§ SECOND READING.
§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Chaplin.)
(4.33.) MR. HERBERT GAEDNER (Essex, Saffron Walden)
As representing a large agricultural popu- 1343 lation who may be benefited by this Bill, I would desire to offer some few remarks on the Second Reading of it. In the first place, I would venture to point out to Her Majesty's Government that the particular occasion which they have chosen for the introduction of this Bill is not the best that could have been chosen. It must be a matter of regret that the Government, if they include in the scope of the general agricultural policy which they have been maturing this question of small holdings—it is a matter of regret that they did not afford an earlier opportunity for the discussion of this important question. This Parliament is possibly—I should almost say certainly—in its last Session; and I venture to think in a moribund Parliament, whose Members are more busy with platform speeches and with electioneering addresses than even with the Business of this House, however important—I think that this is scarcely an Assembly in which it is most fitting and most fortunate to bring forward a Bill of such far-reaching importance as this might be in the agricultural districts, unless, indeed, we are to understand that this Bill is merely part of an electioneering programme put forward for electioneering purposes and for little else. I do not for a single moment hold that view of the position of the Government in the matter. I think, and seriously hope, that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture and hon. Gentlemen opposite who represent constituencies in large rural districts, bring forward this measure with the earnest hope and for the purpose of benefiting their constituents in the rural districts. But I am bound to say that is not the opinion of some of their supporters in the Press and out of the House, because I read a leading article in the Times newspaper this morning, in which it is said this Bill is an experiment merely brought forward to outbid the promises of Liberals and Radicals in rural constituencies, and that Unionists need not trouble themselves whether it succeed or fail. And the article proceeds—Experiment however hopeless and however foredoomed to failure is political capital while it lasts.Therefore, it is quite obvious that 1344 in the opinion of the Times newspaper this Small Holdings Bill is merely brought forward for election purposes on the eve of the General Election. I merely quote these words from the Times to emphasise and point out how inconvenient, in my humble judgment, the present opportunity is for bringing forward this matter. And certainly, by so doing, the Government lay themselves open to the criticism not only of their opponents, but of their old supporter and friend the Times newspaper to the effect that they have brought the Bill forward for electioneering purposes. Apart from this very general reason, there is one special reason, in my judgment, why this time is not well chosen for bringing forward this Bill, and why the Government, considering they have been six years in office, should have brought it forward at an earlier date. We have certainly had plenty of opportunities in the last two or three years for the Government to bring in a Bill of this description. We have wasted two or three years in discussing various Tithes Bills, one of which, in the opinion of its authors, was unworkable, and had to be withdrawn. The Government might, during the last two or three years, have taken some opportunity of bringing forward this important question, which should have been thrashed out in this House in a businesslike and statesmanlike manner, and so have led to a solution of the great problem of the Land Question at the present time. But I have a definite and distinct reason why I want to find fault with the Government for bringing forward the Bill at the present moment, and for not having taken an earlier opportunity of doing so. That is that the County Council electors should have had some chance of considering the matter. The Government might certainly very well have taken an opportunity of bringing in this measure before last March, so that the County Council electors might have had some opportunity of considering this subject, which is of such very great importance to them. The Government must know and must feel it to be a most important factor, in the success or failure of their Bill, that not only the County Councils, but every 1345 individual County Council elector, whose opinion might be against the creation of small holdings, should have an opportunity of expressing that opinion, and that those opinions would undoubtedly have a great influence on the success or failure of the measure which the right hon. Gentleman has put before the country. I certainly think it was the duty of the Government, seeing it was proposed that the County Councils should have the administration and carrying out of this measure, to have brought it forward at an earlier day, so that it might have been in the hands of the electors in the country with whom lies the election of County Councillors. I think the country, and especially the rural districts, have great cause of complaint against Her Majesty's Government, that they did not, having been six years in office, and having made up their minds that the County Councils were to have the working of this Bill, bring it forward at an earlier date, and not have waited until after the election of County Councils had taken place before putting this Bill into the hands of the electors of the country. Although there are many details in this measure which I do not entirely agree with, and some which I decidedly welcome as legislation, those details appear to me to be much more fitting for discussion in Committee; and therefore I hope that in Committee, which may be presently, there will be afforded us an opportunity of thrashing out the details of the Bill. But there are two principles that are so vital to the Bill that they are fit and proper subjects to be dealt with on the Second Reading, and I shall briefly refer to those two subjects. The two subjects are, first, the Local Body which is to have the administration of this measure; and, secondly, the permissive character of the legislation and the absence of compulsion. In my humble judgment, unless these two very important and vital details are amended in this Bill, the measure, so far as I know, in the rural districts, will be absolutely of no use, and not even worth the paper on which its provisions will be placed. With regard to the Local Body by which the provisions of this 1346 measure are to be carried out, we find by Section 4, Sub-section 2—That any one or more of these County Council electors may present a petition to the Council of their county alleging that there is a demand for small holdings in the county, and praying that this part of the Act may be put in operation.It is well-known with reference to County Councils in rural parts they, in the vast majority of instances, meet at places very distant from the residences of some of the electors. Take the County of Essex, with the town of Chelmsford 30 or 40 miles distant from where some of the electors are. These remote districts are districts in which the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, if carried out, would be of great value. And I may say, not only is the district to which I refer situated 30 or 40 miles off, but there is no railway in connection with it. And I may say, in reference to that part of the country, that the people there who desire to do business with the County Council would do far better to come up to London and go back to Chelmsford than to travel across country. According to this Bill, the electors living in this district, and who presumably are poor men, will have to take a most expensive journey some 30 or 40 miles in order to present their petition to the Committee of the County Council. And, after all, the County Council have to satisfy themselves that the petition is presented in good faith and on reasonable grounds. Well, it is quite obvious to me that the County Council will not be able to satisfy themselves of the good faith of the petitioners, and that their petition is presented on reasonable grounds without some inquiry; the County Council may make some objection; they may have to send the petition back again, and it may have to be inquired into. And so it may happen that those two or three electors, who have already borne considerable expense, may have to repeat their journey. I contend it is obvious that unless you create District Councils or Parish Councils, so that it may be possible for the immediate locality to apply to them, this Bill will be of no service in such districts as the one I have pointed out, and which, in my opinion, is similar to other districts. It will be 1347 of no service to any of those people who do not reside in the immediate neighbourhood of the County Council, which has to determine the good faith on which these petitions are founded. Therefore I venture to think that, unless District Councils are brought in, or some similar bodies, this measure as it now stands, with reference to County Councils, will certainly be of no benefit to the population. With reference to the second point—namely, the permissive character of the Bill, I venture to think that the right hon. Gentleman who has charge of the Bill will hear a great deal more about that before we get the Bill through Committee, and certainly before the Bill passes into law. It certainly is not necessary to go deeply into that point, and I will not deal with it at any length, because there are in the House many abler men than myself, and who, in fact, on previous occasions, both in the House and out of the House, have shown the absolute necessity that exists for some principle of compulsion in order to make a measure of this description workable in this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Jesse Collings), who has been a great champion of small holdings, has often declared in this House the principle that compulsion is absolutely necessary in any measure of this description; and my right hon. Friend the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. J. Chamberlain) has brought it forward in even stronger language, and has thus championed the principle which has been so often expressed on this subject. There is one question on which I should like to have some answer from the Government. It appears to me that the demand for land will almost certainly come from those districts in which the landlords for the moment are net prepared to give the land or sell the land. If a landlord at the present moment is willing to sell land or to give land, this Bill may be usefully worked by the County Council for the good of the country and of the rural districts; but where the landlords will not sell what is to be done? I would ask the right hon. Gentleman how he will meet such a position of affairs as I have described? The right hon. Gentleman 1348 told us there was a great deal of land in the market, and that landlords would be only too willing to sell their land. I agree with him that there is plenty of land in the market, but what sort of land? I am perfectly well aware that there is a deal of bad land in the market, and that landlords who possess land in the country would be exceedingly glad if Her Majesty's Government afforded an opportunity to part with this land at the highest price they could get. But, if you are going to make the Bill a success, you must provide for small holdings of good land, and not for the mere rubbish which exists in large quantities in that part of the world of which I am myself most cognisant. I therefore think we should apply the principle of compulsion, and that it will be received with great welcome. I should be sorry if some speakers throughout the country, who may be more intemperate in their language than I shall be, should hold up this Bill as a measure for providing landlords with an opportunity of getting rid of their bad land. In my humble opinion, without pledging that administrative body the District Council or any similar body, we should be able to accept this Bill with the principle of compulsion to enable you to force landlords to sell their land in districts where they now refuse to do so, and also to enable you to obtain land in sufficient quantity for agricultural purposes. Without that provision this Bill now before the House would be of no use whatever for the purposes for which it is intended. Still, I intend to vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. And I will tell you why—not because I believe that in its immediate effect it will be of the smallest use to the country, for as far as I can see, without the two things I have specified, the Bill will be an absolute failure. It is not on account of immediate benefit that I should vote for the Bill, but because of its value for Radical legislation in the future. I know that the introduction of any measure like this by a Tory Government, supported by Tory Gentlemen opposite, will be of the greatest value to us in future, in order to convince the country of the benefits of these principles, the combining of Liberal 1349 principles and the prosecution of Radical ideas, and it will, moreover, force the hands of the Liberal Leaders in the future who may not be willing to go quite so far along the Radical road, in regard to land reform, as we could wish. These are considerations which I have not the slightest doubt have been well weighed by Her Majesty's Government, by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and the Tory Party in the country. For my part, I welcome this Bill on that account. I welcome many clauses in it, and I shall welcome the whole Bill if it contain the principle of compulsion and provision for District Councils. Though I hold it, as it at present stands, to be of no absolute value to the constituencies as a whole, I welcome it because I see a motive power by which Radical ideas will be driven along in future further than they would have been if the right hon. Gentleman had not offered us this Bill. In my opinion right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite are simply playing the Radical game, because it must be quite obvious to everyone in this House that measures which contain Liberal principles like this Bill, and which are brought forward by a Tory Government, supported by Tory Members and the Conservative constituencies of the country, must go very far to produce more sweeping measures than could possibly be obtained under any other circumstances. For these reasons I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ (4.55.) MR. CUST (Lincolnshire, Stamford)
I cannot, Sir, agree with the opinion that because the present Parliament is drawing to a close it is right, simply for that reason, to oppose a useful measure. Last year the general principle of this Bill was unanimously adopted by both sides of the House. Last year the present Parliament was at least one year less moribund than it is just now; and surely, after that general expression of opinion from both sides of the House, it was not only desirable, but it was the duty of the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Agricultural Department in this House to introduce a Bill in correspondence with the expressed views of Parliament. I 1350 wish sincerely to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and I would ask the indulgence of the House whilst I make a few observations with reference to the criticism which has been offered both during the Debate on the First Reading and with reference to what has just been said by the hon. Gentleman opposite, though he has, in reality, only quoted that Debate. The general intention of this measure, and the economic advantages at which it aims, seemed to be so commonly agreed upon on each side during the Debate on the First Reading that there ceased almost to be any Debate on the scope of the principles of the Bill, and the Debate became one on details. The extension of Small Holdings was, in the words of the Committee, a matter of national importance, on which it was desirable that Parliament should interfere. On this the House seemed to be practically unanimous, and the only difference seems to be now how those principles can be most efficiently brought into practice, the policy on both sides of the House having been agreed upon. The question as to whether the Bill should be compulsory or not seems to be almost the only contested point on the Second Reading of the Bill. There is, at least, one prima facie argument which was entirely neglected, during the Debate on the First Reading, against compulsion, and that is that the Select Committee who considered the Bill almost unanimously decided against it. That Committee, admitted on all hands to have been a competent and impartial Committee, gathered the most exhaustive evidence, and reached the most deliberate conclusions. What are the arguments against such a decision? The mass of them are grounded on a kind of reiteration of the evidence on which the Committee itself decided. We are told there will not be enough land in the market, and that if there is the landlords will not sell it, which is in itself a somewhat illogical position. All the evidence goes against both contentions. That there is land and to spare in the market is shown by every newspaper we read. But whether landlords will or will not part with their land is a matter of opinion till it is tested by experience. 1351 That may be so with respect to the larger estates, but my opinion is that there is a large class of smaller landowners who are willing to part with a small portion of their estate. That, however, they are unable to do at present, because the class of buyers who are anxious to purchase small plots have no capital to buy with. This Bill will provide the capital, and so, I believe, without any compulsion at all, will not create but render operative that demand for land for which the supply is already waiting. We are told that the principle of compulsion should be put in the Bill, not so much with a view to its active operation as with the view to its influence in the background. The same suggestion was made with regard to the Allotments Bill, and the principle was adopted. The Bill produced satisfactory results; but when hon. Gentlemen opposite hear that the number of allotments has largely increased since the passing of the Act, and that most of the purchases were made by voluntary arrangement, they say the Act is a fraud and a failure. So that hon. Gentlemen, while urging the adoption of the principle in this Bill for the sake of its influence, deny in a similar case that that influence has been of any use at all. This Bill is admitted to be an experimental measure; is it, then, worth while to introduce any vexatious or alarming elements into it? It is possible, and, I think, probable, that it may succeed without compulsion. From listening to the arguments of hon. Gentlemen opposite on the First Reading of the Bill, one might have supposed that there was a vast choice of popularly-elected bodies to whom the powers under the Bill could be entrusted, and that the only difficulty was to make a happy choice. But at present there are only two such bodies—the County Council and the Board of Guardians or Sanitary Authority. We can fancy the reception which would be given to the proposal to utilise the Boards of Guardians; but the suggestion of the County Council—the only alternative—which is popularly elected on the principle of one man one vote, is received in very much the same way. District and Parish Councils are dinned into our ears, but it is worse than useless to talk about what does not exist. 1352 The question of District Councils will probably have to wait some time, and that of the Parish Councils even longer. Is this Bill to be hung up until these Councils are created? But even if the County Council be the only body to which these powers could be entrusted, I believe it would be the best fitted for the purpose. The Committee to carry out the provisions of the Bill must possess three qualifications—they must have local knowledge, credit, and impartiality. Credit and impartiality may, at least, be attributed to the County Councils in larger measure than they would be possessed by the District Councils, from the mere fact that the County Councils command a larger source of income and are less likely to be affected by local influences and parochial jealousies. With respect to the requisite amount of local knowledge, that will be secured by appointing on the Committee the Councillor for the electoral division in which holdings are situated, and by having two allotment managers drawn from the same district; and the Bill provides that three out of the five members of the Committee in Clause 4 shall be men possessing special local knowledge. Supposing these powers were thrown on the Parish Councils—as to the nature or constitution of which we have no more information than of the nature and constitution of an Irish Parliament—of all conceivable areas I cannot conceive one less desirable. Parishes vary in area from 40,000 acres to 80 acres; but even then they have not the merit of stable conditions. Do hon. Gentlemen mean the ecclesiastical parish? If not, what do they mean? Do they mean the Ecclesiastical parish, the Poors Law parish, the Highway parish, the Land Tax parish, or the Burial parish? What the agricultural labourer understands by the parish is the ecclesiastical parish in which he lives; and if in the Bill introduced by hon. Gentlemen opposite dealing with these Councils, hon. Gentlemen mean something different, another term should be used. The right hon. Member for Derby (Sir W. Harcourt) said that the Council of his own county represented an area too large for this Bill; but it would be easy to quote a hundred parishes Councils for which would be 1353 absurd. There are parishes in my own county ranging from one ratepayer to six. Is it to such a preposterously small parish you propose to give powers under the Bill of voting and raising loans? What credit would that parish have with the Public Works Loan Commissioners? In such a parish the excess of local knowledge would ruin all impartiality—it would stir up every local jealousy and every parochial feud, and would enliven parish life very much as the Communists enlivened the town life of Paris. And when they have all the power to rate and re-rate each other, do you think you will leave the rural population—I will not say more happy and contented—more prosperous than you found them? The County Councils are free from all these inconveniences, and I sincerely trust that, whatever Local Bodies may hereafter be created, the large powers granted under this Bill will be left in the hands of the County Councils. There is one point which I think we shall hear much more about in Committee, and on which I do not think the Bill is adequate to meet the wishes of the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. J. Collings)—the quitrent or rent-charge. It is argued that a quit-rent gives the community a permanent interest in the land, and in a manner municipalises it, and that it would stimulate the Local Authorities by the prospect of future profit. It is also argued that it would facilitate the enforcement of the limiting conditions of ownership, and prevent the raising of mortgages. There are other ways of preventing mortgages—by injunction of the County Court, and by the statutory forfeiture of the holding of a defaulting owner, and yet more effectively by a system of registration. I think you will find few mortgagees to advance money on land in the presence of those safeguards. On the other point I cannot bring myself to believe that the prospects of their own or their neighbours' descendants receiving a few pounds a year some time hence will do much to stimulate the imagination of a large body of ratepayers; whereas the prospect of paying those few pounds a year for ever will do a great deal to discourage the would-be small holder. If, in addition to all the other limita- 1354 tions, they have an endless annual charge to be punctually and relentlessly levied, whatever the rise or fall in prices or values, I cannot but fear that those in whose interests the Bill is promoted will be deterred from accepting advantages which, without those discouragements in prospect, they would gladly lay hold of. The Bill, so far as I understand, gives the County Council practically a choice of two methods; and by that plan more elasticity will be given to the Bill, and wider adaptability to different men and different districts. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be firm on that point, and that the Bill will not create a new tenure in a rigid form, and so run the risk of discouraging would-be purchasers. We want to facilitate the access of the labourer to the land; but if you limit and cramp his ownership, however you facilitate the access, the labourer will not go on to the land. The Bill is admitted to be experimental; then why not try it honestly on its own merits? If we are sound in our judgment of the character of the small holder, till the instalments are paid off the conditions of sale will be a sufficient safeguard, and afterwards he would be able to stand on his own legs and fight his own battles. If he prefers a quit-rent, he has, practically, a choice under the Bill. You must leave him to follow what he believes to be his best interests, and no amount of restriction or control will avail to save him, because with restrictions and control he will not take the land, and so will not put himself in a position to be saved. Such restrictions would not only be unfair, but they would be unwise. The small holder will embark his all in the enterprise, and if his property increases in value he will benefit; if it decreases he will lose. If it increases in value the public may resume possession by compulsory re-purchase; if its value goes down the public will not interfere. We hear a great deaf about the unearned increment of landed property, but very little about the undeserved detriment in its value, which I believe is the far commoner tendency. Will hon. Members, who are so eager to re-purchase when the value increases, be as eager to purchase if the value decreases? If 1355 Parliament really desires to create a large body of small holders, it will be acting unfairly to them and unwisely in view of its own ends if it imposes on these holders checks, controls, and interferences which have never in the history of the country been imposed on landowners before. The questions of settling the price; whether the holdings shall be real or personal property; and buildings are rather questions for Committee than for a Second Reading Debate, but on the question of buildings I should like to say a word. If the experiment is to be fairly tried, I think it would be a pity to damage a large and generous scheme by stinting a small but absolutely essential portion of it. I see no reason why discretionary powers should not be given to the County Councils to lend money for the erection of buildings, which would be more likely to meet the requirements of the owner if erected by himself than if erected by the County Council. There are two small suggestions I should like to make to the right hon. Gentleman before I sit down. The first is a scheme which appears complicated, but is in fact simple, for bringing in all parts of the country small portions of land suitable for the purposes of the Bill into the hands of the Local Authorities. My suggestion is that the successor to landed property should have the option of compounding for the Succession Duty by payment in kind—that is to say in land. At present the successor to landed property has to pay the duty in money, which often he does not possess; and, though four years are allowed for payment, he has frequently to borrow or raise the money on mortgage, frequently at a cost equal to the amount of the tax itself. I would suggest that he should be allowed to offer to the County Council land suitable for the purposes of the Bill at a price 10 per cent. below the actual valuation. The Council could accept or reject as it saw fit. If it accepted the land would pass into the hands of the Council for payment of Succession Duty, and would be credited from the Local Authority to the Treasury under the same conditions as a debt is credited under this Bill. Thus universality would be one of the advantages, and land for small hold- 1356 ings would gradually become attainable. Two or three clauses might be easily introduced into the measure to meet the whole case. I will make one other suggestion, and that is on the question of title. The importance which the Select Committee attached to that subject was shown in their Report. The House will remember that in the Bill introduced last Session by the Member for Bordesley (Mr. Collings) a very complete and elaborate system of registration of title was provided for, but I doubt whether that could have been rendered practically effective without incurring great expense. The provisions of the present Bill may produce results equally complex and expensive, and the only allusion to title was a section of Clause 5, which sets forth that the County Council, before purchasing, shall require a satisfactory title, and, having given that title to the purchaser, shall be liable to an action for damages if that title turns out bad. There are two ways of investigating a title: It may be investigated on the spot, which is the cheaper method, or it may be thoroughly and fully investigated up to the 40 years' limit, a process which incurs very heavy expense, and must enormously increase the price at which the holding can be re-sold. Moreover, there is no provision made in the Bill for the registration of title when it has been investigated. In this non-registration I would point out there is always the danger of the question being re-opened, and the most serious complications arising out of the re-settlement. I would suggest that there is a Government Department, very little known and very little used—the Land Registration Department—which would investigate a title and register it. Once so registered, that title would be proved against all possible risk of any action for damages. A duplicate register would be kept by the Land Registration Department and by the County Council, and in every succeeding transfer of the land the mere entering of the transaction in the two registers would be the legal form necessary to complete the sale. It is true that if the operation of the Act became extended the present staff of the Land Registry might prove to be insufficient, but I would point out 1357 that the question of registration is of very great importance. I would urge that whenever a County Council gives a title it should be registered and an absolutely Parliamentary title given to the new occupier. I beg to thank the House for the patience with which they have listened to me, but I cannot help feeling that this Bill is the most important proposal in the programme of the Government. I believe if it meets with even a moderate measure of success that it will go some way not only to remove a great source of national danger, but will create a still greater source of national strength. I believe it will assist to fill up the waste districts in the country, and will relieve the congestion of the large towns, and will confer a large and lasting benefit on an uncounted number of agricultural labourers. This is not a Bill which gives any petty temporary advantage to either party, and I am convinced that the House will never regret passing a measure which will increase the prosperity of our common country
§ (5.38.) MR. C. R. SPENCER (Northamptonshire, Mid)
I confess I am very glad to see this Bill brought in, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on having brought it in. I only consider it as a step, but certainly a step in the right direction. I suppose I ought to be crushed by the remark made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Cust) as to the finding of the Committee on Small Holdings, but it has not altered my opinion as to the necessity of the principle of compulsion being included in this measure. I am not an agricultural labourer, but, at the same time, I happen to have the honour of knowing a large number of labourers and small holders, and I venture to think that the right hon. Gentleman would have done better had he faced his colleagues and introduced into his Bill the principle of compulsion. I think I know the reason why the principle to which I attach so much importance is not included, and that is that the relations of the right hon. Gentleman with his tenantry are of the very cordial and generous character which we should expect from our knowledge of him, and, therefore, he cannot conceive that there are such anomalies in Eng- 1358 land at the present day as landlords who will not let to small holders or agricultural labourers. This Bill has been described as experimental; then let us have another experiment—the principle of compulsion. I do not think there is any likelihood of anyone on this side of the House opposing this Bill. We accept it as a small instalment of what we want in the way of rural reform, and we accept it with the clear understanding that we are not debarred from doing that which in us lies to make it a workable Bill, which will do good in the country districts. I must say that I cannot help feeling that this Bill would have been better if it had been more drastic in one respect; and in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on having come to see the necessity for small holdings—which I think on a former occasion he did not quite see—I hope that as his eyes have been opened in one particular, they may also be opened so that he may see the necessity for compulsion.
§ MR. H. T. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN (Kent, Faversham)
As representing a constituency mainly agricultural, I beg to thank the Government for the introduction of this Bill, which shall have my cordial support. I am quite sure this is an honest endeavour on the part of the Government, and I would ask Members to contrast the conduct of the Government with that of the other side, which is constantly promising something practical, and yet never does anything. I cannot agree with the remarks of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gardner), who said that this Government had been in Office for six years and had never done anything for the agriculturist.
§ MR. H. T. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN
The hon. Member for gets two things. He forgets that in that six years the Government have introduced and carried an Allotments Act—a measure which he and his friends may laugh at, but it has been the means of planting the agricultural labourer on the land in many instances. The hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. J. Collings) has stated that the Radical Party have never given a single 1359 perch of land to the agricultural labourer; and if the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gardner) tells us that we have been in Office six years and have only produced an Allotment Bill for the labourers, I would remind him that the Party to which he belongs have been in Office many years and have not done a single thing yet. But although I believe this to be an honest attempt, yet I am afraid it will not be productive of much good to the agricultural interest, and that it will only lift a small corner of that pall which my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Hermon-Hodge) in moving the Address so eloquently described as hanging over that interest. I fully agree with the principle of increasing the number of occupiers, because I believe that nothing tends to make men more satisfied and less disposed to follow out revolutionary methods. But while I look with satisfaction on the working of the Allotments Act, I must say that I look with considerable doubt on the ability of the small holders to make a living. In the part of the country where I live I know it would be occasionally possible, because we are engaged in fruit culture, which requires small capital, no plant, and not much labour. But even there the very small holders have to live harder and to work harder, and their earnings are probably not greater than those of the average agricultural labourer; and I fail to see, if it is impossible for a farmer with capital to hold up his head, how the labourer without capital can by any possibility do so. In all these attempts to help the labourer and prevent him from leaving the land—proposals some good and some bad, some sensible and some foolish—we ignore the real reason of his unsatisfactory position. The real reason is the low wages which he receives; the reason he gets low wages is agricultural depression; the reason for agricultural depression is low prices; and the reason for low prices is that the country obstinately persists in pursuing a fiscal policy which is rejected and ridiculed by every country except our own. We are in the position of a physician who knows the disease from which his patient is suffer- 1360 ing, and knows the remedy other physicians have applied with success to that disease. But he has been all his life opposed to that remedy, and has not the moral courage to own that he is wrong and adopt the methods of his rivals, but continues to use remedies which may alleviate but cannot possibly remove the disease. I am afraid the agricultural interest will continue to feel depression until we come to our senses, and revise our fiscal system.
(5.58.) MR. R. T. REID, &c.) (Dumfries
If the wages are small in the part of the country to which the hon. Member who has just spoken belongs let him go further north, and in the North of England and in Scotland he will find that 18s. is paid in wages as against 10s. in his part of the country, and the reason is that rents are higher. A question has been raised as to the title, but as I understand this Bill the proposal about title is perfectly right. It is that when a County Council gives a farm to a small holder it shall relieve him from all difficulty or anxiety on the score of the title. The County Council takes the whole responsibility, and less could not be expected wherever a Local Authority comes in between the buyer and the seller. Then with respect to the question of registration, the hon. Gentleman will find that he must submit to some restriction in the nature of the estate you carve out of the land. On the subject of compulsion I am aware that the majority of the Select Committee were against the principle being applied, but I do not think we are precluded by that determination of the Committee from introducing the principle in this Bill. It is well known that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Birmingham (Mr. Chamberlain), who has prepared and drafted this Report, has all along been in favour of the principle of compulsion; and the hon. Member for Bordesley (Mr. Collings), who has for 20 years supported the principle, supported the proposal on the Committee that compulsion should not be recommended. I do not mention this as a matter of reproach, and I have no doubt they took this action because they desired to see a Small Holdings Bill of some 1361 kind, and because half a loaf was better than no bread. Therefore, I do not think that we ought to regard the recommendation of the Committee as necessarily expressing the opinions of the gentlemen who sat on it. But there are reasons why compulsion is needed. In some parts of the country you may get on perfectly well without it, but there are a great many landlords who will not voluntarily part with any of their land. In my own county, for instance, Lord Mansfield will not let a single acre of his land for any purpose; in fact, he even refused to part with a small plot on which it was proposed to erect a police station, the necessity for which was undoubted. I regard the small holder, whose plot is from 4 or 5 up to 15 acres, as the most important man under this measure. I do not wish to say anything about the holders of from 15 to 50 acres, but in the case of the smaller holder you are able to lift the allotment holder one step higher on the ladder. We all know that his small holder must have some other occupation or he will not be able to subsist; and to meet their wants you must have small holdings in small plots diffused throughout the county, and this is the reason for compulsion. You cannot get one vast estate cut up into a variety of pieces; that will not do for those who are to be small holders up to 15 acres. Another reason that I will suggest is one of principle. The whole county is liable to assessment; but if you find in one part a landlord who declines to part with any of his property, you find a section of people who are liable to be called on to pay their share of the expenses of the Act without the smallest chance of ever participating in its benefits. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not think I am advocating predatory doctrines when I say something about the price. We do not desire to confiscate the land, but we desire to prevent what we regard as the equivalent of confiscation on the part of some landowners. As an illustration I will mention a case without giving names, in which a landlord, who was receiving 25s. to 30s. an acre for his land, was approached with a view to obtaining a portion of his land for the erection of villas and 1362 workmen's dwellings, and he refused to part with a single acre except at a price which was equal to between £10 and £12 a year. There should be a fair process of ascertaining the price by a valuer in the ordinary way. If you do not have compulsory powers, you leave the naming of the price absolutely and without reserve in the hands of the owner of the land. With regard to the Allotments Acts, nobody who has looked into these Acts can doubt that they can be simplified to great advantage, and I cannot understand why these Acts have not been made more simple than they are. As to the question of tenure, I do not think that has been properly understood Nobody, for instance, has found any difficulty with feuing. Then the Select Committee recommended that when the County Council bought land and dealt it out in small lots, a small quit rent should be retained. The President of the Board of Agriculture has departed from that. He has enabled the small holder to pay the full amount of his holding and to acquire the fee-simple in the land. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is accessible on this subject. I feel strongly about this. It is reported that amongst the causes which have produced diminution of small holders near towns, one is that the large capitalists have got on to the land and have bought up the small properties. The temptation has been so irresistible to the small owners that they have been unable to resist the offers of large prices. This is notoriously one of the causes of the diminution. This cause is in operation now as much as ever. Suppose you spend public money to create small holders, and they are able to sell their land, you will have the capitalist coming in and swallowing them up, precisely in the same way as he has swallowed them up in the past. There is in Scotland a process called "lairding," which expresses the process which has been going on. Rich men come into a country side and gradually buy up all the "wee lairds." The small owners will be the prey of the large landowners. There is another result. If the small holder is able to buy land "out and out" under this Bill he becomes free from any restrictions. As soon as the small holder has paid for 1363 the land he may proceed to sublet, and the result will be to create a large number of small landlords. It is notorious that the small landlord is a much less practical person to deal with than the large one. There is another point. As soon as the small holders acquire the small holding by the use of public credit they go and sub-divide it. The right hon. Gentleman deprecates the creation of congested districts in England. I do not think that congested districts in England are so dangerous as they are in Ireland. There are so many other occupations in England. At the same time nobody can wish to see congested districts. Then, if we are going to establish small holdings by the use of public credit, which is equivalent to public money, we do not know how soon we may be called upon to use it for other purposes not connected with land. I have always maintained that if we use public credit for the benefit of a particular class of individuals, we must give some other equivalent to the Treasury for the risks they run. In this instance it is the Local Authority that runs the risk. What advantage have you given the Local Authority? In this Bill absolutely nothing. That is not fair to the interest of the community at large. You ought to have some means by which they could get an advantage. It could be done in two ways. One proposal is that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bordesley—with which I do not wholly agree—that there should be some quit-rent left at the end of the transaction. My hon. Friend proposed that only one-fourth of the purchase money should be paid by the small holder, and that three-fourths should remain. I, for one, have had my difficulties with my hon. Friend on previous occasions as to this. I think one-fourth is not enough. I do not think a man ought to be restricted to pay one-fourth, but I think there ought always to be left some quit-rent that is payable to the Local Authority after the whole or 70 or 80 per cent. of the purchase money has been paid by the small holder. One other way in which you might give advantage to the Local Authority is by the power of resumption. We are lending public money for a definite 1364 purpose, not to create landlords or landowners, but to enable persons to cultivate land more freely all over the country. In the course of eight or ten years the land may become extremely valuable as building land. There is an increment due to the growth of population. There is nothing unfair in saying beforehand to the holders—"If this land should become building land, inasmuch as we gave you facilities to obtain it, we are at full liberty to buy you out at the full price, and we are to have the benefit of the increment." That seems very reasonable. My point is that the Select Committee has recommended all these things. That is a high authority, and we ought not lightly to set it aside. In the first place the Committee say—We believe that the objects and advantages of both systems may be combined by a plan which would allow of a periodic reduction of charge until it reached a small proportion of the original amount, when it might be continued at this rate as a perpetual feu or rent-charge. The result would be that the occupier would have constantly in view successive and substantial reductions in his liabilities, and at the end of 50 years he, or his successor, would only be paying a small proportion of the original charge; while the Local Authority at the end of the same period would have nearly repaid their debt to the State, and would be the receivers in perpetuity of a small quit-rent in return for the use of their credit. Your Committee recommend, for the reasons already stated, the adoption of some such scheme as the above in fixing the terms of any loan made by Local Authorities to small owners and cultivators. In the opinion of your Committee, it will be necessary to forbid sub-letting and sub-division of the holding in order to prevent the creation of a new class of small landlords. The power of mortgaging should be restricted to a mortgage of the whole property which must be disposed of, if at all, as a whole, and subject to the conditions of the grant.Then the Committeealso recommend the adoption of the provisions of the Small Holhings Bill, by which the Local Authority is empowered to resume possession of the property for public purposes, or for building land, on payment of full compensation based on its value as an agricultural occupation. This right must be reserved to prevent the use of the land from being restricted to agricultural purposes where it may be required for the extension of towns and villages, and by this means what is called the 'unearned increment' will be divided between the occupier and the community; that is to say, that any increase in value arising from improved communications or enhanced price of produce will go to the occupier, while the benefit of a change which would convert agri- 1365 cultural into town land, and which is wholly due to the extension of the population, would go to the district in which such an extension has taken place.That is a strong recommendation, and it is supported by a large majority of the Committee. At one time I thought the President of the Board of Agriculture himself was in sympathy with this recommendation, and that he would have assented to it being incorporated in the Bill. Finally the Committee say—Your Committee are aware that the imposition of these conditions may militate somewhat against the acceptance of the terms offered; but as the State and the Local Authority are called upon to offer unexampled facilities to one class in the community, they consider that they are fully justified in insisting on all the conditions necessary to protect the interests of the rest of the population, and to secure the permanency of the system which they have assisted to establish.I desire to press the second point on the consideration of the right hon. Gentleman. The point of compulsion will be pressed from this side of the House; but we will not press it in any obstructive spirit, because we all desire to see the Bill pass. I would also ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether he cannot accept the recommendation of the Committee with regard to tenure. We are all anxious to make the Bill as good a measure as we can; and I, therefore, hope the right hon. Gentleman will keep his mind open upon these questions.
§ (6.22.) SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT (Sussex, North West)
In answer to my hon. Friend who has just sat down, I can only say that compulsion, if it had been introduced into the Bill in the first instance, would have prevented it passing. The hon. Gentleman hardly knows what the difficulties of compulsion may be. We have not yet experienced what the County Councils might do with regard to the purchase of land. If my hon. Friend will only wait patiently and see how the Act works; if it is found that large landlords like those he has named are unwilling, and will not part with their land, I have no doubt in times to come there would be a case for some consideration in regard to the principle of compulsion. But, at the present moment, I think it would be a most unwise thing to place compulsion in the 1366 Bill. The hon. Gentleman also said that it was absolutely necessary that a man should have some other occupation.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
Quite so, under 15 acres. Holdings under ten acres would be let by the County Council. The hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. H. Gardner) made out that his part of the country was the most benighted that could possibly be.
§ SIR WALTER B. BARTTELOT
The House must judge for itself whether the hon. Member did not convey that impression. He said a man might have to walk 40 miles. That meant there were no railways. He evidently forgot there was such a thing as a Post Office, and that a petition signed by a certain number of voters might be placed in the Post Office, and sent to the Clerk of the County Council, who would lay it before the next Council meeting. The suggestion of my hon. Friend with regard to the tenure of land is a good one, and I hope it will receive the favourable consideration of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. As to title, my hon. Friend the Member for the Stamford Division did good service in pointing out how the Land Registry Office might be made useful in registering the title; and if, as suggested, it was also registered by the County Council, it should be a good title for anyone. I believe that people at the present day take a more lenient view with regard to what is necessary with respect to title. The tenure of land for a number of years, without anyone making claims upon it, naturally justifies a man in believing that the property is indisputably his own. My right hon. Friend, in his speech in introducing the Bill, said it was an experiment, but one that ought to be made. We all feel it is an experiment which ought to be made, and we venture to hope and believe that the experiment will be a great success. Our only object is to ameliorate the condition of a large number of our fellow-subjects, and to 1367 bring more people on to the land; and surely this is a question that we can debate without any Party heat or Party feeling? I venture to think that this is a question that we can debate without Party heat or feeling, because our object is the amelioration of the condition of a large number of our fellow-subjects, and to place more people on the land. My right hon. Friend in his speech in introducing the Bill said that this experiment could not be made at a better time, and in one sense I agree that it could not, because, no doubt, that land at this moment is cheap. But he forgot to say—and this is an important part of the question—that the price of all produce of the land is so low that you cannot grow it for the money. It is true, as was well stated by Lord Salisbury some time ago, that the landed interest has been sacrificed in the general interest of the country. I am not going into that question now, but I am sure there is no Member on the opposite side of the House who would state that the agricultural interest is in that condition in which he would wish to see it. I will only venture to say this—that the success of this scheme depends enormously upon whether the men who purchase these holdings will be able to make both ends meet. That is a serious consideration, especially when you think of the quantity of grass land which is taking the place of arable land all over the country. I will now refer to the small occupiers. I have a certain number of small occupiers on my property, one or two market gardeners, and a great many who hold small quantities of land ranging from one acre to ten and twelve acres. I have let them their land and houses at a reasonable rent, and not one of them have failed to pay their rent, whilst those men who had only the land to farm did not pay in the same way as the others. I see that the words of the Bill are very strong in regard to that. In the 1st clause we find it stated, "It is for the labouring population only," and in another clause it is laid down that it is to be an agricultural holding, and that the occupier is to live by that agricultural 1368 holding. Now, this is a part of the question which deserves the consideration of my right hon. Friend. Are the village blacksmith, the village carpenter, and people of that kind not to have such advantages? There are several of such men who have small quantities of my land, and I will say this—that they have employed more labour and put more work into the land than other occupiers. I believe that you will find that there are a large number of landowners throughout the country who would be most anxious to let their land to such men. I attach a good deal of importance to this part of the question, and I will put it in this way. Suppose a man is going to purchase 20 acres of land, and that he is to give £30 an acre for it. That would come to £600. Well, the man has to put down £150. Now, how is he going to stock it? He must have a horse or horses, cows, machinery, and appliances. I do not think he could purchase all he required for such a holding much under £150 or £160. I calculate the expenditure required to be made at £168, besides which there is the interest to pay. Now, I should like to know whether you think it possible that a man can get so much profit on the 20 acres as to be able to support himself and his family? An industrious man can do a great deal, and I believe many occupiers keep their land in good order and make a profit upon it. I showed two of my Liberal friends the other day a farm of 160 acres in Sussex which was worked by a man who came from the ranks and never failed to pay his rent—which was not very low—and who always made both ends meet. It only shows what a determined man can do, even when he has to deal with a very moderate class of land. But I would warn the House and those who are anxious to take land that they must reckon the cost before they take it. I see there is a provision in this Bill which says unless a man has sufficient means to enable him to cultivate the land he ought not be accepted by the County Council. I believe it is absolutely necessary for a man to be in a position to do justice to the land which he takes. You want stalwart 1369 men like the statesmen of Cumberland, who would rather do anything than give up their holdings, and I know there is nothing such men would like better than to have their houses and land as their own absolute property. I venture to believe that there are many men to be found who could be trusted with the land. Now, I would like to ask my right hon. Friend a question. Does he wish to get upon the land the men who have gone into the towns? Does he not think there is something in the towns which attracts them, and which they will not give up in order to return to the land? I should like to see on the land a large number of happy and contented and prosperous yeomen, if they could be found, but everyone knows what has happened to that class of late years; everyone knows the condition of the French agricultural peasant who has got his land but is so needy that he cannot call his soul his own. Now, that is not what one wishes to see in this country. I will only, in conclusion, say that I believe this is a most honest attempt on the part of my right hon. Friend to carry out the views, not only of this House, but of a large number of people in this country. There is only one other question I should like to put to him. It is this—Why, if it is to be carried out, is the burden to be placed upon real property? Why is not all property to be placed in the same category? Why are you not anxious to do for this country as you have done for Ireland. The penny rate you propose to raise on real property, and real property alone, should be raised out of the Consolidated Fund and not placed upon the country districts. I am sure that the one thing which would please the tenants as much as anything would be to take the rate off real property and put it on the Consolidated Fund. They would then think that there was an earnest desire not to burden the land more than it is now burdened. I put it strongly to my right hon. Friend that this point deserves serious consideration. I do not wish to detain the House any longer. I would only, in conclusion, say that if this Bill succeeds you will have created, in the best sense of the word, a Conservative population whose 1370 great object will be—having got the land and the houses—to maintain those rights which they possess, and which will more conduce to the prosperity and welfare of the country than anything else.
§ (6.48.) MR. SHAW LEFEVRE (Bradford, Central)
There is much in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman with which I heartily concur. I also agree with the hon. Member for Stamford, who said that the County Council is at the present time—for want of District Councils—the only authority to which the carrying out of this Act can be entrusted. I think there is great force in what he said with reference to the resumption of land by the Local Authority in the event of it becoming useful for building purposes. I do not think that the arguments on this side of the House with regard to compulsion have been appreciated. We have never said on this side of the House that it had failed altogether, but that it had failed in the sense that the Local Authorities had not been able to obtain land for allotments to the extent which they desired. We also stated that the cost of carrying out compulsion is so great that Local Authorities have been unable to avail themselves of it. We further say that the effect of compulsion has been very great, and we have always maintained that until compulsory powers were given previous Acts have failed, and that it was the proposal to give compulsory powers which for the first time caused a great number of landowners to give voluntary allotments to their people which they otherwise would not have given. We believe that landlords would be much more willing to sell their land when they know that compulsion is behind them than would otherwise be the case. Therefore we say that the indirect effects of compulsion are far greater than the direct effects, and it is on this ground that we desire to see compulsion added to the Bill. No one who listened to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Head of the Agricultural Department (Mr. Chaplin) can doubt that he is fully impressed with the importance of the subject, and that he is desirous, so far as he can, to remedy the great evils connected with tenure in our agricul- 1371 tural districts, and to bring back, if possible, the labourers to the land. If, however, we seem to have some doubt as to whether his measure will be effective for this purpose he must not suppose that we at all doubt the sincerity of his motives. Now, the Bill before the House contemplates calling into existence two different kinds of small holders. The first are those who intend to make their living entirely out of the land—25 acres and upwards—and the second the small holders who are not expected to make their livelihood out of their land, but to cultivate it and to hold it in connection with other occupations. I think I have indicated roughly the distinction which the right hon. Gentleman draws between these two classes of holders, and that I rightly appreciate his intentions in that respect. Now I consider the second class of smaller holders to be infinitely the more important of the two. For my part, I am very sceptical as to the possibility of County Councils being able to purchase on any very great scale holdings of the larger character. The transactions will be of a very hazardous nature. The purchase of large estates—say of 400 or 500 acres—in order to convert them into holdings of 25 acres and upwards would be necessarily attended with considerable risk to the Local Authority. In the first place it would not be easy to find estates of that kind without tenants already upon them. Generally speaking, the land without tenants will be the inferior land which has long been out of cultivation. Then again, when the Local Authority has bought the estate it will be necessary to erect farm buildings, to make roads and fences, and the whole operation would be a costly one. When the purchase had been completed, the estate would have to be cut up into small holdings of 25 acres, and it would not be easy to find men in the position of labourers who would have the capital to enable them to come into these holdings. So far as I can make out from calculations, a labouring man, before he could become the owner of one of these small holdings, would have to advance from £200 to £250 for the purchase, and then he would also have to stock his land and to live on it for about a year before there would be 1372 any returns from it. I can scarcely reckon that cost at less than £200, so that he would have to provide about £400 before he could come into possession of it. Now I venture to think that there are few men in the position of labouring men who would be able to provide anything like that amount. I cannot, therefore, think that this part of the Bill will have any considerable effect. It is to the other part of the Bill that I look with great hope, and I think that if it is properly amended it will prove of enormous advantage to the labouring men of this country. But I must say with regard to that part of the Bill that I consider that compulsion would be absolutely essential. I am strongly of opinion that unless the land is bought within easy reach of the villages it will not be useful for the purposes for which it is intended; and I feel certain that it will be very difficult without compulsion to obtain the land which will be so required. Now I need hardly point out that the land near the villages generally belongs to the same landowner. I will tell the House of the result of my inquiries with reference to one typical part of the country. The ideal of the English rural system is, that where all the land and all the houses in a parish belong to a single landowner. This ideal is attained in a great many more cases than is generally known. A very large proportion of the rural parishes are in the condition that they are owned each by a single landowner. In one part of the county where I have made specific inquiries the proportion is far greater. In the division of North Dorsetshire, I have ascertained that out of 92 parishes, with a total extent of 162,000 acres, there are 62 which substantially belong each to a single landowner. There are 23 other parishes in which more than half the land belongs to a single landowner, and only seven out of the 92 in which the land was divided among a number of people. In the same district I found that eight whole parishes and half of seven others belonged to a single landowner, and there were two landowners each of whom held the whole of five parishes, whilst two-thirds of the whole land in the district belonged to 1373 26 persons. Now I feel convinced that it would be extremely difficult to persuade the landowners in that district to sell the land. The hon. Baronet who has just spoken has gone so far as to suggest that if the large landowners of this country should, after the passing of this Bill, refuse to give the land for the purposes of small holdings, it would be necessary hereafter to carry out compulsion. My strong belief is that it would be extremely difficult to buy any land which would be suitable for the purpose by agreement, and that it will be necessary, therefore, to give effect to the Bill by adding compulsory powers, not so much with the idea that it would be made use of by the Local Authority, but with the idea that it would be useful in inducing landowners to sell their land in smaller holdings than they have done in the past. Supposing all the land in a parish belongs to a single landowner, and supposing the County Council are unable to induce that landowner to sell, what satisfaction will it be to the labouring people who desire to obtain small holdings to be told that they can have land in another part of the county? It seems to me that the principle of compulsion must be introduced in order that people may be able to buy land within easy reach of the district to which they belong. Now, Sir, there is a clause in the Bill to which I take strong objection—the clause containing the prohibition against small holders building on their holdings unless they can live wholly thereby. That is a very unwise restriction and one very unjust to the labourer. It seems to me that it would be most desirable to encourage the owners of those small holdings to erect houses. Some extremely interesting evidence was given on this point before the Royal Commission. In the County of Cornwall it was said that Sir Thomas Acland divided 478 acres among 70 leaseholders, principally miners. The land at that time was practically worthless, but these men reclaimed it and made it valuable for agricultural purposes, and Mr. Little says it is now valued at £1 per acre. These men built houses on the land which are above the average of 1374 labourers' houses, and they put on their holdings stock of a superior kind. Mr. Little says of these men—Those who work in mines work alternately day and night, and utilise their spare time on their farms; the wife and the children, however, do most of the farm work. The family have a more comfortable home and many advantages, such as milk, butter, and eggs, which they would not otherwise enjoy. The man has a motive for saving his money and employing his spare time, and if he does not gain a large profit as a farmer, he enjoys a position of independence; he is elevated in the social scale, his self-respect is awakened and stimulated, and he acquires a stake in the country. The holdings represent so much time well-spent, which, without this invention, would have most probably been wasted; and wages, which would otherwise have been squandered, are employed in securing a homestead and some support for the widow and children when the workman dies. I would ask, are there not many places where the same thing might be done if the opportunity offered?Is an example of that kind not worth being followed? I could quote many cases; and, notably, one in the neighbourhood of the New Forest, where the landlords sold to some 30 or 40 purchasers about 250 acres of land. Most of these people are employed in other pursuits and do not make their living wholly by the land; but their prospects and their condition show what can be done by a system of small holdings, and show, likewise, how important it is that they should be allowed to build houses. When we get into Committee on this Bill I shall move an Amendment with the object of removing the prohibition against building which is contained in the Bill now before the House. If buildings are allowed they will add to the value of the land, and will increase the security of the Local Authority; and, therefore, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to adopting my Amendment when it is brought forward. Well, Sir, my conclusion, therefore, is that, in respect to compulsion regarding the restrictions on the building of houses and in other matters of importance, the Bill will require serious consideration; but if Amendments on these matters are introduced, I think it will and can be made into an effective measure which will be of great benefit to the people of this country, and more so to the labouring classes and those immediately above them.
§ (7.10.) SIR G. RUSSELL (Berks, Wokingham)
Both as an agriculturist and as the Representative of an agricultural Division I should like to say something on this subject. I cannot lose sight of the fact that this measure attempts not to create, but to re-create, a class of small holders. I am old enough to remember in Berkshire the time when there were to be found in large numbers the very class of men whom it is now sought to re-create. The first question, therefore, to a practical mind is, how comes it that these men have faded away? Different answers may be given, some relating to natural, some to economic, and some to legislative causes. No doubt the result was in part due to all, but in any case the difficulties of re-creating this class of men must be enormous; and having regard to that fact, it is a great source of satisfaction to know that this measure is in the hands of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, who is a practical agriculturist, and who knows the conditions of these small holders, and who can speak of and treat their case with sympathy. But in its principle and in its details the Bill is so framed as to give the best possible promise of a successful result. The great difficulty attaching to the discussion on this Bill is that it will be discussed by hon. Members whom, without offence, I may call "Cockneys," and who will be guided by sentiment as distinguished from reason. Bat, Sir, my right hon. Friend is absolutely right, in the interests of this measure, in adhering to the voluntary principle, which is a vital and essential point of the scheme embodied in this Bill. If this measure is to succeed, it is necessary to its success that there should be a good feeling and a good understanding between the large landowner, from whom the holding has been purchased, and the purchaser of that holding, for in order to give him a chance of success the new buyer must look to his larger neighbour very often to supply him with the machinery and horses to enable him to do his work at various times of the year. I look to the voluntary principle and to the easy and cheap transfer of land as means by which this measure will be 1376 likely to succeed. The Bill is capable, in a few points of detail, of being amended in Committee; but still it is generally speaking satisfactory, and certainly I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will adhere to the voluntary principle.
§ (7.17.) MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
I am glad that the example of the hon. Member for Saffron Walden, who introduced Party spirit into this Debate, has not been followed. It has been asked if this measure is likely to bring back agriculturists from the towns to the land. As the measure now stands, no such result will follow; but with one or two slight alterations there is no doubt it will have that effect. I know scores of people who are now in town and who are only waiting for a measure of this sort to pass into law to go back to an occupation which they like and from which they have only been driven by sheer necessity. Now, Sir, as to the question of compulsion, I may say that I am in favour of it. I was delighted when the Select Committee which inquired into the matter described the subject as one of national importance, and recommended that five millions of money should be spent in making the experiment which is now proposed. I think the recommendations of the Committee, minus compulsion, were of such a character that no man having the interest of the labourers at heart dare to refuse to agree to this Bill, simply because it does not go far enough. Compulsion in this case is different from compulsion under the Allotments Act. It is one case to take a small quantity of land; it is quite another thing to take a whole area; but I have uniformly maintained that compulsion when once introduced into a Bill will be rarely, if ever, applied. It is a great mistake to represent the success of the Allotments Act as simply due to the voluntary supply of land. Between one and two hundred Local Authorities have put the Act directly in force, and I think there are only three or four cases in which their compulsory powers have been exercised, and only one case in which an application of the principle of compulsion has been resisted in Parliament, so that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman that the Act 1377 had not been successful on account of the compulsory part of it has not been proved. Now, Sir, there is one question I should like to ask before sitting down, and it is this—whether this Bill affects owners of settled estates and life owners; if they have the power under Lord Cairns' Act or any other Act to sell lands for the purpose of small holdings? If not, then under this Bill they should be given power to sell. We want to create a class of cultivating owners, men who will be absolute owners for cultivating purposes, and we want to do that, not only for the public good, but in the interest of the labouring classes themselves. As the Bill stands the land may be sold and put to other purposes than cultivation; but if there were a continuous municipal control which can only be secured by the system of a perpetual rent-charge, the ends we have in view can be secured. I quite agree that two-thirds is too large a sum to advance, but it might be two-fifths, which would be reasonable. Besides, that leaves a larger amount of money in the hands of the poorer purchaser to enable him to purchase stock &c., and saves him from the moneylender. Now, Sir, one reason for the failure of many small holders is the gradual consolidation of farms that took place between the years from 1850 to 1881. The real reason for the destruction of these holdings was stated in a letter which I received the other day from one of the most respectable land agents in the County of Cumberland. Here is what he says—Economic law had swept away the small holders of Cumberland, whose acres had been bought up by the wealthy. One estate of £15,000 a year had been so aggregated within my own memory. In many cases 40 years' purchase—in some cases 50 years—having been paid.The reason is found in the enormous price given by those who wish to possess the land. It is a desire which has prevailed among all classes, and there is no objection to its continuance, but I want to prevent the small holdings to be created under this Act from being bought up in that manner, and I wish to save the cultivating class from the competition of manufacturers or small tradesmen in towns, who would compete for the land to call it their 1378 own and with the intention of subletting it. I wish to see the creation under this Act of a permanent class in the country districts corresponding in a great degree to the middle class in the large towns, which would be one of the greatest securities for stability this country could have. The County Councils are to be allowed to charge these small holders a larger interest than that which the Councils are to pay the Treasury, and that is a very important point to which I desire to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention. It is not that they seek to make a profit out of the small holder; but it is only to secure to the community the gain which comes from the superior credit of the community, so that there is no harm done to the small holders. Almost the only agitation in the newspapers against this Bill has been addressed to the ratepayers, who have been warned that there is danger of great loss. But, if this extra interest, which might be ¾ per cent., or 1 per cent., is charged by the County Councils, it will immediately become a fund, and an accumulating fund, to guard the ratepayers from any possible loss. Besides that, it will be a sinking fund to gradually pay off the Treasury, and then to secure quitrents for the benefit of the country. I can see no objection to such a plan, which will cause this legislation to be regarded with more favour by the general body of the ratepayers than would be obtained in any other way. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman not to omit the clause by which County Councils have power to put up buildings, but I would ask him to add another clause, empowering the Councils to advance money to the small holders, in order to enable them to put up buildings in certain cases. We had evidence given before the Select Committee—by Lord Wantage, for instance—that the small holders could put up a building at half the price that the landlord could do so. There is a case in the right hon. Gentleman's district of Sleaford, which I have seen, where farm buildings, and everything except the house, suitable to 25 acres have been put up by Mr. Charles Sharp at a total cost of £35. If a County Council had done that work in the most economical 1379 method they could adopt, it would have cost very much more money. The Bill gives no power to County Councils to hire land for leasing or otherwise: but we all know that in the neighbourhood of large towns there is a large amount of most suitable land, which has a value for building and other purposes so high that no County or Borough Council would be warranted in buying it for agricultural purposes. But the owners of such land would be only too glad to let it to the County Councils for, say, five, ten, or 15 years for the purpose of small holdings; and, therefore, to give the County Councils power to hire as well as purchase land would be an advantage to all parties, and would be especially necessary in order to secure the land in certain districts where it is most needed. With regard to the money to be paid down, I think that, instead of one-fourth, 15 per cent. would be ample, for we only want to insure the bona fides of the applicants; and I fix on 15 per cent. because it is the sum which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners have adopted. As to the absence of power to re-purchase, I hope the right hon. Gentleman will consider what has been said by the hon. Member for Dumfries on that head—that where the County Councils acquire holdings for the purpose of the public good they should have power to re-purchase subject to fair compensation. I was rather astonished to find a condition in the Bill that no house should be put up on a holding of less than 25 acres, and that the odd reason given for that restriction was fear of congested districts. I shall be very glad when the fear of congestion in our rural districts is a real one. At present we are a long way off any such difficulty, and, therefore, what we want to do is to encourage men to buy bits of land, however small, in order that they may put up houses in which they and their families may live. With reference to the Local Authority to administer this Act, I am bound to say that if we had district Councils they would be a better body for the purpose, but it would be fatal to substitute the small area of the Parish Council. There are many reasons which might be given in support of that opinion. For instance, there is the question of money; and we hear that 1380 there is a great deal of unwholesome influence used by the parson, the squire, and the farmer over the poor labourer. If that be true, to what a far greater extent would you be subjecting the labourer to such influences if you entrusted the administration of an Act like this to representatives of such a small area? The fact is the County Councils have proved themselves able and willing to deal with rural questions, they have shown themselves ready, and intelligently ready, to carry out the Allotments Act of 1890, and we cannot do better, in view of the non-existence of District Councils, than to put it into their hands, especially as the ninth clause the Bill admirably provides that an elected Councillor of the district shall be a member of the Management Committee of each district. While thanking the Government for the measure they have introduced, which contains all the principles we contend for, we have to point out that the introduction of a word or two here and there tends to make those principles of no avail. For example, the right hon. Gentleman has adopted the principle of perpetual quit-rent, but in the next line he says it may be redeemable. How a perpetual quit-rent can be redeemable I am at a loss to know, but I am greatly encouraged to believe that that was only put in to be knocked out, and that the real pith of the proposal was contained in the first part of it. I thank the House for their kind attention to my remarks upon this subject.
§ (7.45.) MAJOR RASCH (Essex, S.E.)
Representing as I do a district where the agricultural population is pretty numerous, and from which the migration of the agricultural labourer has been getting more accentuated every year, I should like to say a few words upon this Bill. I congratulate the Government on the introduction of this wise and sagacious measure; but I cannot help expressing a little mild surprise when I remember a Wednesday afternoon, a few years ago, when the hon. Member for the Bordesley Division introduced his Bill, and when it was condemned by the Member for Norfolk, and the right hon. Gentleman 1381 who is now President of the Board of Agriculture, who quoted statistics to prove that it would never act. The hon. Member for Somersetshire also endeavoured to prove that it was unworkable, and my hon. colleague in the representation of Essex suggested that it was absolutely impossible. It is not, however, for me, a humble supporter of Her Majesty's Government, to labour these points; and I wish now to direct the attention of the President of the Board of Agriculture to the incidence of local taxation. He knows that in Essex and Lincolnshire agriculturists may be divided into two classes—those who are ruined and those who are going to be ruined. We grow wheat at 40s. a quarter and endeavour to sell it at 30s., but that is not owing so much to foreign competition as to the incidence of taxation, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman may be induced to take off the penny he suggested should be put on the rates. With reference to the principle of compulsion, I have considerable sympathy with the views of the hon. Member for Bordesley, because I remember that compulsion was the motive power behind the Allotments Act, although it was only enforced on one occasion; and, although the Allotments Act and the Small Holdings Act are not on all fours, I think that is a matter which may be fairly taken into consideration on both sides of the House.
§ (7.48.) MR. THORBURN (Peebles and Selkirk)
I have been in communication with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture regarding the terms of this Bill. It is described as a Small Agricultural Holdings Bill. As an Agricultural Holdings Bill this measure would be of comparatively little use to many districts in Scotland. For instance, in the constituency I represent it would be practically of no use, but it would be of immense advantage if it provided in those districts small pastoral holdings. I suppose you could get eight or ten times the acreage of pastoral land for the same money that you could get agricultural land for, and I have made a very careful calculation of what I consider a small pastoral holding would do in Scotland. I believe that for a 1382 £50 limit you could get a small pastoral holding which could carry, in all probability, ten score of sheep; and as a practical farmer myself, I have made the calculation which I will submit to the House, and as to which I think the House will admit that if the Bill were extended to pastoral holdings, it would be of great advantage to the people of Scotland. We have in our rural districts a large number of shepherds, who, as a rule, are very thrifty men, and when they came to a certain time of life and retired, they have usually saved a considerable amount of money. If pastoral holdings of this kind were to be got, they would be taken advantage of by these shepherds when they had attained a certain period of life. Let the House take the case of a small holding with ten scores of black-faced sheep, which are pretty well-known in my part of the country. A fifth part, or two scores, would be young sheep, which would not breed in the first year. That would leave eight scores of ewes for breeding purposes. If we deduct two per score not being in lamb, we would have a production upon those remaining of seven scores and four lambs. Taking the sexes as divided, there would be three scores and twelve wedder lambs, which, I believe, could be sold for 10s. a piece. That is a very moderate calculation, and during the time I have been farming I have known them sell as high as 14s. Three scores and twelve wedder lambs at 10s. apiece would produce £26. Then there would be three scores and twelve ewe lambs; but out of that number two scores would be required to keep up the stock, leaving one score and twelve ewe lambs for sale. I take it that these would sell for 13s. apiece, which would bring in £20 16s. Then I calculate that the wool of each sheep would produce 2s. 3d., and that would give £22 10s. There would be the usual sale of draft ewes every year, which should be a fifth of the stock, or two scores. Last, allowing for a certain amount of death—say, four sheep—there would be no more than 36 to sell as draft or cast ewes. Taking these at 18s. each, they would produce £32 8s., so that the aggregate sales of sheep on this small holding would come to £111. But, in addition to that, I 1383 believe the small holder would be able to keep a cow, poultry, and pigs, and I put them down as worth £15 a year at least, making the gross revenue from this small holding £126. I will now deal with the outlay. There would be the annual rent charge of £50, the interest at 4 per cent. on capital, or, that is to say, the sheep stock, which I value at £400—and no end of shepherds in my neighbourhood are able to put that down—would amount to £16; on fencing and house, say £250, at 5 per cent., £12 10s.; and taxes and other expenses, £10; giving an outlay of £88 10s., while the revenue would be £126, thus leaving the substantial balance of £38 to the small holder, after getting interest on the capital he has embarked in the undertaking. If the sheep were Cheviot stock, the numbers kept would be fewer; but the value of the lambs, the wool, and the cast ewes would be higher, and I do not think there would be any great difference between the two. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to announce to the House and to the country that this Bill will confer the privileges of small pastoral holdings in Scotland, and I am sure, if he does so, he will earn the eternal gratitude of a very large body of worthy men.
§ (7.55.) COLONEL EYRE (Lincolnshire, Gainsborough)
I should like to take this opportunity, as I had not one on the First Reading, to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the Bill he has introduced, which is admirable in its conception, and will, I believe, be easily worked. I wish for one moment to call attention to the present system of land tenure, and endeavour to show that, under existing circumstances, as regards the landlord, the tenant farmer, and the labourer, it is a success. We should be most careful in connection with all Land Bills not in any way to interfere with the large farms on large estates, for to them is due the great success which has attended our agriculture. If we trace the origin of our magnificent breeds of cattle, the Scotch, Highland breed, the Polled Angus, the Shorthorn, the Devonshire, the Hereford, or the Suffolk, we shall find that they are not due to the small occupier, but to the capital invested by the wealthy classes in large farms and 1384 large estates. So again in regard to our breed of long woolled sheep. You may travel all over the world and find our famous breed of sheep, and this again we trace not to the small occupiers but to the large estates and the enterprise of the great landed proprietors. We breed the most powerful horses the world has ever seen; and foreigners come from all parts of the world to buy our stallions and our mares. And here I would congratulate the hon. Member for Tamworth on having gained nine prizes at the great agricultural show which has just been held. These magnificent results, it will be found, follow from the capital invested by the owners of large estates; and it is the small owners who are dependent on the large owners for their success in agriculture. There is an idea at the present time, promulgated from various platforms—though no greater fallacy exists—that under our existing system of agriculture the labourer is divorced from the soil; but I shall be able to show that there is hardly a single village where the marriage ceremony has not been celebrated. I would call attention to some statistics which have never been produced in this House before, and which, I think, will be found interesting, although they may be criticised because they are not official but amateur statistics. I have taken a radius of about 40 miles round my house in Nottinghamshire, and I have written to gentlemen whom I know personally, residing in the villages, asking the number of farmers in their respective villages who commenced life as agricultural labourers. As we are going to embark on the new principle of giving State aid to the labourer, I think it is well we should know what the present system has done, so that we may have some data to go upon in Committee. I will take typical groups of villages within that 40 miles' radius, which includes the greater part of the north and middle of Nottinghamshire and my division in Lincolnshire. In one group of four villages there are 6,912 acres, of which 1,805 acres are in the hands of men who commenced life as agricultural labourers; that is to say, 25 per cent. of the land is held by them. The holdings vary in size from 2 acres to 289 acres, and are held by 1385 51 men. I will give the names of the villages, and also of the men, to hon. Gentlemen afterwards if they desire them. In a group of five villages in Nottinghamshire represented by 9,217 acres—fairly good land, including some pasture—739 acres are in the hands of men who commenced life as agricultural labourers, and they farm from 60 to 300 acres each. I will take a group of four villages in my division in Lincolnshire representing something like 27,000 acres. There 2,590 acres are in the hands of such men as I have referred to. On an estate near Grantham, which consists of 13,000 acres, 1,400 acres are in the hands of men who started as labourers. In another case in Nottinghamshire, representing 10,000 acres, 2,181 acres are in the hands of men who commenced life as agricultural labourers. I think I have said enough to show that under the present system, which is so much derided by hon. Gentlemen opposite, the labourer is not divorced from the soil, but that he is able to take, has taken, and is prospering on far larger farms than has been contemplated in any Act of Parliament dealing with the question. There is one other case I wish to refer to, because it is a peculiar one. The Isle of Axholme, which has been referred to once or twice to-night, is represented by about 50,000 acres in a ring fence. I will take the town of Epworth, representing about 5,000 acres, and there there are 260 occupiers and owners of land, of whom about 160 commenced life as labourers. The whole of the isle is represented by small owners and occupiers, holding as a rule 200 or 300 acres, and there is only one holding of 3,000 acres. Anyone who went to the Isle of Axholme and advocated compulsion would, in all probability, lose every vote in the island. Supposing the Act were made compulsory, and men in Epworth wanted land, you would give State aid and compulsion to obtain it, and the effect would be to drive out many of these small holders, who were once in the condition of the men desiring the land, but had raised themselves by their energy and industry. I think from that that hon. Gentlemen will see what a dangerous principle they are advocating. Its application in that case would ruin and 1386 destroy hundreds of poor men who had gained their position by energy and industry. I believe the voluntary system is the right one, and will do all that is required. If there is no compulsion the County Council will have to feel its way from village to village, and see that it does not injure these small occupiers of land, and find localities where it can buy land to benefit one set of men without injuring another set.
§ (8.10.) Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now-adjourned."—(Mr. Channing.)
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Debate adjourned till Thursday.