§ MR. REID (Dumfries, &c),
rose, pursuant to notice, to move the following Resolution:—That, in the opinion of this House, a measure is urgently needed enabling Town Councils and County Councils in England and Scotland to acquire by agreement or compulsorily, on fair terms and by simple and inexpensive machinery, such land within or adjoining their several districts as may in their judgment be needed for the requirements of the inhabitants.
§ *MR. SPEAKER,
interposing, said: I am bound to point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman what I have had an opportunity of pointing out to him in private before, that the Motion which he proposes to introduce anticipates discussion of the subjects dealt with in two measures that are already before the House. I refer to the Bill standing in the name of the hon. Member for the Leith District—Local Authorities (Scotland) Acquisition of Lands -and to another standing in the name of the hon. Member for Forfar—Land Purchase and Division (Scotland). Although I am unwilling to put any impediment in the way of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I do not see how he can make any statement without infringing on the principles contained in those two measures. The allotments question is clearly debarred, and the question of town holdings in Scotland and the acquisition of land by Town Councils and County Councils in Scotland appears to be specially debarred by the two Bills I have referred to. If, however, the hon, and learned Gentle- 308 man can discover any means of escaping from the difficulty I shall be very glad.
§ MR. REID
On the point of order I desire to advert to the terms of my Motion. It is quite true that Bills are being constantly brought forward to confer powers for various purposes on Town Councils and County Councils in Scotland-. My proposition is to move a Resolution which should enable them to use their own judgment in regard to the purposes for which they take land; or, in the words of the Motion,To acquire by agreement or compulsorily on fair terms and by simple and inexpensive machinery, such land within or adjoining their several districts as may in their judgment be needed for the requirements of the inhabitants.My proposition is that they should act generally, and in that sense I desire to move the Resolution.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is entirely out of order, according to the decisions laid down by the Chair, in referring by anticipation to matters dealt with in Bills already before the House. This is clearly a case of anticipation. One of the Bills I have mentioned is to enable County Councils in Scotland to acquire building land compulsorily, and the other—the Land Purchase and Division (Scotland) Bill—is-for enabling Local Authorities to acquire land compulsorily for any purpose authorised by Act of Parliament, for sites for cottages, for allotments, and so on.
MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon Tyne)
May I ask you, Sir, whether the two Bills you have mentioned do not relate exclusively to Scotland?
MR. J. MORLEY
Then I presume that if my hon, and learned Friend were to withdraw the words "and Scotland" from his Motion he would be in order.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
I made that suggestion to the hon. and learned Gentleman; but he, seeing that he represents a Scotch constituency, appeared unwilling to make the alteration. It is a matter for the discretion of the hon. and learned Member. If he is willing to withdraw the words "and Scotland" from his Motion, that appears to me to remove the objection. If those words were omitted, the hon. and learned Gentleman would be in order.
§ MR. REID
I will move the Resolution with the reference to Scotland omitted, and although I do, no doubt, attach very great importance to everything affecting Scotland, still I do not think that the Resolution will be impaired in its force or value when applied simply to the case of England. It will have the advantage that I shall be enabled to curtail my speech and give English Members more opportunity to present their views to the House. For a considerable period there has been a strong feeling growing that the land system of this country cannot be adequately dealt with on the basis of what I may call old-fashioned reform, which suggests improvements in the registration of titles and the means of transfer of land. The fact that so many Bills have been introduced to enable different localities to acquire land for various purposes is of itself one of the strongest arguments which could be adduced in support of the views I propose to submit to the House. So strong has been the growth of this feeling that there is what some may call a revolutionary feeling existing on the land question in the last few years. In order that there may be no misunderstanding of my position, and in order that my silence may not seem to give encouragement. let me say at once that I have no sympathy whatever with any attempt to take land from anybody who owns it except upon fair and honest terms. In what I have to say in regard to landowners, I wish to speak of the system, not of the men, believing as I do that human nature is very much the same all the world over, and a great many of the critics of the conduct of landlords would themselves follow the same course if they happened to become landlords. In England there is, undoubtedly, a very strong opinion that the ownership of land, uncontrolled by the action of any Local Authority, has been considerably abused, and has led to the depopulation of some parts of the country and to enormous congestion in the population of other parts. It has led to discomforts and injustice which the people are not entitled to be called upon indefinitely to endure. We cannot deny the necessity of putting-some pressure upon landlords when we see the approval of the principle in the Allotments Bill of the Government, 310 which I will not, of course, now discuss. I think that hon. Members who have knowledge on this subject will agree that these powers of compulsion cannot stop here. It is needed, for example, for small holdings; but without specifying any particular class of needs, I think I may appeal to hon. Members, do they not know instances of villages stunted in their growth and development, and of inhabitants restricted in occupation and debarred from the enjoyment of a home of their own, by the refusal of the landlord to sell land or to let. except upon impracticable conditions? The leasehold system which obtains so generally throughout England, I think, is now generally admitted to be detrimental to the interests of the population at large. I go further, and condemn the precarious tenure upon which so many persons occupy their houses. How can we hope to see the standard of comfort raised in England; how can we expect to see the people elevated by education and other benign influences, which are not. likely to go very far in that direction, unless the people have the comfort of what they may call a home of their own? To very many people this is denied, and though I do not say it is general there are many instances of people being harshly evicted from their homes for very slight reason. I can give as good authority for my statement Mr. Froude, who, in the Nineteenth Century for September, 1880, has the following:—Not a mile from the place where I am now writing an estate on the coast of Devonshire came into the hands of an English Duke. There was a primitive village upon it, occupied by sailors, pilots, and fishermen, which is described in Domesday Rook, and was in habited at the Conquest by the actual forefathers of the late tenants whose names may he read there. The houses were out of repair. The Duke's predecessors had laid out nothing upon them for a century and had been contented with exacting the rents. When the present owner entered into possession it was represented to him that if the village was to continue it must he re-built, but that to re-build it would be a needless expense, for the people, living as they did on their wages as fisher been and seamen, would not cultivate his land, and were useless to him. The houses were therefore simply torn down, and nearly half the population were driven out into the world to find new homes.I do not believe that such cases often occur on a large scale in England, but there have been many cases where indi- 311 viduals have been driven from their homes. I should like to illustrate what I have to say by some brief reference to Scotch experience. I take the cases in order to show what the power of the landlord may be. The case of the crofters in the Highlands is a conspicuous instance, and not even the annals of Irish landlordism can exceed in horror the devastation of the Highlands some years ago. I hope that some hon. Member opposite will give the House the horrible details of the clearances that were effected in Sutherlandshire, where thousands of people were turned out of their ancestral homes to make way for sheep, and eventually for the land to be turned into deer forests for the amusement of English, Scotch, and American sportsmen.
§ MR. REID
These things began 70 years ago, and have been continued until 2,000,000 acresout of the 19,000,000 acres which Scotland contains have been turned into deer forests, with the result that land cannot be obtained for any other purpose. I have mentioned in the House before, how, in some places in that country, the tenants hold under a six months' tenure, and they can only bequeath their property with the consent of the landlord, who frequently disregards their bequests. Ten miles from Dumfries there is land admirably situated on the shores of the Solway for the establishment of a village or small town, and there is a strong desire for this, but not a feu will the landlord grant. The town of Kilmarnock had to wait 12 years before the Local Authorities could purchase land for a public park with the sum of £10,000, which had been left them for that purpose. Again, at Greenock I believe the adjoining land belongs practically to one owner, who refuses to sell or let for building, and the borough suffers severely from the artificial price of land, created by the absence of all competition. I will go no further with Scotch illustrations, for I feel it would not be right to do so. London offers the most horrible cases of all, which are the result of overcrowding, giving rise to disease and immorality of the most frightful description. The freeholders, as a rule, exercise no supervision whatever over their property, and, indeed, are powerless to do so in conse- 312 quence of the length of the leases they have granted. The result of this system has been shown by the evidence taken by the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Poor to be appalling. Hundreds of thousands of people are paying enormous rents for abominable accommodation. I may be allowed to quote a few words from the Report of the Commission in reference to London. On page 14 the Commissioners say—Among adults, too overcrowding causes a vast amount of suffering which could he calculated by no bills of mortality, however accurate. Even statistics of actual disease consequent on overcrowding would not convey the whole truth as to the loss of health caused by it to the labouring classes. Some years ago the Board of Health instituted inquiries in the low neighbourhoods to see what was the amount of labour lost in the year not by illness, but by sheer exhaustion and inability to do work. It was found that upon the lowest average every workman or workwoman lost about 20 days in the year from simple exhaustion, and the wages thus lost would go towards paying an increased rent for a better house. There can be little doubt but that the same thing is going on now, perhaps even to a greater extent.…Nothing stronger could be said in describing the effect of overcrowding than that it is even more destructive to general health than conducive to the spread of epidemic and contagions diseases. Unquestionably, a large amount of the infection which ravages certain of the great cities is due to the close packing of the population. Typhus is particularly a disease which is associated with overcrowding, and when once an epidemic has broken out, its spread in overcrowded districts is almost inevitable. In Liverpool nearly one-fifth of the squalid houses, where the poor live in the closest quarters, are reported as always infected; that is to say, the seat of infectious disease. It is not surprising to learn that among the fever dens of that city overcrowding is growing less, owing to the fall of the population which mortality produces.The reason is to be found a few pages further on, where the Commissioners say—Turning to the unquestioned causes which produce overcrowding and the generally lamentable condition of the homes of the labouring classes, the first which demands attention is the poverty of the in habitants of the poorest quarters, or, in other words, the relation borne by the wages they receive to the rents they have to pay.Charity and private enterprise are wholly unable to deal with matters of this gravity. Only on the lines of this Resolution and by a Government Bill can we grapple with the state of things existing now in London. I do not think it would be wise on my part to multiply instances, nor have I quoted these for 313 the purpose of holding landlords up to odium, but to show how inadequate is our present system to deal with evils of this nature. Last year the President of the Local Government Board, in replying to me said we might safely rely on the interests of the landlords themselves; but it is precisely the self-interest of landlords that has given rise to such evils as make a Resolution of this character necessary—selfish interests and competitive rents. Nor can a local Act of Parliament effectually deal with the subject. To obtain an Act of Parliament is a costly proceeding. The smaller towns in England cannot afford the large expense of obtaining a local Act or even a Provisional Order, to enable them to put an end to these great and growing evils. The costs of the litigation which follows the obtaining of a Provisional Order are most excessive and in many cases absolutely unnecessary, and with those costs the community are almost invariably saddled. After a Provisional Order is obtained it is necessary to have litigation for the purpose of ascertaining the true value of the land; and, as litigation on that subject is now conducted, no one who has any experience will dispute that the costs are frightful, most excessive, and absolutely unnecessary in many ways. Not only must there be a large array of so-called scientific witnesses for the purpose of proving the value, but every separate interest in any part of the land may be valued separately, and the community is saddled with the cost. No matter how unreasonable the owner of the land has been in refusing accommodation or in refusing a fair price, he never can be made liable for one shilling of the costs. He may have to pay his own costs in some extreme cases, but the Local Authority taking the land always has to pay its own Besides, Provisional Orders can only be given for certain prescribed purposes. Suppose that the Burgh of Thornhill was desirous of buying out its landlords and of placing all the persons in the ambit of the town in an independent position, they could not do it by a Provisional Order, and it would be hopeless to try and do it by Act of Parliament, because this House has now about 20 times too much to do. Under these circumstances it is that I propose to confer on the Town Councils and County Councils the power to take land. 314 Of course, the land should be taken on fair terms—I mean at an honest price. I also think that some check should be placed upon the action of the Local Authorities. I should say that the President of the Local Government Board ought to have power to prevent any unfair use of their power by a Local Authority. Suppose, for example, the Local Authority wanted to take a private park, or a garden. or anything of the kind, it is quite right there should be some power to check them. Then, I think land should be taken by means of simple and inexpensive machinery. I should prefer that it should he done below a certain amount by the County Court Judge, with an assessor; or, in the ease of large sums, by a Judge of the Supreme Court, also with an assessor, and I think that power ought to be given to deal with the costs of any inquiry in such a manner as to prevent those who had to part with the land being stimulated to ask and require unfair terms. If, in the opinion of the tribunal, such people acted unreasonably, the tribunal might be able to order them to pay the costs. Subject to these conditions, I would leave to the County Councils ample and complete discretion. The needs in the different Parts of the country are very different, and the Local Authorities alone know what the requirements of their localities are. We have no time to ascertain the needs of localities, and if these things are to he done at all they must be done by the Local Authorities. It may be asked from what source the money is to come. I might with great ease point out that if the Government are prepared to give £33,000,000 to Ireland, which the Irish have never asked for and do not want, they might be prepared to give a little assistance for purposes I have spoken of. But I do not think it is at all necessary to make use of Imperial credit or funds in this case. Public works in Municipalities or counties will in the future, as now, be paid for out of local funds; but in cases where there are such requirements as I have been adverting to, as, for example, where a town requires an extension, and it is necessary to take land for the purpose, I believe that through the agency of Building Societies or Benefit Societies, which might combine for the purpose, it 315 would be perfectly possible, and in many cases would happen, that the Town Council or County Council would exercise the power, and that the whole of the money would be found by those who would reap the advantage in common with the rest of the town. I believe if such powers as I propose were conferred, they would do a great deal of good, especially in villages, for example, which are oppressed by the leasehold system of tenure, and there are not a few in the South-West of England. The leasehold system would be put an end to at once if the County Council or the Town Council thought proper to interfere. Towns will be able to expand, and to do so at no unreasonable cost. I do not say that these would be powers sufficient to settle or dispose of these difficulties, nor do I suppose that I have been able to put an adequate number of illustrations before the House in the short time at my disposal. But I appeal to the private experience of individual Members, and I submit that land reform must take the direction of increasing the powers of Municipal Authorities. If those powers are increased great advantage will, I submit, ensue. I desire to see these reforms in order that, by means of prompt and kindly concessions, we may be able to avert the danger of the spread of discontent, which I regret as much as any man in this House, and which could never be harboured by people in this country unless it is founded on a refusal to remove a real grievance.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, in the opinion of this House, a measure is urgently needed enabling town councils and county councils in England to acquire by agreement or compulsorily, on fair terms and by simple and inexpensive machinery, such land within or adjoining their several districts as may in their judgment be needed for the requirements of the inhabitants."—(Mr. Robert Reid.)
§ (9.46.) MR. A. H. D. ACLAND (York, W.R., Rotherham)
My hon. Friend, in the interesting speech which he has delivered, stated that he had asked me to say a few words on the question so far as it refers to English villages, and to that point I will, therefore, restrict my observations. But I wish, first, to make three preliminary remarks. The first has reference to the question of compulsion. I suppose we may admit, now that the Government 316 have got an Allotments Act, that the question of compulsion is not worth discussing as a matter of principle, for it has already been conceded by the Government. When I first entered the House the acceptance of the principle seemed to be very far off indeed. I remember how the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, who then represented Ipswich, was attacked by the present Minister of Agriculture for advocating this principle. The right hon. Gentleman talked about the "predatory instincts of a class whose Socialistic schemes were so admirably represented by the hon. Member." I suppose that it is we who have predatory instincts and Socialistic schemes at the present moment; but it seems to me that the matters for which we plead are quite as important, and not in any way more dangerous, than the principle of compulsion which the Government have already conceded. I agree with my hon. Friend that we might trust Local Bodies, if the application of compulsion is extended, not to infringe upon the amenities which may justly be claimed by landowners or others. For the purposes for which land is wanted in English villages, security of tenure is even more important than that the freehold of the land should be acquired. I quite agree that the Local Authority should retain some power over the land which it purchases, in the same way as Building Societies do, and that they should secure the annual increment by valuation from time to time. In the next place, I hold that there should be a common management of the buildings erected upon the land by the people for the people. I hold that it is most desirable to develop some kind of public opinion in the villages, because in too many at the present time there is hardly any public opinion. I believe that many landlords are now beginning to see clearly that this question of country, life is not a mere question of how many pounds of beef or how many bushels of corn can be produced per acre; there is a question of human life. It is no answer to say that in some villages the state of things is everything that can be desired, because we know perfectly well that other villages are sadly neglected; while even in some, which are under a kind of benevolent management, there is no real free- 317 dom. The history of land shows that the tendency has been to put all the power in the hands of one man. and Mr. George Brodrick in his book says—All these changes have by no means weakened the power of the squire, who, on the contrary, is a greater man than ever relatively to the other classes in the village community, since he is no longer jostled by independent yeomen, but surrounded by obsequious tenants and labourers. This potentate concentrates in himself a variety of rights and prerogatives which in the aggregate amount to little short of patriarchal sovereignty.It is true that in many villages there is something of this patriarchal sovereignty. For certain purposes the inhabitants of villages have a fair claim to the use of pieces of land. There is the case of village halls, which are wanted for entertainments, for labourers' meetings, for the meetings of friendly Societies, and for the formation of libraries. Only a few days ago I heard of an excellent village hall which was largely used by Churchmen; but when Dissenters asked to be allowed to give an entertainment in it, the vicar and the squire said "No." A Dissenter in the village thereupon went to the vicar and said, "It is very hard, sir, to be a Nonconformist in this village." If that is not boycotting it is something very like it. Possibly the hall was built mainly with the money of Churchmen, and if they chose they could, of course, keep the Dissenters out of it. The next purpose for which land is wanted is for use as recreation ground. In many villages there was no recreation ground for the people. Mr. Jessopp, a well-known writer, speaking of the East of England, says—The plain, ugly fact is patent to all who do not resolutely keep their eyes shut, that the agricultural labourers life has had all the joy taken out of it, and has become as dull and sodden a life as a man's can well be made. There are scores, perhaps hundreds, of villages where the inhabitants have absolutely no amusement of any kind outside the public house, where cricket or bowls or even skittles are as unknown as bear baiting, where the children play at marbles in the gutter in bodily fear that the road surveyor should come down upon them.A clergyman told me recently that in his parish it was utterly impossible, without an expenditure of money he could not afford, to get a field for his lads to play cricket in, the only place where they could play being the bottom of a dried-up pond. Then, 318 again, there is the case of Working Men's Co-operative Societies, which ought to have a fair opportunity of securing a footing in every part of the country. Every North Countryman knows the splendid work which these societies have done; and I, therefore, advocate this, whatever hon. Members may think on the vexed question of the relationship of these societies to individual shopkeepers. Mr. Albert Pell, a late Member of this House, said, in his evidence before the Small Holdings Committee—If there was legislation for the compulsory taking of land in parishes or villages I should like to see legislation enabling Industrial Societies to get hold of freeholds for Co-operative Stores. My experience with regard to those societies is that they are at an enormous disadvantage in England from the inability to get into a village. People are always saying, 'Oh, you will disturb some old woman,' or 'You will give offence to somebody.' My own experience has taught me it is very difficult for the co-operative movement to get on from the difficulty which exists, especially in smaller villages, to get a place where they can securely carry on their business.I know of some villages where the societies cannot possibly obtain a footing except by the exercise of compulsory powers. The societies occupying premises on a tenure terminable at six months' notice cannot possibly be expected to develop. They may be excellently supported by the squire or the vicar, but the squire may die, and then what may happen? Somebody may succeed him who does not care for Co-operative Societies, and submit that the only way in which they can develop would be by investing their savings in the form of new buildings, and they cannot be expected to do that until they are assured of security of tenure. I should like to give an instance of the control of our village schools in its direct bearing on those Co-operative Societies, which, I know, have the sympathy of many Gentlemen opposite. One of my Co-operative friends wrote to me the other day stating that he had been trying to establish branches of the Cooperative Stores in small villages, and, with that object, had endeavoured to get up entertainments for raising funds. In the first instance, a clergyman, as manager of a school, refused an application for the use of a school room for an entertainment; and, in another instance, a School Board made a promise to grant a school 319 room on an undertaking that votes would be given for members who pledged themselves to grant such facilities. As my friend remarks, a refractory Elective Board can be dealt with successfully, but a refractory clergyman cannot. The short tenure of many Nonconformist Chapels, especially in Wales, and the fact that it is frequently uncertain how far any chapel can get a really good site in any village, must make us all feel that Religious Bodies ought to be treated on equal terms, and that any Religious Body who bond fide desires a site ought to be able to get it. I turn now to the case of village societies. Mr. Albert Pell says that he does not think there is a great desire to obtain land with a view to cultivation, but that there is a desire to obtain a bit of land to build a house on, with a garden adjoining We all know the ordinary agricultural labourer cannot buy his house, but there are scattered about in many of our villages artisans, wheelwrights, blacksmiths, carpenters, shopkeepers, and others, who, if they were living in towns would take advantage of Building Societies to become owners of their own houses. I see no reason whatever why a genuine Building Society should not be allowed to provide for the wants of men of this 'sort in country districts. I think, also, there ought to be power to obtain land compulsorily, if necessary, on which to build intermediate schools in the best positions in towns and villages. Of course, none of these suggestions can be completely carried out until we get District Councils; but some step, at all events, can be taken in the direction we advocate. My hon. and learned Friend has alluded to the leasehold qnestion. A good many landlords are saying, "If you propose leasehold enfranchisement we will grant no leases at all." The effect of adopting a policy of this kind will be that poor people will have no tenure whatever except from month to month. All I can say is, if landlords take this unreasonable line they must not be surprised at the extreme views some men adopt, especially in the towns. It is because I think we may find some intermediate method between boycotting on the one hand and violent measures on the other that I support this Motion. The son of a very liberal landlord said to 320 me the other day, "If you were to give these powers to Building Societies you might find two or three cottages going into the hands of poachers." Another argument used against us is that unsanitary dwellings would spring up. What are our Sanitary Authorities for if they cannot keep our villages in a proper condition? Such arguments as these are thoroughly bad. There are two sides of village life, and one of them is usually concealed in the minds of the people themselves. I personally came across this case the other day. A carpenter, who devoted himself to social work, and the work of education among his fellows, happened to fall out of work, and accepted a situation as estate carpenter on a large estate in the South of England. After a year or two he went back to his native place and detailed his-experience. He began first of all, he said, trying to get up concerts in the village in which he lived, but this was soon put a stop to He said no effort whatever was encouraged among the people themselves unless it was brought to them from above, and he stated that the life was almost intolerable, because, as he said in his homely way, "It knocks all the manliness out of a man." I do not directly blame the agent, or the landlord, or the clergyman of this village, because I do not suppose they were conscious of the effect of the policy they adopted. I should, however, be inclined to say to any independent-minded man of fair education, who was wavering as to whether he should remain in or leave the village in which he lived: "If everything is done for you from above go to a place where you will find a more independent atmosphere in which to live." This is not a question to be settled by charity or money. I remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer, speaking on the Irish Question in 1885, remarking that people who had become extremely rich thought that their chequebook could solve all questions, and his observation might well be applied to the state of things in our villages. It is not by making model villages, model reading-rooms, and all the rest of it, that you are going to develop an independent spirit among working people. Give them something to manage for themselves; let them have halls of their own, libraries of their own, opportunities for acquiring 321 bits of freehold land in good positions for Co-operative Societies, chapels, an deven houses of their own, and then you will bring out the best of them, and they will be happier and pleasanter people to live among than they are at present. I think, on the one hand, there are many who imagine they are going to do the people good by Primrose League festivities; whilst, on the other hand, there are people who think they are going to settle all the questions that concern the land by wild and revolutionary schemes. Is there, I would ask, no intermediate course? I think there is. Though our proposals may seem small,. I think that, if properly worked out, they will lead to more community of feeling among the poor, and to a greater sense of responsibility for their own affairs, such as will make a man a man. These things may work slowly, and will work slowly, but they will, I believe, give independence to many who now are not in the best sense of the word independent, and will lead to greater happiness by the road of wider and fuller opportunities.
§ (10.18.) MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)
I think the House has some ground for feeling disappointed with the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. R. T. Reid)—I do not mean because he has not been allowed to go much into the question, but because I think the Resolution he proposes is a totally different thing from that which he has attempted to advocate in his speech. The Motion declares that a measure is urgently needed for enabling Town Councils and County Councils in England to acquire land compulsorily for the benefit of the inhabitants. Now, a Town Council is a body created by statute for particular purposes of Local Government, and County Councils have been created in like manner for the purposes of County Government. My hon. and learned Friend wishes to show that these bodies have not the requisite powers in regard to the acquisition of land to enable them to fulfil the purposes of their existence. But he has not attempted to prove that these bodies have no powers. There are many duties cast on Town Councils, such as the duty of providing for drainage, 322 providing recreation grounds, libraries, water supply, and artisans' dwellings, which necessitate the acquisition of land. Wherever it has been found necessary for Town Councils or Rural Boards to have power for acquiring land com-pulsorily, Parliament has conferred that power on them. As it has not been shown by either the Mover or the Seconder of the Motion that these bodies have not the requisite power for the purpose for which they have been called into existence, I suppose they are contented with the powers which exist in that respect. Then what is the proposition? The hon. and learned Gentleman began by dwelling on cases of hardship in regard to individuals, and insisted on the necessity for giving powers to Local Authorities for the acquisition of freehold property. Well, I know that it is desirable in some cases that powers for the acquisition of freehold should be given. The hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned a case in Devonshire, not within his own knowledge at all, but based on a statement by Mr. Froude, the historian—and here I may say that, though one is always happy to take Mr. Froude's opinion on a matter of history, it does not follow that his opinion is worth more than any one else's on the every day transactions of life. Then, having dealt with the case of alleged hardship in Devonshire — only one solitary case—the hon. and learned Gentleman flew off to Scotland. I will not go at length into the Scotch question, but I must say I have a lively recollection of what took place in the House in 1886. The hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the crofters, but he entirely ignored the enormous rights and powers which, in 1886, were conferred upon the crofters where their holdings were too small. The hon. and learned Member challenged me to say in what cases I would give the powers he advocates. Well, I will tell him. Let him give me an instance in Devonshire, or any where else, where there are landlords so cruel and senseless as to refuse to let land which is needed for the interests of the inhabitants, and I shall be quite prepared to give power by Provisional Orders to enable a municipal Corporation or County Council, or some body responsible to this House, under 323 proper check, to acquire land for the purpose of the people. That is where I would meet my hon. and learned Friend. Let him show me a case where he could prove the Preamble of a Bill or a Provisional Order for affording the relief he speaks of, and I will meet him. He has not, however, produced a shadow of a case. Having started in Devonshire and wandered off into Scotland—ignoring the liberal provision made in that country for the crofters—my hon. and learned Friend came back to London and declared that the case of the Metropolis is the most horrible of all. Well, what is the result of his statement? Why, that in London rents are absolutely competitive. I would ask why rents should not be absolutely competitive? Is there any part of the United Kingdom, or of the world, where rents are not competitive or in which anything else that is to be sold or hired is not governed by the laws of demand and supply? Hon Gentlemen opposite seem to lose their heads over this question; they seem to think that different principles are to be applied to land as compared with any other property. That might be a good cry if we were dealing with the origin of society, and starting the question of a new State where a large number of people are suddenly thrown upon a tract of land which is only capable of accommodating a certain number, but here we have to deal with a country where the land has for centuries been in the occupation of somebody, and that somebody has been recognised by the State and by society as the owner of the land, who can give up the land in consideration of money paid for it. Land and money are convertible terms, and men who have made money should be encouraged to invest it in land. I am at a loss to see why a man who invests his money in land should be condemned when he looks for a fair interest upon it. My hon. and learned Friend, by way of illustrating further the horrible character of London, said that many people, hundreds of people, there are paying rents they could not afford. I am afraid that has been my own case through the whole course of my life; I really do not know anybody who does not think he is paying too much when he is asked to pay his rent. But what 324 about the thousands and tens of thousands of people in London who are paying more than they can afford for food and other necessaries of life? And this argument applies not only to London but to every part of the world. It is idle to make a complaint of that kind. My hon. and learned Friend says that we have in London fever dens. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman ignore the fact that here come in the powers of Municipal Bodies? Does he ignore the fact that the Municipal Bodies, when they find these fever dens, have power to destroy them, to proscribe whole areas, and to provide for the erection of new buildings? My hon. and learned Friend contended that something must be done, either on the lines of the Resolution or by confiscation. I thought from the first that my hon. and learned Friend meant confiscation. I agree with him that it does mean something on the lines of this Resolution, or by confiscation. My hon. Friend spoke of fair terms and simple machinery. What is meant by fair terms? I cannot but think that in the use of those words my hon. and learned Friend meant something in the nature of the so-called fair rent in Ireland to which the competitive value of the land has been reduced. Fair terms in the sense of the Resolution mean favourable terms for the tenant, but utterly unfair and harsh and wicked terms as against the owner of the property. It is a singular fact that the only instance in which my hon. Friend descended to particulars dealt with matters which Municipal and County Councils already have power to deal with. He quoted the demand for village halls. Well, town halls are now erected by Councils in nearly all boroughs, and vestry halls in nearly all Local Board districts; while the same authorities also have power to provide recreation grounds. School Boards, too, have compulsory powers for the purchase of land. But suppose the Municipal Authorities do get these powers, and do acquire land, they must charge a rent for it, and that rent will have to be fixed either by some rule of their own or on the competitive rule. It must come to exactly the same thing. I object to any increased powers being given, as proposed by the Resolution, until it has been pointed 325 out specifically what those powers are to be.
To leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "This House, while ready to consider definite proposals for conferring on county councils and town councils such further powers as may he shown to he needed for the requirements of the inhabitants within their jurisdiction, declines to assent to a general proposition which neither defines the nature of the requirements nor the mode in which they are to he met." —[Mr. Ambrose,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ (10.40.) COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
I think I ought almost to apologise to the House for venturing to rise to second the Amendment, and my only excuse for doing so is to point out that rural districts are equally with urban interested in this question. It seems to me that the scope of the discussion has separated itself under two some what different heads, and I think the House will see in the speech of the Seconder of the Resolution that very different matters were alluded to to those which were touched upon by the Mover of it. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman who seconded the Resolution that in all he has said as to village life, and in all his aspirations for the development of manliness among the rural population, he has many a warm sympathiser on this side of the House, and he has no more hearty and sympathetic partisan than I profess myself to be. The only point is that we differ somewhat as to the means to be adopted in order to attain the end the hon Gentleman has in view. We think that end is not to be secured by perpetually calling in question the good motives and operations of the landlords, but that it is more likely to be promoted by freely acknowledging that they are doing a great deal to forward his object. So far as the operations of the landlords are concerned, I think that, although the hon. Gentleman has made out a good case for increased interest and philanthropic exertion, he has hardly brought forward 326 any practical argument that would justify the House in supporting the Resolution that he has moved. But beyond that part of the question which refers to rural life, I notice that the Mover of the Resolution dealt more especially with the powers which it is proposed to give to Town Councils; and on that subject I think it would, perhaps, not be out of place to consider what use has been made by Town Councils of the powers which they already possess, and how far those powers have been used discreetly and moderately, and without inflicting injustice upon other interests with which they come in contact. I think the hon. Gentleman has been somewhat unlucky in the day on which he has chosen to move this Resolution; for, with his interest in legal matters, he will probably have noticed a case in which judgment was yesterday delivered by Lord Justice Fry. It was a case which bears directly upon the behaviour of Corporations towards rural localities with which they are brought into contact. The Corporation referred to in this case was that of Wolverhampton, and the allegation brought against it was that it had acquired certain land for uses which are intended to be amplified by the present Resolution. The allegation was that the Corporation had, by their action, changed a pure brook stream into a filthy and offensive stream; that they changed water formerly fit for cattle and domestic purposes into water unfit for such use: that they rendered the land where the water flowed unfit for the purpose of agriculture; and that they turned a pleasant trout stream into a filthy ditch. Now, this is a case in which a Town Council had exercised powers which it already possessed to acquire land for the purpose mentioned in this Resolution. They had acquired land, and they had used it in such a manner as to produce the results mentioned in the allegation; and in the end an injunction was granted restraining the Corporation from further polluting the brook. That injunction was granted in August, 1886, and yesterday Lord Justice Fry, in delivering judgment, found the Corporation guilty not only of disobeying the injunction, but of having wilfully disobeyed it; and in the end he granted what, in legal phrase, is termed a sequestration 327 of the property of the Corporation. That surely is a strong case, and shows that there is, at all events, a reason for hesitation before the House grant increased powers to the Councils. The case of the supporters of the Resolution would be strengthened if they could show that the powers already possessed by Councils have been always exercised for the benefit and not to the injury of the community at large. Another fact within my personal knowledge has a direct bearing on this question. The Corporation of Wolverhampton have also acquired land, on which they have erected machinery for pumping water for the use of the town. In this particular case the Corporation have entirely deprived a considerable district around them of a large water supply, by the process of boring deep wells. There are, at this moment, several farm-houses and cottages in which not one drop of drinking water can be obtained, through the action of the Corporation. I personally waited on that body, and, while they admitted that this denudation of water was the direct result of their action, they told me that if there were more water they would take that as well. I adduce this case as another instance where the powers now sought to be amplified extend to a degree which enables a direct injustice to be inflicted on a rural district with out any chance of redress. I repeat that the House should hesitate before it accepts a Resolution, the object of which is vaguely to increase and enlarge the powers which, it can be shown have, in the past, been used mischievously and unfairly. I think that the Amendment, which goes in the direction of limiting the vague and visionary language of the Resolution, would, if adopted, save the country from what might easily become a danger to the cause of justice and fair play.
§ *(10.56.) MR. D. CRAWFORD (Lanark, N.E.)
I think that hon. Members on this side of the House may congratulate themselves on the extreme candour of the arguments brought forward by the Mover and Seconder of the Amendment. The last speaker argued not only that the powers now possessed by Town Councils ought not to be extended, but 328 that they have been abused, and ought, therefore, to be curtailed.
§ COLONL KENYON-SLANEY
I never hinted that the powers should be curtailed, though I urged that the House ought to hesitate before it further amplified them.
§ *MR. D. CRAWFORD
I am in the judgment of the House whether, if the hon. Member's statement is correct, it is not a legitimate inference that the powers ought to be curtailed. Members on this side of the House, however, are of opinion that the powers at present possessed by Municipal Councils have been exercised with the utmost advantage to the country, and they are in sympathy with the argument of the hon. Member for Rotherham, when he said that, with the view of stimulating the manliness and independence of village communities, he was prepared to take the very distinct step in advance proposed in the Resolution. The Mover of the Amendment contended that this is, and ought to be, a pure question of supply and demand. There, I think, we approach the kernel of the question. I do not think that any Member of this House can complain of the moderation with which the hon. Members for Dumfries and Rotherham presented their views, nor can it be said that there was anything revolutionary in their proposals. By this Motion we aim at two things. We aim at obtaining a much-needed practical reform which we desire to get for purposes of an urgent character. But we also hope that the House will accede to the Motion as indicative of a certain stage in the advance of public opinion, and as a means of registering its view, that the use of land is not merely a question of supply and demand but is one in which the public and Parliament have a legitimate concern. We all know that it has been too much the custom to apply the phrase "A man may do what he likes with his own" to the possession of land. Hon. Members on this side of the House consider that opinion to be not only an erroneous one, but very far indeed from being a Conservative opinion. We consider it to be an opinion which is dangerous to the security of property; and it is, to a large 329 extent, in a Conservative interest that we advocate this Motion. The arguments which have been urged by the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment would lead to this result—that supposing a man by his title deeds possessed a whole county in England, he might clear it of population and make it a desert, and no one in this House would have a right to challenge the owner. We demur to and dispute this proposition. We are not advocates of any revolutionary disturbance of land tenure as at present in force. Indeed, I consider the systems of land nationalisation which are advocated as unsuitable if not fundamentally impossible; but if anything would bring into prominence those violent and revolutionary views it would be such arguments as were used by the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment, to the effect that a man may do what he likes with his own and sweep off the face of his estate cottagers and everybody else and if it suits him to do so.
§ MR. AMBROSE
I never said anything of the kind, and it will be in the recollection of the House that I distinctly asserted that if any such case could be made out it would form a ground for the intervention of this House.
§ *MR. D. CRAWFORD
I am not surprised that the hon. Member has made that remonstrance. I am aware that he does not desire his arguments should be too stringently construed, but I would remind him that, when he was ridiculing the arguments of my hon. Friend in allusion to competitive rents, the hon. Gentleman said—"Why not have competitive rents in land? What is the difference between land and any other commodity? It is a pure question of supply and demand." Therefore, I say, I was only drawing a fair inference in stating that the hon. Member would deem any landowner justified in sweeping off every cottager from his estate. We all know how largely that sentiment prevails in the country. I have known, within my own experience, landlords, good and benevolent men, who had avowed that because they were not pleased in a case where there was a tendency in a village to extend in the direction of their houses, 330 they would not allow cottages to be built in the direction of their estates. [Cries of "Name."] I know a case of hardship in this connection in Scotland There is a very important and growing town in my own constituency which is rapidly increasing. There are mineral fields in the district, and the only terms upon which the landlord will permit houses to be built are, first, he exacts that a good and substantial house, sufficient to be a security for the ground rent, should be built, and that if the coal is taken out from below the house, and the house should tumble about this man's ears, the occupier is to have no claim for compensation. That, I say, is a tyrannical and dangerous use of property, which forces on the minds of the people of that county the fact that, though born there, they really have no place to live in. And things are getting worse in Scotland as well as in England. So far as our studies and knowledge carry us, I agree with the quotations from Mr. Brodrick's book which have been read, to the effect that the squire in England is now a more powerful man and the cottager possesses fewer rights than in former times. In several parts of the county that I represent it used to be the custom for the miners to save money and buy a house and plot of land of their own, and under that system a peculiarly fine type of men was cultivated. Under the present system, where, as a rule, miners' cottages belong to the landowner and where the tenant is not secure the condition of the workmen, neither morally nor physically, can be compared to that of the older race of men who acquired an interest in their houses. We are aware that this Motion, in its operative part, must, under the Rules of the House, be restricted to England, but the question is one which interests my constituents most deeply, and that is my apology for intervening in this Debate. It is a question which touches their imagination more, perhaps, than any political question of the day. I feel assured that there is nothing in the Resolution which need prevent hon. Members opposite from voting for it. Many of those hon. Gentlemen profess their sympathy with the working man, and their desire to aid him in obtaining a more independent position. 331 Why, then, should they not assist in confer ring on Municipal Bodies the right of acquiring land for the benefit of the working class? There is, at any rate, no argument in favour of the Motion which presses more upon my mind than that it is, in the best sense of the word, a Conservative Motion, and that, if hon. Members opposite will vote for it, they will do much to promote that security of tenure in regard to land in this country which they so much desire to ensure.
§ *(11.15.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
I desire to state, in addressing the House on this question, that I am not in favour of any doctrine of confiscation of landlords' property, and that on this side of the House, at any rate, contracts are held sacred, except where the interests of the community require any alteration. I desire to say a few words in reference to the acquisition of freehold for public buildings. In my own district, when a vestry hall was required, it had to be erected on a leasehold tenure, because it was not possible to buy the freehold. We are now looking for a central site for our baths and wash houses, and are unable to get anything but leasehold land. In the same way our free library could not be placed in the middle of our population on a freehold site. I can imagine no reason why Local Authorities should not have power to acquire land by compulsory purchase, for the purpose of erecting baths, wash-houses, libraries, town halls, and other public buildings. The sooner some legislation is passed to carry into effect the recommendations of the Town Holdings Committee, even to a limited degree, the better it will be for our great populations. With regard to houses, there is, no doubt, considerable difficulty in allowing one man to purchase his freehold while another may not choose to exercise that power. I recognise the extreme difficulty of putting compulsory powers in the hands of individuals. But that difficulty would not occur where Local Authorities purchased, not one or two houses, but whole estates for the benefit of the community. In the parish of Plumstead, where I live, I recollect the land being let for agricultural purposes at £3 per acre in 1845. The income of an estate 332 of 250 acres in Plumstead in 1845 was, therefore, £750 per annum, and the capital value of the estate at 20 years' purchase was £15,000. In consequence of the increase of the Government work at Woolwich, immediately after 1845 and after the Crimean War, it was necessary that additional houses should be erected for the accommodation of the workmen employed in the Government Establishment. If an Act such as that now asked for had been in operation, this 250 acres could have been acquired and about 5,000 houses built. But as the freehold could not be bought the houses had to be built on leasehold tenure. After making roads about 20 houses per acre were built on the leasehold tenure, for which £3 per annum ground rent per house was paid. The result is that an estate which was bringing in £750 per annum, and the capital value of which was £15,000, now brings in an income of £15,000, or its original capital value, every year, in consequence of the lucky circumstance of houses being required for workmen who are obliged to live near their work. The houses were built on leases for 70 years, which have now about 25 years to run. The landlord will have received about £1,000,000 in extra rent, without reckoning interest thereon, and in 25 years the houses, which cost £200 each to erect, will revert to him, and he will get another million of money., These 5,000 men who built these houses, chiefly with the aid of Building Societies, or paid heavy rents for these houses, will not have a relic left of that which they put on the ground; some people will have become millionaires, and others-will have reverted to their original condition. In fairness, I ought to admit that those who have the leasehold houses, and let them, do not make a loss, because the rents charged enable them to recoup themselves for the money laid out and the interest upon it. This loss really falls on the workpeople in excessive rents. Now, if the community had stepped in, in the first instance, either the enormous profit I have mentioned would have belonged to the Municipality, or the rents would have been less during the whole of the time. It may be said that all that is past and gone, and nobody wishes to take the landlord's property away. But what is 333 to be done now? It would be a very good thing, in my opinion, even now, if the municipality were to step in and make an arrangement by which the £3 a year ground-rent should be increased to £6 and give a perpetual lease. The result would be that those houses would not be forfeited, the 5,000 leaseholders would still retain their property, subject to a £6 ground-rent, and that ground-rent would at once double the freeholders income, or could be sold for £150, and it was better to have £150 in cash 25 years before the lease expires than a house worth £200 25 years hence. There would be no loss in an arrangement of that kind; the landlord would he benefited, and the workmen would remain in permanent tenure of their houses. It only wants business men to consult together in order-to effect some arrangement by which the thrift of the working classes can be permanent instead of evanescent. I give this practical example in answer-to my hon. Friend who wished for practical instances. I leave the House to deal with a matter which affects the well being of the country. Working men are fully alive to the importance of having permanent homes — they value them very much, especially those who desire to live in the same locality. Certainly it is a desire which ought to be encouraged, I hope, by the whole of us. Permanent thrift will make the lives of the working people and their children happier than they have been in the past.
§ *(11.23.) MR. CREMER (Shoreditch, Haggerston)
Mr. Speaker, if the result of this Debate had only been to have caused the hon. Member to deliver the speech to which the House has just listened with a good deal of interest, it could not be described as otherwise than profitable; and entitle the Mover of the Resolution to our thanks. The speech with which the hon. Member who moved the Amendment favoured the House appeared to me to be one that might have been made 100 years ago, when it would have been in keeping with the their existing order of things. The hon. Member has apparently come into the world too late. It is a pity, because he might have been able to influence past 334 generations, but we have outgrown the fossilised views he expressed in regard to the rights of property. There was a marked difference between the speeches of the Movers of the Motion and Amendment. The one pleaded for humanity, the other, from first to last, almost exclusively for property. The hon. Member does not seem to have any sympathy with anybody or anything in the world except the holders of property. The hon. Member for Harrow asked the Mover of the Resolution to produce an instance of hardship, and then he would consent to some power being vested in the Local Government Board. But what the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution pleaded for was that the people should have the opportunity of accomplishing their objects themselves. With that suspicion. which is still entertained of the working classes, the hon Member said, "Prove to us that you suffer hardships and we will do something for you." But the people have outgrown those ideas. They are anxious to redress their wrongs in their own way. And I am satisfied that the people themselves are better acquainted with their own wants and aspirations than ever the hon. Member for Harrow can possibly be; and that they are better qualified to redress them than even he is. The speed res of the Mover and Seconder of the Resolution, I thought, bristled with instances of hardship, and the House has just heard another very remarkable-case from the hon. Member for Woolwich. I can quite understand the hon. Member for Harrow saying to himself, during the delivery of the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, "Save me from my friends," because the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich supplies him with one of the most remarkable instances ever, I think afforded to this House, of the hardship, cruel wrong, and suffering inflicted upon the industrial classes. I hope after this the hon. Member for the Harrow Division will never again use the term "confiscation," or try to frighten the country out of its propriety, by talking of the danger there would be in giving Local Authorities the power of confiscating the property of the landlords. What have they been doing at Plumstead but confiscate?—["Oh !"]—I 335 use the term advisedly—not land, but bricks and mortar, the dwellings which these men have raised by their money and skill. I am simply voicing the opinions entertained by the people with regard to this iniquitous system. The talk of confiscation comes from the hon. Member for Harrow with a very bad grace. The Seconder of the Motion treated the House to two remarkable illustrations of the danger of conferring on Local Authorities the power of doing that which we are asked, by the Resolution, to enable them to do. He told us that the Town Council of Wolverhampton had deprived certain cottagers and dwellers in farm-houses of a proper supply of water. Well, it has fallen to my lot to travel through many of the villages of the United Kingdom, and I have seen many instances of hardship in the matter of water supply inflicted on the villagers, not by Town Councils or Local Authorities, but by landlords. There are hundreds of villages throughout the country in which, owing to the action of the landlords, the people have no water supply other than that of the village pond, which contains water full of animalcule, not fit even for animals to drink. If this Resolution is carried into effect it will, as one of its results, enable the people to remedy this state of things. A great deal of socialistic agitation now prevails, led by men nearly all of whom are terribly in earnest, and it is the experience which these men and their followers have obtained of rural life and of the sufferings to which the agricultural labourers have had to submit that has embittered their feelings. The ranks of Socialism in London and our large towns are becoming a dangerous force in the country—and I use the term "dangerous"advisedly—to the supporters of the existing state of things; they have been swollen by the influx of men from our villages who, in their country life, have suffered grievous wrongs and hardships such as those it is now sought to remedy. I would, therefore, ask hon. Members on both sides of the House seriously to consider whether by the adoption of a beneficial and practical Resolution such as that now submitted to us, they would not be doing something to deprive the advocates of ex- 336 treme, and very often foolish, measures of the power they already possess and of their influence which increases day by day.
§ *(11.36.) MR. SHAW-STEWART (Renfrew, East)
The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down speaks of the benefits which would result if this Motion were passed, but he has omitted to point out in what particular way the Motion would benefit anybody.
§ *MR. CREMER
I suggested that it would benefit the villages by enabling them to obtain purer supplies of water.
§ *MR. SHAW-STEWART
I was about to say that all I could gather from the speech was that if this Motion were passed the animalculæ in village ponds might in some mysterious way vanish. But if all that is to happen is that the animalculæ in village ponds are to be replaced by the animalcule in town ponds, I do not see that much will be gained. The hon. Member did not suggest what powers should be conferred on the Town Councils which they do not already possess for dealing with sanitary matters. The hon. Member for Lanarkshire made a general sweeping statement—which seemed to be founded on nothing more than gossip—as to the desire of certain landlords to drive everyone off their land. He did not mention the names. He found fault with the Seconder of the Motion for mentioning some cases of Town Councils in connection with which alleged hardships had occurred, and he would have been the first to complain if the names of those Town Councils had not been given; but he himself omitted to tell us who were the individuals of whom he spoke. I am surprised that the case of Scotland should have been gone into after your ruling, Sir, but it was touched upon, and the hon. Member who touched upon it dealt with a case with which I am tolerably familiar. The Mover of the Amendment instanced the case of Greenock, as to which he must have been misinformed, for during the last 40 years land has been acquirable 337 by the Corporation of Greenock, and could have been acquired on fair terms. Tested by this case, the other examples of hardship adduced are of little weight, and therefore no case has been made out for the Motion, and it has not been shown that things would have been different if effect had been given to the Motion by legislation. For these reasons I shall support the Amendment.
§ *(11.42.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
I believe the Debate on this Resolution will he productive of great good in the country. It states in a simple and plain way what is a great public need, and it is evaded by an Amendment which speaks about being-ready to consider 'definite proposals, "but declining to assent to" general propositions. "We heard in the earlier part of the evening my hon. Friend the Secretary to the Board of Trade say something about" A true blue argument. "Well, I think the hon. Member how moved the Amendment made a speech which was worthy of being described as a very" true blue "speech; but, fortunately, we have heard from the same side of the House a speech of a very different character—I allude to that of the hon. Member for Woolwich. I would commend that speech to the attention of the Government and the Party opposite. I rejoice in this Debate, which indicates the greater interest taken in agricultural labourers since they have votes. Their interests are no longer the preserve of the hon. Member for Bordesley, whom I do not see in his place to-night. This Motion affords a touchstone and a test which will enable the labourers to determine who are their real friends, and who will assist them to obtain a greater enjoyment of the land which they believe is intended for the happiness and the use of all. True, the Resolution does not say how it is to be done; but while it deprives opponents of the opportunity of fastening upon details, it lays down a broad general principle which it is for statesmen to carry out. The labourers want land on fair terms free from the personality of the individual landlord, and under 338 conditions which will save the unearned increment to themselves and their children, instead of allowing it to be appropriated by landlords big and small. Now, this Resolution fulfils all these conditions, and therefore, I for one, most loyally support it. The labourers know the interests of those who are against them--the landlords who for generations have fattened on the unearned increment of the community. An instance has been given of this by the hon. Member for Woolwich; and cases of this kind must be within the knowledge of every Member in his own constituency. I came across a case the other day, where a landowner was charging at the rate of £2 10s. for a tenth of an acre. That landowner is a Member of this House sitting on this side—though he does not vote with us. £25 a year for an acre of land let to agricultural tenants as garden allotments while the adjoining land is let by him at between £4 and £5 an acre. These cases are not singular; there is hardly a district in England in which they do not occur. The building lease dodge is another means by which the landlord fetters the growing community. The communities grow; they want elbow room, and the private owner of land fattens on the very needs of their existence; whereas I maintain that if communities were allowed to acquire lands around themselves on fair terms, so that they should receive the unearned increment, in 50 years' time there would be a property valuable enough to pay the whole of the local and poor rates. I would not intefere with any man's property unduly; but I hold that all individual ownership of land is subject to the general ownership of the community. I am one of those who hold the doctrine—Radical doctrine if you like to call it so—that God never intended the land to be possessed and enjoyed by a few people, but that He intended it for the benefit and enjoyment of all. And as I am in the habit of saying these things on village greens, and in village school rooms, I should he ashamed of myself if I did not say them here as well when opportunity offers.
§ *(11.52.) MR. WHARTON
The last speaker, so far as I understood him, 339 alluded to the want of small holdings in England and Wales; but if it is not a matter of ancient history, I would remind him that the Party to which he belongs, in 1886 having turned out a Conservative Government on the question, had an opportunity of going on with the measure, but failed to avail themselves of it. It seems to me somewhat strange that so eminent a Member of the Party in power in 1886 should twit the Conservative Party— who really have done something towards enabling labourers to acquire small holdings—with not doing that which his own friends neglected to do when they had the opportunity. The Motion, so far as I understand it, is to enable Town Councils and County Councils, in some fashion not stated, to buy land for certain purposes which are very vaguely set forth. They are to be empowered to spend the ratepayers' money for some purpose, as to which the hon. Member has not been good enough to enlighten us. I came down here to-night expecting to hear an eminent lawyer—for the hon. and learned Member for Dumfries is a very eminent lawyer—propound a new Land Law for England; but I must say that I have received very little enlightenment. The hon. and learned Member began by stating that the landlords in England behaved very ill indeed. I was anxious to hear him give instances to prove his assertion, but he did not give any. All that he told us was that something unfair had been done in a fishing village on the coast of Devonshire.
§ MR. R. T. REID
I did not say that all landlords had behaved very ill indeed, or else I must have very ill indeed expressed my meaning. I said there were many cases of hardship, but that there were good landlords as well as bad.
§ MR. WHARTON
I am glad that I have elicited from the hon. and learned Member the confession that there are good landlords in England; but I must 340 say that the hon. and learned Gentleman gave me the impression—and I think I shall be in the recollection of the House when I say that the general impression he conveyed was—that, as a rule, the landlords did not behave well. The hon. and learned Member went off to Sutherland-shire and talked about deer forests, and then he came to London, but I could learn absolutely nothing from his observations. The Seconder of the Motion made, as he always does, a very interesting speech; but it had very little to do with the Motion. He gave us a most interesting disquisition, chiefly in regard to co-operative 'stores and village halls; but in my county, at least, nearly every village hall has been built by that much-maligned individual, the great landlord. As no definite proposals for altering the system of land tenure have been submitted, there is really nothing to vote about. By carrying the Motion the House will be binding itself to great and fundamental changes for which no reasons have been adduced. That being the case, I shall feel bound to give my vote for the Amendment.
§ (12.0.) MR. BRUNNER
One hon. Member who spoke awhile ago expressed his desire not to interfere with the property of the landlords unduly, and at that a cheer went up from hon. Members opposite. But we have been complaining all the evening that the property of those who are not landlords except in name, namely, the leaseholders, have been unduly inter fered with, and we trust that hon. Members opposite—kindly men as we know them to be—will extend their sympathy to this class. I listened with the utmost regret to the words which fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. D. Crawford). The body of laws known as the Land Law of England has no worse result than this, that they brutalise the men who benefit by them. My hon. Friend will, I believe, be as kind a neighbours in Lanarkshire as my neighbours the great landowners are in Cheshire. I have seen a great deal of the difficulty of obtaining a pure water supply in villages, and if only on this account I should like to see this power conferred not only on Town and County 341 Councils, but on all Rural and Urban Sanitary Authorities. Not long ago, I knew of a case of a landlord from whom the Sanitary Authority had obtained the lease of land from which to obtain water, charging a rent for the water obtained by his neighbours—most of whom were his tenants—while the waterworks were being executed. The water was running to waste, and though the landlord was losing nothing of any use to him he insisted on a rent. [Cries of "Name!"] No, Sir, I should be ashamed to give the name. I am not here to speak ill of my neighbours. The gentleman to whom I allude is a very kind man. He is respected wherever he is known, and comes of a Cheshire family, which has been respected as long as the records of this House have been on paper. Nevertheless, this man did not think it beneath him to charge a rent because his neighbours got the benefit of that which had cost him nothing whatever. If for no other reason than this, that the existence of this law hardens the feelings of the rich against the poor, I shall support the Motion.
§ (12.3.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD off AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
I have listened to the Debate with the greatest possible attention; but I confess I am very little wiser than I was when it began with respect to the specific object which hon. Members opposite desire to obtain by the proposal submitted to the House. For I am bound to say that a vaguer or more indefinite Motion, supported by vaguer or more indefinite speeches, I do not recollect having ever listened to. The general drift of some of the speeches was tolerably clear, and undoubtedly it seems to me unhappily to be the case that we live in days when some politicians, at all events, appear to have as one of their chief objects a desire to obtain popular applause and popular support by appealing to the not unnatural wish of some classes of the people to become possessed of property which is not their own-What is the Motion before the House? It asserts that a measure is urgently 342 needed to enable Town Councils and County Councils in England and Scotland to acquire by compulsion, if not by agreement, on what its supporters are pleased to describe as fair terms, such land within or adjoining their several districts as may, in their judgment, be needed for the requirements of the inhabitants. The first thing that occurs to me to ask is, What about the needs of the inhabitants in those districts who are to be deprived of their land? Surely their claims are entitled to some consideration; but those claims have not entered the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite even for a moment. How has the Motion been supported? The hon. Member who seconded it referred to some observations which I made on a former occasion with regard to the principle of compulsion. I acknowledge—nobody in these days disputes it for a moment — that the principle of compulsion with regard to the taking of land for a specific or definite object that is proved to be for the public good is undoubtedly accepted. It has been accepted by the present Government, and we do not deny that the Legislature, if it think fit, has the right to take land by compulsion. But the Legislature is bound not to think fit to do so unless it is clearly shown to be for the public good. Has it been shown in any one of the speeches this evening that there is any specific or definite object for the public good in the minds of Gentlemen opposite for which they desire to obtain the assent of the Legislature to the acquirement of land by compulsion? The hon. Member who seconded the Motion spoke of the necessity of obtaining free libraries and cricket grounds in various places where they are needed; and he dwelt on the subject of Cooperative Stores in some districts, expressing the opinion that it is most desirable that the use of the village schools should be allowed for the purposes of those who wish to promote the formation of such societies. In that last observation I cordially agree with the hon. Member, for I think that the use of such schools for purposes of that kind would promote an object which is for the general 343 good of the inhabitants of the parish; but I have yet to learn that it is necessary that the House should assent to a vague proposition which would enable Town Councils and County Councils in all parts of the country to take land by compulsion under any pretext and for any purpose whatever. To whom do the people go when they want free libraries, cricket grounds, or public halls? Why, to the landlord of course. And can hon. Gentlemen opposite name any instance in which any landlord worthy of the name is not foremost in promoting such objects? Turning to the observations of the Mover of the Motion, I must say that in some respects I have never heard a more surprising speech. The Motion is one to enable Town and County Councils in England to acquire land by compulsion; yet the hon. Member found it necessary to travel to the North of Scotland for an illustration. He talked of the horrid scenes and the atrocities which occurred through the eviction of tenants in Sutherland.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Member may use what term he pleases. He referred to occurrences of 80 or 100 years ago. A more unfortunate or inaccurate reference could hardly have been made. What are the facts? I have myself had the opportunity of learning them from a man who devoted the whole of his life to the improvement and benefit of the people living in the interior of that country. The best proof of that is to be found in the monument erected to his memory. The fact is that year after year, owing to the climate and natural causes, the people were placed in such a condition of destitution, very often approaching starvation, that it became absolutely necessary for a landlord possessing any instincts of humanity at all to endeavour so to deal with the matter as to improve the condition of the people in the future. Steps were accordingly taken for the purpose of removing those people. [Ironical Opposition cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen would do well not to 344 cheer too soon. Steps were taken to remove those people from the interior, in which it was almost impossible for them to live, to the coast of the country. That was done for two reasons—in the first place, the land near the coast was far the most fertile in the county; and, in the second place, the people were thus enabled to supplement their agricultural pursuits by fishing. The hon. Member made the alleged misconduct of the landed proprietors one of the main props of his wretched, indefinite Motion, but let me give a few of the facts. What was the condition of the people? It was described by a man who had visited the country over and over again, The description given was that—During 1816–17 these people suffered the extremes of want and human misery, and they existed on the bounty of the proprietor. Those who lived in the interior and had no cattle subsisted on nettle broth thickened with a little oatmeal, while those who had cattle resorted to the device of bleeding them and mixing the blood with meal Every exertion was made by the proprietor. To those who had cattle he advanced money to the amount of £3,000, and to supply those who had no cattle he sent meal to the amount of £9,000.That is the work of a single year on the part of a landed proprietor, and it is work that has to be done year after year in the County of Sutherland to preserve these people from starvation.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Unquestionably I do. Why ask me such a question after the statement I have made to the House? Would the hon. Member have justified the retention of those people in a perpetual condition of misery and starvation? When I learn that the hon. Member has ever performed any acts of justice and humanity at great cost to himself such as I have just described, I will admit, what I do not admit at present, the right of the hon. Gentleman to pose as a critic in this matter. Then the hon. Member referred to a matter of quite a different character. He said there was great pressure at the 345 present time for allotments and small holdings. The question of small holdings is one of great interest and importance, but as it is now under discussion before a Select Committee the hon. Member will excuse me if I reserve my opinion upon that question until the Committee has reported. The Party on this side of the House have not been backward in yielding to the demand for allotments, or in making arrangements and introducing legislation for their more numerous provision in the future. They have done so because they are convinced allotments are wanted. The hon. Member spoke of the tenants' precarious tenure of their cottages; but how does he propose to ameliorate their position? If the Local Authorities are substituted for the landlords, what guarantee is there that the tenants will be one whit better off? Nine labourers out of ten, if they were given the choice of holding their cottages either under an average landlord or under some Local Authority, some Parish Board, would not hesitate for a moment, but would choose the landlord. The hon. Member spoke of the uncontrolled power exercised by landlords over their land, and said that such power is injurious to the public interest. But whether it is injurious or not depends entirely upon how the power is exercised. Uncontrolled power badly used is undoubtedly most injurious to the public interest, and not only in the case of land. The same thing is true of the uncontrolled misuse of his income by any hon. Member in this House. Then the hon. Member said that the price to be given for land taken by compulsion is to be a fair price, and that by a fair price he means an honest price. But what is an honest price? Surely it is the worth of the land to the owner. Is that the view of the hon. Member, and is the owner to settle the price himself, or does the hon. Member desire that the land should be taken from the owner by compulsion, and that he 346 should be paid less than he wants or holds the land to be worth? The hon. Member for Haggerston (Mr. Cremer) said that the people wish to redress their wrongs; but what are the wrongs which the people wish to redress in connection with this question? I have failed to gather any clear notion of the hon. Member's meaning, unless it is that the wrong under which the people suffer consists in this—that, certain persons happening to be the owners of plots of land, other people wish to possess that land in their place. What wrong can there be in the fact that I or any other person may have acquired by purchase or inheritance certain parcels or quantities of land, and which not unnaturally some other people would like to possess? But the most extraordinary statement we have heard this evening came from the hon. Member for the Cirencester Division (Mr. Winterbotham). After warmly thanking the Mover of the Resolution for the course which he has taken, the hon. Member, in a burst of pious aspiration, said, "Thank God this is an abstract Resolution and not a Bill." I was not surprised at this pious aspiration of the hon Member; because, although hon. Members opposite never lose an opportunity of talking upon this question, they have always been deplorably backward when opportunities for action have presented themselves. The hon. Member candidly avowed that this Resolution was a bid for the labourers' vote. "If you will not do this thing," said the hon. Member, "make room for us." But what would be the use of making room for the Party opposite? Would their conduct be different from what it has been in the past? The labourers have only too good a recollection of their attitude with reference to this question. I have endeavoured, I hope not at too great length, to criticise some of the statements and suggestions in speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I may be permitted, in a few words, to state my position and the position of the Government in reference to this question. We freely admit that the compulsory principle must be recognised when the acquisition of land is proved to be for a genuine, specific, beneficial, and advantageous public purpose. I do not think there need be any doubt in the minds of 347 hon. Gentlemen opposite as to our feeling when I remind the House, as I am justified in doing, that I was almost the first person in this House, many years ago, to advocate the compulsory principle in a Bill with regard to the payment of compensation by landlords to agricultural tenants. I believe, also, that I was the first person in the House, certainly one of the first on the Conservative side of the House, to propose that: in regard to allotments compulsion should be admitted as a principle where land could not be obtained without it. We did that because we were absolutely persuaded, after careful inquiry, that both of these were objects of great public advantage, which in the public interest it was desirable, and indeed more than desirable, we should adopt. If hon. Gentlemen opposite will show us definitely some good which can be accomplished by their proposal, if they will submit propositions to the House of Commons at any time in a definite shape and in a definite manner, and will prove to us that they are for the public good and advantage, then they may be assured that the Government will not be backward in entertaining these propositions. But we must have before us something more than vague speeches supporting a vague Motion such as has been submitted to us tonight. Until we have something different before us I hope hon. Members on both sides will unite in showing their sense of this vague and indefinite Motion by voting against it.
(12.34.) MR. J. MORLEY (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is not really an alarming speaker when he adopts the line he has taken up to-night; because we all remember that he took up the very self-same line when he met a proposal of this kind in reference to allotments, the moment it became serious, with what he described at the time as an "emphatic' No."
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to explain, as I have explained before, that when I gave that reply I said "No," not to the pro- 348 position for a Bill for allotments, which we said the Government were ready to introduce; I said "No" to a Vote of Censure thoroughly undeserved, and to nothing else.
MR. J. MORLEY
At all events the result, if not the intention, of the right hon. Gentleman's emphatic "No" was to negative the proposal for compulsory purchase. The right hon. Gentleman cannot give an emphatic "No" to that statement?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Yes, I can; a most emphatic "No." I am afraid the memory of the right hon. Gentleman must be very deficient. A Vote of Censure was moved on the Government for not including the mention of an Allotments Bill in the Gracious Speech from the Throne. I answered, on behalf of the Government, that the Government were prepared to introduce an Allotments Bill, a Bill in which, so far as I recollect, the principle of compulsion was included.
MR. J. MORLEY
This is the first time we have heard that the principle of compulsion was included in a Bill the House never saw or heard of. If the right hon. Gentleman wishes the House to believe that in January, 1886, he was in favour and the Government was in favour of compulsory allotments, of course I unreservedly accept his statement. I look forward very confidently to the day when possibly the right hon. Gentleman himself will bring in a Bill carrying out the proposals which tonight he is going to vote against. I look forward to the time when he will say the Government accept the principle of compulsion. He has said so to-night, but he also says that it is only honest that the landlord should fix the price. Is the House to understand that the right hon. Gentleman seriously maintains that land is to be taken by compulsion, but at a price fixed by the landlord? I can only say that to that proposition we give an "emphatic No." Anybody can see that the time is not very far distant when landlords will not be allowed to fix the price of any land that may be taken, as the Motion 349 suggests, by public bodies for public purposes. Anybody can see that such a principle as that is in these times undoubtedly doomed. The right hon. Gentleman has said exactly what he used to say upon allotments, that, when an improvement is required and land is required for the purpose, then the first person to go is the landlord. He used to say, in regard to allotments, that the people would rather go to a landlord than to a Local Board. True, there are many landlords to whom they would prefer to go, but these are the minority among landlords; but depend upon it the time has come when we have to accept the principle in legislation that popularly-elected bodies must have power to acquire land for public purposes, or what they deem purposes of public utility; and if the right hon. Gentleman doubts that, I would refer him to the speech made tonight by one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters. If he doubts the truth of what I say, let him weigh the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich (Colonel Hughes). And, by-the-way, the right hon. Gentleman forgets, I think, the "Acquisition of Church Sites" Bill. He forgets that his own Party passed a Bill for the compulsory acquisition of church sites; but when an attempt was made to apply the same principle to chapels, a Gentleman who sits behind the right hon. Gentleman did his best to block that proposal, and to deny to Nonconformists the same compulsory powers that were given to Churchmen. The charge of vagueness has been brought against the Motion, and the able speeches in which it has been moved and supported. There was no vagueness in the able and, as I thought, most interesting speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Acland). There is no vagueness in the proposition of my hon. and learned Friend; and if anybody wants to know what the recommendations implied in the Motion are, I would refer him to no more recondite authority than the recommendations of the Town Holdings Committee. I am sure the President of the Local Government Board is well acquainted with those recommendations. The recommendations are not, it is true, all in favour of powers being given to County Councils, but they are recom- 350 mendations pointing in the direction in which they may be—probably will be— expanded for County Councils and Town Councils to have compulsory powers. The Committee recommended that all religious bodies to whom land had been granted on lease by the freeholder for a place of worship or school should be allowed to purchase the fee, subject to fair compensation; and similar powers were recommended to be given to educational bodies, even when not elected; also to provident societies with reference to their buildings: and, lastly, and most important, was the recommendation that any public body should have power to procure the enfranchisement of any building required for purposes of general utility, on the ground that security of tenure in such an instance is of great importance to the community. Therefore, the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend is no revolutionary one; in principle and in spirit it has been admitted and recommended by a Committee of the House, upon which, of course, there was a Conservative majority. So far from the proposal implied in the Motion being destructive or violent, it is no more than an extension—and no very violent extension—of the principle which the Government themselves admit and are carrying out in their Allotments Act. The principle of the Allotments Act is that a public body shall have compulsory power to satisfy a certain kind of public demand. Where is the revolutionary character of a proposal to extend the same principle in the direction of other requirements which a locally-elected body may choose to think are requirements of public utility? I am quite sure that the hon. Member for the Cirencester Division (Mr. Winterbotham) gave exceedingly good advice when he said that to assent to, and still more to carry out in legislation, the principle involved in this Motion is a sure and the only way of avoiding a tremendous tide, which, if we do not meet it in time, will submerge a great many institutions which we on this side of the House value as much as hon. Members opposite. The hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment to the Motion has taken up a position which I am sure Gentlemen sitting near the hon. and learned Gentleman must have 351 heard with some consternation, and which will hardly be supported by them, however they may vote to-night. There are not 50 Gentlemen on the opposite Benches who will take the position of the hon. and learned Member, namely, that all these transactions are to be left purely and simply to the principle of demand and supply.
§ MR. AMBROSE
Indeed, I never said anything of the kind. I said that private transactions between man and man should be so regulated; but I admitted that upon legitimate ground being shown a Public Authority might take compulsory powers for public purposes.
MR. J. MORLEY
Then I must say that very elaborate passages in the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman were ill-conceived and not addressed to the Motion before the House. I am sure the House understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to have insisted on competitive rents remaining the law in the case of all these transactions in which public bodies might have concern; and, that being so, I think that my hon. Friend behind me has not pressed the hon. and learned Member too hard when he said that the Amendment rested upon nothing stronger than the old and, as I should have thought, almost universally repudiated, principle that a landowner can do what he likes with his own. I do not believe that that principle is now accepted in any quarter of the House, except perhaps by the hon. and learned Member himself. The speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich is a fair answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The subject of this Motion is one which undoubtedly, as years go on, will constantly be brought before the House. Large Municipalities, and small Municipalities also, will not endure that their expansion should be throttled and the conditions of their growth checked by the assertion of privileges, or it may be of the legal rights of owners of land, 352 hostile to the welfare of those who have given to that land its real value. The question of the unearned increment will have to be faced within a measureable distance of time. It is unendurable that great increments which have not been earned by those to whom they accrue, but have been formed by the industry of others, should be absorbed by people who have contributed nothing to that increase. I remember when Mr. John Stuart Mill broached the doctrine 20 years ago. Mr. Mill was the last man to accept any modern doctrine of taking land without fair compensation; but if the doctrine of the unearned increment had prevailed at the time when he was speaking with reference to some of the great London proprietors, enough would have been intercepted to satisfy all the public purposes which it is now proposed to meet, and the demands of a great society like that of this Metropolis would have been fairly satisfied, without doing an injustice to a single landowner. These doctrines are in the air, they are now put forward, not quite for the first time, but almost, in this House. The discussion we have opened to-night will not be the last, but is the first of a series of discussions; and it is because I think that the Motion points towards a solution of the problem which is reasonable and moderate and involves no breach of equity towards any owner of property that I shall give it my most hearty support.
§ (12.50.) The House divided:—Ayes 159; Noes 175.—(Div. List, No. 74.)
§ Words added.
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
Resolved, That this House, while ready to consider definite proposals for conferring on County Councils and Town Councils such further powers as may he shown to be needed for the requirements of the inhabitants within their jurisdiction, declines assent to a general proposition which neither defines the nature of the requirements nor the mode in which they are to be met.
§ It being after One of the clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.
§ House adjourned at five minute after One o'clock.