HC Deb 29 March 1906 vol 154 cc1621-45

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £212,756", be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1907, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of His Majesty's Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues."

MR. FLYNN (Cork, N.)

said he noticed in the Estimates an item of £1,200, which showed an increase of £100 over the preceding year. He understood that this was in connection with quit rents in connection with the woods and forests and foreshores in Ireland. He believed that several tens of thousands of pounds of these quit rents were appropriated and lodged in a common fund, but he was unable to understand the mysterious system which the Treasury adopted towards Ireland. The policy seemed to be one of heads they won and tails Ireland lost, and every point was taken againstthe poorer country. Although the Treasury had frequently been questioned as to the way these quit rents were applied, no satisfactory answer had been obtained. Irish Members had a right to know how much of this money received from Ireland was appropriated by the Treasury. The right to the enjoyment of the foreshore was, he submitted, the common right of the community, and he complained that in Ireland this right had been filched away. In Ireland, which had a very large seacoast and a great number of estuaries, only £2,725 was spent around its shores, whereas ten times that amount was spent in England.

MR. ROGERS (Wiltshire, Devizes)

said he wished to raise one or two points in regard to Crown lands. He was strongly interested in the necessity of land reform and was himself interested in some 5,000 or 6,000 acres of land. There was in the country a general concensus of opinion that it was desirable-that instead of going into towns the agricultural population should be retained on the land. The President of the Beard of Agriculture had himself made many experiments which had this object in view, and there was a great body of evidence contained in Rider Haggard's "Rural England" which went to show the importance of small holdings. If a stimulus was given to the movement for the creation of small holdings it would induce men to remain on the lands. He had studied the statistics of pauperism in villages where small holdings were prevalent and where the land was let in one or two large farms, and in nearly every case the statistics were in favour of the villages in which there were small holdings. He thought that the Crown lands should be used as far as possible for the purpose of creating small holdings. He asked that in future the Commissioners of Woods and Forests should pursue a more human policy and see that the Crown lands were used for the welfare of the people who lived in the country. He wanted a more progressive land policy to be carried out by this Department. He did not want to be harsh to the sitting tenants, but he did say that when, from time to time, farms were given up they should be used to carry out a policy of establishing small holdings. If the Commissioners could let the land at an increased rental, he had no doubt that that result would be satisfactory to them, and he held that when a farm was vacant this principle of small holdings could be applied without any hardship to anybody, and without disturbing the sitting tenant. There was no reason to believe that a policy of this kind would be any less satisfactory from the point of view of income than that under which Crown lands were now administered. It was almost the? universal experience of those who lived in country districts that land which was let in small quantities realised a larger return than that which was let in large quantities. Everybody who had been in agricultural districts, moreover, would know that the land which had made the greatest loss was the land which was let in the form of large farms. The rent paid for small farms, however, was out of all proportion to their value. The same policy of establishing small holdings should be pursued in regard to sales and purchases of land. During the last fifty years of the last century J. he noticed from the reports that more than £3,000,000 worth of land was bought and more than £3,000,000 worth of land was sold. That was an intelligible policy if the idea was to consolidate these lands in the hands of the Crown, and he did not think that anybody would object to its being carried out, but he did hope that when that course was pursued the greatest care would be taken not to extinguish small freeholds, and it should not be done with a view of amalgamating farms and buying up a small holding here and there in order to add it to a large farm with a view of increasing the rant. He urged that the Commissioners might with some of the Crown lands make a beginning with a scheme of national afforestation. He knew some Crown lands in his own district which for ordinary agricultural purposes were not worth more than 2s. 6d. an acre. He was talking as a practical farmer, and he was sure that some of the land would be much better utilised in making the beginning of a [national system of afforestation such as he contemplated. We in this respect fell much behind all foreign nations. Another point he should like to mention was that there was some reason to believe that Crown lands were let in large holdings and the tenant of the large holding was in the habit of letting again to small holders and allotment holders. He could not help thinking that that was not a good practice, as everybody who held Crown lands ought to have the advantage of holding them direct from the Crown, and no middleman should be allowed to make a profit out of them. Then there was the question of tied cottages as to which a good deal could be said on both fides. He knew in Wiltshire tied cottages as cottages which were let with the farm. The occupant sometimes received hi. cottage rent free and sometimes he paid a small rent for it, but it was a definite condition of his employment, and if he had any dispute with his employer he was liable to be called upon to leave his cottage at a fortnight's notice. This system had caused widespread discontent and grievance, and was, he thought, the cause to a great extent of that migration from the villages to the towns which they all deplored. On the other hand he was quite willing to recognise the fact that it was only reasonable that on an outlying farm a farmer should have on his hands cottages for stockmen, shepherds, and others, who were necessary for the conduct of his business. That, however, was a practice which ought not to be carried to excess, and when in a village all the cottages were tied to the various farms he thought that that was carrying the practice too far, and it certainly caused great discontent. He hoped that those responsible for Crown lands would seek to secure the welfare and happiness not only of the tenant, but also of those who lived under him. They were told that the State should be a model employer and he wanted them to be a model landlord. He moved the reduction of the Vote by £100.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Item A (Salaries, Wages, and Allowances) be reduced by £100."—(Mr. Rogers.)

MR. CROOKS (Woolwich)

congratulated the hon. Gentleman upon his speech, which showed that the villagers were in no need of a champion in that House. There was always a good deal of red tape in the administration of the Woods and Forests Department, but he hoped the Government would use all its influence to get rid of this red tape in the interests of the village population. They had now a President of the Beard of Agriculture who did really know something about the question of land and small holdings and allotments, and the proposal was that the 4,000 odd acres of land which the Government had at their disposal should be handed over to the Beard of Agriculture to be split up. He hoped this would be done, and that the Department would have power to exercise their powers in any way they I saw fit. They had the power under the Act of 1866. When he and the President of the Local Government Beard fought side by side in 1879 during the dock strike they had difficulty in dealing with the influx of labourers into town, and the men said it was all very well to grumble to them for coming to town to take the place of the dock labourers at fivepence an hour; they were content to let the dock labourers go and take their places in the village and live in a hut upon 10s. a week. Here was a chance for the Government to use its land in the very best possible way, and to set an example as to how this difficulty should be met. He felt some jealousy of Ireland, because under the Labourers Acts beards of guardians could provide cottages and the occupant had not to work for the farmer in the immediate neighbourhood or even for the owner of the land. Was it not wonderful that in this enlightened land no provision of the kind existed? In the London workhouses there were 2,500 men capable of working who had been pushed out by the influx of strong healthy men from the country who commended themselves to employers, who thought they were not only stronger than London men, but were more innocent and would do more work. He wished to keep the men in the cottages, and did not believe in men being driven to migrate against their wills.

The Government could do what they liked with the foreshores belonging to the Crown. The Act of 1866 set forth exactly what they could and ought to do. Yet there were men idling away their time and wasting their manhood when they might be usefully and profitably employed in improving the foreshores of the kingdom. Here was a profitable work, which might be started without delay. When it was said that there was no work for people to do he contended that there was plenty, and it was only the fear of interfering with the surplus labour of the country that stood in the way. For his part he wanted to get rid of the surplus labour, which was a social evil.

SIR WALTER FOSTER (Derbyshire, Ilkeston)

said he joined in the congratu- lations to the hon. Member for East Wiltshire for having brought forward a matter of great importance, and one by which the Government might effect a great deal of improvement in the agricultural districts. The Government had wide areas of land upon which an experiment might be made not only with small holdings and allotments but in other directions for employing labour. The cry of rural depopulation was being continually re-echoed, and up to the present time there had been found only one remedy, namely, the creation of small holdings and allotments. The remarkable fact was brought out by the last census that the only purely agricultural district in England which had not lost its population in the last decennial census was a district in which small holdings and allotments were provided in much larger proportion than in other districts of the country. The developments in this respect in the Holland division of Lincoln showed what could be done. When the Allotments Act began to be in operation there were about 130 acres of land given up to allotments. By 1905 there were between 2,000 and 3,000 acres given over to this beneficent purpose through the application of the Allotments and Parish Councils Acts. In the early days of the county council, that authority was approached, and by the exertions of the hon. Member for South-West Norfolk about 180 acres of land were obtained and cut up into small holdings; afterwards, through the kindly interest of the President of the Beard of Agriculture, some 500 or more acres. The consequence was seen at the next census, for it was the only rural district in England that had not declined in population. The Government had the opportunity of putting people back on the land belonging to the Crown, the first object of which land should be the benefit of the whole nation. In the last Parliament he endeavoured to get the Woods and Forests Commissioners to enter upon this question in the spirit which he had indicated, and he raised the question in this House as to whether these Crown lands should be divided into small holdings. What happened? A farm fell vacant in the very district to which he had alluded, and the hon. Member for South West Norfolk made an application, and he himself made an application in this House, but they did not get it, although they offered the Commissioners to take the farm at the rental they fixed. They proposed to put a proper tenant in the farmhouse, and to use the cottages and all the farm buildings for the benefit of the small holdings into which the farm was to be cut; but the reply was that it would not be to the interest of the Crown estate to divide the farm in this way. The Commissioners put the farm up for public tender, and one of the tenants of a Crown farm got it, thus adding a second farm to his jurisdiction. By that means labour was displaced, because wherever one farm was added to another the agricultural labourer suffered. It sent labour into the towns, where the price of labour was lowered, whereas it would better the condition of life in towns as well as in the country if they could establish more small holdings. An opportunity was now given to the administration which he hoped would be taken advantage of to carry forward a beneficent policy, and he hoped the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, stimulated by hon. Members in this House, would carry out that policy and endeavour, wherever Land became vacant, to see that it was utilised for putting people back on the soil.

MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)

said he desired as an Irish Member to ask the Financial Secretary of the Treasury the exact amount spent on Ireland in connection with the Woods and Forests Department. It was very difficult indeed to follow the hon. Gentleman's figures. He was a very good Unionist, and as an Irish Member he did not object to being identified with the Empire. But Scotland, Ireland, and the Isles of Man and Alderney seemed to be mixed up in a very hopeless way in these figures. The Commissioners in the English office appeared to be paid very high salaries. So far as he could gather, the very highest salary paid to a Commissioner in Dublin was £580, as against £1,200 in London. The principal clerks in London received £900; but in Dublin the first-class clerks only got £400. This seemed a very unfair disproportion of salaries in the same departments in London and Dublin.

MR. WINFREY (Norfolk, S.W.)

said the proposal to use Crown lands more for small holdings was not a new one. So long as twelve years ago he had an interview with the late Sir William Harcourt, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer—he believed it was in 1894—and pointed out various farms in South Lincolnshire which he thought might be utilised for small holdings. Sir William Harcourt was quite in sympathy with the suggestion, and he believed that if the Liberal Government of that time had lasted a little longer there would have been a more sympathetic management of the subject by the Department of Woods and Forests. The fact was that that Department was entirely out of sympathy with the movement, and he ventured to say they were not managing their estates, so far as he knew, in South Lincolnshire, in the most business-like way. If these lands were let to small holders they would let at 25 per cent. more rent than at the present time. The association with which he was connected would be prepared, whenever any of the Crown farms in South Lincolnshire became vacant, to rent them at 25 per cent. more rental than the tenants were now paying. For twelve years they had been making attempts to get hold of these Crown farms, but he was sorry to say they had not succeeded in getting an acre of Crown land in South Lincolnshire for small holdings. The reason seemed to him to be that the office of Woods and Forests found it was a simpler process not to cut up a farm into small holdings. Some years ago he and others formed a South Lincolnshire Small Holdings Association. One of the Crown farms became vacant only last Michaelmas and it was suitable for small holdings. They put in a proper application and pledged themselves to pay the same rent that the outgoing tenant was paying. They said they would not ask anything to be done in adapting buildings to small holdings, but that if they could get a lease for seven or fourteen years they would do that themselves. The answer they received was that it would be to the detriment of the estate, and the officials immediately put out tenders to let the farm, the successful applicant being a gentleman who already had a farm under the Crown and two or three other farms not under the Crown. He might safely say they would have been prepared to have paid a little more rent than the outgoing tenant to have obtained that farm. The office of Woods and Forests had at different times sold portions of their Crown lands, and they had at the present time £750,000 invested in Consols. If that were so there need be no difficulty about putting further houses and buildings upon the present Crown lands, because they had the money without going to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He did hope now that they had a progressive Government they would have a progressive policy with reference to this land question, and he trusted the result of this debate would be that they would get quickly to work. He suggested that the small houses and buildings which might be erected on these farms might be done by a gradual process, and he was certain that if the Woods and Forests Commissioners would spend some of their money in that way they would get a return of at least four per cent. on it. He believed that what was true of his own district was true of the whole country, and he ventured to hope they would have a satisfactory answer from the Government to-night with reference to the future management of these Crown Lands.


said the criticism which had been directed against the Department of Woods and Forests placed him in somewhat of a difficulty. He agreed entirely with the views expressed by the hon. Member for East Wiltshire. His hon. friend made a speech with every word of which he could assure him, on behalf of the Government, that the Government was in full sympathy, but when he said that the Committee would understand it was somewhat difficult for him to reply to the criticism which had been directed against the Department. If he answered these criticisms and showed hon. Members that they had been, at any rate to a considerable extent, mistaken in the views they had expressed, it might immediately be argued that he was really not in sympathy with the views which had been expressed so forcibly. It was, however, his duty to explain that several of the charges made were based, he thought, on an inaccurate understanding of what was the true position of the Woods and Forests Commissioners. In the first place it must be remembered, notwithstanding that his hon. friend the Member for Woolwich waved a Book at his head and said that in that Book would be found authority to the Treasury to do what they pleased with the Crown lands, that the Treasury had no such authority. He had read the Act of 1866, and it contained not a word authorising the Treasury to deal with the Crown lands as they pleased. The fact was, the Commissioners of Woods and Forests were a statutory body holding authority under an Act of George IV. By that Act the Commissioners were bound to administer the Crown estates for the advantage of the Crown. It was not national property. His hon. friend asked that the people should be put back on their own land, a sentiment with which he entirely sympathised, but it so happened that this particular part of the land did not belong to the people. It was the Crown land which was administered on behalf of the Crown and which, theoretically at any rate, reverted to the Crown on the demise of the Sovereign. Under the Acts by which the Crown Land Commissioners were given their power they were bound to administer the property in the interests of the Crown, and consequently they were not at liberty to make all sorts of experiments, however valuable those experiments might be on other grounds, if they were satisfied at the time that those experiments would not be for the benefit of the property itself. The hon. Member for South West Norfolk raised a case which had been referred to by the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division. It was the caseof a farm of 500 acres in a somewhat out-of-the-way district on the edge of the Wash. It was proposed that this property should be let to the Lincolnshire Small Holdings Association at the same rent as had been paid by the late tenant.


We also asked to be allowed to tender.


said upon that point he was not in a position to answer his hon. friend. The Commissioners had to consider, first of all, whether in their judgment the land was suited to be split up into small holdings, and, secondly, whether it was better that the property of the Crown should be let in one farm. It might very well have been that this land was suitable for cutting up, but they were bound by statute to consider whether it was better that it should be let in one farm, and they came to the conclusion that the second course was better. They subsequently put up this farm for tender and the highest tender was from a gentleman who already held a farm in the immediate neighbourhood. This gentleman applied for the farm at a higher rent for his son, whom he was going to put into the farm. He was himself an excellent tenant, and the Commissioners had therefore a guarantee that they were letting their farm not only for a higher rent than was proposed by the Lincolnshire Small Holdings Association, but to a tenant in whom they had every confidence. Under those circumstances, however desirable it might be that the farm should be let for small holdings, he submitted that so long as the law stood as at present the Commissioners were bound to let the farm in the way that they did. He was informed that after the reply of the Commissioners no further communication was made by his hon. friend or the Lincolnshire Small Holdings Association. As the hon. Gentleman informed him he was anxious to tender he accepted it from him, but he was informed that as a matter of fact no communication was made. The hon. Member for Woolwich bad asked about the administration of the foreshores. A great part of the foreshores was not under the control of the Woods and Forests Commissioners. The very Act which the hon. Gentleman had quoted handed over the jurisdiction to the Beard of Trade, and the only foreshores remaining under the authority of the Woods and Forests Commissioners were those which were let prior to the Act of 1866.


said as the hon. Gentleman had challenged his opinion, he would point out that under Clause 1 they could do anything with the land so long as it would realise the income, and their contention was that it would be better for the purpose of realising that income to let the land as had been suggested.


said a question had been raised by the hon. Member for East Wiltshire as to re-afforestation. He thought in that respect the hon. Member was a little severe in his criticism. Re-afforestation had already been established in several places, and to his own knowledge on the Crown lands in Wales a considerable amount of such work was being done. He did not know that his hon. friend had in his mind any case of land suitable for planting which was not being planted. If he had he should be very glad to hear of it, because one of the difficulties at present was to find suitable land. When they did find it, efforts were constantly made to plant it, and he could assure his hon. friend that those efforts would be continued. The hon. Member for North Cork had raised the question as to the amount being spent upon and received out of these Crown lands in Ireland. The hon. Member spoke of this money being essentially Irish money, and asked how much was being given back for Irish purposes. He could only answer that this money, like all other revenue, went into the common purse. He was afraid if the money which was spent in Ireland were to be exclusively confined to money which was obtained from Ireland, Ireland would not come off so well as it did now, because as a matter of fact more money was spent in Ireland in proportion to the revenue raised than was spent in England, Scotland and Wales in proportion to the sum raised. As things stood at present, therefore, hon. Gentlemen from Ireland would be ill-advised to insist that all money raised in Ireland should be spent there; otherwise they would surely raise a cry on behalf of England and Scotland that all money raised in those countries should be spent in the countries where it was raised. The hon. Member for North Down had asked about the salaries in the department of Woods and Forests. He thought the hon. Gentleman must be under a misapprehension. In both England and Ireland the minimum salaries of first-class clerks was £300 and the maximum £400.


said the chief officer in London received £1,200 and the principal clerk £900, as against £580 and £400 in the Irish offices. They might call the positions what they liked, but the Commissioner in Dublin only received £580 while the corresponding individual in London got £1,200, and the principal clerk only received £400, as against £900.


said the argument of the hon. Gentleman was that no matter what the size of the office in Dublin was, the chief was to have the same salary as in the London office, which was ten times the size. If that were so he had no answer to give the hon. Gentleman. So far as clerks of the same rank were concerned, identically the same salaries were paid in both offices. The Head Office was in London, and consequently the Commissioners and principal clerks were also in London. If they were in Dublin of course they would be paid higher salaries. As a matter of fact the superintendent in Dublin got exactly the same salary as the senior clerk in London, the ranks corresponding. The hon. Member for Woolwich had asked whether an arrangement could be made whereby the powers of the Commissioners of Woods and Forests with regard to agricultural land under their control could be exercised in conjunction with the Beard of Agriculture. He could only say at the present moment that the subject had been under the consideration of the Government. It was not yet clearly determined on what conditions such a change could be made, nor was it yet quite certain whether the change could be made at all without a new Act of Parliament. Subject to that he could assure his hon. friend that any change which would enable the Commissioners to act with greater freedom and be calculated to make the policy more consistent with the views of hon. Members would certainly be adopted by the Government. That was all he could say at the present moment.

MR. HARMOOD-BANNER (Liverpool, Everton)

said there was one question in connection with the Crown lands which he should like to ask. He had been looking into this question since Parliament met, with the view of getting some information as to whether any of these lands could be utilised for the purposes of the Distress Committees and for the purpose of creating small holdings. It seemed to him that it was quits unnecessary to go far afield to obtain rights to confiscate the property of other parties and pay the high prices which agents generally asked when selling land for these purposes, when there was so large a quantity of Crown lands at the disposal of the Government. He could not say that it was easy to get information in these cases. He had to drag out the information by two or three Questions. He found from the Report of 1905 that the gross rental from these properties was £513,000, but there was no information in the Report to show how much were farm lands and how much were mining properties. He was then referred to other Reports for the information he desired, and with a little diligence he was able to discover that there were 70,000 acres of farm lands in twenty-four counties of England with an average rental of £1 4s. per acre. Therefore it was quite clear that there was a large amount of land at their disposal for the purposes of the Distress Committees and the creation of small holdings. As to the farm lands, the first thing one had to consider was how they should deal with the existing tenancies. He was bound to say that with the little knowledge he had of the management of Crown lands, he had come to the conclusion that they were managed not in the interest of the farmers, but entirely in the interest of the Exchequer and to furnish it with the very utmost that could be obtained. He had once a client who was a tenant of Crown land, and unfortunately the man was owing the bank some money and was in difficulty. What was the result? The lease under which he occupied the farm when he came into difficulty confiscated his hay, manure, and the buildings which he had put up for improvements. Such a lease he had never seen under any landlord in this kingdom. That lease was current at the time when this House was passing laws for the improvement of the position of agricultural tenants, and it was not altered, notwithstanding that this House was considering what the rights of the tenants ought to be. There was a Liberal Government in office at the time, and it was making the tenant pay under the strictest lease which it was possible to enforce. The present Government had assented to the Land Tenure Bill which had been brought in to improve the position of the tenants in this country. He wished now to ask whether they had set to work at once to rearrange their leases with their own tenants in order that they should be on the good and beneficial terms which they desired to enforce on landlords under the Bill? In his belief the worst landlords in the whole country were the Members of the Houses of Parliament who owned all these lands, and yet leased them and placed the farmers in the very strictest position it was possible for tenants to occupy towards landlords. It seemed to him that when they wanted land for the unemployed the first thing they had to do was to look at home. Before they passed laws to utilise other people's property for small holdings and for the purposes of the Distress Committees, their duty was to look what could be done with their own lands. Could they utilise them for the purposes of the poor and needy, and if they could they should at once at all cost take these lands into their own hands and utilise them for these purposes. Let them at once commence to utilise these lands for small holdings, and for the purposes of the Distress Committees, if they could not be leased to farmers on the terms provided in the Land Tenure Bill. They knew very well that at £1 4s. per acre they could not get land from other parties suitable for these purposes. It would be a disgrace to them as Members of Parliament if they did not utilise the 70,000 acres of land which they had in their own possession in such a way as would be an example to the rest of the kingdom. He found that the expenses of collecting the rental of the Crown lands were about £20,000 and to his mind that was excessive. He did not blame the officials. It was the Treasury who were responsible for dragging every possible penny out of the farmers in order to make a good Budget. The Treasury merely looked at this matter as a monetary affair, and he appealed to them to look at it from the point of view of doing justice to the poor and needy and going away with the feeling that they had done their duty.

MR. VIVIAN (Birkenhead)

said the Department was altogether wanting in imagination. These stiff replies did not satisfy some of the Members who desired to do something. With reference to the reply as to the Small Holdings Society in Norfolk, he said that if the officials had any business qualities they would enter into negotiation with the public-spirited gentlemen who were promoting the small holdings movement. He protested against the mechanical way of running Crown lands. He suggested the formation of a Committee of this House with whom the officials might take counsel. The officials seemed to be entirely out of touch with all that was going on around them. They should get to know the gentlemen connected with small holdings associations who were prepared to utilise these lands. The hon. Member for the Everton Division had said that these lands were being run for commercial purposes only. He himself wanted them to be run for commercial purposes, and did not desire to see them run as charitable institutions. His contention was that if they were run in the way suggested they would be more productive. Experience had proved that it was possible to get 25 per cent. more rent out of the land, even after taking into consideration the further capital expenditure which would be needed. It was a policy which would check the decline of the rural population and check the great influx into the large towns of the population. In Germany some steps had been taken in this direction. The public authorities there were prepared to work in harmony with what had been described as public utility societies. It seemed to him that where there was a clear indication that a small holding society in this country was to be run, not from the mere purposes of gain to directors, but to enable public-spirited men to help in solving some of the evils which had been referred to, something more was expected than mere dry official replies. Those public-spirited men were giving much of their lives to this work, and they had a right to expect something like co-operation on sound business lines from the officials of the State.


said the question they were now discussing was one which aroused a good deal of attention in Ireland where for many years they had been striving for the multiplication of small holdings and the placing of the people on the land, and thereby preventing the overcrowding in cities and towns which caused so much distress and misery. It was undoubtedly a difficult thing to get land on which to put the people. That was the difficulty which they were trying to overcome in Ireland, and which they trusted would to a large extent in the immediate future be overcome. In cases such as this, where the Government had control of considerable areas of land eminently suitable for the experiment of small holdings, there was serious ground for complaint when the Government refused to do anything. The reply of the Financial Secretary of the Treasury hardly dealt sufficiently seriously with the problem which had been brought before him by the hon. Member for the Ilkeston Division and others. There was not the slightest use of any Minister in any Government, and still less a Radical and Labour Government, or whatever it might be, getting up and speaking on this question in cut and dried official terms. They were confronted with the problem of the unemployed, and with the spectacle of the rural population becoming less every year. Any proposal seriously made to keep the; people on the land ought not to be placed on one side in a few official words. It ought to be treated with the greatest possible consideration and sympathy by the Government. When they spoke of the Crown they meant His Majesty. They were supposed in this House not to refer to the Sovereign. Everyone knew that the head of the State if he had his way would be only too delighted to see the people put on the land. Everybody knew very well that no paltry consideration of getting a few pounds more from this or that tenant would influence his mind against any scheme for the creation of small holdings.


The hon. Member is not in order in using the Sovereign's name in a way which might influence the House.


I have had the satisfaction of saying what I wanted to say.


That is scarcely a proper remark to make. I told the hon. Member he was out of order, and he rejoices in the fact when he ought rather to have withdrawn.


with great respect, declined to withdraw, but assured the Chairman that he had not the slightest desire to disregard the authority of the chair in any way. The remarks which were said to be out of order, and which he deliberately declared he did not intend to be out of order, elicited the sympathy of the House, and he ought not to be penalised for making them. If he could not use the name of the Sovereign he would say the Crown, and he hoped that would be in order. The Secretary of the Treasury had said that the Crown was influenced in these matters by the consideration of getting a few pounds more or less from this tenant or from that. That was an unworthy consideration. When the hon. Gentleman opposite, who represented a small holdings association in Lincolnshire, made a representation to the Crown that certain Crown lands could be profitably occupied by small holders, it was not a proper act on the part of the representatives of the Crown to say, "Oh, no; we sympathise greatly with the idea of putting people on the land; we admit the overcrowded state of the cities; we admit that it would be a splendid thing if these Crown lands could be occupied by sturdy toilers of the soil to keep up the rural population, and to give employment, but we cannot allow this because we can get a few pounds more from a single tenant." It was the interest of the representatives of the Crown to see, not that a few pounds more or less were realised, but that the best was done that could be done for the nation at large. He had no doubt that the hon. Member for the Ilkeston division and his friends really meant what they said, but if they wished to make progress in this matter they would go to a division in order to place on record the opinion of Members of the House. The Secretary of the Treasury had given no satisfaction to his hon. friend the hon. Member for North Cork, who had stated the opinion felt on this question by the Nationalist Members. As far as Ireland was concerned there were considerable sums of money over which they had absolutely no control. They had absolutely no information about them. Under the operation of the recent Land Purchase Act a considerable number of the quit rents had been capitalised, and they wanted to know what had become of the redemption money. They know that it was not spent on any Irish purpose whatever. Was it unreasonable for the hon. Member for North Cork to ask the Secretary of the Treasury to give the figures? The reply given by the Secretary to the Treasury might really have been given by the Secretary to the Treasury in the infamous Tory Government. When he said "infamous" he trusted hon. Gentlemen would understand that he was more anxious to be emphatic than discourteous. It was time that they got something more than officialism with a little sympathy. They expected to have something done by this Government; they could dispense with sympathetic words. It was time in matters of this kind that the Government should do something. They did not want legislation which might be blocked in another place. What they wanted was that in matters which were in the hands of the Government the Government should behave in a thoroughly liberal and sympathetic spirit. Since Parliament met he had been waiting for the Government to show that they were not the same sort of men as composed the last Government, and he had come to the conclusion that there was something really uncanny about the Front Bench. At any rate, as soon as a right hon. or an hon. Gentleman took his seat upon it it was extraordinary how much he looked like every other man who had been there. He really thought that in those matters they should at least get something more than sympathy from the Government. He was anxious to give the Government fair play. He was in the position of a person who, after attending to his religious duties, was in a state of grace and could stand any amount of provocation. That was exactly his state of mind at the present time; but it could not possibly be expected that he would remain in that state for long. He appealed to hon. Gentlemen opposite to give a little practical evidence of the great good which they meant to do with their majority. The memory of the Secretary to the Treasury was at fault when he referred to the question of the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland. The hon. Gentleman had told the Member for North. Cork how much money was spent in Ireland.


The Financial Secretary of the Treasury only discussed the revenues and expenditure of the Woods and Forests Department.


said that the hon. Gentleman speculated how much money would be spent in Ireland, and in that respect he was entirely out of order, if he might be allowed to say so; but he had no intention of following the example of the hon. Gentleman. He sympathised most heartily with the hon. Gentleman who had raised this question of small holdings,and he would urge him and his friends strongly to make a stand, and if necessary to go into the division lobby, in order to induce a more sympathetic treatment of the question than had been indicated in the speech of the Secretary of the Treasury.


said this question had two distinct aspects. One was whether these Crown lands should be administered for charitable purposes, and the other was whether they should be administered in the way in which an ordinary estate was administered, viz., to get the best result out of them. He asked the Committee to recognise that there were other interests involved besides those of small holdings. He contended that there was a great deal of unreality about this agitation for small holdings. There were many portions of the country where small holdings would be a curse. He thought it was questionable whether we should be conferring a benefit on the rural labourers by dispossessing the farmer, who was an employer of labour, in order to substitute small holdings. It was the farmer class which had brought this country into the high state of cultivation which all were proud to claim for it. He himself had striven hard to create small holdings, and from experience he could say that just in proportion as they created one kind of occupant of agricultural land they dispossessed another class. At any rate, if a fair solution of the problem were to be reached, both sides should have fair advocacy in this House, and it would ill hecome those who knew what efforts farmers had made to improve the cultivation of the soil to allow it to go forth that the disappearance of these farmers would be a public benefit. He hoped that the Government would bear in mind that while it might be right and proper that every effort should be made to encourage the new system of small holdings, the interests of the large farmers should not be neglected.

MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crewe)

said that he lived in a part of the country where small holdings extensively prevailed and he knew the immense benefit which they had brought to the district. As an instance of how the Crown lands were administered he would point to a case in which the Department of Woods and Forests had cleared 2,000 acres. They set to work and cut down all the larch on that estate; and the expense of doing so was greater than the return received for the timber. The situation of the land was good, there were admirable roads, and an abundance of water. The Department divided these 2,000 acres into three farms only, and let them for a time at 30s. an acre. But they were compelled afterwards to lower the rent to 10s. an acre, which did not pay the interest on the cost of the buildings. Did the hon: Gentleman opposite mean to say that there was no room for small holdings? He maintained that there was room for hundreds of thousands of people on the soil in occupancy of small holdings.


said that the hon. Member was now discussing the general question of small holdings. He must keep his remarks relevant to the Vote under discussion.


said his object was to criticise the administration of the Woods and Forests Department. He insisted that it was the consolidation of large farms which had led to agricultural depression in the community, and he had only given an instance which showed how badly the Crown lands had been managed in the past.


said that the Secretary of the Treasury had stated that these Crown lands were in the personal possession of His Majesty, but he contended that they were the possession of the nation. What had been asked for by the hon. Gentleman who raised this question was not that the Crown lands should be used for experimental purposes, but that they should be utilised for the best advantage of the whole community. He believed that if the number of small holdings on these lands were increased they would yield a greater rental than at present. He wished to refer to the question of the afforestation. The Report of the Departmental Committee which sat on afforestation two or three years ago had been practically a dead letter. Most such Reports were. But in that Report there was one small paragraph which stated that immediate action should be taken, and that there were 21,000,000 acres of waste lands in this country, most of which was available for timber growing. The Report quoted figures to show that in Saxony waste land which was formerly worth only 4s. an acre yielded 38s. an acre when planted with forest trees. The Committee recommended that the Department of Woods and Forests should take steps to compile a statement of the areas in Great Britain suitable for afforestation; and he asked whether that had been done, so that when the Government decided to begin to afforest the waste places planting operations could begin at once.

MR. WILLIAM RUTHERFORD (Liverpool, West Derby)

said he had heard with surprise the Secretary of the Treasury of this new progressive Government defending the system of giving stereotyped official answers to criticisms which had been made from different parts of the House. The Secretary of the Treasury had told the Committee that this particular Department could not make experiments, from which he gathered that it was the hon. Gentleman's view that the Department would not take a different course from that now followed.


I made no such statement.


said that in that case his memory was evidently at fault. But he would like to tell the Secretary of the Treasury that the leases executed by the Department of Woods and Forests were the most onerous, most oppressive, and the most antiquated in the kingdom.


Your Party was in power for twenty years; why did they not alter these leases?


said that might be so, but he had not been in power for twenty years, and surely he was entitled to give his views of matters which had come within his own personal observation. The Committee would be rather surprised to hear that this Department did not collect their own rents, but employed agents to do so, who charged a very large commission. He complained that the cost of the management of the Crown estates was not shown in the Report of the Department. He found on the paper that certain expenses were put down for architects and surveyers, but in his dealing with the Commissioners of Woods and Forests he had been obliged to pay the architect's fees himself. Then he found that there was an item for legal expenses; but he could tell the Secretary of the Treasury that those who dealt with the Department were charged for legal expenses, so that it seemed as if somebody were collecting fees twice over. There were evidently several things which the Secretary of the Treasury would require to learn before he had been many more months in office. He knew of a fine Crown property of 2,000 acres, 90 per cent. of which paid no income. A few philanthropic gentlemen in Manchester and Liverpool had put up a sanatorium for dealing with consumptives, and they were charged £4 per acre, which he thought was scandalous. He had come to the conclusion that if there was one Department of the administration of the country which was entirely antediluvian it was that of the Woods and Forests. That Department wanted to be shaken up, and he quite believed that the energy of the Secretary of the Treasury who said that he was going to cut adrift from the hide-bound regulations of the past would be equal to it.


I never said that, or anything like it.


said that at any rate, from his own experience he had come to the conclusion that this was a Department which required considerable reform.


said that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had made a most extraordinary speech. In his opening remarks he had endeavoured to defend the acts of administration of the late Government. No single ground of attack made against him had been made in respect of what he himself had done. His attitude had been to make the best defence he could, and yet hon. Gentlemen opposite who supported the late Government for years had made him the subject of attack because he had made a defence, a lame defence he admitted, of the Estimates of the late Government. He appealed to the Committee whether that was treatment which he ought to receive from hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition side of the House. It had been suggested that he was not in sympathy with the policy of small holdings. That impression was a mistaken one. He had stated that the Government were fully in sympathy with the policy of extending small holdings, and that policy would be steadily pursued, always consistently with the welfare of the present tenants, which was a duty imposed on him and on the Government.

MR. MORTON (Sutherland)

moved that the Chairman should report Progress and ask leave to sit again. He wanted to discuss this Vote, not so much in regard to the past as in regard to the future, but had had no opportunity of doing so.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress; and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Morton.)

And, it being Midnight, the Motion to report Progress lapsed without Question put.

And the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.