity for securing without delay to the cultivators of the soil such conditions of tenure as will aid and encourage them to meet the new and trying circumstance, in which the Agriculture of the Country is placed."—[Mr. Barclay.)
§ Question proposed, "That these words be there inserted."
§ MR. MARK STEWART
said, he was not surprised that the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) had addressed the House in the manner he had done. He recognized among the various platitudes which the hon. Member had given them some portions of 355 those numerous speeches which had been fully recorded in Northern newspapers. He did not think that the hon. Gentleman had adduced any new matter on a very important subject; and while deeply sympathizing with the agricultural interest, he (Mr. Stewart) could not agree with the various remedies the hon. Member proposed. For himself, he expressed the gratification he felt, in common, he was sure, with the whole House, at the sympathy manifested in the gracious Speech from the Throne with the deplorably depressed state of agriculture and trade. There was great distress in every branch of agriculture, and in none was there visible any symptom of revival. The dairying department, which had long striven to meet in some degree the difficulties of the times, was now suffering severely from the recent fall of prices. Representing, as he did, a purely agricultural county, he could state that occupiers of land who had hitherto braved that disastrous period could no longer rely on that system to pay their rent. If agriculture, the greatest industry of the British Isles, suffered, the whole country must suffer with it, and the well-being of vast numbers of people who were totally unfitted for any other employment or vocation in life was at stake. He had not perceived that much commiseration had been shown by hon. Members opposite for the hardships existing among the county constituencies which they were so anxious to represent. Even in the Manifesto and the speeches of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) the unfortunate condition of agriculture was wholly ignored. It was not fair to taunt the landlords with taking as much as they could get; because the tenants had held their farms, as a general rule, during prosperous times, and had made their money out of the land. The hon. Member had alluded to the state of Ireland; but that was not a very happy illustration, for they heard anything but glowing accounts of the working of the Land Act, fixity of tenure, and fair rent. These were matters to be settled, not merely by debates in the House, but by practical observation. It had been suggested that the system of yearly valuation by the Fiars Courts in Scotland j might be extended to the rents of farms; and he might point out that something of the kind already existed in certain parts of the country, rents being in- 356 creased or diminished as the price of wheat rose or fell. That gave the tenant a fair chance of paying his rent, even though prices became exceedingly low. The prices of dairy produce, &c, might also be taken into consideration, and in that way some satisfaction was now given by perpetual abatement of rent. Landlords were not, as was sometimes represented, turning a deaf ear to their tenants grievances these who were able were giving very largo abatements of rent. Some were not able to do so. They were themselves in difficulties through no fault of their own. The class was, in his opinion, to be judged by these who had the means, and who were willing to distribute that means. The hon. Member had twitted the Conservatives with believing and propagating the story of three acres and a cow. Well, that was a story which served the Liberal Party a good turn during the early part of the late General Election, and the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain) waited a long time before he repudiated its authorship. So long as it served the purpose for which it was originated, the three acres and the cow doctrine was held to be the pet child of the improvement of the agricultural labourer's social condition. Speaking as a landlord, and as one interested in the management of a large property, he might say it had been his desire and his practice to encourage the growth of small farms, although he knew how much the pocket suffered through the necessity for building suitable steadings. What landlords did not like was that their land should be compulsorily seized at the option of some Local Authority. He might also mention in this connection that he had known many instances where a labourer who had a garden attached to his dwelling allowed a part of it to run wild rather than cultivate it. Members on that (the Conservative) side of the House would be delighted if any way could be shown by which the agricultural labourer could be provided with the necessary capital to buy his cow, and sufficient plant to farm three or four acres of land. He would be the first to encourage in every possible way that spirit of self-dependence which was so much to be desired among the agricultural community. He trusted they would see many small proprietorships take the place of some of the larger farms; but it must be remembered that the forma- 357 tion of these largo farms had been caused by the fact that hitherto it had been found impossible to make the small holdings pay. Even the large farmers found it difficult to make a living in these distressful times. It had been suggested that estates should be re-valued, and he had no doubt that it would come to that if these bad times continued. Many landlords who knew the impossibility of getting the present rents would take a reasonable view of the matter, and be satisfied with a thoroughly fair revaluation, although it was no easy matter in the present condition of affairs, and with such largo importations of grain and moat from America, to fix what a fair valuation was. The hon. Member (Mr. Barclay) found fault, to some extent, with the system of 19 years' leases; but although that system had not found much favour in England, it had been popular in Scotland, and had done a great deal of good until these very depressing times sot in. The tenant had practically the entire control of the land for the 19 years; and although the landlord reserved certain conditional powers, he had nover known a case in which they had been exercised. In conclusion, he expressed his disappointment with the working of the Arbitration or Referee Clause of the Agricultural Holdings Act. There was no sort of confidence in it, and it ought to be amended. He hoped the hon. Member would not deem it necessary to move his Amendment to Her Majesty's Most Gracious Speech.
GENERAL SIR GEOEGE BALFOUR
said, he had great pleasure in seconding the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire. The hon. Member who had spoken last had confined himself to deprecating the remedies which the hon. Member for Forfarshire had suggested, and had refrained from giving the House the benefit of his own knowledge and experience, as he might very well have done. It would have been useful, as well as interesting, to have heard the results from the 10,000 cows kept by the Dairy Company of which the hon. Member was Chairman. The remark had been made that there was great difficulty in saying what the causes of the existing depression really were. He would mention one cause. He believed that most of the landlords had the welfare of the farmers 358 at heart; but he said distinctly that one of the great causes of the evil was the inability of the farmers to pay their rent. In 1855 the farm rentals of England, Wales, and Scotland amounted to £46,000,000 per annum, and since that time they had gone on increasing till they reached a sum of no less than £58,000,000. In this way £12,000,000 of rental had been added to the farmers' burdens since 1855. That fact pointed to one way by which the farmers could be relieved; if they would bring back the rentals of 1855 they would in some degree enable the farmers to pay rents. It was far from his desire to advocate the ruin or unjust spoliation of landlords, because he well knew that no class could be injured without injuring all classes. His object was to enable landlords, farmers, and labourers to live. But whilst landlords had had high routs, farmers had suffered. He believed that the £400,000,000 of capital necessary for the cultivation of the land by the farmers had been nearly exhausted; but, nevertheless, he had great hopes that if only Parliament would give security to the farmers they would be able to find capital wherewith to carry on advantageously the agriculture of the country. It was essential that the farming should be so improved as to yield more produce to meet the high rents; but if the present system of poor cultivation were continued the tenants would disappear, and the fields already out of heart from insufficient manuring would be still further destroyed. Abatements of rent were only partial remedies, and there must be something more substantial. As to the labourers, he might say that in his part of the country they had shown a surprising degree of intelligence. Their dwellings, however, wore quite insufficient for their comfort; and unless Parliament enabled the farmers to provide the necessary cottages they must look forward to still greater evils in the country. He advocated the conclusions of his hon. Friend (Mr. J. W. Barclay), and maintained that if no remedy were devised evils might occur the same as in Ireland. He urged that information should be obtained and published as to the value of the produce that was raised on the soil. As to the question of small farms, he had the conviction that small farms would be more successful and would pay better than 359 large ones. He strongly urged that the landlords should have more regard for the old farmers. Many farmers had gone away ruined, and their place had been taken by younger men by no means so well qualified to till the land as the old farmers.
said, he was quite ready to second the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardineshire (General Sir George Balfour) in advocating any moderate measures for the welfare of agriculture in general; but it was not right that the impression should get abroad that agricultural depression was confined to one part of the Kingdom only. Those who, like himself, represented essentially agricultural constituencies in the South of England were more alive to the facts of the case, and represented more persons directly interested in agriculture than even the hon. and gallant Member. The object of the present debate, he thought, was liable to be lost sight of, especially by new Members. That object was to send a loyal Address to Her Majesty in reply to the Speech from the Throne; and he did not believe that any particular agricultural interest would be advanced by further delaying the adoption of the Address. It was true that affairs had reached a desperate pass; but when the time came for discussing the grievances of agriculturists it would be found that these who were interested in the matter formed a much stronger Party than these who occupied the very sparsely filled Benches that evening. Speaking for the part of the country which he represented, he must say that one of the most essential measures which they looked forward to was the revision of the present system of local taxation. He was glad to hear that the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardineshire avoided the general cant of the day, and admitted that it would be desirable that rents should be as high as in 1855. It was for the interest of all that we should have good rents, good prices, and good wages. There were some who seemed to grudge that their landlords should get good rents; but these gentlemen practically ignored the labourers as well as the landlords, and only thought of the tenants, with whom they happened for the moment to be identified. But the progress of democracy was so rapid —["Hear, hear!"] —that Gentlemen 360 who said "Hear, hear!" would probably disappear from the House altogether in the course of time, and it might be the duty of the Speaker to preside over a House of Commons entirely composed of agricultural labourers; but as they advanced in that direction they would sooner or later have to consider whether they would not impose retaliatory tariffs. The tendency of thought in all classes of society was, he observed, moving in that way. Our present commercial policy was more or less suicidal. [Cries of "No!"] Well, he spoke his own opinion, and he believed they must sooner or later cease the custom of giving to foreign countries that which was meant for ourselves. He was unable to support the Amendment; but he cordially agreed with many of the observations that fell from the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay).
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
said, two hon. Members opposite had sneered at the speeches which had been delivered from his side of the House; but he could assure them that these speeches represented the feelings of the agricultural interest in the North, and that they could not be ignored. The hon. and gallant Member who had just resumed his seat had assured them that there was a sentiment of co-operation on the part of hon. Gentlemen representing agriculture on the opposite side towards hon. Members on his side; but he would point out that it was against the omission of that sentiment from Her Majesty's Gracious Speech that they were now protesting. There certainly was an allusion to the depression of trade and agriculture; but he would tell hon. Gentlemen on the other side that more was wanted than sympathy. It had been said that the most practical way of giving evidence of sympathy was by landlords granting such a reduction of rents as would enable the tenant to tide over the prevailing depression until the arrival of better times. He wished hon. Gentlemen opposite to tell the House what were the tenant farmers and crofters to do who did not live under a beneficent landlord who had given a reduction of rent? But he would also ask whether it was fair, or consistent with a proper independence of spirit and of action, that the agricultural interest should be placed in the position of recipients of the mere charity of the land- 361 lords; and whether the circumstances were not such as entitled them to more than the charity of these under whom they sat? It appeared to him that nothing would so much depreciate the spirit and enterprize of agriculture as a sense of dependence on the charity and beneficence of proprietors. What the tenant fanners wished was that the regulations under which they hold their farms should be such as to give to the proprietor his fair and equitable rights, and, at the same time, to prevent the possibility of their hard-won earnings being confiscated. The present Land Laws had been made entirely in the interests of the proprietors, and against the interests of the tenants. He did not blame former Parliaments for having passed laws in their own interests; nothing else could have been expected, when the agricultural labourers and the small farmers were unrepresented; but he would ask hon. Members opposite to give their best consideration to the present emergencies and circumstances, and say candidly whether, under the present Land Laws, a remedy may be found for the depression. He had heard with great pleasure from the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) the expression of his opinion that if there were a fair and equitable settlement of the important subject of the Land Laws a fair solution of a great part of the grievances felt in Ireland would be arrived at. As fur as Scotland was concerned, he was quite satisfied that exactly the same feeling and sentiment prevailed there; and that if they were fortunate enough to see such a measure brought forward as would be satisfactory and fair and equitable both to the proprietors and occupiers of the land a large amount of contentment would be produced, and a great stimulus to enterprize and energy among the agricultural population would be afforded. An hon. Member on the opposite side had suggested that rents should be fixed upon fiar; but he stopped short in implying that the Government would give effect to that opinion. He (Mr. Esslemont) believed that if rents were settled on the principle of fiar it would, to a largo extent, meet the pro-sent difficulty. The depression of prices had placed these farmers who were under leases in a position in which they were unable to pay the rents that they 362 had promised. It was quite true that farmers in Scotland had encouraged leases; but he would remind the House that leases of 19 years were all very well when land for 50 years was increasing in value at the rate of about 1 per cont per annum. Times were changed now; and it was not reasonable to say that the farmers ought to have foreseen the great factors which had recently come into play. The bringing of food from all parts of the world, by the reduction of the cost of transit was a factor in itself sufficient to have upset all the calculations formed by either landlords or tenants. In the circumstances, he appealed to the Government to meet the emergency by such a remedial measure as would prevent the tenant—if he was obliged to continue his lease—from losing all his capital, and all his enterprize and spirit. They must not expect that the tenant farmers would be put off with a mere sentiment of sympathy. He must earnestly give it as his opinion, formed on long experience, and with an intimate knowledge of agriculture in Scotland, that if remedial measures were not proposed in the present Parliament, a state of things would arise which would be disastrous to the tenant farmers, and inimical to the best interests of the country. The tenant farmers and labourers did not wish any measure which would bring disaster to the landlords. An hon. Member opposite had asked why the landlord should not get a good rent if it was earned, and there was nothing against that; but what the tenant farmers of Scotland objected to was the giving to the landlord of a large rent which he had not earned, and had done nothing to earn, but which the tenant farmers and crofters and labourers had earned by their enterprize and industry. The country had been made rich, not by the landlords, but by the bone and sinew of the labourer and the farmer; and all they wanted was that the proprietor should, by law and justice, share in the depression. Beyond that the farmers and labourers did not want to go. They desired to deal generously and respectfully with the landlords; but they ought not to be asked to yield up the last penny they had earned to these who had, in many cases, contributed nothing—["Oh, oh!" and cheers]—yes; and, in most cases, very little to that 363 wealth and progress which had been so marked during the last half-century.
§ VISCOUNT GRIMSTON,
in opposing the Amendment, said, he wished to call attention to the question of leases. They had had very strong evidence of their inutility in the case of the Sister Isle, where, only a short time ago, a law was passed, which practically gave a 15 years' lease, at what was then considered a low rent, to large numbers of agricultural tenants. But now, from the language of hon. Members below the Gangway on the opposite side of the House, it appeared that there was hardship in having to pay that rent, on account of the prevailing depression. But it would be a hardship on a landlord to give a reduction of rent on leaseholds, as he got no proportionate increase of rent in prosperous times. Therefore, he thought that leases were not good for agriculturists. Again, he did not approve of legislation as between landlord and tenant; for they all stood upon the same ground—landlord, tenant, and labourer—and must stand or fall together. It was necessary to promote that good understanding and good feeling which alone made a community prosperous and happy; and he was convinced that that great desideratum could only be attained by friendly action between the landlord and the tenant and by their assisting each other. In these hard times landlords had reduced rents, tenants were foregoing a portion of their returns, and oven the poor labourers were receiving a less wage than a few years ago; but he was convinced, if they hoped for prosperity, they must not act one against the other, for they were all in the same beat, and would sink or swim together. The Legislature might take steps to aid these who were concerned in agriculture by relieving the pressure of local burdens, like the education rate and highway rate. He could not understand why the landlords should be the only sufferers from legislative action. If legislation, detrimental to the interests of the landlord, were passed for the benefit of the tenant, the labourer, in his turn, would very soon cry out against the farmer. He did not approve of legislative interference, when satisfactory results might with more facility be arrived at by mutual arrangement. In England, tenants could make almost what terms they pleased with 364 landlords, for there were more farms to let now than tenants to take them. He held that the landlord should recognize that his fortune was indissolubly bound up with that of the tenant and the labourer, and maintained that the interests of all parties would be best served by conducting their business as friends.
ME. JAMES ELLIS
said, he quite agreed with many of the remarks that had fallen from hon. Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House during the course of the debate, and he should support the Amendment because he believed that, at the present time, the agricultural question, as a whole, was the greatest question that could occupy the thoughts of the Government. He thought, moreover, that the matter ought to be given due prominence in the reply to the Speech from the Throne. He would never have been in the House of Commons, and he should never have taken part in politics at all, if it had not been from the wrongs he had suffered as an agricultural tenant. When he was 21 years of age he was silly enough to take a farm on an annual tenancy. Thank goodness he had other things to do besides farming, or he would have been ruined. On that farm he planted trees, made improvements, and, he was sorry to say, built cottages, and what was the result? At the end of 14 years he received six months' notice to quit, and his trees, his improvements, and his property to the value of £800 were taken from him. That was how he had been treated; and from then to the end of his life he had determined that he would fight on the side of the agricultural tenant. This was not his case alone. It was the case of his ancestors, and the case of the people who were living around him, and who had been robbed. His father had taken a farm on an agreement that he should kill these vermin, the rabbits; but a young man came into the property, and when he grew up he was like the Israelites in Egypt, he did not know Joseph. He was eaten out of the farm; for when he attempted to kill the rabbits he was warned off the land. He had no freedom; and until they had free men on the farms, and in their villages, the same thing would happen. His ancestors for ages, on both sides, had been tenant farmers. [Laughter.] Did they think they would stop his speaking by laughing? He told them 365 his ancestors for ages were tenant farmers; and although he was not a tenant farmer now himself, he had got still a bit of land that he occupied, and he was sorry to say he lost money by it. Whether the Government or hon. Gentlemen opposite took up this question or not, hon. Members on the Opposition side of the House were determined to do so. The real question at issue was, whether the people who tilled the land were not the people who should own it? He should support the Amendment, although it did not in every particular meet his views.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. MACDONALD)
said, he presumed that the Members of the House of Commons would not be led into the belief that the state of the country was that the landlords were combined together for the purpose of oppression and behaving unfairly to their tenants at the present time. He presumed that there was no relation of life in connection with which there were not to be found numerous instances of gross and scandalous injustice; but to bring up for purposes of argument, as fair specimens of the state of things in this country at the present time, those isolated illustrations adduced by the hon. Member who had just sat down (Mr. James Ellis) was manifestly unfair and misleading, and, in fact, reduced a subject of the most grave and serious importance to the level of the burlesque. He could not help noticing throughout the debate that the whole question had been treated by hon. Members who had spoken on the opposite side as if the whole depression at present oppressing this country related to agriculture alone. All would agree, on the contrary, that it was a time of great depression in all classes and positions of life; and when hon. Gentlemen considered the matter with care, they would come to the certain conclusion that they never could have a long and severe agricultural depression in a country like ours without that depression spreading its wave of misery beyond these who cultivated the soil. They could not possibly impose upon the landlords of this country more than their fair share of the general depression without affecting the interests of a great number of people, who were just as much labourers as these who cultivated the soil. It was quite certain that the landlords of this country did not use the rents they re- 366 ceived for the purpose of hoarding them up. They had a large expenditure of money, and many of them employed a large number of people. But it was equally certain that the moment it became necessary to give reductions of rents it at once became imperative to reduce their establishments, and thus, ultimately, the labouring classes would suffer. Therefore, these things could not be considered in a narrow spirit, or in reference to a state of depression applicable to one particular industry alone. Agricultural depression reacted, and must always do so, upon the welfare of the whole community. Now, if that was so, Her Majesty's Government took a proper stop last Session in endeavouring to discover the cause of this depression, not merely in the agricultural interest, but in all other interests in which this country carried on its hitherto prosperous work. This step was wise and deserving of support. He ventured to ask whether, now that this agricultural depression was being pressed on the attention of the now Parliament, it had been wise or unwise of the Government to propose, last July, that a Royal Commission should be appointed to inquire into this subject; and if the right hon. Gentlemen who sat opposite, and whom he was sorry to see represented during this important debate only by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Lord Advocate and his hon. and learned Friend the late Solicitor General for Scotland—if those Gentlemen thought the proposal of the Government a wise one, he asked, if the Opposition deemed it a proper response to make to that effort to find a remedy for a very serious matter to practically "Boycott" it? He hoped before the debate closed to hear from them what practical suggestions they had formed in their own minds for the purpose of meeting this great difficulty; for he presumed they would not be told that the difficulties had arisen since the present Government took Office. The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) had told them that agricultural depression had existed for a period of about 10 years. If that were so, he (the Lord Advocate) wanted to know who it was who, during that time, had had the best opportunity of studying, and examining, and finding out the causes of that depression? He wanted to know what statistics, what information, the late Go- 367 vernment obtained, from the time they were in Office, for the purpose of informing their Successors as to the real state of things? The hon. Member for Forfarshire told them that, in his opinion, the agricultural depression had become of a permanent character. For his own part, he (the Lord Advocate) trusted that was not so, and he felt sure that the hon. Member had stated the case rather too broadly. But his statements indicated the hopeless condition into which many men had fallen in consequence of the agricultural depression having lasted so much longer than any agricultural depression which had taken place during the memory of any Member of that House. If that was so, it was quite plain that it could not be met by any empirical or carelessly thought-out remedies. It was better to wait for the result of the inquiry, than to adopt a hasty remedy which might bring about a worse condition of affairs than that at present prevailing. They had heard speeches on the subject from Gentlemen who were honestly and deeply interested in the subject—from the hon. Member for East Aberdeenshire (Mr. Esslemont) and the hon. and gallant Member for Kincardineshire (Sir George Balfour). He (the Lord Advocate) had listened carefully to those hon. Members speeches, and what had been the real and practical remedies proposed by them? He found that the remedy suggested as regarded his own country had been practically the abolition of 19 years' leases. For his own part, he was rather inclined to agree that this was a practical suggestion. But when hon. Members found fault with the 19 years' leases as being the system under which the landlords found a means of oppressing their tenants, if they would only look back to the history of Scotland they would find that it was in the interests and at the desire of the tenants that the 19 years' leases were instituted, and what was more, in the year 1855, which had been referred to, under that system the farmers of Scotland were in a very prosperous condition. The 19 years' leases, however, might have proved, in some respects, to be a failure under the present depression; and he thought landlords and tenants alike were satisfied that a modification of the system was necessary as long as this exceptional and crushing depression existed. But he trusted they 368 were all satisfied that it was exceptional —exceptional in its severity and in its length. If it was not exceptional in its severity and in its length, then, to that extent, it was an incurable depression, and no moans they could take would have the effect of restoring agriculture to the state of prosperity in which it once stood. If the present state of things were to continue to exist which now existed, then at all times landlords and tenants must be worse off, and they would only hope that the labourer would not be worse off too. The hon. and gallant Member for Kincardineshire made a suggestion that money should be found in the form of capital, to enable tenants to carry on their farms and work them better than they could do at the present time, in consequence of their having lost so much and being so depressed in mind. He (the Lord Advocate) thought that was a most practical suggestion; but was it not a suggestion which must be worked out after some inquiry as to how it was to be done, as to the means by which it was to be carried out, and as to the results which might be expected from it? How could that be better done than by means of an inquiry before the Royal Commission, which necessarily must take some time to complete its labours? Was it not wiser to take some time in considering what they were going to do to meet the great and trying crisis than to adopt some empirical remedy, the adoption of which might turn out worse than the original evil, at the suggestion, perhaps, of persons who had not deeply studied the question? Another practical suggestion he had heard was to create market gardens and grow fruit trees. There was no doubt that, wherever a man could got a market for the produce of a market garden, he could not have a better investment for his money; but did any hon. Member suggest that that was really a solid and practical remedy for this agricultural depression which was crushing the whole country at the present moment? It might benefit one man out of 100. So far it was a valuable and useful suggestion; but these who lived near large towns, and so had a market for produce, were surely clever enough to understand their own interests. Was there at present any lack of good, cheap garden produce in their great towns? ["Yes!"] Very well, then, if there was, they would be for appropriat- 369 ing a certain amount of land for market gardens. Did any hon. Member suppose that if a landlord thought he could get a reasonable rent out of his land at the present moment by turning it into a market garden he would not turn it into such a garden? Some time ago they had had a practical suggestion from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone)—a man of great experience in life, and no doubt of great experience as regarded agricultural matters. The right hon. Gentleman's suggestion was that farmers should take to growing strawberries. He (the Lord Advocate) could not say but that was a very large and increasing industry in Scotland. It so happened that the soil of Aberdeen shire was specially favourable to the growth of that excellent fruit, and a very large trade was done in sending strawberries to London. Indeed, it might be said of Aberdeen that strawberries grown there found a sale in the market later in the season than other fruit produced in more southern districts. But he would again ask whether anybody, even if they took the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian as the best guide they could get on any subject, supposed that the agricultural depression would be materially affected, even to the extent of 1 per cent, by the growth of strawberries? The hon. Member for Forfarshire had spoken of what had happened in Ireland, and said that the agitation had spread itself to the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland, and was now cropping up also in Wales, and that very soon, if they did not take care, it would occur in Forfarshire and Kincardineshire. He (the Lord Advocate) recollected how they were told, many years ago, that the whole and sole reason for having any such legislation as they had had for Ireland was that Ireland was an entirely exceptional country; and if the Western Highlands of Scotland were not looked upon by the hon. Gentleman who sat opposite him as being entirely exceptional in Scotland, he should like to know why, in the Crofters Bill which the late Government brought in last year, they expressly named only the counties on the West Coast and the Islands of Scotland? Now, however, they were told that the agitation was spreading over the whole of Scotland as well. The hon. Member had reproached him for 370 smiling, but had quite misinterpreted his smile. He could not help smiling, when he recollected how Parliament was drawn into legislation for Ireland upon what proved to be the hollow pretence that Ireland was an entirely exceptional country. As he had referred to the subject of Ireland, he must say, judging from the tone of Irish Members who sat below the Gangway, that, whatever the present Government might resolve to do in connection with this matter, he did not think they could find much encouragement from the success of the Irish Land legislation. What was now asked for was that there should be some one on behalf of the Government to value property. That had been done under the Land Act of 1881, following that of 1871. It was supposed at the time that the Irish Land Act of 1881 would be absolutely final, and would remove all discontent in Ireland. Now, however, they found, from the way in which hon. Gentlemen from Ireland expressed themselves, that never at any time were the people so discontented, as an agricultural population, than they were after the heroic legislation of 1871 and 1881. They were told the present was a Government in a minority; and they were called upon by hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House to go in for legislation the same as they themselves had gone in for before, which, by the declaration of some Gentlemen who spoke on that side, had, in so far as it had been intended to produce contentment and peace in Ireland, been a total failure. ["No, no!"] He observed that it was not hon. Gentlemen from Ireland who said "No, no!" When up to this time any statement was made with which Irish Members disagreed the House soon heard the voices of these hon. Gentlemen; but they were silent now. For instance, in the course of the debates which had already taken place he had heard cries of great dissent when it was suggested that Ireland was not in the most miserable, degraded, and hold-down condition. But they made no sign of dissent when it was stated that the legislation of 1871 and 1881 had not produced contentment in Ireland. Well, if that was the state of matters, he ventured to say that the Government would be justified, and would have enough to do in the coming Session, whether it were a Ministry in a minority or not, in 371 carrying what undoubtedly was the first necessary sequel of the legislation of last Session, for the purpose of giving local beards to the counties. The depression in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales and England was not one bit greater at that moment than it was at any time during the last Session. ["Yes, yes!"] Well, it was greater in this sense, no doubt, that it was still protracted for a greater length of time; but it was only greater in that respect. They knew how long it had prevailed; but he ventured to think that if it had lasted for 10 years they had some reason, when hon. Gentlemen rose up on the other side of the House and asked the Government to cure it in their first Session, to inquire why it was never dealt with before. The present Government had not before them the materials prepared by the late Government for dealing with it; and if they would supply the information which they did collect for the good of the country upon that matter, and show them that the Royal Commission appointed by the Government was unnecessary, then he thought they would have something to say on the question. The first duty of this Parliament was to carry out what necessarily must be the sequel of the legislation of last Session—namely, to confer a measure of local government upon these who lived in the counties. That was absolutely essential as their first duty; for the reason that whatever were the grounds that might be given for the course which was taken last Session, it was undoubtedly, in ordinary language, a putting of the cart before the horse. The natural course was to confer upon dwellers in the counties the management of their own affairs in the counties, as a training for the exercise of that more important franchise which required greater political education to enable them to use it with advantage to the State. In saying that he was only quoting the words of the noble Marquess opposite (the Marquess of Hartington), who, in speaking on the question before it was quite settled whether a Franchise Bill was to be brought forward, expressed a decided opinion that, in the first place, the people ought to be trained by the exercise of the local franchise before they received the franchise for the election of Members to Parliament. The result of that course would be that they would have a far better body of public 372 opinion bearing upon the great questions which were raised in the Amendment. They would have county councils, who could discuss these matters and bring great light to bear upon them, which would be most useful in any future legislation which might be thought wise. He feared he had detained the House too long on the question of the tenure of land. ["No, no!"] If not, he should like to say a word or two on the establishment of small farms, and on what should be done for the labourers. As regarded small farms, he knew of no landlord who had any objection whatever to the establishment of small farm holdings; but he ventured to say that no one could suggest a time at which it was more difficult to carry out any such excellent scheme than a time when everybody was short of money. They could not possibly establish a largo number of new farms without an immense outlay in enabling the new small farmers to have a roof over their heads within reasonable reach of their farms, and to have proper farm buildings, proper approaches, and everything required to make farm work satisfactory. It was a most difficult thing to determine how that was to be done. Some people, possibly, might propose that a large sum should be given by the State; but the matter was one which required to be considered with the greatest and most earnest care, for fear they should make any mistake in the line they adopted. If they could at once, by the wave of a magician's wand, establish a number of small farms throughout the country, it might be of the greatest possible benefit; but it was a delusion and a snare if it were imagined that by any such means they could make the country carry a great increase of the population of the present time. ["Oh, oh!"] He repeated that it was a delusion and a snare to imagine that they could, by establishing a certain number of small farms, get rid of the difficulty that the population of this country increased so rapidly and so enormously, that the people from the country districts were constantly crowding the towns, and that labour in the towns was thereby made extremely cheap, to the benefit of the manufacturer. When people talked so much about the landlords, he thought it might be remembered also that there were certain things 373 which happened in this country which were of the greatest benefit to the manufacturers in the way of getting cheap labour. One word about the labourers. As to them, he knew something himself of the Scottish labourer in counties. He used to spend the summer months in his youth in one of the best-farmed counties in the world, he supposed—the county of Berwick—and he could say that at the time to which allusion had been made—between 1850 and 1860—there was not a more comfortable set of people for their position in life than the hinds of Berwickshire, and, he believed, of the neighbouring counties. They were well off; their houses were clean and well appointed; their families were well cared for; and they themselves were contented, well-fed, and happy. He knew something of them, and did not speak from having merely driven along the roads. These men had no exceptional privileges, except through the farmer for whom they worked. They got their long run of potatoes in a field; they kept their cow; and the farmer gave them the grass for the cow. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Members cried "Hear, hear!" but was it not perfectly obvious that that was given them as part of their wages? Do not let them suppose that a thrifty Scottish farmer was going to allow a cow to graze on his farm and not take account of it? The use of the field for the cow was an easier way of paying wages than by giving money, and the labourers also got a good deal in kind, which probably would be objected to now on the ground of being against the Truck Act. What was wanted in the case of labourers was continuous and reasonably-paid work. They never could have that if they had an overgrown population; and if hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway would transfer a largo number of starving operatives from Birmingham, Manchester, and other largo towns on to the soil in the counties they would find that a new difficulty would arise again in the course of half a generation. If they would devote all these men to celibacy they might do something with such a scheme; but people always forgot that putting down a certain number more of persons on a particular spot meant an exceptional increase of the population within a certain time, which necessarily must lead to emigration at one time or another before very 374 long. It must lead either to emigration into the towns where the workmen would compete one against the other, or to some land where there was loss competition; and he ventured to say they would never get rid of the difficulty about the labouring population of this country as long as people went about pretending to them that they would not really benefit themselves by going abroad. ["Oh, oh!"] They could not possibly sustain surplus population when wages were low; and they could not raise wages until they had got work enough, and just the proper number of people to do it to get good wages. They might fight as they pleased against that law; but that law would defeat them in the end. As regarded emigration, they all in that House belonged to what were called the bettor classes in life, and they went in for emigration. There was scarcely a man with a large family who had not one son either in India, Australia, or America; and when men went about to persuade the population that it was cruelty to induce them to emigrate, they did a grievous harm to the ignorant people whom they deceived. He would conclude by thanking the House for the attention with which they had listened to him; and if he did not now allude to the Crofter question it was because there was an Amendment on the Paper which would give another opportunity of speaking upon that subject.
§ MR. DUCKHAM
said, that in England farmers had the best market in the world in which to sell their produce; and yet on all hands a large area of land was in a sterile state, and much more was going out of cultivation. This must arise from a want of security. For many years tenants wore ruined by the preservation of game; and even in times of comparative prosperity landlords did nothing to improve the homesteads and protect the valuable properties of the manner from being washed away by the rains. Such a system had an inevitable tendency to reduce the number of tenants and the capital of the occupiers. The Lord Advocate had assumed that there was substantially no difference in the depression between last year and this; but since last year the prices of live stock had been reduced by 20 per cent, whilst corn was further reduced in price. No improvement in prices could be expected, with the immense vessels 375 that were crossing the Atlantic, bringing American produce that was distributed by our railways at preferential rates, while wages were rising and local taxation increasing. India, too, and even Australia were now sending largo quantities of wheat to this country; in fact, successfully competing with America. Something must be done to enable the occupiers of the soil to compote with foreign producers. True, rents were being reduced; but the merely casual and temporary reduction of rents kept occupiers in a state of uncertainty; they felt that should an unfortunate outbreak of war take place, and prices rose, rents would be raised. Land ought to be let in such a way that the tenant could pay the rent from year to year without having to go hat in hand to the landlord. A sitting tenant now had no security, for he knew that as soon as there was any temporary advance in the value of the produce his rent would be raised, and he would have to pay an increased rent for the very improvements he had made with his own capital. Compensation ought to be paid before rent was raised, the same as it would be had he to quit his holding and an increased rent obtained from his successor. One of the worst clauses in the Agricultural Holdings Act was that prohibiting compensation for what were called the inherent capabilities of the soil. If rents were to be regulated by the price of wheat, as suggested, they would be low indeed. The increase of live stock was hindered by the withholding of compensation for corn consumed on a farm; and restrictions of this kind operated most prejudicially against the adoption of the measures called for by foreign competition. Relief from local taxation would aid a little. The burden of local taxation was felt by the farmers of England more than of Scotland. There half the rates were paid by the landlords. The Scotch tenantry had been shrewd enough, when they saw fresh impositions threatening them to make that arrangement; but in England the farmers had submitted almost without remonstrance until they were weighed down with the burden. It was remarkable that agriculture had been omitted from the reference to the Commission now sitting, for the Report of which the Lord Advocate suggested the House should wait before 376 dealing with the question; and he believed that no agricultural authority was asked to sit upon it. The question of valuation for rating purposes must come to the front; and he hoped that before long there would be a good and equitable system propounded. The farmer, further, had also to fight against preferential rates, which was most unjust, and formed one of the numerous questions affecting agriculture demanding earnest consideration.
§ MR. LONG
said, that direct attacks had been made upon landlords as a class, and it had been denied that the remission of rents afforded any security to the tenants. But surely there was nothing better calculated to give a feeling of security to tenants than the fact that in hard times landlords were ready to moot them half way. There was no good to be gained by pointing out an evil unless they could suggest a remedy. It was said that the tenant wanted security; but surely the best security he could have was that he knew the landlord would do almost anything to keep him on his farm. He had great sympathy with the Amendment of the hon. Member, because it expressed to a very large extent his own feelings regarding the matter. He felt that the present state of agriculture demanded a greater attention than it had hitherto received from either Party in the House. The present depressed condition of agriculture was certainly grave enough to justify every word in which the hon. Member for Forfarshire had described it. The condition not only of the tenant farmers of the country, but also of the landlords, was so bad that it demanded the instantaneous and prompt attention of Parliament. But was there anything in the Amendment which would justify them in voting for it, thereby leading the House to believe that if it was passed the condition of agriculture would be improved, or that it would bring about a better state of things to the farmers? His opinion was that the tenant farmers desired to be placed on a fairer footing with these who at present competed with them; they wanted a fair field and no favour, and then they would be able to hold their own. At present the farmers were heavily handicapped with foreign competition; and it was absurd to say that their position would be materially improved if better security of tenure 377 were only granted. There were, no doubt, instances in which landlords had lamentably failed to do their duty. The hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Ellis) had detailed circumstances in which he and his ancestors had suffered at the hands of landlords. They could, at all events, congratulate him on the very satisfactory appearance which so distressed a farmer presented at the end of such a long record of unfair treatment. But it seemed to him that he and his ancestors must have walked very easily into a snare which must have been openly laid for them; and, with great respect for the hon. Member, he questioned very much whether the majority of tenant farmers would walk so blindly info a similar snare, or be so proud to talk about it afterwards. Did the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) believe that if tenants were given security of tenure it would induce them to spend more money in the cultivation of their holdings? Did the hon. Member propose a fixed rent and a fixed statutory term during which tenants should enjoy their holdings? How would the hon. Member be able to guarantee that in four or five years' time a similar fall would not take place, and leave the farmers much in the same position as they wore in now? He was certain that if an appeal was made to the tenant-farmers of England as a bedy—he spoke not of Scotland, the circumstances of which he did not know—to state what they desired most they would express a preference to be left to the arrangements which they were able and competent to make with their landlords, rather than that legislation should be passed for them on the lines laid down by the hon. Member for Forfarshire. In many of the speeches which had been delivered that evening a strong feeling had been apparent that the landlords, as a body, were opposed to the well-being and the prosperity of the tenants. Putting on one side the question that the interest of the landlords must be bound up with that of the tenants, he believed, as a rule, it would be found that the landlords and the tenants were as good friends as any two classes in the length and breadth of the country. So far from there being, either in the Conservative ranks or among the landlords of the country generally, any feeling opposed to the real interests of the tenant- 378 farmers, he believed that if any hon. Member proposed measures which had a practical chance of clearly benefiting tenant farmers as a class he would find them supported from all quarters of the House, and by landlords as well as by tenant farmers. The hon. Member for Bristol (Mr. Cossham) the other day charged the Tory landlords and Tory parsons with having "Boycotted" those in this country who had voted for the Liberals. If that was his honest opinion it showed that his knowledge of the question upon which he spoke was very slight indeed; and if his information with regard to "Boycotting" in Ireland was as accurate as his description of the course he asserted had been taken by the Tory landlords and the Tory parsons in England, his remarks were not calculated to throw much light upon the subject. Above all, his remarks proved conclusively that the hon. Member did not know much about the question. He defied the hon. Member for Bristol to prove that the Tory landlords or the Tory parsons had, as a class, "Boycotted" the tenant farmers or anyone else. No doubt they might at times have done things which they would not like to defend in every particular; but had the Liberals done nothing of which they had reason to be ashamed? It seemed to him idle to make charges of this kind and attaching them to particular classes and to a particular Party. He had no doubt that the question of agriculture called for the immediate attention of the Government, no matter which Party happened to be in power at the time. Unless the Government, whether Tory or Liberal, realized that the agricultural question had reached very serious dimensions — unless they were prepared to put it in the forefront of their programme, and to deal with it not upon Party, but upon national lines—they would fail to do that which the country expected them to do. In this connection, too, the Government might well turn their attention to the subject of railway rates and charges. It seemed to him to be a monstrous state of things that railways in this country should convey homo produce at double the rates which were charged for that coming from foreign countries. It was for the interest of the whole country that something should be at once done to stimulate the great industry of agriculture.
379 ME. J. B. BALFOUR observed that, having regard to the course the debate had taken, he did not think his hon. Friend the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay) owed any apology to the House for having brought this subject under its notice. His hon. Friend had set forth in the forefront of his speech the magnitude and importance of the depression which now affected the agricultural interest; and that depression had been painted in even darker colours by hon. Members who had spoken on the opposite side. The hon. Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. Mark Stewart) had complained, indeed, of the failure of Members on the Opposition Benches duly to appreciate the depression of agriculture, and the tone of the hon. and gallant Member for Eye's (Colonel Brookfield's) remarks had been somewhat similar. That was quite a mistake; but, at the same time, he must observe that if the state of the agricultural interest was so urgent and important, surely it might fairly have been expected that the Government would have indicated in the Speech from the Throne their view whether any remedy for the evil was possible by way of legislation. That was, however, exactly what the Government had not done; and it was on account of their omission to do it that the Amendment of the hon. Member for Forfarshire was brought forward. His hon. Friend did not desire to commit these who might give a general assent to his Amendment to any of the particular provisions that he had suggested. His hon. Friend had stated his own views, that was all; and he complained that the Government had nothing whatever to suggest. All that Gentlemen on the other side had urged in answer was only a recrimination against these who had declined to serve on the Commission on the Depression of Trade, as if their refusal implied indifference to that question. But all who had followed the course of the discussion on the appointment of that Commission must have been very well satisfied that these who declined to serve on it gave what most of them on that side thought very good and sufficient reasons for not serving. These reasons might be very shortly summarized in two sentences. In the first place, there had been, and was, a very prevalent idea that it was what was commonly called a "Fair 380 Trade" Commission ["No!"]; and, secondly, these who justly appreciated the magnitude of the agricultural question felt strongly that a Royal Commission would in this, as in so many other cases, prove a way of postponing or shelving it. The idea that it was a "Fair Trade" Commission derived confirmation from the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Rye, who had pointed out that the only remedial matter, after local taxation, related to hostile foreign tariffs. If the Government thought that nothing but an inquiry into the causes of trade depression generally, and all over the world, could be suggested by way of amending the condition of the tenant farmers and labourers of this country, it was well that that fact should be generally known. But surely while there was no doubt a connection between the cardinal industry of agriculture and all other industries and trades, there wore also points relating to the occupancy and tenure of land which could be considered, and on which the judgment of Parliament could be taken quite apart from and independently of the inquiry before the Royal Commission. The hon. Member for Kirkcudbright (Mr. Mark Stewart) had spoken of the very slender references made to that matter by Liberal candidates, and particularly by his right hon. Friend. (Mr. Gladstone), at the late Election; but if that hon. Member had read the speech delivered by his right hon. Friend at Dalkeith, he would find that the question of the land had not been overlooked. The question of the land had been put in the forefront by the Liberal Party.
§ MR. MARK STEWART
explained that what he had remarked upon was the almost entire absence from Liberal speeches of any allusion to the depressed state of the agricultural interest.
§ MR. J. B. BALFOUR
said, if the hon. Member only meant that there were few expressions of barren sympathy with agricultural distress from Liberal candidates, he might be right; because these who aspired to seats in that House hoped to have something more practical to offer than mere commiseration. A great deal had been said about the Agricultural Holdings Acts. Well, no one who had had anything to do with the framing of these Acts considered that they were perfect. They were a very great step at the time; but they could 381 not shut their eyes to the experience they had had since the passing of these Acts. There was, by general consent, a variety of defects in them which, he hoped, it would be possible to amend. One of the points to be considered related to security for tenants' improvements. Again, while the case of the farmer was very urgent, that of the labourer, by universal consent, also required to be dealt with at a very early date. Why should they delay the introduction of a measure providing the labourer with an allotment, or a bit of land to cultivate as his own, until the inquiry into the general state of trade was concluded? Nothing like irritation or indignation against a particular class existed on his side of the House. What they desired was, that all the classes interested in the land, and certainly including the landlords, should each be placed on an equitable footing, by which they should all receive a just share in the products of the soil. He, therefore, hoped it would be clearly understood that there was not the least wish to deal unjustly with any class; and he would be sorry if any Government were to do anything that would have that effect. This was not the time or the place for these who were merely expressing regret that a particular matter had been entirely overlooked in the legislative proposals of the Government to table their own schemes. He thought no one who had followed the discussions throughout the electoral campaign could doubt that there were remedies, whether they might meet with the approval of this House or not, that the laws relating to the tenure and occupancy of land were not perfect, and that, not being perfect, and the magnitude and importance of the evil being recognized, it was the incumbent and urgent duty of these who had to frame the Speech for Her Majesty to make some suggestion by way of amendment which might, at all events, mitigate, if it did not entirely remove, those evils.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE DUCHY OF LANCASTER (Mr. CHAPLIN)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has blamed Her Majesty's Government because while calling attention to the fact of agricultural depression we have not indicated a remedy for it. I admit that it is very difficult, at the present time, to suggest 382 a remedy for that depression. The real cause of the depression is to be found in the great depreciation in the price of agricultural produce which has taken place during the last few years. I do not suppose that the right hon. and learned Gentleman anticipated that either the present or any other Government would be prepared to come to Parliament with proposals for any artificial means of raising the price of agricultural produce; and unless such proposals were made it would be very difficult to suggest anything that would be a remedy for that depression. One of the great complaints that have been made by agriculturists for years past is that the land is heavily and unfairly rated. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had taken the trouble to study the Speech from the Throne he would have seen that a measure dealing with County Government will shortly be laid before the House, and that mea-sure will propose to give substantial relief to the land with regard to local burdens. The hon. Member for Herefordshire (Mr. Duckham) has suggested that the burden of the rates might be divided between the landowners and the farmers. That is one of the recommendations which was made by the Royal Commission appointed some few years ago by a Conservative Government; but although the Liberal Party have been in Office, with the exception of the last few months, ever since that recommendation was made they have taken no steps to carry it into effect. The hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Long) has also expressed some anxiety that recommendations should be made for the relief of agricultural depression; but the only suggestion the hon. Member has made himself is one with regard to preferential railway rates, which is a subject that has already engaged the attention of Her Majesty's Government. Moreover, Her Majesty's Government had scarcely been 10 days in Office when they thought it was their duty to propose an Address to Her Majesty praying her to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into all the causes of the depression of trade. That Commission is now engaged in investigating the whole question; and it is no doubt considering, among other subjects, the question of preferential railway rates. I entirely agree with the Mover of this Amendment that this is a most important and 383 grave question; but I am not surprised that the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) in his speech made no reference to it, and suggested no remedy for the evil. The right hon. Gentleman no doubt laboured under the same difficulty that the Government do in proposing any adequate remedy for agricultural depression. One feature is encouraging. All classes throughout the country are becoming alive to the fact that it is a matter of great importance not only to these who are directly connected with agriculture, but to all classes of the community. The only danger I fear is that some of these who are not thoroughly instructed in the subject may be led into wishing to adopt some of these remedies which have been frequently proposed, and, if adopted, would prove to be wholly delusive. Indeed, their only effect would be to aggravate and increase the existing depression. What is the case of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), who has moved the Amendment on this occasion? I confess I have experienced some difficulty in finding out exactly what he wants. He has contrasted the position of a farmer in England with that of a farmer on the other side of the Atlantic. He talked about the general consensus of opinion on the part of the farmers of the country; but perhaps he will forgive me for saying that I altogether question his right to speak on behalf of the farmers of the country. He told us that, in his opinion, the Agricultural Holdings Act has proved a complete failure altogether. Finally, he said that the three essential requirements are freedom of cultivation, security for capital, and moderate rents. I should be disposed, generally speaking, to answer these three requirements in this way. It cannot be doubted that the farmer, at the present time, is absolutely master of the situation. The difficulty in these days is not for a farmer to get a farm, but for a landlord to find a tenant. In such circumstances, if a farmer fails to make an agreement, which gives him freedom of cultivation, security for capital, and moderate rent, he has nobody to blame but himself. I will give an instance which occurred only a few days ago. I was reading a letter, which was addressed by one of the best farmers in England to a man who was generally considered to 384 be an excellent landlord. It was a letter resigning his farm, which was a first-class farm, in admirable order, and thoroughly equipped with every modern requirement, and it was let at what the tenant admitted to be a reasonable rent. Well, what is the purport of that letter? The purport of the letter was, in the first place, to express the writer's grief at finding the time had come when it was absolutely necessary for him to give up his farm. A more kindly or more generous letter was never written by a tenant to a landlord; but what he says is this—I have had such heavy losses for many-years that it is impossible for me to continue in this business. You have granted mo everything I ask; you have made reductions of rent, which have been liberal in the extreme, and for the last few years I have never made a request which was not acceded to by you. If your farm is worth farming at all, it is worth a great deal more than I am paying you at the present time.[Opposition laughter.] Hon. Members opposite seem to think that this is a matter for laughter and amusement; but I venture to think that they very much under-estimate the gravity of the position. So grave and serious is that position, that in treating it as a matter of amusement hon. Members are labouring under a great mistake. The writer of this letter winds up in this way—If your farm is worth farming at all, it is worth a great deal more than I am paying you at the present time; but so serious has the agricultural position become, that I must decline any longer to invest capital in anything of the kind.The hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay), when he contrasted the position of the English farmer with that of the farmer in America, suggested that if there were more freedom of cultivation here, as in America, farmers might embark more largely on dairy business than they do at present. The fact is, that that has already been done in a great many parts of England, with this result—that the competition in that line of industry has already become so great that prices have depreciated, and some farmers have been obliged to give it up. Allow me to say a word or two on the subject of freedom of cultivation. "Freedom of cultivation" has a captivating sound; but there are two parties to be considered in the matter. Although it may be desirable on the one 385 hand that farmers should have as much freedom of cultivation as can be allowed, and as is compatible with the interests of the landlord, I do not suppose that even the hon. Member for Forfarshire would desire to allow freedom of cultivation to such an extent that a farmer might hold a farm for three or four years, cultivate it as he liked, rum it irretrievably for a number of years, and then hand it back to the landlord. What security would the landlord have for his own protection and fair treatment? Yet that is the meaning of freedom of cultivation unless precautions are taken for the fair treatment of the landlords; and on that point the hon. Member for Forfarshire had not one word to say. The hon. Member talked a great deal about security of capital. What did he mean by it? For my own part, I was under the impression that when the Agricultural Holdings Bill was brought in a few years ago absolute security was conferred upon the farmer. The general effect was either that the Act would be adopted by landlord and tenant at the same time, or else that whore either landlord or tenant desired it, liberal arrangements would be made on terms mutually agreeable to these who entered into them. Although I have listened attentively to-night to every word that has been said, I cannot say that I heard a single syllable from any hon. Member which leads me to believe that at the present moment there is any real grievance on the part of the farmer, on the ground that he has no security for the capital he invests. The real object of the hon. Member began to crop out towards the close of his speech. The pith of the speech was a plea on the part of the hon. Member, on behalf of the Scotch farmers, for permission to break their leases before tribunals which should establish fair rents over the whole of the country. If there is one moral more than another to be drawn from this debate it is this—that the debate is a severe condemnation of the system of leases which, not many years ago, was exceedingly popular with Gentlemen on the other side of the House. I wish to say a word on the subject of leases in reply to the arguments put forward by the hon. Gentleman. Having made this proposition, the hon. Member proceeded to say that it would be de- 386 nounced at once as a great interference with the freedom of contract. The hon. Gentleman made a mistake. The proposal of the hon. Member with regard to leases does not involve so much interference with the freedom of contract as a distinct breach of existing contracts. But as that was the position taken up by the hon. Member let me say a word more. I want to ask the hon. Member whether, if the lease is to be broken in the interest of the tenant because times are bad, he will pledge himself to this—that the lease shall be broken in the interest of the landlord when times are good?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I am not talking about rents; I am talking about leases; and I ask if the hon. Member will pledge himself to the proposition that when times are good the lease shall be broken in the interest of the landlords?
§ MR. J. W. BARCLAY
The Bill which I introduced last year proposed that there should be re-valuation every seven years.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Then the hon. Member, as I understand, proposes that in the interest of the tenant the lease shall be broken at any period when times are bad; but that in the interest of the landlord it shall only be broken every seven years! [Mr. J. W. BARCLAY: No.] Then I should like to know what it is that the hon. Member does mean? I feel the deepest sympathy with tenants in Scotland, who are suffering from the fact that they have entered into a long lease in times of prosperity, and who are now suffering greatly because they hold these leases in depressed times. But I must confess it seems to me that unless hon. Members are prepared to adopt a course which would be manifestly unjust to one of the parties to the contract the only way of dealing with the hardship is to leave it to the generosity and good feeling of the landlords in Scotland to make such arrangements with their tenants as the necessities of the times may require. From all the information which has reached me from time to time, that is being done to a largo extent at the present time, and it 387 will continue to be done. The hon. Gentleman also desired to have fair rents; but, to my great surprise, he illustrated his argument in that direction by a reference to Ireland. We all know what has followed from the adoption of that principle in that country. Will any hon. Member on that side of the House tell me that the institution of fair rents in Ireland has been either to the advantage and prosperity of that country, or that it has tended in any way to the development of agriculture in Ireland? All I can say is this—that if the same consequences were to follow from the adoption of the system of fair rents in any part of Her Majesty's Dominions as we witness, to our sorrow, in Ireland at the present time, God forbid that I should live to see the day when the system should be introduced into England! Does the hon. Member, or these who think with him, really believe that much advantage is to be gained by the adoption of that system? If so, I would venture, with great respect, to refer him to some observations made on that subject by the right ton. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) not long after I came into the House, during the passage through Parliament of the Irish Land Act of 1870, in which he absolutely demolished the proposal of fair rent even as applied to Ireland, and proved conclusively, even to demonstration, that the adoption of the principle could only have the result of demoralizing the whole mass of the people in that country. Whether the right hon. Gentleman was right in his forecast or wrong, I will leave it to hon. Gentlemen opposite to decide. For myself, I can see no relief whatever for the present agricultural depression in the institution of fair rents proposed by the hon. Member. Neither do I believe in the further proposition which has been made by the ton. Member that the large farms of the country should be broken up. It seems to me a strange proposal that if men of capital, with the advantage of every appliance of science, have failed to make agriculture pay by breaking up the large farms and putting them in the hands of men who have neither capital nor the same means of turning them to account they will be made to pay. This system has been tried largely for years in the part of the country which I have 388 the honour to represent. There, great tracts of country, which formerly were large estates, have been broken up and divided into thousands of small holdings, which are occupied and farmed at the present time. What is the result? If hon. Members will sometimes take the trouble to refer to the Reports of the Royal Commission on Agriculture—and they certainly do contain a great deal of valuable information—I think a very brief study of these Reports will show them that among all the different classes engaged in agricultural pursuits, much as they have suffered, of landlords, tenants, and labourers, all put together, there is not one class whose sufferings can for a moment be compared to these of the freeholders of Lincolnshire farming these small holdings into which the hon. Member desires, in the interests of the country, to see the land generally broken up. I wish with all my heart that it was possible to say something more encouraging in regard to agricultural prospects than I am able to say to-night. There is only one gleam of hope under present circumstances which I continue to cherish, and it is this—that I cannot believe it is possible that foreign countries can continue for any prolonged period to send us, at a profit, their produce at the prices which prevail at the present time. If I am right in that, then, as a matter of course, prices would rise at once; and with a rise of prices for agricultural produce we may be sure that the relief of agricultural depression would commence. It seems to me that there is only one thing we can do at the present time; and that has been alluded to, in touching terms, by my noble Friend the Member for Hertford shire (Viscount Grimston)—namely, that all classes engaged in agriculture must be prepared to make self-sacrifices, and do all within their power to help each other through this terrible and disastrous period of depression. I believe that has been done already to a great extent. We have heard much of landlords, and the rents they receive, and the terms upon which they ought to receive rent; and some hon. Gentlemen appear to think, from the tone of the speeches delivered to-night, that landlords have waited for their lectures before they adopted a course of reducing and remitting largely the rents paid to them by their tenants. It does not follow that because every 389 landlord in the country does not think it necessary to advertise the fact whenever he makes a large reduction that he has been slow to take that course. If I were to tell hon. Gentlemen opposite all I know with regard to the enormous reduction of rent that has taken place already, and the enormous reduction of the incomes of hundreds and thousands of landlords throughout England, I think I should tell them something which I suspect would astonish a great many of them. If there is nothing to be condemned on the part of the landlords—and I do not think there is, for I believe they have behaved well and rightly, and have come forward nobly to do their duty in this time of agricultural depression—still less have I one word of complaint against the tenant farmers, who have shown singular patience, pluck, and energy in the most difficult and trying circumstances. Nothing is more remarkable, or does them more credit, than this—when after six or seven years of such bad seasons as were probably never paralleled, when it was impossible to do justice to their farms, and when it pleased Providence, at the end of that weather, to send them fine weather and fine seasons—nothing is more remarkable than the way they buckled to, and did everything in the power of men of business to restore the character of their occupation. Then with regard to the labourers. I should like to say one word on that subject. It is with great regret that I observe that they, too, at last have begun to feel the effects of agricultural depression. For several years they probably suffered less from the prevailing agricultural depression than any other class engaged in agriculture; but I regret to say that the time at last has come when it has begun to bear most heavily and disastrously upon them. Their wages have fallen to a degree which fills me with compassion. I know this—that in my own county, where eight or ten years ago the labourer was receiving wages at the rate of 3s. per day, he is now receiving not more than 2s. per day, and I have been told that even that rate will be reduced during the coming winter. That means much suffering not only to him, but to the family he has to support. I have often thought that it was wonderful how, upon such a miserable pittance as 2s. per day, an agricultural 390 labourer should be able to bring up his family and maintain his home so respectably and admirably as many of them do. But that is not all. Not only have wages fallen largely, but great numbers of labourers are out of employment altogether; and I am afraid, before this winter passes, that the number will be largely increased. What is to be the remedy for all this? How am I to be blamed, speaking on the part of the Conservative Government, because I am unable to submit measures, or to put before the House proposals, which are adequate to deal with so grave a position and so serious an emergency as the present is? Has anything fallen from any hon. Gentleman to-night which can be considered, for a single moment, as an effectual remedy for the agricultural distress? If there has been, or if there is anything to be said, I can only join with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Long) in saying that we would rally as one man in doing all that he s within our power, within legitimate bounds, to relieve the depression, and to help these who are suffering to tide over their difficulties until the time may come when we may look forward to happier and brighter times.
§ MR. LIONEL COHEN
said, he would ask for that forbearance on the part of the House which was usually accorded to any Member who rose to address it for the first time. There wore, besides, special reasons why he should ask for the forbearance and indulgence of the House in making a few observations upon this question. He was the first now Member who had risen to claim especial sympathy on the ground of his being a "Boycotted" individual, as a humble Member of the Royal Commission on Trade and Agriculture. It might afford some consolation to hon. Gentlemen who sat on his right, below the Ministerial Gangway, when they saw that in his case the process had not been attended with these unfortunate results ascribed to it in the Sister Island. Indeed, he might say that he looked with some degree of hope and confidence to the action of that much-maligned body, the Royal Commission on Trade; and he hoped it would have the effect, through the operations of commerce, of securing without delay these conditions of tenure which alone could fit both tenant farmers and labourers for the new and 391 trying circumstances in which they were placed. He thought he was justified in looking to the operations of commerce for a remedy. The hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell), in his address the other night, attributed the difficulties in which his country was placed mainly to agricultural depression. The chain between commerce and agriculture was a close one, and rivetted by many links; and, as a commercial man, representing a commercial and artizan constituency, he had some cause to complain that, notwithstanding the closeness of the links of the chain between commerce and agriculture, the general discussion on the Address had all tended to enlist the sympathy of the House on the side of these engaged in agriculture, whereas these who were engaged in the large pursuits of commerce had neither received notice nor sympathy. What was the cause which brought about all these agricultural difficulties? In the first place, taking a wide range, it was, no doubt, the operation of political mistrust in different parts of the Kingdom. Capital was stagnant to an extent which, in the course of a long business experience, he hardly ever recollected. With that, enter prize became dormant, employment became difficult, and these engaged in commerce were unable to pay the prices formerly paid for agricultural produce. This acted and re-acted all over the world; and the result was shown both in the condition of the tenant farmer and of the labourer. Therefore, he maintained that the conditions were both direct and immediate in the operation of commerce upon the produce of the land. They had been told by the right hon. Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) that it was impossible to do that which was asked for by legislation. In that opinion he ventured humbly to concur; but it was not impossible, by confidence and by encouragement, to free our trade in some degree from the shackles which surrounded it, and to give an impetus to commerce. There were three modes by which the agriculturist and the labourer might be benefited. The first was by enabling better prices to be secured for articles of consumption. The second was by giving the producer better facilities for carrying his produce from one part of the country to another at fair and equitable rates; and the third was by so 392 regulating the incidence of taxation that no undue burdens should be laid upon the shoulders of these who were engaged in the cultivation of the land. He ventured to ask the House with confidence whether, if more attention were paid to these three brandies of Economic Science, a speedier result would not be secured for the agricultural interests than by going into Committee or bringing in Bills with complex clauses dealing with a subject so difficult as the tenure of the land? The first way to secure better prices was to encourage traders to send their goods to all parts of the world. In connection with this point he must say that he had heard with apprehension the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) speak of their adventures in Burmah as treading on dangerous ground. That was not the way in which the merchants and traders of foreign countries were spoken of by the statesmen of these countries. It was the duty of the Government, no matter to what Party it belonged, not to present a cold shoulder to mercantile industry — he did not mean to operations that were improperly carried out, or subject justly to fine and penalty in the various countries—but to hold out an encouraging hand to these of their merchants who were engaged in commercial enterprize abroad. To the collapse which had attended some of the commercial enter prizes of the country to a considerable extent the depression of agriculture was due. As a Member of the Royal Commission on Trade, it would not become him to say in what direction their inquiry tended; but he wished to observe that he repelled most emphatically the observations of the right hon. and learned Member for Clackmannan (Mr. J. B. Balfour) when he said that the Members of the Commission had entered upon their labours with a preconceived bias, and with prepossessions in favour of one set of economical doctrines over another as governing remedial measures. He had yet to learn from any Member of the Commission that he had entered upon the inquiry with any other object than the desire and intention of following it out for the benefit of trade and agriculture free from all prejudices in favour of any of these economic doctrines which some hon. Gentlemen wrongfully attributed to them. He came now to another 393 subject—one of the most important questions which could occupy the mind of the Legislature. It was no Party question, and the difficulties attending it were very great, because it had large and powerful interests to struggle against—he referred to the question of the carrying trade for the purposes of homo trade. The hon. Member for the Banbury Division of Oxfordshire (Sir Bernhard Samuelson) had done good service by calling attention in his able pamphlet, which ought to be in the hands of every hon. Member, to the difficulties which the producers of this country were subjected to in the carrying of their goods. Whatever the result of the Commission might be, that was a matter which would need all the attention it could receive from every section of the House, so as to secure to the producer that freedom in removing his goods from one part of the country to another which was enjoyed by producers in foreign countries, and also in their own Colonies. The third branch of the subject—namely, the incidence of taxation, was too large and too difficult a matter for him to venture to obtrude upon the House in a maiden speech at that hour of the evening; but he desired to say that local taxation was, in this country, placed almost entirely upon the shoulders of these who resided in the locality, whereas abroad it was placed, to a great extent, upon the consumer in the shape of octroi duties. The next question was the desirability of securing improvements without delay. There was no royal road to prosperity, as they would find out when they began to turn the corner, as he certainly hoped they would do shortly. Prosperity could not be secured rapidly, but only by the gradual process of time, and by studying these economic questions in no Party spirit. The collapse of the industry of the country was the cause of the low prices of produce, and the low prices of produce were the causes of the depression of agriculture. The whole thing worked round in a continual circle, the effect of depression both in trade and agriculture rebounding on the condition of the agricultural labourer and the tenant farmer. Already the words "too late" had brought grief and sorrow upon the country; and he sincerely hoped that the same words would not be made to apply to the commerce and agriculture of the country. 394 He trusted that due care would be taken not to apply the improvements of commerce too late. If they wasted their time in quarrelsome legislation it would be impossible to introduce the improvements that were necessary; and the result would be that commercial enterprize would leave the shores of this country, and trade would be directed into other channels. It was in the hope that this discussion would have a tendency to draw greater attention to the pursuits of commerce than they had already received that he had ventured to obtrude himself on the notice of the House. He had now only to thank the House for the patience with which they had listened to him.
§ SIR RICHAED TEMPLE
rose to address the House, but was received with loud calls for a division. The hon. Baronet said, that if he was in Order he would move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Richard Temple.)
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF the EXCHEQUER
My hon. Friend behind me is anxious to address a few words to the House on this subject as representing a great agricultural county; but he was received in a way which induced him to think that some Members of the House did not care to listen to him at this hour of the morning. I trust that my hon. Friend will withdraw his Motion for the adjournment of the debate, and that the House will be disposed to receive with favour the remarks he wishes to make.
§ SIR EICHAED TEMPLE
said, he was quite ready to comply with the request of his right hon. Friend; and he would, therefore, withdraw the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR RICHAED TEMPLE
said, that it was all very well for hon. Gentlemen opposite to cry "Divide;" but it was impossible to divide until the remarks which had been made in the course of the debate had received a complete answer from that side of the House. As the Leader of the House had just observed, he (Sir Richard 395 Temple) represented a great agricultural constituency. He was also personally connected with the land, and he had had the management of allotments which had been successful under the arrangements which had endured for many years. He therefore trusted that these who took an interest in the question would be good enough to listen to the remarks he intended to make, seeing that they came from a practical man. He would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that they were asked to remodel the conditions of tenancy in reference to the cultivation of the soil; but the debate so far had been so inconsequential that he claimed permission to remind the House that the principal class among the cultivators of the soil was composed of the farm labourers. There was in the country plenty of land available for allotments if the labourers would take it; but something more was desired; because the truth of the matter was that when the land was offered to the labourers for allotments they sometimes refused to take it. The fact was that while allotments of limited area, favourable situation, and fertile soil answered well enough, on the other hand allotments of average soil were apt to fail. Instances of such failure were common in the "West of England. Market gardening had been alluded to during the debate; and, no doubt, that was an industry suited to the allotment system. He was himself connected with a constituency which was one of the great centres of market gardening; and he was satisfied that he was only re-echoing the opinion of his constituents when he stated that market gardening might easily be overdone. If it were to be overdone by means of an allotment system artificially introduced, the prices of market gardening produce would be so lowered that the industry would cease to be profitable. Much was said about farms lying waste, and waiting only for labour. The meaning of that was that such farms should be cut up into allotments. But it was forgotten that such a parcelling out required capital—perhaps £500 for each allotment of three or four acres. The agitators who urged this never indicated how this capital was to be raised, or how the allotment holder was to pay the interest. Nor was it fair to compare, as was too often done, the rents of allotments having 396 specially good land with the average rent of farms having various sorts of land, good, bad, and indifferent. But, apart from these larger allotments on which the labourer was to subsist without working for wages, he was heartily in favour of small allotments—half-an-acre or so — attached to the cottages of farm labourers, whereby they could supplement their earnings, and whereon they could employ themselves for the good of their families when employment with the farmer might be slack and wages irregular. If this system could be rendered universal the farm labourers could never be the victims of enforced idleness and consequent want. He denied that the rents which were asked for allotments were at all too high.
§ SIR AROHIBALD CAMPBELL
asked the permission of the House, as the Representative of a constituency largely agricultural as well as commercial, to say a few words. Any person who looked round and saw the condition of agriculture or trade throughout the country must regard it with the very greatest amount of feeling. As far as his experience had gone—and it had been a pretty long one—as to landlords and tenants—at all events as to landlords and tenants in Scotland—it was felt there was great community of interest between the two classes. In Scotland there was a deep feeling that although the agricultural depression might become worse than it was at present, the best way they could get over it was by mutual confidence and concession. He was thankful to think that that confidence had not been misplaced, either by the landlords or by the tenants. The fact of the matter was that the land was only worth what it could produce. If produce came in from foreign countries in larger and larger quantities year by year, continually depreciating the prices of the produce and commodities which the tenants supplied, it was very clear that the profits on both sides must decrease. The landlords were willing to accept that position; but they asked that they should be allowed to make fair bargains, such as were made in all trades — that freedom of bargain and contract between landlord and tenant should be preserved. If they felt confident of that, and then made a bad bargain, they must take the consequences. They hoped and trusted, after 397 the experience they had had, that they might be able to hold their own, and that they might be able to make fair arrangements between themselves — between landlords and tenants—to keep up that great system of agriculture—one of the largest and, as had been well said, one of the oldest trades in the country. Landlords felt that their profits might be less; but they were willing to face the altered state of things, if they were only allowed to trust to confidence between man and man. Hon. Members had spoken of the necessity of cultivating a great deal of the land now lying waste. What was the reason that land was now lying waste? Some of this land might appear fair to these who looked upon it; but he was bound to say that when the matter was fully investigated, it would be found that the land would hardly pay the interest on the capital required to break it up. If the money which had been expended by the Duke of Sutherland had been laid out on other improvements, instead of on trying to improve land, the noble Duke and a great many of his people would have been much better off. Costly experiments like the cultivation of waste land could not be carried on without capital; and he asked whether it was likely, with the continual changes and the difficulties which had to be confronted, that capital would be put in the land if landlords did not expect to get some return for it? He knew that 2 per cent was considered very good percentage upon money invested in land. Landlords were willing to take less than that if they could only look for some fruit of their industry. He was perfectly certain that nothing was so mischievous as interference between these who were most interested in the better cultivation of the land—namely, the landlords and tenants. If they were only allowed to fight the battle out themselves, he felt perfectly certain that in his part of the country, at any rate, the good feeling prevailing would enable them to tide over the present depression. At the same time, if any measure could be proposed by which the local taxation could be made more equitable, he should be most happy to co-operate in such a measure. He thanked the House for the kindness with which they had received this, his maiden speech.
398 MR. KIMBER said, that a careful reading of the proposed Amendment would show that it involved a dilemma, either horn of which was either a political or a logical absurdity. Hon. Members would notice that the Amendment stated that Her Majesty's Government should have recommended Her Majesty to say that she would propose measures of law for the purpose of securing to one class of individuals—cultivators of the soil—certain favourable conditions of tenure, such as would encourage them to cope with their present adversity. Now, a law "to secure conditions of tenure" meant that the contract between the cultivators of the soil and the persons with whom they would have to make the contract—namely, the owners of the soil — would have to be made either voluntarily or compulsorily. If voluntarily, it was obvious that no law was required, seeing that it was competent for the cultivators and the owners of the soil to make any contract they pleased. To propose, on the other hand, that a measure of law should be passed which should impose a forcible condition on the landlords involved this—that one class of persons in the country, a very important one—the owners of the soil—should not be allowed to make a contract with that freedom with which other classes of Her Majesty's subjects were at liberty to make contracts. If Parliament imposed such a condition, it would, in fact, transgress one of these primary conditions upon which the prosperity of this and of any country which had any prosperity at all was founded—that was, the freedom and inviolability of contract. Whether the law which the Mover of the Amendment suggested was to be imposed compulsorily or not, there was involved that infringement of these commercial laws upon which this country had founded its greatness; and he (Mr. Kimber) asked, if they were to interfere on behalf of one class because of the depression of the time, what was to be said about the other classes who were also suffering from the depression? Let them even take the case of the stockbroker who had bought Stocks at 80, the value of which had now been reduced to 60. Was he to have an alleviating law passed by which he was to have his contract subjected to re-valuation by reason of after events which showed he had 399 suffered great loss? What was to be said of the merchant who had bought a shipload of merchandize to arrive, and then found there was no market in which to sell the goods? Was he to be relieved, or to be entitled to relieve himself, at the expense of the other parties to the contract? Where was this relief to end if they were to cancel-the power which now existed, and had existed in this country practically for all time, to buy and sell in a free and open market? The moment they cancelled that power, that moment they would interfere seriously with liberty of action; they would accept a principle which, if carried to its full extent, would deprive the people and commerce of the country of everything that could be called by the name "free." What would be thought of any Englishman or Scotchman—he believed the case of the Sister Island was exceptional—who, having made a bargain, wished to back out of it when he found it working disadvantageously to himself? Was not the fulfilment of a bargain a matter of honour? A man who did not face adversity when it befell him was no longer a man. A man was only a man when he stood by the bargains he had made; and when once there was a general disposition to escape from the ill-effects of bargains it would be found that the prosperity of the country had departed. He did not at all wonder that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the late Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour) should make a sort of apology for the Mover of the Amendment by telling the House that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Forfarshire (Mr. Barclay) did not mean to propose any particular law of a hard-and-fast character, but that all he complained of was that Her Majesty's Government had not announced in the Queen's Speech their intention of introducing some measure of law to provide for these special conditions of tenure. He would like to know what would have been the result if they had all sat down together, and, as business men, attempted to frame a law such as the hon. Member for Forfarshire seemed to desire? How would they have described such a measure? He was not quite sure whether he would not have been entitled to have appealed to the Speaker whether, as a matter of Order, it was competent for Her Majesty's Government to advise Her Majesty to put a para- 400 graph in Her Gracious Speech which involved two such political absurdities as, on the one hand., the making of a law to permit people to do that which they could now do voluntarily, or, on the other hand, the making of a law to compel people to make contracts. In the great speech which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. Gladstone) made in Leeds in 1881, he described the Land Bill of 1881, which afterwards became law, as a great innovation upon the principles of freedom of contract—one which could only be justified in the ease of Ireland by the most exceptional circumstances. The right hon. Gentleman thought it so great a sacrifice in favour of the exceptional circumstances of Ireland, and an innovation which was not to be treated as a precedent, that in a speech which he delivered after the Land Bill had become law he spoke of the time when the country might be able to revert to the old system of freedom of contract. What were the words he used? The right hon. Gentleman said—["Divide, divide!"] He (Mr. Kimber) begged to move that the debate be now adjourned.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—[Mr. Kimler,]—put, and negatived.
§ Question put, "That these words be there inserted."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 183; Noes 211: Majority 28.403
|Abraham, W. (Glam.)||Chamberlain, rt. hn. J.|
|Abraham, W. (Limerick, W.)||Chamberlain, E.|
|Chance, P. A.|
|Allison, R. A.||Channing, F. A.|
|Arch, J.||Clancy, J. J.|
|Asher, A.||Clark, G. B.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. J. B.||Cobb, H. P.|
|Barbour, W. B.||Cobbold, F. T.|
|Beith, G.||Coleridge, hon. B.|
|Biggar, J. G.||Collings, J.|
|Blades, J. H.||Commins, A.|
|Blaine, A.||Compton, Lord W. G.|
|Blake, T.||Condon, T. J.|
|Bolton, J. C.||Connolly, L.|
|Bolton, T. H.||Conway, M.|
|Borlase, W. C.||Conybeare, C. A. V.|
|Brown, A. H.||Cook, E. E.|
|Brunner, J. T.||Cook, W.|
|Burt, T.||Coote, T.|
|Byrne, G.||Corbet, W. J.|
|Cameron, C.||Cossham, H.|
|Cameron, J. M.||Cox, J. R.|
|Campbell, H.||Cozens-Hardy, H. H.|
|Carew, J. L.||Craven, J.|
|Crawford, W.||Moulton, J. F.|
|Cremer, W. R.||Newnes, G.|
|Crilly, D.||Nolan, Colonel J. P.|
|Crompton, C.||Nolan, J.|
|Currie, Sir D.||O'Brien, J. F. X.|
|Dillon, J.||O'Brien, P. J.|
|Duckham, T.||O'Brien, W.|
|Duncan, D.||O'Connor, A.|
|Ellis, J.||O'Connor, J.|
|Esmonde, Sir T.||O'Connor, T. P.|
|Esslemont, P.||O'Doherty, J. E.|
|Farquharson, Dr. R.||O'Hea, P.|
|Fenwick, C.||O'Kelly, J.|
|Ferguson, J. E. J.||Parnell, C. S.|
|Finlayson, J.||Pickersgill, E. H.|
|Finucane, J.||Picton, J. A.|
|Fletcher, B.||Powell, W. R. H.|
|Flower, C.||Power, P. J.|
|Flynn, J. C.||Pulley, J.|
|Foley, P. J.||Pyne, J. D.|
|Forster, Sir C.||Redmond, J. E.|
|Foster, Dr. B.||Redmond, W. H. K.|
|Fox, F.||Reynolds, W. J.|
|Gibb, T. E.||Richardson, T.|
|Gilhooly, J.||Rigby, J.|
|Gill, H. J.||Roberts, J. (Cnrvn. E.)|
|Gill, T. P.||Roberts, J. (Flnt. Bgs.)|
|Gladstone, H. J.||Roe, T.|
|Gourley, E. T.||Rogers, J. E. T.|
|Gray, E. D.||Russell, E. R.|
|Grenfell, W. H.||Saunders, W.|
|Grey, Sir E.||Sexton, T.|
|Haldane, R. B.||Shaw, T.|
|Harker, W.||Sheehan, J. D.|
|Harrington, E.||Sheehy, D.|
|Harris, M.||Sheil, E.|
|Hayden, L. P.||Small, J. F.|
|Hayne, C. Seale-||Smith, W. B.|
|Healy, M.||Spencer, hon. C. R.|
|Healy, T. M.||Spensley, hon. H.|
|Hooper, J.||Spicer, H.|
|Hunter, W. A.||Stack, J.|
|Ince, H. B.||Stafford, Marquess of|
|Jacks, W.||Stevenson, F. S.|
|Jenkins, D. J.||Stuart, J.|
|Johns, J. W.||Sullivan, D.|
|Jordan, J.||Sullivan, T. D.|
|Kelly, B.||Sutherland, T.|
|Kenny, M. J.||Tanner, C. K.|
|Kitching, A. G.||Thomas, A.|
|Labouchere, H.||Tuite, J.|
|Lacaita, C. C.||Verney, Captain E. H.|
|Lalor, R.||Wason, E.|
|Lane, W. J.||Watson, T.|
|Lawson, H. L. W.||Watt, H.|
|Leahy, J.||Wayman, T.|
|Leamy, E.||West, Colonel W. C.|
|Leicester, J.||Westlake, J.|
|Macfarlane, D. H.||Will, J. S.|
|Maclean, F. W.||Williams, A. J.|
|M'Arthur, A.||Wilson, H. J.|
|M'Carthy, J.||Wilson, J. (Durham)|
|M'Carthy, J. H.||Wilson, J. (Edinbgh.)|
|M'Donald, P.||Winterbotham, A. B.|
|M'Kenna, Sir J. N.||Yeo, F.|
|Marum, E. M.|
|Mayne, T.||Balfour, Sir G.|
|Molloy, B. C.||Barclay, J. W.|
|Agg-Gardner, J. T.||Ellis, Sir J. W.|
|Ainslie, W. G.||Evelyn, W. J.|
|Allsopp, G.||Ewart, W.|
|Amherst, W. A. T.||Ewing, A. O.|
|Ashmead-Bartlett, E.||Feilden, Lt.-Gen. R. J.|
|Baden-Powell, G. S.||Fellowes, W. H.|
|Baggallay, E.||Fergusson, rt. hn. Sir J.|
|Baily, L. R.||Field, Captain E.|
|Balfour, rt. hon. A. J.||Finch, G. H.|
|Balfour, G. W.||Finch-Hatton, hon. M. E. G.|
|Bartley, G. C. T.|
|Barttelot, Sir W. B.||Fisher, W. H.|
|Bates, Sir E.||Fitzgerald, R. U. P.|
|Baumann, A. A.||Fletcher, Sir H.|
|Beach, right hon. Sir M. E. Hicks-||Folkestone, Viscount|
|Forwood, A. B.|
|Beadel, W. J.||Fowler, Sir R. N.|
|Beresford, Lord C. W. De la Poer||Fraser, General C. C.|
|Gardner, R. Richardson|
|Bigwood, J.||Gathorne-Hardy, hon. J. S.|
|Blaine, R. S.||Gent-Davis, R.|
|Blundell, Col. H. B. H.||Gibson, J. G.|
|Bonsor, H. C. O.||Giles, A.|
|Boord, T. W.||Goldsworthy, Major-General W. T.|
|Bourke, right hon. R.|
|Bridgeman, Col. hon. F. C.||Gorst, Sir J. E.|
|Goschen, rt. hon. G. J.|
|Bristowe, T. L.||Green, E.|
|Brodrick, hon. W. St. J. F.||Greenall, Sir G.|
|Gregory, G. B.|
|Brookfield, A. M.||Grimston, Viscount|
|Brooks, J.||Gunter, Col. R.|
|Burdett-Coutts, W. L. Ash.-B.||Hall, C.|
|Hallett, Colonel F. C. Hughes-|
|Campbell, Sir A.||Halsey, T. F.|
|Campbell, J. A.||Hamilton, Lord C. J.|
|Chaplin, rt. hon. H.||Hamilton, Lord E.|
|Charrington, S.||Hamilton, Lord F. S.|
|Coddington, W.||Hamilton, right hon. Lord G. F.|
|Cohen, L. L.|
|Commerell, Adml. Sir J.||Hamley, Gen. Sir E. B.|
|Hanbury, R. W.|
|Compton, F.||Hankey, F. A.|
|Cooke, C. W. R.||Hardcastle, E.|
|Coope, O. E.||Hard castle, F.|
|Corbett, A. C.||Hartington, Marq. of|
|Cotton, Capt. E. T. D.||Heaton, J. H.|
|Courtney, L. H.||Heneage, E.|
|Cranborne, Viscount||Hervey, Lord F.|
|Cross, rt. hon. Sir R. A.||Hickman, A.|
|Cross, H. S.||Hill, Lord A. W.|
|Cubitt, right hon. G.||Holland, rt. hon. Sir H. T.|
|Dawson, R.||Holmes, rt. hon. H.|
|De Cobain, E. S. W.||Hope, right hon. A. J. B. B.|
|Denison, E. W.|
|Denison, W. B.||Houldsworth, W. H.|
|De Worms, Baron H.||Howard, J.|
|Dimsdale, Baron R.||Howard, J. M.|
|Dixon-Hartland, F. D.||Hughes, Colonel E.|
|Duncan, Colonel F.||Hunt, F. S.|
|Duncombe, A.||Hunter, Sir G.|
|Dyke, rt. hn. Sir W. H.||Hutton, J. F.|
|Isaacs, L. H.|
|Edwardes-Moss, T. C.||Jackson, W. L.|
|Egerton, hn. A. J. F.||James, rt. hon. Sir H.|
|Egerton, hon. A. de T.||Jennings, L. J.|
|Johnston, W.||Powell, F. S.|
|Jones, P.||Price, Captain G. E.|
|Kay-Shuttleworth, Sir U. J.||Ritchie, C. T.|
|Robertson, J. P. B.|
|Kennaway, Sir J. H.||Rothschild, Baron F. J. de|
|Kenyon, hon. G. T.|
|Ker, R. W. B.||Round, J.|
|Kimber, H.||Russell, Sir G.|
|King, H. S.||Sandys, Lieut-Col. T. M.|
|Kinnear, J. B.|
|Knatchbull-Hugessen, hon. H. T.||Saunderson, Maj. E. J.|
|Sclater-Booth, rt. hn. G.|
|Lawrence, Sir T.||Selwin-Ibbetson, rt. hon. Sir H. J.|
|Lawrence, W. F.|
|Lethbridge, Sir R.||Seton-Karr, H.|
|Lewisham, Viscount||Sidebottom, W.|
|Llewellyn, E. H.||Sitwell, Sir G. R.|
|Lloyd, W.||Smith, A.|
|Long, W. H.||Smith, D.|
|Macartney, J. W. E.||Stanhope, rt. hon. E.|
|Macdonald, rt. hon. J. H. A.||Stanley, rt. hon. Col. F.|
|Stanley, E. J.|
|Maclean, J. M.||Stewart, M.|
|M'Calmont, Captain J.||Sturrock, P.|
|Manners, rt. hon. Lord J. J. R.||Talbot, J. G.|
|Temple, Sir R.|
|Marriott, rt hn. W. T.||Tipping, W.|
|Marton, Maj. G. B. H.||Tollemache, H. J.|
|Maxwell, Sir H. E.||Tomlinson, W. E. M.|
|Mills, C. W.||Trotter, H. J.|
|Morgan, hon. F.||Tyler, Sir H. W.|
|Mount, W. G.||Valentine, C. J.|
|Mowbray, rt. hon. Sir J. R.||Vincent, C. E. H.|
|Walsh, hon. A. H. J.|
|Mulholland, H. L.||Waring, Colonel T.|
|Murdoch, C. T.||Watson, J.|
|Norris, E. S.||Webster, Sir R. E.|
|Northcote, hon. H. S.||White, J. B.|
|Norton, R.||Whitley, E.|
|O'Neill, hon. R. T.||Winn, hon. R.|
|Paget, R. H.||Wodehouse, E. R.|
|Pearce, W.||Wortley, C. B. Stuart-|
|Pease, Sir J. W.||Wroughton, P.|
|Pease, A. E.||Yorke, J. R.|
|Pelly, Sir L.||Young, C. E. B.|
|Percy, Lord A. M.|
|Pilkington, G. A.||TELLEES.|
|Plunket, rt. hon. D. R.||Douglas, A. Akers-|
|Pomfret, W. P.||Walrond, Col. W. H.|
§ Main Question proposed.
§ Debate arising.
§ Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Jesse Callings,)—put, and agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till To-morrow.