HC Deb 24 April 1907 vol 173 cc10-6
MR. LANE-FOX (Yorkshire, W.R., Barkston Ash)

To ask the Prime Minister on what official information he has relied in making the statement that in one district after another the demand for land for the purposes of use and labour is met with blank denial; and whether he can lay such information before the House, giving the names of the districts to which he referred.

(Answered by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.) The following cases, taken from the return on The Small Holdings Act, 1892, dated August 15th, 1895, show that county councils were in many instances unable to obtain land by agreement:—

Bedford.—Your Committee have made careful inquiry and find that… there is no reasonable prospect of the council being able to obtain the land…. Your Committee, therefore, cannot advise the council to put the statute into operation.

Cornwall.—The Committee endeavoured to obtain land in different parts of the county, but found that in some instances the land applied for already formed part of small tenements, and that in others the owners were unwilling to part with the land.

Dorset.—From this inquiry and from other sources the sub-Committee believe that considerable difficulty would be experienced in obtaining available land.

London.—The great proportion of the owners have either refused to entertain the council's advances altogether, or have made difficulties by coupling their consent with impossible or unreasonable conditions, so that little progress has hitherto been made in this direction.

Warwick.—The chairman of the council reported on inquiry that if land were available, it would be taken up to a fair amount by the labourers and tradesmen. The Committee subsequently reported that it had not been practicable to obtain land.

Northumberland.—It appearing to the Committee that land at Harbottle, suitable, in the opinion of the Committee, for small holdings cannot be obtained, resolved that an intimation to that effect be given to the applicants there. It appearing to the Committee that land at Leamington suitable, in the opinion of the Committee, cannot be obtained, resolved that intimation to that effect be given to the applicants there. The sub-Committee appointed to negotiate for the purchase of land at Haydon Bridge reported verbally that… they had not been able to negotiate the purchase of suitable land.

Wilts.—At Broadchalk, where there were seven applicants for small holdings, suitable land was pointed out, but the Committee were unable to come to terms with the owner, and the proposal fell through.

Some specific instances of the difficulties experienced by the rural sanitary authorities in obtaining land for allotments before the passing of the Local Government Act of 1894 may be found in the House of Commons' Return of June 20th, 1892 (No. 310). Land could not be obtained at all by agreement in the rural districts of Buckingham (Bucks.), Whittlesey (Cambridgeshire), Braintree (Essex), Tetbury (Gloucester), Isle of Thanet and Blean (Kent), Banbury and Thame (Oxford), and Cosford (Sussex).

In giving evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Small Holdings in 1890, Mr. Fyffe, the estates bursar of University College, Oxford, described an estate in Sussex, covering an area of 20 square miles, of which no portion could be bought at any price.

The evidence given before the recent Departmental Committee on Small Holdings abounds with instances of the practical impossibility in many cases of obtaining land. The following cases may be mentioned. Lord Onslow's Report on a visit to the small holdings in Worcestershire states, "The men endeavoured to obtain land from a neighbouring landowner, but a rule on the estate was not to let more than a quarter of an acre to labourers."

Mr. Winfrey's Evidence.

Question 1989. With regard to the parochial parish which includes Holbeach St. Mark's and Holbeach Bank, it comprises no fewer than 21,133 acres, being the largest parochial parish in England. The applicants asked altogether for 146 acres of land, but we were not able to find a willing seller under the Small Holdings Act in that enormously large parish. The Crown has land in the parish, and a committee of the county council was appointed to interview the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. We asked the Commissioners to sell us some land; but they declined to sell, alleging that it would be detrimental to the future disposition of the Crown estate.

Question 1993. In the case of Whaplode we advertised for suitable land, and we had land eventually offered to us, but at a price which the Committee thought was prohibitive. It really was prohibitive, being about 20 per cent. higher than the market price of land in the district.

Miss Jebb's Evidence.

Question 7831. Is it your belief that men have gone into the towns because they were unable to get land?—I have certainly met with that in a great many cases.

Question 7832. You did meet with it in actual practice?—Yes.

Question 7909. Probably you know of many cases in which families have left the country, and gone to the towns, because they could not get land to occupy as small holders?—I know of a good many young men, sons of small holders or small farmers, having done so.

Question 7910. And probably you have known of whole families going to the towns because it was impossible to get a small holding?—I think I could refer you to cases of whole families if I were to go to the different districts I have visited, but it is more the younger men who drift from the country into the towns on this account. Of course, it comes to the same thing in the end.

Mr. James Stewart's Evidence.

Question 9017. But had you a garden at your cottage to begin with at Rattray? —Yes, and then I took an acre. I was at the landlord for four years for that acre before I got it. I got it because I wanted to keep things together.

Question 9019. You had difficulty in finding any land?—Yes.

The President of the Board of Agriculture informs me that he has this week received a petition (copy attached), signed by all the members of the Parish Council of Moulton, near Spalding, pointing out the pressing demand for land for small holdings in the neighbourhood. The parish contains 12,000 acres of excellent land, and has a population of 2,017. Nearly half the land in the parish is occupied by twenty tenants, three of them holding nearly 3,000 acres. There are 151 allotment holders in the parish, but they can make no progress owing to the impossibility of obtaining more land. The average rent of the existing small holders is about 33 per cent. more, than the average rent of the larger farms. As long ago as 1893 the Small Holdings Committee of the Holland County Council received applications for small holdings and held an inquiry in the parish, but no land could be obtained, and, though continued efforts have been made since that time, the applications still remain unsatisfied. At least six other similar inquiries have been held in neighbouring parishes at intervals since the passing of the Act of 1892, but in each case the result has been the same.


Moulton, Near Spalding, April 15th. 1907.

To the Right Hon. Earl Carrington,

President of the Board of Agriculture.

We, the undersigned, members of the Moulton Parish Council, assembled at the annual meeting, respectfully desire to draw your Lordship's attention to the pressing demand for small holdings in this and surrounding parishes in South Lincolnshire.

In the past, vacant farms have usually been let to progressive farmers; and small holders and would-be small holders have been passed by. As things are at present it is almost impossible for an industrious and capable man to hire a small holding except at an exhorbitant rent. Even at such rent the holdings available are very few.

This large parish contains about 12,000 acres of fertile land, nearly all of which is suitable for cultivation by small holders.

Nearly 3,000 acres are held by three tenants out of a population of 2,017, living in 463 houses; twenty tenants occupy nearly half the land in the parish, upwards of 5,000 acres.

We believe that this distribution of the land is typical of the parishes in South Lincolnshire.

The rents paid by existing small holders run to £5 per acre including the house and buildings. There are five small holdings in the parish, cultivated as Ordinary agricultural land, rented at £4 and upwards per acre.

The average rent of all existing small holdings is about 33 per cent. more than the average rent of the larger farms. The larger farms are well equipped as a rule with house, cottages, and buildings; the small holdings are often badly equipped with buildings. Several persons pay a separate rent for a house and buildings, and then hire odd fields at rentals of 50s. and 60s. per acre.

The parish council hires allotment land from five landowners which it has to let at rents varying from £2 to £3 per acre, inclusive of rates. This land has no buildings of any kind upon it.

There are 151 allotment holders in the parish. Under existing circumstances they can make no progress. Several of these desire to become small holders. There is also a strong demand for land from persons who would not require houses. But the experience of members of this council is that holdings of from 25 acres upwards with cottages and buildings on them are chiefly required.

There are capable men with money saved and friends willing to assist, ready to take and work such holdings; hundreds more in the future would come forward for such holdings if only they could see a prospect of obtaining them.

The parish council desire, if they may do so, to add that where the land is suitable, the question of buildings need be no obstacle. The small holder can live and afford to pay the same rent as paid by the larger farmer and, in addition, a fair interest upon any reasonable sum necessary to furnish the land with houses and buildings.

(Signed) F Webster, Chairman.
(Signed) J. France, Vice Chairman
(Signed) W. Ginn.
(Signed) G. Ventus.
(Signed) H. Alcock.
(Signed) F. Cusson.
(Signed) B. Peake.
(Signed) S. King.
(Signed) R. Allison.
(Signed) E. W. Derby.
(Signed) E. W. Thurston.

(Being all the members, eleven, present at the meeting.)

Two young men left the parish this week for Canada.

Six of the brothers of the chairman, emigrated to Canada.

Appendix 3 to the Report of the Select Committee on the Housing of the Working Classes Acts Amendment Bill shows that out of sixty replies received to inquiries addressed to rural and urban district councils as to the causes of scarcity of cottages in their districts, thirty-seven complain of the difficulty of getting land, the land is either unobtainable or the price put upon it is prohibitive. The last Report of the Medical Officer of Health to the Surrey County Council mentions that a proposal to adopt Part III. of the Housing of the Working Classes Act was negatived chiefly on the ground that no suitable land was obtainable at a sufficiently reasonable price. The hon. Member will also find some instructive evidence in the Reports of Mr. Wilson Fox, C.B., to the Royal Commission on Labour, as well as in Mr. Fox's book on agricultural wages during the last fifty years.