§ Order for Second Heading read.
§ (12.35.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill I think I am entitled to express satisfaction at the improved position which the question occupies. It has now been before Parliament for some years. The present Bill is only a small measure, and it proposes to provide facilities for the acquisition of land by the labouring population and others in the rural districts. In 1888 the Government granted a Select Committee to examine into the whole question. I welcomed that Committee with great satisfaction as an acknowledgment that the question was to be no longer dealt with as a visionary one, but that it came within the range of practical politics. The Committee was of a very representative character, and it sat for two Sessions, taking evidence from all quarters. After examining some 40 witnesses and taking interesting evidence on all parts and sections of the question, it produced a Report in 1890. I do not propose to detain the House by going into the details of that Report, but I trust that hon. Members will have studied, from the evidence, the chief difficulties connected with the subject. I will merely quote a sentence or two from the conclusions the Committee came to unanimously. They say that the extension of small holdings is a matter of national importance in the interests of the rural population, and also as an addition to the security of property generally. They believe that the desired object can be attained without serious risk or loss, and they go on to state that the working of a system of small holdings will be an encouragement to the rural population and will increase the attractions of rural life. The Committee 652 unanimously adopted the principle of the Small Holdings Bill with certain modifications which I am inclined to think are rather an improvement than otherwise. Finally, they recommend that a sum not exceeding £5,000,000 shall be devoted to the purpose of providing small holdings. They conclude with an expression of hope that no time will be lost in introducing legislation to give effect to their recommendations. I thank the Government for having lost no time in taking the matter in hand. The Report was presented in June or July, and in the following Session an announcement of a Small Holdings Bill was made in the Speech from the Throne. No doubt the proposal meets with opposition from certain quarters; some oppose it from economic reasons, and others because they think that any scheme of the kind would be a failure. I do not wish to argue these points, because I claim that we are all agreed in the object we have in view, namely, to benefit the labourers by making their life more attractive and prosperous, and opening out a career for them other than that of the workhouse. That being so, I respectfully ask the House to assent to the Second Reading of this Bill, and by so doing affirm the great, beneficent and desirable objects contained in it, justified as they are by the recommendations of the Select Committee. Conversing a short time ago with an old friend who has a four-acre allotment, I asked him why he grew corn? His reply was such that I could find no rejoinder to it. He said, "There is my stack; there are my fields; and I feel all right for the winter." No one without experience can realise the enormous amount of labour put into the land by the holder of a small allotment and his family. I know, from experience, that everybody does something—no child is too small; and there is always something to be done in planting or weeding. No hired labour is engaged, but the work performed produces the same good results. Adam Smith, in his Wealth of Nations, tells us that the small proprietor, who knows every part of his little territory, takes a pleasure in cultivating it, and is generally most industrious, intelligent, and successful. It tends also to encourage thrift, and I 653 could mention numerous cases to show how these men, out of their hard earnings, have made savings. One case comes to my mind, and it does not stand alone. In a village near Huntingdon the Rev. Mr. Hopkinson, a landowner as well as a clergyman, offered in 1886 50 acres of land to his labourers, and money to buy cows as well. His offer was accepted by 12 labourers, but there were only two who required assistance towards buying a cow. He gave the necessary assistance and was repaid in 12 months. Speaking in Gloucestershire, a short time ago, I happened to mention the word "wheelwright." A man came to me subsequently and said, "I am a wheelwright; I have two sons with me; trade is bad, and one of my sons went away last week to get employment. If I had had such a holding as that you recommend I might have been able to keep my family together, and tided over the period of bad trade." And this is not the whole of it, because the young man would have been at home instead of going into Gloucester to compete with other wheelwrights, where competition is perhaps too severe already. There is another reason why both farmers and landlords should advocate this proposal. If the present system goes on much longer the old all-round, skilful agricultural labourer will disappear altogether. He is fast disappearing now, and will not be kept unless some such proposition as this is adopted. In travelling abroad I have been much struck with the skill of the labourers, and the good feeling which exists between them and the farmers. Almost to a man, they possess a home and some agricultural land. Some time ago I was in a rural part of Belgium and I had a conversation with a man and his son who were working for a farmer for five francs a day between the two; but I found that the man had 12 acres of land, two or three cows, and some poultry, and yet he was delighted to let himself out to the farmers when his services were wanted, to the mutual advantage of each. If once this system is adopted, the farmers will be benefited more than any others by having an ample supply of good labour at their command. There is one other reason which induces me to ask the House to deal generously and 654 seriously with the matter. The enclosure of land in the last century has had a disastrous effect upon the peasant class. From 1760 to 1867 there have been upwards of 7,000,000 acres, or more than one-fifth of all the cultivated land in England enclosed, with very inadequate provision to secure the rights of the labourers and others connected with the land. I admit that public good may have resulted ultimately from the enclosure of this land. Capital has been applied to the drainage and reclamation of the land, which has done good to the country, and in no case could these improvements have taken place under the old system of open fields. Not only has the land been improved in quality, but its fertility has been doubled and trebled, and stock has not only been improved in form, but doubled in weight. This would not have been possible under the old system; but while admitting all this I contend that the process has been unjust in its operation to the peasant class, and disastrous in its results to the cultivating peasant. They have ceased their connection with ownership, and have been for all time reduced to the position of mere wage receivers, or inmates of the poor house. I maintain that this great class is entitled to consideration at our hands, and, if for no other reason, I urge upon the House the desirability of considering seriously a measure of this importance; I do not propose to go into the details of the Bill. Its principle has been admitted by the Select Committee, and all that hon. Members will do in voting for the Second Reading, is to pledge themselves to some measure on the lines of the Report of the Select Committee on Small Holdings. The Government have promised to bring in a measure; at present we do not know what its provisions are to be; perhaps they are not yet settled. I will, however, refer to the three main principles of the present Bill, which I believe to be essential to the good working of any measure. One of the clauses contains a proposal to hire land. There are cases in which the Local Authorities could not afford to purchase it. For instance, there is land in the neighbourhood of large towns, the prospective value of which is too high altogether to enable it to be purchased for agricultural purposes, although the 655 land itself may not be wanted for other purposes for 5, 10, 15, 20, or 25 years, and is the very spot which ought to be used for these small holdings. The Bill also contains a provision for the payment of a certain portion of money down, the balance remaining as a perpetual quit rent. I know there are those who think the land ought to be sold out and out without conditions, and that the small holders should become the owners of the property, but I think I can show that that would be bad for the labourers and would defeat the object I have in view, which is not to secure absolute ownership for cultivation purposes. If land is wanted for other purposes—for building or letting—it should be acquired by other than public money. I think it would be a mistake if we did not attach certain conditions and enforce them. It is said that such holdings would not be profitable. On the contrary, I think they would be very profitable, and they would be all to the advantage of the labouring classes. No mortgage could be raised on them, nor could they be sold or devised. We have the example of other countries where such holdings exist—North Holland, Belgium, and Denmark—where the holders are recognised by the community, and are considered as freeholders in every sense of the word. Some years ago some plots of land in the County of Oxford were purchased under the land scheme of Feargus O'Connor, and were sold subject to a quit-rent of £9 per annum. It is astonishing how well taken up to this day that land has been, but the plots were purchased for small sums within the scope of the rural population. A tenant at a quit-rent remains to all intents and purposes the proprietor; and, above all, under this plan the small holder will be safe. It has been said that this constitutes a dual ownership. I must deny that it is anything of the sort. The Local Authorities will be no more dual owners because they receive a yearly quit-rent than they are in regard to the Poor Law because they receive a rate. These two points taken together will give the advantage I have named, and enable the Local Authority to impose certain conditions as to sub-letting and sub-division. Failing, this I am sure 656 that no scheme can be successful. If the holdings were taken out and out, in the attempt to form a race of small landowners this would happen: when trade was good the owners of the holdings would be inclined to sub-let and impose a rent-charge. On this point I recently read a very interesting passage in Mr. Lecky's History of England in the 18th Century. Speaking of this very position in Ireland at a period just before the close of the last century he said—The general rental of the country was undoubtedly low, but the poorer peasantry reaped no benefit from it. Gradations of middle men, often four or five deep, intervened between the owners and the cultivators of the soil.That is what we want to prevent. The small holder under this plan is safe from the temptations of the money-lender. The owner will by this system be relieved from the competition of the capitalists and of the men who want to buy land in order to re-let it; and he will only have to compete with people who want the land for cultivating purposes. Take the case of Minster Lovell. There are there holdings which have been purchased by shopkeepers and others of the neighbouring town. The holdings have been bought for a small sum, subject to a quit-rent of £9 10s. The owners have sub-let, and there are men on the estate paying as tenants £16 and £17 per annum. I believe that the plan I propose would create a numerous class, who would be rooted on the soil, whose holdings would take some such name as "cottage farms," who would be to all intents and purposes freeholders, and who would be regarded as such. It is interesting to notice how every writer, whether English or foreign, who is interested in the prosperity of the soil, has laid the greatest stress on the necessity of some such system as this, which will keep the people on the land. Profit is a secondary consideration with these men. They all agree that to root the people on the soil is the primary thing. In our own country King Henry VII., when he found that his landowners were depopulating the land for the sake 657 of cattle, summoned them before him and stated—"You wish to make money; the welfare, and defence, and stability of the country rest with me; and the cattle will not help us in time of need." The King then decreed that every landowner should under pain of forfeiture have a dwelling-house for every 40 statute acres he possessed. In the same way we have the Preemption Acts and the Homestead Acts of the United States—although the conditions in those countries are, no doubt, different. There is also the more recent case of the provinces of Canada, the main point in all these enactments being to get the people fixed on the land. I notice that the Report of the Commission on Labour of the United States recommends such alteration of the law as will stringently secure that actual occupation shall take place. I am glad to see that the Select Committee have recognised that principle, though it is quite true they have reduced the amount of the quit rent which in the Bill is three-fourths of the purchase money. They so arranged that under their recommendation the quit rent would ultimately become much smaller. Probably that will be an improvement; but, at the same time, I trust the Government will attach to this principle the importance which it demands. I am afraid I have wearied the House on this point, but the point I want to enforce is that we have no right to touch this question and use public money in connection with it except for cultivation and occupation. And, in conclusion, I would ask the House to consider the social aspect of the case. We are having strange doctrines taught up and down the country at the present time. Some of those doctrines are extremely good, while others are extremely wild and impracticable. In France, in the large towns—Paris, Marseilles, and Lyons—the latter doctrines are rampant; but outside the large towns those doctrines have not made a yard of progress, simply because they are met by millions of men with some property, who have that feeling which belongs to property, which I should like to see immensely increased in this country. In England we have a proletariat which I cannot find in any other country in Europe—a landless peasantry. To my mind there 658 is a national danger if that state of things continues, for though wealth and trade and commerce have in times past created very brilliant epochs in the history of nations, yet I think it would be difficult to find an instance in which the abiding character of a country is not wrapped up immediately in the land, and with a numerous, a contented, and a prosperous peasantry. I hope the Government will accept the Second Reading of this Bill. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has an opportunity which no Minister in this generation has had offered to him for the bettering of the great mass of the people of this country, not only in the rural parts, but also in the towns. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will approach this subject in no perfunctory manner, and with no feeling of redeeming a promise merely, but that he will treat it in a way which the importance of the subject demands. The right hon. Gentleman has the same opportunity that Stein and Hardenberg had in Prussia; and likewise the same opposition which they had to encounter. The right hon. Gentleman has the economic school to oppose, and also the owners, the capitalists, and the holders of large farms. But the stock argument of Stein and Hardenberg was this:—" That is all very well. If you can prove that a syndicate, by means of labour, could cultivate the country to the best advantage, still it is to the welfare of the country that they should not be allowed to do it." Therefore, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to study this question and to remember that perhaps the most important function of the Board of Agriculture is to look after the prosperity of the most numerous class connected with that agriculture. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the question in a generous manner, which will strike the imagination of the country as a new departure. Under any circumstances, I consider that the acceptance of the principle of this Bill by the House of Commons opens up to-day, in conjunction with other measures, a new era for the country population in England that may be properly called their regeneration. I beg to move the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Mr. Jesse Collings.)
§ *(1.15.) SIR H. SELWIN-IBBETSON (Essex, Epping)
In rising to second this Motion I will not occupy the attention of the House at any length. I, however, desire to say a few words on the Second Reading, because I have had some small opportunities of forming a fair judgment on this question. Before the Committee was granted in 1888 I advocated in Parliament and in the country the necessity of doing something of this kind for the purpose of reestablishing labour, if possible, in our midst. No one who lives in the country—in purely agricultural districts—can help being aware of the fact that the best part of our labouring population has been drawn away from the country by the supposed advantages of living in towns. I attribute much of that depopulation to the fact that the labourer has no inducement now to remain in the rural districts, and I am satisfied that if a prospect, or a hope, can be held out to the labourer that by industry, skill, and thrift he may be able to improve his social position, and perhaps to become even an owner of land himself, it will do much to give stability to our labouring population and to keep our best hands in the country. I watched the labours of the Committee, over which the right hon. Member for the Western Division of Birmingham presided, with a great deal of interest, and was glad to see that they practically gave the weight of their authority to the principle embodied in this Bill. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division has stated many reasons in support of the Bill, but I will not go into details on the matter, because I fear that on some of them I may not be in accord with him. The point I mainly look to is to establish, if we can, the principle of small holdings 660 in the country, and details may be left for subsequent discussion. There is one point the hon. Member has touched on with regard to which I only slightly differ from him. It is the proposal to allow a certain portion only of the purchase money to be paid by the purchaser on his acquiring the land, and to allow the rest to remain absolutely as a quit-rent for ever. In this respect I cannot go so far as the hon. Member, for the reason that I believe the effect of leaving so large a portion of the money practically as a quit rent will be to take away from the man the greatest inducement he will have for energy and industry in the cultivation of the land. I agree that, in the first instance, it may be necessary and judicious to afford a man with a small capital the opportunity of purchasing what may ultimately become a freehold for him, by leaving for a time a portion of the purchase money as a quit rent; but, at the same time, I should like to see the hope held out to the man that he may in time work off that quitrent, and become wholly and really the possessor of the property. I am satisfied that would conduce to the energy the man would put into the holding, and I believe it would be an important improvement of the Bill. However, I look upon the question we are discussing to-day simply as the affirmation of a principle which I have long had at heart—a principle which, if carried out, will do much to re-establish the popularity of the labourer in our rural; districts, and may thus become a means of drawing back to us again much of the agricultural labour we have lost. I join with the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings) in the satisfaction he has expressed at the fact that the Government foreshadowed in the Speech from the Throne their intention to deal with the question. I ask them to sanction the Second Reading of the Bill as an evidence that they are in earnest in the matter, and I would strongly urge them not to allow this opportunity to-pass without doing something in a direction which, I believe, may be of great material benefit to the agricultural districts and to the people of the country.
§ *(1.20.) MR. CUST (Lincolnshire, Stamford)
I venture, Sir, for the first time to-day to ask the indulgence of the House, because of all the subjects that have been under debate since I have had the honour of a seat in this House, I think the question of small holdings is the one in which my constituents feel and have the most vital interest. At the time of my election the strongest and safest ground on which I could appeal to the electors to support the Government was on the Government's agricultural policy. It is possible that a great many of them do not judge the merits of the two great Political Parties by very high standards of policy. They are most of them agricultural labourers, pure and simple, who are obliged to work on the land for their living, and who fail unfortunately, in a great many instances, to live by the land. I am quite certain, Sir, that it was not in any question of Home Rule, or any question of Disestablishment, not even in the ideal symmetry of one man one vote, that they felt a tithe of the interest and sympathy which they gave to the question of allotments and agricultural holdings. And, Sir, I think they were justified. Now, what was their position? They had a vote, it is true, which they were flattered into giving to one side or the other every four or five years, but in the intervals they were helpless and almost hopeless. They were as much bound to the soil and to the status in which they were born as it is possible for a man to be who is nominally and politically free. Their single alternative was to plunge into the still greater dangers and miseries of some great town and add to its crowd, and to its competition, and so to do harm to the land they had left, harm to the town they came to, harm to themselves personally, and, in the long run, harm to the country at large. It is true, Sir, that some few years ago they had one bright moment of a more hopeful future. They put their faith in a Political Party and trusted its golden promises. They sent that Party to power to fulfil its undertaking, but I am 662 bound to say they were most blackly disappointed. Then they turned to another quarter. They had learned some wisdom by that experience, and it remains for the present Government to justify their new faith. The two Allotment Bills have been in some measure a first instalment, and I believe and know that the labourers welcomed those Bills, and have been very grateful for them. Although I am bound to admit that their gratitude has not been so blindly partial as to exclude a certain somewhat severe criticism with regard to the details of those measures, with much of which I personally agree. But they recognised at last the wish of the Government to help them, and they were content to wait for a further development. That development will, I imagine, be carried out either by the Bill before the House, or by some Bill introduced by the Government, of which the principles are identical with this Bill. For, after all, the Allotment Bills are very little more than a bare beginning. No labourer could ever make a fortune on an allotment, and the thriftiest allotment-holder remains a labourer still. I should like to point out, in answer to that cheer just now, that these Bills are but a beginning, it is true, but it is the first beginning of the kind made by either side of the House. The Allotments Bill opens the door, so to speak, of the labourer's prison, but it does not take him any further. It is a small Holdings Bill, following as a natural sequence upon the Allotments Bill, which will give him what he really asks for, and that is an outlet upwards—which he has not at present. It will give him a chance of altering his position for a better one, and changing his status as a citizen. If this Bill is passed, he will know that it is possible for him to become well-to-do without leaving his place, and the work that he knows best, and likes best, and does best. He will feel that he has an opportunity, at least, of a fair start, without his present impossible handicap, and he will feel that his future depends like everybody else's, now upon his own industry, wits and character. But, it is not only as a measure of philanthropy, or I would rather call it of 663 justice, to the agricultural labourers, that a Small Holdings Bill is urged upon the House. Great as may be the advantages to the labourers—as great, and, in the long run, I believe far greater will be the advantages to the country. Nothing can be more striking than the evidence given before the Select Committee, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham—evidence given by men who represented all sorts and conditions of classes, of economics, of politics, and if I may say so, of prejudices. They took different views: they emphasised different points; they sometimes differed in their history—but whatever their line of thought, or whatever the study of which they spoke as experts, whether social, economic, philanthropic, or political, they agreed in delivering an overwhelming and almost unanimous support in favour of the principles of a Small Holdings measure, such as this before the House. With regard to the economic side, there was, I admit, a certain divergence of opinion, but, at least, it was granted and taken as proved by the Committee, that on small holdings, relatively, a far larger amount of stock and produce of every kind, with the exception of sheep and cereals, is raised than on large, allowing for the proportion between the two. They also accepted, as proved, that the small holders throughout the country were paying a far higher rate of rent for their land; and, while receiving or demanding no abatements or allowances, had paid their rents more punctually, and maintained a far higher standard of relative prosperity than the larger farmers. This unity of opinion, Sir, is, I think, most remarkable when we remember that it practically amounts to a direct reversal of the agricultural doctrines that have been preached and only too highly enforced during the last 40 years. To consolidate holdings, to farm large areas, to deal on a wholesale and not retail principle with agriculture—this has been the precept too much preached and, unfortunately, too much carried out in England during the last two generations. That system has had its trial; and we may take it from the Report of the Select Committee that that system has been found wanting. 664 To go a little further back into the history of the question, when it is argued, as it has been argued, that small holdings are a dangerous experiment, I would ask the House to remember that as far as innovation is concerned, the system of large holdings was the innovating system. Throughout the history of the country you will find the system of small holdings constantly encouraged, and sometimes enforced, by the Statute Law. The growth of the laws of settlement, the growth of capital, and the spread of labour-saving machinery combined to give accidental credit to a new method of holding and tilling the land. That method, while not eminently successful, even from an agricultural point of view, has brought grave, social, and political dangers in its train. It has, without doubt, reduced the chances of employment, crowded our towns to excess, and depopulated the country sides of Bog-land. The Bill before the House seeks not so much to give effect to a new principle as to recover and revive what has become a lost art in this country, and to find a remedy for the evil consequences which the loss of that art has brought about. With regard to the actual details and procedure laid down in my hon. Friend's Bill, I do not propose to deal in any way. There are some points on which I had thought of entering a certain amount of criticism, but I gather that my hon. Friend opposite is willing to have them modified. But I would suggest some more centralised authority than there is at present. I am not a very skilful interpreter of a Parliamentary document, but it seems to me that authority is very much divided, and the Lord Chancellor, the Treasury, the Local Government Board, the Local Authority, and the County Courts, all take a hand from time to time in issuing and enforcing the rules and regulations. This, I think, would lead to complications in the working of the Bill. But the broad principle of the Bill is what, I imagine, we are asked to vote for to-day, and that principle is shortly that the Local Authority shall be enabled to borrow money from the Public Loan Commissioners with which to purchase land for the purpose of creating small cultivating ownerships and tenancies of from one to fifty acres; that 665 the purchasers of these holdings shall pay down a certain proportion of the sum in cash and repay the remainder to the Local Authorities either in the form of a perpetual quit-rent as laid down in the Bill, or, as some would perhaps prefer, by gradual instalments in a system similar to that of the Ashbourne Act. I am very loth to differ from my preceptor in these matters—my hon. Friend opposite; but the principle of quit-rent he has laid down, even more strongly than I had expected, and he looks upon it as one of the main principles of the Bill and attaches very great importance to its working. He has produced many strong arguments in its favour; for instance, the argument that it leaves more capital in the hands of the purchaser to get his holding into order, or that it will always have the power of lessening the price of the small holdings whenever they come into the market, thus rendering them more accessible to very small capitalists. But very powerful arguments may also be brought against the plan. If my hon. Friend urges that the prospects of receiving the perpetual rent will be an encouragement to the Local Authority, I cannot but feel that the prospect of perpetually paying it will be very discouraging to the small holders. The restrictions as to sub-letting and mortgaging, eminently just, and reasonable, and wise in themselves, will, at any rate, reduce the attraction of the purchase in the eyes of the purchaser; and if on the top of those restrictions is added the prospect of an endless and undiminishing annual charge, punctually and relentlessly exacted, whatever the rise and fall of prices and values, I fear that many may be deterred from accepting advantages which they would otherwise have eagerly laid hold of. I would support at least what my hon. Friend on this side of the House said, that if possible some modification in the rigidity of this plan should be introduced, by which, at least, it would be possible to lessen by periodical reductions the amount of the permament charge, and in certain cases to leave open some possible door of final redemption, so as to enable the occupier to look forward to the time when he would enjoy all the ordinary independence of the English freeholder. But I believe, 666 Sir, such discussion of the details of the Bill belong rather to the Committee stage than to the Second Reading, and I will not enter further into this question. If the House will bear with me for a few moments longer I will return to one or two points in the general question. The two main arguments generally urged against the system of agriculture by small holdings, are, first, that there is no demand for such holdings; and, secondly, that they would not lead to a remunerative or productive method of cultivation. The first of these objections is refuted by every available record of experience which we possess. Wherever small holdings have been attainable, on terms possible to the poorer classes in the country, whether labourers or small tradesmen, in all such cases they have been eagerly taken up. The demand for such holdings has only been limited because the supply has been infinitesimal, and in some districts non-existent. Many landlords, and I know for instance my hon. Friend the Member for East Norfolk for one, has tried the experiment, and found a great demand, and with very successful results. On a larger scale we have the case of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners which is referred to in the Report of the Select Committee, and which makes an admirable record as to the justification of the system proposed. Beginning on a tentative scale the Commissioners have sold some 10,000 acres to their tenants on a system of deferred payments with 15 per cent paid down. Of these I am informed by the Secretary, 115 holdings are under 100 acres, amounting in all to something like 2,000 acres, of which the total purchase money amounts to £122,000. The Secretary adds, that during the five years the system has been in operation there has been no default, and the instalments have been paid with the greatest regularity. Evidence of similar eagerness to buy may be found throughout the whole Report of the Committee, and such a striking instance of the loss and hardships occasioned by the absence of any facilities at present for furthering such sales is related by Mr. Fyffe that if the House will allow me I will venture to quote it. Mr. Fyffe is a gentleman who has, undoubtedly, great know- 667 ledge of the agricultural question. He says—I recently purchased for University College a farm of 28 acres for £500, the rent of which was £30 a year. This is exactly a case where the tenant ought to have purchased. There was no reason why we purchased; it was simply as a good investment. I knew the farm was to be sold, made an offer for it, and it was accepted; but the tenant was really the right person to purchase and was very anxious to do so. Supposing that he could have gone to the Local Authority to buy his farm, he could, although he was unable to raise the £500, have been able to raise the one-fifth, namely, £100. That would have left £400 to be advanced by the Local Authority. That together, reckoning 4 per cent. on his £100, and the money advanced by the Local Authority, would make his yearly interest £20 instead of £30. And, supposing that he ultimately paid off three-fifths, it would be considerably less. At any rate, reckoning it at 4 per cent., no matter what he pail off and what he borrowed, he would be standing at £20 instead of £30. In that case, the tenant becoming holder, would have been immensely advantaged. And if the Local Authority bought it, the result of the whole calculation, if the man had paid off three-fifths, would have been that the Local Authority would have been in receipt of £8 a year perpetual quit-rent, and the man himself would have been benefitted by the transaction.A few pages later Mr. Fyffe when asked if, in his opinion, legislation to facilitate such purchases by the labouring classes would make a large difference in their point of view, makes the answer—Yes, I think it would make the man a hopeful man, instead of an almost hopeless man.Such, Sir, is a fair illustration of cases where the Bill would apply with great advantage, and all evidence shows that such cases are not uncommon. The second objection I alluded to, lay in the belief that the production of small holdings was relatively less than that of the large farms. On this point, again, we possess the most undeniable statistical evidence. The Tables handed in to the Committee, and the Agricultural Returns of each year, show that with regard to stock alone, excepting sheep, the numbers raised and maintained on small holdings are immensely greater, relatively, than those which are found on larger farms. With regard to crops, excepting, again, cereals, 668 which, for obvious reasons are more easily raised and with greater success on larger areas, we find the balance of productiveness is more than redressed when we turn to the smaller articles of food. And I would ask the House to remember that these so-called smaller articles of food, become annually more and more important to the country, as the centres of population grow larger. These smaller articles of food are almost entirely neglected on larger holdings. Why, I do not know, unless it is that they are looked upon as beneath the notice of the larger holders, or else that larger interests are at stake, and they have not the time to devote to these articles. The result is that these articles are supplied in an enormous proportion by foreign producers. If the House will tolerate one more allusion to statistics, I will take the figures for the year 1886 to make out my point. The importations in that year were rather below the average than above it in these products. In 1886 you will find the return of the imports, in round numbers, to be cheese £3,800,000, butter £8,141,000, margarine nearly £3,000,000, lard £1,500,000, pork and bacon £10,000,000, vegetables £1,500,000, and eggs nearly £3,300,000. The total of these imports amounts to something like £30,000,000 sterling. It will be obvious to the House that they are all articles peculiarly suitable to small cultivation, and the returns show that they are brought from countries where small cultivation is largely carried on. Another illustration which I venture to think is not unimportant is, that we learn from the best figures attainable that the home producer receives now for potatoes £15,000,000, while the consumer pays for potatoes £32,000,000. In the case of fruit, the home producer receives only £7,000,000, while the consumer pays £20,000,000. Again, for milk the home producer receives £17,000,000, while the consumer pays £37,000,000. Now, I do not for one moment wish to argue that a Small Holdings Bill will transfer the whole of these balances into the pockets of the English producer, and reduce our imports to a minimum; but I would ask the House to remember that so long as there 669 is no extended system of small cultivation it is impossible that these articles will be produced in anything like sufficient quantity to meet the demands of the population. All evidence shows that if such an extension of small holdings as is proposed to-day were carried out, it would not only increase employment and add to the material prospects of the country districts, but would at the same time at once increase and cheapen a large branch of the food supply of the country. As far as natural conditions of soil and climate go there is no conceivable cause or impediment why these articles I have mentioned should not be produced in England—if not in sufficient quantity, at least, to an enormously greater extent than they are at present. They do not require capital, they do not require machinery, but they do require personal attention and personal labour, in such minute detail as our experience shows is only given by small cultivators. If these economic advantages be added to the social and political ones which have already been alluded to, I feel that a very strong case has been made out in favour of some experimental action in the direction which this Bill recommends. I would gladly enter on some more of the immense number of arguments and illustrations in favour of the same principles which may be drawn from the experience of foreign countries, notably Belgium and Prussia, where co-operation largely supplies the lack of capital; and I would gladly endeavour to meet some of what I believe to be the much exaggerated objections to the scheme, such as the cost of buildings and improvements, if I did not feel that I have perhaps trespassed on the time of the House too long already. I have sought, with very indifferent success, I fear, to show that the principles laid down by my hon. Friend are worthy of a fair and generous trial. Their economic and material advantages have been demonstrated by those who have more knowledge and experience than myself. But I must say that, to myself, perhaps the main attraction of the Bill is the advantages it offers to the agricultural labourers. I believe that something still is due to them. They are not noisy and they do not agitate. The 670 agricultural labourers, so far as I know them, are a very dumb people, and probably the most silent electors in the country. But I want the country to remember that we are under a very definite debt to the agricultural labourers, and I trust that debt will be paid This House has educated, and perhaps over-educated, their minds ["Oh!"], and unless you do something for their bodies, you will only have taught them to appreciate their own helplessness and discomfort, and perhaps to seek some self-taught cure for this discomfort. If you give them a chance of rising and prospering, of trying fortune on their own merits, I believe you will change their future, and perhaps the future of the country. I therefore appeal very strongly to the Government to take a friendly view of this Bill, which my hon. Friend opposite has introduced, for I can conceive no more Conservative and, if I may use the term, no more National policy, than to make as easy as possible the acquirement of some portion of the land by those who for many generations have laboured to cultivate it. That is, I imagine, the main principle in this Bill; and, while I sincerely thank the House for the curious indulgence with which it has listened to me, I trust that it will not hesitate to affirm that principle by passing the Second Reading of that Bill.
§ *(1.52.) SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
I feel it a privilege to congratulate the hon. Member who has just sat down on his excellent speech, and on having given utterance to sentiments which most of us on this side of the House heartily approve. I am glad that Lincolnshire has sent a Member to add his protest to ours in favour of further legislation in this beneficentdirection. The President of the Board of Agriculture is also a Lincolnshire Member, and I hope he will rise to the position assumed by his colleague in reference to this question, and that when he brings in his Small Holdings Bill it will be framed on the broad and liberal lines suited to a question of national importance. This Debate is somewhat peculiar, because we are debating the 671 Second Reading of a Bill which is not likely to become law, inasmuch as it is overshadowed by the Government Bill. It would have been more satisfactory had the Government brought in before now a Bill carrying into effect the recommendations of the Select Committee. No Government has for many years been in such a forward position with regard to its business in February as the present Government was, and many hon. Members opposite, as well as hon. Members on this side, must regret that the opportunity has been neglected of bringing in a Small Holdings Bill the Second Reading of winch might have been passed by this time. If the Bill does not become law this Session, the fault will rest at the door of the Government. It was thought by the Select Committee with reference to the clause allowing three-fourths value of the land to remain unpaid, that the sum should be reduced by graduated payments, so that in the end only a small nominal rental would be paid to the Local Authority. We believed that to be a better system than creating small freeholders, or another class of small landlords, who might cause the small holdings to be amalgamated by selling to one another. These small holdings must remain under the control of the Local Authorities, so that they may have the power of resumption when they think it necessary for the good of the community. Many feel that a large national acquisition of land would be of benefit to the whole community, and that it might be brought about by carrying out the provisions of this Bill and the recommendations of the Select Committee. The Committee, however, wished to see modifications of the Bill in other directions, and in some respects the Committee were wise in their recommendations. The Select Committee had before them a vast body of evidence in favour of the creation of these small holdings throughout the country. That evidence was of a most impressive character. It 672 showed that where small holdings existed there was practically no pauperism, and that the adoption of some such Bill as that now brought forward would have the effect of arresting the depopulation of the rural districts, and of bringing back to the villages of Merry England, if not their merriness, at all events their prosperity. While the depopulation of the rural districts is going on there is a corresponding increase in town populations, and that is one of the great evils which we have to face. Already two-thirds of our population are grouped together in the big towns, and the best of the agricultural labourers are rapidly leaving the rural districts in order to seek their fortunes elsewhere. That is a direct result of the Education Act of 1870. I do not say that too much education is being given to the agricultural labourer; on the contrary, I wish him to have more; but I do say that the effect of the Act has been to make him discontented with the squalid, miserable surroundings of the life his forefathers led. I want that feeling to lead, not to the migration of the labourers from the rural districts, but to the adoption of legislation that will insure him a home in which decency and morality are possible. I believe that this may be brought about, to a large extent, by the creation of small holdings throughout the country. In France, where there is a system of small holdings, two-thirds of the population live in rural districts, and we should like to see a similar condition of things in this country. Another reason for our advocacy of this change is that it would add considerably to the cultivated area of this country, and consequently increase our powers of food production. In France, Germany, and Belgium, where the small holdings system prevails, the cultivated area of land exceeds 80 per cent. of the total acreage—in one case it is 86 per cent., but in the United Kingdom it is a little below 65 per cent. If much of that waste land were brought into cultivation it would increase our food supply, and at the same time support a larger agricultural population in comparative comfort, as compared with the present condition of the English peasant. I am sorry we have 673 not before us the proposals of the Government, but I hope we shall have some opportunity during this Session of discussing their Bill and placing a suitable Act on the Statute Book. There is throughout the rural districts a great demand for the creation of these small holdings. Even in Wales, where such holdings are proportionately far more numerous than they are in England, the demand continues. In England we have 173,000 holdings of between 5 and 50 acres; in Wales, there are about 30,000, or, on the basis of population, about five to one compared with England. The evidence laid before the Select Committee showed that the demand for these small holdings continued unabated in both England and Wales. This is really the rural labour question; and if the reform is carried, it will relieve the pressure upon the ranks of labour in our large towns. I hope the Minister for Agriculture will meet the demand in a wise and liberal spirit, and that he will reproduce those compulsory clauses which the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, in the process of his political evolution, has dropped cut of his Bill. It is an interesting study to look back upon the Bills produced by that hon. Member during the last seven or eight years. His Bill of 1884 was a rather ambitious project for creating not only plenty of allotment holders, but also yeomen farmers. But now his proposal has dwindled down into a Bill for securing small holdings, and from that he has taken the very kernel of his old Bills, by dropping the compulsory clauses.
§ *(1.25.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
It has been stated that an examination of the details of this measure is out of place in a Second Reading Debate, and should be deferred until the Committee stage; but I think there are certain details which should be dwelt upon now, lest in Committee, when there may not be much time at our disposal, they may escape notice. I am very glad to support the Bill, and wish to give my reasons for doing so in opposition to the different course I pursued a few years ago when a measure of 674 a similar kind was brought before this House. That measure contained what, in my opinion, was a great blot in dealing with this question, namely, the compulsory clauses of purchase, and, in addition, it included terms with respect to the purchase of land to which I then and still object. But the recommendations of the Select Committee referred to, on which I had the honour of serving, have gone a long way to relieve my mind on this point. There are, however, two points in relation to the present Bill which I think the House would do well to consider. First, there is nothing in the Bill as to the area which is to be rated for the provision of the allotments; and, in the next place, I should like to know what is to be the Local Authority that will have to deal with them. It is true that the Bill speaks of the District Councils, but District Councils have not yet been formed, though I hope they soon will be. The Bill also speaks of the County Council as the Local Authority, but, in my opinion, the County Council should not be the authority to deal with the question. Then we come to the consideration whether the future District Council shall be the Local Body, but here we shall be met with the difficulty that the Council will have to go to the parish or another authority before they can come to any decision. I think the difficulty might be met by pursuing much the same course as was followed under the Allotments Acts and by the Sanitary Authority in regard to sanitary matters. Under those Acts Parish Committees were appointed, and the parishes had the carrying out of those schemes for which they had to pay. It is only fair that the parishes or districts to be alone charged in this matter, and which are to be responsible for carrying out the measure, shall have a word to say in the expenditure of their money. It is also a question with me whether the Local Government Board might not with great advantage send out Inspectors under this scheme, as it does in sanitary matters when money is borrowed, and might map out the districts to be benefited. If we are to leave the administration of such an Act, and the provision of funds for the purchase of land, to a District 675 Council, it may happen, for instance, that we shall have to deal with a union containing 40 or 50 parishes, and the representatives of those parishes may be called upon to provide land for the benefit of two or three individuals only in a remote corner of the union—let us say the fortieth parish. But if the cost is to be charged on the whole union or district, it is very unlikely that in such circumstances we shall get the representatives of the district to agree to expend their money for the benefit of a remote few. Therefore, in my opinion, the line should be drawn as closely as possible round the immediate neighbourhood proposed to be benefited, and the people of that neighbourhood should be called upon to administer the Act and to provide for the necessary funds and expenses. It may be said that a larger area ought to contribute, because it is for the public good; as no doubt it is, as the Government recognise by allowing the borrowing of money on comparatively easy terms. I do not think a district, or union, or larger area should be called on to incur the risk in the case of half a dozen individuals in the remote corner of a parish, because, undoubtedly, the Local Authorities must incur considerable responsibility in these matters, as my own experience goes to prove. It is useless to deny the risk which we know arises in individual cases, because Local Bodies are no wiser than individuals. Local Authorities actuated by local circumstances may make bad bargains where individuals would exercise more care, and it is the duty of these bodies to be just and prudent before being generous, and they have no right to be generous with other people's money. The money is to be borrowed at 3 per cent., which means that land bought for £100 an acre must be let at £3 an acre or a little more, because there are expenses which must be incurred, such as solicitor's fees and so forth. A solicitor dealing with a private individual may possibly, but not probably, have feelings which might mitigate the cost, but nothing of this sort will occur where a solicitor is dealing with a Public Body. All Public Corporations are fair prey to solicitors, and, therefore, we cannot go wrong in 676 putting the cost at the outside margin, or even in adding something to the good. In my own union we have purchased land under the compulsory powers of the Allotments Act, and our experience has been this: the whole machinery for putting the Act in force was set in motion for less than £5, which was a most reasonable charge, considering that it included the clerk's journey to London, which was unnecessarily undertaken. But after this came solicitor's expenses and claims sent in from all directions, including the fees of valuers, arbitrators, and so forth. It is possible the Local Authority, in its anxiety to provide these small holdings, may make bad bargains, and when they do this there is always a temptation to ask a high rent. Nothing can be more fatal than to do this, because bad debts at once begin to accrue. The lessee beggars the land, and ultimately it is thrown on the hands of the Local Authority in an impoverished state. All these risks must be considered and added to the rent of the land. We must also take into account the tenants' side of the question. It would be false kindness to induce members of the agricultural community to become owners of land under false pretences, because it would only lead to failure and disappointment on the part of those we are so anxious to help. In dealing with a Local Authority the tenant is not dealing with an individual; he is dealing with those who, having borrowed money, must pay the interest to the day, and consequently he must pay his rent to the day. Local Authorities must, therefore, be hard landlords bound to exact their pound of flesh to the moment. In saying this I am by no means trying to depreciate or destroy this Bill; far from it. I know from my own experience, as a Member of the Select Committee, that there are many cases in which Local Authorities can advance money and do much good to a very deserving class with every confidence of security, but no one would be a friend of this movement who looked only at one side of the picture and failed to consider anything in the nature of difficulty or danger such as experience may have shown to exist. I am anxious to help forward this measure, because I believe I shall also be 677 helping those who are well deserving of our assistance. I agree with the hon. Member who spoke from below the Gangway, who said that these men do not agitate, that they do not provoke discord, that they do not fill the newspapers with long speeches, nor help in any way to foment agitation. They are none the less deserving our attention and sympathy on this account; still, we must, in legislating upon this question, exercise the greatest care, and take account of every possible difficulty and danger against which we ought to guard. The men with whom we propose to deal are, happily, men who detest anything like debt; and if you induce them to take holdings that will not pay, you will render their lives miserable. It is not the small farmer who figures in the Bankruptcy Court. He does not care to indulge in the luxury of getting heavily into debt, and this fact is one we must take into account. We cannot regard this or any other Bill as a panacea for all agricultural ills we know of, and we do not expect it to make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. Something has been said about small owners being able to pay where the large owners have failed. I think it would be a fallacy to induce people to think so. I do not believe that where capital has been wisely expended in combination with great agricultural skill and energy, and the man of capital and knowledge has failed, the man without capital, whatever energy he may possess, is likely to achieve success. Doubtless there are places where small holdings are more likely to pay than large holdings. Only yesterday I saw a farm which I believe is the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and out of which I believe there will be no difficulty in securing 300 acres for small holdings. I shall keep my eye on that, because, although it has been neglected, and is in bad cultivation, I believe it is land which, let as small holdings, might be made to pay. With regard to the question of the size of these holdings, the Committee has, I think, wisely recommended that the rateable value should be considered before the acreage of the land. I think any reasonable man will agree 678 with that, because, undoubtedly, five, seven, or ten acres of market garden land is quite as much as one man can attend to; whilst in some districts the mountain lands of 200 or 300 acres we have heard of would not give the holder more employment than a small market plot. As to the terms of purchase, I have no doubt that the hon. Member who has introduced this Bill, as well as a former Bill, lost a great amount of support by requiring one-fourth of the value to be paid down, and allowing three-fourths to remain. I can hardly think that any man can be brought to believe that he really owns a small holding, for which he has only paid one-quarter of the value. There is, undoubtedly, something to be said on the other side of the question. It is said that the land ought to be purchaseable outright. I once thought so too, but I have changed my mind; I have found that there is another side of the question. If a man wishes to be a freeholder, he can go into the open market and buy; and if he is able to do this, why should he put the Local Authority to the expense of purchasing for him? No doubt, when the man has rented the land for a number of years, and finds he can purchase it, there ought to be power given to the Local Authority to sell it out and out; but why, I ask should the Local Authority be called upon for the expense? The man who wants to purchase outright ought to pay some of the legal expenses. Should the Local Authority decide to sell to a tenant his holding and afterwards be applied to by others for land, the Local Authority would, on behalf of these new applicants, have to go through the same risks and trouble to procure afresh. Therefore, with certain exceptions, I would not allow the Local Authority to sell to tenants whenever they applied to buy. I would not make it absolutely impossible for the Local Authority to sell outright; but when a man has made use of the Local Authority to purchase for him, I would call on him to pay some of the expense of the conveyance. A good deal has been said about the absence of a compulsory clause. In my opinion, the hon. Member for Bordesley has done well to omit compulsion, because to run the risk of compulsory purchase may in 679 many cases prove an extremely expensive process. I think the hon. Member has gained the support and assistance of many hon. Members by declining to introduce the compulsory principle. Doubtless there is difficulty in dealing with the matter as the law now stands. The hon. Member for Bordesley has drawn a vivid picture of the delight to be obtained by the acquisition of small holdings, and the success he hopes will attend this proposal. I have pointed out some of the difficulties and dangers that must be considered in discussing this measure. I have urged that the Local Authority must be protected while, at the same time, we endeavour to benefit the agricultural community. I have shown that if you induce tenants to rent land on terms that will not pay you will defeat the object that you have in view. Having done this, I can only express a hope that the Government may see their way to allowing the Second Reading of this Bill. I cannot, of course, say what the hon. Member for Bordesley may do then; but it affords the greatest possible satisfaction to many who sit on this side of the House to know that the Government are about to deal with the question. I believe that some such measure as this, if wisely administered, will enable many a man to rise to a position of independence and usefulness; and, at the same time, if you are able to introduce small holdings into many parts of the country, you will not only benefit the small holding class, but will do much towards establishing in this country a large number of men who, by being enabled to invest their money in the land itself, will thus realise the responsibilities of the ownership of property to their own and the national good.
§ (2.50.) MR. H. GARDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
The hon. Member who bas just sat down made one observation with which I am inclined to agree, and another with which I presume to take issue. He has stated that the principle of small holdings will never make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before. I join issue with that statement, and would remind him that Lord Derby once said, "The productive 680 capacity of the land of England might well be doubled."
§ *MR. LLEWELLYN
I beg pardon; what I wanted to point out was that men ought not to be induced to take up small holdings without capital, thinking they can make them pay, where, with ample capital, large farmers have failed.
§ MR. H. GARDNER
If I have misunderstood the hon. Member I apologise to him, but I must say that in my opinion the principle of small holdings is more likely to make six blades of grass grow where only one grew before. I have only intervened in this Debate because I not only take the greatest interest in this question, but I also represent a constituency, the population of which is mostly rural, and whose electorate consists mainly of agricultural labourers, who are a part of the community which both sides of the House honestly desire to assist by rendering their lives more happy and comfortable. The question of how to assist the rural population to raise themselves without violating economical conditions, how to raise the standard of comfort in the rural districts to something like the extent attained by those who reside in the towns, how to prevent the younger portion of the population migrating from the villages into our already over-crowded cities, and how to take away from this country the shame which rests upon us, that so many of our fellow citizens, after a long life of labour and privation as agricultural labourers, finally, end their days as paupers—this is a problem which deserves and ought to receive the serious attention of this House. I am convinced that one of the most important factors in the solution of this problem in regard to our rural population is the question of small holdings. The House has listened to several interesting speeches this afternoon and notably to the maiden speech made by the hon. Member for the Stamford Division of Lincolnshire (Mr. Cust), a speech on which I venture, and in no conventional sense, to offer my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman. But in that speech, as in many 681 others from the opposite side of the House, I think I can detect the anticipation of a General Election, and the whiff of the hustings. I think these things are discernible, not only in their advocacy of small holdings—an advocacy for which a Conservative Party has not hitherto been famous—but also in the very candid criticisms offered, especially by the hon. Member for the Stamford Division, of the Allotments Bill already passed by Her Majesty's Government. We have also had from the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division a most interesting speech, which I have followed with the greatest attention; and here I may say that I am very glad that the present measure has been introduced by one who has devoted so much of his time to the improvement of the labourers' position, and to whom the agricultural community owe so much. We have listened to the hon. Member in days past with great attention, and now that he has become an important factor in the Imperial policy of the realm, we are delighted to see him once more championing a Small Holdings Bill. Not that I am altogether satisfied with this measure, because I am one of those who are sorry to see the blessed word "compulsion" absent from his measure on this occasion. I hope, however, that the hon. Gentleman will use the influence which he undoubtedly possesses, and bring it to bear with all the force he can on the Party with which he acts, so that we may ere long have before us some real Small Holdings Bill, and not be put off with a sham measure as we have been with a sham Allotments Act. What we want to know now is, what is the opinion of the Government on this subject, and for this reason I welcome the presence of the President of the Board of Agriculture, because he is one of the most important factors in the settlement of this question. It is necessary, therefore, to know what are the opinions of the right hon. Gentleman on this Bill. In 1882, when the hon. Member for Bordesley first introduced a Resolution on this subject, declaring that—Provision should be made by Parliament to facilitate the acquirement by agricultural labourers, tenant farmers, and others of proprietorial rights in agricultural land,the right hon. Gentleman, in reply to 682 my hon. Friend, did not scruple to say, after delivering a speech on the subject—the President of the Board of Agriculture arrived at this conclusion—that the proposition was "radically unsound, as well as economically mischievous." Not only did he arrive at this conclusion, but the whole of his speech went to prove that the principle of small holdings was unproductive of good. We are to have a small Holdings Bill brought in by the present Government, and it will be exceedingly interesting to hear from the right hon. Gentleman what his opinions are on this subject at the present day. If he goes to a Division I shall vote with the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, but at the same time I deeply regret he has not included in his Bill that blessed word "compulsion." But half a loaf is better than no bread. The agricultural labourers are perhaps the hardest worked people in the country and, at the same time, the least able to make provision for old age. I shall gladly vote for this or any other Bill which will in any way benefit those who form the main portion of my constituents.
*(3.3.) THE MARQUESS OF GRANBY (Leicestershire, Melton)
I cannot help regretting that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. Gardner) has made the speech to which we have just listened, because it appears to me that that speech introduces into the Debate a polemical and Party feeling which cannot assist the object of the Bill—an object which I firmly believe is held in favour by every section of the House. On the whole I frankly admit I am entirely in accord with the Bill of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, and shall willingly vote for its Second Reading; but I think I would be unwise if I were to vote for the measure without criticising some of its provisions, with which I do not entirely agree. In a part of the constituency, which I have the honour to represent, there has been for many 683 years—before any measure of this kind was introduced—a strong desire for the acquisition of allotments and small holdings, and, therefore, I cannot be accused of supporting a measure which has not been to some extent considered in the county in which I have the pleasure to reside and the honour to represent. But there are one or two points to which I think it right to direct the attention of the House. Clause 42 of the Bill provides that any Local Authority may, for the purposes of the Act, purchase, sell, hire, or exchange any land, whether situated within or without their district. It seems to me there are two objections to this clause. In the first place, a Local Authority in Wiltshire may purchase land in Leicestershire and place upon that land Wiltshire men who are totally unacquainted with the class of soil and the general conditions of agriculture in Leicestershire. Again, it appears to me, that the clause, taken in conjunction with the 4th clause, offers an inducement to a Local Authority to step outside the duties of a Local Authority and embark upon a large system of land investment. To allow a Local Authority to do this without more safeguards than are provided by the Bill I think would be improper. Furthermore, I do not think that in Clause 66 sufficient care has been taken with regard to the interests of the main body of ratepayers in the district concerned. I hope that at a later stage there will be some modification of the clause. To the main principles of the Bill I give my hearty assent, but I feel that in Committee I and others on the Government side of the House will have to ask the hon. Member (Mr. Jesse Collings) not to be in any way dismayed if we give some small opposition to certain clauses of the measure.
§ *(3.13.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
I desire to say a very few words upon this Bill in regard to which, such pleasing unanimity has been shown from every quarter of the House. It is true, a few words of criticism have fallen from the noble Lord (the Marquess of Granby), but those criticism relate to a point which ought properly to be dealt with 684 in Committee. Again, the hon. Member for Somerset uttered, some notes of warning in regard to the consequences, which he thinks, may follow upon the adoption of such a policy as this; but on this side of the House the only notes of criticism uttered have been those of the hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division and the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division, who pointed with regret to the absence from the present measure of the compulsion clauses, that were to be found in the previous Bills. Taken as a whole, the Debate has been singularly unanimous in favour of the measure, showing that all are agreed, or nearly so, that the intervention of the Local Authority is necessary in certain cases for the purpose of creating small holdings. It would be a serious thing to interfere with the course of economic law, and at the same time to bring about the intervention of the Local Authority in cases of this kind, unless it can be proved to demonstration that the intervention of the Local Authority in this way will not only be to the advantage of the individual but also to that of the community at large. That demonstration has now been afforded in a most conclusive-manner by the Report of the Small Holdings Committee. But there are one or two prejudices which still require to be removed. The hon. Member for Somerset spoke of the great indebtedness of the present proprietors abroad as an argument against the system of peasant proprietary.
§ *MR. F. S. STEVENSON
I am sorry if I misunderstood the hon. Member. If he did not refer to peasant proprietors abroad he referred to the difficulties which may arise owing to indebtedness, and he pointed to the analogy of similar instances abroad. The delusion as to indebtedness of peasant proprietorsabroad may be disproved by reference to the recent Return issued on the subject of peasant proprietary abroad. In reference to Denmark, it is shown that the amount 685 of indebtedness has been during the last 100 years almost a constant quantity amounting to about 43 per cent. of the total value of the holdings. But what is more significant still, is that indebtedness has increased and decreased in proportion to the value of the land. That in itself is sufficient corroboration of the position that indebtedness of peasant proprietors is not in itself an argument against the system, If hon. Members look at the whole Return they will find that the condition of the small proprietors abroad is much more satisfactory than they have been led to believe, and that the amount of their savings has been such as to leave no doubt on the point. That is proved by the extent to which small proprietors in France hold portions of the National Debt, the extent to which they subscribed to the indemnity paid to Germany after the war, and the extent to to which they invest, not only in sound undertakings, but in such rotten speculations as the Panama Canal. Besides, they are continually adding acre to acre, and they cultivate the land with profit to themselves and security to their families. But, greatly as I am in favour of the principle of the Bill in consequence of the effect I believe it will have in redressing artificially a state of things which has been artificially brought about, I think that the best form of ownership will not be that which this Bill will create, but that form in which a man will be able to do what he likes with his own, that form which will encourage him to devote to the cultivation of the land all the energies and capital with which he is endowed. The system I would prefer may be established if the land were made more saleable than at present, and if the restrictions which now hamper the passing of it from hand to hand were removed. That is the direction in which the real solution of the land question is to be found, and that is the direction in which we ought to turn our efforts.
§ *(3.20.) COLONEL EYRE (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)
I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, not only because I have for many years been in favour of encouraging the creation of small holdings, but also because I have 686 received evidence from a part of the Division I have the honour to represent of the success of small holdings. Perhaps there is no constituency in which there are so many small holdings as in mine. In the Isle of Axholme there have been small holdings and allotments from time immemorial. Up to 12 years ago, before the agricultural depression set in, those small holdings and allotments were an unqualified success. There are holdings there of from an acre to 40 and 50 acres, and previous to the agricultural depression the owners of them flourished in an unexampled manner. Since the depression set in there has undoubtedly been a diminution in prosperity, but still I am bound to say that sufficient industrious owners and small farmers are able to pull through in these bad times as to make me consider that any scheme based on sound political economy which will encourage an increase of small holdings, even in bad times, may be a success. It is impossible to lay down a hard and fast rule as to where small holdings will or will not succeed. Success is dependent upon a great many circumstances: much depends upon the locality, and upon the proximity to a large town, where a market can be found for the produce. Then, again, there is the quality of the land to be taken into consideration. One acre of some land will produce as much as 20 or 30 acres of another class of land. Again, there is the last and perhaps most important fact in connection with the question and that is, much depends on the industry of the occupier; and while I wish success to the Bill I fail to see what there is in the Bill to guard against any man getting hold of some land, running it to his own advantage for a few years and then throwing it up, injuring not only the ratepayers, who have purchased the land, but himself in the bargain. In my Division there is no difficulty in obtaining land for allotments and, therefore, perhaps this Bill will not apply very much there. This morning I received a letter from a land agent in the Division, in which the writer says—I have never known any difficulty in meeting the wants of applicants, either for allotments or small holdings, and, as a rule, the land is 687 let at reasonable rents. These, of course, have come down very much during the last ten years, say from 25 to 50 per cent.The value of land purchased under this Bill may fall at some future time 25 or 30 per cent., and I fail to see how the loss will affect anybody but the ratepayers. Therefore, I quite agree with the remarks of the hon. Member for Somerset that we ought to be very careful in dealing with public money, especially with money which is borrowed on the rates which are now so heavily mortgaged. I disagree with the hon. Member for the Stamford Division in his deprecatory remarks concerning large farms. What are wanted in England are large as well as small farms. Agriculture has been a greater success in this country than in any other country in the world. We grow more corn per acre than any other country, we produce the finest flocks of sheep, the finest herds of cattle, and the finest breeds of horses the world can produce. All our colonies are stocked with our produce—indeed, there is not a single part of the world in which the result of English agriculture is not apparent. It is necessary, therefore, to be careful how we interfere with what has been so successful up to the present time. There is no doubt that if the country were divided into small holdings it would be impossible to produce the fine flocks and herds we produce now. I support this Bill, as I shall support every Bill that will in some measure or other tend to wed the agricultural labourer closer to the soil. I am conscious of the difficulties farmers experience in obtaining labour, especially at harvest time. It stands to reason that no able-bodied young labourer of 18 or 20 will remain in an agricultural district, earning 12s., 13s., 14s., or 15s. a week, when he can earn better wages in town. It is because I believe it will tend to wed the labourer closer to the soil that I support the Bill. It was for a like reason I supported the Bill the hon. Member for East Norfolk introduced last year for improving the dwellings of the rural labourers, and also for adding a piece of land to every house built in the future—a Bill which, I extremely regret, was blocked by hon. Members sitting on the Liberal Benches.
§ (3.27.) MR. B. T. REID (Dumfries, &c.)
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Bordesley upon the success that his long and unremitting labours have attained. It is eight or nine years since my hon. Friend first brought this matter before the House, and for four or five years afterwards not only were his projects received with disfavour, but I think he himself encountered a good deal of opposition. On the present occasion he has the satisfaction of hearing from the other side of the House what, I have not the least doubt, is perfectly sincere appreciation of his Bill. I do not believe that it has been brought forward to serve any electioneering purpose. Hon. Gentlemen on both sides are beginning to feel the extreme importance of such measures in the interest of the country. Everybody agrees that the Bill ought to be read a second time, and I hope my hon. Friend will be able to pass it, with such Amendments as may be necessary, in the course of the Session; or that the Government will fulfil the pledge given at the beginning of the Session and pass some Small Holdings Bill equivalent to this. I could give instances of very successful efforts on the part of small holders in improving land which large occupiers would not look at. I could instance a place about two miles from Lochmaben where peat land has been converted into a smiling pasture. Departing from this subject, I attach more importance to these small plots of four or five acres than to 30 or 40 or 50 acres being taken up. Two hon. Members opposite seemed to be afraid that the Local Authority might be extravagant, or incur some loss by reason of the operations of this Bill. One hon. Member dwelt particularly on this. But if we cannot trust the Local Authorities for the purpose of carrying out reforms of this kind, whom can we trust? There is in truth no alternative. We must either do what was done by 689 the Allotments Bill, when the Government left it to the Local Authority, with an injunction that they should not enter on the enterprise unless they thought they could do so without risk of loss, or else we must wash our hands of the whole affair. If I could complain at all of my hon. Friend I should complain of him because he has abandoned the compulsory clause. I do not pretend to penetrate into the secrets of his heart, but if I did so I think I should find that he has still a sneaking fondness for that word "compulsion," and that it is only the wish to propitiate those who were not the first to advocate this cause that has induced him to abandon the principle. But I live in hopes that the hon. Member may himself take part in adding to future legislation to remove the defect which I am afraid is to be found in the Bill. There is no use in many parts of the country, talking ahout this Bill as a voluntary measure. For my own part, I do not question the fact that in many parts of the country there is land which could be obtained by the Local Authorities without compulsion, but it should be remembered that in other parts of the country this is not the case. Then we must bear in mind that to be successful, a scheme of this kind must apply to the population residing within a certain area. You cannot deport people 10 or 20 miles off with any prospect of success. Some hon. Members have complained of the tenure provided by this Bill, and have urged that a man ought to be enabled to buy the freehold out and out. But men who can afford to buy land out and out will not largely avail themselves of the facilities provided by this Bill. Moreover, we are using the public funds, and, therefore, we must see that the Exchequer and the Local Authority get some firm hold upon the transaction. The Local Authority will get an immense advantage in this way. We know that violent attacks have been made for a good many years on that system by which landowners obtain what is called "the unearned increment" of their land. I refrain from expressing my opinion upon that subject, but this Bill will have a most beneficial effect in a most honest way. When a Local Authority has bought land and 690 has let it out upon a tenure which is practically a perpetual lease, it will be found that if that land becomes valuable for some purpose other than its cultivation as a small holding, the Local Authority will be able, on giving full compensation—namely, its value as a small holding—to expropriate the landlord and to get the benefit of the unearned increment. While I can understand it being said that it would be unfair to come down on the present landowner and take him by the throat and say, "You must give up the unearned increment," to any future landlord it cannot be unfair; if a man chooses to initiate a transaction to say to him that he is to have nothing more than the value of the land as agricultural land. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division has always insisted upon this, and though I do not pretend that the method adopted by my hon. Friend is an ambitious way of dealing with a difficult and complicated subject, yet it is certainly a step in the right direction. I believe we all wish the Local Authority to have the unearned increment of the land, and I think that will be done by this Bill to a certain extent. One hon. Gentleman complained that there are in the Bill undue restrictions against alienation, and has observed that people would like to have land free. No doubt they would; but I wish to point out that if the State is to incur the expense and risk of constructing a system of small holdings it will never do to allow these small holdings to be cut up, subdivided, and reduced to quite diminutive proportions, and deprived of the character with which it is intended to invest them. If the House appreciates that point, it follows that we must allow only three methods of alienation—namely, sale of the entire holding, mortgage of the entire holding, and devise by will of the entire holding. These are the only restrictions on alienation contained in the Bill. I think it will be seen that they follow of necessity from the tenure I have referred to, and which appears to me to be the most convenient tenure in the interest of the community. Nor am I afraid that the tenants would be deterred by these considerations from taking these small holdings. Those who can afford the luxury, no doubt, will prefer to have the 691 freehold all to themselves; but those who cannot will find that they have that which is the chief incentive to industry, namely, an assurance that if they put labour into the land, they will reap reward—that where they have sown there also they will reap. The last point I desire to refer to is this: Some hon. Gentlemen have spoken in too sanguine a tone as to the effects of this Bill. Nobody can attach more importance to it than I do; but everybody knows it must work by degrees. Until District Councils are established it will be difficult to carry out effectively the provisions of this Bill; but I am, of course, aware that the Government have promised to introduce a Bill for the creation of District Councils. While I attach great importance to this measure, I do not think it will be a panacea for all evils; but I am sure it will be a step in the right direction, because it upsets the old-fashioned idea about land. Besides, the discussion on the Bill will be most useful, because it has exhibited a spirit pervading the whole House that these are amongst the questions which deserve our most careful attention.
§ *(3.52.) SIR E. BIRKBECK (Norfolk, E.)
I wish to tender my most hearty congratulations to the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division that after so many years' working in regard to this subject he has at last obtained an opportunity of securing a full consideration of the important question of small holdings. In my opinion no Member of the House, or any man out of the House, has done so much to secure rural labourers small holdings and allotments as the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden has expressed a hope that this will not be a sham measure. Well, if the Bill is passed, or a Government Bill, and as much success attends them as has attended the Allotments Act, it will not be a sham measure. I served on the Select Committee, and was convinced most completely by what I heard there as to the importance of the creation of small holdings. But independently 692 of that Committee my experience in the Eastern Counties proves to me that there is a demand for small holdings, and that in many districts there are no means of getting them. I do not approve of the remarks of the hon. Member for the Stamford Division in regard to large farms. As a Norfolk man I contend that large farms in that county, and in the Eastern Counties generally, have done more towards the food supply of the country than any other class of farms. During the last twelve years tenants of large farms have laboured under great difficulty, and it is a marvel to me they have struggled through as well as they have. In places near railway stations there has sprung up a decided demand for small holdings, and the extension of fruit culture, market gardens, and other holdings of that sort has increased the demand to a great extent. As regards fruit culture, I consider that it is only in its infancy, and that it has got a very great future before it. I know numbers of men who have had small gardens or allotments, and have gradually worked their way up until they are now holding farms of 100 and 200 acres. Those men have worked in their holdings in a most astonishing way. They have saved money, and they are now in a position to make good provision for their families. The competition for allotments and small holdings is keen, not only among labourers, but among small tradesmen and artisans. Having a farm of about 200 acres thrown upon my hands, I determined to let it in small holdings, and there was a scramble of applicants. I do not anticipate that the question of erecting buildings will cause any difficulty, and I have always found a willingness on the part of the tenants to erect such if only they have security for the outlay, and compensation if they leave the land. There is ample evidence that these small holdings are well farmed. Rents are paid regularly, demands for reductions being rare. There are in the Eastern Counties two distinct demands, a demand to hire land and a demand for freehold land. These small farms are well and 693 profitably cultivated, and if they are encouraged I have no doubt that the produce coming from them will go far to reduce the food imports from abroad. The measure will be welcomed from all sides, and I only hope the Government proposal will hold out an alternative to the present Bill enabling small cultivators to become on easy terms absolute freeholders. Any proposal to put increased taxation on the land must not be entertained, for it would at once be the death of any scheme to create small owners. I beg to support the Motion for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *(3.50.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
We have had a most interesting discussion" and I have listened with great attention to all that has been said. The discussion has been conducted with a remarkable absence of Party spirit, and it is evidently desired on all sides to arrive at a satisfactory solution of a difficult and complicated question. I am unable to agree with everything that has been said in the course of the Debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincolnshire (Mr. Cust) has spoken as though the time has come when the system of large farming in England should be discontinued. It is precisely on the large farms that during many years there has been the greatest expenditure in capital, science, and skill; and when the time of great depression arrived it was consequently on this class of farms that the greatest losses naturally fell. That great expenditure was followed by a long series of unpropitious seasons, the like of which no man living can remember, and after by a fall in prices, which I acknowledge shook the system to its very foundations.
§ *MR. CUST
As the right hon. Gentleman is the fourth person who has attributed to me an attack on large farms, I may be allowed a word of explanation. I did not accuse the large farms of being the cause of the agricultural depression. I merely declared that the tendency has been to throw English agriculture into the hands of the large farmers, to the exclusion of small farming. I expressed 694 regret at this, and my intention was to emphasise my strong conviction that a system which would allow of the existence side by side of all classes of farming would be better.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
I am very glad to hear the explanation of my hon. Friend. I listened with great attention to his speech, and I certainly formed the opinion that he condemned with some severity the system of large farms. I am very glad to learn that such is not altogether the case. I know that system is frequently attacked in this country from various quarters, and I wish to remind the House that, before the period of depression, it was under the system of large farming that the country arrived at a pitch of agricultural prosperity such as has never been approached by any other country in the world. Even now, whether with regard to the character of the stock produced, or the amount of produce extracted from the land, this country stands far ahead of any other country in the world. The hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division (Mr. Gardner) has referred to words used by me in 1882, which were hostile to the principle of this Bill. Well, 1882 was a longtime ago. I have not referred, so far as I know, to the speech I made on that occasion since then; but I have no doubt that the hon. Member is correct in the views which he says that I expressed. But what were the circumstances of the time? The country had just passed through a period of unexampled depression—depression of such severity that the House of Commons appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the condition of agriculture. I served on the Commission, and in the course of its inquiries there certainly were received most unfavourable and discouraging Reports as to the condition of the small freeholders, and especially of those freeholders who exist in such numbers in Lincolnshire. I certainly at that time quoted the opinion of Mr. Druce, who is well known as a highly qualified expert in agricultural matters. Mr. Druce is a farmer himself, and de 695 scended from a farming family. He is a gentleman of cultivation and wide experience, and he had at that time exceptional opportunities for forming an opinion on the subject. He was one of the Sub-Commissioners, and Lincolnshire was included in the district in which he conducted his examination. He saw the two systems at work side by side, and the Reports sent by him and other Sub-Commissioners were most unfavourable to the small freeholders. I know from my own experience that at the time those Reports were accurate, and I was then opposed to the views put forward in this Bill. But we are none of us infallible. Since then a Select Committee has been appointed, which has made further inquiries, and I have also had Reports myself, respecting the condition of the freeholders. Both from the Report of the Select Committee, and from the information which I have obtained myself, it appears, I am glad to say, there has been an amelioration in the condition of the freeholders, and I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing now to prevent the proposed experiment from being made. Turning to the Bill of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, I must take notice of one important change in it, namely, the elimination of the principle of taking land by compulsion for small holdings. Several hon. Members have astonished me by objecting to this elimination. The hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division described compulsion as the very kernel of the Bill. The same complaint is made by the hon. Member for the Saffron Walden Division (Mr. Herbert Gardner), who seems to find comfort in the blessed word "compulsion." The modern Radical, I observe, always professes to love liberty; and yet there is nothing in the world he adores so much as the principle of compulsion. It is the more remarkable in this case, because this subject has been carefully examined by the Select Committee, and in the Report of that Committee will be found very excellent reasons against the adoption of the principle of compulsion. The Report says this—Your Committee have given full consideration to the arguments on both sides, and have resolved not to recommend compulsory power.696They feel that any scheme adopted now must necessarily be of a tentative character, and they are convinced that there is enough land obtainable by voluntary agreement to ensure a fair trial of the experiment.I have always heard myself that that is the case. There is ample land in the market already for the purpose of providing any number of small holdings if either the Local Authorities or others are willing to buy it. I am very glad this principle has gone out of the Bill, for it removes one of the most serious objections which has prevented me in the past, and would have prevented me in the present, from giving my support to the Second Reading of the Bill. I take the principle of the Bill to be this: that the Local Authority shall have power under certain restrictions to acquire land by the aid of the State for the purpose of facilitating the creation of a class of cultivating owners. That is an object in which I believe all of us concur, that is an object which, at all events, Her Majesty's Government heartily approve, and that being the principle of the Bill as I understand it, the Government have no hesitation in giving support to the Second Reading of the measure. In the course of the Debate I have noticed various objections taken to points of detail, and I propose to express the views of the Government with regard to some of them. The first I will notice is that the Local Authority in selling a small holding very naturally are to require that a quarter of the purchase money must be paid at the time of the completion of the sale, and that I think is a salient and necessary provision. But instead of requiring that the remainder of the purchase money shall be paid in a certain number of years, the Bill insists that part of the purchase money shall remain a debt upon the holding for ever. Further than this, and this, in my opinion, is a still more serious objection, the Bill empowers the Local Authority, by giving 12 months' notice, at any time to repurchase the holding, not only for any purpose of general public utility, but also if the Local Authority has reason to believe that the land may be used more profitably for any purpose in the future than as a small holding.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
Well, Sir, for purposes of public utility any estate, of course, whether it be a large or whether it be a small one, must remain liable to the laws under which land may be taken now by compulsion for purposes of public advantage; but beyond this I know of no sufficient reason for this exceptional power in this case. What I am afraid of is this: that there will be nothing more likely to deter an intending purchaser of a small holding than these two conditions. By the first of which the land is never to be free from debt and three-quarters of the purchase money will remain a charge for ever; and by the second of which the Local Authority will have the power at almost any time to resume possession of the holding. What Englishmen like, what they cherish above all things, would be that which no one in the world can take away from them against their will, and of which nothing short of an Act of Parliament can deprive them. One of the chief inducements to purchase a small holding will be the knowledge that they have bought a property. I am quite satisfied myself that the object of Parliament in dealing with this question, if we are to deal with it at all, ought to be the endeavour to create a race of owners—I would say of trying to reproduce, if possible, that old race of yeomen which has almost ceased to exist—which should be dependent neither on a Local Authority, nor on a landlord, nor, indeed, on anybody else in the world but themselves. Now, the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division told us that his object in this was to guard against the evils of subdivision, of sub-letting, of mortgages, and various other evils prevalent on the Continent and in this country, also, at the present time in the case of small landholders. My answer is, that I believe that if the system which he advocates is a sound one, it will guard itself against these evils; but if, on the other hand, it is unsound, neither the precautions he desires to insert nor any 698 other precautions will preserve it from the evils he anticipates, and of which he appears to entertain some misgiving already. I notice also that the Bill confers on the Local Authority very considerable powers of letting land and of making improvements on the land when they have purchased it; and this, I think, is a question upon which some considerable doubts might be raised, as to whether the Local Authority is the body best fitted for either of these purposes. Personally, I am inclined to think it would be better if both of them were avoided. Excellent reasons against the letting of land by a Local Authority are given in the Report of the Committee. Speaking of letting as an alternative to selling, they say it is preferable in the interest of the purchaser to reduce the risk to a minimum; that he should be required to furnish a quarter of the purchase money, and that at once creates a security for subsequent payments; but, on the other hand, in allowing the Local Authority to let and take all the vicissitudes of the landlord class, it is hardly possible that they should avoid losses incident to the business. In bad seasons they would be subject to pressure for reductions of rent; and if in the interest of ratepayers they sternly exacted the fixed rent at all times, certainly they would become most unpopular landlords, and their action would be unfavourably contrasted with the action general among private landlords. I do not wish to commit myself to any very hostile opinion upon the point; but I submit this question to the House as one that eminently deserves attention.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
Will the right hon. Gentleman allow me to remind him that the proposal in the Bill applies to letting up to 10 acres, and the remarks of the Committee apply to larger holdings?
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
I am aware that it is limited to 10 acres under the Bill. But, though I do not wish to take a hostile attitude on this point, I incline to the opinion that it will be better to avoid the letting of land by the Local Authority so far as it may be possible to-do so. Now, as to the making of improve- 699 ments by the Local Authority, if that power should be largely availed of, one of two things would almost certainly happen—the cost of improvements would be added to the purchase money, and would either make the price of the land prohibitive to the purchaser; or, on the other hand, the burden of making the improvements would fall upon the rates; and this leads me to another point in connection with the Bill, to which I desire to draw attention. The Bill, as it is drawn, empowers a Local Authority to buy land anywhere, and sell to any person the Local Authority thinks fit. In fact, there is nothing under the Bill, for instance, to prevent the Corporation of Birmingham buying land in Wiltshire or Lincolnshire, and selling it to an artisan in Manchester. Now, I venture to think that the power of purchase ought to be limited to the district within which the Local Authority exercises jurisdiction, or to the adjoining district. I say the neighbouring district, because it is possible that most desirable land for the purpose might be intersected by the boundary of the district. Certainly I think the power of purchase ought to be limited to this extent, and the power of sale to residents within their own district. If this were done, one of the main difficulties in connection with this question would be removed, and it is this. In spite of what has been said by my hon. Friend (Sir E. Birkbeck), I do regard the provision of buildings as one of the chief difficulties in connection with the question of small holdings, but in the way I have suggested this difficulty would, to some extent be met. If the power of sale were limited to persons resident within the district, it is to be presumed that they would already have a house to live in, and possibly some buildings of their own; and where that is the case I see no reason why a Bill of this description, providing people of this class with small holdings, should not work perfectly well. The Bill contains many other provisions it is unnecessary for me to deal with now. It provides for a system of land registry, undoubtedly a very important question, but whether it is a subject to be appropriately dealt with in a Bill for providing small holdings is somewhat open to question. 700 Then, again, the Local Authority may advance money to a tenant for the purpose of purchasing his holding from his landlord, provided the holding does not exceed 50 acres in extent. I apprehend the principle of this is somewhat in the nature of an extension of the Ashbourne Act to England; and if the hon. Member thinks that Parliament will agree to the proposal, and Parliament does agree to it, I certainly shall offer no opposition, always within certain restrictions which, of course, would have to be laid down. Bat I think, perhaps, I have said enough upon the details of the measure, and I pass to some more general observations in relation to the subject. I wish to see an increase, if possible a large increase, of the number of small landowners. Their disappearance—for in the past they existed in far greater numbers than they do now—was due undoubtedly to economic causes, and whether it is possible by legislation or by any other means to prevail against these causes remains to be proved. At all events, I am of opinion that it is an experiment which can be made, and should be made. But I do wish to say a word of warning on this question to those gentlemen in the House and outside who seem to think it the easiest thing in the world merely by the passing of an Act of Parliament to create an immense addition to the small holders of land in the country. It is nothing of the kind; and those who hold that opinion are doomed to disappointment. Agriculture, under present circumstances, is not particularly encouraging, and of late it has rarely been a profitable pursuit. With present prices the Returns are small, while on the other hand the outlay is as heavy, or heavier than it has ever been before. If small holders in this country are to be prosperous there are three conditions which I am satisfied must be fulfilled. In the first place, the land must be good land; it must be of superior quality. I am certain there is no greater mistake in the world than to put a small holder upon poor land, and ask him to get a living out of it. His best exertions will not secure one half the return from poor land that good land would yield. In the second place, the price of the land must not be excessive. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, it is easy to cheer that; but hon. 701 Gentlemen must remember that good land suitable for this purpose even in these days is worth 30s. or 40s. an acre to let, and that means, at 30 years' purchase, £60 an acre to buy.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN
Well, that is my opinion; and if hon. Members will look into the subject, upon which they can form a judgment of their own, they will find that is about the average price at which good land of this description sells. Some gentlemen advocate cheap land for the purpose, and they think that large tracts of cheap land should be taken for small holdings. I differ absolutely from that opinion. I think it would be most cruel kindness to bestow upon any labouring man whom you wish to turn into a small freeholder to place him upon poor land, however great the extent. Thirdly, I am of opinion, and I have arrived at the opinion after giving the subject very considerable study, and having had the opportunity of seeing the results of the system, that it is necessary that the house and buildings should be included in the purchase price of the land, or the person who purchases must be in possession of house and buildings of his own. Otherwise the cost of building, added to the price of the holding, will probably swamp him in his undertaking. If these conditions are fulfilled I have no doubt the system may be tried with advantage and success; but if they are wanting, I believe—and it is my duty to state with perfect frankness the views I have formed. If these conditions are wanting I believe any system of the kind is foredoomed to failure, and in this belief I am, to a great extent, borne out by the experience which we have already in this country. As I have often stated in the House before, a system of small holdings is not new to this country. On the contrary, the system has been tried for years, and it exists at this moment over wide districts of the county I have the honour to represent; and any one who chooses may for himself witness the result 702 of the system. In the Isle of Axholme, in the north-west corner of the County of Lincoln, and, again, for miles upon the east coast of the county, there are large districts of land owned by small freeholders, and peopled and cultivated almost entirely by this class alone. All of them have suffered more or less severely during the past years of depression; but in the Isle of Axholme the position of the freeholders has been infinitely better than the position of those on the east coast of the county. There is a more hopeful spirit among them, and I hear comparatively favourable reports of their condition. Both there and in the eastern portion of the county, I do not hesitate to say, that a more frugal, industrious, hardworking, deserving class of people does not exist throughout the country. In the eastern part of the county their lot has been extremely hard; there is no doubt about it. Their work is harder and their fare is worse than that of any labouring man living upon wages, I believe, in any part of England. During the past 10 years their condition has been anything but satisfactory or encouraging. But, then, it must be remembered—and this is what I want to put clearly before hon. Members—the conditions of life in these two districts I am referring to are as widely different as they can be. In the Isle of Axholme, to begin with, the soil is generally light in character and of extreme fertility, admirably suited to what is known as market gardening, and in this differing entirely from the eastern part of the county. In the Isle of Axholme potatoes are grown in large quantities, special attention being given to a particular and profitable crop of early potatoes. Carrots also are cultivated, and onions yield a profitable crop, and of late attention has been given to the cultivation of celery, out of which they make large profits. Now, on the east coast, on the other hand, the land is heavier in character and inferior to that I have been describing, and for the most part unfitted for the productions yielded in the Isle of Axholme. Again, in the Isle of Axholme the people live chiefly, indeed, I might say almost entirely, in the villages, and cultivate their holdings at more or less distance from their homes; consequently they escape the burden of 703 having to provide buildings—a most material factor in the consideration of this question. On the east coast, however, the case is different. In that part of the county the cultivators all reside upon the land, and it has been necessary to provide house and buildings in the case of each holding. I do not say that this condition of affairs is universal on the east side of the county, because as you come further south and approach Boston and Spalding, there, I understand, from information furnished to me—for I have not had the pleasure of personally inspecting that part of the country—there, I understand, the buildings are admirable, the cultivation first rate, and the neatness of the farms remarkable, and the industry is conducted under a condition of affairs which affords a happy instance of what can be done under a system of small holdings. But there, again, the land is exceptionally rich, and even though it has been known to have been bought at, £100 an acre, yet still even at that price profits have been made at one time out of it. But I think I have troubled the House long enough; and without showing any hostility to a measure of this kind, and being heartily desirous of promoting an increase in the number of small landholders throughout England—I think I have said enough to show that we ought to be cautious in proceeding with legislation on this subject, and that anything we do in this direction must for the present be more or less of a tentative character. I hope that in pointing out some of my objections to provisions in the Bill I have not seemed to express myself as unfriendly to the principle and the aim and objects its promoters have in view. On behalf of the Government, I may say we are entirely in accord with the hon. Member who has introduced this Bill in the great purpose he has in view, and of which, I am bound to say, he has been the foremost champion both in this House and outside for many years; and in justice to him I am bound to say, in times when the question was not so popular or so fashionable as it is at present. My hon. Friend and I have had many a passage of arms across the floor in connection with this question, 704 but, animated as I believe by the same object and by a mutual willingness to give and take, we have come upon this, and, I think, upon a good many other questions, a good deal nearer together; and I can, at all events, assure my hon. Friend that there is no one question upon which the Government are more entirely agreed, and none which they have more warmly at heart, than the bringing about, by any legitimate means within their power, of a wider distribution of land throughout the country than is the case at the present time. Sir, I have exercised the right of criticising the provisions of the Bill freely, but I hope not with undue severity. I have also pointed out to the House, as I thought it my duty to point out, some of the salient and chief difficulties which, in my humble judgment, present themselves in dealing with this question. Those difficulties it has been my duty to consider with all the care and attention in my power, because in the list of measures which were mentioned in the Gracious Speech from the Throne there was one for affording facilities for the acquisition of small parcels of land. Her Majesty's Government announced their intention at that time of dealing with this question, and from that intention they have not departed. We are entirely in accord with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley in the object he has in view, namely, in promoting an increase in the number of cultivating owners throughout the country; and that being, as I understand it, the principle of his measure, I have not the least hesitation on the part of Her Majesty's Government in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (4.33.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
The House has listened with interest to the speech the right hon. Gentleman has just delivered. I think the House is to be congratulated upon the position in which this measure now stands. For my part, I am very willing to let bygones be bygones. [Ironical Ministerial cheers.] Yes, and very much to the advantage of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I am not desirous of introducing into this matter 705 anything of a personal nature, as was done by the Member for the Melton Division of Leicestershire. "We have listened, too, with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Stamford. I am not going to taunt the right hon. Gentleman opposite with his change of opinion. On the contrary; I am only delighted that he is a convert, as he admits himself to be. The right hon. Gentleman has said that since 1882 more recent inquiry has converted him, but there was an event which happened since 1882 which has done more for this question a great deal than anything else, and that is the establishment of household suffrage in the counties. That is a motive power which has not been without its influence. We have nobody left to convert now. Even the hon. Member for East Norfolk has been converted, though a few years ago he always recorded his vote against the hon. Member for Bordesley. I will not be so unkind as to remind the right hon. Gentleman opposite of the sentiments he formerly entertained, because I am only too glad that he has altered them; but the House has listened with great curiosity to hear what fruits meet for repentance the right hon. Gentleman is going to bring forth. In that respect I confess I have felt a little disappointed. When Henry IV. of Prance was converted from the Huguenot faith, he said that Paris was well worth a Mass. Possibly the right hon. Gentleman may also think that the Treasury Bench is well worth a Mass. The House knows what the hon. Member for Bordesley has proposed, and has heard the criticisms—I will not say the hostile criticisms—of the right hon. Gentleman. I will not say that the right hon. Gentleman has poured cold water on the Bill. I would rather say that he has drenched it with a tepid fluid. That is, I think, a rather more appropriate description of the criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman. But the question is not what the Bill of the hon. Member for Bordesley is or what the Government think of it. The question is—What is the Bill of the Government going to be? On that sub- 706 ject there has been a most singular reticence on the part of the right hon. Gentleman. The Government put this question into the Queen's Speech; they have expressed their earnest desire to create a system which a very few years ago the right hon. Gentleman thought disastrous and injurious; and they are now of opinion that the multiplication of small holdings in this country is a matter of supreme importance. We are all agreed upon that, and a most favourable situation presents itself to the Government in which to undertake a Bill. They know quite well—they have seen enough to-day to assure them—that they will not encounter the resistance of the Party opposite; on the contrary, in the carrying out of the principle of such a measure they would receive our cordial support. Why, then, does the House not hear of their Bill? Why is it not laid on the Table of the House? If the measure of the hon. Member for Bordesley is defective, if it is so full of dangers, why does not the House know what are the plans of the Government on this question? Surely this is a matter at least as important as the settlement of tithes? Is the land question connected with a population of 25,000,000 or thereabouts in England, less important than the land question connected with 5,000,000 of people in Ireland? Why, then, are we not to see the proposals of the Government upon this subject? Is their Bill, promised last year as well as this year, of loss importance than the proposals made with reference to public houses last year? Why did not the Government utilise all the time expended upon that question? The House ought not to be told that the Government have no time for this measure. Let them produce a Bill which will carry out the views agreed to on both sides of the House, and a very short time will suffice to carry it. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said he had maturely considered this question, and he laid down three conditions which he did not seem to think were fulfilled by the Bill of the hon. Member for Bordesley. I do not say that I agree with him. I have seen instances in which very bad land has been converted into good land by the industry of the proprietor. It was once said by Arthur Young that it was the 707 sense of property that turned sand into gold. Now, what are the three conditions laid down by the right hon. Gentleman? He says—I am in favour of multiplying largely small properties in this country, but on three conditions. First of all, the land must be good; secondly, it must be cheap; and, thirdly, there must be some condition made with reference to building.If these are essential conditions in the view of the Government, they must have a plan for carrying them into effect; and if they have maturely considered the matter, then let the House see their Bill embodying those conditions. I have a right to ask these questions of the Government, because it is sometimes said—it has been said this afternoon—"Why did you not do this in 1886?" Well, Sir, we had a very short life in 1886. I do not know that I can say it was a merry one, but we were ejected from Office in about three months. But this Government has been in Office five Sessions. They have promised this Bill, but where is it? Let the House see it, at all events. That is not going to happen today which happened to the Bill in March, 1886, on a Wednesday afternoon. The hon. Member for Bordesley was at that time absent from the House through circumstances over which he had no control. His Bill was consequently brought forward by the hon. Member for Ilkeston, and it was talked out by gentlemen on the other side of the House. They are not going to talk the Bill out this afternoon, nor will there be a Division upon it. In all probability the House will affirm the principle of the Bill unanimously. We may differ as to the details of the Bill; but I take it that the Second Reading will be equivalent to a Resolution that it is a good thing to multiply small holdings, that that should be done by Local Authorities, and that means and facilities should be given to those Local Authorities for accomplishing that object. The President of the Board of Agriculture has laid down three conditions, and I shall take the liberty of laying down three conditions also. In the first place, I venture to say we shall do nothing effective in this matter until we have Local Authorities which enjoy the confidence and know the wishes of 708 the localities. We are waiting for the Government Bill on Small Holdings, and we are also waiting for the Government Bill on District Councils. Why have we not had the latter Bill before? The Government have dealt with this matter like people who are hesitating on the brink of a cold bath and not liking to take the plunge. Why is there this hesitation, this extraordinary indisposition to bring forward a Bill which is the only measure which can give life and vitality to legislation such as that before us? A suggestion has been made that the power should be entrusted to a body like the Board of Guardians. It is nonsense to give the control of this Bill to Boards of Guardians. Anyone who knows anything of Boards of Guardians will know that it would be like a steam engine without a boiler to give powers of this kind to them. The first condition for an effective measure of this kind is a body which will know what the people want, and which will have a desire to give it to them. The country villagers know nothing of the Board of Guardians, who very often know as little of the villagers. Another difficulty is that the body must not only be willing to give the people what they want, but must—and that is my second condition—have an instrument to enable them to work the Bill—it must have compulsory powers. The Minister for Agriculture says that there has been a good deal of give and take between him and the hon. Member for Bordesley. I do not know what has been given up by the right hon. Gentleman, but the hon. Member for Bordesley has given up the principal feature of his previous measure—the principle of compulsion. Upon that very subject my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham, speaking of compulsion, said—It is a blessed word. I would not change it for the world. All previous efforts to deal with this matter have failed simply because there have been no compulsory powers at the back of them.I entirely believe that; but the President of the Board of Agriculture says these are the vile doctrines of modern Radicalism. I should certainly not have called my right hon. Friend a modern Radical. If anything he is an ancient 709 one. Then the hon. Member for Bordesley said—The time has come when we must keep faith with these men. We must not pass a measure which would he inoperative, and any measure would be inoperative unless it contained compulsory powers.I believe that also. It is not a matter of speculation. We know it has been so in the ease of the Allotments Act, which was inoperative until compulsory powers were applied to it. Not that they were used in every case; but the moment the Bill was strengthened by compulsory powers it became perfectly operative, because, having those compulsory powers behind it, we got by voluntary offer what we could not get without them. Upon the celebrated occasion in 1886, when this question was discussed, there was a speech by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope he is a convert as well as the President of the Board of Agriculture, and that he thinks as well now of small holdings as he thought ill of them then—the right hon. Gentleman made a speech upon this very point. He was all against compulsion, but then he was against the plan altogether. He said, referring to a former measure—If there is no compulsion, then the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham will share the fate of the Act of George III. With the experience of that Act before us I ask, is it wise to embark on a measure of this kind? With compulsion you may do much, but is the Liberal Party prepared to adopt the principle of compulsion?The Liberal Party were prepared then, as now, to adopt that principle, but are the Government? Because if they are not—and the President of the Board of Agriculture and the hon. Member for Bordesley have agreed to throw over compulsion—then we have the authority of the Chancellor of the Exchequer for saying that without compulsion we can do nothing at all, but with compulsion we may do much. My third condition is that we must have power, not simply of buying, but of transferring land. "We must have some cheap system of land transfer. That is a cardinal question in this matter. Last year, or the year before, when Her Majesty's Government introduced into the House of Lords a Bill for the purpose of cheapening the transfer of land, the majority in that House threw the Bill out, no 710 doubt because that majority contemplated that it might lead to the multiplication of small holdings. Why not? Why did they throw out the Bill of the Tory Government? Bat that is not all. There is another essential condition, and that is that the persons who have the land should have the power to part with it to the Local Authority. That has-been one of our great difficulties in the past, and I was glad to see the hon. Member for Stamford point out this difficulty. Any pretence of dealing with that question by persons who are not prepared to grapple with a matter of this kind is a mere delusion, and it is not keeping faith with the persons whom the Bill is intended to benefit. The Government are offering them a remedy which must, in its nature, be inoperative from the very essence of the case. Unless you choose to create a capable and willing authority to deal with this question, unless you arm that authority with compulsory powers, unless you choose to have a cheap system of transfer of land, and unless you deal with the law of settlement and life estates, you cannot give a living effect to a proposal of this kind. I have deliberately avoided going into the details of the Bill. I have endeavoured to state what are the deficiencies of the Bill, not on points of detail, but in its motive powers. I hope, in so far as the Bill is intended to assert that it is desirable that such a system should be established, that both sides of the House will agree to give a unanimous vote in favour of the Second Reading. The main point is, What are the intentions of the Government? It is not for them to merely criticise the Bill of the hon. Member for Bordesley. Are they prepared to take the Bill up and carry it through, or bring forward a measure of their own? Because unless they do one or the other of these two things, I do not think there is a great deal of importance to be attached to their declarations.
§ (5.4.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
As I was Chairman of the Committee which sat on this subject last year I should like to say a few words, but at this late hour I shall make my observations extremely brief. 711 I must congratulate the House upon what is the most extraordinary feature of this interesting Debate, namely, the unanimity which now seems to prevail with regard to a matter which in times past has been a subject of angry Party controversy. Even my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) declared his pious intention, which he was unable strictly to fulfil, of letting bygones be bygones. I cannot but regret that the necessities of a carefully prepared speech led my right hon. Friend to occupy a considerable time in referring to questions of ancient history for the purpose of convincing the House that he is the only consistent man now living. My right hon. Friend has suggested, probably not without reason, that the extension of the franchise, which has given to the agricultural labourer a voice in the Government of the country, has had an extraordinarily persuasive effect, not only on Conservatives, but also on Members of the Opposition, in regard to questions in which agricultural labourers are interested. I do not think any of us need be ashamed to say that one result secured by the extension of the franchise has been the greater knowledge which we now possess of the wants, the aspirations, and the claims of the agricultural labourer. Although that may be so, and although the interests of Party may somewhat affect the question at the present time, I believe my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings) is altogether free from any Party imputation in this matter. He took up the matter before there was any Party capital to be made out of it, and I believe that those who differ from him, as well as those who agree with him, will admit that he has pursued undeviatingly a most unselfish course in the interests of the agricultural labourer. I cannot help making a contrast between my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley, who has at heart the interests of the labourer, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, who has at heart the interests of somebody else. My hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley is seeking in what way he can secure 712 for his clients the largest amount of good at the earliest possible date, and for that he is willing to make concessions—he is willing to give and take, and to receive half a loaf rather than no bread; and probably as a result he has now put the question in a position to which I believe all the efforts of my right hon. Friend (Sir W. Harcourt) would have failed to raise it. What is the position of the right hon. Member for Derby? I admit that the Bill does not give us all we have a right to hope for or expect; but the right hon. Gentleman, instead of proposing to deal with the measure, denounces it altogether as insufficient and inoperative, and urges upon the Government, knowing as he does the conditions of Parliamentary business, that they shall first deal with District Councils; that, in the second place, they shall pass a Land Registry Bill; that, in the third place, they shall introduce a Bill to deal with the Law of Settlement; and that when they have done all these things, they shall see whether they cannot give some practical measure of this kind to the labourers.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not say that all or any of these measures were to be introduced before the Government Bill. I said these measures would be necessary to make it effective.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Well, what on earth would be the good of proceeding with this Bill if, according to my right hon. Friend, it would be absolutely inoperative and ineffective, and if we should put it on one side?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Really, the right hon. Gentleman must not misrepresent me. I did not say that. On the contrary; I said I should support the Bill, and I did not wish it to be put aside.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Then my right hon. Friend has put himself in the absurd position of supporting a Bill which he declares beforehand will be ineffective and inoperative. That, at all events, is not the position of those who are now supporting the Bill. We believe the Bill will be operative, and that in 713 the main point on which it has been challenged by my right hon. Friend the concession of my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley will not seriously interfere with its working. My right hon. Friend has quoted a passage from a speech of mine in which I urged the necessity of compulsion in the settlement of this question. I do not conceal from hon. Gentlemen opposite that, sooner or later, compulsion will be necessary for the complete settlement of the question. But what we are doing now is an extraordinary and a novel thing, and without precedent. There has been nothing like it. It is not even like the Ashbourne Act, which was in itself a strong precedent. That Act called in the assistance of the community to give to persons who were already partial owners complete ownership in the land. In the present case we are calling in the aid of the community to make a man an owner who has no connection whatever with the land except the indirect connection that his labour is expended upon it. We are, in fact, establishing a precedent for calling in the aid of the State to set up people in business. That is a tremendous, important, and novel precedent. But I believe the reasons in its favour are so strong that they justify the setting up of that precedent. It is, however, wise and reasonable that we should proceed step by step. Therefore, I readily assent to the proposal that in the first instance this should be treated as an experiment, and that we should not ask for more than £5,000,000. I do not doubt that we shall get all the land required without resort to compulsion. Why, therefore, should we put the obstacle of compulsion in their way when it is absolutely necessary for the passing of the Bill that compulsion should be omitted from it? If this Bill should be a success, as I am firmly convinced it will be, and if the House should then be willing to view the experiment with favour, then I conceive it would be found necessary, as in case of the allotments, to introduce compulsory powers, and I do not doubt that by that time there would be such a further advance of public opinion as would give support to the House. Of course, I am anxious that 714 the House in legislating should follow the principles laid down in the Report of the Committee. I am, therefore, anxious that the principle of reserving something as a quit rent should be maintained. The community is to be called in for the benefit of one class, and if the community can also be benefited by the scheme an immense impetus will be given to it. But I do not think it would be wise to reserve three-fourths of the value for the quit rent, because, if there were any further fall in the price of land, the quit rent would become the rack rent, and then there would be an agitation for the reduction of the rent—an agitation which might become dangerous, because, in the course of time, the origin of rent of this kind is apt to be lost sight of, and people come to regard it as a tax upon their industry. This would not be the case if the quit rent were so small as to be more in the nature of a Scotch feu. I hope, therefore, that something will be reserved for the benefit of the Local Authority, but that it will not be allowed to exceed one-fourth of the total rent. The Minister for Agriculture said something about the desirability of Local Authorities letting land as well as selling it for the purpose of making small holdings. May I point out to him that, after all, the Local Authorities now have power to let land by way of allotments, and the only change proposed is that, whereas now the public is limited to letting land up to one acre, we propose that this should be extended to the letting of land up to 10 acres. The reason is obvious. You will find you have not only to create facilities for small holdings, but you have to create a class of small holders, who only exist to a very limited extent at the present time. In order to create them you must enable the labourer who begins with an allotment to go on bit by bit increasing it until he is in a position to become a small holder. He will not be in the first instance in a position to become one, and you must increase the steps of the ladder by which he will be enabled to reach that position. I do not think it is a matter of grave consideration whether the limit should be five acres or 10. Then there is a question about the power of resumption. Here you 715 have a Public Authority—that is to say, the community—purchasing land or lending the whole purchase money to the small holder. Surely in return for that it is entitled not merely to have the ordinary power of resumption given under existing Acts of Parliament, but a general power of resumption on fixed terms settled beforehand whenever the interests of the community demand it. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture that this power exists so far as concerns many of the public purposes for which Local Authorities now take land; and it seems to me that for all these public purposes in which the interest of the community is concerned, they ought to have power with regard to the land, which they themselves have purchased, to take it back again at the agricultural value. Suppose that a town buys land with the view of letting it for small holdings, and that subsequently it is wanted for building. Having put a man on land of this kind for the purpose of creating him a small holder, are you going to allow him to become a building speculator and to take the whole profit which is due to the increase of the town which has conferred the benefit on him? I say that would be absurd and if that were to be the rule, Local Authorities would refuse to purchase land for the purpose of small holdings in the neighbourhood of towns. But if, on the contrary, they had the power to resume possession for building purposes, to take it for the benefit of the community, there would be nothing to prevent buying land and using it temporarily, at all events for the purposes of this Bill. Now, I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby was simulating when he professed to be unaware what is meant by the acceptance of the principle of the Bill by the Government.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I did not say I did not understand the principle of the Bill. I said I understood the principle of the Bill to be that it is desirable to increase the number of small holdings in this country, and to do it by the Local Authority, and I thoroughly approve of that principle.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I did not say the right hon. Gentleman did not 716 understand the principle of the Bill, but I said that the right hon. Gentleman pretended not to know what was meant when the Government accepted the principle. I answer the right hon. Gentleman out of his own words; the acceptance of the principle means that the Government are pledged to introduce a Bill which will give the Local Authority power to buy land in order to create small holdings. I, for one, am prepared for the acceptance of the principle in these broad terms; and when the right hon. Gentleman looks at the Report and the proceedings of the Committee, he will find that the Government, through the Minister for Agriculture, are committed also to many other details out of which a thoroughly practical and satisfactory Bill may be constructed.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday next.