HC Deb 23 February 1897 vol 46 cc1014-43
MR. J. LLOYD MORGAN (Carmarthen, W.)

rose to call attention to the serious effects of the long period of agricultural depression, so far as it affected peasant freeholders in Wales; and to move, That this House is of opinion that the distressed condition of the peasant and small occupying freeholders in Wales is such as to call for the earliest attention of the Government, and that it is desirable that State loans, subject to a low rate of interest, should be granted to such of the said freeholders as purchased their own holdings with money borrowed on the security of their land to enable them to redeem existing mortgages in respect of which a higher rate of interest is payable than such freeholders are able to pay in the present state of agriculture. He said that the peasant freeholders were described in the Report of the Royal Commission dealing with the matter as a class '" who are on the verge of financial ruin," and, in the minority Report, as being "in a condition which is positively disastrous." Under these circumstances he felt it his duty to bring the matter before the House in the belief that the Government might see their way to give some relief to this class without doing any injury to the taxpayers or prejudicing their interests in any respect. The Report of the Commissioners, so far as this question was concerned, was a, unanimous one. Indeed, so much impressed were they with the strength of the case put forward on behalf of this class, and so struck were they with the grievances under which these men were suffering and with the hardships they had gone through, that he thought he was right in saying that at one point in their proceedings the Commissioners considered whether or not an interim Report should be published for the purpose of asking the Government of that time to render immediate relief to the small occupying freeholders in Wales. The Commissioners reported that the "freeholders are now in a most precarious position, and they have nothing short of ruin staring them in the face," while in another part of their Report they said, "in the west counties of South Wales their position is most precarious, and the problem of their future is a very difficult one." They therefore recommended that assistance should be granted to them by means of State loans at a low rate of interest. With regard to the question of interest, he would not suggest any more than the Commission had suggested, that money should be granted for the relief of these small freeholders of Wales except upon terms not prejudicial to taxpayers. All he suggested was that loans should be granted at the lowest rate of interest at which the Treasury could lend without any loss to the State. The Report suggested that this relief should be granted to a limited class, to the class who were owners of their freeholds, farming them themselves. He would not go into the details of the scheme the Commissioners suggested, nor would he suggest an alternative scheme in detail; he would only deal generally with the main features of the case. The principle of establishing small occupying freeholders had in Ireland been tried with success, so much so that one Act had followed another in rather rapid succession, for the benefit of this class of peasant proprietors in Ireland. Not only had it been applied to Ireland, the principle had also been adopted in this country by the passing of the Small Holdings Act, which established the principle that it is desirable, even in England and Wales, to facilitate the acquisition of small holdings. It was true the Act had been very little, if at all, availed of, but the principle remained established, the failure of the Act being accounted for by the somewhat cumbrous nature of its provisions, and the difficulty of applying them in many cases. The passing of the Act, however, established the principle, and the Report of the Select Holdings Committee declared that the very reference of the question to the Committee assumed the desirability of extending the class of small cultivating owners in this country. Another principle was laid down in the Report of the Committee, that those who were to be first assisted should be those who had done something to help themselves. The object of Governments then in the past had been to establish this very class in England and Wales, and what he suggested by the Motion was that even so the present Government should continue that policy in Wales, extending assistance to the class whose very existence was at stake. Upon this point the present Colonial Secretary, writing to Mr. Marchant Williams, the Secretary of the Welsh Liberal Unionist Association, on April 23 1895, said:— I am not competent to speak dogmatically on the Land Question; but if I might venture an individual opinion it would be that the only permanent and satisfactory road to a better state of things is to be found in an extension of the Land Purchase Act, by which landlords and tenants may agree to make the cultivators the owners upon terms enabling them to support themselves comfortably in their holdings. The Commissioners had recommended that assistance should be given to a limited class in Wales, and he would, therefore, trouble the House for a few moments in considering the cases which had brought about the difficulties of this class and the condition of affairs which called for reform. Their difficulties were to be attributed to the land hunger which existed in Wales. He would not deal exhaustively with this, the question of land hunger, because hon. Gentlemen opposite representing Welsh constituencies would agree that this land hunger existed. ["Hear, hear!"] It was impossible for an Englishman, unacquainted with the state of agriculture in Wales, to really appreciate what this land hunger meant—this rush for farms, this tremendous bidding at auctions where land was for sale—a state of things that a British landowner would envy if he had had any Welsh experience. This land hunger had led tenants to purchase their holdings at ruinous prices. The reasons which induced this eagerness arose out of the feeling of tenants that if they lost the occupation of their farm, if they did not buy the farm, they would find great difficulty in getting another farm equally suitable on any land at all. Ever present with them was a sense of the insecurity of their tenure. This might be said to be a controversial point, and he would not go into it; but, whatever might be said about it and the causes that had brought it about, it could not be denied that a feeling existed in Wales that tenancies in the past were uncertain. There was a further inducement to tenants to buy their holdings in the fact that they had expended money on the land, they had lived on the land for many years, and improved it much, and if they did not secure the result of this they would have to incur the same expense again. When they bought, prices were high, and in many instances the tenants bought improvements they had themselves carried out on the land. A further inducement to purchase was the feeling that they were handing on the value of their labour to their children, and there was the sentiment strong in Celtic people which a fanner described as a passionate fondness for the familiar features of the farm, the parish, and its surroundings. The land hunger was more pronounced in Cardigan than in any other county; the ratio of freeholders to tenant farmers there was 21 to 78; and in the parish of Penrhyn there were 102 farmer freeholders, and 90 of these had bought their farms during the last 12 years. As a witness said, it would have been much better for them had they not done so, because their interest or mortgages was more than the rent they had previously paid. Owing to the insatiable desire for land in Wales, the prices paid had been ruinously high, and farmers had paid such a price that they found it impossible to keep up the payment of the interest on their mortgages. The Commissioners felt the importance of the question, and they sent out private circulars asking for information on the question of prices paid for land, and from the replies received they selected 100 as examples. Out of these they found that five farmers had bought at 20 years' purchase, 46 at from 20 to 30 years' purchase, 12 at from 40 to 50 years' purchase, and 14 at prices varying from 50 to 100 years' purchase. ["Hear, hear!"] The tenants who had bought these farms had, in most cases, not sufficient capital to complete the purchase, and consequently had to borrow. Sometimes they could pay a half, and in other instances they had to mortgage to the extent of two-thirds of the property. The interest varied from 4 to 4½ per cent., and occasionally rose to 5 per cent. The tenant purchasers therefore found themselves in this position: they that bought the land at a very high price, a large portion of which they had raised on mortgage, and in many cases they found that for the amount they had had to borrow they were paying interest equal to the rent they had previously paid. The whole difficulty then had arisen out of this land hunger, and those who were in the worse position were the farmers who had bought during the last 25 years. The farmers who had bought before that period had passed through an interval of good times, had taken the best advantage of those times, and were now in comparatively easy circumstances. The class who had bought later were in a position worse than that of the tenant farmers, their condition being described by witnesses as "badly off," as "dire necessity," and "straitened in circumstances because of the pressure of mortgage loans." In the year 1888 a letter appeared in The Times which well described the condition of this class of cultivators. The letter was from a gentleman who went as a Commissioner from The Times to report on the state of agriculture in Wales. He said of Cardigan that the shadow of the mortgagee hung over the land, and that the difficulties of the men who had bought their freeholds ten years before had increased year by year, until payment was becoming impossible, and the end could not be far off. There was no doubt that between 1887 and 1894 there was an increase of 1 per cent. in the class of farming owners in Wales; but that slight increase was attributable not to the fact that the small freeholders had become more thriving in those years, but to the fact that the land hunger continued to exist during that time, and existed to the present day. The increase had taken place principally in counties like Anglesea and Carnarvon, where very large sales of property had occurred in recent years, whilst the decrease was to be accounted for by the fact that large numbers of the small freeholders had at length found the burden they had to bear was more than they could carry. An experiment had been tried in Wales by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners which threw some light on the question as to how a scheme to assist this class of tenants would work in the Principality. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners commenced in 1885 the sale of farms by means of deferred payments to the tenants. Up to 1895 they had sold 9,500 acres of agricultural land, the price realised being £153,000. The sales were by auction, 15 per cent. of the purchase money had to be paid up, the other 85 per cent. remaining on the land as a terminable mortgage, payable in 30 years. Mr. Bock Porter, the Secretary to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, gave evidence before the Land Commission in regard to the working of the scheme. He stated that there had been no difficulty with the tenants, and that in the whole of the ten years there had not been a single defaulter. During a period of the greatest agricultural depression every one of the tenants paid his instalments and interest with the promptest regularity, and the experiment, Mr. Bock Porter said, had been completely and absolutely justified. Mr. Morgan Richardson, a solicitor, land agent, and land owner in Wales, who had practically made this question his own in some respects, and who had had the widest possible experience of this class of people, said that where they had been enabled to purchase their farms they had paid the interest with regularity even in the very worst of times. That showed that if the Government could establish a system of loans by which this class of farmers could be assisted in Wales, they would receive payment of the instalments promptly and regularly. Whilst the Welsh Land Commissioners differed on many other points, they came to a unanimous conclusion on the question that some scheme in the direction suggested by this Motion should be adopted. At present many of the small freeholders had mortgages on their farms on which they were paying interest of 4 and 4½ per cent., varying according to the character of the security. These freeholders were an industrious class, who, as a rule, paid the mortgage interest punctually, but their position was most unsatisfactory. Having to pay this high rate of interest they were unable to reduce the principal, and they lived in constant terror of having the amount of the mortgage called in. This scheme of assistance by the State would put an end to the uncertainty and insecurity which at present weighed so heavily upon the Welsh peasant owner. He hoped the Government would give this question not only their serious and sympathetic, but also their favourable consideration. He was quite certain if they did they would be helping a most deserving class of people, who year in and year out worked from early morn till late at night, calling their children and their wives to their assistance, but who yet, in spite of all their efforts, were in a state which could only be described as lamentable. He begged to move the Resolution.

*MR. REES DAVIES (Pembrokeshire)

seconded the Motion. Those hon. Members who represented such large numbers of small freeholders in Wales asked the Government to adopt some principle of State loans to small freeholders, and if they could get a definite declaration that the system which had worked so well in Ireland would, in the near future, be adopted in Wales, they should have obtained the object they had in view. The Welsh Land Commission had clearly established two things. In the first place they had established the fact that there were genuine grievances in Wales in regard to land tenure which ought to be remedied, and in the second place they had established the right of Wales to separate treatment, for, although there might be hardships of a similar character in England, the Commission were unanimously agreed as to Wales. The Commissioners had arrived at the unanimous conclusion that some scheme of the kind indicated in the Motion was desirable. His hon. Friend had described the insatiable land hunger in Wales, or, as the Commissioners termed it, the sacred attachment to the ancestral home. The Welsh peasant freeholder preferred to give a large sum to purchase his farm rather than be deprived of the place where his father, grandfather, and perhaps his great-grandfather, had lived before him. He might be allowed to quote the following passage on this subject from the report of the Welsh Land Commission, which exactly expressed the condition of things— Speaking broadly we are inclined to think that in the majority of cases the depression with winch we have dealt above has affected them from an economic point of view quite as much as the land owning and tenant farming classes. But we have had forcibly brought to our notice in the course of our inquiry the fact that a large percentage of the occupying freeholders are persons who, or whose immediate ancestors have been, tenant farmers, and especially that during the time of the agricultural prosperity in the sixties and in the seventies many tenant farmers purchased their holdings at prices which were probably even then high, but which, owing to the subsequent depression, have proved to be ruinously excessive. It was stated, and we believe with accuracy, that in many cases the purchase money equivalent to fifty years' annual value was given for a farm holding by the tenant who was in possession at the time of the sale. Such cases were perhaps exceptional, but it is perfectly true to say that very high prices—prices quite out of relation to the economic value of the land, considered as an investment—were given by many of those who are now occupying freeholdings in Wales, who were impelled by an intense desire to remain in possession of the holdings on which they had been brought up, and with which the life of their families had been associated for generations and even centuries. This quotation clearly showed the state of things in Wales. One district of the county of Pembroke consisted largely of small freeholders. In many cases the farms were bought at high prices in prosperous times after the General Election of 1868, when there had been a great deal of irritation between landlord and tenant in Wales, and many unjust evictions. The Report of the Commission showed that many of the freeholders bought their farms when prices were high, that they had struggled for years under great difficulties, and were obliged to buy their farms to save themselves from unjust eviction, and in some cases were compelled to buy the improvements on their farms. A man was in a different position under a mortgagee from what he was under an ordinary landlord. There were in Wales many excellent local landlords, who lived among their tenants and met them in bad times with reductions and remissions of rent. The mortgagee was often a trustee, and no abatement of the high rate of interest could be made by him, because it was not in his power to do so. Mr. Griffith Jones, formerly a solicitor, but now a barrister, in his evidence before the Land Commission, said that in Cardiganshire the small freeholders had greatly increased in numbers of recent years, and he would tell the House what he said:— He estimated that the proportion of small owners to occupiers was at any rate one to every three.' There is one district about five miles by six miles occupied almost exclusively by small freeholders. Witness had acted professionally (as solicitor) in the purchase of many of these holdings, and the purchasing price had invariably reached thirty years' purchase, often 35 years or more on the rack rent, The usual course was that the purchaser found one-third or one-fourth, and borrowed the remainder at 4 per cent., with the result that he stood at a higher rent than if he were only a tenant. He was not going into details, or suggest a scheme, but the Report of the Land Commission recommended that a State loan should be granted in the case of farms not more than 150 acres in extent. For himself, he did not agree in that view. Those who represented Welsh constituencies did not wish so much for any definite declaration by the Government on the subject as the recognition of the principle itself. There were many struggling freeholders in his constituency whose farms were over 150 acres, and he should be sorry to see State loans restricted to farms under that extent. He wished to draw the Chancellor of the Exchequer's attention to a letter, embodying a suggestion of practical utility, which appeared in the Economist newspaper on 9th January last. It was headed—" Post Office Savings Bank: Interest on Deposits," and read as follows:— Sir,—Rumours are abroad to the effect that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is considering how much longer the Post Office can continue to pay 2½ per cent. as interest on money deposited with it. When this question of the rate of interest allowed by the Post Office to depositors comes up for discussion, two points only are generally raised—first, that banks do not like the competition of the Post Office for customers' money at such a rate as 2½ per cent.; secondly, that the public exchequer loses by the transaction, but as this loss is a small one and the 2½ per cent. interest is supposed to encourage thrift, it is regarded as a matter of no great concern to the public. The net result of these two considerations is that little inclination is felt on the part of the public to disturb the existing arrangements. There is, however, a third aspect which is left out of sight, which has a very considerable effect indeed upon the public convenience, and of which the public take apparently no note. The balance sheets of banks show that on the average quite half the money deposited at the bank is loaned out again locally to be employed in business of all kinds. Now the Post Office deposits are reckoned to amount to some £120,000,000 or more. If the Post Office acted like other banks, one-half of this vast amount would be let out again locally to promote business of all kinds. If we could only get a Return published of the amount of money deposited by each county in the Post Office Savings' Bank on, say, January 1st in each year, we should know, by halving that amount, what each district loses by the withdrawal of these large amounts by a bank which does nothing to encourage local trade. This is a matter of the greatest public importance not only to borrowers, but to the infinite number of people who would benefit in countless ways by the business carried on with this capital. If we had a compulsory public registration of land, and the Post Office advanced half their deposits on well-secured mortgages, something would be done to prevent the absolute withdrawal of large sums of money from local industries, but the Post Office will probably not care to trouble itself about any such undertaking. If we could only suppose for a moment other banks acting on the same principle as the Post Office, and while receiving money on deposit, declining all advances, local business would soon come to a deadlock. The wonder is that the public have not long ago seen through the evil of the present large absorption of local capital by the Post Office, and insisted upon a reduction of the rate of interest for the sake of local industry.—I am, yours faithfully, E. He did not know what the Post Office deposits in the different counties amounted to. He would move for a Return on the subject, which he hoped the Chancellor of the Exchequer would grant him. He submitted that the suggestion contained in the letter he had read was well worth consideration—that these local deposits should be applied for local purposes—and it appeared from what he read that the Post Office could well afford to lend at a low rate—say, 3 per cent., or, at the most, 3⅛. The claims of Welsh peasant freeholders was not a matter of Party. It would be supported by hon. Members opposite. They who represented a large number of freeholders put the matter before the Government as one which Conservative and Unionist candidates at the last Election declared strongly in favour of. He did not think there was a Liberal, Conservative, or Unionist candidate seeking the suffrage of any agricultural constituency at the last Election who did not prominently favour those claims. He hoped the Government would make a declaration in favour of helping them and saving them from the absolute ruin with which for a long time they had been face to face.


, in supporting the Motion, said he knew the small freeholders of Radnorshire intimately. They were thrifty and industrious men, and the reason of their difficulty was they had to pay higher interest than their land enabled them to pay. Their position, although they were freeholders, was worse than that of an ordinary tenant or labourer. Much of their land they bought 25 years ago, when agricultural prosperity was great. The tenant farmers had been met generously by their landlords in reductions and remissions of rent, the repair of buildings, and in other ways, but these unfortunate freeholders had had no help of that kind. There was no class of men in Wales more deserving of support than these peasant freeholders, and he hoped the Government, if they possibly could, would see their way to advance them loans at the present price of money. This was not a Party question, for Members from Wales on both sides of the House were absolutely united on it.


said he was delighted to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Radnorshire. This was no Party question. He himself did not speak as a Party man on that occasion, for in his county amongst these freeholders he found Conservatives and Liberals. It was not a question of Party politics, but a question of the necessity of the people. He had received a letter from a district which would be known to many in the House—the district of Penrhyn—which stated that a tenant farmer who, 25 years ago, bought his farm and became a freeholder, was now actually a pauper. Why was this? They had heard that the land hunger in Wales was the cause of it; but that was not the only cause. In Cardiganshire, where large estates had been sold, the tenant farmer occupied the same farm on which his father and grandfather had lived for years. Under these circumstances a man could not go to an auction and see the farm sold over his head without a struggle to try and keep it in his own hands. That was partly the reason why such large sums had been given in his county for farms—from 50 up to even 70 years' purchase having been given. There was the case of a farmer who, after buying his farm, for which he had paid a rent of £50 a year, had to pay £105 a year in interest on the money and do the repairs. That was an impossible state of affairs. The real cause, however, was the curious position of the tenant farmers in Wales. The English tenant farmer, if turned out of his holding, could go and try to make a living in England, Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada, or any other part of the world where English was spoken, but of these men 90 per cent. could not speak English, and therefore they were tied to their country as were no other tenant farmers. That was the secret of their giving such high prices for the land in Wales. Another trouble was the sweeping number of notices to quit after an election. He could not help thinking that the Government could meet them in the same spirit as had been done in the case of Ireland, where large sums had been lent at 3½ per cent. [Mr. W. LONG shook his head.] The right hon. Gentleman shook his head, but it was the case that sums of money had been lent to the tenant farmers in Ireland at that percentage. They were simply asking that what had been done before should be done again; if it was not, these freeholders would end their days in the workhouse.


said he was sure nobody who had spoken sympathised more than the Government did with the condition in which agriculturists in many parts of the country found themselves. No doubt that position had become particularly hard in the case of occupying owners, and the small freeholders, who had to bear the losses both of owner and occupier, had probably felt the depression of agriculture and the consequent decrease in their properties more than any other class of agriculturists. He would point out, however, that some of the speeches which had been made were not altogether in support of the precise Motion that was upon the Paper. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had misinterpreted what he intended to convey by shaking his head when it was asserted that similar assistance had been given to the Irish tenants; what he had intended to indicate was, that in the case of Ireland, as also in regard to the Small Holdings Act which had been quoted, the assistance of the State had been given to the tenant to enable him to become the owner of the soil instead of being the occupier—in other words, turning the tenant into an occupier. But, as he understood this Motion, the recommendation made to the House was that money should be lent by the State at a low rate of interest, to enable, not the occupiers to become owners, but to enable the burdened owners to pay off existing mortgages, which it was admitted they had entered into, in many cases, with their eyes open, giving, as they had done, a much higher price than the property was worth even at the time when they bought it. In consequence of the present depression in agriculture, moreover, the value of the property had been greatly depreciated. The Welsh Land Commission had reported in favour of a limited application of this proposal to lend money, but he did not understand that there was any such limit in the Motion before the House. The hon. Gentleman who moved this Motion did not confine himself definitely to the recommendations of the Royal Commission, but left it open to them to embody generally those recommendations. The Seconder of the Motion, on the other hand, said that any such limitations as those imposed in the recommendations of the Royal Commission found no favour with him. If the Government undertook to lend money upon easy terms to occupying owners to enable them to redeem their mortgages it would not be the hon. Member for Pembrokeshire alone who would ask that the limit should be extended. They would find representatives, not only of Welsh constituencies, but of constituencies in every part of the United Kingdom, making a like request, and proving, as they could undoubtedly prove, that the condition of things in England were similar to those in Wales. He admitted there was a great and strong desire amongst the Welsh farmers to continue to live on their farms and amongst their native surroundings. Generally speaking, that desire might not be so universal in England, but he asserted that on the part of the freeholders in England there had been as close and warm attachment to their land as was to be found in any other part of the United Kingdom, and many of them had bought their properties when land was much more valuable than it was now, and had encumbered themselves with heavy mortgages, with the result that to-day their position was as serious as that of any freeholder in Wales. Whatever the cause of the present condition of things in Wales might be—whether it was land hunger or the fact that many of the men could only speak Welsh—it was not the cause they had to consider, but the result, and whether it was desirable, and, if desirable, possible to deal with the state of affairs. He submitted that to lend men money to discharge their mortgages or to transfer their mortgages from one holder to another, the other being the State, was not a system which could be recommended as a sound one or one which the State could wisely adopt. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to whom reference had been made, had offered occupiers the opportunity of becoming the owners of their holdings by the payment of so much down and the rest by deferred payments spread over a series of years, with the provision of a sinking fund with which to redeem the capital. That was a businesslike proposal. He would always be prepared to look with consideration upon a proposal to enable occupiers to become owners when there was evidence that they desired so to do; but he did not notice any strong desire on the part of occupiers anywhere to become the owners of their land as things were at present. There was an impression, which was not limited to England, that land was not altogether a desirable possession at the present moment, and he was afraid there was some foundation for it. If the present proposal were adopted, the principle embodied in it could not possibly be confined to Wales. Before the Commission on Agricultural Depression abundant evidence was given by Mr. Clare Sewell Read, Mr. Everett, and others, which showed that every word which could be said in respect to occupiers in Wales could with truth be said in regard to occupiers in other parts of the United Kingdom. What did this proposal mean? Did it mean that they were only going to transfer the mortgage from the individual who now held it to the State, who was to hold it on the same terms as it was held now, or did it mean that they were to transfer the mortgage to the State and that the State was to lend money to the freeholder on such terms that he could not only pay the interest, but also redeem the debt at the end of a certain period?


The Commission mention 30, 40, or 50 years.


said he was aware what the Commission said, but he desired to know what hon. Members meant by the Resolution. The Resolution did not on the face of it mean that mortgages should be redeemed by annual payments. But if that was the meaning what would be the result? The wish was to give these poor men, who were suffering severely, present relief. Would they be able to give the men present relief? He found that under the Housing of the Working Classes Act money had never been lent for so long a period of time as 50 years at less than 3½ per cent. interest. If they added to that rate of interest the necessary sinking fund, they would find that for every £100 the State might be willing to lend the tenant would have to pay £4 5s. in place of the interest he was now paying. That was not all. There would be considerable cost attending the transfer of the mortgage. They would have to have the properties certified and examined. In the case of the purchases from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or of those under the Irish Land Act, or of those proposed to be carried out under the Small Holdings Act, the State lent money to the individual with which he was to be able to buy his property at the present value and at the present price. But what the State was asked to do in this instance was to enable men to redeem obligations incurred many years ago at the price at which the land was then bought. He did not wonder that hon. Gentlemen made Motions like this, because no one knew better than he how bitter was the cry which came from many agriculturists. He knew that every word which had been said as to the industrious, hard-working lives of those people was perfectly true, and he did not wonder that hon. Members from Wales, knowing the hard struggle it was for those people to live, should make this appeal on their behalf. But he asked the House not to be led into adopting this Motion by a natural and proper feeling of sympathy with a large and deserving class in distress. The Motion if adopted could not possibly be limited to this particular class of freeholders in Wales alone. It must be extended to the freeholders of the whole country. Any attempt to limit its application to this particular class of freeholders in Wales would be swept away by the force of the representations which would be made to Parliament of sufferings just as keen on the part of freeholders, large and small, throughout England. If they gave this assistance to small freeholders in Wales on the ground that their land-hunger had overcome their prudence, they would have to extend it to all freeholders. Therefore, while the Government made no complaint of the bringing forward of this Motion—for there were excuses for it, and it had been moved in a moderate and temperate manner—they must ask the House to reject it, because it would not have the effect of relieving the burdens of the class it sought to help, because it would be impossible to limit it to that class, and because it would entail an enormous liability on the State.

MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire,) Eifion

said the right hon. Gentleman had argued that the Irish case was a case of the Government having turned an occupying tenantry into owners, whereas the Motion proposed to assist landholders who were already owners to pay off their mortgages, which, in the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman was a totally different matter. The distinction the right hon. Gentleman had drawn between the two cases—the Welsh and the Irish—was totally fallacious.

Attention was here called to the fact that there were not forty Members present. The House was thereupon counted, and a quorum having been found,


said the Motion was not to assist small freeholders, as the right hon. Gentleman supposed, but to assist only such freeholders as had already purchased their own holdings.


I am quite aware of that fact, but I pointed out that, whatever your intention might be, it would be quite impossible to maintain that restriction.


said the only difference between the Welsh case and the Irish case was that the Welsh farmers had, unlike the Irish farmers, helped themselves in the first instance by purchasing their own holdings, and surely they were not on that account the less deserving of assistance now that they found themselves unable to adhere to the original terms of purchase. The right hon. Gentleman declared that if the case were admitted it would not be possible to confine it to Wales. But the principle had been admitted in Ireland; it would be impossible to confine it to Ireland, and it must be extended to Wales. The intention was that the advances from the State should be repayable, principal and interest, in a specified term; and the right hon. Gentleman had argued that in that case the burden of the tenants would not be alleviated because they would have to repay at the rate of 4½ per cent. In the case of Ireland the advance was repayable, principal and interest, at the rate of 4 per cent. for forty years. But at the time that advance was made Consols were below par, and now that Consols were at £112, the money could be advanced to the Welsh at a lower rate of interest. The right hon. Gentleman also said that in Ireland the land was bought at the depressed price, whereas the proposal in the case of Wales was that the tenants were to be helped to purchase at the high price, or to relieve themselves of their mortgages at the high price. He ventured to say that in no case did a mortgage amount to more than three-quarters of its value. They were therefore not asking the Government to advance the full price that was got from the land twelve or fourteen years ago, when land was at a very high value; but only three-quarters of that price, which would not be more than the present value of the land in the market. The only questions that remained were—did the necessity for this transaction exist in Wales? and would it be a safe investment for the State? The necessity was proved by the evidence given before the Land Commission, and that it would be safe for the Government to advance the money would be admitted by everyone who knew that the Welsh farmers, like their mountain sheep, could make a living in circumstances that would mean starvation to anybody else.

On the return of Mr. SPEAKER, after the usual interval,

GENERAL LAURIE (Pembroke and Haverfordwest)

said that he was sorry that he should have intervened in the Debate so as to have prevented the House from coming to an immediate decision upon this Motion, but the interest he took in this question must be his excuse for having done so. No doubt, the answer to the Motion that had been given by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture was most conclusive, from his point of view; but he thought that there was one point to which he was bound to refer. It was admitted that, in many cases, the position of the Welsh freeholder was almost desperate, and that unless he received substantial and speedy assistance he would be unable to continue to be a freeholder, and must fall back upon the position of a tenant of the land he now owned. That would be the inevitable result if those who held mortgages on these freeholds were to foreclose and sell the land. It had been stated on the part of the Government that it was a principle of public policy that public money could not be used for the purpose of perpetuating the race of freeholders who could not manage to hold their own. But was that contention well founded? During the last 20 years there had been a new departure in this matter, and public money had been used over and over again for the purpose of enabling tenants to become freeholders. The acquisition of their holdings by the Irish tenants had been facilitated by the use of public money, which had also been applied in the case of the Scotch crofters and of the tenants in certain parts of England. He wanted to know why what had been done in the case of Ireland, Scotland and England, could not be done in the case of Wales? Surely it was as important to prevent freeholders from becoming tenants as it was to enable tenants to become freeholders. He admitted that the use of public money for these purposes was a new departure; but still that was the order of the day. For these reasons he should feel bound to support the proposal which was embodied in the Motion. ["Hear, hear!"]

MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)

said, in the first place, he must express his deep regret that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture, speaking on behalf of Her Majesty's Government, should have felt himself bound to meet this Motion by a direct negative. In the case of tenants whose families had occupied holdings for generations, and had improved the waste land until it was now good land, it was not to be wondered at that they tried to keep a tight grip on their holdings and their homes. Within the last 25 or 35 years large numbers of Welsh tenants had been evicted. When these estates came into the market and the holders had lost the security they had in the honour of their landlords, they did their utmost to secure their homes and their improvements, and it was too subtle a distinction for the right hon. Gentleman to draw between assenting to State loans for farms that were being or were about to be purchased, and refusing absolutely to sanction any State loans in order to ease the burden which lay upon these hard-worked peasant freeholders. ["Hear, hear!"] The first argument of the right hon. Gentleman was that an hon. Friend of his had said that he was unwilling to assent to certain limitations which the Commissioners had laid down. That was not sufficient, to take away the responsibility of the Government for refusing to deal in any shape or form with the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission.


said that what he had said had been that it would be impossible for the Government to maintain these limitations. The opinion of the Government was that the case of freeholders in England was as grave as the case of freeholders in Wales, and he said the Government did not see any justification for making any difference between the freeholders in Wales and the freeholders in many parts of England.


said that at any rate the right hon. Gentleman could not say that it was impossible to set up limitations. Limitations were constantly laid down in Bills brought before the House, as, for instance, in the Small Holdings Act of 1892. As to the other shelter the right hon. Gentleman endeavoured to get from the case of the freeholders in England, the freeholders in Wales had stated their case before a Royal Commission, and every one of the Members of that Commission signed a recommendation to the Government to ease their burdens. The peasant freeholders in Wales had petitioned the House years and years ago, and every representative of Wales sitting on either side of the House had that night backed the recommendation of the Commissioners. ["Hear, hear!"] He therefore ventured to say that a clear case had been made out for dealing with peasant freeholders in Wales, and so far as he knew, not a single hon. Member had got up to advocate any such case on behalf of England as was now advocated on behalf of Wales. The distressed freeholders in England had presented no petition to the House, and no Royal Commission had made any recommendation on their behalf. To the clear case that had been made out the right hon. Gentleman only gave a blank and decided negative, and he could only express his deep regret that, coming to the House and speaking for the Government was all that the right hon. Gentleman could do.

MR. W. T. HOWELL (Denbigh Boroughs)

regretted that in a discussion of this kind the last speaker should have introduced something of the bitter element by referring to events very long past—he meant those disputes between landlords and tenants which had something political in them. ["Hear, hear!"] Those disputes were dead, and he thought it would be better for Wales if all recollection of them were buried. There was one fallacy which underlay what had been said so far concerning the small freeholders in Wales and elsewhere. Speakers had ignored the fact that, after all, a freeholder who was under a heavy mortgage was in effect a tenant, though he happened to be tenant to a mortgagee instead of a superior landlord. The difficulty was this, that years ago they charged their land with heavy mortgages. In many cases they were anxious to buy land they were farming, and had not sufficient capital to buy it, and so borrowed at high rates of interest at a time when agricultural depression began to be a burden on farmers. They thought the depression was only temporary, and that they would be able to repay the money in good years. Their expectations had unfortunately been wrong. They now came before Parliament to ask for special aid on the ground that they represented an industry which the country could not afford to allow to go to rack and ruin. They said that they had an exceptional case. He agreed with that position, but he must say that, when he stood in a Parliament which was supposed to represent all sections in the country, it was impossible for him to say that because the small freeholder who had charged his land happened to hold land in Wales, he was to be preferred to the small freeholder in exactly similar circumstances throughout the English counties. ["Hear, hear!"] Even if limitations were enforced, the opinion of Members of the House must first be obtained as to what those limitations were to be on which such a gigantic scheme as was proposed was to be carried out. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer said he could carry out a scheme of such magnitude, it would be an undoubted boon to the freeholders throughout the country; but until he was informed that it was possible financially to carry out such a scheme, he was afraid the Motion of his hon. Friend could not result in much good. An attempt was made in the Resolution to establish the position that there was something different in the Land Question in Wales from the Land Question in England. [Opposition cheers.] He knew hon. Gentlemen opposite held that opinion, and wished to add one more to the orthodox ten commandments, the commandment "Be selfish. ["No, no!"] Get everything you can for Wales and do not give it to others who have just as good a, claim to it." Although he sympathised with the small freeholders in England and Wales he could not admit that there was an essential difference between the Welsh and the English Land Question. ["Hear, hear!"]


said, that the hon. Member who had just sat down represented a Welsh borough. He presumed that the hon. Member would vote against the Resolution, but would hon. Members who represented Welsh counties do so? ["Hear, hear!"] He denied that the supporters of this Motion were selfish in this matter. They wanted this reform for Wales, but if evidence were adduced showing that England needed a similar reform they would not oppose the demand. In Wales the matter was pressing. There had been great sales of landed estates, and when they took place the tenants were in this dilemma: they had to buy their farms, paying for their improvements over again, or they had to part with their farms and with their improvements. In a great many cases they purchased, paying for their own improvements, and thus putting into the landlords' pockets money to which they were not entitled. Their position now was very precarious, and they came to that House and said, "You have for a great number of years omitted to reform the Land Laws of this country, and under those laws we have been put in a position of great stress, and only a new law can put us fairly right." They asked that in order to improve their position they might be allowed to borrow money in the manner and for the purposes set out in the Resolution. In his opinion their demand was just, and he trusted that the House would accede to it.


, as the representative of a, Welsh agricultural district, supported the Motion that had been brought forward. [Opposition cheers.] At the same time he was fully alive to the fact that what was due to the peasant freeholders in Wales was also due to the small freeholders in England. ["Hear, hear!"] The inquiries of the Land Commission, however, had been confined to the Principality, and therefore Welsh Members were justified in limiting their proposals to the case of the freeholders of that part of the country which they represented. Large advances of public money had been made to Irish tenants to assist them in times of distress, and he could not understand why a similar benefit should not be conferred on small freeholders and tenants in Great Britain. There was no difference of principle between assisting financially a freeholder who had bought his land and assisting a tenant to purchase his holding. In helping the small Welsh freeholders the Government would be assisting a loyal, industrious, and law-abiding portion of the community.

MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)

said that the question before the House was regarded as urgent and pressing in Wales. He represented an important agricultural constituency in North Wales, and he could say truly that great interest was taken in this subject by his constituents. The number of small freeholders in Denbighshire was decreasing he was sorry to say. One of his constituents who had given evidence before the Royal Commission, said that he had purchased his farm in two lots, in 1873 and 1880, and that since then he had enjoyed greater liberty of cultivation, and had spent £1,000 on improvements. He had however found it extremely difficult to make the farm pay, although he worked as hard as a man could. That was a typical case. One fact that differentiated the case of the small freeholders of Wales from that of small freeholders of England was that the number of the former was not as large as the number in England. In Wales there were only 424 to each county, but to each English county there were 1,203. Then the area of ground held in England by these freeholders was 14 per cent., whilst in Wales it was only 11 per cent. Reference had already been made to what occurred in 1868, after the historic elections of those days. Notices to quit were showered upon the farmers, many of whom were thus forced to buy their holdings on unfair conditions, and they had suffered in consequence from that time up to the present. He did not agree with the hon. Member opposite, who said "We must leave the past to bury its dead." They could not do so. Large numbers of the inhabitants of Wales remembered too vividly the cruel events of that period. The Royal Commission had recommended powerfully the adoption of the principle of the Motion, and that evening, with the exception of the hon. Member opposite, the whole representatives of Wales in Parliament were in favour of the proposal. In these circumstances he trusted that the House would accept the Resolution.

*MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)

said he had heard something from hon. Gentlemen about the insatiable hunger for land. The other day he offered for sale in small portions a small estate of his in Wales, but he did not get a single offer. [Laughter.] It was all humbug; this land hunger did not exist. He should like to find those persons who were willing to give 50, 60, 70, and 80 years' purchase for land. It was admitted that this Motion would not, if translated into an Act of Parliament, increase by one the existing number of freeholders in Wales. Hon. Members were asking for assistance on behalf of a certain small section of the people out of the pockets of the artisans, cottagers, and tenant farmers of the whole country. How magnanimous but how far from an economical method of dealing with a financial difficulty! If hon. Gentlemen could do something for the freeholders by relieving them a little of their taxation and by placing them more on an equality with those whose income came from other sources, then they would do some real good to the freeholders in Wales and England. Why did not hon. Gentlemen who professed to be so anxious to help the people of Wales try to relieve them from the inequalities of local taxation? The Radical representatives of Wales did nothing in this respect; they hindered rather than helped the agricultural interest in the Principality. When it was claimed that the State should come to the rescue of those who had made bad bargains, he reminded hon. Members that there was once a certain young man who bought a gross of green spectacles. [Laughter and "That is fiction."] Ought the State to have come to his rescue? If it came to the rescue of one set of people who made bad bargains, ought it not to come to the rescue of all? Wales had suffered less from agricultural depression than any other part of the United Kingdom. An hon. Member said that the end of the mortgaged freeholder was not far off. What did this mean? Simply this: that a freeholder who had bought his land for £100 would have to sell it for £50. His place would be filled by another freeholder, with this difference—that the new man would be unmortgaged. This Resolution might be described as one to indemnify mortgagees and endow moneylenders. Why should the State interfere in order to pay back money lent on a bad security and to pull the mortgagee out of his difficulty? From the economic point of view the State ought not to interfere in a case like this. Though he wished to see as many people become freeholders as possible, he did not wish to see the State come forward and, by use of the taxes, buy their estates for them, or pay their bad debts. He would rather urge hon. Members opposite to help their Welsh fellow-countrymen by endeavouring to teach them the language of the world and the language of commerce—English.


said he could not accept the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. T. Ellis) as representative of that which would have been made by a Welsh Chancellor of the Exchequer had he taken part in this Debate. And he was convinced that if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Monmouthshire had happened to have been in his place he would hardly have re-echoed the eloquent sentiments of the hon. Gentleman. He was anxious to put this matter before the House from a point of view which had been neglected—that of the taxpayers of the country. Personally, he thought there was much in this Motion with which he could sympathise. All of them desired to maintain the freeholders, and especially the small freeholders, of the country. He was too well acquainted with many cases where mortgages had compelled, not only small, but large freeholders to part with old family estates, large or small, not to sympathise with the desire that some help should be given to persons in these circumstances. But he was obliged to consider the matter from the point of view in which it must present itself to the taxpayers. What was the position? What was asked by the Motion was not akin to anything that had been done for Ireland. What had been done for Ireland was to pass Act after Act in order, if possible, to substitute a system of small ownership for a system of landlord and tenant. ["Hear, hear!"] Throughout that legislation this had been always required; a valuation of the property to be transferred from landlord to tenant at the time of the transfer by a responsible Department on behalf of the State, so as to secure that the tenant did not give too large a sum for the property which he was purchasing. That was entirely different from the system now proposed. The House was asked to sanction the principle that mortgages of property which had been already purchased, whether by their former tenants or by persons entirely unconnected with those properties, should be redeemed by an advance from the State—in other words, at the expense of the taxpayers. That was a principle which had been, he thought, very wisely refused in advances made for public purposes by the Public Works Loan Commissioners. That body made advances for every kind of work almost that could be suggested, but it was one of their rules never to make advances to pay off old debts. And for this obvious reason, that if the old debt had been incurred, and it was advisable for the person incurring it to come to the State to pay it off, the probability, nay, almost the certainty, was that the value of the property on which the debt had been incurred had depreciated, and therefore nobody else would lend money upon it. That was the very case which hon. Members had put. They said the condition of the freeholders in Wales was so bad, that, in spite of their industry, their honesty, and all their good qualities, they were reduced to such a position that they could not maintain their farms, that they would be sold up and their farms transferred to other persons unless the taxpayers stepped in to help them. The property had depreciated in value since its purchase, and it was part of the case that the purchase was made at a higher value than the property was worth even in prosperous times. In his opinion, the result of any such proposal as this would simply be that the taxpayers would find themselves mortgagees of all the worst properties in the country, while those properties which had increased in value and whose owners were able to borrow on good terms in the public market would take very good care never to come to Government at all. ["Hear, hear!"] He trusted the House of Commons would not initiate a principle which, it seemed to him, would have the greatest possible danger for the taxpayers in the future. Because there was nothing more true than what had bean said by more than one speaker—that Parliament could not adopt this principle and confine it solely to Wales. There might be—he knew there was—a very strong feeling of nationality on the part of hon. Members from Wales. They might contend, and possibly with some truth, that the circumstances of owners and occupiers of land in Wales were in some measure different from those in most parts of England; but of this he was quite sure, that there were parts of England where the depreciation in land had been far greater than in Wales, and if there were a case for the aid of the State to small landowners in Wales, there was a much stronger case on behalf of the landowners in the east and south of England, where the value of land had depreciated 50 per cent., or even more, in some cases. Then it had been admitted that if Parliament once initiated this principle they could not confine it to small landowners only. The hon. Member who seconded the Motion said that 150 acres, the limit recommended by the Royal Commission, could not, in his opinion, be adhered to. No limit of acreage could possibly be adhered to, because the value of 50 acres in one part of the country might be quite as much as that of 1,000 acres in another part. Therefore they would be compelled, if they took any limit, to take a limit of value and not of acreage. But how were they going to adhere to a limit of value? Why was the owner of 500 acres, worth, perhaps, £5,000, not to be as much entitled to assistance in this way as the owner of five or ten acres? He was bound to say that some of the hardest and most painful cases that had come under his notice—and he had had many applications for State assistance of this kind—had come from owners of the larger estates—estates which had been in certain families for many generations, and whose owners, owing to the present depreciation in the value of land, had found themselves in the position of being obliged to part with old family property. What must be the answer in such cases? He was afraid only this—that it was

better, hard though it might seem, in the public interest, that the property should be sold and vested in a person who could afford to manage and farm it properly than that it should remain in the hands of an owner encumbered with heavy mortgages and who, therefore, was not in a position to do justice to it at all. ["Hear, hear!"] This was not a Motion in accordance with the Irish Land Acts, to increase the number of owners of land in Wales or anywhere else. Rather it would only prevent an encumbered owner from parting with his estate in favour of some other owner who was able to do more justice to it, and, therefore, to do more good to the country at large. And for this the State and the taxpayers were asked to undertake a burden which, if once accepted, must be increased until it would become a burden far too great to be reasonably borne. He trusted the House would pause, in the interest of the taxpayers of this country, before it accepted the principle embodied in the Motion, for he was convinced that if once accepted and acted upon for Wales, it must be extended to the rest of the United Kingdom. [Cheers.]

The House divided:—Ayes, 43; Noes, 102.—(Division List—No. 46—appended).

Arch, Joseph Kilbride, Denis Roberts, John H. (Denbighs.)
Brigg, John Langley, Batty Samuel, J. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Caldwell, James Laurie, Lieut.-General Smith, Samuel (Flint)
Davies, M. Vaughan-(Cardigan) Lewis, John Herbert Sullivan, Donal (Westmeath)
Davitt, Michael Macaleese, Daniel Thomas, Alfred (Glamorgan E.)
Dillon, John McGhee, Richard Wedderburn, Sir William
Donelan, Captain A. McKenna, Reginald Whittaker, Thomas Palmer
Ellis, Thos. Edw. (Morionethsh.) McLeod, John Wilson, Henry J. (York, W. R.)
Evans, Samuel T. (Glamorgan) Milbank, Powlett Charles John Wilson, John (Govan)
Flynn, James Christopher Morley, Charles (Breconshire) Wyndham-Quin, Major W. H.
Gilhooly, James O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny) Yoxall, James Henry
Griffith, Ellis J. Owen, Thomas
Holburn, J. G. Pickersgill, Edward Hare TELLERS FOR THE AYES, Mr. Lloyd Morgan and Mr. Rees-Davies
Jameson, Major J. Eustace Price, Robert John
Jones, David Brynmor (Swansea) Provand, Andrew Dryburgh
Jones, William (Carnarvonshire) Roberts, John Bryn (Eifion)
Acland-Hood, Capt. Sir A. F. Beach, Rt. Hon. Sir M. H. (Bristol) Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. J. (Birm.)
Arrol, Sir William Begg, Ferdinand Faithfull Charrington, Spencer
Ascroft, Robert Bhownaggree, M. M. Cochrane, Hon. Thos. H. A. E.
Atkinson, Rt. Hon. John Blundell, Colonel Henry Coghill, Douglas Harry
Balcarres, Lord Brassey, Albert Colomb, Sir John Charles Ready
Balfour, Rt. Hon. A. J. (Manch'r) Brodrick, Rt. Hon. St. John Cook, Fred. Lucas (Lambeth)
Balfour, Gerald William (Leeds) Cavendish, V. C. W. (Derbyshire) Corbett, A. Cameron (Glasgow)
Bathurst, Hon. Allen Benjamin Chaloner, Captain R. G. W. Cross, Herb. Shepherd (Bolton)
Curzon, Viscount (Bucks) Hudson, George Bickersteth Ridley, Rt. Hon. Sir Matthew W.
Darling, Charles John Hutchinson, Capt. G. W. Grice- Round, James
Douglas, Rt. Hon. A. Akers- Johnston, William (Belfast) Russell, Gen. F. S. (Cheltenham)
Doxford, William Theodore Kemp, George Russell, T. W. (Tyrone)
Duncombe, Hon. Hubert V. Knowles, Lees Seton-Karr, Henry
Dyke, Rt. Hon. Sir William Hart Leighton, Stanley Sinclair, Louis (Romford)
Edwards, Gen. Sir James Bevan Long, Rt. Hn. Walter (Liverpool) Smith, Abel H. (Christchurch)
Fellowes, Hon. Ailwyn Edward Lorne, Marquess of Stanley, Lord (Lancs.)
Fielden, Thomas Lowles, John Sutherland, Sir Thomas
Finch, George H. Loyd, Archie Kirkman Taylor, Francis
Fisher, William Hayes Lyttelton, Hon. Alfred Tollemache, Henry James
Flower, Ernest Macartney, W. G. Ellison Tomlinson, Wm. Edw. Murray
Folkestone, Viscount Macdona, John cumming Tritton, Charles Ernest
Gibbs, Hn. A. G. H. (City of Lond.) McCalmont, H. L. B. (Cambs) Valentia, Viscount
Giles, Charles Tyrrell McKillop, James Wanklyn, James Leslie
Gilliat, John Saunders Mellor, Colonel (Lancashire) Webster, Sir R. E. (Isle of W.)
Gordon, John Edward Meysey-Thompson, Sir H. M. Welby, Lieut.-Col. A. C. E.
Gorst, Rt. Hon. Sir John Eldon Milward, Colonel Victor Wharton, John Loyd
Goschen, Rt. Hon. G. J. (St. Grgs.) Monk, Charles James Williams, Colonel R. (Dorset)
Gray, Ernest (West Ham) Murray, Rt. Hn. A. Graham (Bute Willoughby de Eresby, Lord
Greene, W. Raymond-(Cambs) Parkes, Ebenezer Willox, John Archibald
Gull, Sir Cameron Pollock, Harry Frederick Wodehouse, Edmond R. (Bath.)
Hanbury, Rt. Hon. Robert Wm. Powell, Sir Francis Sharp Wolff, Gustav Wilhelm
Haslett, Sir James Horner Pryce-Jones, Edward
Heath, James Purvis, Robert TELLEHS FOR THE NOES, Sir
Heaton, John Henniker Rankin, James William Walrond and Mr.
Hill, Rt. Hn. Lord Arthur (Down) Richardson, Thomas Anstruther.
Howell, William Tudor