§ question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ MR. GRAY
said, he had been speaking of a question relating to corn growing, which seemed to him to be one of the most important questions of the day. He did not think it would be well for 475 this country to change its system of agriculture in such a way as to make us more dependent on the foreigner for the necessities of life than we were at the present time. The hon. Member for West Nottingham seemed to think that it was entirely the fault of the British farmer that he was not able to compete with the foreigner in the production of cheese, eggs, and butter. Perhaps, if they followed up that question very closely, they might find sufficient reasons for that being the case; but it would necessitate his trespassing for too long a time upon the patience of the House that afternoon to go closely into that part of the subject. He would merely say that it was quite possible that foreigners who send that class of agricultural production were able to get a certain amount of profit out of their other agricultural productions. If he could make a profit out of wheat growing or out of barley, he could afford to sell cheese, butter, and eggs at a cheaper price than he could if he were not getting a profit out of these articles. A great deal of wheat growing land in England was entirely unsuitable to the production of either cheese or butter. Here was an error in which people who knew very little about the practical work of agriculture very often fell into. Many hon. Members thought that all agriculturists had to do—if wheat growing did not pay—was to just lay down the barren land in grass. Now, it would not always be possible to do anything of that kind. There were tracts of land under the plough which would do very well under grass no doubt; but, speaking generally, much of the wheat growing land of England would only produce—farm it how they might—a poor description of grass. Therefore, in a large portion of the grain-growing parts of England it was not practicable for labourers to undertake the cultivation of the soil in the expectation of making a profit out of cheese and butter. Again, everyone who knew anything about the matter knew very well that grass land hardly employed one labourer per acre, where arable land used to employ three. He would put it roughly in that proportion that arable land well farmed would employ at least three times as many labourers as grass land. Some hon. Members complained—and he thought, com- 476 plained with very good grounds indeed—of the immense number of the inhabitants of our rural districts who were invading our large towns, and competing with our artizans and operatives there. Well, but if we laid down the land in grass, and followed out the recommendations of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham—whom he was sorry to see was not in his place just now, for he did not wish to refer to anything he had said unfairly—he was certain that a far less number of labourers would be employed n agricultural work than was at present the case. A large number of labourers would be displaced, and they would come up to London and to other large towns, and the grievance which had been complained of, of having too many labourers competing with the operatives of the towns, would be exaggerated in the Future until it became much more serious than it was that day. To go back for a moment to the Bill, he had said that the provisions which forced a landlord to part with his land at a price which he would take, providing he were a willing seller, was unfair, and he would contrast that provision with the provision which pointed out the way in which the small holder was to be treated if he wished to get rid of his land, or if the Local Authority wished to dispossess him of it. The small holder was to be treated in this way. The price he would get would be the value of the land held as a small holding, together with all unexhausted improvements made thereon, 10 per cent for compulsory repurchase and a proper allowance for disturbance, cost of removal, loss of fixtures, and so on. That appeared to him to be a very different way of treating one man to the way in which it was proposed to treat the other, and he could not but fancy that the proverb that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander was applicable in connection with this clause. Then, as to the idea of not allowing a man aver to become the actual possessor of the property. He could not see that it was advisable to leave such a millstone always around the neck of a holder, as that three-fourths of the value of his holding should remain for ever on mortgage. His own experience taught him that there was no class of agriculturists who had suffered more during the last 8 or 10 years of agricultural depression, 477 than those men who had bought their own land years ago and mortgaged it. He hoped there were no hon. Members of the class to which he was about to allude now present, but some hon. Members opposite seemed to think that a landlord was a man who ought to be jumped on whenever there was an opportunity of performing that process. ["No, no!"] He was glad to hear the hon. Member opposite dissent, but his statement was that not infrequently some of the Benches opposite were occupied by Gentlemen who seemed to hold that view. In answer to those hon. Members, he would say, as he had frequently said before, that there were landlords who were good and landlords who were bad. There were such landlords all the world over, and until the Millenium that would perhaps continue to be the case. But it was hardly just that because a man happened to be a landlord they should take up the position of saying—"Never mind what you do with him—he is only a landlord, shy a stone at him whenever you can." He could assure hon. Members that many landlords during the last 8 or 10 years of agricultural ruin, had tried all they could to keep their tenants on the farms, and not altogether for generosity. Generosity, no doubt, had been one motive, but that motive had also been mixed up with another—namely, that of self-interest. Still, the fact remained, that the tenant farmers of England during the past 8 or 10 years, speaking generally, had been in a better position than the men who had bought their farms 8 or 10 years ago, and had considerably mortgaged them on purchase. Supposing a man had land under the provisions of this Bill. If things went on well, he would be able to pay the interest on his mortgage, but as soon as agricultural prosperity waned, the position of the man who owned his own small holding would be most miserable, and whatever they did to get these small purchasers to occupy land, and no one was more anxious than he was that the land should be occupied and cultivated, they must bear in mind that the point he had been dealing with was a most serious one. By all means let them work together in the solution of this problem, and let them work free from all Party bias. The thing to be done 478 was to endeavour to get the land occupied. He would willingly work with those who wished, where the land was suitable for it, to get it cut into smaller portions, rather than have it continued in farms of 200 or 300 acres; but whatever they did, do let them try to put men on these small plots of land with a reasonable prospect of their being able to hold on. They might take his opinion for what it was worth, and he offered it very humbly and with great diffidence; but he was convinced of this, that the men whom they would put in possession of small holdings, by the machinery of the Bill, the men whom they would induce to invest their £200 and their labour and their time in agriculture, instead of many another business—would have a very small chance indeed of prospering. So long as a man had a chance of investing his £200 outside a farm and outside the offer made to him in this Bill, he (Mr. Gray) was sure he would go in for a shop, for a higgler's cart, or for a public-house, or something of that kind. He was very much obliged to the House for the attention it had given to him while he had been speaking at such length, but he was extremely anxious that the question of the condition of the rural labourer should be thoroughly looked into. He did not feel that he could give any hearty support to the Bill; but he heartily supported the endeavour which the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham was making to remedy the condition of the agricultural labourer throughout the country. Within 50 miles of the spot he (Mr. Gray) was standing upon that day, within 50 miles of that great City and centre of the industry of all the world, he could point to a place where agricultural labourers were only getting nominally 9s. per week. He did not see the hon. Gentleman the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Gardner) in his place; but on more than one occasion that hon. Member had told them that he represented the agricultural labourer. The hon. Member certainly represented the agricultural labourers in his own Division, and it was to that Division that he (Mr. Gray) was now alluding. Well it was a very sad state of things that 9s. a week should be all the money earned by an agricultural labourer within such a short distance of a great City like that. Something must 479 be done to meet these cases, and he was delighted that the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham had alluded to the question. He was delighted that the hon. Member was working upon it. He wished the Association of which the hon. Member had been the other day made President—an association called, he thought, The Rural Labourers' League—every success, and he believed that when that Rural Labourers' League had gained experience, and had been in working order for a year or so, the hon. Member would be able to bring before the House some proposition to remedy the condition which so many unfortunate villagers of this country found themselves in—some proposition which would be more likely to work well than the provisions of the present Bill. Looking forward rather to the information and experience which would be gained by that League of which the hon. Member was the worthy President, and similar associations, and looking forward rather to the experience they would have from these associations than to the provisions of this Bill, thanking the House for having heard him at such length, he must decline to vote for the second reading of the Bill.
§ VISCOUNT WOLMER (Hants, Petersfield)
said, he was sure every Member of the House, on whichever side he sat, would agree with the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down in his estimation of the importance of the question. His hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) had dealt with great ability on the national importance of the question; and the hon. Member's judgment had been endorsed by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst), and though there were one or two portions of the speech of the latter hon. Member, as well as of the speech of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham to which he (Viscount Wolmer) thought it his duty to take a little exception, yet he thought that those who had spoken on the subject were so far united that they could bear testimony to the importance of the question and in desiring to see it dealt with as quickly as possible on true lines. He thought the hon. Member who had last spoken (Mr. Gray) could not, in his concluding remarks, have intended to imply that the hon. 480 member for the Saffron Walden Division of Essex (Mr. Gardner) would not join with him in deploring the fact that 9s. per week was the average wages of agricultural labourers in his part of the country. He (Viscount Wolmer) felt certain that the hon. Member for Saffron Walden would deplore that as much as the hon. Member (Mr. Gray) himself; and he thought that the hon. Gentleman would not find fault with him for having cleared up that point. It seemed to him to have rather escaped the attention of some hon. Members who had spoken in this debate, and especially of the hon. Member for West Nottingham and of the hon. Member who had just sat down, that it was not a subject upon which they could lay down general principles as if all land could be dealt with in small holdings, or that no land was suitable for small holdings. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham took particular pains to point out, and he (Viscount Wolmer) believed with absolute accuracy, the kinds of cultivation that were suitable for peasant proprietorship in this country, and it had been too much the habit of hon. Gentlemen sitting on the other side of the House in the past to endeavour to ride off on the question of cultivation, and to ignore those points upon which the small farmer could undoubtedly make the cultivation of land pay. The other night the hon. Member for West Nottingham spoke in a strain which would lead one to suppose that small holdings might be suitably introduced in almost every part of this country. Now, from that view he—with, he might venture to say, really some personal experience on the matter—certainly dissented. As things stood at this moment bad land, or land in out-of-the-way places, was, and must remain, the luxury of the rich; but good land, or land near a convenient situation, near a railway and good markets, could be brought into cultivation for the purposes contemplated by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham. Now, he should like to give an instance which had come to his knowledge from his own experience. About 20 years ago, there was some land lying about eight miles from Gosport of a blue clay, mixed here and there with a light sandy peat. The land was let at a very low rent, and grew very bad crops of cereals. 481 One enterprizing man, however, near the neighbourhood, exactly of the class which the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham had in view, tried the growing of strawberries. The land proved peculiarly suitable for the cultivation of strawberries, and the consequence was that there had grown up within the last generation a new industry, strawberries being grown over the whole district, immense quantities being sent to London and other large cities of consumption by small men—none of them farmers in the ordinary acceptation of the term. Now, if he might take a point which the hon. Member for West Nottingham intended to raise—namely, that the holdings could really be introduced under almost all circumstances by willing landlords, he ventured strongly to differ from that hon. Member, and he would take as an example the case of Sweden and Norway, which had already been alluded to by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham. He (Viscount Wolmer) had had the advantage of living for some time in a very remote valley of Norway, where exactly that method of the cultivation of cereals was carried on, and he had no hesitation in saying that, although that valley was cultivated, and although the result was very creditable to the inhabitants, yet the conditions under which the cultivation was carried on were not such as an English labourer would submit to for a moment. For instance, it involved the expatriation of all the children of every family except one. Every year, from that valley, the surplus population went off to certain States in America. That was the recognized effect without which that cultivation could not be carried on; and, beyond that, the cultivation involved such hard labour and such bad fare that every English labourer in England would find himself much better off with a wage of 10s. or 12s. a-week, which, unfortunately, was what prevailed in some of our Southern counties. But he wished to be understood as drawing a line between the kinds of cultivation that could be profitably introduced and the kinds of cultivation that were unsuitable for small holdings. Now, when they came to the Bill which was under discussion, the point that struck his mind first was the machinery by which this excellent intention was 482 proposed to be carried into effect. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham had explained the reasons of his not allowing the full purchase money to be paid, and for insisting that a small holder should always remain indebted to the extent of three-fourths of the purchase money. There was no doubt that the object he had in view was a very important one. No doubt, the money-lender and the moneylender's debt had always been the cúrse of the small farmers and proprietors in every country; therefore, every effort to deal with that must receive most careful consideration from the House. But in flying from one difficulty, at the same time the hon. Member fell into another, which was serious, and with the permission of the House he (Viscount Wolmer) would like to point it out. It amounted to this—that instead of making the Local Bodies really the means of conveyance, the instruments by which the peasant proprietor was created, the Local Body was turned into a general and perpetual land agency, and it was the total unfitness of any such Body, according to his experience, for any such duties which made him quite unable to endorse this part of the Bill. Now, anyone who had any practical experience in the management of property in land, or of farming, knew that practically at that moment no such operations could be made to pay except with the closest personal attention. It was also a notorious fact that all Corporations, whether charitable or elected, were the worst Bodies to manage land which this country ever knew, and when they came to consider the endless details which such management involved at this moment, he did not think that anyone could wonder that the result had not been better. With the permission of the House, he would mention two cases which had come within his own experience where exactly such holdings as were now under consideration had been built by a private owner, who could give the whole of his personal attention to the business, and the House could judge how far the same results would probably be brought about if the management of small holdings was in the hands of District Councils, whoever the men were, and however zealous they might be in the performance of their duties. He would take first the 483 case of a small farm which was purchased some years ago. [An hon. MEMBER: Of how many acres?] A small holding of 152 acres. It was purchased when times were better—and it was obvious that in dealing with measures of this nature the House must contemplate changes taking place in the value of land one way or the other. Supposing this Bill had passed 20 years ago, and the land he was referring to had been purchased at that time, those 152 acres would have brought £30 an acre. The land was fair grass land, not of the best, but still of a very useful quality. No doubt, it ought to fetch more, but it was not easily accessible to railways. Now, £30 per acre for 152 acres would, roughly, make the purchase money £4,560. Well, on the holding, the cottages and other necessary buildings had cost not less than £1,000, and besides that there had been considerable drainage, and considerable fencing, and matters of that kind—of which he had not got the particulars—carried out. He wished the House to remember, although he had not got the particulars of all these expenses, that they were things that would have to be taken into account in making a proper balance-sheet—and this only went to make his point stronger. Now, this farm was part of a larger farm, and two years ago was turned into small holdings, and if any hon. Member should imagine that the original expenditure of £1,000 was larger than was necessary for such a holding, he would explain that that was not the case; because before the tenant could be found for the holding, extra expenditure on the building—whether in the shape of repairs, or of re-adaptation and enlargement—was £104. Therefore, with the drainage, with the fencing, and with the clearing in certain places, the total value, with expenditure, was £5,664. The rent paid for the farm at that moment was £114, which, upon the total of £5,664, was almost exactly 2 per cent. Now, when they considered the rate at which District Councils would be able to borrow money, they would agree, he thought, that they would not be able to get it at 2 or 2½ per cent. At the outside, the best price they would be able to obtain would be 3 per cent, and to that it would be necessary to add the expenses of manage- 484 ment, and the loss which might be occasioned by the farm being vacant for a short time now and then. Then, again, the tenant would require some repairs occasionally and some additional accommodation. Taking all those things into account, it was obvious that such a farm could not be otherwise than a burden on the rates. And now he would take the case of another farm bought at the present moment. This was a farm of 50 acres, having extremely convenient buildings upon it, and which, considering the state of the markets, with buildings, could be bought for £20 per acre. That would make £1,000. The repairs required when the small holder first took possession amounted to £45, making a total of £1,045. The rent of that 50 acres was £40 a-year, coming almost exactly to 4 per cent on the purchase money. Now, that was buying land under the most favourable conditions, and yet that left for the District Council, or whatever the Body might be called which would have the management of the land, absolutely no margin with which to protect the rates from loss.
§ VISCOUNT WOLMER
That would not be paid by the person for whom the money was borrowed. The District Council would have to find the interest, as well as to provide the sinking fund. Taking all the circumstances into consideration, he did not see how District Councils could possibly have done what landowners had been obliged to do. Now, he did not wish the House to understand this as an argument attempting to deal with this question. The argument was only against making a Body like a District Council, which, at the best, would not be more than as improved Board of Guardians, a perpetual land agency for carrying on one of the most difficult businesses it was possible to conceive—that was the management of farm and landed property. Therefore, without desiring to ride that horse too far, or to be understood as endeavouring to prove that this question could not be dealt with in any shape by Public Bodies, yet he wished to provide against a Body like a District Council being converted into a land agency. In the general treatment of the subject, he sincerely hoped that they would hear no more of what was contained in one por- 485 tion of the speech of the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst), to which he, with a great many Members of the House, must take exception; because, while making a very useful contribution to the discussion, the hon. Member could not resist, when he was acting like a revolving signboard, from stopping from time to time, at the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham, giving him a dig in the ribs which he utterly and entirely undeserved; because, whatever might be that hon. Gentleman's political opinions on other subjects, he was perfectly certain that he, more than any other man, had brought this matter to the front, and that he, more than any other man, was responsible for the fact that it had now been taken up by almost every man on the Opposition side of the House, and by a large number of Members on the other side of the House, and that public attention had been directed towards it, having previously regarded the question of the provision of allotments and small holdings as an impossible proposal. It used to be the custom of hon. Gentlemen opposite to snap up those who moved in this matter with the question—When large farmers could not make the land pay, how was it to be expected the small farmers could make it pay? The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham had proved beyond all denial that there were in this country those farms which not only the small farmer could make pay where the big farmer could not, but for which the small farmer was fitted, as was illustrated by the industries which were carried on in foreign nations. When small farmers would be able profitably to exercise those facilities for dealing with land, he thought it was the duty of Parliament to give them such facilities.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
said, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) appealed to Members upon the Ministerial side of the House, and especially to those sitting upon the Front Bench, to state what their views were with regard to this Bill. He (Mr. Llewellyn) did not know at all what course the Government were going to take; but he knew that there were a very large number of Gentlemen sitting on those Benches who were in thorough 486 sympathy with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings) in moving the second reading of the measure. But, while they all, he thought, heartily sympathized with the object the hon. Gentleman had in view as shown by this Bill, and also with the object he had had in view in doing the great and useful work he had for some time done in the country, it was a matter of serious regret to many of them that the Bill, as it stood, was one which could not be supported. There was no doubt about it that the object of the Bill was to assist labourers—and not only labourers, but those a little above the position of labourers—to become the possessors of small holdings or farms. With the principle of that they heartily agreed; but the question was, whether the Bill before the House would effect such an object, whether it would be a boon to small agriculturists or small people in the country, or be the reverse. Personally, he was inclined to think there were two provisions in the Bill which would turn out to be anything but a boon to the people. In the first place, the chief objection to the Bill was the great responsibility which it entailed upon the ratepayers by the purchase powers. If any Bill could be introduced, or any scheme put forward, or any present Act enlarged or amended by which the small holders could become possessors of small plots of land, he, for one, would heartily support it, and he need hardly say that he would not consider for a moment who it was that introduced it or supported it in the House. He was afraid that in that matter they must not lose sight not only of those who would be benefited by the Bill, but of those who would be injured by the Bill. His first objection to the Bill was founded on the ground of the expense which would be entailed to the ratepayers. His next objection was, that the Bill would offer a direct encouragement to a great number of these people to get into debt. He was afraid they could not do any more unkind act than to encourage small holders to embark upon undertakings which they would be unable to fulfil. There was not only the difficulty as to finding the money to start with, but he was inclined to doubt the ability of the people in view to make the holdings pay in many cases. Now, what were the expenses which the Local Authority must look forward to 487 before it undertook to provide small holdings in any place. The expenses were enumerated in the Bill by one of the clauses. Roughly speaking, they were chiefly these, and he thought it must occur to anyone who had noticed the difficulties with which Local Authorities had to deal in carrying out the Allotments Act, that they would be considerable—the expenses of the valuation of land, and of the examination of titles—he said titles, and not title, because he saw the Bill provided that where possible land should be taken in small amounts from a number of owners of property in preference to being taken from one large owner—expenses with regard to conveyance and the preparation of deeds, and those they knew were great expenses, though he did not lose sight of the fact that in the Bill means were provided by which land could be registered, and so a great deal of the unnecessary expense connected with the transfer of land obviated; and then with regard to the purchase of property, there was the difficulty which had been pointed out by his hon. Friend (Mr. Gray.) His hon. Friend pointed out what was likely to be a willing seller and what was likely to be an unwilling seller. Take the case of the unwilling seller, and there would be a great number of men who would only part with their land on compulsion. A question of arbitration would arise, and anyone who had had anything to do with dealings with public Bodies when they came to arbitration knew what a very expensive method arbitration was. Arbitration proceedings had been sometimes rendered of no avail, because notice had not been served, and dates had been allowed to pass owing to a want of sufficient knowledge, and the arbitration had had to be commenced over again. He had in his mind a case of laying down pipes through a field. In that case, owing to unnecessary delay, the expenses of the arbitration were something very great indeed, something represented by about £70 or £100, when the cost ought not to have been more than about £10. Then there were the expenses attending the borrowing of money from the Public Works Loan Commissioners. He did not mean to say that was considerable, but it must be considered. Then there was the expense of getting much of this land into 488 a fit state for the small holders; they had to provide for water courses and drainage; the matter of rates would not be inconsiderable either, and regard would also have to be had for the expenses of fencing, and so forth. He noticed that in the Bill there were powers granted to Local Authorities to erect buildings. Thus they were at once brought face to face with architects and clerks of works, and so on. All these expenses were possibilities under the Bill, and must be provided for. In the rent the Local Authorities would have to charge the small holders for these expenses, in order to free themselves from the responsibility of incurring debt in the matter. Then there was the question of the expense of the insurance and of the repair of the buildings. All these were questions which must be considered. There was also the question of the collection of rents. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) spoke of the collection of rents as being nothing more than the assistant overseer could do. The assistant overseer had power in the case of rates unpaid to summon the ratepayer; but it was a very different matter to collect rent, say, from a man who had left the place, or who was ill, or incapacitated from paying the rent, or had nothing on the place to distrain upon. The difficulties were very different in the case of the collection of rent and in that of the collection of rates in arrear. Then, again, in addition to all this, there was the power pointed out by his hon. Friend (Mr. Gray) with regard to the money to be refunded to a small holder when he was deprived of his holding. A small holder might be deprived of his holding after he had improved it, after he had got his buildings up, and got the land in good condition. The Local Authorities under such circumstances were to pay him 10 per cent for the compulsory repurchase of the land. That, in addition to the amount which would have to be paid for the land, would represent a considerable sum in addition to what he had already mentioned. Again, if the Bill was to be carried out to any extent, and it might be in the neighbourhood of towns, the Local Authorities would have to increase their clerical staff, and have to employ professional assistants—solicitors, and others. All those were expenses which would 489 mount up to a very large sum indeed. Having got together all these possible or probable charges, it would be the duty of the District Council to see at what rent they could afford to let the land. They would have to borrow the money in the first place, and they would not borrow it much below 3 per cent; and in the Bill they had to let the land at 1 per cent more than 3 per cent, that was 4 per cent. In addition to that, they had to put down all the expenses he had spoken of; and he doubted whether they would not add considerably more than 1 per cent, and that would bring the charge up to 5 per cent—5 per cent before they could let the land. The rates and taxes must fall on someone. Take the case of a piece of ground outside a town or village valued, say, at £100 an acre. He had heard it said that land could be purchased at from £15 to £30 an acre; but, still, there was land outside many towns the selling price of which would be as high as £100 an acre. The Local Authorities must let that land at £5 an acre to the small holder, and that would represent a sum which he thought very few of the agricultural labourers would agree to pay for their holdings. He would like to point out, too, the position in which a holder would be under this Bill as compared with the position he would be in if he rented under a landlord. They had heard a great deal of late about bad landlords; but he thought that the worst landlord to be found was the landlord who did not know his own business. The landlord who did not know the value of his land, but who was entirely in the hands of his agent, was the worst of all landlords. In his (Mr. Llewellyn's) opinion, it would be an inestimable boon if men who were born to inherit large incomes would in their early days attend a little more to the business of farming and to the management of their own estates instead of leaving it to agents. They would be on better terms with their tenants, and their tenants would be able, instead of having to approach their landlord through an agent, to go direct to a man who knew something about what they asked, and whether their demands were reasonable or not. He maintained that Local Authorities must of necessity be hard landlords. The rent must be paid to the day; the 490 money was borrowed, the interest had to be paid, and there was no question in such a case of a man being able to ask the landlord to wait until the coming fair next month, when he would be able to sell his beasts. A man would not be able to plead to his landlord that he had had bad luck in one way or another, and he would have no opportunity of working out his rent. If a man rented under a landlord, the produce of his farm, his hay, or grass, or whatever it might be, was often sold to the landlord; his poultry and fruit might be bought by the landlord, or he could give labour to the landlord. In many cases small holders worked out the whole of their rent by their labour. Men acquiring holdings under this Bill would have no opportunities of this kind; their rents must be paid in full to the day, and the consequences would be that at times they would be sorely pressed. It would be very often found that these men had no one to help them. At present, in the part of the country in which he lived there were a great number of small holders of land, holders of from 20 to 30 and 40 acres of land. He did not know how long they held them for; but some of them had held their land for a great many years; but he knew that during times of depression, during the last seven years, for instance, no one had been worse off than these small farmers. They had no landlord to go to to ask for a remission of rent, no landlord to go to to make their position easier in any possible way. They were their own landlords, and their own tenants, and they were the men who suffered most cruelly, because when the money was to be forthcoming the men who had lent them money proved to be harder than landlords, and required their money to the very day. He believed that the tenants under this Bill would be very much in the position of the small holders he had referred to, and he should very much regret that anybody whom he knew at all should embark in this line of farming. With regard to failure again. Suppose a man had a holding of 10 acres, he was very little more than a labourer; he had been a labourer; he had got some money by some means or other, and he was led on by the prospect of getting a little more. Well, he failed from no cause of his own; possibly his failure 491 was to be attributed to sickness, or to having had to pay debts on behalf of someone else, or to a variety of causes. He failed, and perhaps he ran away. It was the commonest thing when a man in such a position got into trouble to go to America for good, or to disappear for a time. What would be the position of the family of such a man? That family would be called upon to meet the payments upon the farm. How was the assistant overseer to get the money? It would be absolutely impossible for him to do so; and as a result of the impossibility of getting the rent, the Local Authorities would have to suffer, and more money would have to be taken up, or else the position of the Local Authority would be a very unfortunate one indeed. The consequence of it all would be that the great number of those who had been successful, and who had managed their farms well, and who had, perhaps, been paying for others, would have to pay over again through the rates, because of the failure of this one man, which might have been brought about by his own mistakes or not. There was another point to be taken into account; how was the Local Authority to interfere in the case of a man who was clearly damaging his property? There was nothing commoner than for an allotment holder to injure his allotment. The allotment might be an acre, or half an acre, or a quarter of an acre in extent, but if it was let to go on badly looked after, and robbed of its goodness, not manured and so on, it would be no longer of the value it was originally; then came a year when such an allotment would have to be taken by some one simply for the sake of getting it into condition again. This was another expense against the Local Authority which must be provided for—they had no power whatever to interfere with bad farming. He did not intend to allude to another Bill now before the House; but, in his opinion, the greatest objection to that Bill was the facilities it afforded to Local Authorities for the borrowing of money. If, in addition to that, there was direct encouragement to Local Authorities to borrow money, they would be placed in a much more serious position than ever. There was another point worthy of consideration in regard to the Bill now under discussion, and that was that direct encouragement was 492 given to people to get into debt. He believed that of all classes in the community there was no class which felt the curse of being in debt more than the agricultural labourer or the cottager. He knew very well that if a doctor's bill or some other bill was owing, it made many of these men thoroughly miserable. There was nothing a cottager disliked so much as being in debt. Now, the Bill spoke of these small holders as owners; but they could in no instance be owners. These men were encouraged to become possessors of the land and were called owners; but this weight of debt was not only put round their necks, but it was made impossible for them to clear themselves of it. However willing a man was to obtain the freehold, he would not be able to do it, but to the end of his days he would be burdened with debt. That in itself to his (Mr. Llewellyn's) mind was a great objection to the Bill, because many a young man, say, of the age of 20 or 25, would work hard and exert himself in every way to clear himself of debt, and to acquire a little property, but no matter how hard he worked, he would not be able to rid himself of debt. He (Mr. Llewellyn) saw also that in the Bill borrowing powers were provided in regard to building. It was provided that the repayment might be spread over a period of 31 years; but that in itself was most objectionable; because if a man who might have put up good buildings met with misfortune, there was the additional charge for buildings laid upon his family for 31 years—his family would be answerable, on account of the payment year after year of the interest upon the money spent upon buildings. If a man lived and made the repayments regularly, he would be upwards of 50 years of age before he found himself clear of debt upon the head of buildings alone. Therefore, he thought he was right in pointing out that in this Bill there was direct encouragement to small holders to get into debt, and the result of that was that the position of those holders would be by no means a rosy one, and in many cases the men would be made unfit for work owing to the weight of debt. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst) said that under this Bill there would be no possibility of the occupier incurring any responsibility 493 as to the borrowing of money. He (Mr. Llewellyn) did not think that was at all impossible, but that it was very probable. As sure as fate, as long as there were in all country districts men ready and willing to lend money to these poor people, so long would there be people foolish enough to borrow. If a small farmer once got into the hands of the village attorney or money lender, he was worse off than any of the Irish farmers of whom they had heard so much.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN
begged the hon. Gentleman's pardon. He thought that many of these small holders would be ready to get into debt in respect to the stocking of their farms. Many of them would ask money lenders to advance them, say, £100 for the purpose of purchasing cows and ploughs and farming implements generally, and the money lenders were the men of all others who would be the first to get everything they could out of the tenants; they would be at the farm doors almost before the collector of taxes. If a man farmed land with his own money, he might make farming pay; but, if he had money to pay to the money lender, and rent to pay to the landlord, and had in addition to pay rates and taxes, he (Mr. Llewellyn) said, God help the tenant under such circumstances. Now, he had stated his objection to the Bill, and had said with great regret that he could not vote for the second reading of it as it stood. He heartily wished the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Divison of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), or some other Member would introduce a Bill by which it would be possible to increase the number of small holdings safely; because he believed that an increase of these holdings would be beneficial to the agricultural population of the country itself; he believed it would be for the good of the land, and for the benefit of a great number of landlords. If it could be done safely, let them do it with all speed; but if they did it, as the Bill proposed, at the expense of the ratepayers, and, in addition to that, at the risk of incurring the responsibility of encouraging these people to take up land that they could not pay for, they 494 would do no good by passing the Bill. There were others he knew who desired to speak, and he would only say that he was reminded of an authority who spoke some time ago upon this subject. Shakespeare said—Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft, loses both itself and friend; And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.He thought Shakespeare must have had this very Bill in view when he wrote those lines. He (Llewellyn) would also remind the House of one other authority, although perhaps not quite so great as the last quoted authority, an authority with whom he did not at all agree. Artemus Ward said—"Never get into debt, borrow sooner than do that."
§ MR. H GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
said, that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Llewellyn) had taken up a very strange position. He had told them that he sympathized with the Bill, that he sympathized with the agricultural population, and then he proceeded to show his sympathy with the Bill and with the agricultural labourers by stating that he would vote against the measure. He (Mr. Gardner) would not have ventured to trouble the House at all had it not been for the, he might almost call it, ungenerous attack which was made upon him in his absence by his hon. Friend the Member for the Maldon Division of Essex (Mr. Gray). The hon. Gentleman, who was a Colleague of his own, and his neighbour in Essex, took a somewhat unworthy advantage of his (Mr. Gardner's) temporary absence on Committee business to attack him on account of his absence from the House. [Cries of "No, no!"] The hon. Gentleman opposite said that he (Mr. Gardner) posed as a friend of the agricultural labourer, and yet he was not present on that very important occasion. He supposed that the hon. Gentleman wished people to draw the inference that he (Mr. Gray) was a better friend of the agricultural labourer than himself (Mr. Gardner).
§ MR. GRAY
said, he was sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, who had taken an entirely erroneous view at second hand of his remarks. He merely referred to the hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division (Mr. Gardner) as being able to, had he been in his place, corroborate the statement he (Mr. Gray) had made, that within 50 miles 495 of that spot there were agricultural labourers who were unfortunately in receipt of only 9s. a-week, and he gave the hon. Member credit for regretting that such a state of things should be in existence, as he (Mr. Gray) regretted it.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
said, the hon. Gentleman certainly accused him of posing as a friend of the agricultural labourer, meaning by implication that he (Mr. Gray) was more a friend of the agricultural labourer by being present on this occasion than himself (Mr. Gardner). However, he did not wish to detain the House, but had only to say that he came down from the Committee Room as soon as he could in order to vote for the Bill of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), and he did not think he could show himself a better friend of the agricultural labourer than by doing that. He certainly thought that his hon. Friend (Mr. Gray) would have shown his friendship to the agricultural population far better by staying away than by his presence, because he had announced his intention of voting against the Bill.
§ MR. CHAPLIN (Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said, that everyone would acknowledge that they had had an interesting debate, and had listened to some interesting and important speeches. The second reading of the Bill was moved by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) in a speech of much ability, and was seconded in a remarkable oration by the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst). The hon. Member for West Nottingham, after taunting him, turned on the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, and, with that lofty and imposing air which was such a distinguishing feature of his rhetoric, said that the hon. Member always suffered from ignorance rather than from want of knowledge. What was the difference between the two? He did not altogether follow the hon. Gentleman, but in the course of his remarks he came to the conclusion that in his own person, in connection with this subject, he had been successful in proving that sometimes ignorance and want of knowledge were identical. The hon. Member for West Nottingham proceeded further; he taunted the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division with 496 apologizing for the introduction of his own Bill. How the hon. Member could found such an observation on the speech of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division he was at a loss to imagine. Then the hon. Member for West Nottingham went on to lecture the Government as to the enormous—the overwhelming importance of this subject. He told the Government they ought to postpone their other measures for the purpose of legislating at once on this subject, so great was its urgency. Why did not the hon. Member practice a little more what he preached? Why did he not impress those views on his former Colleagues on the Front Opposition Bench? When the former Conservative Government was turned out of Office by the Motion of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, if ever there was a Party or a Government which was called upon by Parliamentary practice and precedent to deal without delay with this question, it was the Party and the Government of which the hon. Gentleman was himself a Member. So far from following the usual precedents and practice, neither from the hon. Member nor from his Colleagues had one word been ever heard about that subject till that day, when the hon. Member found it convenient to make it a party weapon. As regarded the Bill, it was by no means a new one. It was an old friend, as it was formerly introduced by the hon. Member for Cheshire, and he had an opportunity of making some observations upon that occasion. He did not know, as regarded the machinery of the Bill, which always appeared to be of a remarkable and peculiar character, he could express his sentiments more accurately than he did on that occasion. But there was this difference between the Bill introduced then and now. The former Bill dealt with the question of allotments as well as the question of small holdings. The Bill now before the House dealt with the question of small holdings alone, the question of allotments having been, as he hoped, successfully dealt with in the past Session. [Cries of "No!"] He did not say that the question of allotments had been finally disposed of. On the contrary, from large and varied sources of information, he believed it to be a fact that although that Bill had given a great stimulus to the provision 497 of allotments by voluntary means, yet where it had been attempted to provide allotments under the operation of the Bill, there it had frequently, he believed, failed altogether. It had failed because the Local Authority constituted under the Bill, the Guardians, had been slack and backward in fulfilling their duty. He was not surprised at that, and he pointed out in the debates on the Bill that the Guardians were not the best Local Authority to whom to hand the responsibility, and he was exceedingly anxious to place the power in the hands of the magistrates instead. The course of experience had proved that he was right in one case, and at least he might be pardoned for supposing, until the contrary was proved, that he might have been right in the other. The time was approaching when that question would be solved by the passing of the Bill now introduced by the President of the Local Government Board. When that Act was passed the new District Councils, which were to be absolutely elective, were to take the place of the rural authority so far as allotments were concerned, and if they failed in the performance of their duty, the voters would have the means of finding a remedy. Assuming the passing of that Bill, the question of allotments would be disposed of, and, therefore, they had nothing but small holdings now to consider. What was the object of the promoters of the Bill? The hon. Member for Bordesley, in his able speech, drew attention to the deplorable diminution in the number of labourers in rural districts; he spoke of the great excellence of the labouring population, and he dwelt upon the necessity of keeping up what he described as the rural stock of the country. He proposed to accomplish his object by bringing about in some way a much wider diffusion of land among the people of this country. In that object he need hardly say that he sympathized. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] He was not the least afraid of expressing his sympathy in spite of the sneers indulged in by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House. He should be disposed to support any reasonable means of obtaining that end, and he could safely say that no measure could be more Conservative in its effects than one leading to a larger distribution of land. More than that, speaking as a landowner—and an owner 498 of a great deal morn land than he cared to possess, he was most sorely tempted by the proposition of the hon. Member. The references of the hon. Member to the high price that land fetched in France quite made his mouth water. His virtue was tried in the severest manner, as, for the sake of his personal interest and advantage, Le could not but wish the hon. Member's proposals accepted without unnecessary delay. There was no denying the fact that land at the present moment was exceedingly difficult to let, and almost impossible to sell. For the moment, though he hoped it would only be for the moment, in thousands of cases land was an unmarketable commodity. A greater boon could not possibly be offered landowners than legislation of this kind, whatever might be said on its merits, for it provided them with a first-rate market for an article which many were most anxious to dispose of. Although that was the case, and although he was most desirous of accepting the views of hon. Members on the other side of the House, he was bound to remember that he had a duty to perform to those he represented, and he represented in a special degree the rural ratepayers of this country. He should be able to show the House that, however tempting these proposals might be, it was their bounden duty to those they represented to resist them. He did not intend to say much on the question of compulsion. It was a strong thing for any Government to propose to give power to Public Bodies to take land by compulsion; but, at the same time, the principle of taking land by compulsion had been embodied in our legislation, though subject to a condition which he maintained had not been fulfilled in this case—namely, the condition that it should be shown that the compulsory acquisition of the land would confer a great public advantage. He contended that in the propositions which had been submitted to the House an enormous change was involved. They were embarking on an entirely new and, as far as the extent of land was concerned, an unprecedented course. The clearest proof ought to be given that it was for the benefit of the community at large. He contended, moreover, that almost everything we know of this subject pointed in a directly opposite direction. It was no matter whether we 499 looked at home or abroad. There were masses of evidence on the subject. His hon. Friend spoke of the French peasantry, pointed out their condition, and made what for him was a remarkable admission. The hon. Member admitted that if a judgment were formed from their appearance in the fields the French peasants would be regarded as poor and miserable, but he added that he had followed them to their homes, where ample evidence as to their comfort was to be found. He had not had the advantage of following them into their homes, but he was a Member of a Commission which sat for three years, and which inquired most exhaustively into this subject. That Commission sent out two gentlemen, who also followed the French peasants into their homes, and who gave a very different description of their condition from that given by the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham that afternoon. One of the Sub-Commissioners of the Agricultural Commission, in his report on the condition of the peasants, especially in Western and Central France, said—The peasant proprietor exists rather than lives. He has no pride in keeping himself or his cottage clean and presentable. His food chiefly consists of bread made from buckwheat or rye, although wheaten bread is gradually coming into more general use. He very rarely tastes meat, except in the form of pork. His drink, if in a wine country, is made from water poured over the already pressed grapes, from which the juice has been extracted and sold.… The peasant owners, examples of industry and thrift carried to excess, slave to get as much out of the land as it can be made to yield, starving themselves and their families to add something to their hoard; their wives becoming prematurely old from field labour, and bent from carrying heavy loads of fodder to the cow at home, content if at the year's end the tale of silver pieces be increased…at a sacrifice of all that makes life worth living for.That was a description of the state of things existing among the peasantry in France which he had never heard contradicted on at all reliable authority till he heard the statement of the hon. Member that day. He was almost ashamed to refer to the condition of the freeholders in the County of Lincoln. He had himself seen a great deal of their condition. The system of peasant proprietorship had been in existence in that county for years. From his own personal knowledge he could state that it 500 was a fact not to be disputed that during the period of agricultural depression which we had passed through, there was no class of agriculturists in the country which had suffered anything to compare with the misery and poverty of the small freeholders in Lincolnshire. If his views on that subject were doubted, he would refer hon. Members to the Reports of the Agricultural Commission, which contained the most startling evidence on the subject. Then his hon. Friend had referred to Consular Reports in vindication of his views. He had brought down with him the two latest of those Reports which had been presented to the House. One, dated in this present month, was the Report of one of our Consuls in Spain relating to the district of Corunna. That gentleman wrote—To give an idea of the great misery that the inhabitants of this province are passing through, it must be understood in the first place that throughout the whole of this province, since the feudal system and Mayorazgo, or entailed estate system, became extinct, the whole of the large properties became subdivided into small farms; this has been going on for years, and, with few exceptions, Galicia now possesses a peasant proprietorship, and the land is subdivided into small tenements more on the style of the market gardens system than anything else I can liken it to. This system is all very well when it is brought to bear on a small tract of land—but when the same embraces a vast province like Galicia, that consists of about 1,032 square miles, with a population of some 1,200,000 inhabitants—it tells its own tale.He would now call the attention of the House to a Consular Report from France, which bore directly also upon this question. It dealt with the La Rochelle district, and the Consul's name was Mr. Warburton. He said—The year 1887 has been a disastrous one to farmers here, who, notwithstanding the higher protective duties on corn and meat, are in a far worse position than they have ever been before. They have made no money on anything, and have lost heavily in almost everything.…. Their losses have been enormous, and, however much we may have suffered in Great Britain, I hear of nothing there to compare with the depth of the depression which exists here at present. It is well that this should be clearly stated, because though it is now generally admitted at home that other countries are suffering as well as ourselves, many persons appear to think that it is in a less degree, and that we ought to be better off here inasmuch as we enjoy a certain amount of the 'Fair Trade' and 'peasant proprietary,' which people were told would bring everything right again. It is not so as far as this district is concerned. No advantage 501 has yet been felt from the moderate protective duties which exist; all are far worse off than before they were put on, and none are suffering so much as those who own their holdings.He did not think anyone could imagine there was anything in any part of the evidence he had quoted to induce them to believe that a plan such as that which was favoured by hon. Gentlemen opposite had any reasonable prospect of success in this country. If there was any such prospect, he would be glad to recognize it, for he wished to deal with the plan as honestly as he could in the interests of the people. But how was it possible for him to give his support in the face of this kind of evidence? Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh at the mention of Protection; yet there was no doubt it must have conferred some kind of advantage on the agricultural classes. It was impossible to believe it could do the agricultural producer harm to put an import duty on the goods which competed with those that he produced in his own country. He had no objection to offer to Protection, and he should view its adoption with great complacency himself, although' he confessed that, in view of the small effect that Protection had had in increasing prices, he had been much less keen about Protection than he had been in former days, Still, he was quite certain that, sooner or later, if the proposls made were adopted, they would inevitably lead to Protection. He was confirmed in this impression by something further in this Report. It gave the reasons for the strong feeling in favour of Protection in these terms—The circumstances are very favourable to agricultural protection in this country just now. The principle has been fully admitted. It has been tried with corn and meat, and, while bread is no dearer than before, meat is much cheaper. At La Rochelle the loaf of 2 kilos (4lb. 6oz.) cost, in December, 1886, 6d., and in 1887, 5¾d. Meat was as follows:—In December, 1886, beef, live, 2⅝d. per pound; dead, 5⅝d.; mutton, the same; veal, 3⅛d., live; 6⅛d., dead. In 1887 the prices were1½d. per lb. lower in every case.And further on the Consul said—Those who might be supposed to be most against it (Protection) are the shopkeepers and working classes in the towns, the working men engaged in public works, factory hands, and people depending on coal and iron industries, &c. All of them have reasons for not objecting. The shopkeepers are doing badly because the farmers have no more money to spend with them, and believe that if they became prosperous they would be good customers again. 502 The working people in the towns are suffering from competition, owing to the crowding in of farm labourers out of employment, who, they say, would go back to the country if the farm work was better paid and there was more of it.And again the Consul said—Many of the working people think that even if larger duties on corn made bread dearer, they will be more than compensated by the increase in wages which would take place if they are relieved from all this competition. All these classes consider that agricultural protection would benefit them directly and indirectly, but above and beyond them there is a numerous class, who have no apparent interest in getting it, who would suffer from it by paying dearer for everything, and still who would vote for a tax on foreign food imports for no other reason than to prevent the extinction of the small peasant farmers.If this was the view of the absolute necessity for Protection among the working classes themselves in France, how was it possible for him to hold any other opinion than that if you establish the same system in this country one of the inevitable results will be to lead to Protection? That, however, was an argument for hon. Members opposite much more than for himself to consider. It was impossible to believe from the evidence that the system which prevailed in France had any advantage over the system which prevailed in this country. Was there any reason for believing that a different system in England would result in greater production? Major Craigie, in his paper on Agricultural Holdings in England and Abroad, read before the Royal Statistical Society, showed from four different sources, one confirming the other, that in every respect the produce per acre in England is greater than it is abroad. He said—England holds the first place as a stock-rearing and grain-growing community. Her flocks of sheep represent just ten times those of Belgium on the same area, three times those of France on the same area, and nearer four times than three times those of Germany. As regards cattle, Holland, Belgium, and Germany have more cows than we have, but then our cows hold a different rank from the poor beasts of burden which they often are abroad. We have in England more than Austria for each square mile, more than France, and many more than Hungary or Sweden; while as regards oxen generally we head the list with ease.Nor was our superiority in crops limited to corn alone. In England the yield of potatoes was 252 bushels to the acre; in Austria 109, in France 113, in Holland 172, and in 503 Sweden 123. Indeed, full examination would show that in respect of the amount of produce per acre the system pursued in England beat all other systems. As to the £25,000,000 worth of butter, eggs, poultry, &c., which we imported, other countries produced them under a double advantage; the people cultivated their lands with the benefit of the duties imposed upon the same kind of articles imported into those countries; and they exported their produce to this country under the influence of what was practically a very heavy bounty upon the articles exported. An average acre of land would produce seven tons of potatoes, and the foreign producer had an advantage as against the English producer of 14s. a-ton in sending potatoes to the Birmingham market. This was equivalent to a bounty of £4 18s. per acre which the English farmer had to pay to a Railway Company before he could compete with foreign produce in the same market in this country. This was only one instance of the unfairness and injustice with which the agricultural interest in this country had been treated, and to which it was determined to submit no longer. As to the machinery of the Bill, he dwelt at length on that two years ago. To illustrate the risks and liabilities it might entail, he had made a calculation with regard to Dorchester, the account of which he happened to find in the Municipal Corporation Directory, which had a population of 6,000, with 1,000 ratepayers and a rate-able value of £20,000. Suppose 20 ratepayers wanted small holdings of say 20 acres each, that would be 400 acres altogether. What would be the price that would have to be paid for the land? It must be remembered that people who wanted small holdings would never be content with the worst land. He did not wish to put an extravagant price on the land; but he did not think he would be exaggerating in putting it at £30 an acre. That would give a total cost of £12,000. Three-fourths of that, or £9,000, was under the Bill to remain unpaid, and the interest on that at 3½ per cent, together with a sinking fund at 2½ per cent, would amount to £540. Then something must be allowed for registration expenses, and he had put them at £100. Then loans were to be made to the in- 504 dividuals who acquired small holdings as capital for working the land, and that could not be put at less than £10 an acre, or £4,000. The interest and sinking fund at 3½ and 2½ per cent respectively upon that sum would amount to £240. Under Clause 38 of the Bill powers were given to the Local Body to borrow money for improvements; and, putting the sum borrowed at £2,000, the interest and sinking fund with respect to that would amount to £120. Then there were the expenses of management, repairs, law charges, and a variety of other things which he estimated to come to about £145 a-year. These items in all made up an annual expenditure of £1,145. Even taking out all the items except interest and sinking fund in respect of the purchase-money and the loans to individuals, the annual outgoings would be £780. Under the Bill those who acquired holdings were to pay 1 per cent more than was paid by the Local Body for the money borrowed for the purchase of the land. Charging them, therefore, 4½ per cent on the three-fourths of the purchase-money remaining unpaid, and 6 per cent on the individual loans, the total receipts would be only £645, against an absolutely necessary expenditure of £780 and a probable expenditure of £1,145, leaving a deficit as regards the latter sum of £500. To produce £500 from a rateable value of £20,000 would require a rate of 6d. in the pound. He had omitted from this any payment for damages on account of guarantee of titles, and he had assumed that the Local Authority sold as dear as it bought, had no land idle, and no arrears of any sort and no reductions. The House might take this calculation for what it was worth. He did not think any hon. Member, if he examined the figures closely, could say that he had exaggerated anything. He was quite sure that, generally speaking, these matters were conducted much more economically by individuals than by Corporations. However much he sympathized with the object of the hon. Gentleman, he was of the strongest possible opinion that the Bill was not at all calculated to give effect to it. If the Bill passed, it would throw enormous possible risks on the ratepayer, and on that ground alone, if on no other, he found it quite impossible to 505 support it. No one could be more anxious than he was to see a wider distribution of the land among the people of the country, and he was strongly tempted by his own personal interest as a landowner to go in the direction the hon. Gentleman asked him to follow. He would be very glad if some means could be devised by which, on a small scale, some tenements of this sort could be founded; but he could not conceal from himself that it would be absolutely impossible, at all events until the Local Government Bill was carried into law. No one could deny that this was a question of the largest and most supreme importance, involving some of the greatest changes ever witnessed in this country, and it was not a question to be hastily settled and decided after a four hours' debate on a Wednesday afternoon. He hoped, therefore, that no attempt to close the mouths of hon. Members upon it would be made. If it were, he should certainly oppose it, as he should oppose the Bill in its present form itself, if it reached a Division to-night.
§ THE SECRETARY TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. LONG) (Wilts, Devizes)
I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I now state the point of view from which Her Majesty's Government regard this Bill. It is hardly necessary for me to express the sympathy which we in common with everyone who has spoken to-day feel in the establishment, by legitimate and wise means, of peasant proprietorship in this country; but, Sir, while that sympathy is shared by us, I am not prepared to go as far as the hon. Member for West Nottingham (Mr. Broadhurst), who at an earlier period of the evening seemed to infer that if we changed altogether the system of land occupation in the country, and were to terminate large and create small farms, the agricultural distress under which we have so long suffered would be entirely removed. I cannot endorse a sentiment of that nature, nor can I believe that the view of the hon. Gentleman would be endorsed by the opinion of practical agriculturists. I do not think he is right in laying so much blame on the system as he does, when he tells us that it is to the existence of large holdings throughout the country that so much distress is due, and that ruin had overtaken so many of the landed 506 classes. I venture to point out to the House and to the hon. Member himself, that whatever may be the fault of the present system of land owning and land occupation, it is hardly in accordance with facts that his statement is made, because a great many of the holdings which are, at the present moment, large, have become so by the failure of the smaller holdings which preceded them. Not only have the large holdings been created by the absorption of the smaller holdings, but in many parts of the country, and I speak particularly of the district in which I live, there are many small holdings, and I regret to say also a long record of small holders that failed very seriously four years ago, and whose places from necessity, not from choice, have been absorbed into the larger holdings. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that the largo holdings are the cause of the existing agricultural depression. I regret that the hon. Gentleman has referred to the action of the landlords in the terms he thought fit to use. Have we not heard enough abuse of landlords generally? [An hon. MEMBER: No!] I desire to introduce no Party feeling into this discussion; but those who say "No!" I trust constitute a very small minority. If there is one reason more than another why small holdings have not been sot up where they might with advantage be set up, and where the owners of the soil would be as glad to see them established as those who may desire to occupy them, it is the expense of erecting the necessary buildings. That has been the reason, and I cannot help contemplating with serious apprehension an attempt on the part of some hon. Members of the House to suggest that what landlords have been unable to do owing to the great expense attendant upon it, Local Authorities should do. But while I regard a proposal of that sort with some apprehension I do feel that there is no subject to which the attention of the House in debate can be with greater purpose addressed once or twice in a Session, than a subject similar to that which we are now considering—namely, whether it is possible for Parliament, with safety and fair security, to facilitate the establishment of a system of peasant proprietaryship in this country. But I do not think that any measure which embodied the wishes of those who desire to see that 507 system established, would be facilitated in its progress through this House by such a speech as the one delivered by the hon. Member for West Nottingham earlier in the afternoon. It was my misfortune not to hear the speech of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), who moved the second reading of the Bill, but I have heard many of his speeches, and have no hesitation in joining in the chorus which from all quarters of the House has acknowledged how my hon. Friend has identified himself with the cause of the agricultural labourers throughout the country. I am not making that admission for the first time; last Session, when it was my duty to offer some remarks to the House in connection with another portion of the small holdings question, I made what I considered to be but a fair and proper admission—namely, that the question had been brought to its then acute and prominent form in consequence, to a large extent, of the labours of the hon. Member for Bordesley. Sir, I regret that this Bill is one which it is impossible for the Government, or those who agree with the Government, to accept, because it is a Bill which, as has already been pointed out by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin), proposes to throw upon the Local Authorities a very large and heavy responsibility. As I stated, it was my misfortune not to be present when my hon. Friend spoke; but I have not been able to hear from those who were present, that he gave to the House any evidence of there being any large or general demand for these small holdings, which, I think, he suggests should be limited to 40 acres. Now, I think that when we are asked to agree to the second reading of a Bill containing such important proposals, the House ought, first of all, to be satisfied that there is a real demand for 40-acre holdings in the country; and, in the second place, that there are no means of getting such holdings. When we were last year discussing the Allotments Bill hon. Members on both sides of the House produced evidence from all parts of the country where demands were made for land which had never been satisfied. I very much regret that the references to that Act were made in a tone which, of 508 course, we, on this side of the House, cannot appreciate; and it does seem to us a little hard that our Act having been attacked, we are precluded from saying one word in its defence. But I have no doubt an occasion will arise when we shall be able to discuss the working of that Act, and I shall then be able to acquit the Government of the charges which hon. Members opposite have brought against us, and give our reasons for the delay which has occurred in connection with the Act in different parts of the country. If the demand for small holdings has not been proved, how is the second reading of a Bill to be justified, which puts upon Local Authorities the heavy responsibilities which have been described. The Bill would throw upon them a real risk at this time, inasmuch as it would make them practically the owners of considerable portions of land, because it is possible that when these powers are conferred on Local Authorities the first result would be a demand in certain neighbourhoods that the powers of the Bill should be enforced, and that these small holdings should be created. Supposing that a demand should grow up, and supposing that the Local Authorities, in the discharge of the duties laid upon them in the Bill, should acquire the necessary land for distribution as proposed here, is it an exaggeration to say that there would be a very heavy risk entailed on the ratepayers who would have to provide the Local Authorities with funds, that in three or four years the operation might turn out to be a failure, that the occupation of the land by those for whom it was intended might come to an end, and that the consequence would be that the Local Authorities would be charged with the maintenance of the land, which would lay upon the rates a very heavy burden? Under these circumstances, we cannot help feeling that there does exist in the Bill a principle which would involve a very great risk for the ratepayers in future. The hon. Member for West Nottingham, in the appeal which he made at the conclusion of his speech, expressed his desire that the landowners should do their duty. He said that they had not done their duty in the past, and he referred also to the burdens already borne by the rates. I cannot see that, by agreeing to the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, we should have any 509 prospect or the burdens on the rates becoming in future less than they are now. On the contrary, I am of opinion, as I have shown, that those burdens are likely to be increased. I do not want to go into detailed criticism of the Bill of my hon. Friend, the second reading of which I understand he moved in a speech of a very moderato character. I understand also that he would be willing to consider Amendments to the Bill in Committee. But, Sir, there is in the Bill that which we cannot possibly accept—namely, the duty cast upon Local Authorities of providing holdings which cannot be acquired without the expenditure of a very large sum of money; and, further, that there are facilities for spending large sums of money which we believe would, in some cases, result in very heavy and grievous burdens being placed on the ratepayers. These are not times when risks of that kind ought unnecessarily to be undertaken. I do not think the hon. Member for West Nottingham, or the hon. Member for Bordesley himself, would for one moment contend that there would be the demand for the small holdings provided for in the Bill that there has been for small holdings in the form of gardens or allotments. The hon. Gentleman will, I believe, admit that these two questions are absolutely distinct. It may be urged that every man in the country is entitled to have sufficient land to cultivate for his wife and children in form of garden allotments, and that is a proposal I never have and never will oppose. But it is quite different here, where the principle is to invite Local Authorities to become owners of land in order that quasi-ownership should be conferred on people who it is alleged are unable to get any land. The hon. Member for West Nottingham said that building societies were doing a great deal of good in the country, and that he thought it time that agricultural labourers should have the opportunity of obtaining land just as there are now afforded to artizans opportunities of becoming owners of their houses, By all means let societies be started, and let hon. Members who believe there is a demand for these holdings, and that land can be acquired and sublet or partially sold to individuals without loss accruing to themselves, band themselves together, and I can 510 undertake to say that landowners will be very ready to sell them land. I do not think there will be any difficulty in the way of buying land in any part of the country, except where perhaps land may have a special value from particular circumstances, and that is not of the class which my hon. Friend would wish to deal with under this Bill. Of ordinary land productive and fit for cultivation, there is abundance to be had, and if, as I have said, hon. Members believe there is a real demand for these small holdings, and if they have real confidence in the prudence of their proposals, I invite them to form themselves into a society, such as the hon. Member for West Nottingham has indicated, for the purpose of acquiring and distributing land in the manner suggested. I have read with some amazement that there is a curious difference made in the Bill with regard to the treatment of the original owner from whom the land is to be bought, and the small owner to be created by the Bill. The original owner from whom the land may be taken compulsorily is to part with it at the price which a willing buyer would give to a willing seller without any compensation for compulsory sale; but, if for some purpose the Local Authority desire to re-acquire the land they are to be compelled to give the small owner the market value, and have to pay 10 per cent for compulsory purchase. But, Sir, if it be fair that 10 per cent should be paid to the new owner whom it is proposed by the Bill to create, it is surely fair that it should be given to the original owner who has obtained his land without assistance from Parliament. It only remains for me to say that we very much regret that we should appear in any way unsympathetic with a proposal which, divested of its political associations and partizan characteristics, is one in which, in and out of the House, we, as much as hon. Gentlemen opposite, sympathize from the bottom of our hearts. We desire to advance in every way possible, either by individual or collective efforts, or by the efforts of Parliament, the position of the labouring classes of the country. We sympathize as much with a proposal of that kind as anybody on the other side of the House; we do not wish to maintain any monopoly of this sympathy, and we only ask 511 that the same fairness shall be extended to us as we extend to others. We desire that the question of the amelioration of the condition of the working classes of the country should be approached with an open mind, and with the desire to meet and support proposals tending in that direction when they are practical and when they are safe, but we feel that we cannot, for the reasons which have been given, assent to the measure now proposed. As my right hon. Friend the Member for the Sleaford Division has said, there is now before the House a very large measure of Local Government to confer upon Local Authorities increased powers for dealing with local affairs, and, if it were proved to be our duty, we should only be too willing to consider whether any farther facilities should be given under the Local Government Bill to County Authorities to assist in the establishment of this system of peasant proprietorship, but further than that it would be impossible for the Government to go, and it is with regret that we feel ourselves unable to accept the measure of the hon. Member for Bordesley.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Derby)
said, he did not wish to import any personal feeling into this discussion; but there had been a fair issue raised on the Bill, whether it was desirable to give additional powers for creating small holdings in this country. That was a fair issue, and upon it difference of opinion might exist. He should support the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings), as he supported a Bill exactly similar when he occupied a seat on the other side of the Table in 1886. At that time the hon. Member for Bordesley, unfortunately, was not present in the House, and the Bill was brought forward by another bon, Member. And the reasons for and against it were identical with those which had been advanced on the present occasion. At that time the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Chaplin) appeared, as he had done to-day, as the opponent of the measure, had been entirely consistent; and there was an hon. and learned Gentleman behind him who succeeded in talking out the measure, 512 but who, in view of the fact that the House of Commons was now considered a reformed institution, he hoped would not follow the same course to-day. He thought they had had an instructive and interesting debate, and that they might now very well take the opinion of the House upon the Bill. He did not quite understand the argument which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Sleaford Division had urged against the Bill when he said that if you create too many proprietors you might have Protection brought back into the country, and that argument was received with loud cheers from hon. Gentlemen who sat behind him. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman was convinced by his own argument, he would be one of the most strenuous supporters of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board (Mr. Long), who spoke for the Government, had dealt with the subject of small and large holdings. He (Sir William Harcourt) was not going to say anything against the landowners of the country. He believed they had made a largo expenditure for improving the land, and he did not believe that there was any class who had expended so much upon the land in which they lived as the English landlords. He believed the system of large holdings was adopted some 30 or 40 years ago under the idea that it was best for the interest of agriculture; but he thought it had been shown that this investment of capital was not wise, and that it had been found that the smaller holdings had been better able to stand the pressure of bad times than the large holdings. He knew of parts of the country where the holdings were small, and where they had stood that pressure better than the larger holdings. [Mr. CHAPLIN: Occupiers or holders?] Both occupiers and holders. He bad lived in the same county as the hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Long), and he was acquainted with a number of small holdings that were properous in that county. It was the same in Hampshire, where the occupiers had begun in a very small way. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sleaford did not know the habits of those very small holders; he had a knowledge of the great holdings of Lincolnshire, but if he would come down into Hampshire he would find 513 men who had, from 30s. a-week, been able to farm and stock with advantage small holdings.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
When the right hon. Gentleman says I have no knowledge of small holdings, because there are none in my county, let me remind him that in Lincolnshire there are ten times as many small holdings as there are in any other county in England, and that it is entirely from the wretched condition of those holdings that I have formed my opinion.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he accepted the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and would only say that the holders of small holdings in his county had mostly begun with less than £200 in pocket, and that the system which obtained there he should be very glad to see extended. Then he said it was not at all necessary to have those expensive buildings which had been referred to; of course, the small holders required buildings for a pig and a cow; but those calculations of Gentlemen opposite running to thousands of pounds were entirely contrary to the facts of every-day life as regarded small holdings. That, he thought, was a conclusive answer to the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board. The Bill did not put any compulsion on the Local Authorities, who would only have to do what was required by the community electing them, and they would be men who would know the value of the holdings; they would be elected by the community who would make the demands upon them, and if no demand were made then the work would not be done. For these reasons he thought that the proposals of the Bill might fairly be left to them to carry out. The language of the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Local Government Board almost led the House to believe that the Bill compelled the Local Authority to lay out this money. But they would lay out no money which they did not desire to lay out; and, that being so, he thought the power might very reasonably be given to them which was asked for in the Bill. And here he would like to mention that the Government had some responsibility in refusing the second reading of the Bill, because in dealing with the Glebe Lands Bill they had held it out as a method of supplying additional 514 small holdings, and it was said that the landlords throughout the country had failed altogether to provide the means for acquiring land which were necessary to effect transfers. Having stated the reasons why he should vote for the second reading of the Bill, he hoped that the House would now go to a Division on the Motion of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division.
§ SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 135; Noes 191: Majority 59.—(Div. List, No. 113.)
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ Debate resumed.
§ MR. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)
said, that, unlike some hon. Members opposite, Gentlemen on that side of the House had been waiting all day with the desire of speaking on this subject; and he thought it was somewhat hard that when a few minutes were left in which he might have expressed his views, the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division of Derby (Sir Walter Foster) should move "That the Question be now put." He sympathized heartily with the desire and the action of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) on behalf of the agricultural labourer; but, while he did so, he did not sympathize with the Bill before the House. He thought that Bill contained innumerable errors, and that it was calculated to do incalculable mischief to the class intended to be benefited. For that reason he should give the Bill his most strenuous opposition. He had addressed large gatherings of agricultural labourers in various parts of the country on the subject, and should, no doubt, do so in the future; and he believed he should have no difficulty in securing their sympathy with the view he entertained on this particular question. His view was that the agricultural labourers could be benefited by allotments, but could not be benefited by small holdings such as the hon. Member for Bordesley proposed. Au allotment was beneficial to the agricultural labourer because he could devote his leisure hours to its cultivation, and 515 do so in conjunction with his ordinary labour for which he was paid wages. But a small holding was a totally different matter.
It being half-an-hour after Five of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed To-morrow.