§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. CHAPLIN, Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
Mr. Speaker, it now becomes my duty to submit to the House the proposals of the Government for giving effect to the paragraph in the Gracious Speech from the Throne which referred to the question of small holdings of land in the agricultural districts of the country, and I commence by saying this at once, that the proposals I am about to make being, as I believe they are, entirely novel to our legislation, must be necessarily of a somewhat tentative character, and the Bill I shall lay on the Table, if the House approve is more or less of the nature of an experiment, which the Government have decided, after full consideration, that it is right and expedient to make. One of the chief objects which we have in view is a wider distribution of the land among the people of this country; to bring back upon the soil, if it be possible by legislation—I had almost said to re-create, if I may use the term—a class of the community which has been gradually dwindling for many years, and which is now rapidly becoming extinct, but which, at the same time, we must remember, existed, and not only existed, but flourished, in former days in far greater numbers than is the case at present, and which I am persuaded that 912 all sections of the House would desire, if possible, to see maintained. I am speaking now, Sir, of the class which used to be described as yeomen, or, in other words, the owners of small properties in land. That is an object which must thoroughly commend itself not only to gentlemen sitting on this side, but also to gentlemen sitting on that side of the House, and which is most thoroughly in accord with all the traditions of the Party to which they belong. Indeed, I think, Sir, I have only to mention the name of Mr. Bright, whose views on this subject were so well and so widely known, and which he has so often defended with his unrivalled eloquence in this House, to carry the unanimous assent of hon. Gentlemen opposite in the assertion I make. Sir, I cannot doubt that, whatever may be thought of the means which I shall propose to-night in order to give effect to our views, all Parties in the House will agree that the object is one which is deserving of support, and that the experiment which we propose is one which it is desirable to make. Among other reasons which have guided us in our decision, I will begin by mentioning to the House one in particular. No one who is well acquainted with the agricultural districts of the country can fail to be aware of the constant migration of the rural population from the country to the towns, which has been so prominent and so unwelcome a feature of the rural situation during the last few years, and which I am afraid is still progressing, and perhaps at an ever-accelerated pace, to-day. There are various reasons which may possibly account for it. For instance, there is the great increase of education, which of late years has taken place in the country districts as well as in the towns, and which many people think has given rise to a growing distaste for actual labour on the soil, especially when that labour is employed under conditions which, in the opinion of the workers themselves, gives no sufficient opening for the improvement of their lot and their position in the future, especially when old age begins to advance upon them. Again, Sir, there are the higher wages which can be so easily obtained for labour in the towns, and the generally greater attractions which are offered to the life of the labouring man who dwells in the city as compared with the life of the man who lives upon 913 the land. And, thirdly, there is the great and constantly increasing demand for active and intelligent labour in numerous walks of life, such as on railways, in the Police Force of the country, and various other works, which will readily occur to hon. Members, which are all eagerly sought for by the youngest and smartest members of the rural population, and which, not unnaturally, I am bound to say, I think they infinitely prefer to the comparative dulness and drudgery of the labours in which they are engaged in the country. These are all causes which it seems to me, at all events, may partly account for the tendency which, in my humble judgment, is nothing but an evil to all parties whom it concerns. It is bad for the labourers themselves, because they constantly take their labour to markets which they find already conjested, and where they can only obtain work by reducing the wages of their fellow-workmen, or, as only too commonly happens, they fail to find employment at all. It is bad for the owners and occupiers of land, and for the land itself, which constantly suffers from the want of sufficient labour being employed on it: and it is bad for the community at large, because of the lesser amount of produce which the land yields. And that, Sir, being so, the question naturally arises whether there is nothing which can be done, whether there is not something that we can do by legislation to aid in arresting a process which is so injurious to all? Well, Sir, the Government think that there is, and that one of the measures which is likely to have some effect, and probably considerable effect, in this direction, is to afford to the rural population, whose labour at the present time, apart from their wages, is spent on the land directly in the interests and for the profit of others, some greater facilities than they enjoy at present for sometimes working on the land in their own interest, and for the profit of themselves. We believe that in doing this we shall be taking a step which is not only in the interests of the labourers, but greatly also in the interests of the farmers as well, and I say so for this reason. The greatest danger I see ahead for the farmers of this country, and the agricultural interest generally, at the present moment, is not so much the increase of foreign competition, of 914 which I think myself—although I speak on this subject in most guarded accents—we may, perhaps, have seen the worst, not so much in a future fall in the prices of agricultural produce, but in the great and growing difficulty of finding sufficient labour for the effective cultivation of the land; and in anything we can do in this respect to lessen and remove that difficulty and so retain the labour on the land, I believe we shall be conferring on the farmers of this country one of the greatest benefits in our power. For, in the first place, what I wish to point out is this—in the case of men who occupy small holdings, who may be the future occupants of small holdings—it does not necessarily follow that the whole of their time will be engaged; on the contrary, I believe there will always be times and seasons when part of their labour will be available for service on the larger farms in the vicinity. And, in the second place the mere possibility of being able to obtain for himself, by his own industry and thrift in the future, a small holding for his own purposes will, I believe, be no small inducement to the younger labourers to remain in the country in far greater numbers than they do at present. Well, Sir, there is another reason which has always had considerable weight with me. So far as I can observe, there is a widespread and general desire that at least the experiment should be tried. I am sure it is the case—and I am speaking from my own personal knowledge—among the labourers themselves, although I believe it to be of comparatively recent growth. It is very natural and very easily explained, and I attribute it to two causes: In the first place, the lower wages which in the past few years they have been in the habit of receiving since the agricultural depression has weighed so heavily on the farmers, and there is also the almost constant want of employment to which they have always been subject in recent years, especially in the winter months, the very time when good and regular employment is of more importance to them than at any other; and, secondly, Mr. Speaker, I attribute it to the great increase in the number of allotments which has followed the passing of the Acts which became law a year or two ago. I know perfectly well that it is a regular Party shibboleth on that side of the House, 915 that the Allotments Acts passed by the present Government have been shams and failures, and especially on country platforms. A right hon. Gentleman on that Bench made that statement not many nights ago, not on a country platform, but on a platform in one of the City constituencies. What I have to say on that point is that these gentlemen know as well as I know—and if they do not know they ought to—that they are absolutely contradicted by the facts. Those Acts have had precisely the effect that I always hoped and expected they would have. They have been the means, either directly or indirectly, of providing allotments for thousands and thousands of labouring men throughout all parts of England who never knew what it was to have the enjoyment of allotments before; and what is more, in the great majority of cases, they have attained it by what I have always maintained, and always shall maintain, to be the easiest and the most convenient mode, namely, by friendly and voluntary arrangements with the owners of the land. I know scores of instances which have come under my notice during the present year where men with a single acre for an allotment, or sometimes with even less, have been able to make a profit out of the land for themselves of sums which ranged, as I am told on very good authority, from £5 to £8, and where in one case, I am informed, of as much as £10 in the year; and having been so extremely successful with their small allotments, and having had this experience of the profits which they can make from little plots of land, they are naturally anxious to see what they can do with more. How far they are right in the desire to exchange a small plot for a holding of a larger and different description remains to be proved. I never had a doubt upon the question of allotments. I knew, I was always certain, that it could only be an unmixed good for the rural population; but no one can speak with equal certainty upon the question of small holdings. There is a wide and a clear distinction between them. Neither capital nor buildings are required in the case of allotments, except in the case of the pig-sty, which generally goes with the cottage; but it is these very questions of capital and buildings which constitute our chief difficulty in dealing satisfac- 916 torily with the question of small holdings. As to the cultivation of these holdings—I judge from what I have seen of their allotments—I have not the slightest misgiving whatever; and in dairy countries, with which I am bound to say I am not altogether so acquainted as I am with other agricultural parts of the country—there, I understand, from all the information which reaches me, that the system of small holdings has already been established and proved to be a success. Sir, it is a very common thing, in districts where there are numerous allotments, to give prizes for the allotments which are cultivated the best—and it is usual from among the large farmers in the neighbourhood that the Judges are selected—and many a large farmer, some of whom I know well, have told me that they have been perfectly astonished to see the admirable manner in which the land was cultivated. Well, I venture to think that is very encouraging to us who are seeking to bring about an extension of this operation upon a wider and a broader scale; and I think the House will agree with me in this, that it is clearly true that if a man has been eminently successful in the cultivation of one acre of land, it is a fair and reasonable presumption that he is likely to be successful in the cultivation of more. I frankly own that I arrive at this opinion in the light of new experience; that I was formerly opposed to the attempt to establish by law a system of small holdings; and further, that I had no belief at all in the probable success of any such system; and I am bound to say that the opportunities which I have had in former years of seeing the results of that system in counties where it is already established were more than ample warrant, and more than ample justification for that opinion. I remember visiting a district in the north east part of the county which I represent, and that not many years ago—a district which is cultivated entirely under such a system. I do not remember exactly, but I think it must have been some 10 or 15 years ago; at all events, it was at a time when agricultural depression, was at its very highest—some three or four years after it had commenced—and I am bound to say this, that a more lamentable, a more deplorable spectacle of agricultural ruin and disaster it never was my misfortune 917 to witness. It made a deep impression upon me at the time, and that impression was confirmed by the evidence which was received by the Richmond Commission. But I am inclined to believe—indeed, I am confident from inquiries which I subsequently made, and from inquiries which I have more recently thought it my duty to make—that in one respect, at all events, we were at that time very insufficiently informed. We did not realise at all—it was not put before us; I do not know if even the information was attainable, because upon that point the people were most reticent themselves—we did not realise at all the extravagant prices which had been given for the land. The holdings of which I am speaking were acquired at a time when the prices of agricultural produce were probably at their highest; when the condition of agriculture in consequence was one of great prosperity; when the tendency of land was to continually increase in value, and when it was sought for, and eagerly bought by the population of those districts at prices which, in relation to its present value, would be twice and sometimes three times as much as it was worth. Consequently, when the bad times came—commencing as they did with a succession of two or three of the worst seasons in the memory of man, and followed by a sudden and almost unparalleled fall in the price of agricultural produce—these poor people, over whose farms I walked myself, and whose condition I had every opportunity of seeing, were ruined, one after another, in hundreds of cases. I am informed, however, that a large amount of the land in those districts since those days has changed hands again, and of course at a greatly reduced price; and where that has been the case, where that has been done, there I understand the cultivation of these holdings has been carried on, and is being carried on to-day, with very different results. That being so, and in view of the greatly altered circumstances of the times, of the greatly reduced price at which land can be obtained at present; and lastly, but not least, in view of the admirable cultivation of numbers of allotments by the labouring population in the counties, I have come to the deliberate conclusion that there is no reason whatever at the present time why, even upon economic grounds, the experiment may not 918 be tried with a fair and reasonable prospect of success; and as to its advantages upon social grounds, I hardly think there will be any difference of opinion. Now, Sir, having stated the general views of the Government upon this question, I think the House will probably be anxious to know something as to the means by which we propose to carry them into effect; and I will endeavour, as briefly and as clearly as I can, to explain to the House the provisions of the Bill which I propose to lay upon the Table of the House to-night. The scheme of the Bill, generally speaking, is as follows:—The Public Works Loan Commissioners, that is to say, the State, are empowered to lend at a rate of interest that is not to exceed 3⅛ per cent., and the Local Authority are empowered, either from them or elsewhere, if they prefer it, to borrow money in order to acquire land for the purpose of providing small holdings for persons who are resident in the county in which the land is acquired, and who will themselves cultivate the holdings. But, in view of the fact that this is avowedly an experiment, we have thought it right to proceed with due caution in the first instance; and following the recommendation of the Select Committee on Small Holdings upon this point, we limit the borrowing powers of the Local Authority as follows:—The amount to be borrowed is not to exceed a sum which would involve a charge upon the rates, exceeding for any one year one penny in the pound. It will naturally be asked, what is a small holding? And a small holding as defined in the Bill means this: it means land which is suitable for agriculture, and exceeds an acre, and either does not exceed 50 acres or is of an annual value not exceeding £50. The Local Authority being the instrument for giving effect to our scheme, we have had to consider upon what area it will be that the charge upon the rates should be levied. The House is aware there is more than one Local Authority in existence at present. But although we hope, and we confidently expect while we remain a Government, to carry proposals in the future, for the provisions both of District Councils and also of Parochial Reform, yet, unfortunately, it is the case, that we have only one popularly elected body at present, and that is the County Council. 919 Now, the House is aware that as regards allotments there is precedent for the acquisition of land by the Guardians, and for the management of the land by Parish Authorities. But although I have adopted, as the House will see directly, some of the provisions which are afforded by this precedent, I have not adopted them entirely, and I have abstained from doing so for this reason—I have made some calculations as to what the borrowing powers at the rate of 1d. in the £1 will impose, and this investigation has made it quite clear that in the case of parishes it would absolutely be beyond their power, and even in the case of Unions I doubt if their resources would be anything like adequate for the purpose. In view, therefore, of these considerations, and also of the fact that the County Council is the only elected body at the present time, we have come to the conclusion that the County Council is the proper and fitting authority for the purpose of acquiring land to be devoted to small holdings. And I may mention that the amount which the rate of 1d. in the £1 would produce in England and Scotland on the County Rate, exclusive of London and of the county boroughs, would in round numbers, roughly speaking, amount to something like £10,000,000. The County Council having been invested with these powers, the next thing to consider was the means of putting them in motion, and accordingly it is provided in the Bill that every County Council, not being a Council of a borough, who may do so if they please, shall appoint a committee for the purpose of putting the Act into operation; and, secondly, upon a petition being presented by one or more county electors, upon reasonable and bonâ fide grounds the committee shall cause inquiry to be made, who shall report the result of their inquiry to the Council. Assuming that the report of the committee is in favour of the petition, the next stage in the process is the acquisition of the land. How is it to be acquired? Is it to be by purchase? Is it to be by hire? Or is it to be by both? I grant that this is a question which is deserving of very careful consideration; and I own I was much taken at first sight by a proposal made during the Recess by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian—namely, that the Local Authorities, in addition to powers 920 to buy the land, should have power to take it upon hire as well. But on looking more carefully into this proposal I found that there were numerous objections, which prevented my adopting it in the Bill. In the first place, the House will see at once that if the land was only hired by the County Council it could not be sold, and that would have been contrary to all the evidence and to all the recommendations of the Select Committee on Small Holdings, all of which went to show that ownership was preferable to tenancy. In the second place, you would at once convert the Local Authority into a middleman, an institution which has always been regarded as exceedingly objectionable, and which I think there is no reason whatever to revive. In the third place, if you make the Local Authority into a landlord the risk would be far greater to the ratepayers, and the Local Authorities must take all the chances and all the vicissitudes of the position of a landlord. For instance, in bad times, the first thing that would happen would be this, that the Local Authority would be subjected to great pressure to reduce the rents. But this could only be done at the cost of the ratepayers. On the other hand, if the reduction were refused they would at once become the most unpopular landlords in the world. Fourthly, it would add very much to the difficulty of providing buildings, a difficulty, in my opinion, which is quite sufficient already. And, lastly, it would defeat what I have already described to the House as one of the main objects of the Bill, which is to add to the number of owners of land. We had, therefore, no hesitation in deciding that the land should be acquired by purchase by the Local Authority, and we also attach this condition to the purchase, namely, that the price to be given is not to exceed what they would reasonably expect to receive for it themselves, including expenses when the land is again disposed of for small holdings. We have also considered whether the land should be acquired by agreement only, or by compulsory provisions being included in the Bill. Now, I am aware that there are ample precedents in our legislation already for the acquisition of land by compulsion for public purposes; but then I am distinctly of opinion that compulsion ought not to be resorted to unless it is clearly shown that 921 it is necessary, and that the object cannot be obtained without it. But there is no such proof in this case; on the contrary, all the evidence that we have before us points in exactly the opposite direction. There never was a time when there was so much land in the market as there is at present. There are thousands of acres in every direction of the country which owners are only too anxious to get rid of, and only too anxious and willing to sell if they can only find purchasers for the land, and certainly the enormous increase which we have witnessed during the last few years in the number of allotments, most of them acquired by voluntary means, shows that there is no unwillingness on the part of the owners to find the land necessary for these purposes. Moreover, this question was carefully examined by the Select Committee on Small Holdings, and, with the permission of the House, as I know that in some quarters this is regarded as an important point, I will read the following passage from their Report:—Your Committee having given full consideration to the arguments upon both sides, have resolved not to recommend compulsory power. They feel that any scheme adopted now must necessarily be tentative, and they are convinced that enough land will be attainable by voluntary agreement to ensure a fair trial for this experiment. They do not think it desirable to alarm landowners by a provision which is unnecessary, and which is not likely at any time to be largely availed of.I am quite aware that that recommendation of the Committee was not arrived at by a unanimous vote. I find, on referring to the proceedings, that it was arrived at by a majority of 7 to 4; that, later on, they repeated it, and we have no hesitation whatever in adopting, upon this point, the recommendation of that Committee. The House will perceive that we have reached the stage when the Local Authority has become the owner of land, and the next provision is this, that, having bought it, they may then adapt it, by fencing, or whatever means may be most convenient, for the purpose of small holdings—they are then to offer it for sale under the rules laid down in the Bill. If a sale be effected the purchase is to be completed in the course of a month from the time of sale, and upon the completion of the purchase one-fourth of the purchase money is to be paid 922 down at once. That I regard as a very important provision. In the first place, it gives security at once to the Local Authorities; in the second place, it insures that the man who is able to pay down one-fourth of the purchase money is, in all probability, a man who has been careful, who has been saving, who has been thrifty, and who, therefore, deserves to be encouraged, and who is likely to do well; and, in the next place, it excludes the idle and the worthless who, probably, without this provision, would be the first to make an experiment under the Act. In regard to the remainder of the purchase money; another fourth may be secured by a perpetual rent-charge redeemable at will; and the remaining half is to be paid by instalments, or by terminable annuities, within 50 years, the purchaser being at liberty to pay off the whole of the debt at any time he wishes to do so. So far, although we have been able to make provision for the man who has been able to put by some savings of his own, little has been done for the labourer who is not in that fortunate position, and who is wholly unable to find the means of purchasing a small holding at all. And it is provided that where this is the case, the Local Authority may let small holdings in quantities which are not to exceed 10 acres of land. It is hoped that by this means a ladder may be provided to enable a man, by the exercise of his own industry, in the future to look forward to a time when he may be able to purchase a small holding. I must also point out that in the case of all these holdings—whether they are to be let, or whether they are to be sold—for 10 years in any case, and after 10 years until such time as the whole of the purchase money has been discharged, are to be held under certain conditions, the chief of which are as follows:—In the first place, they must be cultivated by the owner; in the second place, they must not be sub-let, or sub-divided, without the consent of the County Council; thirdly, it is provided that any dwelling-house erected on the holding must comply with the conditions, the sanitary conditions, which are required by the County Council; and then there is a fourth condition which is one of considerable importance, and to which I desire to direct the attention of the House. This provision stipulates that not more than one dwelling-house shall be erected on a holding, and 923 that no dwelling-house shall be erected at all where the holding is of an annual value not extending £25, unless it sufficient in the opinion of the Council to enable the occupier to maintain in comfort his family and himself by the cultivation of the holding. Now, I think the reasons for this condition will be obvious to the House at once. We are anxious to avoid doing anything in this Bill by which we may be instrumental in creating anything in the nature of congested districts in this country. But the House will see that that provision has also this effect: it divides small holdings into two parts. And with regard to the smaller class of holdings, which are conceived to meet what, in the nature of the case, must be purely local needs and local requirements, we make provision by which the County Council will be enabled to delegate the entire management of the smaller class of holdings to a Committee, which is to be composed partly of County Councillors and partly of allotments managers in the parish in which the land is situated; and if there should be no allotments manager, then to a person, who should be elected as if he were an allotments manager, expressly for the purpose. I am afraid I have wearied the House, but I shall not trouble it very much longer. Now, I come to the most difficult of the questions which we have had to meet in a measure dealing with this subject, and that is the provision of the necessary buildings. In some cases, of course, there would be buildings which are already in existence, which are either suitable or easily capable of being adapted to the purpose; in others, there will be none. Where that is the case, how are they to be provided? By the Local Authority? by the purchaser from his own resources? or by the purchaser with the aid of the Local Authority? It has sometimes been suggested that the Local Authority should advance to the purchaser money for this purpose. With regard to the last of these suggestions, I have been altogether unable to entertain it; and for this reason, that I have found no security whatever that appears to me to be adequate for the purpose. And with regard to the other two alternatives, we are clearly of opinion that the buildings, if possible, ought to be erected by the purchaser. We think they would be 924 built, under these circumstances, with far more economy, and they would also provide an additional guarantee for the security of the ratepayers in the event, under any circumstances, of the purchaser not being forthcoming with his annual instalments. But, on the other hand, of course, there may be cases where the provision of buildings in addition to the payment of the purchase-money would so seriously encroach on the capital of the purchaser as to seriously cripple him in the cultivation of his holding. Where that is the case we thought it right to make a provision by which, under circumstances of that kind, the Local Authority may provide the buildings themselves as part of the agreement, either for the sale or the letting of the holding; and I am bound to say myself that, in cases where the land is let, I do not see how the Local Authority can escape from the burden of providing the necessary buildings themselves. I now hope I am coming very near the end of what I am afraid has been a very long story. There is one more provision in the Bill which I must submit to the attention of the House. There may be cases—and very possibly there will be cases—in which the occupying tenant of a small holding may be anxious to buy his occupation from his landlord, who may also be perfectly willing and perfectly ready to sell; where that is the case, and where the parties have already come to an agreement upon the subject, there the County Council is empowered to lend to the tenant three-fourths of the purchase-money on the security of the holding. If the holding is bought under these circumstances, it becomes at once subject to all the other conditions in respect of small holdings to which I have already referred. But no advance of this kind is to be made unless the County Council is satisfied that the price is reasonable, that the title is good, and that the purchase is made in good faith. And now I think the time has come when I should bring my observations to a close. I am exceedingly grateful to the House for the indulgence with which it has listened to them. I am perfectly well aware of the many imperfections which doubtless will be found in the Bill which I have desired to submit to the consideration of the House. Nor has it been either an easy or a simple matter to formulate proposals on the 925 subject of this Bill; on the contrary, the difficulties have been great, and they have been all the greater because they are inherent in the nature of the case. We have to deal with conditions, of course, in which it is difficult enough for those who cultivate the soil to hold their own even when the work is done under the most scientific, and under the most economic, conditions. How is it likely, then, to fare with those who enter on this task without the aid of these advantages? Are we justified in hoping and believing that the greater industry which I think we may anticipate, encouraged and inspired by the stimulus of ownership, will more than compensate for the want of these advantages? That is the problem which, in my opinion, only time can solve, and which experience alone will be able to decide. But there is much to encourage us in believing that it will, and this, at least, may, with confidence, be asserted, that there never was a time more favourable for making such an experiment than is the present. Land in the market is very plentiful, and land never was so cheap; and although it is true that at the present moment the prices of agricultural produce are low, yet I believe myself that the prices both of land and produce are more likely to rise in the future than they are to fall. If that be so, and if I am right in my anticipation upon this point, then the small holders in the future will enter on their new career with every hope and every prospect of success, and most sincerely do I hope it may be so. If by any means we can succeed in attaching more closely to the soil the men to whose exertions the wealth it produces is mainly owing, I am persuaded we shall achieve a work which will add not only to the happiness and welfare of the people, but will redound to the credit of the Parliament which will pass the measure into law.
Motion made, and Question proposed,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to facilitate the acquisition of Small Agricultural Holdings.—(Mr. Chaplin.)"
§ (5.40.) SIR W. VERNON HARCOURT (Derby)
I think the right hon. Gentleman will feel that by the cheers that followed the conclusion of his speech—and it is acknowledged on both sides of the House—he has 926 discharged an important task with great ability and clearness. I am very glad that in bringing forward his measure, at all events, the right hon. Gentleman did not think it necessary to disparage his own Bill, or assure us that it was one which was not likely to have important consequences. It is impossible, I think, to conceive any measure which is more important in its character, and which, if it succeed, as we all hope it may succeed, will be more beneficial in its effects on this country. Now, of course, what we desire, and what I think the Gentlemen opposite desire also, is that this Bill should be made a thoroughly genuine and workable Bill. I give the right hon. Gentleman, and the Government, full credit for having that intention, and I hope, in the few remarks that I shall have to make upon it, that they will not believe that I am suggesting that there is any other design on the part of the Government. Now, the right hon. Gentleman has said that this is a tentative Bill. Well, I will not quarrel with the adjective. There is no doubt that there are provisions in this Bill—and, in fact, the whole machinery of the measure is necessarily such—somewhat novel in character. There was only one part of the right hon. Gentleman's address which, I think, might have been shortened, and which, indeed, was hardly necessary, when he endeavoured to convince the House that it was a matter of great importance that facilities should be given to attach the labourer to the soil. I can assure him that if there is no difficulty on that side of the House, he will never have any difficulty on this side of the House in bringing us to that conclusion. Indeed, if the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me for saying so, if he is converted on that subject, there will be no one left to be converted. That has always been the creed that we have held, and I am happy to know that he holds that creed in its orthodox form. The right hon. Gentleman has spoken so frankly of the change of opinion that has come over his own mind in this matter, that even if I had been so disposed to advert to former Debates, I should not think of doing so on the present occasion. It was quite worth while that the right hon. Gentleman should occupy the responsible position that he now holds if, by the further knowledge he has acquired, he should 927 have come to a different conclusion to that which he tells us he at one time entertained. Therefore I think he may take it for granted now, that everybody is agreed that there ought to be a measure for facilitating the creation of small holdings; that everybody is agreed that small holdings are a good thing if they can be acquired; and that, therefore, the objective view is one upon which there is a general concurrence of opinion. Now, of course, we come to the machinery that the right hon. Gentleman has proposed in his Bill, and there, of course, we must expect that there will be a considerable difference of opinion among those who have long had to consider this question. I think the right hon. Gentleman has altered his opinion as to the expediency of small holdings in themselves. He still seems not to have become an absolute convert to the blessed word "compulsion." Well now, Sir, I do not object to the tone in which the right hon. Gentleman has spoken upon that subject, though I differ from the conclusion at which he has arrived. I think all that violence of feeling which at one time raged against the very idea of employing compulsory powers seems to have disappeared. It is natural that it should have disappeared, for compulsion has been employed with great advantage, and, indeed, under an obvious necessity, in a great number of measures cognate to the one now before the House. The right hon. Gentleman admits that, and says:—I admit that compulsion has been employed, and might be employed, but there is no necessity in this case.Now, I should like to remind the right hon. Gentleman of what the course of legislation upon these agricultural subjects has been. He will remember, and the House will remember, the first Bill introduced by the Government of Mr. Disraeli—for compensation for tenants' improvements. At that time it was maintained that compulsion could not be employed, that it was a thing not to be heard of for a moment; and the consequence was that in that Bill a provision was introduced that every landlord, by giving notice, might contract himself out of the Bill. Well, what was the consequence? Why, that almost all the landlords—I might almost say 928 universally—contracted themselves out of the Bill; and the very same Government, if I remember right, were compelled to come down and strike that provision out of the Bill, and take away the power of voluntary contract in respect of that measure. That is an example of where you believed that you could do without compulsion, and found that you were mistaken in that belief. The next measure, with regard to which we were told that compulsion was unnecessary, was in the case of allotments. We were told, "Oh, voluntary power is quite sufficient, and compulsion is unnecessary." Did you find compulsion unnecessary? Why, after the first Allotments Bill, you were obliged to bring in a second Allotments Bill. And what was the ground alleged? Why, that compulsion was necessary. I think that is a fair account of what happened in the case of allotment; and, therefore, I cannot conceive why the right hon. Gentleman and the Government should have come to the conclusion that, having been obliged to resort to it, where compulsion had been dispensed with they can start this measure as an effective and working measure when they depart from that principle, which, in other cases, they have been obliged, after experience, to resort to. Now, there is one authority on this subject—and I assure you, Mr. Speaker and the Government, that I am not going to cite a quotation from Hansard for the purpose of making an attack on anybody, but I am using this as an argument. When the subject of compulsion was under discussion, the position of the right hon. Gentleman in the Debate of 1886 was that small holdings were necessarily, in themselves, evils. That was not the point upon which the Chancellor of the Exchequer relied. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that—he used a very strong expression, to which I will not refer. But his objection was, "the substitution of the community for the individual in the creation of small holdings"—that was his line of argument. And he said, arguing that question, that even if that difficulty were removed in order to make the plan a workable plan—the plan recommended by the hon. Member for Ipswich and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham— 929 unless they were to have compulsion, that Bill would be no good at all. I am only using that as an argument against the views taken by the right hon. Gentleman on the subject of compulsion. This is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—If there is no compulsion, then the proposal of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham will share the fate of the Act of George III.That was an old Act, where the principle was not admitted, and under which, in point of fact, nothing has ever been done. And the Chancellor of the Exchequer said that if there were no compulsion, that then the measure proposed would share the fate of this obsolete, and, practically-speaking, abortive measure:—With the experience of that Act before us, I ask, is it wise to embark afresh on this legislation?Then, an hon. Member said, "make it compulsory," and the Chancellor of the Exchequer said:—Yes, with compulsion you would do much.And then he proceeds to say:—If compulsion is introduced, well and good; you may run great danger.That is to say, by adopting the principle of compulsion.At the same time, you may give some effect to the proposal.I give that as an argument in favour of compulsion. It was very well put by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Though he disapproved of the provision being introduced into the measure at all, he pointed out that "without the compulsion the measure would be practically ineffective." I am not proposing to trouble the House at all upon the details as to the manner in which the money is to be advanced, or on what I may call the minor details of this Bill. That, I think, cannot with any great advantage be discussed until we have the Bill before us, and have fuller information on the subject; and I would not myself be a party to inviting the House to go into details of that character. But I touch upon this question of compulsion as a question of what I may call principle in this Bill. Well, there is one other matter which is even more important than the question of compulsion, and that is the body who are to give 930 effect to this Bill. Now, we have all known in former Bills that, in dealing with allotments, the body that had to put the Act into operation was unsatisfactory. It was unsatisfactory because it really had not the ability to deal with its provisions, and, therefore, to a great degree, the means of carrying it out. In the course of the Debate, when we get into Committee on this measure, we shall have the advantage of Gentlemen who are far better acquainted with the action of County Councils than I can pretend to be myself. But I must say, upon first sight, from what I can learn of the constitution and action of this body, I am by no means satisfied that they are the appropriate machinery for giving effect to such a Bill as this. I give the County Councils all credit for the admirable work that they have done, but they are a large body, who sit in a county town in the centre of the great counties, and they have no knowledge of the details of the localities, and they cannot possibly deal with this matter. Indeed, I could gather from the tone and expressions of the right hon. Gentleman he almost apologised for taking the County Councils, simply because he had got nothing else. The mainspring of this Bill will be the body that is to carry it into execution. I venture to express the opinion, and it is an opinion which I expressed often before, that if you are to do anything in this matter which depends absolutely and entirely upon the local knowledge of the persons interested—you may say, on the whole, people in every parish in the county—you must have your Local Authorities on small details, and unless you get a body of that kind there is no life in this Bill at all. Take the County of Devonshire. We have a body at Exeter trying to come to a determination on the question of the necessity and propriety of small holdings in some districts in that great county. Take the county in which I myself reside—a much smaller county; but I cannot conceive that a County Council sitting at Winchester could possibly enter into the considerations which are vital to the determination of these things. And when you come to consider what will be the character of the work which has to be done—whether Blackacre or White-acre is to be bought for this purpose: who is the man in a village who is a solvent man: who is an individual to be 931 trusted—these are matters which, it seems to me, from what I know of them, it is impossible that a body of the character of a County Council can determine. Before this Bill has the breath of life in it, I think you must have these Local Councils—whether you choose to call them District Councils or Parish Councils. You will then have a body consisting of persons who understand the very limited areas whose wants this Bill is intended to meet. These, it seems to me, are two very important points in this Bill which you will have, when we come to discuss this Bill in Committee, carefully to consider. Now, the right hon. Gentleman spoke upon another point, which I think is a very material one, and that is the hire of land. We fought that out on the Allotments Bill at very considerable length. The right hon. Gentleman seems to have come to a conclusion largely adverse to the principle of hiring land. I hope when that question comes to be argued at further length he will be prepared to modify his views; but I understand now that, as regards the labourers, he is disposed to consider the question, and, as I understand, there are some provisions in the Bill with reference to the hire of land upon a small scale. I therefore think we have made a considerable advance since the time of the Allotments Bill.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. RITCHIE, Tower Hamlets, St. George's)
There is no provision in the Allotments Bill for the compulsory acquisition of land; but there was for the voluntary acquisition.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I hope we shall learn in the course of the discussion what extent of hiring has been employed in the case of allotments. There is another provision which I confess I did not clearly understand, which was the limitation of the buildings for a dwelling-house. As I understand from the right hon. Gentleman no dwelling-house, except by special permission, is to be allowed upon any land under £25 a year.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Under the value of £25, unless, in the opinion of the County Council, the cultivation of the holding would be sufficient to provide for the maintenance of the man and his family.
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
I think there are a great many holdings where the value would be under £25. There are numbers, not only under £25, but under £20 and £15, where men are living on their own resources, and I should be extremely sorry to see the right hon. Gentleman put any limitation upon these.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Do I understand that in the view of the right hon. Gentleman there should be no limitation?
§ SIR W. HARCOURT
Certainly not anything like to the extent of £25. That is very extreme. I think the right hon. Gentleman should take heart, and not be afraid of the creation of congested districts in the agricultural Provinces of England. The alarm on this subject is altogether unfounded, and may very well be dismissed. Now, Sir, I do not desire to delay the House in further discussing this matter. The right hon. Gentleman may be assured that on this side of the House the object he has at heart is one we will be ready to support, and we are quite prepared to go into the discussion of this Bill with a hearty desire to make it a living and a workable measure.
§ MR. JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture on the introduction of this Bill, which I believe will be a benefit to the country residents in general, and will be the means of attracting a larger number of people to the land. The only objection to the Bill taken by the right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is that it does not contain the principle of compulsion. I am very glad, indeed, that that principle of compulsion does not come in at the present time, because, Sir, if the land can be got in a voluntary way there is no need whatever for compulsion. I believe the Bill will work well without compulsion. The County Council is the best authority for carrying out this Bill. In Hampshire there is already a Sub-Committee of the Council appointed to undertake the management of allotments, and I believe the work is done very well. As farming a good deal of land, I do not think that any man who takes a small holding can immediately make a fortune. There is a great difference between small holdings and allotments; allotments only occupy a man's labour, but directly you come to 933 small holdings—holdings of anything like 50 acres—the owner has to engage labour, which will run away with a great deal of his profits. Still I hope, Sir, that the experiment of small holdings may be tried, and I certainly hope it may be successful. There is one point upon which I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture, and that is a question with regard to the 1d. in the £1 of the county rate. I should like to know whether the whole of that money is to go annually in payment for the land? I imagine it cannot be by means of a sinking fund. There is another question, namely, that with regard to tenants purchasing their holding from the landowner. My right hon. Friend did not say what the size of those holdings was to be.
§ MR. JEFFREYS
I am glad to hear that; anything else would be impossible, and I hope that these small holdings, from 1 to 50 acres, may be bought and sold, subject, of course, to the approval of the Board of Agriculture. I wish to congratulate my right hon. Friend in having brought in this Bill, which I hope will be the means of doing something to improve agriculture.
§ * MR. HALDANE (Haddington)
Upon one point, at all events, Sir, we on this side of the House are agreed. We feel ourselves under an obligation to the right hon. Gentleman for the extraordinary clearness with which he has explained the provisions of this extraordinarily complicated Bill. But the right hon. Gentleman began by saying that it was desirable—this he assumed as a sort of axiom—to establish a system of small proprietors in this country. No doubt that is true; but it is true only, subject to certain limitations. I do not think the right hon. Gentleman realized the feeling of repugnance which some of us have to the creation of any new system of land tenure that would not be subject to public control. To me, it seems that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman is defective in this respect. The right hon. Gentleman made one admission of great importance. He said the reason why this Bill had been introduced was not so much owing to the general depression in agriculture, but because of the difficulty of keeping 934 labour on the land—the difficulty of stimulating the labourer to remain on the land unless you gave him some advantage. That is a very substantial admission; it shows that the agricultural labourer is raising his standard of living, and it shows the effect upon him of the extension of the franchise in 1885. There was another most important admission made by the right hon. Gentleman. He told us that inquiry into the reason of the failure of the system of small proprietorships convinced him that it was due to this—that the labourer had been obliged to pay exorbitantly high prices for the land. We know that extraordinary high prices have been paid for what is sometimes called accommodation land—land near a village, or where there was likely to be a special want for cottages or small holdings. People who take advantage of their monopoly to exact large prices are not acting fairly, and, if so, that would seem to necessitate the introduction into a measure of this kind of compulsory powers. The first and most formidable criticism therefore upon this Bill is one which the admission of the right hon. Gentleman, in presenting his case, goes a long way to justify. But there is another point. Under the Allotments Act of 1887 there is at least a partially local machinery. There is nothing of the kind in this Bill. A Committee is to be appointed, not for a particular locality, but for the entire county, and the administration will be in the hands of this Committee, which has no local connection of any sort or kind. Upon the petition of any elector the Committee is to come into action, and the only approach to a local control is to be that of the managers, who have functions analogous to those under the Allotments Act of 1887, which functions would be very limited indeed. It seems to me it would have been better to take another course. We should not have been satisfied with the Board of Guardians—we should not have been satisfied with anything else than Parish Councils—but the right hon. Gentleman might have put some power of initiative into the hands of a known local body, as he did under the Act of 1887, instead of attempting—
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The hon. Member will perhaps allow me to explain. The object and intention of the Bill in this 935 respect is this—that the delegation of the smaller class of holdings should be committed to a Committee, which is to consist partly of members of the County Council, of whom the Member for the particular district shall be one, and partly of certain allotment managers selected from the parish in which the land is situated.
§ MR. HALDANE
I understand there is to be only one Committee for management. The General Committee is under no duty or obligation at all to the locality. There should be a duty on the part of the General Committee to act on the requisition of individuals in the locality, whereas the right hon. Gentleman has put every locality at the absolute mercy of the General Committee, with this exception, that the management of the allotment is put in the hands of the Local Committee, constituted as already explained. That seems to be a formidable point. There is another point. In the Bill which was promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley there was a provision of very great public importance. As you were advancing public money for the benefit of a particular class, my hon. Friend in his scheme said that that was not justified unless you got out of the transactions some benefit for the public—let us say for the County Council. Therefore in his Bill my hon. Friend made provision that one quarter of the purchase money should be paid down, and that three-quarters should remain as a perpetual loan, on which 1 per cent. interest was to be paid beyond the rate at which the County Council could borrow from the Treasury. The result of that was a benefit of 1 per cent. to the county in which the land was situated. I think the right hon. Gentleman should have acted upon that principle, and given the county some benefit. As it is running some risk, and as the rates are to be pledged, it is only right and expedient that the county should get some benefit. The County Council would be all the more willing to put the Act in motion if something was to come from it to the county exchequer. There is a further point, Sir, on which I should like to make inquiry. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that the rent charges should in all cases be redeemable. I should like to ask why he did not propose a perpetual rent charge as a quid pro quo by way of compensation 936 to the county for borrowing this money? If he had taken that course he would have enlisted sympathy in the county. Again, in this Bill there is no power of re-purchase on the part of the County Council, which is to buy and to sell. It might happen that the land was in the neighbourhood of a village or town, and owing to the movement or growth of the population it might acquire greatly enhanced value. If the value of the land become such as was not contemplated at the time of the sale by the local authority to the small holder, surely it is only right that the local authority should have the power to re-purchase on just terms. That was a provision which was made in the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley, and which, I think, ought to have been in the Government Bill. As I said before, we do not desire to see any new system of land tenure that fails to afford adequate protection for the interests of the community. There is another point, my fifth and last. The right hon. Gentleman told us there was to be no power of sub-division or subletting. That is so far right; but he did not tell us he had put any restriction on the power of creating limited ownerships in the land dealt with; that there was to be any prohibition, any restriction of the power on the part of the owner of small estates to prevent him creating life estates by will or by deed. As I understand, it will be possible under this Bill for the owner of one of these small properties to create a series of limitations in tail male with remainders over; and I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that in a Bill of this kind there should be some provision restricting the power of settlement. I should also like to ask whether this Bill is to extend to Scotland and to Ireland? Scotland is interested in this question of small holdings, nearly, if not quite, as much as England.
§ MR. HALDANE
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman, and I must say that we are very grateful to him for extending his consideration across the Border. We on this side shall look upon this Bill as, in its general outlines, good, in so far as it is the first proposal of any Government to create a system of small holdings in this country—good in 937 so far as it is worked out with great care and with great knowledge of the conditions of agriculture, and with a desire to produce a system of tenure most beneficial in the interests of the class for whom it is intended. But there are great gaps in it; there are the points, for example, which I have indicated; and I may say that we are unable to look upon the Bill as more than a first step in the right direction—a step which the right hon. Gentleman should take, and which we should not hinder him from taking, but which we should carefully consider if necessary in the light of further examination, with a view of making the scheme he has proposed more thorough, more far-reaching, and more in harmony with the advanced opinions of land law reformers which will obtain in the years that are to be.
§ (6.25.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Bordesley, Birmingham)
I am only speaking with simple sincerity when I thank the right hon. Gentleman and the Government for the promptness with which they have dealt with this question of small holdings. Even if it is only one good step in the right direction, Government are entitled, and I have no doubt they will get, support from all sides of this House in carrying forward their experiment. The right hon. Gentleman has explained in such eloquent terms the advantages of a peasant proprietary, that on that head there is nothing more to be said. The deficiency of labour, the emigration of labourers to towns, and all the social problems connected therewith, these questions the right hon. Gentleman handled so thoroughly, that no further argument is needed to show the necessity for the establishment of a peasant proprietary. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the displacement of labour from the land. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the labourers going from the land because of their distaste for the occupation. I venture to say there is no reason whatever why the labourers should leave the occupation to which they are accustomed, and which they love; and if the labourers leave the land it is because they are driven from it by the whip of poverty and discomfort. I thank the Government for this earnest of their intentions to deal with this matter, which they have, at any rate, put in a position that will compel future Governments to carry it further. It seems 938 to me that the Bill goes mainly on the recommendations of the Select Committee. It is in advance of those recommendations on two points. One is the application of the principle to sitting tenants, for which we are thankful to the Government, and the other relates to buildings which the Select Committee could not see their way to recommend. I should like to know if the right hon. Gentleman intends to confine the supply of small holdings by purchase and hire to those resident in the district, because, if I heard the right hon. Gentleman correctly, I gather that is what he intends? If that be so, I trust the right hon. Gentleman will take out that one provision, for the simple reason that if this is to be an instrument in bringing back people from the crowded towns to the land, which is one of the objects of the right hon. Gentleman, he cannot do that unless the Act be put in operation by a suitable Authority. Although I am an upholder of the Parish Council for certain work, it would, I think, be better if the County Council, in very small areas, were the only people they had to look to for putting the Act in operation. The larger and the wealthier area is the better. We have experienced enough of the action of the County Councils, with regard to allotments and other matters, to say that their members not only understand the question, but that they will be willing to carry it into effect. There has been a good deal said about the County Council allotments. The County Councils have shown themselves ready and willing to act in the cases brought before them. With reference to the absence of compulsion, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby gave a very curious reason why the Government should adopt the principle of compulsion. He said they found, after the passing of the Allotment Act of 1887, that compulsion was necessary, and hence the Act of 1890. The right hon. Gentleman himself knows that the Act of 1887 had compulsory powers, and the Act of 1890 had nothing to do with compulsory powers. It was simply an Appeals Bill. Therefore, there is no reason contained in that argument for compulsion. There is a great deal of force in the statement that there is plenty of land in the market. I have said, 20 years ago, that, although an advocate of compulsory powers in 939 Allotments and Small Holdings Bills, I hold that the compulsory powers once placed there will rarely be used. That is borne out by the working of the Allotments Act. Questions have been asked in the House as to the number of Local Authorities who have adopted the Act in a way which seemed to suggest that none have done so. I know between 100 and 200 who have put the Act in force, by hiring or buying land and letting it to the labourers who required it. I have the names of between 100 and 150 parishes where the Local Authorities have done that. That is sufficient to answer the statement that the Act is a dead letter, a delusion and a snare. Do not let it be supposed that we know nothing of these things here; and probably, now that this information has been given, the justice of making the statements elsewhere may be considered. The reason why I think compulsion is necessary is that it will get rid of a ground of agitation; for bear in mind that, although 100 Local Authorities have put the Act in force, compulsion has not been necessary in more than half-a-dozen cases, and of these half-dozen, only one has been opposed in Parliament. The difficulty in getting allotments is not so much due to the landlords as to the large farmers. One could not expect in these times a landlord to cut off a piece of a farm; but if he were compelled, the responsibility would be gone from him. It was the farmers who complained when land was wanted that the piece selected was the very best land on the farm. I want the right hon. Gentleman to be sure—for I am not lawyer enough to know—how will it be in the case of land in the hands of trustees? Have they the power voluntarily to sell if they wish? And, above all, how about land in the power of Corporations, such, for instance, as the college lands? I am in hopes that the right hon. Gentleman will make some modifications before we see the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said that one-fourth would have to be paid down. I think a sum which would ensure the bonâ fides of the purchaser would be sufficient. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners find 15 per cent. enough; Lord Wantage's Land Company take 10 or 20 per cent. Perhaps the figures of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would be a happy medium. There is one 940 very strong argument I wish to address on the lines of the hon. Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane). The Bill adopts the perpetual rent system; but it gives power to redeem it. It need not be in the Bill at all if there is any power to redeem it. I want the right hon. Gentleman to consider when we are entering on a new system which has to be tried, and which he and others have said has failed so miserably on the Continent. It is quite true it has been a miserable failure in some parts of the Continent, but happily we know the exact causes of that. In adopting the plan for Great Britain, however, we are bound to take safeguards against every cause which has created failure abroad. These causes are the curse of the money-lender, sub-division, and sub-letting. These are the three evils in France. I am not urging a system which will commend itself on the platform where men will get something for nothing. I want a system that will thrive and blossom. It will take some time to create a village proprietary. But let the right hon. Gentleman amend those drawbacks which he knows have caused failure. I remember when the Education Bill of 1879 was passed. I said to an American "We are far behind you in education." "Yes," he said, "but there is this peculiar thing in England, they are a long time in adopting a reform. They are slow to move; but when once they do move, they do so on improved principles, and go ahead quickly." It is the duty of the right hon. Gentleman when he is about to try a new experiment—the greatness of which no words can overestimate—to avoid those evils, which are as plain as a pikestaff. As to the question of quit-rent, let it be two-fifths if you like, but keep it. If you allow it to be redeemed, or do not confine it to the cultivating class, these rent-charges will be bought up, and the land will be re-let at exorbitant rents. There is one case where there are 90 small holdings and 60 occupiers in a population of 300. That originally had a rent-charge of £9 10s. What do you find there? That those who had the rent-charge and stuck to it are doing well; but a number of the rent-charges have been bought by small shopkeepers, and there are cases where the £9 10s. rent-charge has become £17. The man who has bought the rent-charge is a small landlord, and he is charging 50 941 and 60 per cent., and in some cases double the price he paid. I would implore the right hon. Gentleman to guard against this. Everyone knows that the small impecunious landlord is the worst. The necessities of his position oblige him to get every farthing he can. Suppose, as I am sure will be the ease in some years, that some of these holdings will be in the market. If they are confined to cultivators and not allowed to be sub-let, the small capitalist, as soon as he knows this, would go out of the room and cease to be a bidder, leaving it to the cultivators. Call these holdings Chaplin holdings or anything you like, but confine them to the cultivators. I would also urge on the right hon. Gentleman the desirability of allowing the Local Authority to advance money for putting up buildings. A man can put up the buildings sometimes at half the price of the Local Authority. There were some cases of this kind in connection with Lord Wantage's scheme. If the right hon. Gentleman does not extend the power of advancing money to the holders he will not meet the requirements of the poorer class of cultivators. Of course, this will have to be done under proper safeguards, but the greatest of all the improvements in the Bill is to make the quit-rent of an unredeemable character, and that Local Authorities should be allowed to charge somewhat more for the loan than they pay to the Exchequer. This would bring all the inhabitants of a district in favour of the scheme, as they would come within the range of the benefit that such a scheme will confer. I believe this is only one portion of the work of the reform of rural life. If the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman will allow this small extra allowance I have referred to, the localities would have an income for sanitation and other things without doing anyone any harm.
*(6.50.) MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
There is a great deal in the friendly criticism of my hon Friend opposite with which I am disposed to agree. I need hardly say, however, that I have no sympathy whatever with the preference he expressed, and which was also expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir William Harcourt) in favour of the compulsory acquisition of land. That I look upon as a most perilous step, especially in connection with a measure which is of a 942 tentative character. What my hon. Friend said of the necessity of taking full cognisance of the causes which have led to the failure of the system of small holdings is, I think, a matter well deserving the attention of the House. The hon. Member for the Bordesley Division referred to the failure in parts of the Continent. He should have carried his observations a step nearer home, and referred to the system of small holdings in England, and also urged the House to take cognisance of the causes of the failure in England. I think it is generally admitted that the system hitherto tried in England has been decidedly a failure. In the Counties of Cumberland and Westmoreland the system has been largely tried. The system was in the hands of those who were to the manner born—those who in most cases possessed ample capital, energy, and experience, which enabled them to give the system full and ample trial. The system, I much regret to say, has broken down in these cases. The main cause of failure was that the owners found they could invest their capital better in stock than in land. In parts of Lincolnshire, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, a very different state of affairs prevailed. The value of land for selling purposes rose very high. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Haldane) entirely misrepresented what fell from my right hon. Friend. I understood him to refer to the fact that the competition for freehold ownership had been so keen that many owners had purchased their land at fabulous prices. I did not understand him to say that the price charged to the hirer of land had been unduly raised. What are the causes which have told against small, as well as large, holders? The hon. Member referred to the curse of the moneylender. I hope my right hon. Friend will insert a provision that the consent of some competent authority shall be necessary before any charge can be imposed upon land. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the case of sub-letting. Against that, also, I hope ample precautions will be taken. He also referred to the question of sub-division. I trust my light hon. Friend will take effectual safeguards against that. But my hon. Friend omitted to notice the main cause of the failure in small as well as large holdings—namely, foreign competition; 943 and added to that is the ever-increasing burden of rates and taxes, which, combined with foreign competition, have contributed towards forcing the small holders to realise what remained of their property, and the practical extinction of what was undoubtedly most valuable, the institution of small holders of land in this country. I hope the House will bear these matters in mind, and there is another which I think ought to be urged very seriously. One of the main causes which has prevented land from passing from hand to hand in large, and especially in small, quantities, has been the excessive cost of transfer. The present Government introduced, a few Sessions ago, a measure dealing with the subject, but, for some inconceivable reason, they handicapped its most useful provisions, tending in that direction, by utterly uncalled for and most mischievous provisions, dealing with the wholly incongruous subject of primogeniture, and thereby brought about the rejection of the Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite spoke of imposing the most extraordinary conditions for preventing the land acquired under this Bill from being made the subject of any kind of settlement. But what would he do where the owners of the land died? I suppose it would be subject to primogenìture of the most rigid form.
* MR. LOWTHER
Of course, if the hon. and learned Gentleman is going to sell it absolutely, that removes to some extent the difficulty with which he surrounded his argument. I hope my right hon. Friend will, in Committee, note the suggestions which have been made for preventing grave abuses that would otherwise arise under this scheme, and that we shall have a measure which will, at any rate, give a chance of this system being fairly tried. I would, however, warn the House against anticipating any large results from any measure of this kind. In my own opinion, nothing in the shape of legislative action will induce persons to embark in the speculation of the ownership and cultivation of land, unless the conditions under which agriculture is conducted are made such that a man of average capacity and reasonable industry can make a living out of it. So long as they are ground down by rates and overwhelmed by foreign competition, very 944 few practical men will be induced to embark in a business which has to be carried on under such hopeless conditions.
§ *(7.5.) MR. COBB (Warwick, S.E., Rugby)
I rise mainly for the purpose of putting a couple of questions to the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture. I have always thought it unwise to enter into any lengthened criticism on the First Reading of a Bill, and although the right hon. Gentleman introduced this measure with very great clearness, when we have it printed, I have no doubt we shall find we have misunderstood it on some important points. He referred to the class of yeomen, and it seems to me that this is essentially a yeomen's Bill—a Bill to enable men in a comparatively good position in life to get land—and I do not believe it will be the least good to one in a thousand of the agricultural labourers. They do not want what, in this Bill, are called small holdings, at all; but what the bulk of the English labourers want is a thoroughly popular system of allotments in extension of the present system. It seems to me that there are two great blots in this Bill. The first is, that there is no compulsory power in it given to the Local Authority to purchase; and, what is still more important, that there is no compulsory power of leasing. The other blot is, that the authority which is to administer the Act, the County Council, represents too large an area. One of the main difficulties in administering the Allotments Act has arisen from the fact that the rural sanitary authority, the Board of Guardians, is composed of men coming from different parishes, so that it is impossible for them to know the circumstances of each parish. How much, then, will that difficulty be aggravated in the area of a whole county. We shall have an opportunity of discussing these matters at a later stage, and I will not go into them now, but will put these two questions to the right hon. Gentleman. Am I right in understanding that the restriction upon the building of a house upon a small holding applies, even if the tenant or owner is prepared to build that house at his own expense; and, secondly, I want to ask whether the 1d. in the £1, which will come out of the County Rate, will be borne by the whole county, or by the parish or parishes where small holdings are provided?
§ (7.10.) MR. CHARLES W. GRAY (Essex, Maldon)
I think the measure which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced has shown that, at. any rate, if we are approaching dissolution, we have got a kick or two left in us. The Bill is one which may reach a very long way indeed; but I should be the last to throw any obstruction in the way of a proposal of this sort. On the contrary, I rise to give it cordial support. It is sometimes said that the farmers do not want such a Bill, because it would set up a number of men to compete with them in their own industry; but I have never heard any objection coming from the farmers on that score, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman opposite, representing the great industries of the Midland and Northern Counties, will remember that fact. The hon. Member for Haddington (Mr. Haldane) criticised the Bill at considerable length; but his criticisms were very much those which a lawyer would probably pass upon any measure proposed from the other side of the House; and there was nothing in his remarks, or in any others we have heard, to show that there should be any hesitation in reading the Bill a first time, or that it should not have fair-play. I hope it will not only get fair-play, but that when it becomes an Act it will carry with it all the benefits which the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. J. Collings) thinks will follow legislation of this kind. With reference to the explanation so lucidly made by the Minister of Agriculture, I want him to give us an idea as to how selections would be made in those cases where there are more applicants than small holdings. If this selection is to be made in accordance with common sense, I should think that if there were an applicant from the town, and also one from the country, you had better select the man who knows something about farming. The objections of any considerable degree of weight raised by the other side have been limited to two—namely, that this Bill is not compulsory, and that the authority to deal with this matter is the County Council. I understood that authority was only proposed because there is at present no better authority to undertake the responsibility. But there is nothing to lead me to suppose that, if District Councils are set up, they may not have either the entire, or some proportion of 946 the authority on this subject. The present Government is more or less pledged to go on with the question of District Councils if they remain in power a sufficiently long time; and if the other side come in, of course we know, from the speeches delivered in the country, that in anticipation of Home Rule or any other question, one of the first measures it will bring forward will be one for establishing District Councils. The other point of criticism had reference to compulsion, but I think we should be very careful before making tentative measures of this sort compulsory. If it succeed, I suppose that later it would be quite in the power of our Party, or of the opposite Party if they should come into Office, to make the scheme compulsory. If we made it compulsory now, without more experience, we might do more harm than good, and cases might arise where small holdings were applied for, simply to prevent certain industries being set up in the locality. I hope those who wish the measure to be compulsory will have a little patience, and I hope it will be understood that the agriculturalists as a class have no objection at all to a measure of this sort being fairly tried.
§ *(7.25.) MR. T. E. ELLIS (Merionethshire)
I desire to add my congratulations to those which have already been offered to the right hon. Gentleman. I had the pleasure of sitting with him on a Committee which inquired into this question, and I am extremely glad that he has found so early an opportunity of bringing its decisions before the House. Personally, I think it is by far the most important measure introduced by the Government since the President of the Local Government Board brought forward the Local Government Bill for England and Wales. It gives real value to the establishment of County Councils; for the value of the Local Government Bill lay, not so much in its powers, as in its possibilities, and this Bill is far more valuable in its possibilities than in its powers; and it would be so, especially in two points which were omitted, but were embodied in the Bill of the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division. They were compulsory power to purchase, and the principle of the final municipal control of all land on which operations may be carried out under the Small Holdings Bill. The principle of com- 947 pulsory purchase may very well take care of itself in future Parliaments. I trust the right hon. Gentleman will accept an Amendment in favour of that most valuable principle of municipal control. I should like to call attention to one or two other omissions, which in some parts of the country will largely delay, if they do not frustrate, the operations of the Bill. I refer, first, to that large class of small holdings which exist in certain parts of the country, and notably in Wales and parts of Yorkshire, Westmoreland, and Cumberland, to which are attached large mountain pastures. No cause has tended so much to diminish the class of yeomen as the vast enclosure of commons which took place from the middle of the last century to within 20 years ago. It came out distinctly in the evidence before the Committee that in Wales the small farmers in the hilly and mountainous districts were able to live a comparatively thriving life because they had, attached to their holdings, common pasturage on the hill and mountain sides, the value of which I need not point out. If the right hon. Gentleman desire to enfranchise, so to speak, the present small holders in the hilly districts, and to create a larger number, he will have to look into the question of the regulation of these pasturages. In some cases smaller holdings had been consolidated, and the mountain pasturage belonging to each of the small holdings was also consolidated, so as to belong to the larger farm. Besides that, according to a witness before the Richmond Commission, the small farmers are only allowed to pasture two sheep to the acre of their holdings, while the larger farmers are able to pasture three. The right hon. Gentleman, therefore, if he desire to increase the number of small holdings, will have to make some provision for the new division of these pasturages attaching to farms. The right hon. Gentleman did not conceal from the House the enormous risks which all concerned in these transactions will take on themselves. There is the comparative inexperience of those who will obtain the new holdings; the question of having instalments paid regularly to the Local Authority so that the repayments to the Loan Commissioners may be properly made; then the further question, that the small holder may not be able to put up buildings; 948 and the ever-existing fear of bad seasons, the cattle plague, and other evils affecting the farming community. Under these circumstances, it is of importance that we examine closely the amount of the purchase money which the County Council may pay for the land. The amount of the purchase money is the keystone of the Bill. Is the County Council to enter as an ordinary bidder into a public auction room to buy the land; for I know that in Wales certain forms and ingenious, dodges well-known to auctioneers produce brisk competition, so as to secure fancy prices for the land. Many persons buy land not because they want to cultivate it, but because they desire to have a county position or to be made County Magistrates. If the duty of bringing back the labourers on the land is to be thrown on the County Council, will the right hon. Gentleman give them a right of pre-emption to the land? Further, what are his real guarantees that only a fair and reasonable price will be given for the land? If such a guarantee be not given, it seems to me that the Bill will land not merely the County Council, but the Loan Commissioners, in considerable difficulty. I think this is the crucial point in the working of the Bill. Can he give us further light on the rules under which the land, having been bought by the County Council, is to be sold to the applicants? Is it to be by public auction? If the County Council is to buy by auction and then to sell to the applicants by auction, the cultivator will be sorely over-burdened, and the Bill will topple about the heads of those who will try to work it. I should further like to say that, although this Bill will in its present form do a great deal to recreate a class that is of the utmost value to the community, it is only the first step, and many more steps will have to be taken, and will be logically and inevitably taken, by future Parliaments. I think the principle of compulsory purchase will have to be applied. I know large districts in Wales where the tenants would give anything to purchase their holdings at a fair and reasonable price, but the landlords are unwilling to sell. It is futile for the right hon. Gentleman to say that there is plenty of land in the market. There may be in Essex and some other parts of England, but in 949 Wales there is little land in the market, and it is only very rarely that the present holders have any chance of getting it at a reasonable price. One of the first effects of the Bill will be, I believe, to raise a cry—on the whole, a reasonable one—that no private sale of land whatever shall take place without the sanction of a Public Authority. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not only take every step to pass the present Bill, but will accept occasional Amendments from this side, and more especially do I hope that he will give considerable attention to the clauses of the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley, with a view to giving County Councils and the Local Authorities a real and permanent hold on the land.
§ (7.40.) MR. MARK J. STEWART (Kirkcudbright)
I am one of those who feel the importance of this Bill as much as any Member of the House, but I do not think it is going to do so much good to the agricultural labourers as the right hon. Gentleman and some of his friends think it will. The speech we have just listened to will no doubt receive the deep attention of the House when the details of the Bill come to be discussed, but I hope my right hon. Friend will give the possessors of land a chance to do what they like with their own, and to get a reasonable and fair price for it. I am convinced that in the great majority of cases landlords would be only too glad to get a fair remunerative price to sell part of their land. In Scotland there are large tracts of land which few agriculturists would care to have much to do with, and others which might be made more fertile if the state of the farming industry permitted any degree of certainty of payment. The opposition to this measure appears to me to rest mainly on the non-compulsory clauses. I hope and trust the right hon. Gentleman will stand firm on this point. There is no reason why a fair measure should not be submitted to the country without compulsion, and have a fair amount of success. If you adopt compulsion in the first instance, you alienate a large number of persons who are in favour of giving the labourers a larger right and interest in the land than they now possess. But the right hon. Gentleman must not run away with the idea that by increasing the number of small holdings he will confer a great benefit on 950 the whole community. While I hail with delight a larger number of small holdings, in the country, I have had considerable experience of the nature and duties of working them. On those estates in which it is my lot to take a very deep, interest it is not only the very small farmers that have at this time a great difficulty in meeting their rents, but the larger farmers, with the best machinery, driven by electricity, water, and steam, have difficulty in making both ends meet. Take away these advantages, and the small farmer is in many cases no better off in point of pecuniary emolument than the labourer. I have always taken the view that it is essential on the part of all large proprietors to have a certain number of stepping-stones into their larger farms, whereby the labourer may raise-himself by going from one to another, and so become in time a large tenant farmer. It is the absence of these small holdings which I so deeply deplore. There is no doubt, however, that recent legislation and practice in the farming world has tended to the taking up of these small holdings and making them into larger farms. The Bill will not meet with any opposition from the landlords, who are glad to get their rent, whether from a large or small holder. They are more sure of it from the small farmer who works hard with his owe hands, and has not to pay wages to any large extent. Fault has been found with the County Council, but where you have a body representing a large area you may depend that you will have greater fairness and impartiality than in the smaller Parish Councils, where there is always a certain amount of jealousy and rivalry which it is difficult to get rid of, but that is met by associating the representatives of a larger area in the County Council. It is said that the County Council is too large for dealing with such a question, but, of course, it would appoint Committees to deal with certain portions of the district, and the members of those Committees would not necessarily be connected with the district in which they had to deal. I would ask my right hon. Friend if there are to be two Bills on this question—one for England and one for Scotland? The interests of Scotland are likely to be somewhat lost sight of in considering the larger area of England. There is an apparent 951 disposition in the House to pass the Bill. Let us hope it will be a useful measure, and may assist the labourers and those of the agricultural community who are anxious to push on and rise; and with this view I shall have much pleasure in supporting the Bill, though I fear the House may possibly find its results are not quite so favourable as they seem disposed to think.
§ *(7.50.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I must congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech and the practical discussion which has followed it. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Thanet that the small holders of the Isle of Axholme were brought to grief by the price of corn. They bought their holdings at a high price, and borrowed three-fourths of the purchase money from the solicitors from whom they bought the lands, and when they could not pay the interest the solicitors foreclosed, and most of them got neither capital nor interest. With regard to the question of compulsion, I, for one, am very glad it has not been adopted, and I think all the argument of the right hon. Member for Derby is worthless,for he was entirely wrong when he alluded to the Allotments Acts. The first Bill had compulsion in it; the second was purely an Appeal Bill. So I do not think the right hon. Gentleman need pay much regard to the precedents before him. What I wish to press on my right hon. Friend is this: I think the remarks in regard to the financial clauses have been exceedingly just, and are, I think, well worthy of attention. I am strongly in favour of there being a quit-rent on the land, and that precautions should be taken to prevent the land being saddled with a mortgage in the same way as in the case of the Isle of Axholme. The clause at present stands that a fourth is to be paid at once, a fourth as rent-charge, and half is to be paid off by terminable annuities. I would suggest that the first fourth be paid at once, the second fourth by terminable annuities, and that the other half should remain as a quit-rent for ever. Nobody would ever be inclined to lend money on land so encumbered. I agree, also, that the ratepayers should have some benefit out of the transactions. There will be no difficulty in getting money at 2¾ per cent., and if the Local Authority charged 3½ or 3¾ per cent. it would leave a 952 margin for the benefit of the ratepayers. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he cannot consider with the Law Officers of the Crown some clause which would keep down conveyancing expenses. I regret that the Bill brought in by the present Government three years ago was not passed in its entirety; but as it was not, I think something should be put in the Bill to prevent the running up of law costs with regard to these small holdings. As to buildings, the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in not allowing the County Council to bear the cost, as you would have no security for them, and they will be put up by the tenant if he is the sort of man to have the holding. I believe the Bill will be a great benefit, and I cannot see why it should not be further improved in Committee if the right hon. Gentleman will only consider some of the suggestions that have been made.
§ (7.55.) MR. W. C. QUILTER (Suffolk, Sudbury)
I cannot allow this Bill to pass without a few words from me, as I take so much interest in the subject. I want to express, very shortly, the objections I hold to some of the proposals of my right hon. Friend. I think he will find it necessary to introduce compulsory powers, for, without them in the background, he will not be able to make arrangements with the landowners. I heartily approve of the County Council as a body to whom these questions must be remitted. In my own county the most interesting question has been the housing of the working classes, and the difficulty we had to meet was the smallness of the area dealt with by the Board of Guardians. It is now found that the County Council is the only body able to deal with questions of this kind on a scale of sufficient magnitude. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider whether the limit of £25 may not be reduced. I believe that this Bill will be of considerable benefit to the labouring classes, although I cannot join with my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley in the sanguine anticipations in which he indulged. I believe that until the Land Laws of this country are radically altered all legislation of this kind will, to a certain extent, be in vain, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay some heed to the remarks of my right hon. Friend 953 who has just spoken below me, as to the possibility of the law's delays and lawyers' charges being serious hindrances to the carrying out of the provisions of the Bill that is now being introduced.
§ (8.35.) MR. JOSHUA ROWNTREE (Scarborough)
As I understand, from the right hon. Gentleman's very clear and able statement, there is to be only one authority under this Bill, the authority of the County Council, and that the County Council will have absolute authority, so far as they think fit, over the whole county area, including, of course, county boroughs. But if that be correct, it means that the non-county boroughs of whatever size, whether Quarter Sessions boroughs or not, or having any general financial relation to the county or not, are really to be treated as non-existent. I may be quite mistaken in this matter, but supposing it is so, however much the boroughs may welcome this Bill on other grounds, I very much fear they would feel bound to protest against this part of it. It would be unjust that boroughs with heavy rates for special purposes of their own should be liable to rates from which, in the great majority of cases, they would derive no benefit. And, further, in many cases, as the right hon. Gentleman is no doubt fully aware, where boroughs include in their financial area a large amount of land, and are in some cases large landowners themselves—as in the case of the borough which I have the honour to represent, which owns 500 acres or more of its own—it then would be felt a considerable hardship that another authority should invade the area of the borough, with powers to rate the burgesses, to buy and sell land, to let land and build houses, and fix their own sanitary conditions, all within the area of that municipal borough. I hope that is not proposed by the Bill. If it is proposed I am sure it will be a very strong objection to that part of the Bill.
§ *(8.39.) MR. ROUND (Essex, N.E., Harwich)
There are one or two boroughs in the county which I have the honour to represent, having a considerable acreage of land, and they, no doubt, as the hon. Member opposite has pointed out, will look with jealousy on the powers of other authorities to deal with that land. An hon. Gentleman opposite said a short time ago that he 954 wished the time would come when no private property in this country should be sold without the intervention or sanction of some public authority. I think that such a state of things would be very detrimental to private individuals and to the community generally. I rose to offer my thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in this measure to-night. I think the measure has fallen into good hands. He has always taken a great interest in all matters connected with the agricultural interest in this country, and was instrumental in bringing about the appointment of the Royal Commission for inquiring into the cause of the depression in Agriculture, many of whose recommendations, which I think were most useful, have been carried into effect. There is no one who is familiar with the history of our country districts in former times but must regret the disappearance of the small holders and old yeomen from the soil, who were a most industrious and useful class, and who have been squeezed out, as it were, by force of circumstances. I trust this effort of the right hon. Gentleman will meet with success. I look upon it as an experiment in the right direction, though I am afraid that if the price of wheat remain as it is now, or as it was last year, 30s. or 32s. a quarter—I am afraid there cannot be much profit made out of the land unless these prices alter. I agree with what an hon. Member said from these Benches a short time ago—that this Bill offers a stepping-stone to the labourers to rise and better themselves. In our wheat-growing districts I do not think the land can be better cultivated than it is now, when it is in the hands of large farmers who understand their business; but no opportunity then arises for labourers to better themselves, and I much prefer to see holdings of different sizes in our rural parishes. This is not the time to discuss the details of this Bill, but I trust the right hon. Gentleman will be able to pass it through this House this Session; and I shall conclude by asking him when the Bill will be printed and laid on the Table of the House?
§ *(8.43.) MR. ESSLEMONT (Aberdeen, E.)
I rise with considerable satisfaction to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and Her Majesty's Government for having, as we might say in Scotland, at the long length, recognised that there is 955 such a thing as a land question in Scotland. We who have of late been sitting in this House for three or four years, and hearing the allotments question discussed as applied to England, we did not observe, when we had a Local Government Bill for Scotland passed, a recognition of the fact that there was a land question in Scotland. Her Majesty's Government introduced certain clauses into that Bill, but told the Scottish Members that unless they accepted them en bloc, and as proposed by Her Majesty's Government, no time could be given for discussing the question. On several occasions I reminded the First Lord of the Treasury and the President of the Local Government Board of the promises that they made, that this question would be looked into and remedied at an early date by Her Majesty's Government. But it has been the privilege of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture for the first time to recognise Scotland in dealing with this question of the allotments and small holdings, and I can assure him that this recognition of Scotland, as comprehended in this Bill, will be looked upon with gratitude on the part of the agriculturists of Scotland. I had a matter suggested to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough in regard to the question of rating. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture may recollect that on the passing of the Local Government (Scotland) Bill the rating question was dealt with in a somewhat exceptional manner; the county rate being stereotyped upon the average of a certain number of years. That is to say, a certain number of years of the average rate was taken, and that became the stereotyped rate for the county assessment. Now, what I would wish the right hon. Gentleman to recognise is, that any rate but the stereotyped rate—it was arranged by a clause in the Bill—that any rate beyond the stereotyped rate in after years would be divided between the occupier and the proprietor. I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether, in the case of this penny, it will then be a penny on the occupiers and a penny on the proprietors; or whether it will be a penny divided according to the arrangement of that Bill, between occupiers and proprietors? I hope the right hon. Gentleman follows 956 my statement of the case, and that he will give his attention to the matter before the Bill is drafted. There are only two other points which I wish to bring under the right hon. Gentleman's attention. Speaking, as I have the honour to do, for one of the most agricultural counties in Scotland, I hope the right hon. Gentleman may excuse me in saying that in treating Scotland it must be with regard to Scottish rights and interests, and with considerations which differ in some respects from this Bill as applied to the English counties. There is one consideration I think I ought to press very strongly upon the Government, and that is, that so far as we in Scotland are concerned, we, I think, almost universally recognise that no Bill dealing with either allotments or small holdings will be of any great. consequence to Scotland, or will be cared for very much one way or the other in Scotland, unless it is followed up by compulsory powers. I quite recognise what the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division said—that if we had compulsory powers in the Bill the compulsory powers might be very seldom put into execution; but it was the compulsory powers that enabled occupiers and proprietors to come to terms themselves. Therefore, I would strongly impress upon the right hon. Gentleman that he should consider now what has been pointed out to him. And I submit to him that this Bill will be ineffectual unless it contain within its four corners a compulsory power which is to effect the purposes intended. The right hon.. Gentleman has said that no help or encouragement would be given to a man who built a house upon a holding which was of less value than £25.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The provision in the Bill is that no dwelling-house is to be erected on a holding which is of less value than £25, unless the Local Authority have reason to think that the particular holding is sufficient to maintain the man and his family by the cultivation of the holding, and in that case he may be allowed to erect a dwelling-house.
§ * MR. ESSLEMONT
I understand the principle, and it is because I understand it so well that I doubt the wisdom of the provision. The right hon. Gentleman says that that class of individuals he wants to maintain in the country—he 957 does not want so much that a man should be kept in the country who has as much land as he can cultivate and keep himself and his family as he does to keep in the country thousands of men who have not, and can never have, as much land; but who, on account of the circumstances of their position, have to make their living by working for others. If that individual, by his frugality and industry, got into the position that he could get into possession of five acres of land on which to make a permanent home for his wife and his children, and hiring out his labour to the neighbouring farmers, why should a disability be put upon this service man, that he should not be allowed to erect his little house upon these five acres of land? Why should I be told, because I am placed in circumstances in which I cannot stock or purchase 25 acres of land, that my wife and family are never to have a home? Why, these are the disadvantages that send the hire classes into the city. The right hon. Gentleman knows Scotland, and he cannot be ignorant of the fact that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction there, from the circumstances that, in order to get those homes, the people have to congregate in the villages in the country. What we want is to give a comprehensive scheme, to give the allotments and small holdings in the district where the labourer exists. The right hon. Gentleman says, "You shall not have a home there." He excludes the labourer under a value of £25. I hope, under these circumstances, the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider this, because, if I understand these conditions, I may at all events press this point upon him, that no harm could result to anybody by the industrial labourer building his house on any number of acres, or even on half an acre, if he can do it. I hope before the Government comes to any settled conclusion on this subject they will give this matter some more consideration, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is one of very great importance, and one of very great interest to the constituency which I have the honour to represent. Unlike the right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division, who says he wishes that the Bill may fructify and grow, I am a practical politician, and therefore I wish that something will accrue the very year after the Act of Parliament is passed. We have been waiting to see some 958 justice done to Ireland, and though very little has been done, something has been done with regard to the agricultural question. But nothing has been done for Scotland. We waited to see England get an Allotments Bill, and afterwards a compulsory Allotments Bill. If you want to preserve the unity of the Empire, and if you do not want to hasten Home Rule, I ask you to mete out equal justice to all parts of Her Majesty's Dominions.
§ *(9.5.) MR. BROOKFIELD (Sussex, Rye)
I desire with very great sincerity to associate myself with the congratulations that have been bestowed upon the right hon. Gentleman for having formulated this very businesslike and comprehensive scheme. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of restoring the old yeoman to his place upon the soil. But the "old yeoman" is a thing of the past, and I much fear we shall never see him again. He disappeared chiefly through his improvidence. He was not at all a thrifty person, though his social habits did obtain for him a certain amount of popularity, but as this measure is to bring about a social rather than an economic change, I hope it will not restore that unthrifty personage. Although in regard to general agricultural sentiments I quite agree with the Minister for Agriculture, I entirely agree with the Member for the Bordesley Division that it will be a mistake, however desirable the sentiment may be, to place these small holders in the position of absolute freeholders, and so enable them, as in the case of the "old yeoman," to have recourse to the nearest solicitor to mortgage their land to him. With regard to what has fallen from my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcudbright, I think, Sir, notwithstanding the fact that farming on a large scale will not pay, that fruit culture and similar agricultural industries will, especially if the small holding is in any way near a large town. If there is no market near, you had better abandon the idea that Parliament can make farming of any sort pay. Great stress has been laid upon the word "compulsion," which is a favourite word with the friends of liberty in this House. They seem unable to understand how it can be possible to make anyone happy, except at the expense of somebody else. I hope, 959 however, that what has been said in the course of this Debate will strengthen the feeling of the House not to have compulsion if they can avoid it. There is one point which I did not catch in the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. I understood him to say that the Local Authority might provide buildings for which the small holder is to pay—I hope on easy terms. I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the Bill he has introduced, and I hope it will be pressed forward and become law without undue delay.
§ *(9.9.) MR. MUNRO FERGUSON (Leith, &c.)
In the lucid speech of the right hon. Gentleman there was only one omission, and that was in relation to the question as to whether this measure is or is not to extend North of the Tweed. I learned afterwards it was to extend to Scotland, and there is a special point on which the extension should be supported. Scotland, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is divided into two portions, which are cultivated on very different systems. The Northern part and the Western part are already under legislation different from that known in any other part of Great Britain, and some provisions have already been made with regard to the extension of holdings there which involve the application of a system of compulsory leasing. There are very stringent provisions in the Crofters' Act, and there is a considerable demand for an extension of holdings. If the right hon. Gentleman introduces too many limitations in his Bill its results will not be so large as are expected or required. In the Highland area the rent received from the soil is exceedingly small, and does not, in many cases, represent the outlay on the buildings and improvements. Proprietors can hardly undertake the creation of small holdings, the burden is so great. The only way it can be done is either through some national authority, or some local authority, such as that to which the right hon. Gentleman gives scope for work under his Bill. Until the local authority is allowed to embark on the creation of a peasant proprietary on a considerable scale, very little will be done to meet the land question, which has assumed great proportions in the Highlands. There is great difficulty in fixing the area to which agrarian legislation should 960 apply. I think the land question in the Highlands should be dealt with by the County Councils or local authorities, provided you make the powers of these local bodies sufficiently comprehensive. The hon. Member for Aberdeen mentioned a point as to the size of the holdings on which houses may be erected. The right hon. Gentleman knows that there are comparatively few holdings of £25 in the Highlands, and unless there is to be a prohibition of extending the Crofter areas, this £25 limit of annual value will have to be altered, for otherwise the Bill will be inoperative, in so far as the poorer parts of Scotland are concerned.
§ *(9.15.) COLONEL EDWIN HUGHES (Woolwich)
I desire to ask a question and to make a suggestion. First, I would ask why the Allotments Acts do not apply to London? There are a number of parishes on the edge of the County of London. There is Eltham with 3,000 acres, and Plumstead with 3,000 acres, only 500 acres of which are covered with buildings. In all these cases, those who want allotments can only get them at a very high price indeed. I do not see why the County of London should be excluded from the provisions of the Acts. There are many labouring men at Eltham and Plumstead who would be glad of the opportunity of getting allotments to occupy themselves with during their spare hours. Another anomaly is that by the Public Health Act of 1891 Woolwich was placed under the Public Health Act of 1875, and has now become an Urban Sanitary Authority. Consequently, Woolwich will be the only parish in the Metropolis under present circumstances for which it will be necessary to appoint a Committee to act under the Allotments Acts. If this condition of things remains unaltered, jealousy will be excited among the people on both sides of Woolwich, which will have special advantages that were surely not intended by the framers of the Allotments Acts. Taking London as a whole, I admit there is not much scope for agricultural farms or allotments, but so far as there is scope I do not see any reason why these people should not have the advantages of the Allotments Acts and of this Bill, seeing that they are responsible as taxpayers for the working of the scheme. I hope the 961 right hon. Gentleman will see that there is no ground for jealousy as between one Metropolitan parish and another, and that he will make all the Metropolitan areas alike.
§ (9.18.) MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
Although the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill made an extremely lucid speech, there are one or two points that are still somewhat obscure. In the first place, as regards the financial aspect of the question, it is not evident from what source the money is to come which is to be used by the County Council for putting up buildings—whether it is to come out of the pockets of those who are set up as cultivators, or out of the money the Council will be able to borrow. The second point is whether the interest of 3⅛ per cent. to be paid by the County Council to the Government is not only to include the payment of interest, but is also to act as a sinking fund, and to include the gradual re-payment of the capital sum. These are two points I hope the right hon. Gentleman will make clear. It seems to me that the criticisms of this measure will crystallize round four principal points. The first point is the absence of the recognition of the principle of compulsion which might be brought to bear on those unwilling to sell their land. There are cases, especially in regard to settled estates, where the principle of compulsion will be absolutely essential to the successful working of this Act. The second point is that of the area. The County Council is too large for the purpose of settling the holdings under this Act, and if it is possible to secure a Local Committee of the County Council and the allotment managers under the Allotments Act, surely it might be possible to arrange for a Committee, consisting partly of members of the County Council and partly of representatives of the different parishes, who might take steps under this scheme for the management and for the provision of small holdings. The third point is the principle of compulsory leasing, which I do not think is open to the objections stated against it by the right hon. Gentleman. The principle is by no means novel. It was introduced in the Scotch Crofters' Act of 1886 by the Member for Bridgeton, it finds a place in the Irish Labourers' Act, and it is difficult to see why it should not have application to England, seeing 962 it would facilitate the action of the county in letting land to applicants. The fourth point is that of price. It is not clear whether there is in the Bill any provision that the land purchased by the County Council for the purpose of small holdings is to be purchased at a fair price. Not only is it desirable that there should be provision as to fair price, but it should be stated on what principle the words "fair price" were used—in short, what constituted a fair price. My hon. Friends the Members for Haddington and Bordesley have raised the question of the perpetual municipal control of these holdings. I have no essential objection to municipal control, nor do I object to the levying of a small quit rent in perpetuity as a sign and symbol of that control. At the same time, if any scheme of this kind is to succeed, it is most desirable that those who buy should have the best means of turning their capital, their energy, and their industry to the best possible account, and they will only be able to do that if they can do what they like with their own, and if they are not liable to arbitrary interference on the part of any body or individual. With this reservation, I agree with the observations of my hon. Friends the Members for Haddington and Bordesley with respect to this point.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I have to thank hon. Gentlemen for the manner in which they have received this Bill. I have no reason to be dissatisfied; on the contrary, I have every reason to be pleased with the mode in which it has been accepted, subject to certain reservations made by Members sitting on both sides. As regards the question of compulsion, I do not think I need say anything further, as hon. Gentlemen opposite will have opportunities of expressing their opinions at a later stage upon it. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Derby took exception, as had likewise been done by other speakers, to the County Councils as not being the most appropriate body for carrying out the provisions of this Bill. If not the County Councils, I want to know what body is more appropriate? The right hon. Gentleman said that unless the Parish Authority was to have control there could not possibly be any life in it. There is one reason which I think is conclusive against the Parish Councils, and that is, that this borrowing power of the parish at the limit fixed would be abso- 963 lutely inadequate, and that it would not be possible for them to conduct operations of so large a magnitude as is contemplated by the Bill. Then the right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of land being hired as well as the power of purchase. He quoted the Allotments Act as an instance in favour of his argument. But the right hon. Gentleman forgot that in the case of allotments they are only let by the Local Authorities to the occupiers, and are not sold, whereas, in this Bill, one of the main objects we have in view is to sell them, and thus to create an addition to the number of owners of land. A great deal has been said with regard to the limitation which I pointed out was placed on the erection of dwelling-houses upon holdings which did not exceed the annual value of £ Well, Sir, I am not pledged to that, and I am quite ready to consider any reasonable suggestion on that point. But I would put this question across the Table. Is there to be no limit at all? Because that is the argument which I understand was used by some hon. Gentlemen opposite, notably, by the Member for Aberdeenshire, who asked why a man should not be allowed to build on an acre or half-an-acre of land. I am quite ready to consider the question of the alteration of the present limit, but I repeat that I am totally adverse to any proposal to allow people to erect buildings all over the country on half-acres of ground; and I cannot conceive how the House could agree to such a proposal. I pointed out at the time that as regards these smaller allotments they were designed to meet purely local requirements, and that being so, it is not unreasonable to presume that in a great number of cases the persons to whom they are let or sold will be in possession of houses in which they reside already. But both in regard to this class of holdings and others, hon. Members must also remember this: that in the course of years the instalments will be paid; and whenever the purchase money has been cleared off, they will be free to do with their holdings exactly as they please. The Member for Haddingtonshire referred to something I said in reference to the extravagant prices which had been given in former days for some of the small holdings in Lincolnshire, to which I had referred; and he seemed to find in this statement the argument that compulsion 964 was all the more necessary. But if I gathered anything from the argument of the hon. Member at all, it was this: that compulsion, according to him, was to be used, and used solely for this purpose—namely, that the land might be taken at a value which was considerably less than it was worth. That is an opinion in which I cannot for a moment coincide. Sir, it has also been urged by many hon. Members on that side of the House that some provision should be made in this Bill by which a certain amount of benefit, at all events, should be reserved to the Local Authorities, who, I understood them to desire, should for all time to come have some permanent interest in the property which they acquire. Well, I own that in preparing this Bill, the object I had in view has been rather to consider the benefit of the people who are to occupy these holdings instead of the benefit of the Local Authorities. Although I am quite willing to listen to anything that may be urged upon that point—and I think there are some matters connected with it of considerable importance—I must say that my views still incline chiefly in that direction. Then my hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division criticised, in a friendly spirit, the amount of the purchase money which the Bill requires to be paid down, and he hopes that I may consider the propriety of relaxing, to some extent, that provision. On that, again, I say that, although I think myself that that probably is the limit at which it could best, or most properly be placed, still that is not a matter of principle, and it is one on which I am open to argument. He also called attention to the great dangers, to the probable and future success of this system which might arise from the action of money-lenders, and from the evils of sub-division and sub-letting. But although I do not pledge myself to the provisions of the Bill, I am strongly under the impression that when he sees the measure, he will find that all these dangers are already guarded against. If they are not, I quite recognise the importance of the subjects to which he has called my attention, and I shall be quite ready to consider them. Then the hon. Member for Essex, sitting behind me, asked how the selection was to be made if there were to be an enormous demand for these holdings. Well, I am rather glad to find that he 965 takes so hopeful a view of the operation of the Bill, and I think it will be time to consider what arrangements are to be made for such contingencies when they arise; but, under the circumstances, it seems to me that it is a matter which may well be left to the discretion and the judgment of the County Council, which is composed of men of business perfectly competent to deal with all matters of that kind as they arise. The Member for Merionethshire called attention to the small holdings in Wales which are connected with large grazing areas and in mountain districts of the country; and he desired me specially to direct my attention to those points, which I shall be exceedingly glad to do. But the hon. Gentleman spoke also of the enormous risks to the Local Authorities which will be incurred under the provisions of this Bill. I cannot agree with him upon that point at all. I am not aware of the enormous risks which, under any circumstances, the Local Authority would be called upon to encounter; and indeed, if I were of that opinion, I should not have felt myself justified in proposing any measure which would possibly have that effect. Nor do I think that he has any reasonable ground for the supposition. I take Clause 11 of the Bill, and I find that that clause provides that the County Council shall not acquire land under this Act save at such price that, in the opinion of the Council, all expenses incurred by the Council in relation to land will be recouped out of the purchase money of the land sold by the Council, or, in the case of land let, out of the rent; and they shall fix the purchase money or the rent at such reasonable amount as will, in their opinion, guard them against loss. Well, I think that is a reasonable provision, and one which ought to have the effect which it is intended to have, of relieving the County Council of the enormous risk.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Of course they must buy the land by agreement, and must take it at the market value. It will be open to them to buy as it will be for me to sell, and I hope that in some circumstances I myself will be able to sell some land for holdings at a price which will be mutually agreeable to the purchaser 966 and to myself. The Member for Kirkcudbright asked me if the Bill would apply to the two countries. Yes, Sir; the Bill applies to Scotland as well as to England; and I am glad to think that that proposal meets with the favour of the numerous Members representing Scotland who have taken part in the Debate to-night.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Yes, without exception. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Great Grimsby spoke of a perpetual quit-rent. That is a subject which has received the support of many other Members; and he made proposals to me which would have the effect, to some extent at all all events, of varying the provisions under which, as at present in the Bill, the purchase money is to be paid. I own that, so far as I have been able to consider the matter up to the present, I prefer the provisions in the Bill to the provisions he has suggested. But I entirely agree with him as to the inexpediency of lending money to the purchaser for the purpose of making buildings. The hon. Member for Scarborough and the hon. Member for Greenwich referred to Councils of boroughs; and they expressed some apprehension that, in the first place, the Borough Council would be overridden by the County Council; and I think I understood the hon. Member to complain that the County of London was entirely excluded from the operation of the Bill. As far as I understand the measure myself, that is not the case. The 1st clause provides that " if the Council of any county are of opinion that there is a demand for small holdings," Sc., they may proceed to put the Bill in operation; and the definitions of the Bill provide this: that the expression "County Council" shall include the Council of a county borough; and therefore, I think these fears will be allayed. Now, Sir, I think I have dealt with most of the observations which have been made in the course of this Debate.
§ MR. ESSLEMONT
My question was whether this Bill would stereotype the rate, according to the Scotch Local Government Bill, by dividing it between the occupier and the proprietor, or whether it would fall entirely on the proprietor.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The point ought to have attracted my attention more closely perhaps, but I think it is exactly as my right hon. Friends have stated, that in Scotland it will be a divided rate, following the practice which is usual there. Well, Sir, in regard to any other questions which may have been raised in the course of this discussion, some of which it is quite possible I have omitted, I can only say that before we proceed to a further stage of this Bill, they shall receive, one and all, my careful consideration; and, to some extent I have no doubt, I may be able to meet the views of hon. Members.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS
What about confining the buildings on the small holdings to people who actually live in the locality?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Yes; that is so. The Bill provides at present that the small holdings are to be purchased by the County Council for the labouring population in the county, and for persons who are resident in the county, and who desire themselves to cultivate a holding. But that is a matter I will take into consideration, and upon which I should be sorry to commit myself at present.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON
Will the right hon. Gentleman say where the money to provide buildings is to come from?
§ MR. CHAPLIN
I think I have explained the intentions of the Government with regard to buildings in the opening statement I made. The adaptation of the buildings in the Bill will be included as part of the purchase money.
§ MR. ROWNTREE
I am sorry that my question was not clear, but I asked whether the non-county boroughs were to 968 be virtually non-existent, and placed entirely under the County Councils.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
Motion agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Chaplin, Mr. Balfour, Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, and Mr. Long.
Bill presented, and read first time. [Bill 183.]