§ COMMITTEE. [Progress 5th April.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Amendment again proposed, in page 1, line 10, after the word "may," to insert the words "either by voluntary agreement or compulsorily."—(Sir W. Foster.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ *(4.55.) MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
An hon. Member who sits on this side of the House moved a most important Amendment—more important, perhaps, than any other Amendment which has been moved on this Bill—and the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill in dealing with it made use of some arguments which were not very sound in themselves, and which, at any rate, were not sufficient to meet a very grave case. His argument was that he had supported compulsion in the Allotments Bill, but that he did not see the necessity for compulsion in the Small Holdings Bill. What the right hon. Gentleman said was that he quite agreed with compulsion in the Allotments Bill, because it was admitted on all hands that allotments were a public good and a public advantage, but that it was impossible that could be said for the Small Holdings Bill, because it is an experiment which we hope may succeed, but upon which no confident opinion can be expressed. I may put the statement of the right hon. Gentleman in this way:—"I believe in allotments, therefore I am willing to give compulsion. I do not believe in small holdings, I only hope for them, therefore I will not give compulsion." I do not know whether that kind of argument is likely to be accepted by the House or the country; but it does occur to me that you will have to go a very long way back in our history before you will find a Government which has had such an appalling lack of faith in its own legislation as the present Government has shown in free education and small 1006 holdings. But it is part of our business to stir up the faith of the right hon. Gentleman, and show him how to make a reality of this Bill. The next argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that there was no need of compulsion, because there is plenty of land in the market. And he quoted the figures of a firm of land agents to show that this was the case. I should like to ask a few questions of that witness on the subject. I should like to ask what was the character of the sale? What sort of land was it? Was it mountain and moorland, or farms that had been allowed to go out of cultivation; or was it good arable and pasture land fit for small holdings? And I want to know what is the character of the land remaining on their books, something like 200,000 acres? Were the sales in large plots, or so dispersed over the country as to justify the belief that if you rely on the supply of land in the market it will meet the needs of the separate parishes which may arise? That is the problem which we have to solve. It is no use to tell the labourer that there are 500,000 acres in the market in another county. Would this convenient witness tell us that if he were negotiating the sale of an estate of 6,000 or 7,000 acres in a ring fence, it would have no effect on the price or the willingness of the purchaser to buy if he were suddenly to tell him that he would have to surrender to the County Council for the purpose of small holdings a good plot of land in the centre of the estate? These are important questions, when you come to rely on the amount of land in the market. If this Bill is to have any effect a surrender must be made. Most of the land in England is tenanted and occupied, and there must be a surrender. The figures of the right hon. Gentleman were very instructive. He said, take the number of acres sold by one land agent, and so many more on his books ready for purchasers, take the number of land agents in London whose names you will find in the Directory, and the multiplication table will do the rest. These figures came as trippingly from his tongue as the figures run in the prospectus of a Limited Liability Company. I do not think it would be a great misnomer if 1007 this Bill were called the Small Holdings Bill (Limited), for it is strictly limited to what the landowners choose to subscribe. When my right hon. Friend was describing all these acres to be sold, I could not help picturing to myself the County Councillors with whom I am connected driving through parish after parish, many of them contiguous to each other, and in which not one acre is in the market, or likely to be in the market. Hon. Members opposite represent 20 times, perhaps 50 times, the amount of land in England represented by men belonging to the Liberal Party, and they know what I am saying is true. The tendency of landowners during the last century has been to secure complete and absolute control over the whole land within the bounds of their estates. It has not always been for unworthy purposes, for it is easier to secure good buildings and good sanitary arrangements if you have complete control. Hon. Gentlemen on this side chafe at the notion of that control, and doubt whether the benefits and advantages accruing from it are worth the cost. I am not concerned to inquire on what side the relative Parties lie; we have to deal with the fact. You propose by the Bill to reverse all this. You are going deliberately to give the pendulum a swing in the other direction. It is not a question of letting land for allotments, but of sale outright. The sale will be supervised for ten years by the County Council, but after that the land, purchased in 50 or 25 acre lots, will be available for any object the purchaser may choose. It may be sold in half-acre lots, or for building purposes; there is no guarantee that it will be kept in cultivation. When the Bill is passed, do you suppose that the complete and absolute control which has cost so much to obtain will be very willingly surrendered? It is a mistake to suppose that the landowners will sell large plots to be used for any purpose at the end of ten years unless they are compelled to sell. Look at these "close villages" as they were called, and see what injustice you will do them if the Bill remains a dead letter in their case. If you do not provide them with their share of these 1008 new small holdings you do them a double injustice, for you tax them for the advantage of other villages. The right hon. Gentleman says he objects to compulsion, because it would cause friction between different classes. If I had to ask a tenant to surrender a portion of his farm for small holdings I should feel the friction much less if I were backed by compulsory powers. The tenant would feel more hurt if it were at the will of the landlord only that he had to give up the land. I certainly cannot agree that compulsion would make the state of feeling between landlord and tenant, or farmer and labourer, less pleasant than they have been hitherto. I am not ready to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman has taken up this Bill as a plaything, as a kind of Parliamentary pastime, to occupy a few spare hours between now and the Dissolution, or that he has put it forward as a convenient banner to be unfurled just before we go to the country and after that to be rolled up again and put on one side. I believe he would have been glad to make a workable Bill, but I think he has wholly failed to realise the magnitude of the task under his hand. I wonder what he and his friends will think when the Bill is placed on the Statute Book if it is found that it will not work? I do not think the right hon. Gentleman has estimated the task he has taken in hand, or that the Party sitting behind him is prepared to make the sacrifices which are necessary if the Bill is to work. I look upon it that compulsion in this Bill is the test of sincerity. If they believe in the measure, if they believe that small holdings are a necessity, let them put a clause in the Bill which will insure that small holdings will be forthcoming. I am not enamoured of compulsion for its own sake, but there are some good things which cannot be obtained without compulsion, and this is one of them. There is one thing I dislike more than I do compulsion, and that is to see this House passing measures that we know cannot work, that we know are not real measures. I think that is a dangerous thing to do. I do not like to raise expectations among a part of the people of this country when I know that those expectations will 1009 not be fulfilled. I think that is inducing men to distrust Parliament, to feel that when expectations are raised they are not fulfilled, and to avoid raising such expectations and dooming them to disappointment, I would make a greater sacrifice than is involved in voting for the Amendment of my hon. Friend.
§ (4.50.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
Reference has been made several times to the decision of the Small Holdings Committee, of which I had the honour to be Chairman, and I should like in a few minutes to give some explanation as to the course taken by the majority of that Committee. Before I do so, however, I may refer very briefly to the speech we have just listened to. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) commenced by referring to the arguments against compulsion which had been used by the Minister of Agriculture, and he complained of the poverty of those arguments. He complained, in the first place, that the right hon. Gentleman did not appear to believe in his own Bill, because he had said that whilst he felt confident in proposing that which referred to allotments that that measure would be largely availed of, he considered the present Bill as in the nature of an experiment, and, therefore, he was not prepared to go as far in the way of compulsion in the latter measure as he did in the former. I very much wish my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford had been on the Committee to which I have referred. If he had been, and had been in the slightest degree impressed by the evidence, he would have agreed with the President of the Board of Agriculture that he would be a very rash man indeed who would predict beforehand what would be the result of State assistance of a scheme for providing small holdings. We had witnesses before us who declared it could not be successful, except in the case of land where fruit-growing could be carried on or where fruit cultivation could be economically practised, and to attempt to extend small holdings throughout the country would be to court certain failure. We were told by other wit- 1010 nesses that the class for whose benefit it was sought to create the small holdings would never be able to provide the capital necessary for working them, and that the very utmost they could possibly do would be to take something like the tenancies suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian. Then again, we were, told by one witness at least that even the rate of interest suggested in this Bill, and which we suggested to him, would be altogether too large for any small holder to pay if he belonged to the agricultural labouring class, and unless the Government would be prepared to accept the same rate of interest which the landowners are content to take—and which the witness put at about 2 per cent—the Bill would certainly be a failure. Again, we were told that no Bill of this kind would be satisfactory or sufficient which did not provide State assistance, not only to give the land to the labourer, but also to provide buildings. One witness declared that he should not be satisfied with this even, and that the State must go on and provide for the stocking of the farm. There were, of course, other witnesses holding different opinions, and the Committee, although impressed by all this evidence with the fact that a Bill of this kind must necessarily be an experiment, were unanimous in their conviction that it was very desirable to try such an experiment. But undoubtedly I am expressing the conviction of the Committee, or certainly the conviction of the majority of the Committee, when I say that they believed that the Bill must be a tentative measure. My hon. Friend went on to say that the evidence before the Committee was insufficient to show that there would be sufficient land for the purpose of the experiment.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
Yes, sufficiently dispersed. I am inclined to agree with those witnesses who came before us and said that there would be exceptional cases; perhaps in some cases affecting whole districts, in which there would not be sufficient and suitable land at the particular time at which it was wanted. I think that is 1011 quite possible; but, on the other hand, there was a general concurrence of testimony in the view that there would be ample land to be found in different parts of the Kingdom to supply, at all events, as much as would be required for such an experiment as this Bill provides for—an experiment which is confined to a capital expenditure which can be based on a penny rate. As to that I think there can be no doubt. I am inclined to agree with my hon. Friend that there may be cases in which this Bill will not provide for a want which may be found to exist, and if it can be shown that such a state of things exists to any considerable extent a good case would be made out for asking the House to provide compulsion, always supposing that in the meantime the experiment has succeeded according to the desires of those who are promoting this legislation. Then my hon. Friend made use of another argument which, I think, should lead to a different conclusion from that he based upon it. He pointed out that under the Bill these small holders are after ten years to have absolute possession of their holding, and I think he suggested that if now, under a voluntary system even, they were enabled to get land in the middle of an estate they might afterwards so use that land as seriously to injure the estate, and as that would naturally be unpopular with the landowners he actually suggests that compulsory powers should be asked for to do this great wrong to landowners against their will. I should have thought that if anything of the kind were possible it would be an argument against compulsory powers. For myself, I hold that to be an amendment to another part of the Bill which would prevent these small holders from obtaining this absolute possession, and always keep them under the control of the Bill, and carry out the object which the State is making sacrifices to secure—namely, that they should continue occupying and cultivating tenants. I go back again to what I wish to say with regard to the Report of the Small Holdings Committee, the effect of which has, I think, been a little misunderstood. It is said, and said truly, that we reported against compulsory powers, and hon. Members on the other side 1012 have supposed that we reported against compulsion on its merits. We recommended that compulsory powers should not be put in this Bill, or in the Bill which was expected to follow on our recommendations, and we did so on two grounds. First, that it was a tentative measure, and that it must be considered as an experiment, and that for the mere purposes of an experiment compulsory powers were not absolutely necessary; and, in the second place, because we believed that if compulsory powers were sought for at this stage of the discussion they would provoke so much opposition, both in the House and in the country, there would be very little chance of any Bill being passed. As regards the evidence we took on the subject of compulsion, I must say that it did not add very much to our information. It was conflicting in character, and hardly of the nature to justify us in coming to any confident conclusion. There were four witnesses—Mr. Standing, a small farmer from Lincolnshire; Mr. Dodd, who spoke as standing counsel for the Small Holdings Association; Mr. Jones, a solicitor in Cardiganshire; and Mr. Hughes, a small owner in Wales, who, I may say, were absolutely in favour of compulsion. On the other hand, Mr. Gibbons, who was connected with allotments at Wellingborough, advocated compulsion after my hon. Friend's own heart. He was for compulsion all round. He was not satisfied merely to compel the landowner to sell, but he demanded that the Local Authorities should be compelled to buy. Another small farmer, Mr. Jones, also from Wales, was in favour of compulsion, but he would only apply it in the case of unlet land. He would not apply it where tenants were in possession and were already cultivating the land. The late Mr. Fyffe, who gave us the most interesting and useful evidence we took in the course of the inquiry, put before us some very strong arguments in favour of compulsory powers. He said, with regard to landlords, "Some will not sell land for the purposes of this measure, though it is true," he went on to say,I believe these are exceptions, but I know some landlords exercising control over very large districts who certainly, at present, would absolutely refuse the land for such a purpose.1013 He said, what I think to be of more importance, that whilst some landlords will not sell there are many landlords who cannot sell owing to the opposition of their tenants, and it would enable these landlords who are quite willing to sell to get over this opposition of the farmers if they could appeal to the compulsion that was behind them. On those grounds, therefore, Mr. Fyffe said that although he was firmly convinced that if compulsion were included it would seldom be used, it would be a potentiality which was a great advantage. Then Mr. Fyffe, who, although he was a very strong Radical and an ardent politician, was an extremely fair-minded man, went on to say, in answering a question, that undoubtedly he thought that the Bill, even without compulsion, was a good and useful Bill, and he would vote for it, even without compulsion, though he thought it would be more useful if compulsion were included. My own opinion, and the opinion of some other Members of the Committee who voted against the immediate introduction of compulsion, may be very fairly expressed in the words of Mr. Fyffe. We think, and we thought, that the introduction of compulsion would be an improvement to the Bill, and if we could possibly hope to convince the Government of that, and at the same time not to arouse any considerable opposition in the country, I should have thought it was very desirable to include compulsion, even now, in the measure. But, on the other hand, if the introduction of compulsion is likely seriously to endanger the measure, then I am prepared to vote against compulsion, at all events at present, not on the merits, be it observed, but as a question of policy. I think that in doing so I should have no difficulty in justifying myself. In the first place, as the hon. Member for Bedford said, and as any reasonable man would say, compulsion is not to be desired for its own sake but should rather be avoided, because it might, in many cases, cause great friction; but I would also point out that it is certain to increase the cost of transactions under the Bill. I have had a very large experience in compulsory acquisition of land, acting on behalf of a great Municipality, and in all cases in which I have 1014 been personally concerned, and in every case of which I had the slightest knowledge of the cost of the proceeding, the general consequences of having resort to compulsion have invariably been to add at least 20 per cent., and in one case of which I know personally 50 per cent., to the value of the land. Therefore, I think we all desire that compulsion should be used as little as possible, and not at all unless it is necessary. I have already said that we had evidence before us that enough land was obtainable for the purpose of trying this experiment. I have no doubt that will be found to be the case if this Bill passes. I do not say it will be so in every case in which land is required; there may be cases of grievance but, practically speaking, it will be tried in every county in England, and we shall know what chance there is of giving a large extension to the measure. And if, hereafter, a case for compulsion is made out—as I think it will be made out—then, undoubtedly, we shall have the strongest possible grounds for coming to Parliament and saying, "We must have compulsion, without which this question cannot be dealt with." But if we find, as I am afraid we do find, that there is amongst the landowners of the country a very serious alarm at the prospects of compulsion, I think we are bound, having regard to the prospects of legislation, to take that into account at the present moment. And let me say that some of the remarks which have been made in the course of this discussion are not calculated to relieve landowners from this alarm, because I have heard hon. Members say that what they want is not only land, not only ordinary land, but the best land in the best place. I confess that goes a long way further than I have ever proposed to go in this matter. By all means let the small holder have a fair chance with the other cultivators of the soil; but if you say that that is not sufficient, and that he cannot succeed unless you allow him to pick out the eye of every estate, I think in that case you are putting his claim so high that no just man can possibly recognise it as a fair one. It is because I do believe that the progress of this measure would be most materially advanced if compulsion were not intro- 1015 duced that I voted against its immediate introduction. I am prepared to do the same now. The hon. Member for Cirencester the other day threatened us in very plain language with vengeance and with an electoral agitation, and no doubt we shall be denounced throughout the country as the enemies of the agricultural labourer. The hon. Member does not show very good taste in threatening his colleagues in the House in that way, but I will tell him this. If only the matter is fairly stated to the agricultural labourer by himself and his friends without exaggeration and without misrepresentation, I have sufficient confidence in the shrewdness and intelligence of the labourers to feel certain that they will justify our action. Here is a Bill which, as Mr. Fyffe said, and as I believe, is a good Bill, a useful Bill, and a Bill which will go a long way towards carrying out the object which we have at heart. We are told that the Government cannot accept the Amendment which has been proposed, and if it were forced upon them it would be fatal to the Bill. The Bill would have to be dropped, and what would happen then? The labourers, who are the especial care of the hon. Member for Cirencester, would have to wait till another Government came in—I wonder why hon. Members do not cheer me—which is a matter, as we all know, of very few weeks or months. Yes; but they would have to wait a few years after that Government came in whilst that Government was engaged in dealing with Home Rule for Ireland, Home Rule for London, One Man One Vote, Disestablishment of the Church in Wales—and it is not until all these things have been dealt with that the turn of the agricultural labourer will come for his compulsory Small Holdings Bill. Under these circumstances I have no hesitation, and I believe I am acting in the interest of the labourers when I vote for half a loaf instead of no bread. I believe in doing so we shall have done a great deal to satisfy the aspirations of the labourer, and we shall have done much more in his interest than we should do if we postponed the settlement of this question till all the reforms to which 1016 my hon. and right hon. Friends are pledged have been carried into effect.
§ (5.10.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
I own to some difficulty in understanding the position of my right hon. Friend who has just sat down. But if I understand it at all, it appears to me to be a position which would go very far indeed to paralyse and to reduce to inanity all the reforming energy of Parliament. My right hon. Friend thinks that compulsion is sound in principle. He is convinced that a case will hereafter arise in which compulsion will be justified and necessary; and yet, although, the has these opinions, he is afraid to give a vote in favour of compulsion, because he says the Government cannot grant it. I want to know from my right hon. Friend whether there has ever been a single measure of reform and improvement in this House which, if we had treated it in that manner, we should not have totally failed in carrying. We have always had this opposition to contend against; we have always had this unwillingness and reluctance to admit the propriety or the necessity of what we proposed. But our answer and our grounds of action have been these: that we were confident in the reason of the case, and that, therefore, we must persevere. My right hon. Friend is perfectly confident in the reason of the case; he has no scruple there; he believes that the thing is in principle sound; and he believes that a case of necessity and compulsion will arise. Well, if we were under these circumstances to refrain from pressing our opinions, I should like to know where would be any of the reforming measures on which my right hon. Friend has heretofore in other days taken part? All these measures at the present day would still have continued to be the subject of idle and profitless discussion and of infinite ingenuity in finding circuitous methods of justification for shrinking from supporting them. If my right hon. Friend would only recur a little to the ancient faith which he used to have! I do not ask him to urge all his principles and all his opinions with the vehemence and in the alarming terms by which, in other days, 1017 he excited such horror amongst hon. Members opposite, by which he contrived to sever from the Liberal Party many good though timid men, who are now associated with him in the closest and most harmonious relations; I will not ask him to revert to his famous dicta, by which he earned an immortality, not, perhaps, altogether acceptable to his present humour; but I ask him in some degree to recall the sentiments cherished by him in his youth, and in his middle age to join with us—at least so far as reason will support our proposition—in something better than referring to the discretion and arbitrary will of the Government opposite, to say whether some improvement in our law shall take place or not. Then we come to this question: Is this Bill a Bill which absolutely requires the introduction of compulsion in order to give it any such character of utility, and any such terms of extent as the nature of the case and the expectation of the people demand? My right hon. Friend speaks as if there were nobody and nothing to consider in this matter except the apprehensions of nervous landlords, and except the will of a Tory Government. Now, we have a large rural population, and this rural population—as my right hon. Friend knows—has its mind intently set upon this subject. Of that there is no doubt. My right hon. Friend has got his specific for this. He says, "Only be reasonable and clear in your explanations to this rural population, and there is no difficulty whatever. Let there be no tampering, no exaggeration," and no doubt the hon. Member for Bordesley, the faithful henchman of my right hon. Friend, will be glad to echo that opinion. My right hon. Friend says, "This is my specific: give rational explanations to the rural labourers, and they will be perfectly satisfied." Well, now I should like much to know what are to be these rational explanations? Does my right hon. Friend think that if we have in our pockets a little printed copy of the speech which he has made to-day that will furnish us with a sufficient text for rational explanations to satisfy the labourers? Will the rural labourer be content when we go to him and say, "We believe compulsion is in principle 1018 just; we believe you have got a case, but because there is a Tory Government in power that I do not wish to displace, therefore my rational explanation must be sufficient for you; although your case is just, though I am the first in declaring it to be just and good, yet from political motives, brought from other quarters and not belonging to the merits of your case, without disparagement of your just claim, because of previous arrangements to which I have become committed, you are therefore to acquiesce in a measure which I do not deny requires this as a proper complement, but which at the same time it is not convenient for me to confer upon you." Is this the moderate and intelligible and enlightened explanation to which I am to expect the intellect of the rural labourer at once to yield assent? But I confess I differ from my right hon. Friend; I am not so sanguine; and I believe that the rural labourer is either too unenlightened or a good deal too enlightened to give the slightest effect to such explanations. If, on the other hand, my right hon. Friend has got another set of explanations which he has not included in his speech to-day—if he will kindly on some other occasion supply us with them, we should be most happy to take them, provided they are available, and turn them to the best account we can. In the meantime, for the present purpose I must point out to my right hon. Friend that we cannot altogether decline to act in the manner in which we have endeavoured to act upon other subjects—and that is to say that by our speeches we will endeavour to assist the public mind in arriving at right conclusions, and by our votes we will endeavour to assert our conscientious convictions—which are evidently shared by my right hon. Friend with us—we will endeavour to assert them, and we will not be deterred from asserting them by the knowledge that we have before us, as we have had upon every occasion when there has been anything worth contending for, a phalanx banded in opposition to our views. Well, now, the real question comes to this: Is this proposal a reasonable proposal? Is it needful, in order to make this Bill a reality, that compulsion should be introduced into it? 1019 But my right hon. Friend dropped important words, if I understood him rightly, in one portion of his speech, where I think he intimated vaguely that he approved of the proposal—I am sure he will correct me if I am wrong—that he approved, in principle, of the proposal to enlarge this Bill by introducing into it the principle of letting as well as selling the land.
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
I beg pardon. The Amendment of which I indicated my approval, and which is down on the Paper, was that for limiting the ownership by leaving quit-rent upon the land permanently, but I should have something to say against the proposal for substituting tenants for small owners.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I should be sorry to accuse my right hon. Friend of an intention to enlarge this Bill. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman, however, that I am glad of his intervention, because he has relieved me in that way from the danger of disappointments, which I have not infrequently felt in the course of the present Parliament, when after listening to an admirable speech from my right hon. Friends which tended to make it a matter of demonstration to me that we were going to have the support of my right hon. Friend on some important principle, he has by-and-bye found a way circuitously to a means of escape which ended with the announcement that it would be his painful duty to go into the other Lobby. It seems to me that, in considering this Bill on its present basis, we are bound to refer to the evidence of witnesses before the Committee of this House, who have shown that very great doubts exist in the minds of many as to the extent to which this Bill will work, that there are many obstacles in the way, and that although many of us believe that it may easily and reasonably be made into a Bill of large operations, yet many persons appear to be under apprehensions that the operations of it will be small on account of the difficulties and objections there are in the way. But if that be the case, I have to ask myself, first of all, two questions: Is the object in view any very great object; and if it be any very great object is it one on which the common mind of this 1020 country is firmly set? My answer to these two questions is in the affirmative. I say it is of enormous importance to bring into profitable use the land of this country—not of the whole land of this country—I speak of nothing of the kind; and I do not believe that any person sitting here will see a fundamental revolution of the sort in the rural land of this country. I believe its destiny is that for the most part it will be held by a considerable mass of persons who are not the occupiers and the cultivators of the soil. But I believe that it is of enormous—that it is of vital—importance and consequence on every ground to bring the rural population, the rural labouring population, as far as possible into union with the soil, and with the profitable use of the soil. Surely that is an argument of enormous power—to which a man of the acuteness of my right hon. Friend cannot possibly be blind—for endeavouring to give all the extension, and all the elasticity we can to the measure which is placed before us under the imposing title of the Small Agricultural Holdings Bill. This is indeed a very great question; and I confess I can conceive nothing more clear than that, without making extravagant or exaggerated demands, we should endeavour to equip such a Bill in such a way that it shall be a Bill of resource, that it shall be a Bill of carefully considered expedients for meeting the difficulties that confront us, and a Bill which aims at extracting from this great subject all the benefits that it can by rational processes be made to yield. Therefore, while disposed to admit that just consideration ought to be given to the arguments of opponents, and even to the apprehensions of opponents, I say I feel no reason to believe that our opponents constitute a considerable majority in this House, and that they have reason to make a call upon our compassion. They are here in a condition to assert individually their own views and principles and to give them effect. But it is a strange thing, indeed, that we who are of the minority should be reduced to the point that we are not to give a reason for our opinions, and not to give our votes in support of these opinions, because what we have before 1021 us is still not an inconsiderable majority perfectly able to hold its own ground, and to do what I must admit to be justice, and what I call a great deal more than justice, to bad arguments and insufficient conclusions. There is one statement of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester which I wish to call attention to. Why is it, it may be naturally asked, that my hon. Friend behind me, in his admirable speech—the hon. Member for Bedford, and other gentlemen in this House—has attached this very great importance to the introduction of compulsion into this Bill? And here I wish to draw a distinction which undoubtedly, in my view, is important. The same distinction was taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester. I wish to point out that if a multitude of blocks of 50, 40, or 30 acre holdings are to be taken out of existing estates, that may be regarded, and rightly regarded, as a very serious interference with the unity of those estates, and, without putting too high an argument on behalf of the landlord, on the landlord's reasonable influence on the control of the area where he is the principal proprietor, and must continue to bear the principal responsibility. As I have gathered from the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester, his anxiety for compulsion was not for the 50, 40, 30, or even 20 acre holdings, which the Government contemplate in the form of freeholds. Undoubtedly that is my feeling. I am indifferent whether you apply compulsion to those large blocks, which I call large holdings as compared with the holdings we principally have in view. Now, Sir, what is it we have principally in view? Who are they that have the real call upon us for assistance in this case? They are the rural labourers; they are not the men possessed of £2,000, £1,000, or £500. They are not the men who would buy 50, 40, 30, or even 20 acres. They are the men to whom it would be of the most vital consequence to obtain what I would call small holdings—those which border upon allotments, and which rise by slow gradations from the dimensions of allotments until you come to holdings 1022 of an entirely different character. I think the more these Debates are carried on the more it must be evident that the object of the Government is entirely distinct from that of hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. The object of the Government is the creation of a class approaching the character of the ancient yeomanry of this country. An object of that character is an exceedingly good one; I have not a word to say against it, but it is an object necessarily limited and narrow in its sphere. There is before us a far wider purpose, and that is of going to the labouring population of this country, and of placing them, to their own profit and advantage, upon the soil from which until now they unquestionably have been almost altogether excluded. I hardly think it can be denied that that is a reasonable purpose on our part, and that we should look to this Bill with a desire that it should be made adequate to the attainment of that object. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture says that he is strongly for compulsion in regard to allotments, but that the holdings contemplated by this Bill are in the nature of an experiment, and that, therefore, there ought not to be compulsion in regard to them. I do not admit the distinction of the line which has just been drawn by the right hon. Gentleman at a single acre being a certain good on one side and a mere experiment on the other. I say that the allotments are a certain good, but that he is wrong in saying that holdings of two acres or three acres, four acres or five acres, ought to be regarded as mere experiments. Some of these holdings, even up to five acres—I believe multitudes of them—may be found to be perfectly capable of management by men who are now in the condition of labourers. I will now refer to a nobleman who was once well known to this House, and who will always be honourably known in the districts in which he lived—the late Lord Tollemache. He was a man of politics entirely opposite to mine, but he was one who did honour to his name and to his order, and to his country; and as regards this question of small holdings he was a model landlord. Now Lord Tolle- 1023 mache had an estate in Suffolk, where the people were not associated with grazing and the management of cows, and he gave to every labourer upon it half an acre of ground, partly to be used for the spade cultivation of corn, and partly for strictly garden purposes. But Lord Tollemache also had a large estate in Cheshire, and he gave 2½ acres to every cottager upon it. These are what I call small holdings, and they were held without any call being made upon the labourer to invest money in the freehold, and thereby to deprive themselves of the means of cultivating their holdings. Why should there not be created in many parts of this country a class such as Lord Tollemache created on his own estates? Then we come to the question, whether it is certain that such a class could be created under this Bill as it is now framed? I maintain that they could not be created under it. My right hon. Friend who has just sat down said that in his experience compulsion was a more expensive way of securing land than by voluntary arrangement. That contention appears to be based on the assumption that we are setting up compulsion against voluntary arrangement. We are doing nothing of the kind. It is not a question whether land shall be taken by compulsion instead of by voluntary arrangement. It is a question whether land shall be taken by compulsion or its not being taken at all. The comparison of the standard of price has no reference to the case which is before us. My contention is that we ought to have a uniformity of action, so far as we can, all over the country—I do not say uniformity of action made compulsory, because we are agreed that this is a matter in which the initiative control and responsibility must be left in the main to Local Authorities—to the County Councils—as the basis of the Bill. About that I think there is no division of opinion in this House; but we ought not to frame our measure in such a way that where the Local Authorities are willing, intermediate or secondary obstacles shall be permitted to frustrate and render null and void ab initio the great purpose of the Bill. Can we expect uniformity of action on the part of 1024 landlords in this matter? In my opinion, the exceptions which must exist to prevent that uniformity are exceptions very considerable in number. There are the landlords who are indifferent; there are landlords who are absentees; and there are landlords who are minors, whose trustees and guardians, in a multitude of instances, will say "No" to the question of dealing with the corpus of the estate before the succession of the owner. There are landlords who are embarrassed, and whose estates are greatly encumbered—not, I hope, a very large number, but still a not inconsiderable number—to whom it might be a matter of great inconvenience to raise any money in order to release even a portion of their property from the encumbrances at present affecting them. But there is another consideration. This Bill must undoubtedly be regarded as a Bill calling for considerable expense. What I should like to see would be voluntary action of the landlord in dealing directly with the tenants without going to the County Councils at all. But a man must then be in a position of something like Lord Tollemache, whose operations cost him, unless I am much mistaken, a great deal of money. Perhaps not a very large proportion of landlords would be in a position to deal with their tenants upon the liberal footing which Lord Tollemache was able to adopt; and, on the whole, it appears to me that there is no inconsiderable number of landlords whom it is impossible to expect that they or their representatives would voluntarily concur in the purposes of this Bill. Then how will the people of three different parishes stand with regard to it? There may be parish A, parish B, and parish C in the same county; the people of those three parishes desirous of obtaining land; the County Council willing and active in the discharge of their duty. In parish A and C the landlords are willing to sell; but in parish B there is a landlord who from indifference, or from being an absentee, from want of money, or from other causes, is not willing to do so; so that while the labourers in parish B have their desires wholly unsatisfied, and those in A and C have attained the object of their wish, those in 1025 parish B would be subjected to taxation for the benefit of the others. Is that likely to conduce to harmony and and to prevent friction? Will the right hon. Gentleman opposite apply the principle to a holding above as to a holding below one acre? Will he open the door which would give us a hope that the rural labourer will have a fair chance of coming into the profitable use and cultivation of a portion of the soil. The only desire we have is to aid him in doing it. My right hon. Friend said that this Bill would go a long way to accomplish our object——
§ MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN
No, no! What I said was that the Bill before the Committee was in its main features similar to the Bill which was introduced by my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. J. Collings), which also was not a compulsory Bill, and that compulsion is not necessary to bring a good many more people on the soil.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
The expression "going a long way" was, I think, unfortunately used. The sense and meaning of the present Bill is to increase the number of small holdings. By all means let that be done, but do not let us allow the rural labourers to suppose that we for a moment dream that this will meet their wishes. It is something far beyond it that is required. It is the establishment of a prevalent and useful union between the masses of the population and the soil that we should seek to effect. Is that an unreasonable attempt to make? Let the right hon. Gentleman give us, in the most moderate way, the means of accomplishing that object, and we shall be happy to meet him. We wish to give him every credit for what he has done, but to stimulate him to do more; because I fear that if something more is not done this Bill will remain a monument of good intentions, and will carry through the country when it comes into operation, from the extreme narrowness of its scope, a feeling of deep and prevailing disappointment.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN, Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
The House has listened with interest, not altogether unmixed with amusement, to the speeches of the two right hon. Gentlemen. These speeches have been strikingly 1026 different in character. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham explained the reasons which induced him to give his vote against this Amendment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian commenced his speech by spending at least a quarter of an hour in attacking my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham for refusing to return to what he called his "conscientious convictions," and denounced the bad arguments he had used on this occasion. I think, in so far as the right hon. Gentleman's speech was concerned, if I may be forgiven for saying so, the difficulty was to find what arguments he relied on. He spent so long a time in attacking my right hon. Friend that I can only come to this conclusion—that whilst my right hon. Friend was desperately anxious to forward and advance this measure, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian would not scruple to injure it, and injure it seriously if he could. The right hon. Gentleman asked if this was or was not a reasonable Amendment, and he went on to say it was a very large question, and that this Bill ought to be what he described as a "Bill of resource." But the right hon. Gentleman did not attempt to explain what a "Bill of resource" was to mean, neither did he give the slightest nor the smallest answer to the question as to whether this Amendment was reasonable or whether it was not. The right hon. Gentleman went on to declare that the endeavour to create a class of yeomen was not the only thing; but that the real object and purpose of the Bill ought to be to aid in the advancement of the agricultural labourer by increasing the number of small holdings. I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman, but I do not see how, by making use of that expression, he advanced in the slightest degree his argument in favour of compulsion. He said I had drawn a line between holdings below one acre and holdings above one acre, and that I stated that, though the one was nothing but an experiment, the other was an advantage that could not be disputed; and he asked me to justify that distinction. I wish to say, in reference to 1027 this subject, that that is not the argument I used. I said nothing whatever about a line between holdings below one acre and holdings above one acre. What I have constantly said on this subject is this—that while the system of allotments has been proved to be a success—which is a very different thing from saying it may be an advantage—on the other hand, no one in this House is able to say that the attempt to establish small holdings by the aid of the State can be described as anything more than an experiment, although it is an experiment of which we cherish the reasonable hope that it will succeed. The right hon. Gentleman said it is a question between compulsion and having no land at all. On what ground does the right hon. Gentleman make that statement? We have had some experience of this question in the past in dealing with allotments. Since the passing of the Allotments Act there have been added by voluntary means to the allotments already existing a number that is quite remarkable. Does that show any unwillingness on the part of landowners of this country to come forward and assist a measure of this description, and does that give the slightest ground or justification for the idea that we must either have compulsion or no land at all? Well, Sir, there has been this great addition to the allotments, and it has been obtained by voluntary means and not by the compulsory process which the right hon. Gentleman wishes us to introduce, with the exception, I believe, of one or two cases only out of the multitude of allotments which have been created. The right hon. Gentleman said there would be Parish A, in which the landlord would be willing to sell land for the purpose of being parcelled out in small holdings, and that in Parish B there would be a person of a different description, an odious and selfish character, who would refuse to grant any land whatever for the purpose. Well, Sir, when that is shown to happen it will be time enough to adopt the suggestion of compulsion: and I cannot help thinking it is an unworthy charge to make against the landowners of this country, before the thing has been tried, that at least one-half of them will refuse to give any 1028 assistance in the carrying out of this Bill. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman one or two arguments against this principle of compulsion, which seems to be exceedingly dear to him, although I do not think he has advanced one single solid argument in its support. The right hon. Gentleman said—and he has repeated the statement more than once—that in his opinion the holdings granted under any measure of this kind would in the great majority of instances be small, and that it was essential that they should be near the existing homes of the men who were to cultivate them.
§ MR. W. E. GLADSTONE
I said that small holdings which are capable of being multiplied to a very large extent in my view form the great subject of importance, and that the others are of secondary consequence.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
Quite so; but I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that that was one of the grounds which made compulsion necessary. But if I accept the argument of the right hon. Gentleman as to the very small holdings it would be fatal. It would be an admission that would be fatal to the establishment or development of the system of small holdings throughout the country, except on the narrowest possible scale and to an extremely limited extent. The moment it is examined the Committee will see that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is open to two serious objections. In the first place the Committee must remember that the number of small holdings in this country at the present time is very much larger than probably many Members are in the least degree aware of. I have not the figures with me, but according to the latest Returns I am certainly under the impression that there were over 1,000,000—I think the number was 1,300,000 holdings over half an acre; and it is precisely in the districts indicated, that is to say, in the immediate vicinity of the villages, of the homes of the holders, that the great number of these small holdings will be found to exist. If that is so, the right hon. Gentleman will see that if this system is to be developed to the large extent that he desires, and that I hope, you must go further afield than the immediate 1029 vicinity of the villages for the purpose of giving effect to your measure. As a matter of fact, instead of bringing land to the houses and the buildings, you will have to consider whether, if the system is to be developed largely, the buildings and the houses should not be taken to the land. If this is not done, and compulsion is insisted upon, then when it is applied in the cases the right hon. Gentleman desires, to the villages, it will be found that it cannot be applied without dispossessing those already in occupation, and inflicting great injustice and injury on others. Everbody who is at all acquainted with the subject must know that it is the commonest thing in the world in the immediate vicinity of the villages to find land occupied as small holdings. That is one of the reasons why, in introducing this measure, and ever since, I have impressed upon the House that we should not be justified in regarding it as anything more than an experiment, but at the same time it is an experiment we hope will be attended by a reasonable amount of success. Now, Sir, I turn to the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford, who opened the Debate this afternoon. The hon. Member was good enough to say that my arguments were not sound and that they were insufficient. He summed up my statements as follows:—"The right hon. Gentleman tells us he believes in allotments, but that he does not believe in small holdings." The hon. Member must pardon me for saying that that is an entire and complete misrepresentation of anything I have ever said. What I have said and what I repeat is, that allotments have been proved to be a success, but that no one can say the same of the question of small holdings. Did the hon. Member go further than that himself? Did he hold out to us any expectations that he would be prepared to introduce a Bill of this kind into Parliament, and recommend it as a measure the success of which had been already ascertained and proved? No. He was very careful to abstain from doing anything of the kind. The hon. Member said my figures were extremely loose, and he attempted to discredit the proposition that I put before the House that there 1030 were large quantities of land to be disposed of by voluntary means now in the market. The hon. Member does not dispute that; he knows better than to do anything of the kind, and he knows that when I made the statement that there never was a time when there was more land in the market to dispose of than there is at present, I made a statement which, in the opinion of everybody save the hon. Member, is literally, absolutely, and notoriously true. "Someone," said the hon. Member, "must give way." Granted. Someone must give way. But did the hon. Member find any unreadiness on the part of the landowners in England to give way when the Allotments Act was passed?
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Member says before compulsion was in it there was unreadiness. The hon. Member is so little informed upon the subject that he is evidently not aware that the Act never was without compulsion. The hon. Member had not a word to say that was good of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, on the night this measure was introduced, described it as an honest measure, in the right direction. What did the hon. Member for Bedford say on the subject? He says it is a futile measure; dangerous, because it is impossible that it can succeed: a measure with regard to which he ventured to think I never hoped or intended to succeed, and a measure which would end in nothing but disappointment to the class for whose benefit it is intended. If that be the hon. Member's opinion, why, did he not oppose it on the Second Reading like a man? If I may be forgiven for saying so, a feebler exhibition than the attitude of the hon. Member, and a better illustration of the man who is willing to wound and yet desperately afraid to strike, I do not think I have ever seen. Now, Sir, I am still at a loss to know, though I have asked the question several times, what are the reasons and arguments in favour of compulsion. There has not been one single valid argument adduced throughout the whole course of this 1031 Debate except this—that you cannot get the land so cheap without it. It is, I believe, in the minds of hon. Members opposite only a question of the price at which the land is to be obtained, and nothing else. They hope and think and believe, as the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division said, that compulsion will prevent the price of land rising in the future—that is to say, that it will depreciate the value of the property of the landowner, and compel him to sell at a cheaper rate.
§ SIR W. FOSTER
I wish the right hon. Gentleman would not impute to me what I have already denied. I said compulsion would prevent land being raised in price—having an artificial value attached to it by the advent in the market of the new purchaser, who will be created by the Bill.
§ * MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Member said compulsion would prevent the land from rising in value. That is the object of his proposal. He drew a distinction between preventing land rising in value and depreciating in value—a distinction which I cannot say that I am able to comprehend. But, granting that it is so, how is it possible to justify the measure on those grounds? It is said this Bill contemplates a national object. If that is so, then why throw the burden of making this national object a success, when you say cheapness of land is one of the first requisites, upon one class of the community, and one class alone? We have had no answer to that question, although it is a question we have a right to expect answered before accepting any proposition of that kind. I must own I am astonished at the passionate devotion, as it seems to me, of hon. Gentlemen opposite for this principle of compulsion. Because, Mr. Courtney, when you come to consider it, what is the meaning of compulsion? Compulsion, after all, is only another word for coercion, and in this case for coercion in a most aggressive form. When coercion has to be applied in order to protect the weak and the helpless from the lawlessness, the tyranny, and the oppression of the strong, when it is applied to coping with outrages or to extinguishing crime and giving security to the person, and the property and the lives of the subjects 1032 of the Queen; above all, when coercion is applied to banish the disgrace reflected on our common civilisation by occurrences like those of which I only read this morning, of the barbarous mutilation of dumb animals, then, Sir, both coercion and the Government which enforces it are held up by the right hon. Gentleman and his friends to the odium and the execration of the people in every constituency throughout the Kingdom. But when compulsion comes to be directed only against landowners, in order to depreciate the value of the property they possess, then it is, Sir, that coercion goes home with a responsive echo to the heart, and is garnered in the inmost feelings of every good and every pious Radical in the country as the symbol of everything that is sanctified and blessed, and the idol before which he is constrained to kneel, in worship and in adoration. Sir, it is because I object to the inconsistency of the attitude of hon. Gentlemen opposite that I protest against their arguments, and I hope I have done something, however small, to tear away the flimsy veil of their pretences on this question. We have listened fairly to—we have entirely disposed of—their contentions, such as they have been, and we are now of opinion that we may reasonably be allowed to arrive at a decision on this subject. Nothing, I believe, could be more injurious to the future prospects or working of this Bill than the principle of compulsion. But be that as it may, we shall not suffer it to be wrecked by the maladroit attempts of hon. Gentlemen opposite to improve it by what they call Amendments, but what I can only regard as obstructions to the satisfactory working of this measure; and I call upon the House of Commons with confidence to support me in resisting a proposal which I am perfectly convinced, in all the circumstances of the present time, will do more than anything we can imagine now to retard the successful operation of the Bill.
§ *(6.12.) MR. LAMBERT (Devon, South Molton)
The right hon. Gentleman has said that he would call upon the House of Commons to give a verdict upon this question, and he confidently expected a favourable verdict; but I 1033 do not think he would confidently expect a favourable verdict on this question if he were to call upon the newly elected Members in the agricultural districts. He has also defined compulsion as meaning coercion. If it meant coercion I should certainly say it would receive the approbation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, for it certainly seems to us that they are maintaining compulsion or coercion where we think it has failed. The right hon. Gentleman has not attempted to answer the argument which has been placed before him by more than one speaker—namely, that if compulsion is necessary for acquiring allotments of one acre, why is compulsion not necessary for acquiring holdings of three or four acres or more than that. We all admit that this is somewhat of an experiment; but our policy, indeed, our reason for proposing this Amendment, is that we want to make this experiment as successful as possible, we want to give it a firm basis in the rural districts. And I apprehend that it will only be by the introduction of compulsion that the measure can be made such a success as we all desire to see it. It seems to me if compulsion is not added to this Bill, if landlords in one portion of a county or district do not sell, and the County Council invests its capital in buying land in other portions of the locality or county, they will at least be guaranteeing their funds from one locality for the benefit of the other, and that certainly will create grave dissatisfaction in the rural districts. The argument about friction has been dealt with by other speakers before me, but it seems to me it would be a very poor opening indeed if a small holder had to look to the charitable instincts of his neighbours in order to make him a successful small holding owner. We certainly think that County Councils are Bodies that may fairly be entrusted with this power of compulsion. They would not take any undue advantage of it, but would use it only when necessary and with the greatest fairness. It has been stated by hon. Gentlemen opposite that there may be grievous injustice executed under this compulsory legislation. The Leader of the House has also stated that compulsion may be recklessly or ill applied, 1034 but it seems to me that does not come well from hon. Gentlemen opposite who have claimed so much credit for creating County Councils, and yet seem to be afraid to trust them. County Councils surely know the local circumstances of the case, they would not use these compulsory provisions unless they believed in them, and that they were absolutely necessary, and if land is not to be acquired unless by compulsory measures, why should not compulsion be used. I say it is infinitely more important that the rights of the community should be considered than the rights of one individual, to whom no injustice could be done because he would get a fair price for his land. I would strongly urge that in my opinion compulsion would undoubtedly oil the wheels of the machinery of this Bill, by quickening the apprehension of the landlord who would otherwise be unwilling to sell. The right hon. Gentleman has stated that compulsion cannot be carried into effect, and he cited the St. Faith case as an example. It seems to me that the St. Faith case is not an argument against compulsion but against the complicated system which has been introduced before compulsion can take effect under the Allotments Act. I do hold that a system of compulsory leasing will be of infinitely more advantage to the agricultural labourer than any attempt to create small holdings. There are very few agricultural labourers who can aquire the capital necessary—£150 to £200—to become small holders under this Bill, and small capitalists are not the ones we want to benefit by legislation. Men with £150 or £200 are not leaving the country districts, and this measure would not touch the class it is intended to touch—namely, the pure and simple agricultural labourers. Compulsion is very much more necessary when it is a question of leasing small holdings, for it is of paramount importance that the holding of the labourer should be in a convenient situation to his dwelling. It certainly would not pay him or the landlord to put up buildings upon a small holding, whereas the labourer's dwelling does constitute a building which he would be able to make use of. And if he can have this small holding near his home it would be a great 1035 incentive to him to better his position in life. Under this system small holdings may be carried into effect, the labourers may be able to take advantage of them, and perhaps in time they will be able to become owners. And I say from experience in country districts and of the County Council in my own county, there is not the slightest fear that the County Council will take undue advantage of this power, but that, without the principle of compulsion, this Act will be the same conspicuous failure which the Land Purchase Bill of last Session has proved to be.
§ (6.20.) Question put.
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 184; Noes 226.—(Div. List, No. 77.)
§ (6.35.) MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
The rejection of the last Amendment doubles the necessity for enlarging the scope of the Bill in regard to the acquisition of land. I should have thought that word would have covered more than the fee-simple, but after the explanation which the President of the Board of Agriculture has placed upon the word it is necessary this Committee should give its opinion as to widening the means for securing land for small agricultural holdings. By the rejection of the last Amendment the Committee has taken away the guarantee that land shall be got where land is most wanted for this purpose, and has taken away the guarantee that land shall be bought at a fair market price by the County Council for small agricultural holdings. It seems to me the argument the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian (Mr. W. E. Gladstone) used on the Second Reading of the Bill is practically conclusive as to the value, the enormous value, of this or some such Amendment as this I have to propose. The provision which the right hon Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) has inserted in his Bill, that no money can be raised over and above what may be met by a penny rate, imposes an important restriction on the power of the County Council, and it becomes of enormous importance that every facility should be given to the County Council for obtaining land on the best and easiest possible terms. Now, what are the terms for obtaining 1036 land—for the purchase of land—in fee-simple? The first difficulty is that it must be extremely small in quantity. Take the case of a small county with a rateable value of a quarter of a million, the amount at the disposal of a County Council in such a county would be £25,000 according to the reply the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) gave to a question the other night. This amount of £25,000 would not allow the Council to provide more than one or two small holdings in each parish. For the accomplishment of this the County Council will have to undertake the choice of the land; then an enormous amount of time and energy will have to be expended in the negotiations for the purchase of these one or two small holdings; then if negotiations are concluded there will be the difficulty and expense of proving the title; and the time and cost of concluding the transaction repeated in the case of the land for each parish will be enormous. But suppose we take the other alternative, and give the County Council power to take land on lease or to hire land? The County Council would, in the first place, have the choice as to how the land would best be taken. In many cases they might find it impossible to obtain the fee-simple where the owner would be unwilling to sell or would only sell at a price the Council would not be warranted in giving. But the owner might be willing to lease a farm of large size, retaining ownership and not breaking the entirety of his estate. In the ordinary course of events a farm may become vacant and a number of acres may be at the disposal of the County Council much in excess of the amount of land they could acquire by means of purchase. From the point of view of the County Council there would be much more opportunity of meeting the demand for small holdings, and there would be an advantage from the point of view of small holders. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian in his speech to-night, and on a previous occasion, has shown conclusively that it is impossible for the ordinary agricultural labourer to take a small holding on the terms presented in the Bill. Take the case of an allotment holder who, in good circumstances, has been able to avail 1037 himself of the Act, or take the case of a labourer who has lived on the homestead, and, paying no rent, has been able to save £150, and is anxious to have a small holding. Under the terms of the Bill he would have to pay a quarter of the purchase money for ten acres, say £25, and for securing the title and making the land his own he pays, say, £140, and is left with £10 to stock his farm, begin his buildings, and provide for his first instalment of the remaining three-fourths. It has been shown conclusively that it will be absolutely impossible for any appreciable number of agricultural labourers to avail themselves of the provisions and benefits of the Bill. I hope that I need not delay the Committee any longer, and that the Government will accept this and consequent Amendments largely increasing the powers of County Councils to obtain land, and largely increasing the opportunities for agricultural labourers to secure small holdings. These may not be the right or the only words by which the object may be effected; but without the acceptance of some such words I feel certain, more especially after the rejection of the last Amendment, that the Bill will be a failure, to the disappointment of agricultural labourers, whose hopes have been raised by speeches of right hon. Gentlemen opposite. If this is refused there will naturally arise strong feelings of resentment, and punishment will await the authors of a Bill from which so much was expected.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 10, after the second "Act," insert "lease, hire, or."—(Mr. T. E. Ellis.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ *(6.45.) MR. CHAPLIN
I am quite aware of the importance of the question raised by this Amendment. I admit that there is much to be said on both sides, and I hope we may be able to meet the views of a good many hon. Gentlemen on the other side. I think I stated on an earlier stage of the Bill I was greatly attracted by the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian that land should be acquired by lease or feu; but after carefully considering the proposal 1038 I find the balance of argument is against it. I cannot, in the short time now at my disposal, go into the reasons which induce me to think that the principle of the creation of freeholds should be the first thing to be considered rather than the creation of a great number of tenancies. But it has been suggested—and this is the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. W.E. Gladstone)—that it might be desirable and possible that Local Authorities should, acquire land by feu instead of by purchase, and I have gone carefully into an examination of the Bill, taking counsel with the Attorney General, with the result that we find the power to feu land is conferred upon Local Authorities by the Bill—that is to say, they can take payment by means of a perpetual rent-charge instead of by a capital sum. That gets over one of the main objections of the right hon. Gentleman to the Bill, in the first instance, that Local Authorities require the payment of a capital sum. I recognise that it is desirable that greater facilities should be given to agricultural labourers in particular to have the opportunity of obtaining land on a tenure other than ownership. This is a subject I should like to dwell on at more length than I can this afternoon, for there are some very grave considerations arising on the proposal. But, at the same time, I may say that when we reach Clause 3 we propose to make what we feel is a considerable concession to the right hon. Gentleman. In Clause 3, Sub-section 2, there is this limitation—that in the opinion of the County Council the persons to whom the land is let must be persons who in their opinion will be able, if permitted to occupy a small holding, ultimately to be the buyers. I propose to omit that, and thus give the opportunity, of which labourers may be deprived under the clause as it stands, of obtaining a small holding. It is impossible for me within the limited time left for the Sitting to say more, but we shall be prepared to make this concession, and possibly, when we come to an Amendment later in the Bill, but which has also some bearing on this question, after having heard what may be said on both sides, to make a further concession in the same direction.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.