§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Ritchie.)
§ MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Waldon)
Seeing that I have the honour of representing among my constituents a considerable number of agricultural labourers, I hope the House will excuse me if I trespass upon its indulgence for a very short time. In the first place, I would venture, in the name of my constituents, to congratulate the Government and the Conservative Party generally, on their conversion to the principle of compulsion and the substitution of the action of the State for the action of the individual, a principle which, it will be in the remembrance of the House, was bitterly denounced by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Parliament. If I may say so without presumption, and at the same time without any intention of recrimination, the bombardment of inconsistency between right hon. Gentlemen on both Front Benches, which we have been accustomed to during this Session as forming the whole of the artillery of right hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, has not affected the equanimity of thinking men in the constituencies. They might have been anxious sometimes about the consistency of right hon. Gentlemen on either Front Bench, but they have been much more anxious about the consistency of the measures before the House, affecting, as they do, their own interests. There is, however, one aspect of the inconsistency of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, which is important as regards the nature of the Bill, because if it be true, as it is asserted, that right hon. Gentlemen opposite are opposed in their hearts to the principle of compulsion in regard to these allotments, I can well understand the animus which has inspired the compulsory measure before the House, and why those compulsory clauses are so hedged in and fenced about as to be entirely useless for compulsory purposes. My 306 experience induces me to say that what the agricultural labourer really wants may be summed up under four heads. In the first place, he wants a piece of good land—that is to say, a piece of land which it is possible for him to cultivate, and not a piece of land rejected by everybody else and then given to him. In the second place, and this is a very important point, the labourer wants a piece of land near his cottage, wherever he happens to live. In the third place—and this is a point which has been specially urged upon me by the agricultural labourers with whom I have been in converse—he has a strong desire that the piece of land should be given to him at a fair rent; and, in the fourth place, he wishes to be able to obtain that piece of land by an easy means of compulsion, and not by the very difficult and laborious method laid down for him in the measure now before the House. With regard to the first point, that of good land, I know that it has been stated, especially among my own constituents, that there are at the present moment any number of acres of uncultivated land lying open ready for sale. That was one of the great arguments used by hon. Gentlemen opposite in the Election of 1885 against those of us who argued in favour of small holdings. But I would remind the House that this uncultivated land, especially in the Eastern Counties and in arable dis-stricts, is very often mere heathland which was broken up during the existence of the Corn Laws, when the price of corn was high, and which, now, under the depression in the price of corn, has become absolutely worthless. It is ridiculous to say that the agricultural labourer is to have land which has been rejected by everybody else. I now come to the much more important question put forward by the agricultural labourers—namely, the question of a fair rent. I would especially point out to the House, to borrow a form of expression usually attributed to hon. Members from Ireland, that an agricultural labourer, if he only pays the same rent as a farmer in the neighbourhood, is yet paying more than the farmer, because in the rent which the latter pays are included fencing and landlord's improvements, as well as a good dwelling-house, erected and kept up by the landlord. I come next to the 307 question of compulsion. With regard to compulsion, the principle is a most important one as regards all classes connected with land. If properly carried out, and not as proposed by this Bill, the principle of compulsion will be a benefit to the landlord as well as to the labourer. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite agree with, me in this, that at the present moment even reasonable landlords who wish to give allotments often find great difficulties in their way because a field which is near the labourer's cottage, and which it is desired to give as allotments, is attached to the farm of one of the principal tenants, who, objecting to have the field taken away from him, claims such high compensation that it is impossible to make the allotments. Therefore if there is a good principle of compulsion, it will assist the good landlord who is anxious to meet the wishes of his agricultural labourers, and it will also enable the labourers themselves to get what they want from a bad landlord. But these four points are by no means satisfactorily met by the provisions of the Bill. At the same time I am aware that there is undoubtedly a great necessity that no chance of possible benefit should be missed of giving to the agricultural labourer some relief in his present impoverished condition, and if a Division is taken, I do not propose to register my vote against the Bill, but I would earnestly entreat the Government to try, either by accepting Amendments from this side of the House, or proposing Amendments themselves, to make it a real measure, and not a sham. At present, we have before us a few sheets of well intentioned but useless printed matter, with a very good title put upon them, ably calculated to tickle the ears of such agricultural labourers as have not read the Bill.
§ MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
The debate last night was so short and so hurried that I feel that, as representing a constituency which is largely agricultural, I need not apologize to the House for wishing to say a few words upon this Bill. I do not think that the English agricultural labourers and artizans will feel much complimented at the manner in which the Bill has been introduced by the Government. I remember that last year we spent many nights in discussing the Bill relating to 308 the Crofters in Scotland. We all know what a great deal of time we have given up both this year and last to the interests of the Irish tenant farmers and labourers, and I wish therefore now on behalf of the English labourers and artizans to complain that the Government think so little of their welfare, that at the fag end of a long and arduous Session we are called upon to deal with a subject of this great importance without its being possible to give to it that consideration which it deserves. Sir, the Chancellor of the Exchequer complained last night that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt) had imported personal matters into the debate; but I thought that his consure would have been better applied to my hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), whose speech was very little more than a virulent personal attack upon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) and those who were his Colleagues in the last Liberal Government. I am aware that the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division has been going about the country and making speeches at ticket meetings—for he does not seem now to care about attending public meetings—in which he has accused the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian of having broken his pledges upon this question of allotments, and of having been guilty of the baseness of using the question merely to turn out the Tory Government last year, and then of abandoning it. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division said last night that the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian and the I right hon. Member for Derby took a great interest in allotments for the purpose of getting into Office; but that this interest ceased when that object had been attained, and that thenceforth they stopped helping forward the question. [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: Hear, hear!] My hon. Friend repeats that; but I will show the House that his attacks upon the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian are unjust, and that his charges against him are unfounded. What happened when the Tory Government were defeated in January, 1886? The Liberal Government came in with the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian at its head. Who were the Members of that Govern- 309 ment whose duty it was to deal with the subject of allotments? Of course, the Heads of the Local Government Board. Who were they? My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) was the President of the Local Government Board, and the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division was himself the Secretary to the Board. I challenge him now to say whether he can deny that he and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were engaged, with the full concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian and his Cabinet, in framing a measure for local self-government, in which the allotments question was to be dealt with upon a popular basis?
§ MR. COBB
That was your fault. I have the very best authority for what I say, and that authority is my hon. Friend himself. I remember that in February or March, 1886, I was one of a deputation which waited upon my hon. Friend at the Local Government Board, for the purpose of presenting him with an address from the Tysoe Allotments Association, one of the villages of which I have the honour to represent, thanking him—as indeed he deserved to be thanked—for what he had done for the good of the labourers. I was accompanied by the president of the Association, who presented the address. I remember that my hon. Friend received us with the courtesy and geniality which distinguish him, and he made us such a nice kindly speech, the last nice speech I think which I ever heard him make. That was before the Irish difficulty arose, and he told us how the Government of the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian were determined to help the agricultural labourer, and that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham would bring in a Local Government Bill, which would deal with allotments in a complete and popular manner. Unhappily, my hon. Friend was shortly afterwards unseated upon Petition, and the right hon. Member for West Birmingham resigned his place in the Cabinet. The second reading of my hon. Friend's Allotments Bill was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for the Ilkeston Division of Derby (Sir Walter 310 Foster), on March 31st, and on that occasion the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby (Sir William Harcourt), so far from ceasing to support the interests of the labourers, as is now alleged by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, made a vigorous speech in support of the Bill, in the course of which he used these words—In my opinion, a measure of this importance ought to be in the hands of the Government, and its principle ought to be, and will be, dealt with in any measure of local self-government which may be introduced by Her Majesty's Government."—(3 Hansard,  415.)I remember thinking at the time how similar his words were to those which were used by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division to the deputation at the Local Government Board. Upon the resignation of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Halifax (Mr. Stansfeld) took his place in the Cabinet. He entered Office on April 7th, and on the following day, April 8th, the right hon. Member for Mid Lothian brought in the Irish Home Rule Bill. I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House whether it can be fairly contended that there was any opportunity whatever for the Government, from that time until they were defeated in June, to bring in a Local Government Bill? Therefore I say that I have shown that the charges of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division against the late Liberal Government are absolutely groundless. My hon. Friend (Mr. Jesse Collings) seems to think that he is the only man who understands this question of allotments, and that no one else ought to presume to express an opinion; but I must remind him of what he seems to forget, that he has little opportunity of knowing at the present time what are the views of the classes who are principally interested in this question, the artizans in the towns, and the labourers in the villages; because since the Election of 1885, so far as I have been able to gather from the public Press, my hon. Friend has not mixed with those classes, but has spoken exclusively at ticket meetings. He said last night that the Leaders of our Party talked "blarney." What does he think of the Party opposite? I will give him the words of his right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham. The right hon. Gentle- 311 man (Mr. Chamberlain) speaking at the General Meeting of the Allotments Association last year, said—The Tories have lied upon this question with a vigour and a persistency and a unanimity which have almost elevated mendacity into the rank of a virtue.The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) complained last night that the right hon. Member for Derby accused the Government of having brought in this Bill, not because they took any genuine interest in the question, but from electioneering motives, and because the exigencies of the Tory Party demanded it. I believe myself that that accusation is well founded, and that we should never have seen this Bill at all if it had not been for the Spalding Election. The names on the back of the Bill furnish conclusive evidence of this. It is natural and proper that we should find the names of the President and Secretary of the Local Government Board. They are the Ministers who have matters of this kind to deal with; but there is a third name on the Bill, and that is the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War. What in the world has war got to do with allotments? Agricultural labourers and artizans are opposed to war. They are men of peace, They are exactly the opposite of the jingo classes. Why then should the Secretary of State for War put his name on the back of the Bill? I will tell the House. The right hon. Gentleman is the Member for the Horn-castle Division of Lincolnshire, and Horncastle is not very far from Spalding. Hence his desire to show his interest in allotments, and I am almost surprised that, when they were about it, the Government did not also put on the back of the Bill the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). Now, Sir, I am not going to detain the House by discussing the details of the Bill to night. I shall have opportunities of criticizing them when we get into Committee; but I will venture to say a few words as to the Local Authorities in whose hands the power of acquiring and the management of allotments ought to be placed, and I will trouble the House with short quotations from the speeches of two eminent politicians. The first is 312 one which I am sure will commend itself to my hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division. My right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, in the same speech to which I have already alluded, said that one of the main principles was that the responsibility of dealing with this question should be thrown upon local representative popular authorities elected by all the ratepayers and voted for under the protection of the ballot. I heartily agree with this, but I find nothing of the kind in this Bill. The other quotation is one which will, I think, find favour with hon. Gentleman opposite. It is from the speech which Lord Salisbury made at Newport in the autumn of 1885 — a speech which, like many others of his, has become historical. He was discussing local government, and he used what seemed to me a very happy expression in speaking of Local Authorities as governing—Not necessarily in the most scientific or most accurate fashion, but in a fashion which is liked by the people over whom they rule.That is all we ask for. But the two authorities to whom power is given by this Bill are neither of them liked by the people over whom they will have to rule. They are the Boards of Guardians and the County Magistrates. I hardly know which of these are the most disliked by the labourers and artizans, by the classes whom this Bill professes to benefit, but I should say the Guardians. In either case it is very much like putting the cat to take care of the milk, or the fox to guard the poultry yard. I believe myself that if there is one question more than another which it is essential should be dealt with locally and in small areas it is this question of allotments. How is this to be done? It is admitted, I believe, on all sides, that the existing authorities do not inspire confidence among the people, and therefore some other authority, of a more popular character, has to be looked for. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board spoke last night in a very disparaging way of any parish authority; but I think he will find that there is a very general concurrence among those who have given attention to the question of local government, that in any comprehensive scheme, the parish must be the unit, and although the right hon. Gentleman 313 seemed to ridicule the Parish Vestry, I believe myself that it is the best assembly in the parish for electing a body to deal with allotments and many other matters, such for instance as parish charities. I do not mean that the Vestry is satisfactory as it is at present constituted. There are many defects in its procedure, which is now uncertain and ill understood, and there is this great defect that the vestry has no continuous existence, and that at the close of one meeting it ceases to exist until another meeting is summoned. These defects want removing, so that the Vestry may be made a really popular assembly, with power to elect a representative parish authority, by ballot, and on the principle of one man one vote. I can tell hon. Gentleman opposite, that among the labouring classes there exists a strong feeling in favour of parishes managing their own affairs. I have some experience as to this. I speak confidently, and I challenge Conservative Members to read that portion of the Press which represents the views of those classes whom this Bill professes to benefit, and to judge if I am not right. I have myself a Bill before the House upon this subject. It is sat down upon the Order Paper to-night, and it has been down for second reading upon many other nights, but, except upon one occasion when they omitted by some mistake to do so, it has invariably been blocked by the Government Whips. [Laugther.] Yes, that shows whether there is any real wish on the part of the Government to treat this question in a popular way. It would be out of Order for me to discuss now the provisions of my Bill, and I am not going to do so, but I may perhaps say that my scheme is to place the power of acquiring, and of managing allotments, in the hands of Parish Committees, which would be corporate bodies, and would be elected freely by the ratepayers upon the popular principle of which I have spoken. The Bill of the Government makes a pretence of giving some sort of popular control by providing that local managers may be appointed, but by whom are they to be elected? Not by the people whose affairs they will have to manage, but by the Guardians, in whom the people have no confidence, and thus the only result of this sham provision would be that in every village there would be created 314 another Tory and Primrose League tyranny. I should have voted for the second reading of this Bill last night, if a Division had been taken, because I think it very important, not only as regards this question, but looking to other questions which may rise in the future, to commit any Government, and especially a Conservative Government, to the two principles which are contained in the Bill—namely, the principle of giving any Local Authority at all the power of acquiring land for a public purpose like this; and, secondly, the conferring of compulsory powers on such Local Authority of acquiring land from private individuals. But, Sir, when I consider whether this measure will, if passed, have, or is intended to have, any practical or useful effect, I cannot help remembering—and I beg the special attention of my hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division to this—the closing words of the impressive and eloquent speech which was made last year in this House by my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) upon the Amendment which proved fatal to the Tory Government. My right hon. Friend said—We have no confidence that the Government will either do justice to the agricultural labourer or to any other question with which they may be called upon to deal."—(3 Hansard,  517.]Things have changed since then. [Mr. JESSE COLLINGS: Hear, hear!] My hon. Friend cheers that remark, but it is not I who have changed. It is he and the select few with whom he acts. It would be affectation on my part if I were to pretend to believe that the right hon. Member for West Birmingham holds such opinions any longer, and especially when we find him praising The Times newspaper, which he formely so bitterly denounced, and pointing out the danger of tampering with judicial rents, although less than a year ago, he told us that there was no sanctity about them. But I hope that he does not expect us to change with him. I still hold the opinion which he so ably expressed in the words which I have quoted, and holding that opinion, and having carefully studied the Bill which we are now discussing, I believe that as it stands it would be absolutely useless, because it is not drawn upon popular lines. I am, I hope, in the habit of saying plainly 315 what I mean, and therefore I will confess that, if I could have had my way, I should have preferred, at this stage of the Bill, to have met it by a Resolution, expressing the principles upon which this important question ought to be dealt with upon a popular and representative basis. Hon. Friends of mine, with whom I am in the habit of acting, and who are far more competent than I am to judge what is the best, think otherwise, and therefore I offer no opposition to the present Motion to go into Committee; but personally I should have been quite prepared to take the consequences of any action for opposing the Bill, and I know that my constituents have confidence in me and would have supported me in that action. I believe that to amend this measure satisfactorily it would be necessary to strike out almost every word of it, and in fact to redraw it; but we shall have to do the best we can. I have already given Notice of a number of Amendments and, when I can find time, I propose to draw some more. They will be bonâ fide Amendments with a view to improving the Bill. If in consequence of the number of necessary Amendments which will be proposed by hon. Members, it should be found impossible to pass any Bill this Session, the fault will not rest with them, but with the Government, who, influenced not by principle but by fear, are attempting in such a hurried way and at this late period of the Session, to deal with this difficult question in such a rough and ready way. I thank the House for the attention which it has given to me and apologize for having taken up so much of its time.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
Hon. Members are acting oddly. They profess to welcome the Bill, and to approve the object of it. They then proceed to condemn it in every possible way, and to destroy it by their criticisms. It appears to me that when the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), and the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division of Derbyshire (Sir Walter Foster) spoke last night, the question of the size of the holding ran very much in their minds. The hon. Member for Bordesley has spoken a good deal, not only last night, but on other occasions, in reference to the supply of milk, and the advantages which agricultural la- 316 bourers would derive from the possession of a cow. Undoubtedly, if that could be brought about, and a cow could be purchased at a reasonable price, no greater boon than a good supply of milk could be given to poor families. But I fear that there are difficulties in the way of the attainment of that object by the means suggested by the hon. Member for Bordesley. The hon. Member appeared to be in favour of small holdings, and of small allotments for agricultural labourers, with a view of enabling them to supply the public with milk. Now, there may be room, in some agricultural districts, for one or two men in a parish who are hardworking and industrious; but any man so situated who is able to carry on the business of selling milk and working it profitably to himself must be very fortunate. There is certainly no room for more than two or three in a population of 400 or 500. At any rate, it would be a most risky business, and an enterprise the success of which would be extremely doubtful, unless the man who undertook it was backed up by some other means of obtaining a livelihood than are at the command of an ordinary agricultural labourer. A poor man who undertakes to sell milk must work very hard and have luck. In a time of drought, such as we are now having, or in a time when cattle plague happens to be rife, the losses which the milk producer would suffer would be very likely to leave him in a worse position than that which he occupied before he took to the business. In my own neighbourhood I have tried to carry into effect an object somewhat similar to that which the hon. Member for Bordesley has suggested, although not precisely in the same way. I made a proposition to my neighbours to keep for them cows with my own herd—I may mention that I am a cheese farmer myself. I offered to any labourer to keep his cow at a very low rent; but in no case was I able to carry out the experiment with success; and the difficulties I experienced may, I think, be interesting to the House, or to those who have not tried a similar experiment, or thought much about it. Many said to me—"No doubt what you suggest would be a great boon; but will you milk the cow for me? Are you willing to take it into your own dairy, and let me buy the milk from you?" I 317 said that that was not part of my scheme; whereupon they thanked me for my offer, but said they saw many objections to it, and the chief one of all was that the people had no time to milk the cows, had no place in which to keep the necessary utensils for making butter, and, lastly, that no member of the family could milk. Many hon. Members who have spoken on the subject evidently think that the art of milking a cow is the easiest possible thing. I can assure them that it is not so at all, and that many of the labourers in my neighbourhood would get far better employment if they were able to milk. A man must commence to milk when young, for it is impossible for him to take it up in his old age. Therefore, there are practical objections to this proposal. In regard to the small holdings, it is undoubtedly a fact that there are no better tenants than those who have small holdings. They are the best payers, their rents are generally ready when they are due, and, in my opinion, they do more good to the land than most of the big farmers; but still, there are objections which cannot be overcome. There is, in the first place, an objection to cutting up farms into holdings on leases and so forth. Then there is the practical objection that roads would have to be prepared to all these small holdings, and that buildings would have to be erected. In addition, if you are going to grant small holdings and not allotments you would be taking up the whole of the ground, and there would not be enough for everyone who applied for a holding. Whereas, with regard to allotments, every man who wants a quarter of an acre can, generally speaking, obtain it. There is another objection which I wish to point out to hon. Members who are in favour of small holdings, and that is, the objection of the Local Authority in regard to the renting and holding of the land. The hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rugby Division of Warwick (Mr. Cobb) said a great deal about the unpopularity of the Local Authority. Still, he must be aware that the Local Authority which will eventually have the granting of these holdings will be the County Authority that has not yet been formed.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
I should hope that, whatever Local Authority is to be selected under the Bill should be the County Authority.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
I think the Local Authority should not undertake the letting of land unless they are absolutely guaranteed in some way in regard to the rent. There most surely will be a great number of bad debts, all of which must otherwise fall upon the rates. I do not say that those who take the allotments will wilfully decline to pay rents. Far from it; but in a great number of cases the allotments will be let to the most needy in the parish, and the rent will not be secured. If the Local Authority takes the land and sub-lets it, they must make up their mind to have a certain number of bad debts. If they go in for small holdings they will have to increase the number of pieces of land which they have to rent or to buy for that purpose; they must employ a legal gentleman and also surveyors and other officers which will entail additional expense. There is one point in reference to small holdings which I hope the House will seriously consider before it enters into the consideration of the provisions of the Bill at all, and that is the encouragement it will give to labourers who embark in what they are really unfit to undertake. I think they are far better off with regular employment and fair wages and an allotment than they would be with a piece of ground which would take them half of each week to cultivate, while during the rest of the week they would have no time to attend to it at all. I know that no one is more horrified at the idea of being in debt than the agricultural labourer. If the House therefore encourages him to embark in an undertaking which he cannot profitably carry out they will be inflicting on that class not a boon, but a positive injury. There is only one other point I wish to bring before the House, and it has reference to the Compulsory Clauses of this measure. I have never been able to make up my mind to approve of compulsory powers with regard to the purchase of land for this 319 purpose. I believe, however, that they will be very rarely used. On that account, I am ready to record my vote in favour of the Bill. But if it is to be a question, in many cases, of the purchase of land for the requirements of a certain number of people in a parish, I think that many of those who now approve the principle of the measure may, before long, have cause for regret. I sincerely hope that the Bill will pass and become an Act of Parliament without delay this Session, and I believe that the benefits accruing from it to the people will not be merely so much money put into their pockets, but in other ways—in point of health, and the employment of their children, and in point of education for young agricultural labourers the benefits will be very great indeed.
§ MR. HALLEY STEWART (Lincolnshire, Spalding)
I venture to claim the indulgence of the House in rising to address it for the first time. I know, from the experience of others, that that indulgence is never withheld from one who first ventures to enter the arena of debate in this House. In the first place, I desire to state on behalf of those whom I represent, how cordially I welcome this Bill of the Government. I am not here to throw at right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite any charge for having swerved from their purpose, or having altered their convictions, such Party questions may be better discussed inside this House by those who are more accustomed to its proceedings than I am, but out of doors one can freely express his opinions on the subject. In my judgment there are two reasons which have forced the Government, and which would have forced any Government, whether it were reluctant or not, to deal with this allotment question. The first is the severe depression in agriculture, which any man who has an eye to see with must perceive makes it difficult for farmers and for those in the occupation of their own lands, to pay even the low rate of wages which the agricultural labourer now receives. There is an idea that the land is cultivated simply for the purpose of making rent, and that that is the main purpose of the occupation of the land. I think that is an altogether erroneous point of view from which to approach the consideration of the subject. The land is cultivated for the benefit of the commu- 320 nity. The labourer is the first charge on the land, he is bound to exist, and if he cannot exist in comfort on the land, we are bound to provide for him some means by which he can gain a livelihood by the occupation of a small patch of land. I see no reason why the labourer should not be able to supplement his wages to the extent of 50, 60, or 70 per cent by his skill and labour upon a small holding. I believe there is also another great cause which is operating in favour of the labourer besides agricultural depression, and that is the extension to him of the franchise and the consequent education he has received at the hands of the Press and of those who go into the agricultural districts to tell the labourers their views of the leading political questions of the day; so that now we have the double advantage of having men educated to know what their rights are and inspired with the desire to demand them and to use them rightly with such an intensity and spirit that no Party in this House can very long withhold what is believed to be a real, natural, and inherent right. In accepting this Bill—which I must cordially do—I hope I shall not be transgressing if I venture to criticize some of its leading provisions. But before doing so I trust that I may be allowed to put my finger on the one part of the Bill which gives all its value to me. I do not agree altogether with my hon. Friend the Member for the Rugby Division of Warwick (Mr. Cobb) in his references to the measures and the slight advantage it will be. Although in its provisions and immediate scope, there is not perhaps so much value in the Bill as I could have wished to see, yet, I believe it has in it a potentiality of wealth for the agricultural labourer which will bring him at least within easy reach of what he desires to obtain. The one point which gives it all its value is the word "compulsion," and notwithstanding the "soft impeachment" which has been directed against the measure by hon. Members on that account, I shall not shrink from avowing it as the one word I desired to see. I do not know that the word itself actually exists in the Bill, but its principle lies deep in the measure, and there can be no doubt as to its purport and intent. Although to get at that word we have to go through the arena 321 of the Sanitary Authority, the Quarter Sessions, the Local Government Board, and even Parliament itself; yet there it is. That is really all we desire because we see in it the recognition that the labourer is no longer to be indebted to the generosity of the landlord for the right to live. You give him the fundamental right of existence, and the right to enjoy the reward of his labour if he will only cultivate the land properly. This is what makes the Bill so welcome to me. I venture to challenge the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) when he said that in his view and in that of his supporters the voluntary method is more desirable. Certainly, it there is no other Member who prefers the compulsory method, I am ready to express my preference for it. It is because I desire to see this compulsory principle extended further and further that I welcome its inception in the Bill before the House, and shall vote for the measure to-night. I should like to see many faults in the Bill completely blotted out. I should like to see the procedure simplified, and the quantity of land extended. I would like to see the number of authorities called upon to deal with this question minimized; but above all things there stands the compulsory principle which we have claimed as a right for the labourer. If this Bill is passed, we shall be able to go to our constituencies and tell the agricultural labourer that he is no longer dependent on the goodwill of any man; but that he has an inherent right to his piece of land if it can be shown that there is land which he can cultivate. I wish that the Bill were not so halting and hesitating. I do not see why it should be made necessary to show that there is a general public demand for land in any particular neighbourhood. Why should we wait until there is a great demand? If there are only 10 men in a village who want it; if there are only five; nay, if there is only one, why should he not have it? Why wait for a great public demand? If a man has a right to his piece of land, as I maintain he has, then the right is inherent in any single individual, and the object of the Legislature should be to simplify, if it can, the method of giving the land to this single individual without the necessity for the employment of useless and 322 cumbrous machinery. I hope that before the Bill is passed many Amendments and improvements will be introduced into it in the direction I have indicated; and I believe that when passed it will be the commencement of a new era in agriculture. I trust the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board will not only allow allotments, but that he will be prepared to increase the size of the land allotted. I passed through some hundreds of allotments in the town of Nottingham only yesterday, and there I not only saw the allotted land, but the produce of it that would have done credit to highly skilled horticulturists. I believe that in Nottingham altogether there are 6,000 of these allotments, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not shrink from giving the freedom of erecting even a green-house or a vinery to the artizans of towns like Nottingham, where the existing allotments are made a considerable source of income. As I have said, this Bill when passed will be, I believe, the commencement of a new era in our agricultural life. It will give fresh hope to men who find subsistence a difficulty; it will help to get rid of the agricultural and commercial depression which now exists; it will lead to fresh demands being made upon the village shopkeeper, the city merchant, and the manufacturer; and in the end it will be found that Parliament has done more than is anticipated now for a return of prosperity to the country. I thank the House for the indulgence it has extended to me.
§ CAPTAIN COTTON (Cheshire, Wirral)
I wish the House were accustomed to listen to many more speeches from the Opposition Benches in the tone and temper of the speech which we have just listened to. We should then be able to conduct our debates not only with more pleasure to ourselves, but with a good deal more profit to the country. I am disposed to think, with regard to the discussion which has taken place to-night, that, as Lady Teazle told Joseph Surface, it would be quite as well to leave out of consideration all questions as to consistency. It strikes me that there have been a good many more instances of inconsistency on the other side, and upon far larger and more serious matters, than many on this side can be charged with and blamed for in having changed 323 our minds on the question of allotments. I frankly confess that during the Election of 1885 my mind steadily underwent a change, and that I became a convert to the system advocated by this Allotments Bill. In regard to dealing with English land, Cheshire stands high in the course the landlords have pursued towards the agricultural labourers. If other parts of the country were like Cheshire there would be no need for anything more than voluntary action, and there would be no necessity for the introduction of a Bill of this kind. I admit that in other counties there is a necessity for such a measure, and I venture to congratulate Her Majesty's Government on having brought it in. I am quite sure that hon. Members will not take it ill when I say that a great deal is owing in this matter to the exertions, for some years past, of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings). I hare no wish to detain the House with a second reading speech, but I would ask the Government to consider before we go into Committee whether, in view of some of the Amendments which have been put down, they cannot see their way to the extension in certain cases of the patch of land proposed to be given for allotments. Let me again refer to my own county of Cheshire. There we have an enormous number of these allotments, and in many cases they are of a sufficient size to enable the labourer to maintain a cow, and it is felt to be one of the greatest privileges a labourer can possess. On the estate of Lord Tollemache, which is well known for the privileges which the agricultural labourer possesses, in many instances he has a sufficient acreage to permit of his keeping a cow. Having quoted what Lord Tollemache does in respect of his property, perhaps I may be allowed to quote a case of my own. My own estate is a very small one, but nearly 60 per cent of the holdings on that estate are under three acres. I do not mean that the majority have enough land to enable them to keep a cow, but a very considerable minority have, and I am quite certain that no man, looking at the question from a rent receiver's point of view, need have any fear as to the return which a holding of three acres will provide him with. I am glad that everyone in the House—even the malcontents on the other side who profess to treat the 324 Bill as a sham—thoroughly welcomes it, and I trust that the Government will use every effort to pass it, and to make it law during the present Session.
§ MR. JARVIS (Lynn Regis)
As I have strong feelings for the welfare of the agricultural labourers, especially in the Eastern Counties, I hope the House will allow me to say a few words upon the Bill. I am glad to Cud that the measure has met with hearty approval from Members on both sides of the House, although, in some cases, that approval has beau rather tardily given. It is a measure in regard to which both political Parties may be said to have been pledged in the past. The only difference between the two Parties is this—that whereas the Liberal Government, which came into Office on the Motion of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) last year, failed to proceed with any legislation on the subject, it has now been left to the Conservative Government to bring in a measure which, I am sure, meets the approval of the agricultural labourers generally. I cannot help being reminded of the fact that had it not been for the action of some hon. Members on the other side of the House—and especially of one who is no longer a Member of this House—tho Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) would, in all probability, have passed into law last year. Mr. Arch no longer represents the North-West Division of Norfolk; but it was in consequence chiefly of the opposition of Mr. Arch that the right hon. Gentleman's measure was not passed into law. And his opposition to the Bill was, if I remember rightly, that it was an "insult to his class," and the insult to his class was, if I also remember rightly, contained in a clause copied verbatim from the Bill of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham, which Bill had upon the back of it the name of Mr. Arch himself. Well, Sir, the agricultural labourer of Norfolk was not unmindful of that fact; and when the General Election came the consequence was that Mr. Arch lost his seat, and my noble Friend who now sits for the North-Western Division of the county (Lord Henry Bentinck) reigns in his stead. Now, I think—and here I must disagree with the hon. Member for 325 the Spalding Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Halley Stewart), who has just spoken—that the demand for allotments should be met, if possible, in a voluntary manner. I think it has been proved by the figures submitted to Parliament by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board, that a great proportion of the landlords of England and Wales are of the same opinion as myself. The figures submitted to Parliament show that of the number of labourers who were estimated at the last Census, nearly one-half are already provided voluntarily with allotments; but in the Eastern Counties — those which are essentially agricultural, comprising Norfolk, Suffolk. Cambridge, Lincoln, and Huntingdon—only two-fifths of the labourers are provided for. It is, therefore, certain that the Iabourers of the Eastern Counties will hail with satisfaction the proposals of Her Majesty's Government. I am quite satisfied that the passing of this measure will greatly stimulate the voluntary effort. It will give the Local Authority the power of compelling the landlords to provide allotments if they refuse to comply with the demand for them. I am not aware that any such case has already happenned, but I am satisfied that the mere passing of this measure into law will necessarily make the landlords of England and Wales grant these allotments without there being any necessity to have recourse to the compulsory powers of the Bill. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone), in a speech which he made on the 29th of last month, tried to throw cold water on the scheme by insinuating that the County Magistrates are the last people in the world to whom the agricultural labourers can look for support in the matter. With all respect, entirely differ from the right hon. Gentleman. I think that the County Magistrates, both as private individuals and also when assembled in Quarter Sessions, have always shown that they are ready and willing to promote the interests of the agricultural labourers, as well as those of all other classes of Her Majesty's subjects; and I think that, should, any case be brought before them as the County Authority under the Bill which the Local Authority are not able to deal with, it will be found that the matter will be dealt with in 326 that same able and business-like manner in which all other business of the County Magistrates is transacted. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Mid Lothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) has adopted his old cry of "the classes and the masses," but I would tell the right hon. Gentleman that in the Eastern Counties, at any rate, the classes and the masses have arrived at the knowledge of the fact that what is for the benefit of the one is equally for the benefit of the other. I think that any attempt to stir up class jealousy in the Eastern Counties will meet with the contempt which it deserves. With regard to the size of allotments, I think that the Government have exercised a very wise discretion in limiting it to one acre, for it cannot be too strongly impressed upon the agricultural labourers that an allotment should be supplementary to, and not a substitute for, their weekly wages. I think it would be wise on their part if the application were for one or two roods rather than for the full limit under the Act. I have had a certain experience of this allotment question myself, and I have always found that when the matter has been put clearly, fairly, and straightforwardly before the agricultural labourers, free from any agitation, and apart from any political feeling—when, in fact, they have been asked to think out the question for themselves — they have come to the conclusion that one or two roods were as much as they could work at a profit, in addition to giving satisfaction to their employers. I think that the great point in regard to the rent of allotments is that the Local Authorities should take care that it should only be the agricultural rent of the particular district in which the allotment is situated. It seems to me a good arrangement that all the outgoings should be included in the rent—such, for instance, as tithes, rates, and taxes—rather than that they should be collected in small sums from each individual occupier. I do not wish to detain the House any further on these matters. I am much obliged to the House for having listened to the few remarks that I thought it my duty to make, and I only hope that the Bill will quickly pass into law this Session, because I am perfectly certain that it will prove a great benefit to all the agricultural labourers in England, 327 and especially those in whom I am chiefly interested—that is to say, the labourers in the Eastern Counties,
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
I am delighted to find that, not withstanding difference of opinion as to some of the details of the Bill, we are agreed in all parts of the House as to the importance of the subject we have to deal with. I confess that I think it is a most important matter for the agricultural labourer himself. We are all agreed that the condition of our agricultural labourers in England has been one of the great blots in our social and political life. I forget who it was who once said that "an agricultural labourer's life was on an inclined plane, with the workhouse at the bottom." Whether we hold that extreme view or not, I am certain that we are all agreed that everything we can do to raise the condition of this important section of the community will be to the benefit of the nation to which we belong, and to all parties in this House. Not merely from the point of view of the agricultural labourer, but from the point of view of the nation itself, I think there is no more important problem to solve than how to get more out of the soil on which we live than we do at present. I hold the belief very strongly that the soil of the country is not producing anything like the amount of food for the people which it should be made to produce, and I hail this Bill because I think it will help to produce much better results from the soil than have been produced hitherto. I think it will add to the national wealth by enabling better provision to be made for the national wants. So long as we buy more than half our food from abroad there is this great problem to deal with, and I hold that those who are helping to bring more produce from the soil are helping to render this country greater than it has been in the past. While I am grateful to those who bring us sustenance from abroad, I shall be still more grateful to those who help us more and more to grow what we require at home. I certainly think that this Bill giving small allotments to men able and willing to cultivate them will help to solve that problem. An important point to me is that the Bill, though in a somewhat halting manner, recognizes the right which the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Spalding Division of 328 Lincolnshire (Mr. Halley Stewart) referred to with great skill and power just now—the principle that everyone who is born into this world has a right to live. I remember that when that statement was once made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) it was very much ridiculed; but you may depend on it that the longer we live the more we shall have to recognize that principle. When mouths are sent into the world they are intended to be fed, and whatever obstacles there may be in the way, the present and future generations will have to help to remove them. I am not one of those who wish to join in the rebukes of either one side of the House or the other as to the position in which we stand, and the inconsistency of individuals. I think the less said about inconsistency the better; and I do not say that in any bantering spirit. I believe the opinion of the nation is firm on this subject, however our public men may bandy accusations of inconsistency from one side to the other. That hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House did not see their way to entering upon a principle the necessity for which was so evident to us the Division List on the Motion of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) will show. There were very few on the other side of the way who supported that Motion, and that shows that many hon. Gentlemen on that side did not hold the opinions they do now. [Cries of "No, no!"] Then, at any rate, they did not vote as they are going to vote now. I will not taunt them with having changed their opinions, because I am pleased with what they have done. I think the thing we are aiming at now is so important that we may well forget these matters, and all join together in an attempt to give effect to the great principle we have in view. One of the great defects of our social and economic system has been to unduly divorce the people from the soil. The more that defect can be eradicated and the more people can be joined to the soil, the more stable will be our future. I hear with great regret that there are large tracts of land in the country which are going out of cultivation. That is a state of things that we ought never to permit. With a limited area such as ours, and a large and in- 329 creasing population, it is essential to us that the most should be made out of the land in the way of cultivation. I go across land every week within a few miles of London, which is not producing £10 in produce per acre in the year. And yet here are 10,000,000 mouths to be fed. I say it is a disgrace not to utilize the soil for that purpose. We are too much dependent on the foreigner for our food, and we should make greater efforts to grow wheat we require for our sustenance at home. I notice with very great regret the decimation of our village life. I look upon it as one of the darkest features of our present position that our village life is dying out. I want our village life to be revived, and I think that in this Bill we have the means by which that can be done. There are features in our village life we ought not to let die out, and I venture to hope that we shall all continue to give effect, so far as we can, to the resuscitation of that village life, and to help to build up what has been one of the great elements of our strength in the past—the village life of our country. If I were asked to suggest what is the real cause of this Bill, I should say I think the hon. Gentleman who spoke just now hit the right nail on the head. However much some hon. Members may desire to conceal it, the fact still remains that the cause of this Bill is the extension of the franchise. The agricultural labourer has a vote, and because he has a vote we find out that he has wants. I trace back, therefore, to the extension of the franchise the great blessing which I believe will grow out of giving to the labouring portion of our agricultural population the right to occupy and to cultivate a portion of the soil for their own advantage and the advantage of the State. When I come to speak of the Bill itself, I cannot express the same approval of its details as I do of its principle. There are some of the details which not only should be amended, but which are of such a character that unless they are amended the value of the measure will be destroyed. I cannot approve of the principle of having the Bill set in motion by Boards of Guardians. The idea of administration by the Boards of Guardians leads up to the idea of pauperism. Nothing so weakens a nation as the fact, or even the idea, that they have to de- 330 pend on somebody else more than themselves for the supply of their necessities. Anything which will tend to pauperize the people, or tend to give them the idea that they are being pauperized, will tend to decrease the national strength. Well, the idea of requiring the agricultural labourer to go to the Board of Guardians for the purpose of getting land seems to me to be absurd. And as to appealing to the Quarter Sessions, that is worse still; you might as well consult the cat as to how the mice are to be sustained as to expect the Quarter Sessions to regard with anything like generosity the principle on which this Bill is to be carried out. If you wish to make the Bill effective, then create a machinery for carrying it out in which the people can have confidence. They have no confidence in the Boards of Guardians nor in the Quarter Sessions, and they have good reasons for not having it. If you want to make it effectual, you must take care that the rents charged for the allotments are not too high. If you allow anyone to charge a higher rent than the farmers pay in the neighbourhood of the allotments, you are doing what is unjust, and what will destroy the object of the Bill. I believe, moreover, that you should not confine the Bill to one acre, but that you should provide that au agricultural labourer may have even three acres if he can till it, and a cow into the bargain if he can get it. I believe that if this Bill passes the Session will not have been thrown away. I have often gone home from this House with a heavy heart, feeling that to bring 670 men together simply to discuss coercion does not tend to our national greatness; therefore it is that I should like to close the Session with a Bill which will bring comfort, happiness, and prosperity to many a home which is now disgraced by poverty—[Laughter]—I should not have referred, but for that laugh, to one remark made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin). Sitting here last year, and hearing him speak on the proposal of the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham, I remember his saying with that power which he can put into his arguments, and with that weight he can give by his appearance to his arguments, "The voice is the voice of Jesse, but the hand 331 is the hand of Joseph." I am glad that the voice and the hand, whoever owns them, have got hold of the present Government, and are holding them with a grip which I hope will bring them through this piece of legislation which I feel sure will tend to the happiness of the country. I think that future generations will have to thank this House and this Government for having given them a right too long withheld — the right of bringing people directly and personally into contact with the soil of the country.
§ VISCOUNT GRIMSTON (Herts, St. Alban's)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bristol (Mr. Handel Cossham) on having discovered a gold mine, and if he will kindly state what is the method by which, with wheat at 34s. a-quarter, £10 an acre per annum can be extracted out of the land, I am sure he will be doing the whole community an inestimable benefit. I have noticed that the speeches made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House have betrayed a certain feeling of disappointment, and I am not astonished at it, for when the golden opportunity has been passed by, it is not unusual for those who have seen it pass to feel some soreness at seeing others take advantage of it when it presents itself to them. I hope the Government will strive to carry this Bill through. I am perfectly sure that if they do they will not only receive the support of this House and the country, but that they will be doing a great benefit to agriculture and to the labourers of England. There are one or two points in the details of the Bill that I wish to call attention to. I shall detain the House for a very short time; but I do hope the Government will be able to see their way to making some modifications in the Bill in the directions I will point out. One point is that brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) with regard to notice being given to landowners. I trust that the Government will see their way to introduce some clause or provision in the measure requiring notice to be given to landowners who, perhaps, may not know of the desire that exists for the possession of land, in order that they may not have the principle of com- 332 pulsion applied against them. Then there was a question referred to a short time ago by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bethnal Green. He was speaking of the rates charged by landlords for land let to labourers, when land could be got by farmers in the same neighbourhood at a much lower rate. He did me the honour to quote the name of my father in speaking as he did of Lord Onslow's charge for allotments. He quoted my father as charging a higher rate for land let as allotments than he charged to farmers in the same locality. The hon. Member did not, perhaps, know that, though technically the land is let at a higher rate, yet that ' the land is worth £300 an acre, and that: my father pays the tithes and rates and I taxes. If he had known this, he might not have been surprised at the rent being a little bit higher than that charged for purely agricultural land. I think that this is generally the case with regard to all such land. Land of this character is often accommodation land in the near neighbourhood of towns, and the landlords are compelled to charge slightly higher rates in order to cover the expenses of the property. There is one point in Clause C that, I think, might possibly be altered. I see there that not more than a quarter's rent shall be required to be paid in advance. That will require a great deal of collection, which will have to be done once a quarter, and perhaps more frequently, which is a matter that, I think, will cause great expense. I do not object to it as a principle; but I think no hard-and-fast rule should be laid down, as it may probably cause harm to the labourer instead of good. I also think the Government would do well to consider favourably the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire, and provide that tenants of allotments should have permission to erect toolhouses and pigstyes. I will not consume the time of the House by commenting at any length upon these points, which, however, are very important ones. I will conclude by saying that I feel the labourers of England, and the landowners themselves—who are shrewd enough to understand that the measure will not hurt them—will believe that the Bill is for the benefit of the country, and will do good to those 333 who wish to obtain honest employment, without doing harm either to landlord, farmer, or labourer.
§ SIR JOHN SWINBURNE (Staffordshire, Lichfield)
Looking through this Bill, I must say it puts me very much in mind of the Agricultural Holdings Bill brought in by Lord Beaconsfield when Head of the Government. It was a very good Bill in name; but hon. Gentlemen will remember that, like the scorpion, it carried a sting in its tail, for the last clause provided that landed proprietors could contract themselves out of it. I did so myself, following the example of Her Majesty's Department of Woods and Forests. This Bill is so framed that if anyone were to try to work it out in a practical manner, it would be found to show the way how not to do it. We have to apply to the ex officio Guardians; in case of appeal we have to apply to the same persons who are magistrates at Quarter Sessions. Then we have several hon. Members opposite saying that one acre is far too much, or, at all events, one hon. Member said it was quite sufficient. The whole principle of the Bill, as I understand it, is not to take land on which an agricultural labourer is to do spade work, but it is to enable them to keep a cow, so that they and their families may have daily milk. In the North of England every agricultural labourer has a cow, or else he shares the milk of his neighbour's cow; but I was astonished to find in the Midland Districts, on going through the country, that there was a total absence of milk in the food of the labouring people. It is well known how injurious it is to bring up children without milk; and yet we are told that one acre is too much, and in the opinion of some hon. Members that it is quite enough. Now I beg leave to point out to the House that it is not sufficient. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) ever kept a cow, but if he did he would know that at least six acres of land, unless it is very good land, is necessary for the purpose. Grass does not grow all the year round; it is only a six months' growth, and part of the land must be set aside to provide hay for the winter; and we know, besides, that it is a standing covenant in leases that the farmers are not allowed to sell hay, and 334 that they are obliged to consume it upon the farm they rent. The practical result of limiting the land to one acre will be to render it impossible to work out the object in view. I venture to suggest to the House that, instead of the County Authorities with the complicated machinery connected with them, the County Court Judge, assisted by a practical assessor, should value the land and say what is a fair rent and a fair value for it. Most people have considerable confidence in the County Court Judges; they are open to criticism in the Press, their Courts are open; and they will, as it is well known, weigh the circumstances brought before them in an impartial manner, because their appointments do not rest upon fear or favour, and they hold them, as a rule, for a long period. I hope we may get this Bill, so to speak, disembowelled, and that the Government will see their way to accept the Amendments put down on the Paper, so that this Bill may effect a practical reform and make it really a boon to the agricultural classes throughout England.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE) (Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
I am glad that the Government have been enabled to arrange that the discussion on this Bill, which commenced last night, should be continued this evening. We have no reason to complain of the tone which the discussion has taken. A great many valuable observations have been made, which will undoubtedly receive, as they deserve, the consideration of the Government. I can assure the House that we welcome any assistance which, while adhering to the principle of the Bill, will carry out more effectually the object in view—that is, the obtaining of allotments by agricultural or other labourers throughout the land who may stand in need of them. It will not be necessary for me to detain the House for more than a few minutes, as most of the points which have been alluded to to-night have been already dealt with in the course of the discussion which took place yesterday. But there are one or two points on which I desire to say a few words. We have had to-night two speeches, one from the hon. Member for the Rugby Division of Warwick (Mr. Cobb),and the other from the hon. Member for the Spalding Division of Lincoln- 335 shire (Mr. Halley Stewart), to which I wish to refer. With regard to the speech of the hon. Member for the Spalding Division of Lincolnshire, I hope he will allow me to congratulate him upon it, and upon the arguments which he has used with reference to this Bill; and although I would very much prefer the hon. Member to sit in another quarter of the House, yet I hope that the fact of his sitting opposite will not prevent my doing justice to the extremely moderate manner in which the hon. Gentleman has dealt with the Bill before us. The hon. Member, unlike the hon. Member for Rugby, on whose speech I shall have to make a few remarks presently, confined the whole of his speech to the Bill, and, while acknowledging that there were certain points in it which he desired to see amended, he was not prevented from giving credit to the Government for what he evidently believes to be an honest effort on our part to provide allotments which we think necessary and desirable for the labouring classes. The hon. Gentleman gave as one of the reasons for the Government dealing with this question the agricultural depression which exists at the present time. No doubt, that is a matter which must in a country like this always be one of anxious consideration for every Government. Never more than at the present time was the question of agriculture deserving of greater attention, and if the proposal we make in the Bill is the means of giving a larger amount of employment to and attaching more closely to the soil the agricultural labourers, at the same time keeping them in the country rather than as at present going in such numbers into our towns, we believe that it will be highly a useful und valuable measure. The hon. Gentleman spoke about the machinery of the Bill; and he asked why is it necessary to proceed through the Sanitary Authority, Quarter Sessions, and Local Government Board? He spoke also specially with reference to the Board of Guardians, saying that it was in some measure degrading to apply to the body having the administration of the Poor Law for the purpose of obtaining allotments. I do not say that the Board of Guardians are my beau-ideal of the authority which ought to deal with this question. All that I have contended for is that having regard to the 336 circumstances of the case, and after looking for other authorities who might possibly be availed of, I am of opinion that they are the best means to our hands in the rural parts of the country. I admit that if we were able to set up some machinery for the purpose of carrying out this Bill, we should considerably alter the means of which we avail ourselves at the present time, and we have never disguised our belief that if we could along with this measure have introduced our Local Government Bill, by which we hoped to make considerable amendment in the matter of allotments throughout the country, it would have been much better and more desirable. But we were very unwilling that this present Bill should be delayed until we had time to deal with the larger question; and, therefore, we thought it better to avail ourselves in the manner we have of this machinery, hoping in due time to set up authorities to which the House and the country will take no exception whatever. With reference to the Boards of Guardians I will point out that, although it happens that the Boards of Guardians would act in this matter, it is not in the capacity of Guardians of the Poor that they are employed in connection with the present Bill; it is as Rural Sanitary Authorities only; and in charging the Rural Sanitary Authorities with this duty at present, we are not at all attaching the stigma which it is said will result from application to the Guardians; for if there be one thing which I maintain to be more necessary than another, it is to separate the action of the Bill from anything which would make it appear that the rates were to be brought in aid of this measure. I am sure that if these allotments are to be a success they must be self-supported and not dependent on the rates, and there is no evidence before me to show that there will be the smallest difficulty in providing at a reasonable rent allotments for all those who are desirous of having them, without the rates being chargeable in any way whatever. Therefore, I hope hon. Members will displace from their minds the idea that the Poor Law Guardians as a body are charged with the administration of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman asks if we would substitute the Local Board for the Quarter Sessions. The Quarter Sessions have been 337 alluded to more than once to-night. I pointed out last evening that it was desirable, in view of setting up the future County Authority, to take the County Authority which already exists—namely, the Quarter Sessions; but to that we attach no importance whatever, and I assure the House that we are prepared to substitute for the Quarter Sessions the Local Government Board. With regard to the observation that the machinery of the Bill is complicated, I may point out that whether it be complicated or not this machinery is only put in force when land is to be purchased compulsorily. But I believe the land will be purchased without compulsion at all. I believe that the existence of the power in the Bill will itself prevent that power being used, and therefore I am of opinion that in 99 cases out of a 100 this machinery, whether complicated or not, will be unnecessary; and, further, looking to the fact that when land is acquired voluntarily no other authority is invoked except the Sanitary Authority, hon. Members will see that it may be anticipated that the machinery to which exception has been taken may not be necessary at all, and that the whole matter will be in the hands of the Sanitary Authority, both in rural and urban districts. But supposing that compulsion were necessary and the complicated machinery referred to, it has not been found in connection with other matters in which land is compulsorily acquired that any difficulty is experienced. As I told the House last night, out of 110 appeals presented to Parliament during the last five years by the Local Government Board 108 have been unopposed; there has been no opposition, no expense, and no trouble whatever. But where compulsion is necessary it will not be that compulsion will be brought into play for the purpose of each particular allotment, as some hon. Members seem to suppose. The hon. Gentleman has asked whether all this machinery will be set in motion. Certainly not. The Local Authorities, if they have reason to believe that there is a demand for allotments in their neighbourhood, will apply for and obtain at one operation the whole of the land which may be necessary to supply the demand, so that I believe, whether you look upon this as a voluntary question or whether you regard it in connection 338 with cases where compulsory powers are necessary, the machinery will be found to be simple, effective, and speedy in its operation. I have now to say a word or two on the speech of the hon. Member for the Rugby Division of Warwick (Mr. Cobb). The hon. Member has undoubtedly for a considerable time taken a very great amount of interest in this question of allotments, and I am bound to say that I was somewhat disappointed at the tone which the hon. Member adopted towards the Bill. It is quite true he told us he would not vote against the Bill.
§ MR. RITCHIE
The hon. Member said he would vote for the Bill; but in the same breath he clearly showed that although he would not like to place himself in the position of voting against the Bill or abstaining from voting, he would exercise the whole of his ingenuity in preparing such volumes of Amendments as would practically destroy it.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I do not think that is quite what the hon. Member said. I have here that he had put down many Amendments, and that he intended to put down many more when he got time. I am not sure that the hon. Member did not go the length of saying that he hoped the Bill would not pass.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I am quite aware that the hon. Member said that; and he also said what I have on my note. To my mind the whole tone of the hon. Member's speech went to show that he was thinking much less of the good which the labourers were to derive from the Bill than of the means by which he could throw discredit on the measure. At any rate, the hon. Gentleman cannot deny that, although he said that the labourers had not been paid any compliment by the Government giving so short a time for the discussion of mat- 339 ters in which they were interested, he devoted certainly three-fourths of his speech to matters altogether outside the Bill. He devoted three-fourths of the time during which he addressed the House to recrimination and taunts addressed to hon. Gentlemen on his own side and others for the action they have thought it necessary to take. I should have thought if he had been so extremely anxious to save the time of the House, and so anxious to advance the cause which, he professes to have at heart, he would have devoted himself to practical remarks on the Bill, with the object of assisting the Government in passing it in an improved form, and making such suggestions to the Government as would carry out his wishes; but, instead of that, I maintain that his desire was to throw discredit on the Government for not bringing in a measure which went more thoroughly on the lines which he might choose to approve. Well, Sir, I have no doubt that it is very aggravating to hon. Gentlemen opposite that the present Government should have the settlement of this question. I have no doubt that they would prefer that this matter should stand over to the Greek Kalends rather than that the present Government should deal with it. But we are not going to be intimidated even by the swarms of Amendments the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Rugby Division of Warwick has proposed and contemplates proposing.
§ MR. RITCHIE
I withdraw the word "swarms," but adhere to what I have said previously. The hon. Gentleman alluded to the Paper of Amendments. I have looked through the Amendments, and I find that the hon. Gentleman has certainly embodied in his Amendments matters which I should have thought would have been sufficient for a separate Act of Parliament in themselves. Well, as I have said, notwithstanding the evident intention of endeavouring to smother this Bill by Amendments at this time of the year, the Government do not intend to be intimidated, but to make the best efforts they can to pass 340 the Bill into law this Session. One very curious statement the hon. Gentleman made, among the many curious statements made in the course of this debate. He said that if one thing showed more clearly than another that this Bill was introduced for electioneering purposes, it was the names which are on the back of it. Then he said I had some little claim to put my name on the back of the Bill, and he also acknowledged that the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long) might also have some claim to do that; but, in his opinion, it was simply monstrous that the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War (Mr. E. Stanhope) should appear on the back of the Bill, and that clearly showed, to his mind, what the object of the Government was. It was not to advance the cause of the labourers by giving them allotments, but to influence elections. Now, as to the appearance of the name of my right hon. Friend (Mr. E. Stanhope) on the back of the Bill, let me say that the right hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in allotments probably for a longer period than the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rugby, and I have a recollection that my right hon. Friend served upon a Royal Commission in connection with. The employment of women and children in agriculture, and that he, as a Sub-Commissioner, made one of the most valuable Reports upon the very question which the hon. Gentleman expresses so much interest about, the provision of grass land for the purpose of obtaining milk for the labouring classes. I must say that I think the hon. Gentleman was driven very hard indeed when he had to advance that as a reason to show that the action of the Government is not an honest one, but an electioneering one. Now, Sir, several of my hon. Friends have made various suggestions to the Government in connection with buildings and other matters of detail, of which I have taken careful note, and will give careful consideration to. I have already stated that in connection with buildings I will take care that Amendments are introduced which will remedy the defect in the Bill which has been pointed out. I think I have now touched upon most of the suggestions and criticisms which have been made to-night, I do not 341 propose to trouble the House further on the subject, having so recently addressed them upon it, but I have again to say that the Government greatly appreciate many of the speeches which have been made from both sides of the House, and warmly welcome the promises which have been made by many hon. Gentlemen to whom they are politically opposed that they will render to the Government every assistance in their power in order to enable them to carry this Bill through with Amendments in the course of the present Session, and at once place within the reach of the labouring classes of this country allotments, which I believe will be fraught with great benefit to themselves and with great benefit to the community.
§ MR. ROUND (Essex, N.E., Harwich)
I do not rise to prolong the debate unnecessarily, although I should have been glad of having an opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, earlier in the evening. I am sure that at this time of the night the House is satisfied with the discussion which has taken place, and that they would now like to go into Committee. But, as the subject is of great interest to the agricultural constituency which I have the honour to represent, and as the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Saffron Walden Division of Essex (Mr. H Gardner), who spoke from the opposite Benches earlier in the evening, and who represents the labourers of that constituency, which I had the honour of representing before the passing of the last Reform Bill, expressed the opinion that this Bill was a sham, I should be sorry that such an opinion of the Bill should go forth to the labourers of North Essex without contradiction by one who, at all events, from the bottom of his heart believes that this Bill is not a sham, and will not be a sham, but will be productive of very great benefits to those labourers whom the hon. Gentleman now represents. I will not continue the debate further, because I know the House does not wish for second reading speeches at this period of the evening (12.45); but I do most heartily trust that the Government will do all in their power to bring this Bill to a conclusion. I desire to ask the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) when he proposes to take the Committee stage? I trust he will take that stage as early as possible.
§ MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
I do not wish to occupy the attention of the House for more than a couple of minutes. I simply desire to say that I believe the agricultural labourers are perfectly satisfied with the Bill as it stands, more particularly as the Government have had the courage to affirm the principle of compulsion. Without that principle I do not think the Bill would have been worth the paper it is printed upon. One word with reference to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst). The hon. Gentleman said some very hard things about the Court of Quarter Sessions, and, although he admitted he did not know much about it, he said that the object of the Court of Quarter Sessions was to prevent labourers having allotments. If the hon. Gentleman had been here, I should have referred him to the fact that this time last year a Return was issued, from which it appeared that something like 650,000 allotments were held among the 800,000 agricultural labourers in the country, and that this fact is owing to the action I of the Courts of Quarter Sessions, which the hon. Member for West Nottingham holds up to derision and contempt. Any further remarks that I have to make I will reserve until the Bill gets into Committee.
§ Question put, and agreed, to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Short title).
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.