MR. HERBERT ROBERTS (Denbighshire, W.)
said, in moving the Motion which stood in his name, he fully realised that the aspects of agriculture did not at the present time particularly command attention, either in Parliament or in the country; it was at present overshadowed by other and very important questions. But anyone who had any knowledge of the state of feeling in Wales upon this matter must know that it was impossible for any Welsh Members to allow any opportunity to pass without seizing it, and attempting to express the minds of the Welsh people upon this question. Surprise was sometimes evinced because of the decided views held by the people of Wales on political and other questions, and one of the main features which accounted for this characteristic in the public life and temper of Wales was the question of the land, which they desired to raise to-night upon this debate.
Wales had of late taken a prominent part in a great controversy in this country, a controversy in connection with education. Here again there was a direct and close connection between the convictions of Wales upon this and other questions, and the present organised and striking development of the land question of the Principality. Though at the present moment agricultural depression did not exist in any portion of the country, it would be the height of folly for Wales to cherish the notion that the present condition of things in Wales, with regard to the land, could be a permanent solution of the question. So long as the 136 evils of the present system remained unremedied so long would there be a Welsh land question.
The debate this evening was interesting, by reason of the fact that on the morrow it was expected that a most important measure dealing with land reform in Ireland would be introduced in the House. Those who represented Wales earnestly hoped that that measure would completely satisfy the desires and aspirations of the Irish people; but it was quite evident that the introduction of a great measure of that kind, and the debates which must take place upon it, must force to the front the land questions of both England and Wales. His Motion claimed that there were special circumstances in connection with the land question in Wales which gave Wales a special claim for separate treatment at the hands of Parliament.
The case of the Welsh tenant farmers was that there was a defined and historic development and difference in regard to language and race, and habits of thought and many other things between the great body of tenant farmers and the great majority of the landowners, and that that had created such a condition of things in the sphere of agriculture in Wales as to entitle them to separate treatment. This was not realised until comparatively recently, but in 1880 the feeling in Wales became accentuated and organised on this point. That feeling culminated in the year 1893 in the appointment by the Government of the Welsh Land Commission, which inquired exhaustively into all aspects of the land question of Wales. After sitting three years it issued its Report, which might be divided in two parts, one being the recommendations made by the minority of the Commission, and assented to by the whole, and which thus represented the unanimous findings of the Commission; and the other the recommendations of the majority of the Commission. He only desired to refer to those recommendations which, though made by the minority, were assented to by the whole of the Commission. The first group of recommendations related to the amendment and the extension of the Agricultural Rating Act of 1883. The amendments recommended were not only important 137 in themselves, but also important from the fact that in the opinion of the Commission it would be well to deal with them, so far as Wales was concerned, in a separate Bill. That in his mind justified the whole case which he was endeavouring to impress upon the House to-night, because if a Commission unanimously said that in their judgment the circumstances of Wales were so exceptional as to demand a separate Bill, that went a very long way to justify the Motion.
There was a very important recommendation with regard to State loans to occupying freeholders, which recommendation was only justified by the special circumstances disclosed in the Report. To-morrow the House would hear what the proposals of the Government were with regard to the great scheme of land purchase in Ireland. He did not suggest that the case of the Welsh tenant farmer was at all on the same footing with that of the Irish tenant farmer, but to the degree of, and in accordance with, the measure in which the two corresponded he thought the same liberal financial treatment should be accorded to Wales as to Ireland. Very important recommendations had been made with regard to Crown lands in Wales and other matters; but nothing had been done by the Government, although those recommendations had been made. The object for that was not far to seek. The right hon. Gentleman opposite would no doubt get up and say it was impossible for Parliament to carry out all the recommendations made by the Royal Commissions which sat; but what did that mean? There must soon be some means of devolution devised; and he thought these matters should be left as much as possible in the hands of the people. One of the great points of difference between the tenant farmers of Wales and those of England and Scotland was that the bulk of the land of Wales was owned by men who had not in the past been in touch with the people of the country, or in sympathy with the modern currents of life in Wales, who spoke a different language, and had not been sympathetic with the aspirations of the people. That condition of affairs was, no doubt, improving now, but it had been going on so long that it had left its mark upon the agricultural situation. In his opinion, 138 therefore, under those circumstances there was a special case for special legislation for Wales.
With regard to the question of land rental, when the late Mr. Thomas Ellis moved the Second Reading of the Welsh Land Bill in 1892, he quoted some very remarkable figures, which he had had from a right hon. Gentleman opposite, relating to the income-tax assessment in connection with the agricultural land in Wales. From those figures the House would find that in 1814 the total rental from agricultural land was £2,000,000; in 1842, it was £2,266,000; in 1842, £3,000,000; in 1882, £3,588,000; in 1892, £3,361,000. The increase in the agricultural rentals of Wales had been in the last century 63 per cent., whilst the corresponding increase for England had only been something like 16⅓ per cent., which proved abundantly that there had been at work in Wales during the last century influences which had created a different agricultural result which called for special and separate legislation. He need hardly say that, so far as the people of Wales were concerned, they would back up the right hon. Gentleman in any raid he might make on the Treasury for money for the encouragement of agriculture. He asked whether it would not be possible to obtain some provision of £3,000, £4,000 or £5,000 a year—it need not be a large sum at first—for the promotion and organisation of agriculture in Wales. A very large sum was usefully spent in Ireland through the channel of the Board of Agriculture there for agricultural purposes. Was it too much to hope that when such showers of financial blessing were to be poured on Ireland some of the drippings might fall upon Wales? In making this request for the separate treatment of Wales, they did not do so on any ground of social disorder. The Welsh people were loyal and strenuous supporters of the Empire, and they claimed that their farmhouses had been in the past the nursery of men who had played a not unimportant part in the development of this country. They believed that anything the Government could do to meet their wishes in the way he had indicated would tend to keep the best of their race on the soil under improved conditions. 139 It would be the means of perpetuating a gifted, educated, and, if he might say so, a religious race, and would add something to the strength and vitality of those dominions which were our common heritage. For these reasons he begged to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, the recommendations of the Welsh Land Commission demand the immediate consideration of Parliament."
§ MR. ELLIS GRIFFITH (Anglesey)
seconded the Motion. He said it appeared to him that this was an exceedingly opportune moment for a Motion of this kind. They were looking forward to another great Land Purchase Bill for Ireland. He could only say on behalf of the Welsh farmer that he wished he was in as good a position as the Irish farmer at the present time. In Wales they felt rather keenly that what had been granted to the Irish farmer because of his disobedience of the law had been denied to them because of their obedience of the law. It was putting a premium on disorder, and giving a lesson which perhaps they would not be slow to learn in future. The Royal Commission was appointed ten years ago, and did its work for nearly three years. It examined over 1,000 witnesses representative of landlords and tenants and the general interests of the country. It cost the country something like £10,000, and he submitted it really was gross neglect on the part of the Government to take no notice of the recommendations the Commission made. He would not deal with what was called the Majority Report, but he would point out that the Commission unanimously reported that they thought the circumstances disclosed in Wales by their inquiry urgently called for legislation such as they had sketched, and that it would be expedient to deal with Wales in a separate Bill. In Wales there was a cleavage between landlords and tenants in religion, language, and politics, and it would be idle for them to be blind to these differences. These were considerations which entirely differentiated the case of England from that of Wales in this matter. Within the limits of the constitution they had done all they could to bring this matter before the House of Commons. The thirty-four representatives 140 of Wales had unanimously demanded a Bill dealing with the subject. England had never done anything like that.
He thought it was conceded on both sides of the House that the three reforms needed by the tenants were fair rent, security of tenure, and compensation for disturbance. As to fair rent the majority of the Commission thought that could only be secured by a judicial tribunal. Into that matter he was not going to enter. If they had security of tenure he thought fair rent and compensation for disturbance would look after themselves. What impressed the Commission more than anything else in Wales was the number of sales that had taken place in the Principality upon the death of owners of estates. On the sale of an estate the tenants were placed in a very precarious position, notice being frequently given to them to quit their holdings in order to give a free hand to the new proprietor who, in this way, got possession of the improvements which the tenants had placed in the soil. The Commission recommended that possession of the farm should be retained by the tenants for three years after he was served with notice to quit, and that in certain other cases the tenant should be allowed a year's rent when driven from his farm. The Commission also unanimously recommended that the notice to quit should contain the reasons for the proprietor giving the notice to quit. He need not tell the House what safeguards these would be to the tenants. He would not enter into all the details of the recommendations of the Commission. There were twelve in all on which the Commission was unanimous, and if the Welsh people had a Bill containing these twelve points they would be satisfied.
One unanimous recommendation of the Commission was that a loan of £5,000,000 should be given to the small freeholders in Wales, at 3 per cent. interest, who had purchased their freeholds after 1868. The year 1868 was fixed because at that date hundreds of Welsh farmers had been turned out of their farms because they had voted Liberal, and that had not unnaturally embittered the feeling in the Principality. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister for Agriculture would not tell them that he sympathised with them 141 on this question. They were very glad to have sympathy, but it was surely time that they had something more in Wales. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would persuade his colleagues to give some opportunity of dealing with this question which affected so materially the happiness and prosperity of the Welsh people. They only asked for what was fair and just, and he contended that they should have separate legislation for Wales on land as they had on the education and drink questions.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That, in the opinion of this House, the recommendations of the Welsh Land Commission demand the immediate consideration of Parliament.—(Mr. Herbert Roberts.)
§ SIR H. AUBREY - FLETCHER (Sussex, Lewes)
said it might seem curious for a Member of a Sussex constituency to have any idea of legislating for the benefit of Wales, but, owing to circumstances, he was now placed in a position of some importance in the county of Glamorgan, and during the time he had been in possession of these large estates he had received from his tenants the greatest kindness and consideration. His hon. friend who introduced the Motion before the House had alluded rightly and properly only to portions of the Report of the Royal Commission, and had dealt chiefly with the report of the minority. Many of his friends on this side of the House who were interested in Wales, or who represented Welsh constituencies, were not altogether against the arguments adduced by the hon. Member; but there were a few points which he wished to be allowed to bring to the notice of the House which, from his long experience of and connection with agriculture in England, might explain some of the difficulties of the tenants both in England and Wales. He could say that his object was to help those who were on the soil to remain on the soil. When he went down to the Principality to take possession of his estates the spokesman who warmly welcomed him on behalf of the tenants, and who was over eighty years of age, told him that he and his family had 142 occupied the same holding for more than 500 years, and pointed out men whose families had been on the estate for 200 and 300 years. He appealed to the hon. Member for East Glamorgan, who was present on that occasion, to confirm his statement that every endeavour had been made to keep the tenants on the soil, and that good feeling existed among all those connected with the property.
He did not agree with one portion of the hon. Gentleman's speech, when that hon. Member said he was anxious that the same tenure of farms as regarded leases should exist in Wales as in England In the South of England, which he knew best, there was no such thing as a long lease, and hardly any lease at all between landlord and tenant. He admitted that many years ago leases were granted, but for some time leases were scarcely asked for, and were not desirable. He knew that in Scotland leases were very acceptable to tenants and landlords, but he thought it would be found now that yearly tenancies were more beneficial, both to landlord and tenant, than long leases. He did not suppose that the case of Wales was very different from many parts of England in regard to the depopulation of the rural districts. Year by year lads and young men were leaving the rural districts to go into the towns and great centres of industry, where they considered they would benefit themselves more than by remaining in the country. He wished that the Minister for Agriculture could suggest something that would prevent that. One thing that had struck him most forcibly during his visits to the Principality was the way in which the children, and even grown-up sons and daughters, of the tenant farmers remained in their own homes to enable the father to carry on the work of the farm. He only wished that they could see that in many parts of England. He had intervened in the debate simply to show the House that he was anxious for some legislative reforms being carried out in Wales connected with agriculture. His ancestors had been in Wales from before the Conquest, and he was proud that he represented a family which had tried to help in past years those connected with 143 the soil. He would associate himself with the hon. Member opposite in doing what he could to advance the interests of agriculture in Wales.
§ MR. BLACK (Banffshire)
said he had no connection with the Principality, but he supported the Motion of his hon. friend as coming from a different part of the United Kingdom, and as having had some experience of the effect of such legislation as that proposed by the hon. Member for Denbighshire. He referred to legislation in connection with the Scottish crofters; and he ventured to say that that legislation had proved beneficial to the State, to the tenant, and to the landlord. The hon. Member who had just sat down had implored the Government to do something to check the depletion of the rural population. Such a method had been found in Scotland, as shown by the Census returns. In Shetland the diminution of the population between 1881 and 1891 was 6.02 per cent.; in the last decade it was only 1.90 per cent. In Sutherland the diminution between 1881 and 1891 was 3.89, and last decade it was only 2.08 per cent. In Ross and Cromarty similar results were observed, notwithstanding the economic conditions which led to a much greater depletion of the rural population in other parts of Scotland. This was due in large measure to the Crofters Acts, which gave absolute security of tenure to the tenants. The fixity of tenure had encouraged the tenants to spend their money in improving their houses and holdings, and in increasing the productiveness of the land, while it had kept the people to the soil, and had likewise benefited the landlord. He ventured to think that if similar legislation were applied to Wales and other parts of the United Kingdom similar results would follow.
§ MAJOR WYNDHAM - QUIN (Glamorgan, S.)
said that as his hon. friend had confined himself to the consideration of the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission, he was happy to agree with him in what he had suggested for the benefit of the Welsh people. However, he did not believe that the Welsh people were entitled to any greater 144 consideration in respect to land legislation than the people in any other portion of the United Kingdom. If the Minister for Agriculture could see his way to conferring the benefits asked for by the Welsh people, he could say, on behalf of his constituents, that he would be happy to receive them. The hon. Member who introduced the debate had stated that, during a certain period, rents in Wales had risen 63 per cent., whereas, in the corresponding period in England, rents I had only risen 16 per cent. He did not think it was quite fair to compare England with Wales in this regard, because the greater portion of Wales was given up to stock-raising and dairy-farming, while a large portion of England was devoted to growing cereals. If a just comparison was to be made between Wales and England, it should only be with those portions of England where similar agricultural operations were conducted, such as Cumberland, Westmorland, and Devonshire. If the income-tax assessments from the year 1879 were examined it would be found that the rents in those particular counties were higher than in the Welsh counties. Then there was a difference between the conditions of agriculture in North and in South Wales. In the county of Glamorgan farms were held under a local custom, which had been established for more than a hundred years, and the tenants there would rather hold their land under that custom than under any Act of Parliament.
§ MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN (Kent, Tonbridge)
rose to continue the discussion.
Attention drawn to the fact that forty Members were not present Numbers being counted, and forty Members being found present,
§ MR. GRIFFITH BOSCAWEN
said he did not rise for the purpose of objecting to the Motion of his hon. friend, because, from the manner in which he had moved it, he had excluded the proposal of establishing a Land Court which had been put forward by the majority of the Royal Commission, and had limited 145 his remarks to the unanimous recommendations of the Commission. That made a very considerable difference. Speaking not as a Welsh Member but as connected with Welsh land, he had much sympathy with the hon. Member opposite; but while the speech of the hon. Member was limited, his Motion covered everything. His Motion said, "That in the opinion of this House, the recommendations of the Welsh Land Commission demand the immediate consideration of Parliament." He presumed that the word "recommendations" meant the recommendations of the majority of the Commission. Therefore, he wished to move an Amendment which would bring the Motion of his hon. friend into line with his speech, viz., to insert the word "unanimous" before the word "recommendations." If his hon. friend would accept that Amendment, he had nothing further to say.
§ Question amended, by inserting, after the second word "the," the word "unanimous."—(Mr. Griffith-Boscawen.)
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
said he had a considerable right to be sympathetic in regard to matters connected with Wales, for he had a large admixture of Welsh blood in his veins, and he had, by accident, a very near connection with an estate in Wales. He, however, objected to set up a line of demarcation between the tenants of Wales and England which would lead to all manner of unfortunate jealousies. He was opposed to setting up in any way a difference of treatment of land tenure and a difference in legal position between tenants on either side of a purely artificial boundary, like a dyke, dividing Wales from the adjoining counties. Personally he could not vouch in one way or another for what had happened in 1868, but supposing that there were many capricious evictions in 1868, there were no such things now, and why should they legislate in 1903 for a state of affairs which prevailed so long ago as 1868? It could not be urged that the landlords were treating the tenants badly now, or evicting them capriciously, or grinding 146 them down, or that a sufficient percentage of the income of the estates was not spent on them. Therefore there was no reason for this differentiation of treatment between the tenants of Wales and those in the adjoining counties. Did the tenants themselves, in the interests of agriculture and the development of the soil, show any reluctance to come forward and take vacant farms? No hon. Gentleman would assert that anything of this sort existed. They in England would be only too willing to experience the case and rapidity which obtained in Wales of finding tenants for their farms. In fact, there were many Welsh farmers who came over the border into Shropshire and took farms, and he himself had three Jones on his own estate. He protested against a difference of treatment being introduced between English and Welsh tenants. However moderate the speech and intention of the hon. Gentleman who moved the Resolution might have been, there could be no doubt that underlying the whole question was the desire for an alteration in the land tenure of Wales, and a distinct tendency to an approach to a system of dual ownership, which only on the morrow they were going to destroy, at a great cost, in Ireland. It could not be argued that any of those proposals would result otherwise than in establishing some degree of dual ownership, which he could only describe as a pernicious, wasteful, and destructive system—a system to get rid of which in another part of the United Kingdom, the House would probably be asked to vote millions in the course of a few days. The carrying out of these recommendations would involve the building up of a system in Wales similar to that which they were seeking to get rid of in Ireland, and he therefore entered his most emphatic protest against a proposal which would ultimately bring that about—a proposal in which he distinctly saw the track of the serpent of dual ownership.
MR. BRYN ROBERTS (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
urged that there were exceptional circumstances in the case of Wales which required exceptional treatment, and he pointed out that 147 though rents had risen in pastoral counties in England, in similar districts in Wales the increase had been twice as great.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. HANBURY,) Preston
said that if the Resolution had been placed before the House in its original form he could not for a moment have accepted it. He could not, for one thing, consent to any legislation for agriculture in Great Britain on the lines of the Irish Land Act. He could not consent to anything in the shape of a Land Court. Further than that, he would be unwilling to accept agricultural legislation limited to Wales alone. He could not recognise the distinction which had been attempted to be drawn between Wales and the rest of Great Britain with regard to the condition of agriculture. They must treat the matter as a whole. But with these reservations he was inclined to accept the Amendment which had been agreed to, especially as it involved dropping the suggestion for a Land Court. The recommendations of the Royal Commission, so far as they were unanimous, were chiefly recommendations which might be applied to the whole of Great Britain. There was the extension of agricultural education, to which there could be no objection. For his part he hoped that all over Great Britain more would be done than hitherto to extend agricultural education, and he trusted that even our country elementary schools would be brought more in accord with the surroundings of rural life. The same applied with regard to the education given in the various agricultural colleges. He was in hearty 148 sympathy with the recommendations of the Royal Commission on that point, and he thought that the Board of Agriculture, in that respect, had done more for Wales in proportion than they had done for the rest of Great Britain. Out of the limited sum of £9,000 placed at his disposal, they had apportioned to Wales £1,800. Then as to the circulation of leaflets, he thought Wales had nothing to complain of, and the leaflets now being issued would be found to be of much practical value.
There were two changes he would like to see introduced. The areas dealt with by the weather forecasts were too large to make them of much value for individual parishes, and he would like to see some alteration made whereby the information could be more widely distributed than it now was. It could be done through the agency of the Post Office. In America mail carts in the rural districts carried a flag, which indicated the last Report of the Meteorological Office. He thought that through the agency of the Post Office something of that kind might be done in our own rural districts. With regard to the suggestion of giving farmers information as to the agricultural prices, he had succeeded in getting funds from the Treasury to carry out that recommendation, which was one of considerable importance to farmers. He hoped to establish throughout Great Britain a staff of correspondents which would give the farmers information as to the prices of agricultural produce. He had also done his best to instil into the minds of the farmers the necessity for combination and co-operation. As to local taxation, the Royal Commission had recently reported on lines very much as indicated by the Royal Commission dealing with land tenure in Wales; and the 149 report of a Commission of that sort must weigh very greatly with any Government. The codification of the Statutes dealing with offences in connection with game, and the suggestion that the local authorities should have more power in regard to the regulation of commons—thatadditioual power was given by the Act of 1899—were minor matters. The matter to which the Commission as a whole attached the greatest importance was the amendment of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1883. He thought nobody could deny that the Act of 1900 was a very considerable advance on the Act of 1883, and he was sure they wished to give it a fair chance, and to see how far it contributed to the welfare of those interested, before taking further steps. Although he could not pledge himself to carry out all the unanimous recommendations of that Royal Commission, he thought that on the whole they were admirable and deserving of the attention of the House. He had no hesitation in accepting the Resolution as amended.
§ MR. EDWARDS (Radnor)
expressed the satisfaction with which he and his colleagues had heard the assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman, and he congratulated his hon. friend the Member for West Denbighshire on having been the means of obtaining so definite a statement from the Minister of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman had dealt with many small points of interest to agriculturists, but what they really hoped was that the Government would be induced to bring in a Bill which would give Welsh agriculturists security of tenure and greater compensation for improvements. There was wonderful unanimity on both sides 150 of the House as to the necessity for doing something with regard to land tenure in Wales. The hon. and gallant Member for Shropshire had said he could see no need for dealing specially with the case of Wales as apart from England, but he would remind him that there had been no Royal Commission making recommendations with regard to England such as there had been in the case of Wales. Further, the hon. and gallant Member showed there was a great difference between England and Wales, seeing that tenants were not easy to find in England, whereas in Wales as many as twenty farmers sometimes applied for a vacant farm. They were only asking that effect should be given to the recommendations of that Royal Commission, and he submitted that the granting of these reforms in the interests of the Welsh farmers would not in the slightest degree injure the English farmer or landlord. He feared that the report of the Royal Commission had been treated with scant courtesy, and they were glad, therefore, to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that something was to be done. He hoped it would be something really useful—something monk than flying a flag from a mail cart.
§ Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
§ Resolved, "That, in the opinion of this House, the unanimous recommendations of the Welsh Land Commission demand the immediate consideration of Parliament."
§ MR. FORESTRY LEWIS (Flint Boroughs)
said he desired to draw the attention 151 of the House to a question which was becoming one of great and increasing importance in this country, viz.: the desirability of further steps being taken for the afforestation of waste lands. He proposed to refer more particularly to the Report of the Departmental Committee recently appointed by the President of the Board of Agriculture. As the evidence taken by that Committee had not yet been published it would not be proper on his part to move a definite resolution. Still the question was becoming one of increasing urgency. A Select Committee was appointed to consider it in the year 1885, but he regretted to say that hardly anything had been done in the direction of carrying out its recommendations. Meanwhile our already inadequate stock of timber had been still further depleted. There were two cardinal facts in connection with the question which deserved the attention of the House and the country. The one was that the United Kingdom paid the enormous sum of £26,000,000 for imported timber, and the other was that the country contained 21,000,000 acres of waste land on a large proportion of which afforestation could be profitably undertaken.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. Forty Members being found present,
§ MR. J. H. LEWIS
, continuing, said he thought he could show that even under the indifferent system of management which now obtained in the United Kingdom excellent financial results had accrued from afforesting land which otherwise would be of little, if any, value. Some valuable evidence was given by Dr. Schlich before the Departmental 152 Committee, which had sat recently, showing what had been accomplished by afforesting on the Continent. In one district, called the Anthonsthal Range, in Saxony, between an elevation of 1,500 and 2,700 feet, an area of 4,000 acres was treated. The receipts came to 48s. per acre per annum, as against 10s. per acre per annum expenditure—a net profit of 38s. per acre, on land which would not have been worth more than 4s. per acre per annum for agricultural or pastoral purposes. A like policy could well be adopted in many parts of this country. In Scotland there were large tracts of country solely devoted to sheep farming which did not support more than one man per 1000 acres, whereas if converted into woodland they could be made to support one man per 100 acres. That would help to stop the depletion of the rural population now going on, a depletion which was draining the best life of the country into the towns, and which unless it was arrested would result in disaster for the country as a whole. There was another aspect of the question. According to some of the best experts on afforestation the world was approaching a shortage if not an actual dearth of timber. This country consumed more timber than any other country in the world, and yet they were not making the best use of those natural advantages which they possessed. They could grow in this country most of the timber that was imported from abroad, more especially that which was imported in such large quantities from the Baltic. This timber could be grown in this country just as well as in the Baltic countries. The United Kingdom imported £26,000,000 worth of timber, and £20,000,000 of that total could be profitably grown in this country. It 153 was a painful fact that foreign timber was preferred to home-grown timber, and that in many architects, specifications foreign timber was specified to be supplied. British timber had been rejected for telegraph poles, and this was entirely due to their own neglect of this subject. The evidence given before the Committee on afforestation showed that until within the last ten years or so owners of woodland did not understand that the size, shape, and quality of trees could be altered by anything they could do. They thought this was all a mere accident, whereas it had been shown by evidence to be due chiefly to good management.
In France, Germany, and Austria, systematised afforestation and education in forestry had improved the yield of timber, and had added greatly to the resources of those countries. The evidence that was given before the Committee on Afforestation unanimously favoured immediate and effective provision for bringing systematised instruction within the reach of foresters, agents, and woodmen. He was glad that the right hon. Gentleman himself was in full sympathy with the spirit of those recommendations. The Committee recommended the establishment of two large State forests, which should demonstrate the most technical and economical development of the art of forestry, and where proper accounts should be kept. The idea was that these State forests should be managed as commercial undertakings and be so worked as to yield an adequate financial return. The Committee suggested that example plots should be attached to universities, and university 154 colleges in which instruction upon this subject should be given. With regard to Wales very valuable evidence was given before the Committee, and he trusted that some of the large water areas belonging to the great municipalities situated in the Principality would be used in future for demonstrations in forestry. He need hardly remind the House of the advantages of afforesting. It helped to fill up the labourers' year. It gave them work at a time of the year when work was most needed. Not only this, but it added to the natural beauty of the country and to its resources, and it would provide a new source of revenue and a new source of employment for the people. They had had a great deal of unproductive expenditure of late, but this would only mean a small amount of expenditure, and he need hardly urge the right hon. Gentleman to impress upon the Treasury the importance of this question and the fact that it would be reproductive expenditure. Such expenditure would pay for itself over and over again, and in the far distant future the people of this country would have reason to bless the name of the right hon Gentleman if he undertook this work, which he held to be of national importance. He begged to move the Motion standing in his name. Knowing, however, that the right hon. Gentleman was thoroughly in sympathy with the objects of his Motion he would afterwards ask the leave of the House to withdraw his Motion for the present, trusting that at some future time, when the evidence of the Committee had been published, they might have a further and better opportunity of discussing this extremely important question.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed "That it is expedient to give effect, as early as possible, to the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Forestry."—(Mr. J. H. Lewis.)
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE (Mr. HANBURY,) Preston
The hon. Member will admit that I have taken considerable interest in this question, and I hope that the appointment of this Departmental Committee may produce some very useful results. This question of afforestation is important from more points of view than one. When we see how the timber supply of the rest of the world is gradually diminishing, and with the possibility before us of something like a timber famine in the not very far distant future, it behoves us to look more carefully than we have done in the past to our own timber supply. There is a good deal of land in the country which hardly brings in any agricultural return, and I think it very probable that much of that land might pay better under timber. In various parts of the country we hear about the water supply becoming very scarce, and it is quite possible that a greater growth of timber in this country might go some way to remedy even that defect. I cannot possibly go into the question at any length now. The Departmental Committee has evidently conducted its work with the greatest possible care, but the evidence has not yet been published, and the hon. Member has the advantage of me in that respect, so that he will not expect me to express now any definite opinion as to how far their recommendations should be given effect to. The recommendations will undoubtedly receive my very careful con- 156 sideration, and, if supported by the evidence, I have no doubt they ought to receive the attention of the Government.
§ MR. J. H. LEWIS
said that, in view of the reply of the right hon. Gentleman and the fact that the evidence of the Committee on Afforestation had not yet been published, he begged leave to withdraw his Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.