§ COMMITTEE. [Progress 8th April.]
§ Considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 10, after the last word "Act," to insert the words "lease, hire, or."—(Mr. T. E. Ellis.)1179
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ (7.43.) THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN,) Lincolnshire, Sleaford
When the Committee adjourned the other night I was explaining that I was willing in Sub-section 2 of Clause 3—I was prepared—to accept the Amendment which stands on the Paper in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). This Amendment would omit from the clause the words:—"But will be so able, if they are permitted, to occupy small holdings in the first instance as tenants." There are several reasons which I have already given why it is desirable, on the whole, to maintain as the first principle of this Bill that the new holders shall acquire their holdings by purchase rather than as tenants. There are three parties to be considered—the owners of the land, the new holders, and the ratepayers and the interests they represent. As regards the owners of the land, I may say at once that I see no objection whatever to the Local Authority acquiring land from them by hire as well as by purchase. They would have ample security, and I should not be disposed to interfere with what they might voluntarily wish to do. Then with respect to the new holders, again I see no objection—provided they have not the means of acquiring the land by purchase—I see no objection to their obtaining it by hire, subject to those reservations which I have already stated, and if they can find the money which will convert them into freeholders that they shall do so. But when I come to the third party, the ratepayers and the interests they represent, there are more serious considerations which deserve the attention of the Committee. In the first place, if the new holder is to be a tenant, the Local Authority loses at once the security of the deposit which is to be paid down in the first instance, and that is a condition to which I attach very considerable importance. This is probably the best security contained in the Bill. In the second place, if the new holders are merely tenants, it is obvious to the Committee 1180 that the Local Authorities will be converted into landlords, and I have very grave doubts whether they are best fitted to occupy such a position. The holdings will either be held upon lease or upon yearly tenure——
§ THE CHAIRMAN (Mr. COURTNEY,) Cornwall, Bodmin
Order, order! The right hon. Gentleman is now discussing Clause 3, which is not before the Committee, and if we continue the discussion in this way we shall get into considerable confusion. The question now is the acquisition of the land by purchase.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I was endeavouring to explain the grounds upon which I am prepared to make certain concessions, but if you rule it to be out of order I bow entirely to your decision. Perhaps it was premature on my part to make the announcement, but I desired to facilitate the discussion. With respect to the Amendment which is actually before us, I do not propose to accept it for the reasons I have stated. I wish the general principle to be maintained that the Bill is one for the creation of small holders who shall be purchasers rather than tenants, and perhaps I have said enough to induce the Committee to agree with me to retain that part of the clause in its present form.
§ (7.49.) MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Midlothian)
I see the difficulty of reconciling the forms of the Committee with the purpose of the right hon. Gentleman, and it is only fair to him that I should also acknowledge that I perfectly understand his purpose. I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should place upon the Paper the proposal as it will stand amended according to his views, and put it down for discussion, and we shall then see whether it falls short of the views entertained on this side of the House. That will be better than making an arrangement beforehand, and it will give us an opportunity of discussing the matter fully in its proper place.
§ (7.50.) MR. CHAPLIN
I think the purpose will be attained by the omission of certain words in Clause 3, and that it will not require any words to be inserted.
§ (7.51.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that he was prepared to accede to the proposition that the Local Authority should have power in future to hire land on a long lease as well as to buy it out. I rather gathered from him, by his using the word "feu" that he intended that the Local Authority should have the power of taking perpetuity leases, paying the rent in the nature of a rent-charge upon the land. I should be glad if the right hon. Gentleman would explain what it is that he really intends in that respect.
§ (7.51.) MR. CHAPLIN
What I intended to convey was that under the clause as it stands now the Local Authorities have the power of acquiring land by "feu"—that is, by the payment of a perpetual rent-charge—under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act, 1844, Section 10, I think—I am speaking from memory. I cannot doubt, that being the effect of the Bill as it stands now, that no alteration in the Bill would be required for the purpose of getting rid of one of the main objections taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, namely, that for the purpose of additional purchase the Local Authority would be compelled to borrow and pay down a capital sum; the effect of the Bill being that they can acquire land by the payment of a perpetual rent-charge instead of by the payment of a capital sum. That objection is therefore removed, and it is unnecessary, so far as I know, to alter the Bill in any respect at all. I am unable to accept the Amendment for the reason I have already stated, and which I shall be able to enter on more fully when we come to Clause 3.
§ (7.54.) MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
I am sure hon. Members on both sides of the House must be gratified with the right hon. Gentleman's declaration that he will vary and multiply the forms and methods of letting land to labourers and others. That I consider a concession of very great value and importance; but I should like to urge upon the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the interests of the working of the Bill, it would not be well to go one step further? The 1182 right hon. Gentleman must recognise, more especially after the rejection of the Amendment on Friday with regard to compulsion, that there are still difficulties, and great difficulties, in the way of any appreciable increase in the number of small holdings. The right hon. Gentleman would find that County Councils, with a choice of methods, would be able, in many localities, to make comparatively favourable terms with landowners, by which a farm, for example, that became vacant, could be taken on a long lease, and could then be let out in small agricultural tenancies varying, say, from 3 to 50 acres, thus carrying out the object at which the right hon. Gentleman is ultimately aiming—namely, the increase of small holdings. I rather agree with some of my hon. Friends on this side that the increase of small holders would be very much promoted by increasing in the first place the numbers having an interest in the soil—by having small tenants. These small tenancies being largely increased, there would be a desire on the part of the tenants of these holdings to acquire the land on some more permanent basis. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us a promise that he will accept this Amendment, or some Amendment drafted on the same lines.
§ *(7.58.) MR. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)
It seems to me that the County Councils might be very unwilling to run the risk of raising money for the purposes of land speculation, though they might be willing to hire estates for a term of years. I sincerely trust that the right hon. Gentleman will make a concession in the direction of this Amendment. I think the landlords might be very willing, especially at the present time, to let their estates to the County Councils at an easy rental, that land might be cut up into small holdings, and let again to small holders at an easy rent, and this tentative proceeding would be entirely in accordance with principles which the right hon. Gentleman laid down when he introduced this Bill.
§ (7.59.) COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
At first I was inclined to support this Amend- 1183 ment, but I am bound to say that I have come round to the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman. In discussing this Amendment I think we may put aside entirely the question of future tenancies. It does not affect them one way or the other. I would be disposed to say that under the circumstances it would be better for the County Councils to acquire the fee-simple of the land outright. I do not see that landowners would be more likely to let land on lease than to part with it in fee-simple. There is one class of landowner, no doubt, which would be prepared to lease land—the owner of limited estates; but these are the exception. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite have failed to make out a sufficiently strong case to induce the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Amendment. As I have said, I had been originally in favour of the Amendment, but I have come to the conclusion that the right hon. Gentleman is right, and if hon. Gentlemen go to a Division I shall support the right hon. Gentleman in opposing the Amendment.
§ (8.5.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I take this opportunity of saying that the right hon. Gentleman has made a concession in regard to feuing or quit rent-charge which is sufficient for the purpose of my Amendment; and therefore it will not be necessary, for my part, to move the Amendment standing in my name. In regard to the present Amendment before the Committee I cannot help thinking that there is some confusion in the minds of hon. Members. We are not dealing now with the question as to how the County Councils are to let or hire land to those who apply to them. It seems to me there is all the difference in the world between the two Amendments, and they do not appear to me to have any connection whatever. I am rather surprised, after all that has taken place in regard to the position of leaseholders, that the right hon. Gentleman should be asked to re-introduce the system into this Bill. I want my hon. Friends to consider what difficulties will arise when the leases come to an end; and when you begin to deal with the proprietors respecting the improvements 1184 that have been made upon these holdings, I regret to say that I should have to go into a different Lobby, should this Amendment be pressed to a Division, from many hon. Members on this side. I shall support the right hon. Gentleman and the Government in leaving out leaseholders. As regards County Councils, I think it would be objectionable in the last degree that the County Council, after a term of 30 years, or any other number of years, should have to enter into a controversy with the proprietor of the ground as to the conditions on which a lease was to be renewed, or the purchase of the fee-simple effected. In Scotland for many years we have been seeking for fixity of tenure, and now, if we are to abolish that fixity of tenure, it will be impossible for the holders to hold their own with the proprietors. I think, therefore, it would be very much more useful to remove the difficulties which exist in regard to the sale of estates. If a remedy is to be applied, I think it ought to be by so altering the law as to render it permissible under any circumstances for a person in this country to sell any estate under an Act of Parliament. If tenants are to put up their own buildings there would be enormous difficulties as to compensation for improvements when the leases fell in. I shall support the Government against the Amendment of my hon. Friend. The true remedy is to make it non-permissible to sell any estate bought under the Bill. If a quit rent were provided for, the landlord would be able to retain his sense of proprietorship in the land.
§ *(8.15.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
The whole question is whether you will bind the hands of the County Council by shutting them out from one particular method of acquiring land for the use of smaller tenants. It is difficult to argue this question and yet to keep within the bounds of the ruling which has just been laid down. What we want is small quantities of land, say up to 10 acres, at a fair rent for the labouring classes. The greater the variety of tenure introduced into the Bill the greater will be the facilities for the County Council to provide 1185 small holdings for labourers. It has been said very truly that there is a good deal of sentiment connected with the ownership of land. There are many owners who, I am sure, will be very much more willing to let to the County Council any vacant land on fair terms than to sell one farm, or a part of a farm, out of their estates. I am not dealing now with the curmudgeon—the unreasonable landlord—I do not want to use strong language—but with the philanthropic, good landlord—and there are many of that description—who may be unwilling to sell a part of an estate which has been in his family for years, Besides, the landowner may reasonably hold the view that the experiment may not answer, for it is an experiment after all. He may say to the County Council, "Here is a farm of 50, or 60, or 100 acres. If the villagers in the neighbourhood of it come to you and wish to take it in small holdings, I am willing to let you have it for 20 years at a moderate rental, and at the end of that time it shall be valued. If it is then found to have deteriorated you shall pay me for the extent to which it has deteriorated, but if it has been improved, and I decide not to renew the lease on the old terms, I will pay for any improvements that have been made upon it." I think that in that way we are much more likely to obtain land in many villages of England than by being confined to buying it. Then, again, I hardly think the hon. Gentleman opposite appreciates the number of men who have mortgages and life charges on their land, who may be willing to let it, but not to let the public know the extent to which it is encumbered by attempting to sell it. There is also the important question of law costs in connection with the purchase of the land to be considered. I will now call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to the advice given by one of his most powerful colleagues in this House. In a speech on this subject, delivered on 25th January, 1885, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham used these words:— 1186You cannot expect every landlord to do what should be done. It is not every one who has the capital to make the experiment. Well, then, they must give place to those who have. That is why I am anxious to call in the Local Authority of every district, and to give them power to take land with this object.He goes on to say:—I do not think that the Local Authorities will go too fast in this matter, or that they will be likely to incur risk to any considerable extent; but I think that the experiments should be made in many districts, and under very many conditions.Now, this is one of the most important Amendments to the Bill, and what the Government are really saying in refusing to accept it is this: "We do not trust the County Councils sufficiently to let them take farms on lease to supply the requirements of the labourers." Compulsion has been, unfortunately, ruled out of the Bill, and the leasing advocated in the Amendment is a voluntary and not a compulsory one. By tying their hands in this manner the Government is preventing this Bill from being used by the County Council in the one way in which labourers want it to be used.
§ *(8.23.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I would point out that now that compulsion has been struck out of the Bill there will be a very large number of persons who will be unable to obtain land under it. Attention has frequently been called to the fact that land is wanted locally, in parishes scattered about the country, rather than in large blocks. I know it is perfectly possible for the County Council in the part of the country with which I am acquainted to obtain farms in the neighbourhood of towns and villages if they had the power to hire them for short periods. Therefore, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture will see his way to accept the Amendment which has been placed on the Paper. It is essentially a practical Amendment, and it would assist the right hon. Gentleman to meet the vast and increasing demand for land in this country.
§ (8.25.) MR. WHITBREAD (Bedford)
I would venture very respectfully to suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of considering 1187 whether, with regard to land where no buildings would be required, a system of leasing might not possibly be adopted. Where buildings will be required I see the difficulty as regards the proprietor at the expiration of the lease. Are you going to compel him to take over at the valuation houses and buildings in the construction of which he has not had any voice? It is because the Bill contemplates such a widely different object that this difficulty arises. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider the suggestion; but it seems to me that the plan might answer well enough for large allotments, in preference to small holdings. As to the word "feus," I do not quite understand what the meaning of it is; I believe it is a perpetual rent, and I hope we shall not put the landlord in the position of being the receiver of a perpetual rent.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
Yes, but I think it would be a bad tenure; in fact, I cannot imagine a worse tenure than for a man to draw a perpetual rent, he being at the same time divorced from all connection with the tenants, having no responsibility for improvements, discharging no duties, and being, as it were, a mere parasite eating up the value of the land. Whether it is voluntary or not, I sincerely hope that a large number of landlords will not be found willing to put themselves in that position.
§ (9.5.) MR. CORNWALLIS (Maidstone)
Hon. Members who have moved and supported this Amendment have not, in my opinion, followed it out to its legitimate conclusion. If the County Councils have either the power to lease or hire land for the purposes of this Bill, and if they do lease a farm from a landowner, they have power to re-let it, they will be only able either to lease it or to let it on a yearly tenancy. The effect of that will be that they will become nothing more or less than landowners, which, from a County Council point of view, I would very much deprecate. I will not go into the evils of this system, because it 1188 is not necessary to do so, and they are generally admitted on both sides of the House. But there is another point we might bear in mind as well. Supposing the County Council lease a farm of 100 or 120 acres and divide it into small holdings of a lesser quantity; and supposing the tenant of one of those plots dies and they are unable to find another tenant, the County Council must be placed in a very ridiculous position, because, having taken a lease from the landowner, the County Council cannot expect the landowner to take the ground back again before the expiration of the lease. And in that way not only shall we have the County Council resolving itself into a landowner, but into a farmer as well, and that last-named alternative is even more to be deprecated than the other. And not only would the County Council become a farmer, but it would become the farmer of the very worst part of the farm. More than that, they could not expect any cottar, in one of these small holdings to erect any buildings whatever on the land taken from the County Council when he would have no security whatever for the capital he has laid out, and which would probably be his whole available capital. The value of his own labour diminishes every year as he grows older, and therefore a small holder would be very unwilling to take a small holding on a farm leased by the County Council. I hope the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture will not in any way accept this Amendment which has been proposed. I believe it will not only not advance the prospects of the Bill, but that it will land us in a course of procedure which would be very dangerous and unacceptable to County Councils.
§ (9.10.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
I have previously endeavoured to elicit from the right hon. Gentleman what his intentions really were when he proposes to give the Local Authorities power to lease land; whether it is to be a perpetuity lease or a lease for a short period. I did not then express any opinion on the subject, and I should, therefore, 1189 like to express my view now. The Amendment is a very wide one, applicable to all holdings, and apparently contemplates the possibility of Local Authorities hiring land for a short period, and then letting it out in large quantities, and I am obliged, therefore, to vote with the Government on the matter. I agree that Local Authorities should be empowered to let for short terms, but there should be behind that the possibility of the tenants being converted into perpetuity owners, either leasehold or freehold, and if that possibility were not open, I think that a great deal of the advantage which might be derived under the Bill might be lost. I understand that it is the sense of perpetuity of tenure which the right hon. Gentleman desires to encourage, and it is most desirable; but if the Local Authority leased land for 21 years, and let it out in lots of from one to 20 or 30 acres, it would be impossible for the tenants to erect buildings, and they would lose all sense of ownership. If the proposal were confined to small holdings it might be another matter, but to extend it to all holdings would not be a desirable course, and, therefore, I cannot support the Amendment.
§ *(9.13.) SIR W. FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
My right hon. Friend objects to the Amendment because it extends to large holdings, and, therefore, he would preclude its application to the smaller holdings. I think the most important part of the Bill is that which proposes to extend the Allotment Acts, and give to industrious and hardworking labourers, who have shown their skill on one acre, the opportunity to get possession of larger pieces of land up to ten acres, and I hope even beyond that limit. It is for their benefit that I want these leasing powers; to them it would be invaluable. We can understand the County Council buying land and cutting it up into large holdings and small ownerships, but We want them to go further in order to give that ladder to the labourers which the Select Committee intended, by which they might rise from one acre plots to larger holdings, and, finally, become the possessors of small 1190 holdings themselves. I take it that the prime object of the Bill is to prevent the depopulation of rural districts, but why should we restrict the County Councils in carrying out that object? They are to create small yeomen, but I would beg the right hon. Gentleman not to put obstacles in the way of the creation of hired holdings up to ten acres, which I believe could be better done under the leasehold system than under the purchase system. Land acquired by purchase would probably be of a higher price, and could not be let to pay in one or two acre lots, whereas land acquired on lease could probably be let out at £1, £1 10s, or £2 an acre. We do not want the system of small holdings to be confined to remote rural districts. Outside many of the small boroughs which came under the Bill, of 20,000 or 25,000 inhabitants, where land is of considerable value in view of prospective building, it would be out of the power of the County Council to purchase, as the land would be too dear. But they might be trusted to lease 100 or more acres, and let it in ten, 20, or 30 acre lots. During the period of the lease the tenants would have security of tenure, and would use the land not only to their own advantage, but also to the advantage of the town to which they were contiguous. We want that kind of tenant in the neighbourhood of small towns. I think the Bill would be better if we extended its provisions so as to trust the County Councils to do what is best in the circumstances of each case. No County Council is likely to use the Bill for a wasteful or injurious purpose. We can trust them to take advantage of the purchasing clauses, and of leasing clauses, if inserted, and in that way to do the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people in the district.
§ (9.18.) MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
I am surprised that my hon. Friend should propose to perpetuate the system of land tenure which has broken down in Ireland, and is breaking down in Scotland and England. It would be objectionable for the County Council to take land for a limited period, and also for them to let it for a limited period. I am entirely in favour of the County Council disposing of the 1191 land on a perpetual tenure, which would induce the agricultural labourer to make the most of the land, which he would not do if he knew the landlord would retake possession at the end of 21 years. I hope the Government will not give any countenance to the proposal to take land on lease. It would be all very well for the County Council to let by the year land which they cannot sell or let on perpetual tenure. Some provision should be made for this, but it should only apply to such land as I have indicated. The labourer will only settle himself down to improve the land and make the most of it if he has it on perpetual lease or in fee-simple.
§ (9.20.) DR. FARQUHARSON (Aberdeenshire, W.)
I agree with a good deal that the hon. Member for Forfarshire has just said, but I cannot go quite so far as he did. I have not been able to find out exactly what the tenants are to gain by this Amendment. A perpetual tenure is the only inducement for an agricultural labourer to put his money, enterprise, and labour into the soil. Under the Amendment he only changes a private landlord—who may be good, and generally is good—for a corporate body, which is the worst kind of landlord possible, because they have to make their profit out of the land, and have no bowels of compassion; they are harsh and very often cruel, living as they do at a distance. If you are going to bring the people back to the soil, and make it worth their while to put their energy into the land, you can only do it by giving them some idea of fixity of tenure, so that everything they put into the soil will come back to them, and that there will be no possibility of their being turned out, or of the rent being raised on their own improvements.
§ (9.24.) MR. CHAPLIN
I appeal to the Committee and to the hon. Member whether the time has not come when we can go to a Division on the Amendment, if it is intended to press it to a Division? I think I have shown that I have not been unwilling or backward in trying to meet the views of hon. Members. I quite admit that more than one argument 1192 has been advanced from that side which is deserving of consideration. It has been suggested that the Amendment might be made to apply to those cases where no buildings are required. It is also suggested that it might apply to cases where the landlord might agree to let land for a period, but might be unwilling to sell. On these two points I am quite willing, without committing myself to any pledge, to consider the question when we arrive at the point where I think they ought to be inserted, in Clause 3. I shall then have an opportunity of explaining to the Committee the great objections I have to making the Local Authorities great landlords.
§ * MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
The right hon. Gentleman proposes to deal with the question on Clause 3. That clause deals not with the relations of the County Council and the persons from whom the land is to be obtained, but with the relations of the County Council and the persons by whom the land is to be obtained. I do not wish to anticipate the discussion on that clause, but I would submit these points to the right hon. Gentleman. He said that one of his reasons for objecting to this Amendment is that it is possible for the County Council to feu land under the Bill. Perhaps it would be more satisfactory if the Attorney General would tell us that it is possible under Clause 1 for the County Council to feu land. I would also point out that this Amendment does not propose to introduce the leasing tenure as an alternative proposal, it only proposes that in certain cases in which it is impossible for land to be bought by the County Council, the system of leasing should be adopted. It is an unsatisfactory and inferior mode of obtaining land, but in certain cases, and especially on the outskirts of small towns where it is impossible for land to be got on any other system, it might be adopted. As compulsiou has been left out, I think the Amendment should be adopted to meet such cases as those I have referred to.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir R. WEBSTER,) Isle of Wight
I can only say what my right hon. Friend has said, which I believe would be accepted by any lawyer. Under Sub-section 1 of Clause 2, in which the Lands Clauses Acts are incorporated, and the amending Acts of 1863 and 1864, land can be purchased and acquired under a perpetual rent charge, and there is not the slightest doubt that under the Bill as it stands these Authorities can buy land and sell it under a perpetual rent charge.
§ MR. WHITBREAD
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give us an assurance that, in the event of the Amendment being withdrawn, the question can be again raised on another clause.
§ (9.31.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
This Amendment simply refers to the method in which the County Councils shall acquire land. I cannot see the advantage of the County Council hiring land, because the rent would be much the same as the interest on the purchase money they would have to pay in acquiring it. This opens up a large number of difficult questions, such as the question of buildings. The County Council cannot put up buildings on land simply acquired under lease. The only case in which County Councils should be permitted to hire land would be in the vicinity of large towns, where the land was absolutely too high for anyone to purchase for agricultural purposes. I have put an Amendment down to Clause 3 to carry out that object. I think in such cases it would be an advantage if County Councils were allowed to hire land either on lease or in any other way in lieu of purchase. I hope the Amendment will not be pressed to a Division, or, if pressed, that it will not be carried.
§ *(9.35.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM: (Gloucester, Cirencester)
I would join in the appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment, on the understanding that the assurance asked for by the hon. Member for 1194 Bedford will be given by the right hon. Gentleman. I think the Minister for Agriculture has intimated clearly enough that he is willing to consider the matter. I think it is a fair compromise. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford has shown that there are cases in which the powers of the County Council to hire land may be very useful. The compromise sketched by the right hon. Gentleman, as I understand it, is this: that it must be land where there are no buildings; land which is practically limited to Sub-section 2 of Clause 3; land for letting in lots of not more than ten acres. I think, in these circumstances, we might very well be saved a Division, and I appeal to my hon. Friend to withdraw his Amendment.
§ (9.37.) MR. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)
I am afraid the subject could not appropriately be raised on Clause 3.
§ (9.38.) MR. CHAPLIN
I think I can give that assurance. It is in Clause 3, in the first instance, that letting under any circumstances is provided for. The questions that have been raised by the hon. Member for Bedford and other hon. Members are questions as to limitations in the power of letting. The Amendment of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division raises the question of the power of the Local Authority to take land on lease. It is perfectly clear, I think, that these questions can be raised again; and, under these circumstances, I would ask the Committee to postpone further discussion until we have arrived at Clause 3 of the Bill. The hon. Member for Bedford, in his opening statement on this question, rather sympathised, as I understood him, with the proposal to introduce leasing powers where no buildings were required, but he said it was impossible to go beyond that. Then the question has been raised whether these leasing powers can extend to holdings over ten acres. These two proposals, I may point out, are rather inconsistent in themselves. On many holdings of ten acres it might be desirable that buildings should be erected. I take it to be the general understanding of the Committee that leasing powers should be included in 1195 the Bill in respect of holdings where no buildings are necessary. I shall be perfectly willing to fairly and fully consider that point without absolutely pledging myself upon it.
§ (9.40.) MR. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be better to accept the Amendment.
§ (9.41.) MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
I moved this Amendment in the hope that it might lead to an enlargement of the scope of the Bill. It has been shown to-night by several speakers who have disagreed with the Amendment that there is need of some such provision as this. The hon. Member for Bedford thinks it would be well that the Government should accept some such provision. But after the appeal of the Minister for Agriculture, I will withdraw the Amendment in the hope that he will bring forward some provision to meet the various demands that have been made from this side of the House.
§ (9.42.) THE CHAIRMAN
I would point out to the hon. Member that the most appropriate occasion on which to bring the question up again would not be on Clause 3, but in the form of a new clause. Is it your pleasure that the Amendment be withdrawn?
§ MR. THOMAS ELLIS
Can it be brought up in any way, or can it be discussed before we come to Clause 3? It is important we should know the mind of the Government before we come to the discussion of the clause.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ (9.43.) MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
I beg to move, in page 1, line 12, to leave out the words "for persons who are resident in the county and desire to buy and will themselves cultivate the holdings." I think these words would be rather an embarrassment to the County Council, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consent to strike them out of the clause. I do not think we ought to confine purchasers to those resident in 1196 the county. I think the County Council ought to have an opportunity of bringing in persons from outside the particular county where small holdings are provided; and I appeal to the Government not to take the narrow parochial view of confining purchasers to those resident in the county. I agree that the owners of these holdings should cultivate themselves, but I do not think this is the clause in which these words should be inserted. I would propose, when we come to the proper clause, that land acquired for small holdings should be cultivated by the holders themselves.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 12, to leave out the words from "for persons," to "holdings," in line 13.—(Mr. Barclay.)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."
§ (9.45.) MR. CHAPLIN
My difficulty in accepting the Amendment is this: that unless there is some limitation to the power of a Local Authority to provide small holdings within their own area, they may be called upon to provide them anywhere. It is obvious that the operations of every Local Authority should be limited to their own district, and that they should not be called upon to buy small holdings in all parts of the country. The limitations are these: residents in the county, who desire to buy, and who will themselves cultivate the holdings. About the last proposition there is, I believe, no difference of opinion. So far as the Government are concerned, we have never concealed our opinion that we are anxious to put in the forefront of this Bill that the holdings should be for purchasers rather than tenants, subject to those limitations which I have undertaken to consider at a later period of this Bill. With regard to the question whether the purchaser should be resident in the county, I do not take so much objection if that is omitted; but as to the other provisions I must retain them.
§ (9.48.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I quite agree that the benefits of this Act ought to be confined to the 1197 people who are cultivators themselves, and that there is no reason why the taxation of the country should be applied to acquiring holdings for any others except the real cultivators. We are specially anxious to bring back to the land the people not only who want small holdings, but the people who want to have small holdings and also to hire their labour out in the district. There is great need for bringing back people to the land who will get a home on the land near the labour at which they are engaged. If this is to be done; I see no reason why it should be limited to the county, and therefore I will support the view of the hon. Member for Forfarshire (Mr. J. W. Barclay). I see no advantage that there could possibly be in confining the benefits of the clause to those who are resident in the county. I think one of the objects of the Bill is to keep the agricultural labourers on the land, to stop the depopulation of the counties and the aggregation of labour in the centres where it is not wanted. I think it would be better for us to consider this matter fairly before we tie the hands of the County Councils.
§ (9.51.) COMMANDER BETHELL
Clause 4 deals with this matter to some extent. If the right hon. Gentleman leaves out the words suggested, the position will be that the County Councils, if they have land to spare, may let it to a person from outside, but the person from outside would not in any way be able to compel the action of the County Council.
§ (9.52.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I think if the words "resident in the county" were left out that would meet the views of hon. Gentlemen.
§ MR. BARCLAY
As the clause at present stands it is necessary that the demand should be in the county itself before the County Council can acquire land. I think it would be better that the Council should acquire the land and be free to dispose of it to any comer. I can easily see that in many counties this would be a great advantage to farmers and small cultivators.
§ Amendment amended, and agreed to.1198
§ *(9.55.) SIR W. FOSTER
In view of the conditions that have been made by the President of the Board of Agriculture, I do not wish the County Councils to be limited entirely in their proceedings to persons who desire to buy, and with that object I move to leave out the word "buy" and put in the word "occupy." We want the people to occupy the land. We do not want this Bill to be limited simply to persons who are in a position to buy, because there are a large number of people who are not in such a position, but whom we desire, nevertheless, to benefit under this Bill. If the purchase money is kept at a high figure it will exclude large numbers, and we wish to recognise that others beside purchasers are contemplated by the Bill.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 12, to leave out the word "buy," and insert the word "occupy."—(Sir W. Foster.)
§ MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
Do I understand that the words, "resident in the county," are in the Bill, or are they struck out?
§ (9.56.) MR. CHAPLIN
; I desire to point out that if the words remain in the Bill they will not prevent the attainment of the object which the hon. Gentleman wishes to secure, because at a later period of the Bill the consideration of the facilities to small holders will be taken. But for reasons which I have before explained we are anxious to retain the principle of purchase as what I may call the first principle of the Bill. It will not in the least interfere with the desire of hon. Members who are anxious about let- 1199 ting, upon which, I may say, we have already come to a general understanding; but it will retain the principle in the interests of the ratepayers, and on no other grounds, that purchase should be the first principle rather than a secondary principle. The power of letting, to a considerable extent, will not be prevented, and I hope the hon. Member will allow the clause to remain as it is.
§ (9.58.) SIR W. HARCOURT
I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman is right. This is the only clause which enables the County Council to buy, which, of course, is the preliminary proceeding. The County Council by this clause are to buy subject to certain limitations. They are to buy for a limited class. I understand that the words "resident in the county" have been knocked out, and it now remains that the only power the County Councils will have to acquire land is for persons who desire to buy. It is quite clear that there is no other power. They will have no power to acquire land for people who desire to occupy but do not desire to buy. The power to acquire land is in the 1st clause, and I say that if we pass this clause as it is the power will be limited. [MR. CHAPLIN: No, no!] It is limited in this clause, which says that they may buy suitable land for persons who desire to buy, and thus cultivate the land. That cannot be for everyone, and it does not fulfil the conditions which my hon. Friends desire. It is perfectly clear and plain. If these words are not altered it will be perfectly idle for us afterwards to introduce provisions which the 1st clause has formally prohibited. You must use some larger and more general words.
§ (10.2.) MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman labours under the disadvantage that he has only this moment come into the House, and has not been able to hear the previous discussion.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
We have been discussing the matter now for the best part of an hour, and I am happy to think that the Committee have come to a general understanding. The right hon. Gentleman will pardon me for stating this fact, of which he was in ignorance. The right hon. Gentleman is labouring under a mistake. He is confusing those persons who desire to buy with those who are unable to buy. It is laid down in the Bill that the Local Authorities shall buy these small holdings for those who desire to buy. If the people who desire to buy are unable to buy, which I imagine will be a very common thing, when the Bill comes into operation the Local Authorities may let to these persons. But for reasons which I have stated over and over again in Committee, we do desire—and I hope we shall retain the confidence of the Committee—to retain in the Bill as its first principle rather than as a secondary principle that the land shall be provided for those who are able to buy, so as to make them owners of the land rather than tenants. I have been prevented by the very proper ruling of the Chair from stating all my arguments on this point; but if the right hon. Gentleman will look fully into the question, he will see that there are very grave and serious considerations, which can be advanced chiefly in the interests of the ratepayers—not the least in the interest of the landlords or of the holders—which make it extremely desirable that people who are in a position to do so should purchase rather than hire the land.
§ (10.5.) SIR W. HARCOURT
The explanation which the right hon. Gentleman has given has made it more obvious than before that the alteration should be made, and I am more confirmed than ever in my view that these words are not the proper words to have here. Now, what is proposed in reference to this matter? That people should go through the preliminary process of desiring to buy; that though they have got no money to buy, yet they should appear in the character of people desirous to 1201 buy land. I do not think anybody could fail to see the absurdity of a clause framed in such a manner as that. If it means that there are people who desire to hire, and that the people who desire to hire are those people who have got no money to buy if they did desire to buy, I think the expression of that desire would be a farce, and I might say an imposture, under the circumstances. If it means to furnish a declaration that people who are desirous of holding land should be enabled to hire land, it would be just as well to say so. Surely it would be much better at first to make the first enacting clause enable the Councils to buy for all purposes for which they shall desire to buy.
§ *(10.7.) MR. WINTERBOTHAM (Gloucester, Cirencester)
I think that this Bill, as it stands now, ought to be entitled "A Bill to Enable Landlords to Dispose of their Estates in Small Farms with the Guarantee of the County Councils." That, I think, would be an accurate description of it. An incursion of hungry Scotch farmers are to be allowed to come down upon any county to buy the estates of impecunious noblemen in 50 acre lots, with the guarantee of the unhappy ratepayers on whose behalf you say that you have brought forward this Bill. I thought this was a Bill for providing poor labourers with a chance of getting a bit of land in their own county on fair terms. I object to the word "buy." The object of the Bill is to "provide" small holdings for the agricultural population, and to keep them on the land. If that is not the object, let us understand it at once; but it has been stated over and over again that that is the main and primary object of the Bill. Well, then, this word "buy" has no right to be put in the 1st clause of the Bill. If this word "buy" is put into the Bill it will certainly convey to the mind of any authority that has to construe it that the primary and chief and main object of the Bill is to buy the holdings. If the right hon. Gentleman will allow the phrase "buy or hire" to be inserted then I am content, or if he will leave out "buy" I am content; but I object 1202 to his putting into that 1st clause the word "buy," to the exclusion of "hire."
§ *(10.10.) SIR W. B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North-West)
I have read most carefully this Bill, and I find it has been very considerably altered lately. I am afraid that after what has happened we could not leave the word "buy" in. If we are to have letting in an extended form as well as selling, that will make a great difference in the Bill. Then we must conform in the 1st clause to what we are going to do afterwards. I venture to hope, therefore, my right hon. Friend will consent to leave out the word "buy," or add, in addition to the word "buy," the words "for letting purposes," or any other words which may be more suitable. As the Bill stands now, I think it would not be workable in the way intended.
§ (10.12.) MR. T. ELLIS
The right hon. Gentleman has made a concession to the House—namely, that he is willing that the County Council should let land as well as sell it; and yet, in objecting to this Amendment, he shirks the logical consequence of his own concession. It is quite clear, if these words are allowed to remain in the Bill without the addition of the words "or hire," the clause will be completely inconsistent with, or contradictory of, Clause 3, as it will stand after the Amendment, which the right hon. Gentleman says he is willing to accept, has been made. I trust he will not take away the value or grace of his own concession, which he will do by sticking to these words.
§ (10.13.) COMMANDER BETHELL (York, E.R., Holderness)
If my right hon. Friend gives way on this point it is quite clear it will not in the least benefit the Bill. My right hon. Friend's object is to assert the principle in the 1st clause of the Bill, that land shall be bought and not let. I do not presume to say that the words he uses are the most strictly logical words he might; use; but, still, I am quite sure that it cannot affect in any way the 2nd clause, or any other clause, even if the alteration is made. If my right hon. Friend sticks to the words I shall support him.
§ (10.15.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
It seems to me that these words are totally inconsistent with the concession which the right hon. Gentleman has made. If the right hon. Gentleman consents, as he says he does, to amend Clause 3 by omitting the words which I have given notice to omit, and these few words are permitted to remain, it will prevent the Local Authorities from letting land in any way. I think he should omit these words which are now objected to, as they appear to me to be wholly out of place.
§ (10.16.) MR. POWELL WILLIAMS (Birmingham, S.)
If the House agrees to insert the words "desire to buy," I think it should also agree to insert after them the words "or otherwise to become tenants under this Act." That is the suggestion I venture to make. The words "desire to buy" should thus remain, as indicating the spirit of the Bill, and immediately following would come the words "or otherwise to become tenants under this Act."
§ *(10.18.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
I object to putting words in a Bill which are, as it is said, to indicate its spirit. This is not only an enabling clause; but under this clause they are to acquire compulsory powers, and upon this clause the powers under this Bill will depend. This is rather a difficult question to be argued by laymen. I do not desire to submit it to the right hon. Gentleman—I would rather submit it to his Legal Advisers; and I submit that, whatever we insert in Clause 1, it will refer to the case of acquiring land for the purpose of small holdings. Even if Clause 3 is altered as suggested, I do not think that would help the right hon. Gentleman out of the difficulty at all. It means a litigation to settle the question. I think the Amendment to be made should be either the Amendment suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilkeston, "who desire to buy or to occupy," or to leave out the words "to buy or to occupy"; but I think the best course is to leave out the words altogether, thus simply leaving out all reference 1204 to either buying or hiring, and confining it entirely to the cultivation. I am unable to reconcile the clauses in the Bill as they at present stand. If this Amendment is rejected, the Bill will be practically confined to buying, and subsequently we shall have to go all over this question again.
§ (10.21.) MR. HOBHOUSE (Somerset, E.)
I would join in the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman that these words should be left out. No one has the slightest affection for them except himself, and surely the right hon. Gentleman must see that if they are retained they will undoubtedly prejudice the question when it comes to be discussed on a future occasion. Moreover, there was a general understanding in a previous discussion that these words should be withdrawn.
§ (10.22.) MR. ESSLEMONT
I will also join in the appeal which has been made to the right hon. Gentleman that the words in question should be omitted. I hope he will not insist upon retaining them, for they are not necessary in any way.
§ *(10.23.) MR. CHANNING
There is an anxious desire on this side of the House to facilitate progress in giving effect to the concession which the right hon. Gentleman has indicated in reference to Clause 3. I think it might be desirable to meet him half way by retaining, as he wishes to retain it, the word "buy," and by adding the words "or hire." I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consent to this suggestion being carried out.
§ (10.24.) MR. BARCLAY (Forfarshire)
I hope, in connection with Clause 4, that County Councils will pay no attention to the petition of anyone to take land unless it is shown that he has sufficient money for the purpose.
§ (10.25.) MR. CHAPLIN
I have been advised by my right hon. Friend the Attorney General that it is incorrect to assert that these words are inconsistent with the other clauses of the Bill. The Government desire persons to buy, if possible, rather than become 1205 tenants; but in the case of many who would undoubtedly be found unable to purchase, provision for hiring is made by Clause 3. Nothing can be more simple or more consistent with the double object which the Government wish to promote—namely, the primary object of the creation of small owners of land, and the further desire to meet a want which has been expressed on the opposite side of the House, and which is shared by myself and my friends, that where persons are not in a position to buy, facilities should be given them to acquire land otherwise than by purchase. I would, therefore, ask the Committee to sanction the retention of the clause.
§ (10.28.) SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
As the right hon. Gentleman is so anxious that these words should be retained, I would suggest that the hon. Member should withdraw his Amendment, and permit the hon. Member for Northamptonshire to move that the words "or hire" should be added to the word "buy." Then we shall be able to take a Division on the question whether or not persons who desire to hire should or should not have a place in the enacting and empowering clause of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that the persons who will not be able to buy will be the majority, and, therefore, the Bill can be said to meet only the wishes of the minority It is impossible to reduce it to a greater absurdity. The primary object of the Bill—that of buying—will be availed of but by few, whilst the secondary object — that of hiring — would be availed of by many. Why should those who desire to hire be excluded from the empowering clause of the Bill? If we take a Division, as I have suggested, we shall come to an intelligible issue on the question.
§ *(10.35.) SIR W. FOSTER
I shall be happy to fall in with the suggestion of my right hon. Friend. I do not want the word "buy" to be put in to the exclusion of other words such as "hire." I will, therefore, withdraw 1206 my Amendment, in the hope that the words "or hire" may be added afterwards.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ DR. CLARK (Caithness)
I beg to move the addition of the words "to rent or buy," in order to enable those who do not wish, or are unable, to buy land to rent it. If the right hon. Gentleman is going to concede to the County Councils power to acquire land for the purpose of letting it and not merely for the purpose of selling it, this is the place to insert the word "rent" so that those desirous of cultivating may have the power to do so.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 12, after the word "to," to insert the words "rent or."—(Dr. Clark.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ SIR W. HARCOURT (Derby)
I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness will not persevere with his Amendment. We are all agreed upon the principle of hiring or letting under this clause, but we attach great importance to the prominence given to buying, therefore let us keep the word "buy." In any case the matter can be better raised on the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 12, after the word "buy," to insert the words "or hire."—(Mr. Channing.)
§ Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."
§ VISCOUNT GRIMSTON (Herts, St. Albans)
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not listen to any Amendments of this class, which are a distinct danger. The object of this Bill is to provide, if possible, for the replacing of yeomen farmers on the land, and the acceptance of this Amendment could only have the effect of restricting that operation. If the County Council, having to find capital to buy land, retained that capital as landowners they would be very greatly hampered and restricted, 1207 owing to their capital being locked up in their efforts to place a large number of yeomen farmers on the soil. I, therefore, hope that the Government will not listen to this Amendment, which is proposed under a total misapprehension of the object of the Bill.
§ * MR. F. S. STEVENSON
If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend the position will be this—it will be a preliminary condition that any applicant for land should come with the desire to buy, a desire which he probably shares with 99 out of 100 persons, but which, in common with 99 out of 100 persons, he is unable to carry out. Not only are the words apparently inconsistent with Sub-section 2 of Clause 3, but they are absolutely inconsistent and incompatible if the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bradford is accepted by the Government. No reply has been made by the Attorney General on that point.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
It seems to me the words are right as they stand now. The object of the Bill is to enable County Councils to buy land in order that persons desirous of buying land should be able to purchase it, and under certain circumstances and conditions to hire it from them. Sub-section 2 of Clause 3 provides that the County Council may let the land if persons are unable to buy. I can see no inconsistency in the Bill. There is the fullest latitude and power given to the County Council, and anybody accustomed to dealing with language of this kind will know that the Bill is framed in the right language.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I do not see why the Attorney General should object to the words "or hire." It is only by a curious construction—by importing the words in Sub-section 2 of Clause 3, and bringing them to bear on the construction of Section 1, that he applies the section to hiring at all. The fact is, Clause 3 cannot be used for such a purpose at all. It has nothing to do with the powers under which the County Council is enabled to hire land. Therefore, 1208 the attempt to bring in Clause 3 to interpret Clause 1 is a contention that no Court of Law would entertain for one moment. The County Council is to acquire the land. For whom? For persons desirous to buy. These poor people are not desirous to buy. They cannot do it. They are desirous to hire. The right hon. Gentleman has, by the concessions he has already made, admitted that the majority of persons who will come under the Bill are small men who would wish to hire because unable to buy, and we want the Bill accommodated to meet the views of the right hon. Gentleman. But when the right hon. Gentleman is asked to accommodate his Bill to his concessions he declines to do so. The Attorney General has not pretended that these words "or hire" will do any harm, and if it is really meant that when the land is acquired it may be let on hire, then these words ought to be inserted.
§ * SIR R. WEBSTER
I have already said that if these words are put in they will indicate an intention by the Bill to make the County Councils simply landlords, to let land to people who never had any intention to buy their land at all. We are all agreed that when a labourer desires to buy he should be enabled to do so. It is not simply a question of a person desiring to hire land from a fresh landlord. The intention of the Bill is that there should be an intention to buy and an inability to pay. It is in that instance that the power of the County Council to hire should come in. My objection to the insertion of the words is, that they would indicate an intention that the County Council should let land to tenants who never had the slightest intention of buying.
§ * MR. CHANNING
The position in which the Government find themselves is absolutely incomprehensible and absolutely absurd. What does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean by saying "an intention to buy," and how and in what manner are the class of men to whom he refers to signify their intention to buy? The County Council, by the concession 1209 which the right hon. Gentleman has announced, binds itself not to look into any security that these men will be in a position to buy later on; it is simply an expression of a desire to buy. There is no guarantee or practical security that these men will ever buy, or ever attempt to buy. The whole thing is absurd. A man may express his desire to go to the moon, and that also would be absurd. What the concession amounts to is that the Government are prepared to admit that County Councils should have the power to acquire small farms, and re-let them to persons who are not in a position to buy. Many labourers who are not in a position to buy may have a vague desire to buy, but it is simply monstrous to insist on their stating that desire as a condition of having land let to them when by your concession you have removed the only security that that desire is bonâ fide. Either we should do one thing or the other. Are we to append to this Bill a clause which will enable County Councils to carry on the Allotments Bill on a somewhat larger scale, or are we not to do so? I venture to say that, unless these words "rent or hire" are inserted, our position is simply reduced to legislating on the most absurd, ridiculous, and unjustifiable lines. Either we mean free holders, or we mean to append—and I understand the right hon. Gentleman means to append—powers to give somewhat larger allotments to those who are not in a position to buy.
§ (10.55.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman whether it would not be better to omit the words in question altogether. I hope, however, that the Government will make it clear that this is really a Small Holdings Bill for the creation of yeomen proprietors throughout the country, and I would further ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he could not make that perfectly clear by the nature and scope of the clauses which come afterwards rather than by the adoption of the words referred to? For, while there is no doubt that the main object of the Bill is to create a class of peasant proprietors, yet it is generally admitted 1210 that there will be many men who will want to rent land under the Bill.
§ *(10.57.) LORD F. HERVEY (Bury St. Edmunds)
So far as the question submitted to the Committee is one of drafting it seems to me of very little importance. I do not think, if the proposed words are inserted, that the scope of the third clause will be extended. Nor, if they are omitted, will that clause be restricted. The real question before us is whether it is to be made a necessary condition that any person applying for the benefit of this Act should come forward with an already-formed desire to purchase the land. I know something of the agricultural labourers in Suffolk. They are very reserved, and they do not form their conclusions in a hurry. I am perfectly certain that, if this condition which the right hon. Gentleman seems determined to insist upon is imposed, the agricultural labourers of Suffolk will have no advantage out of this Bill. There are many of them who would be willing and desirous to hire land in order to see if they can make it pay; and, if so, they will afterwards have a desire to purchase the land. Is it not within the knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman that what we are asking people to do is a thing which the late Sir James Caird declared that nobody but a fool would do? Sir James Caird's view was that a man could make a profit of 10 per cent. on his capital as a cultivating occupier, but only two per cent. as an agricultural owner. Why, then, deny agricultural labourers the opportunity of hiring small portions of land which they may be able to cultivate with advantage and insist that they should come to the County Council with a formed desire to buy the land before they know whether they can make it pay?
§ (11.0.) MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I think the question is one of considerable importance, and it is possible that some Members of the Committee do not see the full bearing of the proposal which has been made. I do not at all dissent from the view of the noble Lord who has just spoken with regard to agricultural labourers first hiring the land to see if they can make it pay, and, if so, then to endeavour to purchase; but I do not think that is an argument 1211 against the position taken up by the Government. The real question is, with what object did the Government introduce the Bill? The object they have in view is as far as possible to produce a body of prosperous cultivators of the soil which they own. Now, if the words proposed are inserted, you will make it clear on the face of the Bill that there is a second purpose in view wholly different, and in some respects radically inconsistent, with that object. What is that object? It is to make the County Council for all time an owner of land and landlord at a quit rent over a large body of tenants, and it appears to me that such a course as that would be disastrous to the County Council and most injurious to the tenants you are going to create. It must be borne in mind that the County Councils, if placed in the position of landlords, could not possibly make the concessions to their tenants that an ordinary English landlord could make. They will be bound by rigid rules, and must evict their tenants if the rent is not paid to the day. The noble Lord the Member for Bury St. Edmunds has admitted that it would be the desire of the labourer who acquired a holding on terms of hiring to become the owner of his land when opportunity offers. Let the Committee consider what hardship is imposed upon the labourer by the Bill as it stands. The labourer will take a holding with the desire of rising upon the ladder that is offered to him, and so attaining to some higher position in the social scale, and the main principle of the Bill is to enable such a man to use the power that is given him of becoming the freeholder of his holding independent of the County Council or anybody else. Is not that an ideal which should be on the face of the Bill? Is not that the ideal which the House has set itself to accomplish, and are we going to interfere with that by deliberately introducing words into the Bill which would make it appear as if one of the objects, and one of the chief objects, we had in view was to turn County Councils in this country not merely into instruments for the creation of small holdings, but into gigantic landlords of large districts of small holders holding at a 1212 rack rent? I cannot conceive that anybody would desire to see such a proposal as that carried out. For these reasons I hope the Committee will not adopt the Amendment which has been moved.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Now we have a distinct avowal on the part of the Government that the acquiring of land for the purpose of hiring is not even a secondary object of the Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I do not admit the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation. I say hiring land is an essential part of the Bill.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Then I cannot understand what the argument of the right hon. Gentleman is. The right hon. Gentleman said the purpose of the Bill was to buy, and that if you admit the word "hire" it becomes a secondary object.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Very well, co-equal object. But he will not admit the word hire. Therefore, to obtain the co-equal quality, you put in one equal and leave out the other.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Either I must have failed to express myself with lucidity or the right hon. Gentleman cannot have exercised that discriminating criticism on this occasion which he usually gives to his opponents. We say that we regard hiring as a means towards small holders becoming freeholders. If you admit these words, that object would not appear on the face of the Bill, and we desire that it should do so.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
We believe that if this Bill is to be of use, it must apply in the multitude of cases where there is no possibility of buying at all. The right hon. Gentleman has put a very plain issue before the House. I will tell him what we are afraid of. If a County Council did not wish to exercise the powers under the Bill, it could say that the majority of the applicants were not people in a position to buy, and those who could buy were so few that it would not be desirable for the Council to acquire 1213 land at all for the purposes of the Bill. What, then, becomes of the small people who only desire to hire, knowing perfectly well that that is all they can possibly accomplish? The noble Lord gave the Minister of Agriculture a fair warning as to the result of insisting that this is a Bill for buyers and not hirers of land. That is exactly the issue between us. The speech of the First Lord of the Treasury is a distinct condemnation of the clause as it stands. He wishes to make it clearly understood that the primary and almost exclusive object of the Bill is the purchase of freeholds, and if there is to be any hiring at all it is to be a very secondary object, and only to be regarded so far as it contributes to the primary object. That is a fair issue on which the view of the Committee can be taken.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I hope the Committee will now come to a decision on the matter. I regret that after the discussion had been conducted with such good humour, the right hon. Gentleman should have intervened at the time when the Committee were about to arrive at a decision. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the County Council might take the clause as it stands as an excuse for taking no action. How is it possible for the Council to do anything of the kind, when Clause 4 distinctly lays down that one or more county electors may petition the County Council, alleging that there is a demand for small holdings in the county—it does not say whether for purchase or hire—but, that petition being presented, the clause lays it down as the positive duty of the Council to forthwith appoint a Committee to inquire into the matter, and report to the Council? My right hon. Friend stated, as I have stated over and over again, without objection being taken to it, that the primary object of the Government has been, if possible, to create freeholders instead of tenants. When the proper time comes there are numberless reasons which will be given—reasons which led the Select Committee to agree unanimously with the view that on the whole ownership, however qualified, is preferable to any form of tenancy. 1214 That is the opinion which any body of gentlemen, which has made a full investigation of the question, must unanimously arrive at, if they have any regards for the interests of the Local Authority, and, above all, for the interests of the ratepayers.
§ * MR. WINTERBOTHAM
I want to tell the Committee what the Minister of Agriculture told the labourers was the object of the Bill. The fact that the Government will not allow the words "or hire" to go into the Bill shows that they have reverted to the Exeter speech of the Prime Minister, that this was a Bill to create yeomen farmers, and that it was to be admitted that it would not do much good to the labourers. The question is, whether words shall be inserted which will enable the Bill to be used for the benefit of poor agricultural labourers, and whether the ladder which has been spoken of shall be the one they desire, or some lofty ideal set up by the First Lord of the Treasury? When the Minister of Agriculture was at Shrewsbury he used these words to the labourers—The object of the Bill was to bring about by legislation a wider distribution of land among the people; to attach, if possible, more closely to the land the man who actually worked upon the land and extracted from it the produce which it grew, and to whose exertions the wealth it was made to render was actually primarily owing. It was an honest and genuine attempt to give the labouring classes greater facilities for access to the land than they had hitherto had.And then the Minister of Agriculture finished by saying—It provided for those who had not been able to save money by enabling the Local Authority to procure the land and let it ont in small holdings of ten acres at a time.There was not one word to these labourers about yeomen farmers. The object of the Amendment is that agricultural labourers, in whose interests the Bill is avowedly introduced, should have, at all events, a place in the Bill.
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
The peaceful state of the Committee arose from the statement that the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to accept in a broad and liberal spirit the principle of letting. But it was pointed out in 1215 dealing with the phraseology of the Bill that Clause 1, the acquiring clause of the Bill, is restricted to buying, and the Committee asked that that restriction should be removed and the clause made to agree with the promise and intentions of the right hon. Gentleman. The Attorney General admitted that the acquiring clause of the Bill, under which alone the County Council can acquire land, was for the purpose of buying. "But," said the Attorney General, "you can get in people who desire to let by a back door." They are to say "We desire to buy;" then, "We are unable to buy;" and then, "We desire to hire," and possibly under that they may come in. Then the First Lord of the Treasury comes in and smashes the whole thing at once. He says, "Our object is primarily, almost exclusively, to sell land to yeoman farmers."
§ * MR. H. H. FOWLER
Yeomen labourers. He maintained that it was to create proprietors, and he would not admit as a secondary purpose the hiring of land except the persons meant ultimately to acquire it. We do not want that. It is an admirable Bill for creating yeomen farmers, but we want it to meet the case of those who wish to hire without the intention of purchasing. The first clause of the Bill is confined to buying the land; we want it to be extended to include the hiring of land, and that is what we are going to divide on.
§ (11.18.) MR. J. CHAMBERLAIN (Birmingham, W.)
It appears to me there is some misunderstanding on one side or the other, but I cannot see any principle involved. If I understand the position of my right hon. Friend and the right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt), they approve of the proposal to facilitate the creation of peasant proprietors, but they desire that in addition facilities should be given for the creation of small tenancies. I do not understand that they propose that these small tenancies should be encouraged to the same extent as is suggested in connection with small holdings. When the matter was before the Select Committee—and I think the general sense of the House will be with us—we came to the conclusion that 1216 nothing could be worse or more injurious to any proposal of this kind than to put the County Council in the position of landlords. This is an important question, and when it was before the Select Committee we thought that nothing could be worse or more injurious than any proposal which would put County Councils in the position of landlords on a large scale. When bad times came they would be put under pressure to reduce rents, and they would not be in the same position as private landlords. It was, therefore, a risky undertaking for County Councils to enter into speculations of that kind. As I understand, it is the desire of hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House to confine the small tenancies to tenancies of not less than ten acres. This was the recommendation of the Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman, and it is really only an extension of the Allotments Act. It was felt that it was impossible that labourers could in any numbers avail themselves of a Bill for the creation of small holders, and it was therefore desirable to create tenancies of from one to ten acres. That is what is aimed at on both sides of the House, and in that case there is no question of principle to divide upon. It is a mere question of drafting, and whether the Bill carries out intentions on which both sides of the House are agreed.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER
I would point out to hon. Members that to insert the words "or hire" in this clause, without any limit at all, would be to lay it open to the objection that there would be no limit to the tenancies let on hire. The question of hiring only comes in when men are unable to purchase, and consequently the limitation has not to be considered with reference to the larger holdings. Therefore the draftsmanship of the Bill is quite correct. If there is anything that is not clear it can be corrected in the later clause; but to put letting in the forefront of the first clause would be to indicate the desire to let equally with the desire to sell, and would give the idea of the County Council being general landlords. The Bill expresses the general desire to limit letting and 1217 hiring to persons who could not purchase, and also to holdings of less than ten acres. If the word "hire" were inserted in this clause it must be immediately followed by limitations, whose proper place is in a later part of the Bill.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I infer from what has just been said by the right hon. Gentleman that if you do not put the words "or hire" into the clause, it will not give County Councils power to acquire land for the purpose of letting holdings of less than ten acres. If the words are inserted, County Councils will then have the power which it is desired to give to them. A more obvious fallacy than the argument of the Attorney General it is impossible to conceive; and as to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham, he could hardly have listened to the speech of the First Lord of the Treasury, who put it entirely as a matter of principle. I fail to see why these words should not be put in the Bill.
§ * MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
The Government desire to create a class which we on this side of the House have no desire to establish. The Government desire to create unrestricted freeholds, but we are anxious to create either restricted freeholds, or, if not, leasehold tenures. It seems to me we on this side of the House, including my right hon. Friend (Mr. Chamberlain), do not desire to create the kind of freeholds the Government desire to create. The Government desire to create an absolute freehold tenure under which at the end of ten years, or when the purchase money is paid off, the small holder will be in a position of absolute ownership, free to sell to the neighbouring squire or created limitations in tail male with remainders over. Well, that is not the kind of freehold we desire to create, that is not the kind of freehold my right hon. Friend desires to create. We wish to keep some control in the interest of the public over the land. If we are not to have that control in this case of the new freeholds, 1218 at least let us leave the alternative of power to the County Councils to let unrestrictedly. I recognise the difficulty of a County Council having to bear the brunt of bad times and to meet the difficulty of letting, but that is a lesser evil with less risk than attends the plan of the Government to create nothing but absolute freehold tenure. That is not the tenure at which we aim, and at which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham aims. It is because we view with great apprehension the proposal in the Bill to create absolute freehold tenure that we lay great stress on this leasehold alternative. It is not a question of drafting but of principle, even from the point of view of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chamberlain), and it seems to me we must divide on the proposition.
*(11.38.) MR. LAWSON
I cannot be included in those on this side whom the hon. and learned Gentleman says look upon leasehold tenure as the great advantage to be established by the Bill. I have read the evidence given before the Committee, and I am bound to say that every witness deprecated leasehold tenure, except as a necessary evil where small holdings could not otherwise be provided.
§ MR. HALDANE
I do not say the creation of leaseholds; I say a tenure, subject to conditions restricting the freehold such as was proposed by the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings).
* MR. LAWSON
In voting for the Amendment I support an alternative to purchase which may be necessary for the labourers, but that is not the main object the Bill seeks to promote. I cannot suppose that a County Council will be much better than any other Corporation as a landlord, and it is universal experience that no landlord is so bad as a Corporation, and I do not think it is a public object to establish by Statute in this way.
§ (11.39.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS
I just want to say a word on the issue to be decided. This Bill is for the creation of peasant proprietors in all the independence and freedom which cultivating ownership alone can give, 1219 and the object, as I take it, of those who support this Amendment is to curtail that principle as much as possible and to create throughout the country a large number of tenants dependent, as the hon. Member below me (Mr. Lawson) has just said, on the very worst class of landlords that can be created. Therefore, it is not an issue of supplying land to the labourer who cannot afford to buy, for that is amply provided for further on in the Bill. The principle upon which we are going to divide is whether we shall maintain the primary object of the Bill to create an independent class of peasant proprietors throughout the country, and at the same time to help those who are not just now in a position to become owners by assisting them to hire a limited amount of land, in order that such land may become what has been termed a ladder upon which they may mount to the position of owners.
§ Question put.
§ (11.43.) The Committee divided:—Ayes 72; Noes 152.—(Div. List, No. 79.)
§ (11.53.) Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Sir W. Foster.)
§ Question put, and negatived.
§ SIR W. FOSTER
After the decision we have had I do not think the word "occupy" is necessary, and I therefore shall not move my Amendment.
§ *(11.54.) MR. SEALE-HAYNE
The Amendment I have to propose is similar to that I proposed in the Allotments Bill, to give to the Local Government Board power by Provisional Order to take land compulsorily. I admit at once it is a modified form of compulsory purchase, but the power is not placed directly with the County Council but with the Local Government Board. I believe that a provision of this kind would add very largely to the utility of the Bill. I perfectly agree with the argument of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin), who said, on introducing the Bill, 1220 he wished to add to the number of small freeholders and yeoman farmers, and that he looked with disfavour on the accumulation of land in a few hands. Now, we on this side of the House have frequently advocated measures for remedying this evil, but none of the measures we have advocated have found a place in this Bill. There is no doubt that the custom of primogeniture in this country is one which has led to the accumulation of land in the hands of the few. Then we have the custom of tying up land in settled estates, and that is another great cause of the accumulation of landed property among the few, yet this Bill in no way purposes to deal with such points as these. Then the dearness of transfer makes landed property only suitable for men of large means, another cause of the accumulation of which I speak. We have also on this side of the House advocated the simplification of title, and that does not find a place in the Bill. Instead of removing these anomalies and abuses of the law which have brought the land of this country into its present position and have led to the necessity for introducing a Bill of this kind, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to remedy this evil by what is really a Socialistic measure, a measure for raising money on the security of the rates, and applying it to the purpose of the purchase of land to remedy abuses which have crept in, owing to bad laws, during a long course of years.
§ It being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday 28th April.