§ (1.) After the thirty-first day of March next during the continuance of this Act, that is to say, the period of five years after the passing of this Act the occupier of agricultural land in England shall be liable in the case of every rate to which this Act applies, to pay one-half only of the rate in the pound payable in respect of buildings and other hereditaments.
§ (2.) This Act shall apply to every rate as defined by this Act, except a rate—
- (a) which the occupier of agricultural land is liable, as compared with the occupier of buildings and other hereditaments, to be assessed to or to pay in the proportion of one-half or less than one-half, or
- (b>) which is assessed under any commission of sewers or in respect of any drainage, wall, embankment, or other work for the benefit of the land.
§ Amendment again proposed, after the word "occupier," to insert the words "and owner."—(Mr. Channing.)
§ Question again proposed, "That those words be there inserted."1598
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN, Lincolnshire, Sleaford)
said, that just before the conclusion of the Debate on the Amendment the other night, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton complained that no notice whatever had been taken of the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin. In not replying to him he certainly did not mean any discourtesy to the right hon. Gentleman, but it appeared to him that the right hon. Gentleman spoke to an Amendment which was quite different to that of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire and that it would be inconvenient to discuss two Amendments at the same time. He had stated already, he thought with sufficient distinctness and clearness, his reasons for opposing the Amendment now before the Committee. Undoubtedly the Amendment of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin was, in some respects, much less objectionable than that under discussion; indeed, in some respects and subject to certain conditions, there was a good deal to be said for the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. He signed the Report of the Duke of Richmond's Commission, which recommended a division of rates, but the view of the Government was that, if that principle was to be adopted at all, it must have attached to it three conditions, all of which were wanting in the present Bill. If such an arrangement were made at all it ought to be made as a permanent arrangement, and ought to apply to rates of every description. ["Hear, hear!"] They had already agreed to make this Bill a temporary Bill, and in addition to that it applied to rates which fell upon land only. The third condition was one of the very first importance—viz., that if the owner was to bear directly any portion of the rates he must have fair and adequate representation. ["Hear, hear!"] There was no provision of that kind in the Bill, and he was not prepared to in-cumber the Measure by any such provision. He was rather surprised at the attitude of right hon. Gentleman opposite upon this question, because in 1893 they refused to adopt the principle of division of rates although strenuously 1599 pressed to do so by some of their supporters. He did not now refer to the hon. Member for South Molton. That hon. Gentleman had been quite impartial in his condemnation of both Parties, but he recollected that, although the hon. Gentleman did screw up his courage to put upon the Paper an Amendment to the late Government's Bill under which the rates would have been divided, when the crucial moment arrived he withdrew the Amendment. There were others who took a very different action. Mr. Rathbone, for instance, summed up his speech on the 6th of November 1893 by laying down three conditions, one of which was that the rates should be divided between owners and occupiers, and that, to guard against too great laxity in increase of debt, owners should be given representation on the governing body. On the 21st of the same month, Mr. Rathbone moved an Amendment, the foundation of which, he said, was a direct division of rates between owner and occupier. To his speech the Government of the day turned a deaf ear, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton apparently so much disapproved of it that he would have none of it. The reason was not very far to seek. The Government had themselves made the division practically impossible by refusing the representation of the owners. Having refused to adopt the principle in 1893, they called upon the present Government to adopt it in a totally different Bill. There was no feeling, or a very small one indeed, on this question. In reply to the Central Chamber of Agriculture, only three reports in favour of the proposed division had been sent in. Only that morning he had received a letter from a gentleman whom the House would at once recognise as an authority on this question, and he should like to read it to the House. It was from Mr. Clare Sewell Read, who, writing from Honingham Thorpe, Norwich, said:—I hope you will continue to oppose the Amendment of your Rating Bill for the division of rates between landlord and tenant. When, some thirty years ago, a similar proposal was before the House, I am reminded that I said it might be more covenient for a heavy-laden ass to carry its load in two panniers, but I hoped he would not be such a donkey as to imagine he was not carrying the whole load. I 1600 was then somewhat in favour of the proposed division, as landowners in quarter sessions had autocratic control of the county rate, and as ex officio guardians, had direct representation in dispensing the poor rate. All this is now altered. County, District and Parish Councils are all elected by a constituency, the great majority of whom pay directly no rates. It seems, therefore, an injustice to call upon the owners of the land to pay half those rates over which they have neither representation nor control. The great spending body are the Guardians, and the farmers in rural districts are still in a large majority, and, being the chief ratepayers, are naturally interested in keeping the rates within reasonable bounds. Now that Parliament appears willing to give the tenants some substantial relief from rates, what cause is there for dividing the remainder of the burden with the landlord? It is nonsense to say that this just concession will all be taken by the landlord I will answer for the East Anglian tenantry, that if we get it we mean to keep it "—[Cheers]—"but when any substantial benefit comes from better times, we farmers shall only be too glad to share our profits with our labourers and our landlords." [Cheers.] You are aware that the Central Chamber of Agriculture, at the end of its last meeting, passed a Resolution by a small majority in favour of dividing rates between owner and occupier. But, as the total of the division did not number above one-half the Members of the Council who were present early in the day, a different decision would have resulted in the morning.[Cheers.] He had only further to add that for the reasons he had that afternoon and previously stated, her Majesty's Government could make no concessions on this point, and therefore they must positively refuse to accede to the Amendment before the House. [Cheers.]
§ SIR HENRY FOWLER
said that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Chaplin) had taunted the late Government and himself both on Thursday night and again now that the best and most legitimate opportunity of dealing with the question of the division of rates between owner and occupier occurred upon the Local Government Bill of 1894.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
replied that they would not quarrel about the comparative or the superlative, but as there were many new Members who cheered the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman he would like to recall the circumstances which attended the passing of the Bill of 1894 through that House. That was a Bill which created an entirely new local authority in every 1601 parish in Great Britain. It reformed all existing local authorities except municipal boroughs. It dealt with the local administration of London; and it also dealt to a large extent with the administration of the poor-law. That Bill occupied more time in passing through the House than any other Bill with the one exception for the last 60 years. It took 57 days of Parliamentary time. It was 34 days in Committee. The Opposition put down 1,025 amendments, of which they moved 402—[laughter]—and yet throughout the whole of that long time he only moved the Closure twice. [Cheers.] During the progress of the Bill constant appeals were made to the Government to abandon one-half of the Measure, on the ground that it was overladen and too large to be passed as one Bill. Therefore any addition to it would have been fiercely contested. ["Hear, hear!"] But if it was a Parliamentary impossibility in 1894, as it undoubtedly was, there was yet another reason for not dealing with the matter. They were then following a precedent. In 1888 the then President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) was asked and refused to burden his Bill with this condition of the division of rates between landlord and tenant. The still further reason why he (Sir H. Fowler) could not deal with this subject in 1894 was that they had not, as the President of the Local Government Board now had, two millions of money to give away. [Cheers.] That very fact made this the proper opportunity for dealing with the matter. [Cheers.] They had authorities on this question. The last two Commissions which had sat on agricultural matters—the Duke of Richmond's Commission and the recent Commission—had not ignored the question. The Duke of Richmond had given his view of the matter, and his opinion had not been altered. The right hon. Gentleman had again and again called their attention to the report of the recent Commission on Agricultural Depression, and had stated that the House ought to attach great importance to the views it had expressed. But he had not called the attention of the Council to the special reservations of Mr. John Clay, who signed the majority Report, and who was not altogether adverse to this legislation. 1602 Then, in addition, there was also the present First Lord of the Admiralty. It was impossible to ignore his statements upon this question, not so much because he was a Member of the present Government, as because he was one of the greatest living authorities upon the subject, and because he was committed, both Parliamentarily and legislatively, to endeavour to carry out the Amendment of his hon. Friend for Northampton, as modified by the Amendment of the Member for Bodmin now proposed. In his well-known letter to the late Sir Julian Goldsmid, the right hon. Gentleman said:—To defend my proposal as to the Division of local rates between landlord and tenant would extend this letter far beyond reasonable limits. I have fully argued the matter in the draft Report submitted by me to the Select Committee upon Local Taxation of 1870, and to that I would venture to refer you for a detailed exposition of my views of the advantages, both economical and administrative, which would result from such a division of the rates.There was but one quotation that he would make from that Report, in which the whole question of the incidence of rates were argued with very great ability, and the division was defended with great power by the right hon. Gentleman—The majority," he said, speaking of the farmers, "have no lease at all, and stand in relation, to the landlords under which rack-rents are on the whole unusual. If tenants holding at will, or on a yearly tenancy, had to pay rack-rents, there can be little doubt that every increase of rates imposed upon the tenant would render it necessary for him to demand a reduction of rent, otherwise the reduction of his profit would leave him in the end no option except to throw up his farm. But, as a matter of fact, it appears that a great portion of the farms in England are not rack-rented. If so, it is clear that any increase in local burdens must fall upon the margin between the actual rent and the rack-rent, and so far diminish the advantage derived by the farmer from his actual rent being below a rack-rent, and, till that margin was exhausted, it would naturally be useless for him to apply to his landlord to readjust his rent. It may further be stated that even where that margin is not great, and where the occupier is paying a full rent, he would be in practice at a considerable disadvantage in applying for a reduction of rent in consequence of increasing local burdens.And then the right hon. Gentleman argued very strongly the disadvantage which the tenant was placed at in taking the initiative, and showed that, though 1603 ultimately the burden of the rates fell upon the landlord, there was an intermediate period during which it fell upon the occupier, and that the occupier could not, without disturbing his tenancy, which was a greater grievance to him than ever paying that additional rent, obtain the relief he needed. Then they had the experience of Scotland; they had the experience, to a great extent, of Ireland; and they had the pledges of this Government upon the question. He would like to call the attention of the Committee to what were the last words of the last Conservative Government upon this question—words by which he thought they were bound to-day, and which they ought now to carry out. They spoke through the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, who said:—From what I have said on previous occasions on this question I do not recede, with the saving of existing contracts and securing to the owner a voice in the expenditure of the rates, and I am authorised to say on the part of my Colleagues that that is their view also. We consider that, while it is not possible in this Bill to deal with the division of rates between owners and occupiers, as it would involve the settlement of many other matters which it would be impossible to put into this Bill, we will certainly consider how the division recommended by the Richmond Commission should be carried out. We have been asked how far we can pledge ourselves to deal with the matter by legislation. We cannot pledge ourselves to deal with the question within six months. We cannot say we will undertake at any given moment to deal with it; but we will say this—that we consider that the whole question of rating has still to be dealt with. It is a chapter that has not been concluded, and it is a matter that we should have been glad to include in this Bill if it had not been impossible to do so. Though we cannot pledge ourselves to any particular date, we shall deal as soon as we can with this question of rating, and take into our best consideration how we can secure the division of rates between owners and occupiers.Well, this they contended was the occasion. [Cheers.] This was a short Bill; it was a simple Bill. [Ministerial cheers.] The First Lord of the Treasury said it was a one-clause Bill. [Ministerial cheers.] Well, then, how easy to add to a Bill of one clause one other clause such as that suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bodmin—namely, that, reserving existing contracts and upholding them, for the future rates should be divided as they 1604 were in Scotland, between the owner and the occupier.
§ SIR H. FOWLER
said, all rates. There was also the point of adequate representation. It had been said that. Quarter Sessions had an autocratic-power of taxation, but Parliament had very properly put an end to that autocratic power, and had invested the representation in the occupiers of the county. He took it that the landlords who lived in the county were occupiers in that county, and therefore they had their representation, and in the Bill of 1894 the owner was made one of the electors, and therefore the owner had representation. They were now dealing with the burdens on the land. It was said that this was a Bill for the relief of agriculture. Why should not the owner as well have some share? They were not disputing that: but the Amendment before the House was that the State should pay one-half of the rates, the occupier one-fourth, and the owner one-fourth. That appeared a fair and equitable division so far as this relief was concerned. Here was£10,000,000 of public money being taken for a specific purpose, and therefore from this time they contended that there should be relief given to the occupier from the landlord as well as from the State, and that he should have the opportunity of defending himself from what otherwise must inevitably happen, the obligation to pay this half of the rate, because, for the reasons set forth so clearly by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, he was put at a disadvantage in initiating a change. [Cheers.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. A. J. BALFOUR, Manchester, E.)
I trust the Committee will not be betrayed, by the speech to which we have just listened, into discussing the general question of whether the system of half-payment by owner and occupier is better than the existing payment entirely by the occupier. That is not the question which divides the House at the present time. Speaking for myself, both as a Member of the Government pledged by the statement made in 1888, and by many other declarations to the 1605 system of dividing the rate, and accustomed to that system in Scotland, where it works admirably, I, at all events, am not going to say one word against it. I think it is the best system, and therefore it is a waste of Parliamentary powder and shot to bring forward arguments showing that it would be a change for the better if that change could be introduced into this country. The only question before the Committee—and I hope my hon. Friends will remember this—is whether we shall risk the destruction of this Bill by overloading it—[Opposition laughter and Ministerial cheers]—or whether we should endeavour to introduce into a Measure in no sense connected with this subject—[Opposition cries of "Oh!"]—and in no sense leading on to this particular reform, a Measure absolutely unsuited to the general framework of our scheme. [Opposition cries of dissent.] It is unsuited to the framework of our scheme because our scheme is a temporary scheme. [Cheers.] It is unsuited to the framework of our scheme, because it relates to agricultural land alone, and absolutely excludes all connection with urban land—[Cheers]—and because it does not even deal with what is commonly called the agricultural interest alone, but only affects the rates of that part of the agricultural interest which is exclusive of buildings and houses, though they are absolutely necessary to the carrying on of the agricultural industry. [Cheers.] There is a third reason, which is, that if you introduce the Amendment which has been suggested you will inevitably raise the question of special representation of owners. I am not sure whether that discussion would be in order in such an Amendment or not—in other words, whether, if the Amendment of my right hon. Friend were introduced into the Bill, it would or would not be in order to introduce and discuss a series of clauses making an alteration in our existing local government. I am inclined to think it would be out of order, but, whichever alternative you choose, observe the inconvenience of the situation in which the Committee would be placed. If it is out of order to discuss the question of representation, then you will require the Committee to make an alteration in our system of local taxation, and yet deprive them of the opportunity of making the incidental altera- 1606 tion in our local government possibly following logically from that alteration. If, on the other hand, it is in order to discuss the question of representation, I beg the Committee to notice that we shall find ourselves embarked on a great Measure of reform of local government. [Cheers.] Both of those alternatives are intolerable alternatives. What the right hon. Gentleman opposite said in passing his Measure in 1894, and what my right hon. Friend the present President of the Local Government Board said of his Measure in 1888—namely, that it would be overweighted by any proposal of this kind, that it would necessarily and inevitably lead to discussion so prolonged and so intricate that the Measure would be smothered in the amount of new matter thus added—all those arguments are at least as applicable to the present Measure as they were to the Measures in regard to which they were originally used. [Cheers.] I hope my hon. Friends will abstain from the superfluous and unnecessary task of discussing whether it is in the abstract a good or an evil alteration in the incidence of local taxation, and that, if they think it necessary to address the House, it will be simply to give their view of whether or not they think the passage of this Measure would be facilitated by the enormous change proposed by my right hon. Friend. [Cheers.]
§ * SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT (Monmouthshire, W.)
It is very obvious that the right hon. Gentleman is extremely anxious not to face the principle involved in this Amendment, and he has implored his Friends not to enter upon the discussion of it. [Cheers.]
§ * SIR W. HARCOURT
But that will not prevent us from discussing it. [Cheers and counter cheers.] The first thing the right hon. Gentleman, if he desires to forward his Bill, should do, is to attain to some agreement on his own Bench as to what this Bill is and what its objects are. We had thought in our innocence that this was a Bill for the purpose of relieving agricultural distress. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but an Amendment was moved the other day having reference to the question of agricultural distress and proposing that the provisions of this Bill should apply to the districts where 1607 distress existed, and not to those where distress did not exist. [Cries of "No, no!"] That is a sufficiently accurate description of it. [Mr. W. LONG: "No, no!"] What is then? [Mr. LONG was understood to say, "Never mind!"] I will state what the right hon. Gentleman, who says he does not mind, said on that occasion. He said:—That hon. Members in saying that the policy which underlay this Bill was that of giving relief to agricultural distress, had fallen into an error.It was an error to suppose that the object of this Bill was to relieve agricultural depression. The right hon. Gentleman cannot call out "Never mind" to his own words. [Cheers.] "This particular Measure," according to the right hon. Gentleman, "proposes to relieve the pressure of the rates," contradicting, I must say, the author of the Bill, who put it specifically as a question of relieving agricultural distress. It was an error, said the Minister for Agriculture, to suppose it was anything of the kind, but it was a Measure proposed to relieve the pressure of the rates. He put forward this Bill as distinctly a rating Bill, and he said it involved a policy advocated for many years before agricultural depression. That was the view of the Minister for Agriculture. It is a Bill to deal with the question of rating, therefore this question of the principle of rating is, according to the right hon. Gentleman, the very pith and marrow of this Bill, and we are proposing to deal with it on the principle so long advocated by the present First Lord of the Admiralty. [Cheers.] As this is not an Agricultural Depression Bill, but a Rating Reform Bill, we are extremely anxious to know the views of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who for the last 25 years has been a leading authority on rating and of the principle advocated in the Amendment now before the Committee. [Cheers.] I would endeavour, if I could, to reconcile the antagonistic views of the author of the Bill, of the Minister for Agriculture, and of the First Lord of the Treasury, for all three have given perfectly different views of what the Bill is and what its objects are. [Laughter.] Indeed, a great amount of the difficulty we have in dealing with the Measure is because the Government themselves have 1608 not made up their minds, or, at all events, have not informed the House of Commons what their view is of the nature of the Bill they have introduced. I will endeavour to reconcile these opposing views. As I understand it, it is a Rating Bill; but, as I think the President of the Local Government Board said, it might have waited for a time, if it had not been for the agricultural depression which made it necessary and advisable to bring forward this Measure. Let us look at it from that point of view. Here is a Rating Bill, a complete change in the system of agricultural rating in this country, a Bill which is to make half the rate payable by the Exchequer. But when you are halving the rate in this way between the occupier, who previously paid the whole, and the nation, who is to pay the taxes out of which the other half comes, how can you say it is not to the purpose to discuss the principle upon which the division of the rates is to take place? [Cheers.] Your very Bill is one for the division of rates, that is its essence, and "why then do you seek to exclude the principle upon which the division of rates ought to be founded? [Cheers.] I suppose it is by the Closure, because you do everything by the Closure. [Laughter and cheers.] You say this is a temporary Bill. Well, if you are going to make this temporary provision about the division of rates, why not make this same temporary provision about the division of rates between farmer and owner, as well as between the public and the farmer ["Hear, hear!"] You do not agree with the view that this relief is to go to the owner. You say it may ultimately, but that for the present it will go to the farmer, and what I have to say will be founded on your assumption that for the present and during the duration, of this Bill the rate will be paid by the farmer. You say that the party you want to relieve, for the present, in agricultural distress, is the tenant-farmer. What we ask is that, as the State is to assist the tenant-farmer by the proposal in your Bill, that the landowner shall also assist the tenant-farmer. [Cheers.] That is the point of our Amendment. The proposition is that the tenant-farmer pays the whole of the rate, and the demand we make in this Amendment is that the landlord shall come forward 1609 and help the tenant-farmer by paying a share of that rate of which at present we say the owner pays none and the farmer pays the whole. ["Hear, hear!"] And here the question of agricultural distress comes in, and the question which I venture to say lies at the root of the whole of this discussion is this—Who has suffered most? Who has borne the heaviest part of the burden of agricultural distress? Has it been the owner or the occupier of the land? I affirm that nine-tenths of the burden—I believe I might go further and say 99–100ths of the burden—has been borne by the tenant-farmer. [Cries of "No, no!"] I affirm that enormously the greater share of the burden has been borne by the tenant-farmer and not by the landlord. That is my proposition, and I shall endeavour to establish it. If I establish that proposition, then I have established this—that the section of the agricultural interest who has borne the smallest fraction of the burden of agricultural distress is the fraction which ought to assist the other part who have borne a far greater portion of the agricultural distress, and that is a question which you cannot refuse to discuss in this Bill. [Cheers.] The first question is this. We are told that the tenant-farmer of this country—and I am afraid in a great degree, in many districts it is true—has made no profits, that he has, in point of fact, lost his capital, has suffered most severely, and at least as much and more, perhaps, even in proportion, than the fall in the price of produce. Is that true of the landlord? Is it true that rent has fallen in the same proportion as the profits of the farmer? [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes!"] An hon. Member opposite says "Yes," and he comes from Shropshire, [A laugh.] I will give him some evidence from Shropshire directly, upon authority that I am sure he will not deny. ["Hear, hear!"] Do not let us be told this is not a question to be discussed upon a Bill that pretends to be founded on agricultural depression, and which professes to be for the, relief of the tenant-farmers of this country. I have considered this matter very carefully, and I have read the evidence given before the Commission. I have also read those very important and instructive documents, the Reports of the Assistant Com- 1610 missioners; and naturally one of the first Reports that I looked at was that relating to the county in which I reside—a Report furnished by a gentleman extremely well known to every agriculturist, Dr. Fream. In this Report Dr. Fream says:—In cases where what were regarded as only fair and reasonable rents were maintained, even in the good times, the tenants have been held together; but on other estates, where old truants were got rid of for the sake of others willing to pay higher rents, the result has been disastrous. Unduly high rents were accompanied by short tenancies; many and frequent changes were consequently the result, and the general tendency of such a policy has been ruinous. It is maintained that those landlords who have been in the habit of making reasonable reductions when asked have done best in the long run; and, on the other hand, that a generation of farmers has been ruined through the lack of timely concessions.He then goes on to quote a letter, dated October 2nd, which he says was sent to him by a farmer whose family had been tenants on the same estate for two centuries. I do not believe there is any county in England where tenancies have been of longer duration than in the county of Hampshire. ["Hear, hear!"] He says:—Since our conversation I have considered the matter somewhat, and writing from a tenant-farmer's point of view, and solely as regards arable land, I beg to append my humble opinion, formed from costly experience, of the causes of the present ruinous state of our in-industry.He proceeds to speak of bad seasons, and of foreign competition. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, and he speaks of another thing which I hope the hon. Gentleman who cheers will note:—The disinclination and refusal of landlords, in most cases, to meet their tenants. Some, not all, are now offering 15 or 20 per cent, abatement. When, as is the case for the last two years, more than the rent has been lost, this is too little. In seasons like the last two, 50 per cent, should be allowed to tenants of a few years' standing to enable them to hold on.Then comes another cause for the ruinous state of the agricultural industry:—Absence of combination and any real representation in Parliament. Both Houses are overdone with landlords and their advisers." [Cheers.] "The interests of the tenant-farmers are now and have always been neglected.1611 Now, Sir, there is another tenant-farmer who writes to Dr. Fream. He says:— "Good farmers have not been sufficiently well treated and met by the landlords"—and this is extremely important, and, I must say that, according to my observation, I am afraid it is true—"so long as any balance was thought to be at the bankers, no reduction was made. No consideration was given to the question whether or no the farm paid any interest on the tenant's money. That is the question to which I ask the attention of the House. In this House the term "agricultural interest" is generally used to mean the landlords. [Cheers.] But the agricultural interest is a partnership composed of the landowner, the tenant-farmer and the labourer, and when misfortune occurs there ought to be some equality in the distribution of the loss. ["Hear, hear!"] If you allow the tenant-farmer to lose everything, to lose his profit, to sink his capital, and yet pay his rent, that is not a fair arrangement of the partnership. [Cheers.] That is the whole question. And now I will show the House that while rents have been reduced in many cases very little and in many cases not at all, the farmers have been for years deriving no profit and paying these rents out of their capital. If that is the condition of things in the agricultural partnership, have we not the right to call on the landlords to do something to contribute to the losses of the tenant-farmers, as we do in the Amendment now before the House? [Cheers.] I could multiply these cases indefinitely, because the Returns are full of them. I will take Mr. Pringle's Report on North Durham and Yorkshire. He says:—Rents are stated to be everywhere too high and neither the reductions nor remissions have been adequate to the necessities of the farmer, and when they did come they were not large enough.Now I will come to the county of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill. I find, as I expected to find, in the evidence personal testimony to the liberality and generosity with which he has himself dealt with his tenants. [Cheers.] The popular impression is that rents have gone down to nothing; but that is not the case. There happens to be 1612 in Mr. Wilson-Fox's account of Lincoln shire a table of the rents on several large estates in that county, which is said to be one of the most distressed counties. Here is a statement of the rents on the great estates in Lincolnshire. I take the first, the estate of Sir John Thorold. The rent for 1893 is put at 23s. 5d., and 1893 was one of the worst years we have had. That is a reduction on what it was in the high times; but it is a curious fact, to which I would call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Thanet, that in 1820, the good old days of Protection, it was only 23s. l0d.
§ CAPTAIN PRETYMAN (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
Most of the land on that estate is in hand. [Ministerial cheers.]
§ * SIR W. HARCOURT
This is founded on the interim Report. The most material point in the whole thing is whether the rents have fallen in proportion to the fall in the price of produce, and whether the burden cast on the owner is anything to compare with the burden cast on the occupier. [Cheers.] That is the question we raise, and we shall raise it here and elsewhere. [Cheers.] Let it be distinctly understood what the issue is. I say that in this agricultural distress the farmers have suffered immensely more than the landowners. That is the position I am prepared to prove over and over again from every page of the volume before us. I take now Mr. Edward Turner's estate. The rent on that estate is 19s. 2d.; on the Earl of Yarborough' s, 19s. 3d.; on the Marquess of Bristol's, 19s. 6d.; on Earl Brownlow's 22s. 2d.; on Sir F. Astley-Corbett's, 23s. 4d. I quote these estates because they are estates on which the rents have been reduced more than in most other places. It is true that the great landowners have reduced their rents more in proportion than the small landowners; therefore, these are favourable instances of the rentals of that county. But these rents, though they have been considerably reduced from the figure at which they stood in the seventies, are not ruination rents. [Cheers.] They average above 20s. an acre, and what we ask in this Amendment is that out of that 20s. the landowner should contribute something towards the rate that is to be put upon the tenant. That is the basis of our 1613 contention. ["Hear, hear!"] Now I come to Shropshire. One of the first witnesses called before the Commission was Mr. Lander, and I am sure the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite will admit that he is a very high authority. He is Chairman of the Joint Committee of the Shropshire County Council and also of the Chamber of Agriculture. In his evidence he said that throughout the county good mixed farms averaged from 26s. to 35s., tithe included. Well, those are not ruination rents. [Cheers.] The whole of Mr. Lander's evidence is founded on statements sent in to the Chamber of Agriculture, and I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite will contend that Shropshire is one of the most distressed counties.
§ * SIR W. HARCOURT
It is, perhaps, one of the least distressed. Anybody who reads the evidence, will see that, on the whole, in this distress Shropshire has been forfunate. Having given that account of the rentals of Shropshire, what does Mr. Lander say is the condition of the farmers? He says that, the capital of the farmers in Shropshire has disappeared. He was asked, "What has become of their capital, and in what way have they lost it?" and he answered, "They have lost it in their business—the business of farming." [Cheers.] Then he was asked, "Do you mean paying too much rent?" That is rather a searching question to be addressed to the Chairman of the Joint Committee and of the Chamber of Agriculture, and he answers, "Paying too much rent, and they have received too little for their produce." That is the account he gives of the condition of one of the partners in the agricultural interest in Shropshire—"paying too much rent and receiving too little for their produce." [Cheers.] He went on to say that the landowners of Shropshire had as a rule, perhaps, met them fairly, but he was afraid that they would soon be in as bad a plight as the farmers. [Ministerial cheers.] He is asked:—You have just stated that the farmers are, aware that they have been paying too much rent. That is not meeting them fairly, if they do not reduce the rent to what it should be, or what the farmer can make out of his land?1614 And he answered:—Well, of course, a good many landlords are not in a position to reduce rents as much as they would like to do. They have certain charges to meet, and their hands are tied.Well, that is a very unfortunate position for the landlords, but it does not affect the position of the tenants. [Cheers.] The tenant is not to be over-rented because the landlord has overcharged his land, and that really lies at the root of this question. [Cheers.] Mr. Lander was asked, "Did he think the farmers should suffer on account of these charges?" "Certainly not," he replied; "but I am afraid they have to do so." [Cheers.] Then came the question:—If the farmers are of opinion they are paying too much rent, and the landlords think otherwise, how is the question of rent to be settled?The answer was:—Well, it is a difficult question, but I think it is a matter you might legislate upon.[Cheers.] That is the evidence of a gentleman, who stands at the very summit of agriculture in Shropshire. Mr. Pringle dwells upon the subject also, and so impressed is he with the unfairness to the tenants of the present system of settling rent that he proposes an elaborate system of arbitration in his very important and interesting Report, which hon. Gentlemen who wish to go to the bottom of this matter should study. ["Hear, hear!"] Mr. Hunter Pringle, dealing with Northamptonshire, gives a table compiled from the balance-sheet of a farm, which shows that, while the clear profit of the farm for a certain number of years was only £4,900, the rent paid was £36,751. [Cheers.] As Mr. Pringle observes, the rent paid was 7½ times the profit. [Cheers.] The estimation upon which Schedule B of the Income Tax was based was that the tenant-farmer should make a profit to the extent of one-half the rent. But here is a rent that is 7½ times greater than the profit. Is that a fair condition of things? Mr. Pringle says it is a perfectly unfair condition of things. [Cheers.] If you waited until you knew what the net profits of a farm were and then divided them into the tenant's 1615 share and the landlord's share, do you think the landlord would get the rent he is getting now? No, he would not. [Cheers.] If the tenant-farmer is making no profit at all, if his capital is being consumed in paying rent, on what principle, then, are those rents of 20s., 23s., 26s., and 35s. per acre taken out of the land? [Cheers.]
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
Is the right hon. Gentleman, making any allowance for the interest on capital the landlord may be spending on the land?
§ * SIR W. HARCOURT
That is not the question. [Ministerial laughter.] I admit that the landlord is entitled to the greater share of the net profit for what he supplies. He supplies what may be called the fixed capital for the farm. But the farmer supplies the working capital—he supplies the industry; and if the tenant-farmers are making on profits at all, but are paying rents out of capital, clearly the present division of the profits of agriculture cannot be a fair one. I am not saying what the exact proportion ought to be, but I say you ought to take what the land will yield and make some fair division of it between the landlord and the tenant. [Cheers.] You are taking an unfair view of the position when you treat the agricultural interest as the landlords' or the landlords' principally; and my proposition is that in these times of agricultural distress the amount of rent which is being levied upon the land is out of proportion to the value of the produce of the land, of which, in consequence, the tenant-farmer gets little or nothing. [Cheers.] If you talk to people loosely on this subject in the street or in society they will tell you that the landlords have reduced their rents to an enormous extent, by 40 or 50 per cent., and that, in fact, there is no rent at all. What are the facts? The rateable value is not, of course, an exact appreciation of the true rent of the land in each particular place; but it is generally a fair test of the value of the land. There are nearly 600 unions in England and Wales. What is the rateable value of the land now as compared with the year 1870—the year, it will be remembered, when the bi-metallic tie was broken, and when other things happened from which disaster has followed ever since? Out of these 580 1616 unions there are 103 in which the rateable value has increased, in 125 unions it has fallen less than 10 per cent., in 131 it has fallen between 10 and 20 per cent., in 149 it has fallen between 20 and 30 per cent. That is to say, there are 509 unions out of 580 where the rateable value has fallen less than 30 per cent. Is it true that the profits of farms have fallen less than 30 per cent.? [Cheers.] There are 60 unions out of the 580 where the rateable value has fallen 30 per cent., and only 22 where it has fallen 40 per cent. It would be much nearer the truth to say that the average fall in the value of land in this country has been from 20 to 25 per cent. Is it true that the fall in the profits of farms has been only 20 or 25 per cent.? You know it has been much nearer 100 per cent. [Cheers.] Is it fair, then, I ask, that the relation between landlord and tenant in the division of the profits of the farm should be continued on its present footing? [Cheers.] Take another illustration. Mr. Pringle gives the net rental for a number of years of a large estate in Northamptonshire. In the year 1880 the net rental of that estate was £9,804; in the year 1892 it was £9,831, or a little more than in 1880; in 1893, which was a year of very great depression, it was £8,858. Therefore this estate had only had a fall of about £1,000 in its net value. Now, what is the condition of the tenant-farmer as compared with the condition of the landlord which I have just described? These Agricultural Reports are unhappily full of instances of the ruin which has attended tenant-farmers who have gone on losing year after year, and are now deriving little or no profit at the present prices of agricultural produce. ["Hear, hear!"] Yet in this year of 1896 the rents have been extremely little reduced—by 20 or 25 per cent. I should say on the average. ["Hear, hear."] Take a farm in Hertfordshire, 350 acres, rent £420, loss to the farmer in two years £634. Compare that with the 20 or 25 per cent. reduction in the rent. [Cheers.] Take a case in Buckinghamshire, 350 acres, rent £500, loss £114, and the remission the tenant got was £10 in these days of ruinous agricultural distress. Mr. Pringle gives another case, a farm of 670 acres, rent £563, 1617 loss £532. If there is a loss of £532 upon the working of this farm, what right is there to levy a rent of £563 upon it? We want to have an answer? [Cheers.] The Government profess to relieve what they call the agricultural interest, and they do it upon the theory that the losses of the tenant-farmer are slight compared with those which fall upon the landowner. You may depend upon it that, if you closure the Debate upon this Amendment, there will be a good many farmers of the opinion that has been cited of "A Hampshire Farmer" as to the agricultural interest mainly represented in this House. ["Hear, hear!"] Mr. Pringle gives another case, a farm of 540 acres, rent £350, loss £372. Here is another case in Bedfordshire, a farm of 260 acres, 200 of it strong clay arable land—which ought to be, one would suppose, the worst and most distressed in the country—rent £356— nearly 30s. an acre—and loss £246. Here is another case, a grass farm in Hampshire, 400 acres; in 1893 the rent was £676, and five years' losses were £561, averaging £112 for five years, or 5s. 2½ d. per acre. I dare say the representatives of the agricultural interest have some explanation to give as to their view of the subject; but I maintain that this Bill does not give a fair apportionment of the relief of the distress which we all know exists. I said on the first night of the Debate that this was a much larger question than some hon. Gentlemen seemed to imagine, and that they were raising questions which would have to be discussed, but not on a one-clause Bill. [Ministerial cheers.] That description is cheered. Yes, it is a one-clause Bill, but it is also a one-interest Bill, and you cannot deal with such a question by a one-clause and a one-interest Bill. Farmers would think better of the Bill if landlords were to contribute to the rates as it is asked that they shall by this Amendment. We are not on the Second Heading of this Bill—[Ministerial Cheers]—but we are upon a clause which, depend upon it, is a clause of very great importance, and which will be regarded as such by the tenant-farmers. The question is whether, considering the far greater losses that have been sustained by tenant-farmers than by landlords, the latter shall, in respect of rates, to the small extent proposed 1618 by the Amendment, contribute to the relief of the tenant-farmers. That is the object of the Amendment, and I hope it will receive considerable support. [Cheers.]
§ MR. LEONARD COURTNEY (Cornwall, Bodmin)
said he should like to ask the Chairman for a ruling on a question of some importance. The Amendment provided that the payment of rates by a landowner should take place quite irrespective of any contract to the contrary; it also provided that a collector of rates should get one-fourth from the landowner. This appeared to involve a derogation of contracts which they were not prepared for, and the introduction of machinery which would be absolutely unworkable. It was inconceivable that a collector should get one-fourth of the rate from the tenant, and then, for the other one-fourth, seek the landlord, who might be in another part of the country. Would their voting on the present Amendment preclude them raising other Amendments, for which he thought many would be prepared to vote. These were Amendments which respected contracts, and avoided the inconvenience of the machinery he had called attention to. He wished to ask whether an adverse Vote on this Amendment would preclude entering upon any other question?
§ MR. F. A. CHANNING (Northampton, E.)
would ask whether, if the Committee decided that the owner as well as the occupier should be legally liable, it would not be competent for the Committee to entertain the Amendment providing that the occupier should deduct the landlord's portion of the rates from the rent?
said the Amendment raised a general principle—whether the rates were to be divided between owner and occupier; whether certain arrangements were to be made as to future tenancies. In what proportion the rates were to be divided between owner and occupier, and so forth, were subsidiary questions to the main question, whether the owner was to be liable at all. If the Committee decided that it would not insert the words "and owner," all other Amendments which contemplated the owner being made liable would naturally fall to the ground. If, on the other hand, the Committee 1619 inserted the words, it would be open to the Committee to make such limitations with regard to the liability of the owner as might seem to the Committee reasonable.
§ MR. COURTNEY
said they were to understand that for the present they were simply discussing the question whether the owner should in any way whatever be made liable to the payment of rates—[Opposition cheers]—and they had to fall back on the question raised by the Leader of the House whether this was an opportune time to make the owner liable. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the division of the rates was the best system possible, and, as a Member of the Government, he would naturally be expected to support a Measure to give effect to his opinion. The first objection of the right hon. Gentleman to the Amendment was that this was a temporary Bill, but nobody believed the Bill was temporary in the sense—[Opposition cheers]—of relieving agricultural land of one-half of the burden to which it was now subject. At the end of five years there would be some general scheme for rearranging local taxation, and, whatever it might be, the half remitted now would not be reimposed. This was a permanent relief that would be realised for ever. Why should not the Committee take advantage of that which in form was temporary, but in fact was permanent, to extend a principle which the right hon. Gentleman approved of absolutely and was only waiting for an opportunity to embody it in legislation? This objection was of no weight. The second was that the Amendment would apply only to the land coming under the operation of the Bill. In any future scheme the change could be extended to other forms of rateable property. It was said the progress of the Bill would be impeded by the necessity of supplementing the Amendment by further provisions. To that he demurred altogether; all that was necessary could be done in a simple clause. Great stress might be laid on the want of direct representation for owners on the rate-making authority; but the Leader of the House was far too keen witted to allow that there was anything in that objection. The right hon. Gentleman agreed in the opinion that, under the present system, in the long run, the 1620 non-represented owner of agricultural land paid the whole rate. [The FIRST LORD of the TREASURY: "No, I do not."] [Laughter.] Well, he was sorry to hear that; he thought his right hon. Friend had intimated that that was his opinion, but he would not argue it now. On the determination of this point depended a great deal the question whether the Amendment was opportune or not. If the owner of agricultural land did really pay the rates to which the land was subject, there was no force in the objection. The proposal was that the landlord should repay half, and it was objected he had no representation. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had pointed out that landowners had been made electors of some of our recent rural governing bodies, and, therefore, were represented already. But the tenant was no doubt the predominant ratepayer. He would still be burdened with one-half of the rates, even if he got back the second half; and that would be sufficient motive to him to keep them down, and ample protection for the landlord. A fact stated by the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton had a striking bearing on the controversy. The Duke of Richmond, the Chairman of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, which was unanimous in recommending the division of rates between owner and occupier, had introduced it on his own estates. Was he alarmed by the prospect of injustice, or discouraged in doing it because he could not make it perpetual and universal? It was not only useful in point of ad ministration, but just, and established good feeling between landlord and tenant. The supporters of the proposal asked that other great landlords should be invited to do what the Duke of Richmond had already done with a public spirit which all must admire. There was no difficulty whatever, except the unfortunate hesitation on the part of the Government. He would not call it lethargy, but unwillingness to face a new proposition. Of argument there was none. [Opposition cheers.] He regretted that his right hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench should set their faces against a principle which the Duke of Richmond approved, and to which the First Lord of the Admiralty was deeply pledged. Hon. Members right and left 1621 of him acknowledged it to be just, and many had only been waiting for the Government to accept it to follow their action. Some hon. Members would have a bad quarter of an hour when they met the farmers in their constituencies. He himself, however, was free from anxiety, and he would be glad to meet the farmers in his own constituency. [Cheers.]
§ * MR. J. W. LOGAN (Leicester, Harborough)
said, if it could be shown, as he contended it was shown by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that the distress had affected the farmer to a much greater extent than it had affected the landowner, then no case whatever could be made out why this Amendment should be refused. They heard a very great deal about rents having gone down, and land having gone out of cultivation, but he should like to ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, did they know of any good land in England that had gone out of cultivation, or did they know of any good land in England that they could not get a good rent for to-day? There were pages and pages in the Report of the Royal Commission which proved up to the hilt that wherever there was any good land in England to be let, there was the keenest competition for it amongst the farmers. It was a fallacy to suppose that the rents of land in England had gone down during the last 50 years, or that laud had gone out of cultivation. He denied both propositions. In 1800 the area under cultivation in Great Britain was 40,000,000 acres, and the rent received was £32,600,000; in 1843, the area under cultivation was 44,000,000 and the rent received was £54,000,000. In 1880, the high-water mark of landowners in Great Britain, the acreage was 47,500,000, and the rent received no less than £69,000,000. So that, in the first 80 years of this century, the rent of the agricultural land in Great Britain went up by no less than £37,000,000 per annum. It had gone down since, he was pleased to say, and in 1894 the total cultivated acreage was about 48,000,000, and the rent received was £56,969,000. It would be noticed, first of all, in connection with these figures, that the cultivated area of England was to-day 4,000,000 acres more than it was 50 1622 years ago, and 7,500,000 more than it was at the commencement of the century. Rents to-day were £2,000,000 higher than they were 50 years ago, which, at 30 years' purchase would make the selling value of agricultural land in Great Britain £60,000,000 more than it was 50 years ago; and the selling of the same land was £720,000,000 higher now than it was in 1800. These figures related to agricultural land only, for it should not be forgotten that the increased selling or capital value of the whole of the land in Great Britain was probably three hundred millions sterling higher to-day than it was at the commencement of the century. Another point which was frequently lost sight of was that no account, whatever was taken of the enormous quantity of land which the landowners had sold during the last 50 years for the purpose of building houses, manufactories and railways. He held in his hand reliable statistics which showed that in 1842–3 the aggregate rentals of houses in England and Wales were of the annual value of £35,000,000, whereas in 1888–9 that value had increased to £120,000,000. That would give the House some idea of the enormous quantity of land which had been taken up for the purpose of building houses. There was no record of the amount of land that had been taken for railways, and therefore he could only estimate the quantity of it.
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! The hon. Member must confine his observations to the subject of the Amendment. I may suggest to him that he should keep a little more closely to the Amendment.
§ * MR. LOGAN
said, that of course he should bow to the ruling of the Chairman, but he merely wished to show it was impossible to estimate the position of the landowners of the country without calling upon them to account for the interest which they were receiving upon the sums of money which they had realised by the sale of large portions of their land, which, being covered with houses, bring in an enormous rental. He thought that the House was equally entitled to learn how much they had received from the railways for land.
* THE CHAIRMAN
Order, order! The hon. Member must leave that part of the question, and must confine himself. 1623 more closely to the question before, the Committee.
§ * MR. LOGAN
hoped that he should be allowed to say that the arguments that had been used on both sides of the House justified him in showing that the position of the landowners was better than that of the tenant-farmers, and of course he could not do that without at the same time showing that, in addition to the increased rentals which they were receiving, they held large sums of money which they had realised for the sale of their land. He asked the right hon. Gentleman whether in the interests of justice, he could not see his way to accept this Amendment. The provision in the Bill would afford only temporary relief to the tenantfarmer, and in many cases it would be no relief at all, but if the Amendment were accepted that temporary relief would become a permanent one. It was the man who worked upon the land that paid all the charges upon it, of whatever kind they might be. He should like to ask hon. Members opposite, what would be the effect upon any county in this country if the industrial rural population were removed from it? In that case the land would have no value whatever, because there would be no rental. Therefore it was the fanner and the labourers who gave value to the land. If the right hon. Gentleman who was responsible for this Bill was earnest in his expression of sympathy with the farmers and the labourers he ought to accept the Amendment. It was said that, if the Amendment were accepted it would break existing contracts. But those who put forward that argument forgot that rents were falling all over England, and that they would continue to fall, and that therefore existing contracts must be broken. That House represented the interests of the whole community, and if it were the interest of the whole community that the existing contracts should be broken, the House ought to set aside those contracts. Were hon. Members opposite satisfied with the result of the way in which they had manipulated the land of the country? Why, the course they had adopted was an admitted failure. They told the House that they could not compete with the men who lived 12,000 miles away, and that they were ruined. But their 1624 ruin was not as complete as that of the tenant-fanners was. The villages in many parts of the country were being depopulated. Could we call this merry England, when in some counties men had to work for a pittance; of 8s. or 9s. a week? There was only one remedy for the distress of the farmer, and that was the reduction of rent. As he believed that the Amendment would have the effect of restoring to the tenant-farmer some of the ill-gotten gains of the landowner, he should give it his hearty support.
§ MR. SAMUEL EVANS (Glamorganshire, Mid)
said, that the principle embodied in the Amendment was that the owner should contribute in some measure to the rates which now pressed so heavily upon the tenant-farmer. The First Lord of the Treasury had officially stated that his experience in Scotland led him to believe that a division of the burden of the rates between the occupier and the owner worked satisfactorily, and was fair and just. It had been said that the time for moving this Amendment was inopportune, because this was not a permanent Measure. But did any hon. Member believe that it was not the intention of the Government to make the Bill permanent? If it was right to test this system by relieving the tenant-farmer, how could it be unjust to test their plan, which was to divide the rates fairly between the owner and occupier. That portion of the argument of the right hon. Gentleman could not be sound. The second objection of the right hon. Gentleman was this, that the Bill applied to land only; but the whole argument of the Government was that the pressure of rates bore more heavily on land than on any other species of property. Why, then, did they apply this system of relief to the tenant-farmer by enabling the landlord to share a little in the losses? The third objection made by the right hon. Gentleman was, that if they made a landlord contribute by means of this division of rates between landlord and occupier, they would be acting unfairly to him, because the landlord had no representation or voice in the making of the rates. He did not think that argument would hold water. The landlords had at the present moment a very large representation, not only directly, but indirectly by means of the pressure they 1625 could bring to bear on the various rating bodies in the Kingdom. That objection must be a hollow one. If the right hon. Gentleman would put a clause into the Bill giving more representation to the landlords, he was sure there would be no objection on that side of the House, and he urged the right hon. Gentleman to accept this Amendment conditionally on the acceptance of such a clause. He asserted, in the hearing of the right hon. Gentleman, that the objections he had made were perfectly hollow. There was not a sound argument in the whole of his objections, and their character showed the utter want of bona fide of the Government in bringing forward this Bill. So far as relief to the tenant-farmer was concerned, it was a question of keeping up the rent, as had been pointed out over and over again. If the preamble of the Bill were read it would be evident that this of all Bills was the one which was able to incorporate a plan of the kind proposed by the Amendment. It was a Bill to amend the law with respect to the rating of occupiers of agricultural land. They proposed to relieve them to the extent of one-half the rates, and it was the principle of relief whether it was one-half or three-quarters. If it was a benefit to the tenant-farmer to be relieved of half the rates, it was considerably more benefit to relieve him of three-quarters. The tenant-farmer had his eyes and his ears open to this Debate, and if the right hon. Gentleman went to the farmer and said, "We have relieved you of half your rates," they should go to him and say, "We wanted to give you another quarter, but the landlords of this country would not allow it." That was the sort of argument which would appeal to the tenant-farmer of England. The right hon. Gentleman said there was no demand for the Amendment outside. He did not know whether the tenant-farmers had had their eyes open before, but their eyes had been opened by this discussion, and the right hon. Gentleman would find that that demand had arisen and would be voiced by the tenant-farmer in the future. One hon. Member opposite had said that the principle of this Amendment ought not to be introduced because it would require a very complicated system of procedure to carry 1626 it out, but that was the sort of excuse which was brought forward by people who were against the principle. It would not be a matter of more than two lines to introduce this procedure into the Bill. A simple provision might be introduced into the Bill to the effect that the half of the rates payable hitherto were to be paid by the occupier, but that he was to be allowed to deduct out of his rent, or any other claim against his landlord, in respect of one quarter, the liability for which would be fixed on the landlord if this Amendment was passed. That would be quite as simple as the payment of the income tax on ground rents was now; it was paid first by the lessee, but he had the right to deduct it. The true fact of the case was, that the Government desired only to help the landlord. He hoped the House would remember when the division, was taken that this was not a question of detail. This legislation was founded on the hurried Report of a hurried Committee, and the Report had been hurried by the right hon. Gentleman himself very skilfully. The foundation of the Amendment was much sounder, and went back to the Duke of Richmond's Committee, and he believed it was the unanimous recommendation of that Committee, of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member. Why had he altered the opinion which he held in 1882? They heard that the First Lord of the Treasury was actually in favour theoretically of the proposal, and if the Amendment were rejected, unless it could be more forcibly shown that there was a practical difficulty, the tenant farmer would learn that the sympathy of the right hon. Gentleman only extended to the tenant-farmer's landlord.
§ On the return of the CHAIRMAN, after the usual interval,
§ * MR. HENRY BROADHURST (Leicester)
said, his only object in rising was to address a few words to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, whose one great difficulty was that he feared the landowners might not be adequately represented on the assessment committees. His own experience was that they were never better represented on the assessment authorities than they were to-day. He was at a meeting of 1627 his own union only a week ago, and he could tell the right hon. Gentleman that they were fully represented. Therefore, if that was the only difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman, he ought to take that assurance, shorten the Debate, and allow them to get on with the business of the House, instead of detaining them by stubbornness. The landowners took full advantage of the facilities placed at their disposal by the late Government on representative authorities. He was much more concerned about another class of persons who might not be represented. He meant the people who were going to pay the piper. The ratepayers of the great towns would have no representation whatever. There were two essential interests in this transaction which would not have, and never would have, any representation on these Boards. Now there was another class left out of sight altogether in the disposition of this public fund, and that was the labourers. They were exceedingly insufficiently represented on these assessment committees; in fact, they seemed to have been lost sight of altogether. They got nothing out of the transaction. The Member for Bodmin supported the principle of the division of the rates, as in Scotland, and there it was not limited to the agricultural interest only. It ran through the whole system of taxation in North Britain. If he had any influence with the right hon. Gentleman, he should advise him to give up this unequal contest. This opportunity should be seized, and the just equalisation of the rates should be provided for in this Bill. If the right hon. Gentleman adopted his suggestion they might make some progress, but if he continued in an obstinate state of mind, why then the Bill would occupy more time; and it would be his fault, and his only. He had no hesitation in declaring his support to this Amendment, and he should vote for it. He hoped the Committee would adopt it, and then he should be in the proud position of giving the right hon. Gentleman help at a critical moment when his friends had deserted him. [Laughter.] Might he say one word as to the outcome of this Debate? There never was a more disastrous collision than that which had taken place between the pretence of a suffering landed interest through a long depression and the hard facts. 1628 The bubble had been burst. It had been shown by his hon. Friend that £30,000,000 more rent was paid to-day than at the beginning of the century. The landlords had made complaints for which there was no sufficient foundation, and the country now knew what a hollow pretence and sham it all was, this outcry about landlord suffering.
§ MR. J. SAMUEL (Stockton)
said, that if hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite had really felt as deeply interested in agriculture as they professed to do, they would have attached more importance to the Amendment. ["Hear, hear!"] During the discussion two arguments had been mainly urged in favour of the Bill. First, that it was introduced in the interests of agriculture; and, secondly, in the interests of the incidence of rating. As to its necessity in the interests of agriculture, a test might be sought by ascertaining the financial position of the farmers as indicated through the bankruptcy proceedings of the country. In the official Returns of the Court of Bankruptcy for last year, showing the numbers of bankrupts in various trades and occupations, he found that farmers stood fifth down on the list, and in 1894 there was not a single landowner who passed through the Court. Those facts were a proof that men of other occupations had suffered even more than agriculturists through the recent depression. With regard to altering or adjusting the incidence of rating, the Bill went on the wrong principle. If the intention was to alter the incidence, efforts should have been made to do it by charging the excessive rates upon the area in which it was spent. It was not accurate to say that the farmers generally were in favour of the Bill as it stood. There were a large number of them in some parts of the country, at all events, who desired that the grant made in relief should be an annual one rather than for five years, and they believed that unless a clause embodying the principle of the Amendment was inserted in the Bill, the relief given by the Government would go to the landlords rather than to the tenant-farmers. On those grounds he heartily supported the Amendment.
MR. LLOYD MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)
said, he wished to observe, in the first place, that he did not oppose 1629 the Measure to the extent that some of his friends on that side of the House did. On one or two occasions, indeed, he had found himself voting in the same Lobby as the supporters of the Government. On this Amendment, however, his course was clear and decided in supporting it—[Cheers]—because he felt that the landlord ought to bear some share of the enormous losses which the tenant-farmers had suffered through the agricultural depression. He was surprised at the attitude adopted by the Government towards the Amendment, bearing in mind the object for which they professed they had brought in the Bill. There was no class to whom the Government owed more than the farmers, and no class would be more disappointed if the Amendment and the principle it contained were rejected by them. The Amendment really gave the Government the opportunity of doing something substantial for the tenant-farmer. Without some such provision the Bill would confer very little benefit indeed, for even taking it at its best—even at the maximum value its most ardent supporters attached to it—the Measure touched only the fringe of the difficulty. ["Hear, hear!"] The question of agricultural depression was not one to be dallied with. The need of relief was urgent, and if anything practical and effective was to be done it must be done promptly, and in the most direct manner. [Cheers.] The Amendment was directed to this object. It would insure some direct relief to the tenant-farmer, though he questioned whether any permanent benefit would accrue to the farmer until greater security of tenure and a fair tribunal for the revision of rents were established. ["Hear, hear!"] The right hon. Gentleman stated, when he moved the First Reading of the Bill, that the class of people who had suffered most from the agricultural depression were the landlord class.
MR. LLOYD MORGAN
said, that in either case he entirely disagreed with the right hon. Gentleman. His knowledge of the tenant-farmers in Wales, at all events, led him to quite a different conclusion. ["Hear, hear!"] In Wales, the feeling of the tenant-farmers was 1630 one akin to absolute dismay, and unless some relief was speedily forthcoming, the men would not be able to go on. He did not say the landlord class had not suffered; he believed they had suffered severely, and he sympathised with them; but it was absurd to say that they had suffered to the same extent, or nearly to the same extent, as the farmers. There was a vast difference between suffering to the extent of having to give up the luxuries of life and to the extent of having to bear absolute poverty. [Cheers.] Certain bankruptcy statistics relating to the farmers had been stated to the Committee. He should also like to add a few figures indicating the extent to which the tenant-farmers had suffered. While in 1891 the number of insolvent farmers was 304, last year the number had increased to 518, while the aggregate liabilities increased from £340,000 in 1891 to £773,000 last year. In the same report of the Inspector General of Bankruptcy issued by the Board of Trade, it was shown that among all the trades and occupations followed there were only two businesses in which there had been a constant, uniform downward tendency during the last four or five years—agriculture was one, and the silk industry, he believed, was the other All that the Government proposed to do was to allow the farmer half of the rates which he paid on his land. In his judgment, it was most inadequate, and the Government ought to accept something which tended in the direction of this Amendment.
§ * SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derby, Ilkeston)
recalled the position in which the Committee at present stood. The principle of this Amendment had received the sanction of the Leader of the House, of the First Lord of the Admiralty, of the Duke of Richmond's Commission, and of the President of the Local Government Board. The Duke of Richmond had carried it into practical effect without difficulty, and apparently with general satisfaction. On the Commission itself there was actually a majority in favour of this principle.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
The right hon. Gentleman is quite mistaken. That question was raised, discussed, and divided upon during the Report subsequently issued by the majority of the 1631 Commission, and there was a majority against it.
§ * SIR WALTER FOSTER
said he was aware of what the right hon. Gentleman stated. But the fact remained that three Members signed a minority Report in favour of this principle; two Members who signed the majority Report dissented in favour of this principle; the right hon. Gentleman himself believed in it as a Member of the Richmond Commission. In addition, there were the hon. Members for East Northamptonshire (Mr. Channing) and South Molton (Mr. Lambert). There were, thus, eight Members of the Commission in favour of this principle, and if they added a former representative of a constituency in Suffolk (Mr. Everett), the number would be brought up to nine out of the 17 Commissioners. The principle, therefore, was believed to be a righteous one, and the only question was whether it was opportune. To whom was it inopportune? It was only inopportune to the Government. He contended that it was opportune for the farmer as well as for the landlord, of whom he did not think so meanly as to believe that he would not grant this small concession to the tenantry in order to benefit the agricultural interest. It was moreover opportune to the landlord, because it introduced the principle in a small way, and the only persons who contended that the proposition was inopportune were Her Majesty's Ministers, who were opposing it on the ground that they had not time to carry it into effect. It must be always remembered that, of the three classes connected with agriculture, the labourers had maintained their position very fairly. Although their wages had fallen, they had not fallen into the condition of former years. The landowner was getting on an average over £1 an acre for his land in the larger portion of the country, and in many districts from £3 to £4 per acre. The hon. Member for East Northamptonshire had analysed 63 accounts of farmers scattered over England, in depressed as well as in undepressed districts, and he found that they farmed 36,648 acres of land. What was the condition of the profits of the farmer in these cases? The profits of the farmer came to about 1s. 3d. per acre. What was the rent received by the landowner? 1632 It amounted to 21s. an acre. This showed that the one class out of the three which had been practically starved out of existence was the farming class. It was, therefore, for the relief of the class who had suffered most that he now pleaded.
§ SIR JOHN BRUNNER (Cheshire, Northwich)
said, the Leader of the House stated that there was an objection to this Amendment because it would involve a rearrangement of the machinery for the collection of local rating. The right hon. Gentleman meant that if this Amendment were adopted, it would be necessary to provide some machinery for the representation of owners of agricultural land. If it was necessary, when making a change in the incidence of local taxation, to make a corresponding difference in the representation of particular classes, it ought to have been embodied in the Bill at the beginning. Everyone knew that the farmers were at the present time very much over-represented. Rural Assessment Committees were appointed by the Board of Guardians, which mainly consisted of farmers, but there was no proposal to reduce the proportionate representation of farmers on account of this enormous reduction in the payment of rates.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER (Kent, Thanet)
said, the complaint of the hon. Member who had just sat down was that the farmers had too much favour accorded to them by the electorate, whereas the Leader of the Opposition complained that the farmers were the persons who had been sacrificed to their landlords. He agreed with neither. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition seemed to think that the landlords were at the present moment in a condition of exceptional prosperity—or, at least, of relative prosperity.
MR. JAMES LOWTHER
said, the right hon. Gentleman said that whereas the tenant-farmers' losses were palpable, the landlord had only lost a comparatively small portion of his income; and that whereas rents had fallen by a minor percentage, the tenant-farmers' capital had gone entirely away. Then the right hon. Gentleman had a qualm of conscience, for he talked of charges upon estates—he did not mention the Death 1633 Duties—and said that landlords had expenses to meet and charges upon them which, no doubt, to some extent, ought to be taken into calculation. But the right hon. Gentleman omitted to inform the House—and he thought the very Reports from which he quoted would have informed him—that in many cases the bulk of the unlettable land on their own estates was in the landlords' own hands, and no account was taken of this in the calculation put before the House of the average rent of those estates which escaped duty. The right hon. Gentleman also omitted to inform the House that, what the landlord had as income was not the gross or even the net rental of the estate, but that margin between the net rental and the sums which came into his individual pocket. And the narrow margin was being encroached upon by the present serious condition of affairs, and, so far from it being true that landlords had, on the whole, largely escaped the effects of the agricultural depression, it was patent to everybody that the landlords, as a class, had suffered equally with all other sections of the agricultural community. The right hon. Gentleman also went on to speak of the rates which fell upon agricultural land. The landlord, he said, ought to relieve the tenant by paying a portion of his rates, because he considered the landlord was in a position to do so. How about the numerous estates which were in the hands of the occupying mortgagees? From the Reports which were before the House, it was notorious that the landlords had suffered to a terrific extent, that they had already met the position to the utmost of their power, and that they were the last community upon which it was fair for Parliament to throw extra burdens. The right hon. Gentleman indicated a more equitable method by which the agricultural—profits, he was going to say, but he ought rather to say losses—might be shared by the various classes engaged in agricultural pursuits. The right hon. Gentleman had come to a doctrine that he had propounded to deaf ears for a long time past—namely, the principle of a distribution by means of a sliding scale of the various changing conditions of agricultural affairs. The right hon. Gentleman indicated his preference for what was known as the sliding scale 1634 principle, by which agricultural profits, when they came into existence, might be more evenly shared among all classes of the agricultural community. He would like to read two or three lines from a letter which he wrote some four years ago to a body which had to consider agricultural subjects:—In conclusion, I would refer to another important matter which those interested in agricultural matters can deal with themselves without waiting for the action of either Governments or Parliaments, and it is the establishment of a voluntary system upon which rents and wages should be paid upon a sliding scale based upon the selling price of the various productions of the land. By such means all classes would become equally interested in restoring agriculture to conditions under which it could be profitably carried on.He had always considered that upon that basis alone would satisfactory arrangements be concluded. He would like to say one word upon a subject which had been wholly lost sight of in this Debate—he meant the Amendment now before them. There were, apparently, two alternative Amendments before the House, and he believed they shared at least one quality in common—that of being equally bad. [Laughter.] The Amendment of the hon. Member for Northampton he believed to be extremely objectionable, and he thought that of his right hon. Friend the Member for Bodmin was a refinement of that in the direction of being, if possible, even more objectionable. His right hon. Friend appeared to desire to perpetuate and to enforce hereafter that interference with the freedom of contract which he thought was the bane of the legislation of the House. Any tenant-farmer who found the conditions under which land was offered were not to his taste, could find plenty of vacant farms all over England. These were not the days when they should rivet a man to any one particular soil. The whole country was open, and any man with energy and capital who desired to obtain a holding could plant himself almost anywhere he liked. This was not the physiological moment to enter into any of those interferences with the freedom of contracts which had already ruined Ireland, and would very soon complete the ruin of the rest of the United Kingdom. He hoped, as regarded this particular Amendment it would be distinctly understood that if 1635 at any time, under any circumstances, and with any surroundinng clauses, any attempt was made to enforce this mischievous principle of the compulsory division of rates and interference with the freedom of contracts, the Conservative Party would offer it every opposition.
§ MR D. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said the Chairman's ruling on this Amendment had raised a question of enormous magnitude. He understood they were now discussing the principle of whether the rate on agricultural land should be divided between owner and occupier. The right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had suggested, by way of an alternative, something in the nature of a sliding scale.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
For rates and wages. He had no objection to the sliding scale, provided it was extended to rents as well.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
went on to point out that almost all the Commissions which had considered the question had invariably passed a unanimous recommendation in favour of the division of rates between owner and occupier. The Commission of 1886, appointed by a Conservative Government to inquire into town holdings, recommended in that sense, and the House of Commons had itself adopted that principle. In 1874 a decision of the House of Lords laid it down that all mines with the exception of coal mines were not subject to rating, and a Bill was introduced by a Conservative Administration to remedy that defect in the law, and by Section 8 of that Act, the Rating Act, it was enacted that with regard to every mine except a coal mine, unless there was a specific contract to the contrary, half the rate should be paid by the owner. Admitting that the landlords had suffered from the fall in agricultural values, his point was that they had not suffered to the same extent as tenant-farmers. The President of the Local Government Board read a letter written by Mr. Clare S. Read; he hoped he would give equal weight to the evidence, of that gentleman before the recent Commission. For Mr. Clare S. Read stated that in Norfolk the condition of the farms was 1636 verging on absolute ruin, and wholesale bankruptcy. In answer to Mr. Chaplin he further stated that the average rent in that district was £1 an acre, and, including tithe, it would amount to a good 30s.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
Not more, in several cases than 7s. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, but that left a very respectable sum paid by bankrupt and ruined farmers [Cheers.] The rents of Guy's Hospital were a fair index of the general state of agriculture, because those rents were derived from typical counties. The rents of that institution from lands in Lincolnshire were, in the year immediately preceding the repeal of the Corn Laws, 31s. 11d., and in 1893, 34s. 9d. per acre.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
I will come to that by and bye. On the Hereford estates, in the year preceding the repeal of the Corn Laws, the rents were 20s. per acre, whereas now they were 23s. 7d. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had estates aggregating on the whole 279,000 acres of agricultural land. They had in hand 4,300 acres, equal to 1½ per cent. Was there any other industry in England which could boast that only 1½ per cent. of its capital was lying idle. Take the shipping industry, the factories, the collieries. [Cheers.] He was told this afternoon by an hon. Member that in regard to the whole factories in this Kingdom, there was not one which paid any dividend at all. ["Hear, hear!"] Yet the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with only 1½ per cent. of their land which did not produce rent, came there and said that one-half of their rates should be paid on account of agricultural depression. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said something about expenditure, and he would give him the expenditure in that particular case. Starting with the year 1880, which was a year of considerable prosperity in agriculture, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners received 16s. 6d. net per acre, after deducting expenditure. In the year 1892, which was a year of depression, they received 13s. 4d. per acre net. They complained 1637 they were receiving nothing, that farmers were being ruined, and the only difference between 1880, which was a year of great prosperity, and 1892, which was a year of depression, was a matter of something like 1s. 6d. or 2s. per acre. He could give a few more cases, but he wished only to refer to one from Wales. The Royal Commission made inquiries in every county of North and South Wales with regard to derelict lands. He observed that the Commissioners in North Wales were Conservatives, and one of them was the agent of Sir Watkin Wynne. Their Report was that there was not a single acre of derelict land throughout the whole of North and South Wales. But what was the case with regard to depression? Their Report was that depression was acutely felt. What was the case with regard to reductions of rent? There had been hardly any reductions of rent from one end of the Principality to the other.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY
Do I understand the hon. Gentleman to say there has been no reductions of rent on Sir Watkin Wynne's estate? I happen to be a trustee of the estate, and I know.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
was glad the hon. Member had referred to this which, he believed, was one of the best managed estates in Wales. But what was the evidence of Colonel Hughes on the report of this very estate? It was that the reductions in Merionethshire only amounted to 10 per cent. He was pressed with regard to reductions in other counties, and he said they would not amount to more than 5 per cent. That was not all. Inquiries were instituted amongst the farmers of Merionethshire with regard to agricultural depression in that district. Circulars were sent out to the farmers, and 27 of them replied. Out of that number only seven of them reported a reduction in their rents, three reported an increase, and with regard to the rest, there was neither a reduction nor an increase. That was a part of Wales where the depression was severely felt, and yet the reductions which had been made were few in number and trifling in amount. What was more, in most of these cases it was reported that the farmers' sons went without their wages. One farmer, who was paying £200 a year in rent, had three sons aged 20, 23, and 27 respectively, who were 1638 working hard on the farms without any wages at all. There had been no reduction from the landlord, and yet there had, in this case, been an actual loss of £200 upon the year's working. In a case of that kind, was it too much to ask, on behalf of the tenant-farmers, if the landlords declined to reduce the rents, that at any rate they should bear their part of the burden of the rates, which now fell upon the shoulders of the farmers? The latter were suffering from actual poverty. The right hon. Gentleman said the landlords were suffering. What were they suffering? They were not suffering in the actual and real sense of the word, the same as the farmers who had got their sons working hard like labourers on a farm, and who yet were receiving no wages. He said it was a simple act of justice to come to the rescue of these farmers, and whatever benefit inured from this Bill, should inure entirely to the pockets of the tenant-farmers, who were the real sufferers in the case.
§ SIR GEORGE TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
desired to say a word or two about Scotland, which had been alluded to in the course of these Debates pretty often, and alluded to in some cases with very scant appreciation of the real state of things which there prevailed. The Government had told them that in this Bill they had borrowed the principle of classification from Scotland. He wanted the Committee very carefully to consider what that principle of classification in Scotland was, on what ground it prevailed, and what was the manner in which it worked. Classification in Scotland consisted in this—that agricultural land, under certain circumstances, was relieved to the extent of three-fourths of the rates. That was defended by the Board of Supervision—a very eminent Board, which for a very long time managed local government in Scotland—on exactly the grounds upon which the right hon. Gentleman recommended this Bill to the House on the Second Reading. The Board of Supervision had always been of opinion that the rates paid by the farmer were very different from the rates paid by the shopkeeper. The farmer, they said, had an income of, say, £100 a year, and he paid rates upon £300 a year, whereas the shopkeeper, who had an income of 1639 £100 a year, paid rates upon a house, say, of £30 a year; and therefore they said: "Let us diminish the rates which the agricultural interest has to pay." That was the argument of the Board of Supervision, and he gave it to the Committee for what it was worth. There was this about it that was observable—they honestly carried it into operation. ["Hear, hear!"] They believed it was the farmer who suffered, and so, what was the system by which they proposed to relieve him? The Committee would learn, for the first time, what the Scotch system was that had been brought forward as an argument for passing this Bill. The system had been adopted in 170 parishes in Scotland. Under it the tenant paid half the rates and the landlord paid half, but the rates which the tenant paid were reduced by three-quarters, whilst the rates which the owner paid was not reduced at all, and he paid every penny of them. In the case of a 3s. rate, for example, the farmer paid 4½d. and the owner paid 1s. 6d. Under the plan of the Government, in a 3s. rate the owner would pay 9d. and the farmer 9d. He held that, as in Scotland, the owner ought to pay the full half of the rate and every penny given for relief ought to go to the tenant. The President of the Local Government Board said that the Scotch system could not be introduced here unless the owner was given representation. But under the Parish Councils Acts of 1894 the whole disposal of the poor-rate, of which the landlord in Scotland paid half, was given to the freely-elected representatives of the people, the landlord having no special representation. It was true that under the Measure of 1889, relating to county rates, owners still enjoyed some representation of a peculiar kind, but that was a survival, and a very partial survival, because the only power they had was to check debt and capital expenditure. The Act of 1894, however, embodied the last view of Scotland on this question, and that view was that it was right that the owner should pay half the poor rate without having any special representation.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
rose in his place and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."—
§ Question put, "That the Question be now put":—
§ The Committee divided;—Ayes 209; Noes 107.—(Division List, No. 147).
§ Question put accordingly. "That the words 'and owner' be there inserted":—
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 113; Noes, 223.—(Division List, No. 148.)
§ MR. DAVID THOMAS (Merthyr Tydvil)
moved to leave out the word "agricultural" in order to insert instead thereof the word "arable," so as to restrict the operation of the clause to arable instead of agricultural land. He said it was unquestionable that the depression had been far greater on the former. They had heard a great deal about the amount of land that had gone out of cultivation, but the last available Report of the Board of Agriculture showed that there was far more land in cultivation in England and Wales now than there was 20 years ago. This was so even in agricultural counties where depression was said to be so great—Essex, Cambridgeshire, Lincoln, Norfolk, and Gloucester—and there was no evidence that the land had deteriorated. The year 1894 was a good year, but he found that the crop of wheat, barley, oats, etc., was heavier than the average of the previous 10 years. Whereas in 1874 arable land amounted to 56 per cent. of the land of the country, in 1894 it had decreased in England to 47 per cent., and in Wales from 39 per cent. to 30½ per cent. Pasture land increased to a greater extent than arable land had decreased. The President of the Local Government Board, in introducing the Bill, said it was one of the Bills mentioned in the Queen's Speech, and was intended to mitigate the severity of the agricultural depression. Later on he modified this, and said the first consideration in the matter was the extreme severity of the depression, and the second the unfair proportion in which land was taxed, especially when compared with the ability to bear such taxation. The 1641 Royal Commission was not appointed to consider the incidence of taxation but to consider agricultural depression, and they had the authority of the right hon. Gentleman for saying that rates and taxes had nothing to do with the depression. He said the true cause was the fall in agricultural prices. There was the evidence of the Royal Commission to show that rents were higher now than at the time of the Corn Laws.
* THE CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member has not yet addressed himself to the Amendment, but, is making a Second Reading speech. I must ask him now to approach the question raised by the Amendment.
§ MR. D. THOMAS
said his argument was directed towards showing that, at any rate on pasture land, there was no necessity for any reduction in the rates; and he had intended to go on and show that if the Committee decided to confine the relief to arable districts, the amount there was to spend on that relief would go very much further. He begged to move the Amendment.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said the Amendment proposed to exclude land other than arable land from the advantages of the Bill, on the ground that arable land had suffered more than other kinds of land. To a certain extent no doubt that was true. The depression unquestionably began in those districts where cereals were chiefly grown, but it was difficult now to point to any district in the country which was free from depression, and if the hon. Member would consult the Report of the Commission he would find that view supported there. So great had been the fall in the price of dairy produce that he received daily complaints from people connected with the grass districts. But his objection to the Amendment was founded chiefly on four points. In the first place it was contrary to all existing precedents under the Public Health Act, it was entirely opposed to the scheme of the Bill, it was certain to create great practical difficulties, and it would be most unfair to vast quantities of land in various parts of the country. The hon. Member was quite unable to understand the ground on which the Government took their stand. He had introduced this Bill on the ground that land was unfairly taxed and rated 1642 as compared with other kinds of property, and also on the ground that in removing that injustice some relief would be given to agricultural depression. Why should the distinction suggested be made? Why should they say that arable land had suffered more severely than any other description of land? He was not at all sure that any satisfactory proof of that could be given; but whether it was so or not, there was no doubt that grass land had suffered too; indeed, he had heard within the last few days most remarkable accounts of the extent to which prices of dairy produce had fallen. The right hon. Gentleman read a letter from the Chairman of the Derbyshire Dairy Farmers' Association, in which it was said that at the price milk was sold, it was scarcely worth producing. [Laughter.] That observation appeared to amuse hon. Members opposite. Were hon. Members opposite not aware that dairy-farming was one of our greatest agricultural interests, and that it was an interest that, whenever possible, should be encouraged? Dairy-farming had suffered in common with every other agricultural industry, and it as urgently required relief as any other agricultural interest. If this Amendment were to be accepted, land which was arable this year and only paid half the rates, might be turned into grass next year, and would then be liable to pay the full rates. Such a proposal was in his judgment most unfair. Grass land was often of the very poorest quality, and yet that was the description of land that the Amendment proposed should be deprived of relief. But why should the Amendment stop where it did—why did it not go on to propose that different qualities of arable land should be differently treated as regarded the amount of relief given. The fact was that if the principle of relief from rates were to be adopted at all, it must be applied equally to all descriptions of agricultural land. There was some light agricultural land that was very easy and cheap to work, whilst there was some heavy clay land that was most expensive and difficult to cultivate. He thought for these reasons he must oppose the Amendment. If it had been possible, he would gladly have taken any course that would give the greatest relief to the poorest land, but he did not think that 1643 such a proposal was practicable, because the quality of land varied, not only in different parts of the country, but in different unions, and even in different parishes. He was convinced that he should be inflicting the grossest possible injustice on some of those counties in England where grass land predominated if he were to accept this Amendment, and it was especially those counties which were looking forward to this Bill as offering them some measure of relief from the local burdens which they had now to bear. Hon. Members opposite appeared to think that the farmers were angry with the Government and that they did not approve of the Bill, but he could assure hon. Members opposite that all the information that he had obtained on the subject led him to exactly the opposite conclusion. He thought some hon. Members opposite who represented agricultural constituencies would have a bad quarter of an hour when their constituents realised the fact that they had opposed this Bill by every means in their power.
§ * MR. R. J. PRICE (Norfolk, E.)
said, that he was one of those Members who certainly would not have the bad quarter of an hour with his constituents to which the right hon. Gentleman had referred, because he had voted for the Second Reading of this Bill; but, at the same time, he was prepared to vote for this Amendment because, if he did not do so, he really was afraid that he might have such a bad quarter of an hour. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the amount of distress varied in different parts of the country, but the relief which the right hon. Gentleman proposed to give under this Bill was of one uniform character. The right hon. Gentleman said, moreover, that it would be a gross injustice to deprive the dairy industry of relief. If the right hon. Gentleman would look at some further Amendments he had placed upon the Paper he would find that he did not propose to deprive the 1644 dairying industry of relief. But although the dairying industry might be depressed, it was not nearly so depressed as was the arable land of this country. When the right hon. Gentleman wished to stand on two legs in regard to this matter he had no objection, but even then this Amendment ought to be accepted. The first leg of the right hon. Gentleman's argument was the supposed excess of burden on agricultural land. Now although it might be perfectly true that land generally was unfairly taxed, arable land had been distinctly more unfairly taxed than pasture land, because throughout the country pasture land had been paying its expenses and even earning a rent, while arable land had not, and yet had to pay rent. As to the second leg, viz., the deterioration of our land in general, and the depopulation of the country districts, nobody supposed that the people were going to stray away from the pasture land, or that pasture land was going out of cultivation, whereas arable districts were becoming depopulated, and in some cases going out of cultivation. Therefore he supported the Amendment, and he thought the fairest way to distribute these doles would be to give an abatement of three-quarters to arable land and an abatement of one-quarter to grass land. As grass land was more in quantity and higher in rateable value, there would, he calculated, be a substantial amount left over, and then they could oblige the hon. Member for Basingstoke by including the agricultural buildings in the relief proposed by the Bill. By doing this the right hon. Gentleman would give a great deal more satisfaction, especially in the eastern counties.
§ MR. P. A. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)
said, he was astounded at this Amendment. It was absolutely impossible for the right hon. Gentleman to accept it, as no section of agriculture had suffered so heavily during the last 15 years as that section which had endeavoured, in desperation at the 1645 condition of arable land, to turn it into pasture land. Every Member acquainted with agriculture would confirm this. He should like to ask the Mover and Seconder of this Amendment how they proposed to deal with the thousands of acres of land that had been turned from arable into pasture land during the last 15 years, and which had been absolutely unremunerative. A more preposterous Amendment had never been moved in that House, and he should give it his heartiest opposition.
§ MR. CHARLES McLAREN (Leicester, Bosworth)
said, he had voted against the Second Reading of this Bill, and he should certainly vote against this Amendment. All pasture land could not be classed at one level. Some land which had recently been laid down as grass was as bare as the floor of the House. The man who had tried to turn his unprofitable arable land into pasture ought not to be deprived of the benefits of the Bill. He represented a constituency which did fairly well out of pasture land, and if his constituents had been consulted they would probably have not desired this Bill. But as the Bill had been brought in, and they would have to pay their share of the cost, it would be exceedingly unfair to deprive them of their share of the benefit.
§ MR. JOSEPH A. PEASE (Northumberland, Tyneside)
was quoting the cases of several witnesses who gave evidence before the Royal Commission on Agriculture when,
§ MR. J. A. PEASE
explained that his point was that there were a certain number of persons farming pasture land who gave evidence before the Commission showing that they were not entitled to the benefits of this Bill; while others, farming arable land, were so entitled. It was therefore unfair to treat all alike.
§ MAJOR F. C. RASCH (Essex, S. E.)
said, that the hon. Member for Glamor- 1646 ganshire believed that rent was at the root of the agricultural depression. Anyone who was acquainted with the eastern counties and stated that, was guilty of diplomatic evasion of the deepest dye. Why was so much land pasture? It was arable land that had tumbled down to grass, and surely that was not the land which ought to be deprived of relief.
§ MR. F. W. WILSON (Norfolk, Mid)
supported the Amendment. He said that West Norfolk was still very highly farmed, and it would be a great disaster if that sort of farming were to give way to waste cultivation. Some preference ought to be given to the land which employed the most labour.
§ MR. F. S. STEVENSON (Suffolk, Eye)
agreed that some discrimination ought to be made between different parts of the country and different kinds of land. But the hon. Member for Glamorganshire moved his Amendment, to exclude grass land altogether, while the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for East Norfolk relieved arable land to the extent of three-quarters of the rate and pasture land to the extent of one-quarter. Personally he preferred the Amendment of the hon. Member for East Norfolk. He suggested that the present Amendment should be withdrawn and that, if the Chairman ruled that it was in order, the hon. Member for Norfolk should at a later stage move his Amendment in order that they might discriminate between arable and grass land. If the hon. Member for Glamorgan pressed the Amendment to a Division he was afraid he could not support him, because there was a large amount of grass land which ought not to be debarred from the benefit of the Bill.
* THE CHAIRMAN
said, it seemed to him that if the Committee now declined to draw a distinction between arable and grass land they would not be prepared to entertain the question at a later stage.
§ MR. D. THOMAS
said, he fully intended to withdraw the Amendment, but he gathered from indications exhibited by the President of the Local Government Board that the right hon. Gentleman did not intend to withdraw it.
§ Question put, "That the word 'agricultural' stand part of the Clause."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes, 248; Noes, 55.—(Division List, No. 149.)
§ MR. H. C. F. LUTTRELL (Devon, Tavistock) moved to insert, after the word "land" the words "and buildings." He moved the Amendment because he thought it would be very unfair to assess the land without the buildings upon it, and that it would be extremely difficult to make an assessment on the land alone. In the more distressed districts, too, the unfairness would be felt much more than in other parts, where the land, grass land, was more valuable, and therefore he urged that in making the assessment the farm buildings on the land should be taken into consideration as well as the land—that the land should not be assessed alone, but the farm buildings with it.
§ MR. CHAPLIN
said, that the Amendment raised a somewhat difficult and complicated question in connection with this part of the subject. As he understood the object of the hon. Member, he said that there would be a great practical difficulty in separating the buildings from the land so as to arrive at the value of each. In the opinion of the hon. Member this would be a practical impossibility. He was not quite clear what he proposed to include in the buildings. Did the hon. Member refer to the house or cottages, or the buildings alone connected with the farm, because that made a good deal of difference? When the hon. Member said that the matter was practically impossible, he was unable to agree with him. As a matter of fact, the arrangement was already carried out in a great number of districts in various parts of the country. In drawing the 1648 Bill as he had done, and in separating the buildings from the land, he had followed the precedents already in existance. Land for certain purposes, such as sanitary rates, special expenses rates, and general district rate in urban districts, was rated at only one-fourth of its value; and in these cases the law was clear. It required that the land should be rated separately from the buildings. He was aware that though that was the law, and that there was no escape on that point, it was contended by the hon. Member that the practice was altogether different. He thought that the hon. Gentleman was mistaken. He had made many inquiries on the subject, and he held in his hand an extract from a ratebook in a purely rural district in which the buildings and the land were separately assessed and rated. It was a fact that they had between 1,500 and 2,000 rural parishes at the present time that contributed the special expenses rates. In every one of these cases they were bound by the law to value the land separately from the buildings. How far the law was strictly carried out he was unable to say, but, from all the inquiries he had made in the different counties, the vast majority of the replies pointed to the fact that valuation was carried out according to the law at present. If that was the common practice, he had great doubts about being able to accept the verdict of the hon. Member, that it was practically impossible to do what was already being done in a vast number of parishes at the present time. In any case, it appeared to him that this was not the place in the Bill in which an Amendment of this kind ought to be inserted. It should be inserted in a different part of the Bill, and he could not accept the Amendment to insert it in the Bill at the point now indicated.
§ * MR. BROADHURST
asked whether the right hon. Gentleman would promise to consider the point, with a view to inserting the Amendment in another portion of the Bill. He could not see how they could logically separate the farm buildings from the land; farm buildings were part of a going concern. The residence of the farmer was a different matter. He hoped that the Amendment would be accepted.
§ MR. ARTHUR JEFFREYS (Hants, Basingstoke)
proposed an Amendment 1649 providing that they should be "buildings used exclusively for agricultural purposes." He thought that it would be inexcusable to exclude farm buildings, which should not be separated from the land.
§ And, it being Midnight, the Chairman left the Chair to make his report to the House.
§ Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.