§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ *MR. CHAPLIN (Wimbledon)
said: Some years ago it was my fortune to introduce a Bill on the same subject as that which we are about to discuss this afternoon, viz.: the question of small holdings. At that time I was followed in the debate by the father of the right hon. Gentleman who to-day is in charge of this measure, in terms and in kindly language which it is a pleasure to mo to recall even at this day, and to me, at all events, it is a pleasing and grateful coincidence that, standing in the same place and speaking from the same bench as his father did on that occasion, it is now my privilege to offer my warmest congratulations to the son upon the marked ability and skill with which he has presented his scheme of land legislation to this House. I desire to add this: that in the great object which he has in view, and which I take to be the arrest, if it be possible by legislation, of that distressing and prolonged exodus of the rural population from the country districts to the towns, he will find my colleagues and myself, and gentleman genererally in this part of the House, in hearty concurrence with him, whatever we may think of some of the methods and the machinery by which he seeks 1445 to accomplish this most desirable end. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that there may naturally and properly be difference of opinion as to the cause of the decline in our agricultural population. I agree with him so far that there is undoubtedly more than one cause which has contributed to it. The Prime Minister, however, in a very curious and remarkable speech made in London on 22nd April, seems to be of opinion that in some kind of way, which he did not explain, we on this side of the House are responsible for it, seeing that the Unionist Party had been in power for twenty years, during which time we had had the exclusive control of the agricultural situation, and a sorry performance it was, so he said, which we had produced. But does not the Prime Minister know what is really the main cause of this decline? I am sorry he is not present to-day, but in his absence, and if he does not know the real cause, and if his view is the view of many of his Party, perhaps I may be allowed to throw a little light on the subject. I propose to do so from two sources, both of which I am sure must be acceptable to hon. Members opposite. For one is a single short sentence from the Report of the last Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression appointed by a cabinet of which ho was a member and of which Mr. Gladstone himself was the head. The other is information supplied by the present Minister of Agriculture and presented to both Houses of Parliament during the closing months of last year. As regards the Commission, if hon. Gentlemen care to look at the Report they will find in one of its final clauses a passage which it is worth while to remember to-day because it hears so directly on rural depopulation, and ten years ago it offered a serious warning to Parliament and to the country, of what we had to look forward to in that direction in future. The passage was as follows—The grave situation we have described, affecting no inconsiderable part of Great Britain, is due to a long continued fall in prices. This fall is attributed by the great majority of the witnesses to foreign competition. … So far then as the maintenance of this competition involves the continued depreciation of agricultural values, we must look forward to a further reduction of the area of British land susceptible of profitable arable cultivation, together with a corresponding contraction of 1446 our production and a diminution of our rural population.That was the forecast of Mr. Gladstone's Commission, consisting of sixteen members of whom no fewer than fourteen signed the sentence I quote; and a Commission, remember, on which there was a large majority of members holding the views and opinions generally of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Now I come to the evidence published by the present Minister of Agriculture, Lord Carrington, towards the end of last session. It is still more remarkable and still more important, because it is really the latest evidence we have on the subject, and it will be no waste of time to spend a few moments upon it, because it bears so directly upon every one of the most important questions which will arise under this Bill. It was collected by Mr. Rew, through the official correspondents of that Board, in every part of the country. It is not too much to say that Mr. Rew is one of the ablest and most experienced officials of the Board of Agriculture and in the long list of names of their correspondents you will find included those of almost every agriculturist of eminence and distinction, and knowledge in the Kingdom. What is the outcome of the information put before us by the President of the Board of Agriculture? It is as follows: in March of last year a circular was issued by the Board of Agriculture to their correspondents throughout the country containing five questions upon which they desired information, and it is to two of these questions and the replies to them, bearing directly upon the decline of the rural population, that I desire to direct the attention of the House. The first of the two was as follows—What, in your opinion, are the immediate causes of the decline in the agricultural population, naming them in order of importance, in your district?Taking the replies for England and Wales, with which this Bill is alone concerned, what do I find? I have made an analysis of them, and putting aside Middlesex and London, what they show is as follows: that out of forty-one counties in England, with two exceptions they all of them put as the first and the main cause of depopulation—The great fall in prices, with the consequent conversion of arable land into grass,1447 this conversion again being due to the necessity of reducing the labour bill to the smallest dimensions, from the absolute want of means wherewith to pay wages. The two exceptions are, first, the Isle of Ely, and secondly, the East Riding of Yorkshire. I may mention that the Isle of Ely is exceedingly fertile, and specially suited to market gardening, which employs a great deal of labour, and naturally accounts for the population not declining. In the East Riding of Yorkshire the reason is different, for there a number of very young boys, too young really to be employed, are engaged instead of grown up men; they become discontented with their work, and leave their places almost on the first opportunity. As to Wales, out of eleven counties in the Principality seven assign the same causes as in England, but one of them puts the attractions of the town first, and the other the lack of cottages. The other four give various reasons, not of any special importance. If these replies are to be trusted at all, then I hope some friends will convey my question to the Prime Minister. Does the right hon. Gentleman still wish to imply that we on this side of the House are responsible for the main and principal cause of the rural decline? If he does, does he think that we ought to have done something to remove the main cause of it, by trying to raise the prices of agricultural produce? I pass to the second question, which is more specific in its terms—Is there any difficulty in obtaining land for small holdings or allotments, and, if so, is this difficulty attributed in any way to the decline of the rural population?Now, I take the question of small holdings first. It is not very easy to make any perfectly accurate summary, in this case, because the answers to the question are not always direct; but I have done my best, and I think I shall be pretty near the mark when I say that in forty-eight counties in England and Wales there are five which say there is difficulty in getting land for small holdings; ten where it is not apparent; seventeen more who maintain that the difficulty is not in getting the land, but in providing the buildings; and ten who say there is little demand. If you add the last three together, there are thirty-four counties in which you may say that there is practically no difficulty in getting the 1448 necessary land. The remainder do not give answers which furnish a reply to the question. Now I come to the question of allotments, and here I have to point out that out of forty three counties in England, while there is no response to the question from five of those counties, the remaining thirty-eight, with one single exception, viz., the East Riding of Yorkshire, reply that there is no difficulty in obtaining land for the purpose. And when I go on to Wales, four out of the eleven counties in Wales say there is no difficulty in getting land, and three that the difficulty is not in the land but in providing the buildings. Of the remaining four, two say the difficulty is great, one says it is not always easy, and the fourth does not answer the question. In view of these replies, and of the statement of the Prime Minister on the 22nd April last, that in district after district all over the country the demand for land for the purposes of use and labour was met with a blank denial, we are placed in a serious difficulty, because the statements of the Prime Minister and the evidence quoted are in absolute conflict. When I first read the speech, I asked myself, "But where is the proof of it?" I want to ask this question, Was he aware of this report I Had it been put before him when he made this statement? If it was not, I think he was very badly treated by his Minister of Agriculture. But if it was, I want to ask this question, How is he going to reconcile the statement he made on that occasion with the precise and elaborate information contained in this Report and published only last year? How is he going to reconcile these two statements, unless he is prepared to say that this information is wholly misleading? I pass from that to say this: having looked at this evidence myself, and having examined it with the greatest possible care, it seems to me clear, unless it can be disputed, that the Prime Minister has not a leg to stand on in respect of the statement which he made on that occasion. It is in absolute contradiction of the whole of this information we have before us; and we have the right to ask, and we shall claim to be told before this debate comes to an end, how he attempts to reconcile his statement with the evidence supplied by his own Minister of Agriculture. We have the more right 1449 to demand it, because the House will remember, or those who have studied his speech with as much care as I have done will remember, that it was on those statements that the right hon. Gentleman founded his demand for that coercion, for that particular form of compulsion, which was to be so severe, and also to be as swift and as extensive as could be contrived. And all this is to be done because "the demand for land for the purpose of use and labour has met with nothing but blank denials." Purposes of use and labour! There is no kind of land which affords so much labour as land for allotments, because it is mainly done by the spade; that is a fact which no one acquainted with this question can put on one side; you cannot ignore it; yet it was in the face of information of this kind, which ho ought to have had before him on the Table at the time he was speaking, that the Prime Minister chose to make this attack on the Party which is on this side of the House, and to make this unfounded demand for a severer form of compulsion than we have ever known before in this country. In the same breath almost, the Minister for Agriculture tells us something which I do not remember to have heard mentioned before, that in more than half of the counties in England, allotments are being given up; there are more allotments in existence already than there are people to take them. Many of them have gone out of cultivation altogether; some of them, the Report says, are growing nothing but weeds at the present moment, and others again are merged in the farms from which they were originally taken. Surely that is a very remarkable position of affairs. It is still more remarkable that it has been wholly ignored by the Prime Minister and by every one of his colleagues in the Government up to the present time; so much so that until I had a prospect of coming back to the House of Commons and began to look up the information on the subject, I was totally unaware of it, and I can honestly say that I became aware of it rather to my surprise, and very greatly indeed to my regret—regret for this reason: that it is exceedingly ominous for the future of this Bill, because the policy of the Government is exactly to-day, so far as I am able to follow it, on the same lines as the policy 1450 of the Bill of 1894, which adopted compulsory hiring for allotments, which extended allotments from one acre to four, and practically made them small holdings; for allotments of four acres to all intents and purposes are small holdings. And it is these hired allotments which now already are being given up. I agree most warmly with my right hon. friend, if I may be permitted so to address him, in his desire to arrest this terrible decline of the rural population. That was also the object of the Bill of 1892. But I am very far from thinking that my right hon. friend is going the right way to work. The earlier Bill sought to add largely to the number of owners of land in this country, and on terms which were favourable in themselves, though I have reason to think, since then, that those terms might have been made more favourable still, and with very considerable advantage. And in order to give them every inducement to do the best that they could, both for the land and for themselves, the actual ownership and the possession of land was made the principle of the Bill; and we also invoked what is called the "Magic of Property," which has done such wonders in so many parts of the world as the best chance of ensuring success. For this, we had as our guide the experience, not only of the numerous yeomen, the statesmen as they are called in the north of England, and the very large number of freeholders, who formerly flourished in our own country; we had also that vast peasant proprietary which exists now, and which still continues to flourish in large numbers, in almost every country on the continent of Europe. But in the Bill which is now before us you proceed upon wholly different lines. You seek to create a vast army of tenants, not of owners of land. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] Yes, and tenants holding farms—I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite will be prepared to cheer so vehemently what I am going to say—not from a landlord, which they greatly prefer, but from a middleman, which all experience in the old days in Ireland and elsewhere has taught us is the most pernicious form of tenure in the world; and that is really one of the main distinctions between the Bill of 1892 and the Bill to-day. I do most earnestly hope, in the 1451 interests of the Bill itself, that some modifications in this respect will be accepted in the course of our discussions. Why you do this I cannot conceive unless it be this, that if the experiment fails, as fail I believe it will upon your lines, the failure will be at the cost of the rates, instead of Imperial funds. And yet your justification for your policy is that it is a great national object, and if that be so, then the cost of those experiments, if cost there be, should fall on national funds. I know it is said that the Bill of 1892 was a failure—[MINISTERIAL cries of "Hear, hear!"] —and in a sense so it was, but from no fault of its own. What happened was this: the Bill came into operation at the end of the year 1892, and before we had had time to turn round, before the Bill had had time to come into operation, a new Government came into power, and the first thing they did was to supersede the operation of this Bill by introducing another for compulsory hiring, and by which holdings up to four acres could be acquired by hire. At first the new system was exceedingly popular, and the hired allotments were eagerly sought for. The new tenants got everything out of the land that they could, and a very good time they had to begin with, quite forgetting, however, that what they took out of the land at some time or other must be put back again somehow if it was to continue productive in future, and with the result that we have already learnt from the Board's information that in half the counties of England hired allotments are being now given up, and there are more allotments than people to take them. On the other hand, I claim this for the Bill of 1892. We have every reason to believe that, but for its supersession by the Act of 1894, it would have had far more effect than it did; and secondly, that where it came into operation, before the passing of that Act, it proved to be highly successful, and went far to show how the problem could be solved. What happened in the short interval between the two Bills was this: The Returns for the year 1895 show that in the two years before the passing of the Act of 1894, eight county councils in England took action under the Bill of 1892. The evidence given in regard to small holdings shows that after the Bill of 1894 came into operation twelve years ago only one of the county councils 1452 in England have acquired more land since then. But 700 acres have been acquired under that Act, and I will give the House an illustration showing the success of the measure. I was supplied with this in-information just before I came to the House to-day. At Catshill, a little village in the parish of North Bromsgrove in Worcestershire, there was a little colony of people whose industry was making hand nails. Some time ago they were very hard hit by competition and their industry was destroyed, and they had to look for a new means of livelihood. In their distress they petitioned the county council of Worcestershire to get them land for small holdings under the Act. The Worcestershire County Council bought 147 acres of land, and it was divided amongst these people, and all the information at my disposal at the present time goes to show that this little colony of people, who would otherwise have been ruined by the loss of their industry, are now nourishing, because they were supplied with small holdings which are now their own property. That is a hopeful, and, I think, a delightful illustration that there is some possibility of doing some real good in this direction if we only proceed by the right, the wisest, and the best means. And now, if the House will bear with me still, I want for a moment to turn to the machinery and the methods by which the right hon. Gentleman gives effect to this scheme. Take Clause 1 to begin with. This clause enables the Board of Agriculture to appoint two or more Commissioners, and other officials with powers which are exceptional and, for this purpose, entirely novel. Their first duty will be to ascertain what demand there is for small holdings in the several counties of England and Wales, and how far that demand can be reasonably satisfied. It provides that—the council of any county, borough, district or parish may make representations to the Commissioners,and must furnish them with all information. The Commissioners are to report their information to any council which is affected, and to say if they think it desirable that a scheme should be made. If they report that it is, then the council is to draft one or more schemes to give effect to the report, but if they fail what is to happen? If they fail, then 1453 the Commissioners are to prepare one themselves, for which they are given the widest powers under Clause 32. If the council objects the Commissioners are to hold an inquiry, not necessarily local; and after inquiry they may settle or annul any scheme. If they decide to proceed with a scheme, it is the duty of the county council to carry it out, and if the Council are in default the Commissioners are to carry it out for themselves, and all the expenses are to be repaid by the offending council, and recoverable as a debt from the Crown. [MINISTERIAL cheers.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite cheer that statement, and they seem to think it a very satisfactory mode of procedure. Now, I believe this is as accurate a description as can be given in a few words of the powers of the Commissioners, and there is, I fancy, outside of this House, whatever may be the case within its walls at present, a very general idea all over the country that this is what may be called a pretty strong order. People are beginning to rub their eyes and can hardly believe it. I will give the House a simple illustration of what might happen under these provisions. Clause 18, subsection 1, of the Small Holdings Act of 1902, which remains operative even now, provides as follows: —A county council shall not acquire land under this Act save at such price that, in the opinion of the council, all expenses incurred by the council in relation to the land will be recouped out of the purchase money for the land sold by the council, or in the case of land let out of the rent, and shall fix the purchase money or rent at such reasonable amount as will, in their opinion, guard them against loss.The county council acting under this clause and in the exercise of their judgment think they will be unable to make both ends meet, and decline to acquire the land or to proceed with the scheme. The Commissioners take a different view. They may say," We disagree with you, the evidence does not warrant your belief. We think we know what is wanted better than you do and you must proceed with the scheme, and unless you do so we shall put in somebody else to do it instead." But the county council, remember, is a body elected on the widest suffrage, and who represent presumably therefore the views of the ratepayers, on whom the burden will fall. That is the position, and I ask my right hon. friend does he really 1454 think that it is a practical or workable scheme? If he does, I do not, and I ask the House frankly, and with all absence of Party feeling, whether this is machinery which can be considered as either practical or desirable, or of a kind that Parliament ought to enact in its present form? I am unwilling to spend more time upon it, and I find it hard to believe that it has the sanction of the Local Government Board, who must be aware of the unhappy results of this kind of coercion on a former occasion. But it will be news, I am sure, to the great majority of the House, and I will tell them about it. These powers are not by any means new. They have been in existence for a great number of years. In the old Sanitary Act of 1866, powers were given to the Secretary of State to take measures of this kind where the local authority was in default with regard to the provision of sewers or of water supply, or with regard to matters gravely affecting the health of the people. The only experience we have of their working is most unsatisfactory. The ease is set out in the Public Works Loans Act in 1878; and I am going to state to the House what occurred on that occasion—the only occasion—when these powers were ever put in force in this country. The sewer authority at Epping in 1878 was declared to be in default in not providing proper sewerage and water supply. The Secretary of State, just as my right hon. friend might do next year if he carries his Bill, put into force the powers at his disposal, and he appointed a person to do the work for him, directing that the cost should be charged on the local authority. He did the work, borrowing£11,900 for the purpose from the Local Loans Commissioners to begin with; and demanding repayment from the local authority. Well, the local authority told him to go somewhere. The local authority declined to pay anything of the kind. The next step was to take proceedings to make them. After a great deal of wrangling and many attempts and trials at settlement between the two parties it ended in this way. The Treasury had to take as a coin-promise £5,000 for the debt, and to make good the remainder of£6,900 themselves. From that day to this, and they wore good judges, no Government Department has ever attempted to used these powers again. It is not an agreeable prospect for my right hon. friend, 1455 and I certainly shall not envy him whenever he seeks to force this scheme on the county councils against their will. There are still one or two points of importance with which, I think, I ought to deal. This Bill proposes to give powers for compulsion of the most extreme kind in regard to the purchase as well as the hire of land. I know of course that there are precedents again and again for the taking of land by compulsion, but compulsion of this kind ought not to be practised unless in the first place you show that there is necessity for it, and in the second place that when land is forcibly taken against the will of the owner, you are bound to make him fair and full compensation. But in both these respects you have failed. Unless the report of Mr. Rew to the Board of Agriculture is wrong and misleading, I have shown that necessity cannot be alleged. And I fail to discover where and how in various cases you provide for compensation. As to purchase, how-ever, I am of opinion that there is so much land in the market at the present time that you will find land ready for you to purchase whether you have in the Bill this clause for compulsion or not, and I do not think myself, wrong though it is, that it is likely to make any very great difference. But the case of leasing is entirely different. If you take a man's land against his will the least you can do is to pay him for it. He has a right to ask for it, and there are a whole variety of different grounds in respect of which I can see that the landlord is likely to be placed in a position of great difficulty unless you adopt this course. Take the case of land which is mortgaged. I foresee the possibility of great difficulties for the owner. The mortgagee may be dissatisfied with the position; he may think that land on which he has a charge, acquired by hire for the purpose of being cut up into small holdings, and which may perhaps be returned in a dilapidated condition a few years hence, is a security which, to say the least of it, is not satisfactory. He calls in the mortgagee, and if he should be impecunious, you may land him in bankruptcy and nothing else very soon. But, apart from that altogether, I submit another case which I think hon. Members will admit I have very good reasons for bringing before them. Take the case of a parish belonging to a single owner, and there are scores of such 1456 parishes all over the country. Perhaps a large part is let to a first-rate, tenant who is doing his farming as well as it is possible for him to do it. A half, or perhaps a quarter, of the land is extra good, and exactly suited for small holdings. You want this quarter or half of his farm, and in due course you give him notice to quit. You take it through your Commissioners if the county council refuse on compulsory hire, giving the tenant notice to quit; and the tenant who loses the best part of his land gives up his farm in consequence. I know of hundreds of cases where this would be almost certain to happen, because you must remember that there are hundreds and thousands of tenants throughout England to-day to whom the margin of profit is exceedingly small, even after rents have been reduced to the lowest possible ebb. I have offered great farms myself free of rent altogether without being able to find tenants for them—farms on which I have spent a great deal of money. The margin of profit is so small that nothing is more probable than that if a tenant is deprived of the best of his land he will give up the rest, and thereby you put the landlord in a position where he is not likely to find any tenant at all for the residue. What are you going to do for these people? My right hon. friend said—I hope we shall not have any cheap declamation about confiscation.So do I, and I hope still more that we shall not have cause for it. But you must remember this, that if you place the landlord and the farmer in the position which I have described, unless you make him full compensation I do not think you can easily escape the charge of confiscation. Well, what are you going to do either for the one or the other? As regards the tenant to whom you have given notice to quit, are you going to pay him compensation for all his improvements? Are you going to give him, besides, compensation for disturbance and arbitrary eviction, about which you made such a fuss, and about which you carried a measure into law only last session? I can find nothing anywhere in the Bill which provides for it. I hope my right hon. friend will give us further information on this subject. I have searched the Bill again and again on this point, and latterly with the aid 1457 of an expert, and neither of us has been able to find any provision by which compensation is enacted by the Bill in any form or shape in a case like this. The only reference to it at all is an incidental reference to compensation in one of the schedules of the Bill. This is a point on which I really do think we are entitled to have the fullest explanation from my right hon. friend. Unless I am wholly mistaken, after what I have put before the House on this particular branch of the question, I hope to be assured that he will remedy this part of the Bill during its passage through Committee. Again, the land you have taken will probably be, and I will suppose that it is, partly arable and partly grass. I see no provisions in the Bill whatever against the breaking up of the grass land. Is it intended that there should be provisions against that, and if the grass land is broken up, and its value is therefore diminished by more than a half, perhaps by three-quarters, in the event of its being returned to the landlord, are you or are you not going to make compensation? At the end of the lease the best will have been taken out of the land, like the numerous cases of allotments of which we hear now. Nobody else is willing to take it, and the council decline to renew the lease. Do you compensate the owner for the injury done to his land, and if not, why not? And if you do, where is it provided? If it is not provided, and if, when you return it, the land is less in value than when you took it, then unless you give to the owner fair compensation you cannot escape the charge of confiscation. But suppose that I wrongly interpret the Bill, and that you intend in such a case to make compensation, from what source is it to come? Is it to come from the rates? If it is, why everyone knows that the burden of the rates ultimately falls on the land, and the owner will simply be paying his own compensation out of one pocket into the other. There are two other points only with which I wish to deal; the equipment of the small holdings and the provision of buildings. I understand that the Government are prepared to help the tenants in these respects, if I understand the Bill aright, out of a fund to be placed by the Treasury in the Bank of England. But if you are going to do this, may I not suggest to my right hon. 1458 friend that surely it would be better to make the tenant the owner at once and to give him the advantages enjoyed by the Irish tenant to-day. The Irish tenants are no more entitled to the advantage than the tenants of England that the payment of rent or instalments, if you like, should include principal and interest, and that at the end of a certain number of years they should find the land their own. I make the suggestion to my right hon. friend, and I hope he may think it worthy of consideration. There is another matter, small perhaps, but not unimportant. I find in Clause 11 that a county council may relax the condition imposed by Section 9 of the Small Holdings Act of 1892 that not more than one dwelling-house shall be erected, if, in their opinion, such would increase the value of the holding for other than agricultural purposes. That raises serious considerations. I have in my mind abuses which arose in certain. parts of the country from too many houses being erected on the laud. In my own county in former days we used to have thousands of small freeholders living on the land, where these conditions sometimes prevailed. I am somewhat afraid that if Section 9 of the Small Holdings Act were to be repealed or relaxed, and still more, if Section 19 of this Bill, which allows the erection of more than one dwelling-house on 5 acres of land, is not amended we may run the risk of creating in England congested districts from which we have suffered so much in the past, and suffer still, both in Ireland and in Scotland as well. There are numerous other details in the Bill which it might be desirable to mention, but I feel I have already spoken too long. [Cries of "No."] I have endeavoured to deal with what appeared to me some of the more essential points in connection with the Bill, and not, I hope, with any undue hostility with regard to it. On the contrary, no one would rejoice more than myself to see a really workable and practical measure passed by this House on the question of small holdings. I hope that we on this side of the House may be met in a similar spirit on the Government side of the House. This ought to be regarded as a non-Party question. We are confronted with a grave national condition and that can only be removed by proceeding in dealing 1459 with it with the utmost possible caution and care if we are not to make the case worse. We hope we shall be met frankly and fairly by suitable concessions, but should we be disappointed in that respect when we come to the close of the discussion of the clauses in Committee, it will be our duty to reserve to ourselves the right to take any course we think fit with respect to the Bill in its future stages. I thank the House for the patience and attention with which they have listened to all I have said on this question, and I should like to say this in conclusion. I have sometimes heard hard things said of this House of Commons. I can only speak of my own experience, and though I hope I am not given to speaking too much of myself—I hope I may be allowed to add this—that since my return to it, from hon. Gentlemen in all quarters of the House, on that side, quite as much as on this, I have met with a kindness and generosity which I have never known equalled and which I can never forget as long as I live.
§ *THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. HARCOURT, Lancashire, Rossendale)
I think I shall represent the general feelings of the House if I congratulate them upon the ability and the eloquence of the new recruit who has shown in his maiden speech such obvious capacity both to charm and to instruct in our debates. But, to drop the maiden metaphor, I hope I shall be allowed to say how glad his friends are—and I would say his foes, too, but he has none—to welcome him back to the arena where for so many years he has adorned the proceedings of this House. At the risk of sacrificing any advantage which might be mine by waiting to speak at a later period of the debate, I cannot abstain from the temptation to follow the right hon. Gentleman immediately since he has reminded me of the incident of 1892, when the individual who replied to him on small holdings was one whoso name I bear. Indeed, it is no sacrifice on my part to speak thus early, because I have associated with me on this Bill so many colleagues who are far better fitted than I am to deal with matters which may subsequently arise in our debates. But I think that it may not be in convenient or distasteful to the House if I deal immediately with some of the main criticisms of the right hon. Gentleman 1460 speaking on behalf of the Opposition, and of the general arguments for and against this Bill which have developed, both within and without the House, since it was introduced. I hope the speech to which we have just listened does not mean that that bench are willing to wound but yet afraid to strike. I trust that the perennial stream of the right hon. Gentleman's eloquence will not How for ever between the rustic and the land which he seeks to reach. I should be very sorry if we had to say in the future—Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis; at illeLabitur et labetur in omne volubil s; ævun.But His Majesty's Government have no reason, and no desire, to complain of general reception which has been accorded to this Bill in almost every quarter of the House. It is true that there are a few, like the right hon. Gentleman himself, who disbelieve in the demand for small holdings—[Mr. CHAPLIN: "No"]—who disbelieve in the unsatisfied demand for small holdings, and who assert that where small holdings are required they can easily be obtained. That is not my experience or my information. But we need not fall out over a matter purely of opinion. Where the hand is not wanted this Bill will not operate. Where it can easily be obtained compulsion will be unnecessary and will not be used. But where the land is required and is unobtainable, the compulsion in this Bill will operate, I believe, with perfect justice to those who are constrained to part with the land, and, I hope, with as little special cost as may be to those who desire, and who, I think, are entitled to occupy it. I do not think it is necessary or desirable that I should follow the right hon. Gentleman into those detailed inquiries as to the justification of the belief in a land-hunger to which we were invited by distinguished gentlemen in another place, and which, when supplied to them, caused them such acute annoyance and led to such profuse arguments, but to no useful result. I do not think it is necessary to my case that I should prove, what I honestly believe, that there is a large, widespread desire and demand for the occupation of small parcels of agricultural land. In my opinion, the Act of 1892 has been a ludicrous and pathetic failure. [OPPOSITION cries of "No."] I do not 1461 expect hon. Gentlemen opposite, especially not the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon, to agree with me. He would be a most unnatural parent, and a most unusual politician, if ho disbelieved in his own measure. [An HON. MEMBER: It was Collings.] I think a white sheet would be ill-suited either to the character or the record of the right hon. Member for Bordesley. But, believing as I do that this Act has been a failure—mainly from three causes, first, the absence of compulsion; secondly, the want of provisions for hiring; and thirdly, the practical insistence on sale to small holders—I think, taking human nature for what it is, it is most improbable that a man who felt a genuine and ardent desire for the occupation of a small holding should have undertaken what would seem to be the hopeless, almost the ludicrous farce, of appealing to perhaps unfriendly authorities for facilities which he had little chance of securing. I believe, however, that this Bill will act upon the latent and suppressed demand just as the thaw acted upon the frozen horn of Munchausen, and that the silent wish will become the vocal request. If it fails to act in that way—though I, personally, should be deeply disappointed—nobody will be any the worse for it. The county councils will have omitted to act, these terrible Commissioners will have made their inquiries, and will have met with a blank denial of a demand, no action will have been taken, peace and lethargy will rule supreme, depopulation will continue, the land may go out of cultivation, the country gentleman will be undisturbed, and game will be preserved. [OPPOSITION cries of "Oh." That is a picture which much people draw of what a patriot ought to desire. But I admit that to a Little Englander like myself there is some attraction in the little culture. If we can produce it we will, but we will only provide for it on economic conditions. I have not made, and I shall not make, any proposals for coddling or for forcing an industry which cannot economically stand alone without State grants, or, what comes to the same thing as State grants, contributions by the general taxpayer out of duties upon imported produce. If small holdings cannot exist without protection, as the right hon. Gentleman would wish to believe, I would not raise my hand to bring them into 1462 being. But seeing, as I do, that the importation of articles of consumption, articles specially fitted for production by small holders, has greatly increased of late years, and seeing that this importation has been growing at increasing and not at decreasing prices, I am driven to the conclusion that the growth of these imports is not owing to the low price of the foreign competitive supply, but from the lack of production at home. And, therefore, surely we have got what any economist would desire—a want which we ourselves can supply if Parliament will provide the vehicle for its production. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley and some of his friends object that our Bill makes no further provision for the sale of small holdings to the occupier. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly consistent in his remonstrance, because I remember that, during the debates on the Bill of 1892, he took strong objection that the provisions for purchase were illusory and unsatisfactory, owing to the amount of the initial instalment which was demanded from a small holder as soon as the preliminaries had been completed. So much was he impressed with the financial difficulties and disadvantages of purchase in its early stages that he wanted to reduce that initial instalment to so minute a sum as to leave the transaction only one of purchase in name. And in the proposals of the Bill which, I think, he recently introduced into the House the instalment is so small that it was pointed out by some hon. Gentlemen during the First Reading that the occupier would not become the actual owner of the small holding in less than sixty-eight and a half years.
§ MR. JESSE COLLINGS (Birmingham, Bordesley)
After the agreement was signed he would become immediately the absolute owner, subject to the yearly instalments.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
I know that legally he becomes the owner, but he is not in full possession of the land until he has paid the final instalment. But I admit that, from his past record, the right hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled to object to our Bill now, just as he objected to the Bill of the Conservative Government fifteen years ago. I will deal with the principle of his objection in a few minutes. 1463 But surely it does not He in the mouth of those who sit near him, the right hon. Gentlemen the Members for Wimbledon, South Dublin, and the City of London, to urge such objections. They began to develop their interest in the Parliamentary provision of small holdings just on the eve of the general election of 1892. They publicly developed it then. The prospect of a dissolution may have had a stimulating effect on their policy. The country was peppered with their perorations. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon—he then represented an agricultural constituency—attended all over the country conferences of labourers and farmers, at which he received a good deal of interesting and some startling information. He drew a glowing picture of what his Bill was going to do for the country. At one of those conferences he said its object was by legislation to bring about a wider distribution of the land amongst the people, and to attach more closely to the soil those who extracted from it what it grew, and to whose exertions the wealth it yielded was primarily owing. I hope, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman's transfer to the suburbs has not killed his ardour for his former friends. At the same conference he expressed no fear of any charge which might be entailed upon the rates by those proposals. He said—A charge of Id. on the rates would give the county councils of the country a borrowing power for the purposes of the Bill of£10,000,000. [Mr. CHAPLIN: I said that in the House here.] Surely£10,000,000 was sufficient to begin with.Yes, it seemed amply sufficient a bait for a general election. But how much of that power does the House think has been exercised, and by how many councils in the fifteen years that have elapsed? Exactly three county councils have exercised those powers, and in the aggregate to the amount of£16,000.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
I know, but I think the right hon. Gentleman was directing his mind, or at all events he was using an extract which was directed to a different set of facts. I was stating the facts as to the amount of money which was raised by loan by the county 1464 councils, and I believe the officials who supplied me with the facts are accurately informed. But at some of these conferences the right hon. Gentleman was mot with a demand for hiring of small holdings in place of purchase, and I am glad to think that he saw no objection to that in principle. He said at one of these conferences—The object of the Government was to give a poor man the opportunity of hiring a small holding to begin with, and if he was industrious for a certain number of years he was gradually to be able to purchase his holding.I suppose if he was not industrious he would remain the tenant of the county council for life. But I know that the power of letting under the right hon. Gentleman's Bill was limited to fifteen acres, and I fully admit that the main object of that Bill, though not the whole of it, was the sale of the land to the small holder. He believed that there was a demand for purchase. He asserted that the provisions of his Bill were ample for the purpose, and I have no doubt he thinks so still. He and his Government resisted the blandishments of the Member for Bordesley and the Member for West Birmingham, who wanted to enlarge the scope of that Bill. They maintained that there was plenty of land available at a fair price, that no compulsion was necessary, that they imposed a charge of ten millions on the rates, that the financial provisions were easy and equitable, that the labourer was anxious to devote to purchase the gold which he had hoarded out of his weekly wages, and that if the then Member for Sleaford was allowed his way there was going to be a new heaven and a new earth. But what, then, have they to complain of now? It is true that many of us—I am one of them—believe that that Act has been a failure, I am quite sure that our opinion will have no effect in convincing the right hon. Gentleman of the insufficiency of his measure. If he regards its provisions for purchase as ample and sufficient I fail to see what ground he has for complaint now. We leave the whole of those provisions, for what they are worth, untouched by our proposal. The right hon. Gentleman and his Government thought that compulsion was unnecessary and undesirable for the acquisition of land which was to be sold outright to small holders. Well, I do not say I 1465 do not agree with him. No compulsory powers are included in our Bill for such a purpose. Our compulsion is directed to the acquisition of land by local authorities and public bodies, and we leave to the county councils the same powers which the right hon. Gentleman gave them to acquire land by agreement for the purpose of re-sale to small holders. In the same way the right hon. Gentle-man thought the proper proportion of the purchase money to be paid immediately by the small holder should be one-fifth, or 20 per cent. of the price. In that figure he was at variance with the Member for Bordesley; but the Government of the day insisted upon their opinion and carried it to the test of a division. Well, again we leave those provisions absolutely untouched. The whole machinery for the purchase of the land by county councils for re-sale is left as it was fifteen years ago. But if hon. Gentlemen opposite believe, as they always have done, that this is all that is required or demanded by the people, surely they ought to be amply satisfied with our non-interference with their methods. It is true that we do nothing to extend or facilitate the machinery for that class of sale. But then the late Government never thought it desirable or necessary to do so in the whole of the ten years that they held office after the passing of that Bill. Our Bill is directed, in amending theirs, to the extension of small holdings by lease and by tenancy, but not by sale, and, from a long experience of the failure of the old method, we believe that it is by these means that the extension will be most easily and most economically made. If I thought that under the Act of 1892 there was likely to be a large amount of purchase by tenants in the future I should be inclined to limit rather than to extend the facilities for that purpose, so convinced am I that, for a great national purpose such as this, tenancy under a public authority, and the acquisition of land by that authority, is the most satisfactory solution of the question. The right hon. Gentleman has gone so fully into the question of the value of ownership of land that he will perhaps forgive me if I follow him in that matter. I think there are many overwhelming reasons against the absolute sale of land to a small holder—land which has been acquired by State 1466 credit, and on local security for a definite object and use. That object is to fix upon the soil men who will be devoted to its culture, men who will be entitled to the profits arising from its cultivation and from any improvements which they may make upon the land. They will not, I think, be entitled to those subsidiary and collateral accretions of value which arise from other circumstances unconnected with their occupation and their labour. These values, if any, belong, in my opinion, to the local authorities who will have purchased the land, and who, after eighty years, will come into the absolute fee simple of it at no expense to themselves. That land will be an asset and reward to them for any trouble that they may have been put to in the matter; that land will become an ultimate contributor in relief of the rates of the districts by which it has boon purchased. I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley has always really been more impressed with the dangers of the absolute sale of land than he has been prepared to admit, because in all his proposals for creating what he chooses to call ownership he has put forward provisions for a grave limitation of that ownership and restrictions upon the fee simple. The rights of sale have been limited; the rights of division and of devise have been restricted; and even the method of enjoyment has been prescribed. Many of these provisions were ultimately incorporated, no doubt at his instance, in the Act of 1892; but, though they probably represented his opinions, they did not reflect the real opinion of the Government which was responsible for that measure on the question of owner-ship. Sir Richard Webster, then the Attorney-General of the Government, who was assisting the right hon. Gentleman opposite in the conduct of the Bill, used these words—When the purchaser comes with his purchase money and says 'make me a free holder,' no restrictions ought to be imposed upon his ownership. It will not do always to keep these small peasant proprietors in leading strings. When the money has been paid, we fail to see why all restrictions on the ownership should not be removed. When the peasant proprietor has become the absolute owner, lie should be left unfettered and unshackled to deal with the land as he likes.Yet the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley and his friends 1467 managed to impose many of these restrictions in the Act of 1892. But let the House mark this: they provided at the same time that the price to be paid to the landlord should be the full value of an unlimited freehold. The new owners were to receive and were to be satisfied with something of considerably less value, because of these limitations, than that for which they were compelled to pay. I do not believe that if there were ever to be a largo scheme of sale of land to small owners you would be able to maintain those restrictions. Nor do I believe that unless there were to be with it a system of State grants in aid you would ever induce the small holders to purchase on such terms. Therefore, I must be allowed, in arguing against a policy of sale, to assume that eventually it would have to be an absolute sale, and not that travesty of ownership which the right hon. Gentleman the member for Bordesley wishes to set up, and with which he thinks he would be able to satisfy the purchasers. My objections to the sales of small holdings are broadly these. I believe a small freeholder would probably be tempted by a present and immediate profit to sell his newly acquired small holding for purposes other than those of agriculture. That, of course, would be contrary to the policy by which it had been created; and by such sale he might introduce some undesirable and most incongruous elements into the small-holding area which might deteriorate the value of the other holdings. Or ho might sell his holding, even for the purposes of agriculture, to some foolish purchaser at a greatly enhanced price, and the new owner would fail altogether to make the holding pay any return upon the purchase-money. Surely it is impolitic to mulct the class of man for whom these holdings are intended by a capital sum, however small, just at the moment when he requires every penny ho possesses most urgently for the stocking and cultivation of the land he has entered upon. But there is another objection, slightly further removed, but still, I think, equally vital, and that is that absolute ownership is the "open sesame" to the moneylender and the Gombeen man. Under this system facilities are provided for the creation of mortgages and charges; under this system the astute moneylender or small capitalist may gradually become the landlord of a largo number of small 1468 holdings and then proceed to let them out at rents screwed up to the uttermost farthing. This has boon the actual experience recently of some philanthropists who have created garden suburbs on the basis of sale. They have found themselves compelled to repurchase at increased prices the houses which they themselves had erected in order to rescue them from the speculative hands into which they have fallen, and in order to restart the experiment upon the proper basis of leasing. There are even other dangers which ought to be foreseen, because they must arise under absolute ownership. It may be that at the death of one of those owners there will be a division of the holding by sale in such a way as to render the divided remnants incapable of supporting their new possessors. Or charges may be created for the widow or daughter upon land which is left to a son, charges which he may be unable to realise after retaining a bare subsistence for himself and for his family. There is, of course, again, the commoner case of the intestacy of the dead owner. After the death intestate of the ordinary farm labourer or small fanner probably no difficulty arises. His goods and chattels and his money, if ho has any, are easily divided in pretty fair proportion amongst his relatives without much interference from the Probate Registry. But on the death of an intestate small owner of land different conditions altogether apply. The State's undertaking the distribution of real estate in intestacy brings into operation the provisions of the law of primogeniture, and a totally different distribution, to the exclusion of all except the eldest of the children. This may load to a very grave injustice in those cases which occur perhaps often or than we desire to admit, where the eldest, and sometimes the only, child is illegitimate. But there is another argument, I think, against individual ownership of particular plots of land. The whole idea of this Bill is that it should be a progressive ladder of advancement. Nobody supposes that a labourer fresh from the plough would be competent, or willing, or financially capable of cultivating a holding of fifty acres. The ladder of agricultural advancement must be ascended rung by rung. But the man who has proved his capacity and success on five acres may surely hope at no long interval 1469 to progress to a holding of ten, twenty, or thirty acres. But if you compel him to be the purchaser of his first holding, surely you inflict upon him two permanent disadvantages. In the first place, the initial price which you exact may compel him to take a smaller holding than he might otherwise have been able to lease, to stock, and to cultivate. Secondly, you tie him to that unduly small holding until he is able to find some purchaser who will pay him the full price for the land and for all the improvements which he has made on it, in order that he may be able to move into a larger farm which he may then be well able to manage. I want under this Bill to see a constant succession of small men climbing the ladder of self-help and self-reliance, and I believe that for that ladder occupancy is the surest footing. I think there is no advantage either to the country or to the State in a further creation of these freeholds, artificially and elaborately limited, which have been advocated by some hon. Gentlemen opposite. I know some people, as the right hon. Gentleman himself said, attach great importance to the magic of property. But in spite of the interjection of the right hon. Gentleman just now, I do not think that under his latest and limited proposals, or under his Bill, a so-called owner would feel any magic during the course of his whole life. I would put against the magic of property the magic of prosperity. I believe that may be more quickly and more easily attained under tenancy than under ownership. Where prosperity has resulted from occupation, thon ownership, if it is true that so much land is available, is not unlikely to be attained where it is desired without the assistance of the State. If we for the present afford opportunity and training for prosperity and for comparative wealth, I think those who have acquired it will probably be able to take care of themselves. But I think hon. Gentlemen opposite would be wise not to press too far their argument in favour of the magic of ownership and the worth-lessness of cultivating tenancies. The general principle, as they enunciate it, would apply, of course, to holdings of whatever acreage, whether large or small. There is no magic in the limitation of our Bill to fifty acres. If they believe in that principle, what, may I ask, are they going 1470 to say to their farming tenants? Are they going to tell them that they are being ruined by the fact of being tenants? Are they going to suggest to them that they should insist upon the absolute ownership of the farms which they are cultivating? I think their arguments have a wider application than they anticipate, and I think they will do wisely to hesitate before they press them too far, unless, of course, they are prepared to support proposals for the enfranchisement of farm leaseholds all over the country irrespective of size. Some doubt has been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me, and by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin on the First Reading, as to the cost and the manner of the equipment of the small holdings. I wish at once to relieve their minds on these matters. The provisions that we have made are precisely those of the Act of 1892, which apply to small holdings leased as well as to small holdings sold. The powers are the same; the terms of the loan for equipment are the same. Under that Act it was applied to every species of equipment—fencing, roads, water-supply, the building of cottages, and the adaptation of buildings. I will tell the House what the right hon. Gentleman said on the question of equipment when he was conducting his Bill in 1892. He said—Where the provision of buildings by the small holder would so encroach upon his capital as seriously to cripple him in the cultivation of his holding, we think it right to make provision by which the local authority may provide buildings themselves as part of the agreement for the sale or letting of the holding; and I do not see how the local authority can escape from the burden of providing the necessary buildings themselves.I hope that is satisfactory to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, who was much agitated on this subject on the night of the First Heading, and who had not quite recovered from his agitation when he spoke at Exeter a few days later. But as Secretary to the Local Government Board, which the right hon. Gentleman was in the year 1892, I have no doubt that he bore, and that he will still assume, a special responsibility for the loans clauses of the Bill of that year, clauses which must have boon decided and advised upon by his own Department. Therefore I shall claim him as a special supporter of these provisions, which, by his advice and authority 1471 were included in the Act of 1892, and from which we see no reason to depart to-day. I am quite sure, knowing the right hon. Gentleman as I do, that he would not have assented to provisions which he considered economically unsound, or allow proposals to be put forward which he thought would be administratively ineffective; and least of all would he impose upon county councils, whose champion—["No"]—well, whose defender he has always been, liabilities which he thought too onerous, or which he believed they could not or ought not to perform. Therefore, I am entitled, I think, to assume that he and his friends, or at all events all those who were members of the Government of 1886 to 1892, wore and are convinced that county councils can easily and readily fulfil the obligation for providing the equipment for small holdings. Since they acquired those powers we have seen nothing in the years that have elapsed, or in the experience the county councils have since acquired, to make us think that the capacity they then possessed has been impaired. But I would like to guard myself and the House, and, if possible, the public outside, against rushing to the conclusion that this Bill is going to entail or produce enormous building operations all over the country. I hope that people will not believe that my noble friend Lord Carrington is going to wave a wand, and that the land will at once blossom with bricks and mortar. Progress under this Bill, as under most others, is likely to be moderate in pace at first. But we have much leeway to make up. Our first duty, and first necessity, I think, is to attach moderate parcels of land to dwellings which are already in existence, whoso occupants are ready and anxious for their acquisition, and much of the moderate equipment that will be required, I think, will be found either by the tenants themselves or by those co-operative and other associations which we are anxious to foster and encourage. It is hopeless, I suppose, to expect that I shall escape from those lurid pictures of inflated loans which are to be inflicted upon hapless county councils for these objects. These are the stalking-horses of debate, and I know them well. They remind me of my old friend of last year—the workman plural voter—who was always exercising votes which he did not possess, and receiving frequent sentences of two 1472 years' hard labour for his inadvertence. These things serve to relieve the tedium of the dinner-hour or a dull day in Committee, but they are not business, and I hope the House and the country will not allow themselves to be obsessed by fears of extravagant absurdities which are most unlikely to occur. In relation to the loans which are to be made for this purpose, I should like to point out the great advantage given under our Bill to county councils and to tenants as compared with the Bill of 1892. The term for repayment of the loans for the purchase of land under the Bill of 1892 was fifty years. Under this Bill we extend that term to eighty years. I daresay that previously the shorter term was justified where purchase was only for resale to individuals. But in this case the purchase is for the ultimate benefit of the State, as represented by the local authorities. Perhaps the House docs not realise, or those unacquainted with actuarial tables do not realise, the enormous saving by the difference between these two terms. I will assume, for the purposes of illustration, that the price of an acre of land is £33 6s. 8d. (one-third of £100). The sinking fund required to repay the purchase money for that acre of land if it had to be repaid in fifty years was an annual payment of 5s. Id., but if spread over a period of eighty years the annual payment would be only 1s. 7d. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it is a fact. It is one of the beauties and mysteries of compound interest which I decline to explain, but which I gratefully accept. I believe that the lowering of the terms of purchase to county councils, and the absence of the initial payment made necessary on resale, will enable the local authority to strike an inclusive and covering rent which their tenants will easily be able to pay, even with a margin over for a reserve fund for contingencies. This has been the experience of those admirable associations formed throughout the country which have found no difficulty in recovering from their tenants on equitable terms instalments in the nature of a reasonable rent to cover purchase, equipment, and management. Of course the rent of the tenants can be still further reduced if the local authority elects to hire rather than buy the land, for then the tenants would only pay the bare rent, and the sinking fund would not be charged. But then the county 1473 council must accept, of course, the contingent liability if they were to surrender the land at the end of their term of lease in a depreciated condition, and they would not come into the ultimate possession of the fee-simple. Of course, it is quite obvious that the landlord is entitled to the fullest possible compensation for any deterioration that has taken place in the land, and the county council, as the intermediate landlord, are in a position, by the conditions of the tenancy, to prevent that deterioration. Then the right hon. Gentleman took some objection to the compulsory hiring clauses in this Bill, although the system had been already authorised.
AN HON. MEMBER
Before the right hon. Gentleman passes to his next point, may I ask upon what rate of interest he based the calculations he has just given?
§ MR. HARCOURT
The rate of interest is 3½ per cent. The right hon. Gentleman objected to the compulsory hiring clauses in this Bill, although they have been already authorised by both Houses of Parliament for the purposes of allotments. In the First Reading debate, some hon. Member suggested that Parliament had no right to dictate to a man what should be the nature of his investments. I do not think it is necessary to discuss that ethical proposition, because we do not mean to do anything of the kind. Ex hypothesi, the investment is already in land, and in nine cases out of ten it is already let to a tenant, and where it is not the landlord (in my experience) heartily wishes it were. Under this Bill there will be no interference with a landlord's freedom, assuming that, under trusts, settlements, and entails, ho already has any. He can sell his land subject to a lease to a local authority, just as he could sell his land which is subject to a lease to a private individual. Under the former case, I think he would be likely to get a better price, because, for the first time in his experience, ho will be receiving a guaranteed rent for a term of years secured upon the whole of the county rate subject to equitable terms as to improvements and depreciation from a permanently solvent authority, and with power for the resumption of the land 1474 whenever he requires it for purposes other than those of agriculture. I do not think these are bad terms for the mortgagee. While I regard these conditions for hiring as necessary to enable us to obtain a fair temporary rent for urban land, while I think they are fair and just in the interest of the expansion of the towns, and equitable both for the tenant and for the community, I do think that we have given to the landlord terms in this matter which any trading company would be glad and grateful to secure. There has been some hostile comment made by the right hon. Gentleman as to the provisions by which the Commissioners under certain circumstances are empowered to supplement the inaction of the county council. I should like to point out that these proceedings, if any, are only to be taken by the authority of the Board of Agriculture, and that this is one of the strongest reasons for not setting up an outside and an independent Commission. The Minister for Agriculture is always a member of the Government, and the Government is, or always ought to be, the servant and creature of the House of Commons. Therefore, this power of supplementary action is really inherent in, and dependent upon, the House of Commons, by whom, under the special provisions of this Bill, the salaries of these Commissioners have to be voted annually. On the First Reading of this Bill the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin, with that Party acumen which seldom fails him, thought he had discovered some democratic lapse in our proposals. He insinuated that we attempted to override the carefully considered decision of a county council. I imagine that, on second thoughts, he has discovered that we propose to do nothing of the kind. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon has already reminded his colleagues that there is nothing new and nothing revolutionary in the proposals we have made. The right hon. Member for South Dublin must have forgotten the Sale of Food and Drugs Act, which he himself conducted through this House in 1899. In that Act precisely similar powers were given, not to one, but to two Departments of State—namely, to the Board of Agriculture and to the Local Government Board, to declare local authorities in default, to appoint officers to do their duties, and to 1475 charge the whole expense against the defaulting authority. What was it the right hon. Gentleman said on the First Reading of this Bill? He said—By this Bill a county council, having care-folly considered the question, and having done everything which is necessary, short of providing the small holdings, is to be overridden by the central department.Does the right hon. Gentleman, and do any of his friends, seriously believe that under circumstances in which a county council has seriously considered the matter, they are the least likely to be overridden by a Minister and a Government subject to the control of Parliament? The right hon. Gentleman's premiss makes the suggestion impossible. He assumes that the county council have carefully considered the matter. If they have done so, and if they have decided in the negative, I suppose it is fair to assume they have arrived at their conclusions on the ground that they cannot discover any local demand, or that, if there is a demand, the soil and the surrounding circumstances make it unsuitable for the purpose, or that the value and special circumstances of the land make it impossible for them to buy or hire it at such a price that they could hereafter charge an economic rent. Such grounds for a decision would, of course, be submitted by the county council to the Board of Agriculture, and I can imagine few cases in which such a conclusion reasonably arrived at would ever be regarded as insufficient. Surely this is exactly one of those cases which is met by the power we have given of setting up experimental small holdings by the Board of Agriculture in order to prove their feasibility in a district. But the right hon. Gentleman knows, and knew very well, that these alternative powers of the Board and of the Commissioners were not directed, and were not intended to operate against councils which had carefully considered the question, but are directed against those who for one reason or another have declined altogether carefully to consider the question at all. It is idle to deny that such councils do exist. I do not say that in some cases their inaction has not arisen from perfectly reasonable motives; I believe that many of them share my opinion of the futility of the Act of 1892. I dare say there are others who have discovered that there is no demand or capacity for the 1476 absolute purchase of holdings. Again, others may reasonably have been deterred by the cumbrous machinery and the absence of compulsion in the Act of 1892, and a few I fear there are who have deliberately set their faces against small holdings as a policy, and have abstained from any attempt either to discover or to stimulate such a demand. For all these evils our Bill supplies a cure. We give to those county councils a simple, efficient, and economical procedure. Where they are not able, or where they will not attempt to discover a demand, the Commissioners will do the work for them. Even then I hope that these alternative powers of the Commissioners will seldom if ever have to be used, for I believe that in this, as in other parts of the Bill, the compulsion provided will insensibly produce voluntary action. I hope that many now inactive councils will be spurred and encouraged into activity by the great facilities with which we are providing thorn. It has been said that-bureaucratic interference with a popularly elected body is an illiberal proposal; as a general proposition I should not think of disputing that statement. But where the so-called bureaucratic interference depends on a Minister responsible to Parliament I think the case is a little different, especially where, as I have shown, there is practically no danger that these powers will be exercised where the councils are popularly representative as well as popularly elected. But can it be said, is it believed, that to-day most of those councils are representative of their constituents' opinions on this matter? I think not. The possibility in the past of obtaining small holdings has been so slight that county council contests have not turned to any great degree upon this question. I hope that one of the effects of this Bill will be in the future to direct the minds both of candidates and electors of those councils more closely to this matter, and I think it probable in the future that the county councils will find themselves much more representative in the matter of small holdings than they have been in the past. This, I think, will be an advantage both to the councils and to the counties, and I am quite sure it will relieve the right hon. Gentleman's mind from any uneasiness he might feel as to any interference in the future with their more fully instructed discretion. Some comment 1477 has been made by the right hon. Member for South Dublin as to the alleged inconsistency of treatment between this and the Scottish Bill. I do not myself see or admit that inconsistency, but I must decline altogether to be drawn by the right hon. Gentleman into his border raids. I am quite sure he is too good a sportsman to want to chock my run by dragging a Finnan haddock across the scent. I observe, too, on the part of the right hon. Gentleman a desire to revive Lord Randolph Churchill's celebrated phrase, which I think never developed into a policy, of similarity and simultaneity. [An HON. MEMBER: That was for Ireland.] Yes, the last place to which the right hon. Gentleman would be willing to apply it to-day. As regards Scotland, we are doing what we can, though it is slow work, to attain simultaneity; but, as to similarity, surely it would be absurd if we had applied our Bill to agrarian conditions of soil, custom, and tenure which are wholly dissimilar. But, as I have said, I must decline to be drawn into these extraneous, and, I should think, almost, disorderly discussions. My business is to defend and explain to the best of my ability the proposals which we have put forward for the solution of the English problem. I am quite sure the Scottish side will be ably and adequately argued by those in charge of that Bill. I know that there is a feeling abroad, I hope it is not widely diffused, that this Bill gives an insufficient security of tenure to the small holder. I do not myself believe that that will be the case; if I did I should certainly have made other provisions to that end. I believe that the tenure direct from a popularly elected body will in itself be a sufficient security, and even more I think will this be the case when the subcommittee of managers of the small holdings is composed, as we suggest in Clause 31, partly of the parish councillors and of other people intimately acquainted with the needs and requirements of the locality in which they are to act. That certainly is a landlord to which if I were a tenant I should not hesitate to entrust my security; but it should also be observed that under Clause 10 the terms and conditions of the letting of small holdings arc to be settled by rules jointly made by the county council and the Board of Agriculture. That, I think, gives a valuable elasticity of adaptation 1478 to the varying needs and custom of different parts of the country. I think this is capable, properly handled, of giving considerable additional security, and I am quite sure that it will be more useful than any hide-bound or statutory provision. But the House must not forget that in January, 1909, there will come into operation the Agricultural Holdings Bill of last year, which gives a considerable increase of security to the tenant of any landlord, be he a public body or a private individual. I do not think it will be wise at this moment in England to propose to give to certain selected tenants an additional security which we are not offering to others. But whenever Parliament is able and willing to deal with land tenure generally in England and Wales on more advanced lines, then, of course, all small holders ought to share in the advantages equally with others. I shall be very willing to consider any proposals in this matter which may be put before me. But those proposals must be limited by certain absolute restrictions which I consider of great importance. Any suggestion for further security of tenure should not allow or enable the creation of debts, charges, or mortgages to be secured on the holding, nor should it include any power of settlement or devise such as would enable an expectant heir to raise money on his expectations. Nor should there be such powers of sale or transfer as would create a saleable tenant right, as apart from compensation for his improvements to which he is entitled. These are strict limitations, but as at present advised I think they are essential in order to avoid the evils we have seen elsewhere. On this, as on other questions alluded to, I hope to keep a perfectly open mind for suggestions in Committee, but again with this reservation, that any suggestions which I am favourably to consider must be intended to enlarge the usefulness and strengthen the machinery of the Bill. Any proposal for its reduction or limitation will receive only short shrift at my hands. Though I do not for a moment say that the Bill cannot be improved, f regard the machinery which we have provided as the minimum that is necessary for the purpose, and on that ground I should oppose any proposal to modify or to weaken it. I see the junior Member for the City has on the Paper a 1479 Motion for the rejection of this Bill, but I imagine from the language held by the right hon. Member for Wimbledon that on this occasion the hon. Baronet does not fully represent the views of the Party which he so often loads. I do not believe that it is in his spirit that most of his friends wish to meet the proposals we have put forward—proposals which are, I think, just in conception, reasonable in machinery, and which I am certain will be effective in operation. Provisions are made in this Bill for the furtherance of co-operation in the country. I want to foster co-operation, not only in the country, but in this House. I want to weave every fibre of feeling, every strand of sentiment such as the right hon. Gentleman has alluded to, into a cable which may anchor to the soil the toilers and tillers of our land.
§ *MR. J. F. MASON (Windsor)
said that upon this measure their differences were solely as to the methods to be adopted to bring about the result which they all desired to see. That the depopulation evil had attained very serious dimensions in the last half century everybody in the House would be ready to admit. During the last twenty-five years there had been a reduction of some 30 per cent. or of about.300,000 in the men employed in agricultural pursuits. He thought it was desirable to inquire what were the causes which had induced so many people to leave the country districts. The right hon. Gentleman had referred to the attractions of the town and the attraction of the music halls, but he ventured to say that it would be found that the most powerful causes of rural depopulation were pressure from within rather than attractions from without. He ascribed this depopulation principally to two causes—the perfection of agricultural machinery and the laying down of arable land in grass. Ho found that thirty years ago it required three and a half days labour to turn every acre of grass into hay. Now, owing to the more perfect machinery, a day and a half was sufficient for the same amount of work. This represented a loss to labour of two days for every acre of land, and as there were 7,000,000 acres under grass, the total loss to labour was 14,000,000 days, which at the rate of 300 working days in the year meant the non employment of.50,000 men. Applying the same 1480 argument to arable land, of which there were 9,000,000 acres, the loss of another 60,000 men was accounted for. During the same thirty years arable land had diminished by 3,000,000 acres. Calculating the loss to labour for every acre of land put into grass at 15s. per acre, the total loss amounted to£2,250,000, which, divided by the average agriculture wage accounted for another 56,000 men. He held that he had been able to account for 166,000 men, or more than half of the total diminution by two causes which the Bill in no way professed to touch. He further pointed out that that loss of 166,000 men by no moans represented the whole loss of agricultural population. They might take it that that number represented, taking the ordinary average family, 830,000 persons, and if they added to that 10 per cent. as representing the tradesmen who served them, the total worked out to about a million persons reduced in the agricultural population of the country by causes which the Bill in no way affected. Ho was prepared to admit that the proposal before the House to create small holdings by the use of public money was a distinct factor in the problem, but it was a factor which must necessarily be combined with other measures for the improvement of agricultural conditions as a whole. He admitted, and fully believed, that there were certain classes of small holdings which were economically sound, and if attention was paid principally to those classes the movement ought to be made a success. He believed thoroughly in the eases of intensive cultivation of small holdings—that was to say, where small holdings were to be used for market gardening and such like purposes. He also believed that small holdings would be successful where they were occupied by men who had other employments or other trades, but where it was proposed to plant on the land men whose solo occupation was that of a small holder, and whose sole source of revenue was to be derived from a small holding, he thought those men would find it exceedingly difficult to compete with larger farmers who, on account of the size of their farms, were able to apply machinery to a great many operations which the small holder had to do by horses or even by hand labour. He thought other measures were necessary to accompany that attempt to create 1481 small holdings, and among the other measures ho would take such proposals as dealing vigorously with the question of the burdens on the land. Something must be done to improve the conditions of agriculture generally throughout the country if the creation of small holdings was to be a success. Instead of endeavouring on all possible occasions to increase the burdens on land, surely they would be wise in endeavouring to relieve thorn somewhat. They must also endeavour to facilitate and cheapen the sale and conveyance of land, which were both hampered at the present moment by most cumbrous machinery. He welcomed with great satisfaction the proposal in the Bill to encourage cooperation. He believed that very much might be done by encouraging a system of co-operation, both for dealing with the sale and purchase of agricultural products and necessities, and also in connection with transport. The question of transport was in itself a field of immense possibility, and they might do a great deal to facilitate the agricultural industry in the country if they would attempt to organise, ho would not say transport by railway only—although a great deal might be done in improving that—but by turning to account a system of waggon service, or motor waggon service, throughout the more distant areas of the agricultural industry. Those services would be feeders to the railways, and enable farmers to get their supplies, and also to got rid of their produce, in a more satisfactory manner than they were able to do now. If the movement for small holdings was to succeed they must take care that above all things the holdings did not get split up into too small parts. Ho did not say that that was likely to be an immediate result, but ho would point out that in France, which was so often quoted as a country of small holdings, the community had suffered from agricultural depopulation also. He had been trying to find out what were the causes which in France had contributed to rural depopulation. He had studied with some interest a book written on this subject by a former Prime Minister of France, who attributed the want of success there to the fact that small holdings had become sub-divided owing to the law of the country on the death of the owners. The result was that very small holdings wore so thickly studded 1482 over the country that there was no work to be found for the people, and they were unable to live on the holdings or to find other means of living in their neighbourhoods. If in this country they dealt only with the subject of intensive cultivation of holdings occupied for the purpose of market gardening, he thought that they would find a limit in their numbers would be absolutely necessary to their success, In districts where special forms of cultivation were taking place—he referred, for example, to the cultivation of celery in Lincolnshire—the growers of these products wore already finding the value decreasing owing to the number of people engaged in the same pursuit. He ventured to say that if the areas devoted to special forms of cultivation were to be indefinitely increased in size, the results would no longer be as satisfactory as they wore to-day. It was also necessary to take precautions in the case of allotments that they should not fall too easily into the hands of a few individuals. He had found on his own property a rather interesting case bearing on the subject. In a village near which he lived three small fields were let in the shape of allotments. These fields consisted of fifteen and a quarter, seven, and four and a half acres, making in all about twenty-seven acres. Ho found after some years that ton and a half acres had gradually come into the hands of one man, and that none of the others had an allotment of more than three-quarters of an acre. That man was very industrious and did very well with his land. In the case of one of these small fields, which was originally lot as arable, the tenant had turned it down to grass in order to use it for grazing. Not only therefore had the allotment area which was formerly available been concentrated into a very small number of hands, but land which was intended to be used as arable had been turned down to grass, which was less advantageous for the purpose of keeping the people on the soil than land in an arable form. Supposing that small holdings were the most important factor in the problem, he thought it was interesting to ask how far such holdings did already exist in the country. There seemed to be a feeling that the number was very small as compared with the number in other countries. The number of small holdings of from one to fifty acres in this country 1483 was 67 per cent. of the whole. The number of small holdings in Germany of from one-fortieth of an acre to fifty acres was 94 per cent of the whole. But a fortieth was a very moderate size for a small allotment, and if they took into consideration the difference which this involved they found that the percentage in Germany corresponded to 90 per cent in England. In creating small holdings it was important to bear in mind that there would be very little chance of success if it was attempted to make them on land which had already been thrown out of cultivation because it did not pay in the past. It was quite evident that when they were formed it should be done on good land, and under favourable conditions. When the local authority took land it would have to be good land, and they would have to pay the landlord what would be a fair rent. He would assume for the sake of argument that the landlord now got £1 per acre. The local authority had to equip the holdings with a variety of buildings, provide fencing, and so forth. He ventured to think that before the small holder got in, his rent would be double that which the landlord had been getting. If the small holder could afford to pay something like double the rent which the landlords now received, why had not landlords from economic and selfish reasons created these small holdings? It was in some cases because they had not the money, but he thought that in a great many more cases it was because they did not believe that those holdings were economically sound, and that they would be taken up and occupied. But whether or not the landlords were right in so thinking, if public bodies were to step in where landlords feared to tread, there was not the slightest doubt that the public bodies which did the work must, to put it in the mildest way, face the possibility of considerable failure. It seemed to him that there could be no absolute certainty of success. There would be many cases of success, and many cases of failure. There were three points which stood out quite plainly. One was that the creation of small holdings was not the only factor in the problem; the second was that the creation of small holdings was distinctly experimental, and the third was that the experiment was going 1484 to be tried in the interest of the State. But who was to pay for the failures? Not the State, according to the Bill. The first to pay would be the tenant farmers now in occupation of the land. That fixity of tenure, which the Government was so anxious to give them last year, was now to be taken away. They must either lose possibly the best field on the farm or throw up their farms altogether and go elsewhere. It might be said that there were plenty of farms open to them, but he ventured to think that that was entirely against the spirit which animated hon. Gentlemen opposite last year when they argued that the farmer should have fixity of tenure. The second class to pay for the experiment would be the landlords, whose land would be returned to them in case of failure. He might be required to pay compensation for the improvements made in equipping the land for small holdings; and yet his only course, after the failure of the small holding, would be to reconvert the land into a large farm, on which the "improvements" would be an encumbrance. If the scheme were a success, it was quite evident that the local authority would demand at the end of the fourteen years that the lease should be renewed; but if they were a failure the land would be naturally abandoned by the local authority. Under Clause 30, subsection (2), the compensation to be paid by the landlord to a county council for improvements was to depend on the decision of the arbiter or valuer. But it was quite possible that the valuer would say that the improvements, such as buildings and fences, ought to be paid for by the landlord. He ventured to think that the very fact that the land had been given up because the scheme of small holdings was a failure, would force the landlord to turn his land again into big farms, and that the buildings and fences would no longer be improvements, and, therefore, the landlords would be in the position of having to pay for improvements which were made for one purpose, but which were no improvements for another purpose. In addition to that there was the question of compensation for deterioration of the land under the small holdings. He, however, understood from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that that point was satisfactorily dealt with in other sections of the Bill. He 1485 would like to say that where the valuer went so far as to say that those improvements on the small holdings were not improvements in the real sense of the word, and where, therefore, the landlord should not be called upon to pay compensation to the county council for buildings and fences, even then the landlord would, if he wanted to turn the land again into a large farm, be compelled to remove the buildings and fences, and the cost of that would be no small amount. The great difficulty in regard to the Bill was the question of forced hiring. There was no objection on the part of landlords to hiring by agreement; but if compulsion was to be applied at all it could only be rationally and justly applied in the shape of purchase. Any system of forced hiring would be neither satisfactory nor just. The right hon. Gentleman said that they ought not to use the word "confiscation." He was quite willing to admit that the application of the word "confiscation" was not terminologically exact; but he preferred confiscation to a system of forced hiring with the ultimate risks it involved. The whole principle of compulsory hiring had been strongly condemned by the Departmental Committee as leading to the dual ownership which had been so detrimental to agricultural prosperity in Ireland. There was a third class of people who were to be called upon to pay the expense of this experiment, and that was the ratepayers. It seemed to him that under Clause 30, subsection (2), it was conceivable that a valuer who took a favourable view of the landlord's interest might at the end of a lease not condemn the landlord to pay any compensation for improvements, on the ground that the improvements were not valuable for the purposes of a big farm, and the county council would then have to pay the compensation to the small holders at market garden rates and receive nothing in return. That would saddle the ratepayers with a very serious burden. He regretted most sincerely that the right hon. Gentleman objected so much to making the small holders the owners of their holdings. He could not understand how that objection arose. He himself believed in the saying that if you gave a man the ownership of a rock he would make it a garden. He had always been of opinion that the soil in this country was 1486 held in too few hands, and he would like to see the number of owners of land considerably increased. The right hon. Gentleman had said that if the land became the absolute property of a small holder it might be used for some other purpose than agriculture, such, he supposed, as the manufacture of some disagreeable chemicals or a slaughter-house. But in that case the neighbours would have their remedy in complaining of that as a nuisance. And in the case of tenants dying intestate, he could not see why a small holding could not be quite as saleable as any other form of property. The best argument against purchase was that the man who wished a small holding would have to sink his capital in purchase. Again, if there was any desire on the part of big farmers to become owners of their farms, and be put in the same position as the small holders, he did not think that the landlords would by any moans stand in their way. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that he would welcome compulsion if applied to himself; but from his knowledge of the right hon. Gentleman as a neighbour he believed that no compulsion was necessary to make him do what he believed to be right. Ho could not help thinking that if the right hon. Gentleman had not already created small holdings, it was because he was not convinced of their economic soundness. As to Clause 19, which dealt with building on allotments, ho asked whether under that provision the local authority could acquire a piece of land for allotments and then erect a number of cottages for the purpose of forming a village? Clause 24 provided for a revaluation of the rents every fourteen years, but he thought that that provision would encourage bad farming. Then, in the case of home farms in the hands of the landlord, could those be touched under the Bill! That was a matter which interested him personally, because he had a very considerable amount of land in his own hands for the purpose of making agricultural experiments, which might take from seven to ten years to carry out. If that land was taken from him the results of his experiments would be lost, and a loss might accrue to the community at large. There would be under the Bill failures as well as successes, and the public generally, and not a particular class, should pay for those failures.
§ MR. BILLSON (Staffordshire, N.W.)
said he was exceedingly anxious that small holdings should be set up. He thought that the Act of 1892 had considerably handicapped small holdings. Under that Act there was no compulsion, and a person who wanted to buy land had to put down a large sum by way of deposit. The Worcester County Council was the only one which had succeeded under that Act. That county council took up the matter in a patriotic way and insisted on carrying it through. Their example should be followed by others. As to the contention of the Opposition that nobody wanted small holdings and allotments, his experience had proved to him that that demand did in reality exist. What they had to do was to make a bridge between the people who wanted to get on the land and the land which they wanted to get. Therefore he put in the forefront of the Bill the appointment of the Commission. He had always felt that the village people did not actually know whether they could get land or not. Inquiries had been made in the villages as to whether there was a demand for small holdings and allotments. Those inquiries had been directed to the parish council, and the reply usually was that the council did not know of any such demand. No doubt that was true, because the members of the council were mostly farmers, and their labourers would be very reluctant to tell their employers that they wore looking out for allotments. But if once it was brought home to the villagers that they were likely to get allotments there would be heard a great deal more about their being wanted. It must either be left to the natural growth of the desire for allotments or additional pressure must be brought to bear by the appointment of the proposed Commission. The right hon. Member for Bordesley had made a striking analogy between the progress of education and the progress of these small holdings, and had pointed out that there would have been no public education if it had not been made a national matter; but so soon as they appointed school boards, applied compulsion, and gave free education, they made education flourish. Then they came to the question of whether the small holders were to be tenants or owners. The hon. Member for Windsor had said that he did not see why the Government should object to 1488 ownership; but the reasons given by the right hon. Member for Rossendale were perfectly satisfactory. The difficulty was that if the small owner acquired his land and the neighbouring landlord wanted to buy it the small holder would get no peace. In that way they would see the allotments and small holdings going back again into the hands of the landlord. He was strongly in favour of tenancy as against ownership, but he wanted tenancy under which a man would have security in his holding. There was a great deal of sentiment in these matters, and unless they could tell a man definitely and accurately that he was going to have the land so long as he observed the conditions of his tenancy, he did not think they would produce a feeling of satisfaction and contentment. They had a very good precedent in the Scottish Crofters Act, which had proved a magnificent success, and was a strong argument in favour of tenancy instead of ownership. When that Act was set side by side with the Act of 1892 which established ownership they must conclude that the balance of advantage was certainly on the side of tenancy. But if they were to have tenancies they ought to have them on the same terms as the Scottish crofters. It had been said that fixity of tenure was in the nature of dual ownership, because it gave the right of sale. He would give the small holder the power, which the Scottish crofter had, to bequeath his interest in the land to any one person. That was an arrangement known in many businesses, and would be perfectly satisfactory. If they adopted that principle it would go a long way towards making the Bill a success, because if the boys who were growing up knew they were going to have a share in the land, there could be no greater incentive to make them content to stay on the land. How many Members who represented country constituencies were aware that a great part of their correspondence came from parents asking them to try and get situations in town for their children? They must get rid of all that. They heard a great deal of the necessity of giving full and fair compensation for the land that was taken, but he was quite sure that the experience of most Members was that when land was taken by a public authority from a private individual the private 1489 individual generally got more than the land was worth. He was much disappointed that, although in the hiring clause there was a provision that the valuer should take into account the assessment of the land for the rates, there was no such provision in the purchase clause. They ought to be very careful to see that a proper assessment was taken, and then when the valuer had to fix the price for the land to be taken he would be able to see the amount at which it was assessed, and take that into account in both cases. If that provision in the Bill led, as he hoped it would, to the adoption of the principle of assessing land at the real capital value, there would be less difficulty in providing for the proper purchase price being given. He saw a Motion on the Paper regretting that a Valuation Bill was not passed at the same time as this Bill. Ho thought that if this Bill was passed it would give an impetus to a Valuation Bill, and land would be purchased in a more satisfactory manner. It was clear that the House was going to give the Bill a Second Beading, and that the difficulty would come when they got into Committee. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give careful attention to the suggestions regarding security of tenure. He thought that by passing this Bill they would do something to get the people more closely in touch with the land, and in that way greater prosperity would be secured for them.
§ COLONEL LOCK WOOD (Essex, Epping)
said it was rather a disagreeable thing for one who had been a believer in small holdings all his life to have to say plainly and frankly that in his opinion the objections to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman were so strong that it was all he could do to bring himself to vote for the Second Reading. His right hon. friend the Member for Wimbledon had already indicated the line which their action would take, but that line when taken could not remove the two objections which ho thought were inherent in the Bill. One was the system of hiring. He objected to the hiring of the land instead of purchase, and also to the overriding of the decision of the county councils. The idea was that county councils, when elected, should be able to deal with things with which they were intimately acquainted. He had no doubt whatever 1490 that the various county councils were acquainted with the demand for small holdings in the district they represented. The system of small holdings was no new idea. It had been carried on more or less for many years past, and the fact that it had not been successful in many cases had not been the fault of those who lot the small holdings, but of the state of agriculture generally, or of the individuals who occupied the holdings. So much had it been in his mind that the moment he became possessed of the little land ho had, and which he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would leave him, it was his idea at once to create a few small holdings with which he could experiment. One would have thought that his property, being within twelve miles of Whitechapel, would have been singularly adapted to small holdings, having regard to the fact that it was close to a good market. But he regretted to say that except in the case where the occupier had an adjunct business the experiment had seldom succeeded. He had one case in his mind. When he anxiously inquired of his agent on the approach of rent day what arrears there were, he was told that the only tenant in arrear was a small holder whom he himself had deliberately chosen for the holding—a man whoso rent had boon twice wiped off in the hope that he would finally succeed. The demand for small holdings was limited to the number of men who believed they were going to make a living out of thorn, and oven that number must be again diminished by those who, after trying it for a short time, gave it up. An hon. Member opposite had recently graphically described how the small holder began with a pig, and how he bred more pigs, and so went on to prosperity. But he would point out that the loss of the mother pig by death disposed of all chance of success of the small holder, and that then the hat went round to the other farmers to enable him to get another pig. Another point was this: were owners of land adjoining large centres of population to be subjected to the experiment of providing small holdings for those in the towns who wished to have them I Was compulsion to be placed upon the landlord to supply small holdings for those who came from a distance or only those in the locality '? Because if it was, that opened up rather 1491 a dark prospect so far as he was concerned. There were 5,000,000 of people in London, and if he was to be compelled to divide his land up into 5,000,000 small holdings there would be a very poor chance for him as well as the 5,000,000 of people who were to get the holdings. If therefore anybody who came out of the towns could compulsorily hire a small holding he would say that the landlord of the estate was going to be subjected to very unfair pressure. He had a list of twenty-three small holdings in a largish estate in the North. The holdings varied from twelve acres down to three; but out of those successful holders there was not one who had not an adjunct business which enabled him to make his living and pay his rent. If they deprived these small holders of their other businesses he doubted whether they would ever make such a profit as would enable them to pay their rent. Then with regard to the cost of the equipment of the land. He put the minimum cost for the equipment of five acres of land at £500, taking the cost of the house at £200, the outbuildings £100, and the fences, water supply, roads, &c., £200. The tenant would find himself in such a position that he would have to pay more rent than those around him, and he would be utterly unable to meet the charges. His hon. friend had alluded to the very important point of carving a piece out of a tenant farmer's land—perhaps a man who held 500 or 600 acres—in order to induce men to take up ten, fifteen, twenty, or thirty acres of land. He did not know whether the right hon. Gentleman said there was a clause in the Bill which gave compensation to that tenant farmer for the loss of his land. There were many farmers holding 400 or 500 acres who were just able to make a margin of profit from probably some few acres suited to small culture; and if they deprived such a farmer of that land which paid and his chance of making a small margin of profit, was no compensation at all to be paid to him t These were a few objections he had to the Bill. His main objections were to compulsory hiring instead of compulsory purchase, and the overriding of the decisions of the county councils by Commissioners sent down from London. He knew perfectly well that those Commissioners would be gentlemen admirably suited to their work, and that they would endeavour to 1492 be strictly impartial; but he did not think it was a right principle to override those who had been elected by the ratepayers of the county, who would have to bear the brunt of the burden. He was sorry to say a word against any system of small holdings, for he had always cherished the belief that much might be done by it, but he thought that the Bill was disfigured by these blots, and it would be with the greatest difficulty that he could bring himself to vote in favour of the measure
§ MR. GUEST (Cardiff District)
said he was not sure that the argument of the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was conclusive against the possibility of small holdings being made a success. The right hon. Member had referred to one of those well-meant efforts which had been made in the past by which casual and isolated small holdings had been created. It seemed to him that the possibility of the success of small holdings rested on the foundation of the small holders acting on co-operative principles. Until the system of cultivation was improved, until they had learned to join together for co-operative marketing and the co-operative purchasing of manure and so forth, he did not think the small holders were likely to do very well. They were really approaching the question in a new way; they were trying to set their house in order; they were looking to what had been done abroad, in Denmark and Belgium, for instance, countries that had no protective tariff, in order to see whether they could bring about at home similar results by similar methods. From the point of view of a landowner, he could not help regarding the Bill as adequate for its purpose, and it had the additional advantage of being unprovocative of those on whose toes it might tread. The depopulation of the country districts was becoming so serious that, unless something was done they would really be face to face with a situation in which the whole agricultural fabric must collapse. There could be no doubt in the minds of those who had made some experiment in the matter as to the reality of the demand for small holdings. Anybody who cut up a farm for the purpose of small holdings would be overwhelmed with applications from people all over the country, who were only too anxious for an opportunity to make a living on the land. It was not 1493 merely the best land they wanted; small holders positively applied for poor land, the main object being to get land cheaply, and not to acquire good land at a high price. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon had referred to the supply of food to this country in time of war; well, let them turn their attention to the establishment of small holdings. He thought the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill had been fortunate in this connection—in appointing two local authorities to deal with the problem, because there was in reality a double problem to solve. There was in the first place the actual colonisation of the land, forming men into colonies where the co-operative principle might be adopted and developed. There was also the village problem, that of giving the labourer who had a cottage in the village some share in the land. It was obvious that the parish council were much better judges of that subordinate and secondary object than the county council could possibly be, and he thought it very fortunate that the right hon. Gentleman had called both bodies to his assistance. It seemed to him that the sanction which the Bill received from the Board of Agriculture carefully blended centralisation and local autonomy. He could not understand the position of any landlord who regarded the compulsory powers which a local authority might exorcise, or the compulsion which the Board of Agriculture might bring to bear upon refractory local authorities, as in the least dangerous to the interests of property. He congratulated his right hon. friend on the almost uncanny ingenuity with which he had overcome the extremely difficult question of the future value of the land. His proposal that landowners should be able to take back the land for building or industrial purposes overcame one of the most serious difficulties which local authorities had to contend with, because it must be obvious to anyone that proximity to a market, to a centre of population, was one of the strongest reasons for selecting a site for small holdings, and if the local authority had to consider the price which they would have to pay for the prospective building value, they would in many cases be obliged to go further away from the centre of population, which would increase the difficulty of communication between the colony and the town, which would be 1494 the natural market. The fact was that the Bill would not be challenged on the principles which it contained, but upon the application of those principles, and it was in that respect that he thought they ought to turn their attention a little more closely to some of the details of the measure. He himself was absolutely sanguine of the success of the undertaking. He knew that there were many individuals who were not by any means hostile to the general principle of the Bill, and who wished it well, but who did not share his optimism. He knew there would be considerable difficulties to overcome; there were many prejudices to conquer before a successful solution could be found. They would be told, and ho thought with truth, that the essential thing for the success of small holdings was that the small holder should be able to compete successfully with the foreigner in the market. It would be pointed out, and again he thought with truth, that it was not sufficient for the small holder to compete successfully in perishable articles, such as eggs and milk alone, without which a small holding would not have any economic life, but he must be able to compete in the market against the foreign producer of almost every kind of agricultural produce, with the exception, perhaps, of corn and meat. They would be told that one of the great difficulties in the way of doing that was the burdens which at present rested upon the land. Rates, taxes, and tithes no doubt pressed very heavily upon all land, and would not press any less heavily upon the small holder. Then there was the question of railway rates. They would be told how difficult it was for the small holder or individual farmer to get anything like the terms from railway companies which foreign producers on a large scale were able to obtain. Then allusion would be made to the injustice occasioned to the tenant turned out on to his small holding without the provision of cottages, and without education in a better form of culture. He thought that these were all real difficulties which would have to be met; and what he wanted to urge upon the Government was that they should treat very seriously the powers taken under Clause 14, by which the Board of Agriculture could take land voluntarily for the purpose of making experiments. Before the Board of Agriculture was able 1495 to bring pressure to bear on the local authority, it would have to do two things. In the first place, it would have to learn a great deal, and in the second place it would have to demonstrate. He desired to speak with great respect of the Board of Agriculture, but he claimed that at present there was no authoritative or official view as to the best method of running the small holdings system. They would have to learn, and they would have to demonstrate. He would like to see the Board of Agriculture buy a considerable area of land, and put up small holdings, selecting the small holders whom they placed on the land. When they had done that they would be; able to study the best method of co-operation. When they had done that they would be able to discover the best methods for production and purchase and cultivation. A great deal depended upon the way small holdings were worked. A great many people thought that if they could only get on the land they would be sure to succeed, but in practice he was afraid that having once failed at other trades they would not be likely to make a success of agriculture. Whatever his right hon. friend might say as to the country not being willing to go in for bricks and mortar, unless they were able to provide better housing accommodation they would not get very far in the direction of interesting small holders in the soil. In regard to the provision of cottages some system of standardisation would do much towards reducing the price, and a great advance must be made in that direction. As to half-timers it had been stated that it was impossible for a small holder to make a living without some other business. Some experiment on the line of half-timers would not be a bad idea in connection with a small colony of small holders, and that was what ho hoped the Government would do. That would not preclude local authorities from making a start on their own account, but knowing as he did their distrust and doubt as to the economic success of this scheme, and seeing the position they occupied as trustees of public money, he thought it was very desirable that the Board of Agriculture, should be in a position to demonstrate conclusively both to local authorities and to individual landowners the feasibility of the scheme now proposed. He did not think it 1496 was possible to exaggerate the serious character of the proposals they were discussing. If they were successful they would open up an entirely new era in the agricultural life of the country. He hoped they would be careful to proceed upon such lines as would ensure that the start they were now making would not be discredited by anything like a failure. The spectacle of rural life in England at the present time could only be properly described as deplorable. The land of England did not afford the means of livelihood to the cultivator of the soil, nor did it pay the landowner. The system of agriculture was one which neglected the profitable for the traditional, and they had hardly made any advance in the general conception of agriculture since the days of the Corn Laws. Landlords had tried to meet the difficulty by increasing the size of their holdings and making the same buildings do the work for a larger area. The farmer, whose principal concern was with the weekly pay sheet, had gradually converted arable into pasture land. The result was that agriculture was in a most depressed condition, the land did not produce enough to carry the tenant, the farmer and the landlord, landowners were impoverished, the demand for labour was diminishing, and the rural exodus went on. The reason was that the land was under two classes—one class rich enough to regard more the pleasure to be derived from an estate than its productivity, and the other a class too small and with insufficient capital to make experiments. Unless they put their house in order there was not much hope for agriculture in the future. If Denmark had not put their house in order thirty or forty years ago when they were faced with the same agricultural problems, that country would have boon ruined. This country in the past had been rich enough to treat agriculture with disregard and contempt. He did not believe there was anything in the soil or climate, or in the character of the rural population of England which differentiated them from the experience of Northern Europe. If they could make small holdings a success in Denmark and Belgium, why could they not do it in this country? The Bill contained the sort of compulsion and encouragement which were needed, and he believed it proceeded on the right lines and would meet 1497 with success. If it did succeed it would be enormously to the advantage not only of the peasantry who lived upon the soil, but of the landowner and the community as a whole.
§ *SIR BERKELEY SHEFFIELD (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
said lie wished to preface his remarks by an appeal to the House to extend to him that kindness and consideration which was invariably shown to those hon. Members who rose to address the House for the first time. As a representative of a largo agricultural constituency, where there was a very real and earnest desire for small holdings, ho was the last to offer to this measure any hostility whatsoever. In the Isle of Axholme and in the district round the town of Boston, which were not in his constituency, there was absolute proof of the success of small holdings. He thought, however, that the Bill was open to criticism because it might create an artificial demand for these holdings and plunge the county councils into experiments of which he doubted the economic soundness, and the cost of which in the end the ratepayers would have to bear. Surely the rate-payers had a right to use their own discretion through their representatives on the county council as to the risk they should incur in making these experiments. If the experiments were to be made by the county councils or in co-operation with credit banks they would be more fittingly undertaken by the Board of Agriculture at the expense of the taxpayer than by the county councils at the expense of the ratepayer. On a neighbouring estate to his own the system of credit banks has proved an enormous success. He knew a man who started life as a labourer and by the aid of a credit bank ho became first a small holder and then a large farmer. Before entering any further into details he wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman to whom buildings, erected on land compulsorily hired, would belong when the term of hiring ended. Would they belong to the county council, or would the landlord have to buy at a valuation the buildings erected upon land compulsorily hired from him? It would be a little hard if the landlord had to take over buildings which were likely to prove of absolutely no value to him. Was the largo farmer who was cultivating a largo acreage 1498 and making it pay, whose land was taken by the county council for the purposes of the Act, to be compensated as well as the landlord? If so, compensation would reach a very large sum indeed. Let them take the case of a largo sheep or cattle breeder. If for some reason it should seem fit to the local authority to take away some of his land, they might very easily destroy the whole of that farm and deprive the farmer of his livelihood in that district. They might require that man's land merely from the fact that he happened to be a large farmer, or owing to his having improved the land of that farm they might cast longing and envious eyes upon the same and determine to seize it. There was a largo farmer in North Lincolnshire, a gentleman named Dudding, who sold every year the produce of his flocks, which were sent to nearly every country in the world. Would it be possible for the county council to take part of Mr. Dudding's land, which he was able to keep in such a flourishing condition, and destroy his livelihood in that district? He was perfectly certain that no local authority in the district would ever want to take away land from such a man, but there remained the Commissioners representing the Board of Agriculture in London who were to employ towards the local authority the method usually employed by the gipsy horse coper. They were there with the express object of giving ginger to the local authority. Some clause should be inserted in the Bill to safeguard the interests of gentlemen like Mr. Dudding. The House of Commons ought to be most careful in dealing with Land Bills to see that they did not destroy or interfere with large farms carried on by large breeders. He thought they ought to be very careful how they interfered to break up large farms which were now being carried on successfully. In the case of a large breeder of cattle, the county council, by taking away from him some of his land, might destroy the value of the whole of his farm and destroy his livelihood in that district. He wished to know who proposed to do the drainage for the small holder. Would it be the small holder himself, the local authority, or the landlord? Who would provide the fencing, look after and superintend the proper 1499 farming of the land, and see that everything was not taken out of the land and nothing put in? Who, in short, would see to it that the tenant was not depreciating either his land or his buildings? He doubted whether the friendly feeling which so happily did exist between landlords and tenants would be encouraged by the measure. No longer would a helping hand in the way of abatement of rent be extended to the tenant; no longer would a helping hand in the way of fencing be allowed him. All sentiment would be done away with when a stranger was forced on the land. There were also many local considerations which were bound to have a large influence in those localities. In Lincolnshire there was what is known as "warping." That cost about£80 per acre. Who was going to do the warping in future? Was it the landlord or the local authority? If the landlord, why should he do it when he knew very well that after improving the land it would be very likely seized upon by the local authority for compulsory hire or compulsory purchase? The Bill might be looked upon as an experiment. They all felt it was one which should be made. Their only object, after all, was to ameliorate the condition of a large number of their fellow subjects and to bring more people on to the land, or if not that, to retain more people in the rural districts and to increase the produce of the soil. If success was to ensue from this measure nothing would prejudice it more than that one side should endeavour to make political capital out of it while it lasted. On the other hand, he thought both sides should co-operate so as to be able to bring to a happy conclusion this very great question. There was, however, a Bill now before the House promoted by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley division, agreeing in the main principles with this measure but differing from it in the fact that no compulsory powers were called to their aid at all, but at the same time allowing facilities to be given to the small holder to purchase his holding and become the owner. He knew that the First Commissioner of Works had used very lucid arguments against peasant proprietorships in England, but surely a man had more pleasure and incentive in working when he knew that the land he was 1500 trying to improve would in the end become his own. Under the hiring system, as proposed in this measure, not a rood of land would ever come to the tiller of the soil, who had sweated so long to improve it. The county council could secure fixity of tenure, but no such fixity of tenure would ever be so effective as the sense of entire ownership. How could they expect that a small holder could make his holding pay when they considered what he had to expend before he could place a halfpenny in his own pocket? He had his rent, repayment of expenses to the local authority, cost of equipment, and had also to be prepared to make good the loss resulting from bad seasons. Did the Government say that the landlord was to be docked of the price that should be paid to him by the local authority, so that the local authority and the tenant might be insured against the cost they had made? The examples of France, Germany and Denmark had been brought forward and compared with our own system of land tenure. In the case of Denmark the success of the people was due to the purchase of their small holdings, and not to compulsory hiring. It was invidious to compare foreign countries with our own, because differences in climate and in individual habits could not be reconciled, nor could the conditions under which they laboured be compared with our own, because- they had different tariffs from our own. As was aptly remarked in The Times the other day—A very common error is to attribute greater success to Danish than to British farming. Only those acquainted with the actual condition of things in the two countries can possibly entertain this idea. Compared with what it once was, Danish farming has undoubtedly improved and become more prosperous; but the Danish standard of prosperity is very different from ours, and even our agricultural labourers would not envy the lot of the average Danish small farmer. There is a striking difference between the two peoples in the bare necessities of life. What the Danish small farmers can and do live on and are satisfied with would be sneered at by the humblest labourer in this country. There is a good deal of truth in the assertion of a recent writer on the subject that ' the produce which the Danish small farmer grows on his holding is too good to be used as his own food, so he sells it and buys cheaper food. What the holder in this country grows is not good enough for him, so he sells it at a low price and buys more expensive commodities to feed himself and his family.'In conclusion he said he differed entirely from the First Commissioner of Works 1501 on the subject of small allotments. He had bad a good deal of experience on his own estate in regard to small allotments, and he was perfectly certain that no single man, if he had got other work to do, could find it lucrative to have a small allotment of more than one acre. He had never found a man who was able to cultivate, and to make it a lucrative business as well, more than one acre at a time, if he had not other work to do besides. He differed entirely from the hon. Member who thought there would be an enormous demand for small allotments of five acres. He hoped, however, that the question would now be thrashed out, that a happy conclusion would be reached, and that the depopulation of the rural districts would cease altogether. He thanked the House for the indulgence accorded to him in addressing them for the first time.
§ MR. ROGERS (Wiltshire, Devizes)
congratulated the First Commissioner of Works on the fact that this Bill had been brought forward. He thought it was a reasonable and practical measure, and that it would go a long way to satisfy the land hunger and the demand for small holdings which existed in many districts. The Bill was distinct from all former measures of the kind. All previous Acts of Parliament dealing with the acquisition of land had been permissive, and that explained the small extent to which advantage had been taken of them. This Bill was mandatory. It made it compulsory on the local authorities to consider the needs and the interests of their districts in relation to allotments and smallholdings. It practically made the creation of small holdings and allotments as much a-normal function of the local authority as the repair of roads and the provision of education. For the first time they were making it a part of the duty of a Government Department to see that the local authority made a provision of land and small holdings. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would the disposed to agree with him that£100,000 was rather a small sum with which to start the scheme, and he hoped that it was only an earnest of what would be done in future years. He was very glad indeed to welcome 1502 that part of the Bill which provided for co-operation between the Board of Agriculture and the local authority. The more one studied the question the more one realised the variation of the conditions of agriculture in various parts of the country. He was certain that in some districts there would be a demand for grass land, in other districts a demand for corn land, in other districts a demand for land on which to grow fruit and vegetables, and in still other cases a demand for a small holding by a man who spent the winter in working in the woods to supplement what he derived from his small holding. Therefore, the county council, with the security of the county rates, must make provision for these different kinds of small holding's, and they must have the assistance of the parish council, who had an intimate knowledge of the needs of their own district and the character of the applicants. He believed that the latter was a very important point. The provision which excited the most criticism was that giving power to the Commissioners, in the last resort, to take over the powers of the county council, and provide the necessary allotments, charging the cost to the county council. That was a power which he imagined would be very rarely exercised, but its existence would act as a stimulus to the local authority to do the work themselves rather than to be set aside by the Commissioners. Moreover, it was simply securing to the Board of Agricultural the same kind of power which the Local Government Board already possessed to supply water and drainage to a district when the local authority neglected its duty. In the latter case it could only be done after full public inquiry, at which the local authority was represented; in the former case there would be full public inquiry as to whether there was a demand for small holdings, whether that demand could be reasonably satisfied and whether the character of the tenants was satisfactory. He thought that if the local authority, when all the preliminary inquiries were made, still refused to acquire the laud for small holdings and allotments, there would be a very strong case for the Agricultural Department taking over the powers of the 1503 local authority. The need of that provision would be acknowledged by all who had had experience of the working of the Act of 1892. He knew of a case where there was a reasonable demand for allotments and a number of men willing to take them up, but the scheme was stopped for two reasons: first, there was a strong bias in the Act of 1892 in favour of the landlord, while the tenants did not wish to buy, but to hire; and, secondly, if the county council wanted to buy, the price asked for the land was far too high. He thought that compulsory powers for the acquisition of land for small holdings and allotments were necessary. One reason was that prohibitive prices were asked by many landlords. Hon. Members opposite always spoke as if every landlord was a resident on his own estate. He would be the last to deny that the landlords of England had as much public spirit as any other class, but compulsory powers for purchase or hiring were necessary to deal with investment land, with land of absentee proprietors, with land belonging to Universities, colleges, and charities, the agents managing these estates being always reluctant to sell land for allotments. The power under the Act of 1894, which enabled parish councils to hire land, had worked exceedingly well. 20,000 acres had been obtained, and less than 300 by compulsion. The mere fact that compulsory powers were in the Act would induce the hard landlords, and more particularly agents, to come to an agreement to let their land. He quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that there was a great demand for land with proper security of tenure, compensation for improvements, and a fair rent. His chief objection to purchase was that he did not want to tie a man down all his life to three or four acres. His experience was that a man who got three or four acres of land at a fair rent, provided he was sober, industrious, and hard working, would soon want to enlarge his holding to ten acres, and ten years afterwards he would want a still larger holding. To compel him to purchase three or four acres would prevent him making any advance up the ladder of prosperity. He himself had a tenant who had started with three acres, next 1504 he obtained ten acres, and lately he had taken a farm of 100 acres. He insisted that they ought not to put any kind of check whatever on that kind of advance from the position of a wage-earning agricultural labourer to that of a farmer. He believed that there would be complete security of tenure of land held from the county council. There would be no desire to turn out a tenant who was working his land well. A strong public feeling would be excited against a county council if a tenant of a small holding was evicted for any trifling reason, provided the man was cultivating the land in a proper manner. As to the finance of the Bill, he knew that the right hon. Gentleman was providing for a Treasury Grant for the preliminary expenses. It was of vital importance in starting a scheme of this sort that the first cost should be as low as possible. Land must be obtained at the fair agricultural value and the difference between what that land would let for as a large farm and the rent which the small holder was willing to pay for it was the margin they had to enable them to equip the holding. Therefore it was of the utmost importance that the initial cost of obtaining the land and the cost of the laud itself should be kept as low as possible. The question of equipment was of very great importance, but he thought that it was being held up to view as a bogey and was a good deal over estimated when they were examining what would happen under this Bill. In the first place, it by no means followed that the demand for holdings under the Bill would be a demand for holdings which necessitated improvements. There were some men living in cottages with small buildings behind them who were exceedingly anxious to obtain land for cultivation, and who did not desire that the land should be equipped with buildings, and still less that, a cottage should be erected. In a case he knew of a crown farm of 250 acres was, owing to the sympathy of the present Board of Agriculture with this movement, being let to the parish council and sublet by them to tenants. They had got on that farm sixty-five tenants, and not one single penny had been spent by the Crown in adapting and equipping the farm for the 1505 purpose. The county council pegged out the claims, the men stepped in, and they were working to-day with every chance of success and without any necessity for any expenditure on the part of the Crown for the adaptation of the farm. He felt that that experience would be repeated under this Bill, and that the demand for a subsidiary holding would come from the men who already had a home and some kind of buildings attached to it. There was one criticism which he should like to make. The Bill altered the definition of a small holding in the Act of 1892, under which a small holding was anything exceeding one acre and going up to fifty acres or a rental of£50. Under this Bill it was anything over five acres and up to fifty acres or a rental of£50. He saw some danger under this change that some part of the demand for land would not be collected, sifted, and focussed as he thought it was intended that it should be. The Commission Clause made it mandatory on the Commissioners to make inquiry and to ascertain the extent to which there was a demand, either actual or prospective, for small holdings in the several counties, and, if there was a demand for holdings of less than five acres in size, it seemed to him it would not come under the cognisance of the Commissioners and would not be taken into account by them. He thought it would be the greatest injustice if anything under five acres was not treated as a small holding and the possessor did not receive the assistance and support which was given under this Bill to those of a larger character. It was in the case of these small holdings under five acres where intensive cultivation could be tried and where strawberries and other fruit could be grown, and it was just that kind of small holding that it was extremely important to encourage. At present, as he understood it, under the Bill the preliminary expenses which might be recovered from the Treasury did not apply to allotments under five acres, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would see his way during the passage of the Bill through Committee to take away the obstacles and enable the same machinery to be used for holdings below five acres as was avail- able in the case, of the larger holdings. That represented the only real criticism 1506 he had to make on the machinery of the Bill. He believed that on the whole it was an exceedingly reasonable, practicable, and workable Bill. If the. county councils and the Commissioners representing the Board of Agriculture were agreed to co-operate and work together they could make a great success of the provisions of the Bill, in which he saw a very considerable hope for the country side of England, and for that which had always seemed to him the most neglected asset of the British Empire—the agricultural land of this country.
§ *MR. STARKEY (Nottinghamshire, Newark)
said it was impossible for anyone interested in the agricultural industry not to look favourably upon any proposal which would increase the number of those engaged in that industry, and therefore they must feel that any measure such as a Small Holdings Bill would undoubtedly be of advantage to the agricultural community. But there were difficulties in the way of providing such holding, and the only proper method of looking at the question was to examine it from all sides and find out where the difficulties existed. Therefore they had to ask themselves from what point of view they should approach the consideration of the proposal. Should they look at it from the theoretical and sentimental point of view, or from the practical and commercial? They should collect all the facts and bring them under impartial review. The Government the other day produced a Paper in which was collected the evidence which had been given in favour of this particular Bill. But unfortunately they only dealt with one side of the question, and on reading that Paper he was very much astonished to find that the evidence only went in one direction. Then he turned to the county in which he was interested, Nottinghamshire, and he found the document did not give a full account of the evidence which had been given in that county. He would like to quote an extract from the summary of replies to questions which was given in the document with regard to Nottingham, because he thought it was applicable to many other counties—There is a keen competition for small holdings of ten to forty acres and they command 1507 very often a higher rent than is justified by the profit to be got out of them except where situated close to a town. There are not sufficient of these small farms to satisfy the demand.He had not the advantage of a Government brief to refer to, and he was able to find only one reference to this matter, and that was in the Report on the decline in the agricultural population. There he found the same quotation made, but it was given by a witness who also added that the cost of putting up buildings to start such holdings would be very great. That, to his mind, was the whole crux of the matter, the cost of the buildings. He had no doubt that in very many places these buildings would have been put up long ago had it been likely that small holdings would be remunerative. Therefore they must assume that in many cases where they were demanded they were not likely to be a commercial success. It was a common fallacy to suppose that if a farm of 200 acres was let for£200, and it was split up into four farms of fifty acres, each of these farms could be let proportionately for the same price. But it was not so, because of the cost of the buildings, which would add materially to the rent which would have to be charged. Supposing£500 was a necessary sum to equip these small holdings. There would be three sets of houses and buildings to erect, and the original farm-house and buildings would be in the nature of a white elephant. In consequence of that cost it would be necessary to add at least£20 to the rent, so that it would be£70 instead of£50. In that case, when people knew what the actual rent was to be, would there be the same demand as previously? A farm was a mixture of good and bad land, and a vast proportion of the rent was applicable to the buildings, and if they took away one portion of a farm it might be very difficult to let the other portions. Therefore he thought it was very desirable that regulations should be inserted in the Bill, so that where damage was done to a farm by splitting it up into small holdings there should be no doubt that compensation would be paid. If it was a national necessity that something should be done to stop rural depopulation it was a national obligation that the State should pay for it. This Bill, however, seemed to shuffle 1508 off the responsibility from the State on to the shoulders of the land owners and the county councils. Agriculture, unfortunately, had not been represented in that House in proportion to the numbers employed in it, and therefore they had suffered in many ways, and many unfair burdens had been placed upon the industry. They paid out of all proportion for maintaining the roads, and, with regard to education, they had to pay for educating the children who, when they were educated, left the rural district because their education was not of such a character as fitted them for agricultural life, and they therefore lost the advantages of their services in the country, although they had had the expense of training them. He was afraid that by this Bill another obligation was going to be thrown upon the agricultural community, because if the county council incurred any bad debts, or if their schemes were not a success, it would fall upon the county to make good the deficiency. It seemed to him that the people of this country had become quite demoralised, and to a certain extent the Government had been affected, because for years they had eaten wheat which had been grown at less than the cost of production, and now they resented people leaving the land because they were not content to grow wheat any longer under cost price. What this Bill proposed to do, however, was to put an extra burden upon those who did remain upon the land in order to bring the other people back again. That did not seem to him to be sound. He had often heard of "robbing Peter to pay Paul," but he had never heard of robbing Peter in order to confer some benefit upon him. The county councils were popularly elected bodies, and it seemed to him that it was an extraordinary thing to override their decisions as this Bill proposed to do. They were in full touch with their districts, and if after full inquiry they came to the conclusion that there was no need for small holdings in their neighbourhood it was a hard thing that the Commissioners should come down and insist upon their spending money which they considered to be unnecessary. By so doing they would increase the rates, which had to be paid by 1509 tenant farmers and agricultural labourers and by everybody who was either directly or indirectly a ratepayer. The hon. Member for Dumfriesshire had written a pamphlet entitled "A Plea for Small Holdings," and had instanced what had taken place on the continent; how the land had been improved by reason of the inducement which ownership gave to men to work. In conclusion the hon. Member quoted a passage from Arthur Young—Give a man secure possession of a bleak rook and be will turn it into a. garden; give him a nine years lease of a garden and he will convert it into a desert.What was going to happen to these persons who were to be tenants of the county council? Were they going to convert their holdings into deserts? If so, they would only be fit in the end for a municipal golf course or some such purpose. The Bill seemed to him to fail in two respects. It lacked any provision for the equipment of the land as a small holding, and it contained the principle of compulsory hiring which left the tenant a tenant still.
§ *MR. BOULTON (Huntingdonshire, Ramsey)
said the supporters of the Government welcomed the very friendly spirit which had been shown to the Bill by the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite. But when those speeches developed they showed that although hon. Gentlemen agreed with the spirit of the Bill they endeavoured to raise many obstacles against its being put into operation. When, however, those obstacles were examined it was found that some had been much exaggerated whilst others did not exist at all. It had been said that the children in the country districts were so educated that they would not stay in the country. He did not blame them, because one of the first effects of education was to make a man look forward to something more than poverty or the workhouse in his old age. Under the English system of land tenure this was the future of the agricultural labourer, and he was glad the Government was going to make a change and give these men a chance to get land of their own. The two objections which had been made generally against the Bill were, first, that 1510 the existing machinery for providing allotments and small holdings was sufficient, and, secondly, that the landlords of the country were willing under the present conditions to provide allotments and small holdings voluntarily. He would point out, however, that the Act of 1887 was a voluntary Act, and contained no provisions for the compulsory purchase or hire of land. Further, that it limited the allotment to one acre, and only those who came under the legal definition of the term "labourer" were entitled to secure an allotment. That Act was not effective, because the absence of compulsory powers made it difficult for the urban or county councils to secure the land. There was another Act, the Local Government Act of 1894, which contained compulsory powers, but there was nothing to compel the local authority to put the Act into operation. In his division in February, 1906, Lord de Ramsey, the largest landowner in the county, gave notice to quit to a large number of allotment holders. Those men formed themselves into an organisation and petitioned the district council to put into force the compulsory powers of the Act of 1894. This the district council would not do, but put into force the Act of 1887. The Ramsey Urban District Council then approached Lord de Ramsey and asked him for land for allotments, but, as the Council were acting under the voluntary Act they had no power, even if they wished to bargain with Lord de Ramsey for the land on the best terms possible, and the result was that when the Council obtained the land from Lord de Ramsey it was at an increased rent which cost the men about 1 per acre more than they had paid before. Many of the men refused to take up the allotments on the ground that they could not afford to pay the increased price. That showed how ineffective a voluntary Act was. He welcomed the power given to the Board of Agriculture to deal with organisations. When that organisation of allotment holders was formed in Ramsey they made an offer to Lord de Ramsey to take the land which had before been let in allotments; to pay the rent en bloc, in advance, and then to sublet it in allotments. That offer was refused, because Lord de Ramsey would not deal 1511 with anybody but the district council. The organisation then appealed to the county council, which they had power to do under the Act, to obtain for them allotments. This the county council could only do when the district council had refused to provide them on reasonable terms. The county council were willing to take the matter up, but refused to do so until the Local Government Board had defined what were "reasonable terms" The Local Government Board held, wrongly, he thought, that "reasonable terms" had nothing to do with the rent. The men then petitioned the county council to put into force the Small Holdings Act, which was another voluntary Act. The county council were very sympathetic, and after holding a public inquiry and satisfying themselves that a demand existed, advertised in the local papers and failed to obtain a single acre. The fact was that in Huntingdonshire the landlords would not sell. That showed the ineffective character of the present law. With compulsory powers the county council could have taken the land and satisfied the aspirations of these men, but owing to the lack of compulsory powers the men had to give up all hope of becoming small farmers, and many were now going out of the country. He was glad to think that the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was going to alter that and place compulsory powers in the hands of the district and county councils, and that behind that, power was to be given to the Board of Agriculture to act. It was very necessary that the Board of Agriculture should have these powers, as the conduct of the Ramsey Urban District Council proved when it refused to put into operation the compulsory and effective Act of 1894, and insisted on putting into operation the voluntary Act which was almost useless. Unless these powers were given and the Board of Agriculture was willing to act where the local authority would not, the Bill would not be worth much. But if the Board was given the power to act where the local authority would not put the Act into operation the Bill would have a good result. Under this Bill, in a case such as the Ramsey one the Board of Agriculture would be able to act if the urban council refused to do their 1512 duty, or the Board of Agriculture could act independently of the Council and directly through the men's organisations. For that reason he welcomed the Bill most earnestly, and hoped the Government would push it forward, overcoming every obstacle which was placed in its way, so that before long there might be a law which would stop the continual drain from the rural districts and prevent the emigration which was now going on of the best men in the country.
§ *SIR FRANCIS POWELL (Wigan)
hoped that he might be allowed to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill on the conciliatory tone of his speech, and he would be much obliged to him for his attention on a matter which had not yet been raised in the debate, and one of very great importance. It was very necessary, before the Bill left the House, that careful consideration should be given by the right hon. Gentleman to the great question of mineral rights. It was very probable, indeed certain, that in the districts where minerals abounded, there would be allotments and small holdings. In mining districts it was by no means uncommon, in fact it was a very common thing, to lease minerals without giving the lessee any power to break the surface at a given plot. He reached the mines by sinking at a considerable distance, and that plot remained entirely untouched on the surface. He thought that there ought to be some careful reservation of mineral rights, because the object of the Bill for small holdings was equally accomplished, although the access to the minerals below continued as a foretime. Then there was the question of severance. If they had a coalfield, and they interrupted the coalfield by a small holder-ship such as might occur under this Bill, they would be most seriously injuring a most important interest. He did not know in what way the question could be dealt with when they came to the details, but he had had a conversation with some gentlemen who were thoroughly acquainted with the mining industry, and it was after consultation with them that he ventured at that early stage of the Bill, in a brief manner but very anxious spirit, to submit the 1513 point to the consideration of the Government. In the Act of 1892, dealing with this subject, commonly called the Parish Councils Act, they dealt mostly, if not altogether, with agreements, and under an agreement they might place in the contract any condition they pleased; but under this Bill they proposed to proceed by compulsion, and that being the case it was of very great importance indeed that the Bill should be so modified at a later stage that the minerals might be carefully safeguarded. He need not call the attention of the House of Commons to the importance of mineral rights. Upon the coalfields of the country depended in large measure the national prosperity, and he submitted that the point which he had raised required the careful consideration and reflection of the Government.
§ MR. SILCOCK (Somersetshire, Wells)
said he desired to support the Second Reading of the Bill. In that part of the country which he represented, depopulation had been going on for the last twenty years, and had been as great as in any part of the country. According to the Census of 1881 there were 28,000 agricultural labourers in Somersetshire, but in 1901, twenty years later, they numbered only 17,000. Such figures must make one pause, and feel that the subject was one of the greatest importance and justified the action of the Government. It had been suggested that the depopulation was caused by the laying down of arable land to pasture, owing to the reduction in prices, and that therefore a measure of the kind under discussion would not meet the difficulty. In his district there was a wood of 150 acres, where at the time of the Tithe Commutation Act there was a small hamlet, and the villagers cultivated their holdings. Those were now simply a wood. Reference had been made by the right hon. Member for Wimbledon to the Report published last year on agricultural depopulation, in order to justify his view that it was not the want of small holdings, but the decline in value which had caused depopulation. But if the Report were examined it would be found that the demand for small holdings which could not be satisfied was mentioned as a 1514 reason why so many people had left the country districts. One other reason mentioned was the lack of adequate cottage accommodation. The Report said—Among the specific causes of discontent, a deficiency of adequate or satisfactory housing accommodation is reported from about thirty counties. The details, where given, may be referred to, but speaking generally, there is evidence, not only—or perhaps it should be said not so much—of an actual scarcity of cottages, though this is mentioned in some cases, as of a lack of cottages which satisfy the more exigent requirements of the labourers in these times, or comply with the demands of vigilant sanitary authorities.The Report also spoke of—''the lack of an incentive to agricultural labourers to remain on the land, and of any reasonable prospect in life, and it is mentioned that in some districts, particularly in Scotland, many of the best men have been attracted to the Colonies, where their energies may find wider scope.If they were to have any advancement some means must be found to satisfy the desire for land. The Report spoke of the desire for land, a desire which had not been met in many parts of the country. He thought there were j many Members of the House who must know of cases where a great demand for small holdings had arisen when a large farm was cut up, and that a very keen competition took place for these holdings, while as a large farm the land could hardly be let at all. That happened especially in the neighbourhood of towns. The Report said—The majority of the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture, however, report that there is a demand for small holdings, which is not satisfied for reasons which many of them specify. The belief that their provision would tend to keep people on the land is expressed in many reports. One correspondent puts the case succinctly: 'It is absolutely necessary that those employed in farm work shall have a prospect of rising by their own thrift and perseverance; for this purpose there should be cottages without land for the older people, cottages with gardens and allotments, and also small holdings from ten to fifty acres.'He thought that was a striking reason for the introduction and passing of this measure, which was, in the words used by the Prime Minister when he spoke last month in the City of London—To enable the peasantry to lift up their heads and call their souls their own by giving them some little foothold when they will no longer be tied men but free.1515 They all knew that in many country districts men could not be regarded as free in the exercise of their opinions. Oftentimes if a labourer made himself obnoxious he was compelled to leave the district altogether. So long as men had no security of tenure and could be turned out of their holdings because their opinions were not agreeable to their landlord, they could not be expected to have that independence of character which it was desirable all Englishmen should possess. It was for that reason that he so strongly desired the passage of the Bill. If a man had a small plot of land he felt that he was secure. It had been objected that the Bill would not bring men back to the land. But if they could keep the men on the land, they would do a good deal to stop the rapid de-population which had been going on. It had been stated that the Bill would not enable them to compete with the vast prairies of the United States and Canada, He did not imagine that the Government for one minute thought they were going to enable men to compete in the production of wheat with those vast areas. They did, however, believe that these small holdings would be used to produce fruit, vegetables, poultry, and such things. It was said that the Bill did not provide so much for the purchase of land as for creating tenancies, Many of them felt that it was far better that a man should be able to rent land with proper security of tenure than be compelled to purchase. The present hunger for land was so great that men put themselves to the greatest inconvenience to find money enough to purchase the land, and then they found that they had not sufficient money left to work the land properly. If they could give these men security of tenure, in the majority of cases it would be better that they should be tenants than be compelled to purchase. Feeling that the measure would be for the good of the country, he had no hesitation in supporting it. It would induce men to remain in the country districts, and that would help to maintain and improve the physique of the race, which had deteriorated so rapidly in the slums of the great cities and towns. By enabling men to acquire small holdings j they would also foster that independence of character which they so much desired. 1516 For these reasons he intended to support the Bill.
§ MR. HUNT (Shropshire. Ludlow)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down had stated that a great deal of political pressure was often put upon agricultural labourers, and that that caused great inconvenience. He would like to tell the hon. Member that in his opinion there was in reality a good deal more pressure put by Nonconformists upon their co-religionists than was put upon labourers by the landlords or by the Church of England party. It had also been stated that there was a great want of cottages for labourers in the country districts. He did not know whether the hon. Member knew anything about the country or not. but he would like to point out to him that they could not build a labourer's cottage in most parts of the country for less than£200, and besides that they had to find often a quarter of an acre of land outside the actual building, as well as a water supply and fences. About his part of the country labourers' cottages were rented at not more than£5 a year, which included rates and taxes, and that would pay about 2½ per cent. interest on the capital. In addition, the landlord had to do all the repairs, and there was always something going wrong. It was quite easy to spend a year's rent in doing some small repairs. That was the reason why there were not more agricultural labourers' cottages erected in the country. They could not expect, people to build cottages when they knew they could not get more than 2 per cent. interest on their money. He agreed that there was a great, want of small holdings in the country, and he was anxious to do all he could to keep the people in the country districts. He also agreed that smallholders cultivated the land better than the big farmers, and got more out of it. He could not, however, go much further than that. At the present time the labourer in the country had no chance of rising, and that was why he went into the town. The farmers in his part told him that with their harvest money the labourers earned about£1 a week. A man who had a wife and family to support would not be able to save much out of£1 a week. He was aware that with that wage they were 1517 better off than a great many people in the town, but they had no chance of getting on in the world. What they wanted was small holdings from three up to twenty-five or even fifty acres, but how were they going to get them? He was opposed to this Bill, because it was so frightfully complicated; it was impossible for it to do any good to any considerable number of persons except lawyers. He believed it would be very expensive and quite unworkable. The tenants would have two landlords and some of their buildings would belong to one and some to the other, and the same state of things would 'obtain in regard to repairs. What a man wanted was to have a small holding from a man he knew, and then he felt safe and was able to get on. That was what they could not provide under the present Bill. Unless a landlord had money which he could use for philanthropic purposes he could not afford to cut a big farm up into small holdings. If the Government desired to experiment in the creation of small holdings let them buy up farms altogether, because if they bought a part of a farm they would upset the working of that farm and cause tremendous friction in the countryside. He agreed that allotments of an acre ought to be provided by compulsion where they were wanted. If the Government would buy the farms outright and divide them up the tenants would be encouraged to become thrifty and save money, so as to be able eventually to buy their holdings out and out. That was the only solution of the question. The Government ought to buy farms in the most favourable district they could in order to try small holdings and if they failed they could give them up, and the experiment would not cost a great deal of money. He did not wish to say anything against Lord Carrington's experiment in small holdings and allotments, but the hon. Member for Norfolk appeared to think they had all been a great success. They had not, however, been tried long enough to prove that they had been successful, and consequently they must up to the present be treated as an experiment. He himself went down into Lincolnshire to sec some of Lord Carrington's small holdings and allotments, and he found a good many of them had been given up 1518 by the men because they found that they did not pay. It was only fair to say that those allotments were about a mile and a half away from the town, and that fact was considerably against them. The land he alluded to was especially suitable for small holdings, because it was very good land and was worked quite easily with one small horse. There were no hen houses at all, and no accommodation for the breeding of pigs. Hon. Members who knew about stock farms were aware that a pig was a far more profitable animal than a cow. He considered that one necessity of a small holding was to have a place for the breeding of pigs. Speaking of Lord Carrington's small holdings experiment in Lincolnshire from personal observation and inquiry, he said it was a very great question whether it was going to be a success or not. The arrangement was that Lord Carrington let the land to a syndicate and built houses for small holdings. He charged 4° per cent. for the money, and for three years he did the painting and repairing. The syndicate charged the tenants£10 for their houses and paid the rates and taxes. That was not a financially sound plan, because, to put it roughly, while the syndicate were getting 3 per cent. They were paying all the time 4½ per cent. The buildings were of wood and did not seem to be either durable or commodious. The Prime Minister had spoken in favour of the creation of small holdings, but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that on his own estate at Belmont there were formerly six holdings, while now there were only two. He believed that but for an accident it would now have consisted of only one holding. He thought the right hon. Gentleman who laid down the law about these things ought to play the game himself. If the Government wanted to give these allotment holders and smallholders a fair chance, either they must take off all the taxation from the land, or they must put an equal import tax on the imported agricultural produce which at present paid nothing whatever towards rates and taxes. Imported agricultural produce was now in a privileged position. It got a preference or a bounty which ours did not get. Revenue had to be got from somewhere, but under our present 1519 system foreign imports did not pay their share of taxation. Therefore we were giving State aid to foreign producers. Free traders could not get out of that fact. The taxation which he advocated on imports was not protection at all; it was only equalisation of taxation. Until our fiscal system was altered, people would find it very difficult to make a living on the land. He was now speaking only for himself. He should be quite willing that rents should not be increased on agricultural land for, say, fifteen or twenty years while the experiment of putting equal taxation on foreign and home produce was being tried. The Government proposed by this Bill to get the people back on to the land, but the policy which was very much misnamed free trade had had the effect of drawing the best blood from the country districts into the towns and cities. While the workhouses were filled with poor people, and miles of slums were crowded with starving citizens, there were millions of acres of good land derelict in the heart of the Empire. Was not that the result of our present policy? The people could only be got back to the land by the reversal of that policy. They might tinker with the land laws until they were tired of it, but the economic conditions of which they complained were due to a policy which prevented the people of this country from having justice and fair play.
§ *MR. ELLIS DAVIES (Carnarvonshire, Eifion)
said he had no intention of going into all the points which had been dealt with in the discussion, but, in reference to the principle underlying the Bill, it seemed to him there were two questions involved—first of all, whether the county council should buy or lease land, and whether, after buying or leasing, they should resell or lease it to the occupiers. The principle involved in the Bill was the right one. He was satisfied, from the argument advanced by the right hon. Gentleman, that it would not be possible for the county council to do other than let the land to the occupying tenant. Another aspect, which was a rather serious one, was that the system of small holdings was already in existence in Wales to a certain extent. Seventy per cent. of the holdings in Wales at present were less than 50 acres in extent. He 1520 was sorry to confess what he thought would be rather a startling fact to a large number of Members of the House, that the tenant farmers in Wales, notwithstanding the small holdings, were in dire circumstances, and, in many cases, extreme poverty. Their experience in Wales was unfortunately not such as to warrant the assumption that the creation of small holdings would prevent depopulation. There were several reasons which had led to the present state of things. For instance, the Welsh small holder had neither fixity of tenure nor guarantee for improvements, and he had no capital. The fact that the Welsh tenants had no fixity of tenure prevented them from putting the land to the best use, as in the past they had often seen the tenant, after putting his capital and labour in the land, having to buy back his own improvements in the auction room. The Welsh tenants were not satisfied with the last Land Tenure Act, as it gave neither fixity of tenure nor a fair scale of compensation for improvements. Another drawback to the position of the tenant farmers in Wales was the want of capital, and when they went to the bank and asked for a loan on the security of their stock, they could not obtain the money except on ruinous terms owing to the changeable and fluctuating nature of their only security. He was glad that all these three points were dealt with in the Bill, which would place the occupying tenant who came under it in an infinitely superior position to that of the present small holder. But no county council in Wales, even those in which there was an overwhelming Liberal majority, would be disposed to advance money on the guarantee of a small farmer. He submitted, therefore, that it was essential that the guarantee should be given, not by the county council, but by the State. He wished to express the profound disappointment of the Welsh tenant farmers that existing small holders were not to have the benefits which were secured by the Bill for new holders. In the whole of Wales, 69 per cent. and, in his own constituency, no less than 82 per cent. of the tenant farmers occupied holdings of less than 50 acres. Although the position of the tenant farmers in Wales had been made the subject of inquiry for more than 1521 twenty years, the last time by the Commission of which Lord Carrington was Chairman—and which made the strongest recommendations in regard to the amendment of the land laws in the Principality—there was nothing in this Bill to mitigate or improve, in any shape or form, the lot of the existing small holders in Wales, and yet he submitted to the House that even under the Bill in its present form existing small holders were included. He put it that it was open for a friendly county council to acquire a whole parish, including some small farms, for the purposes of the Bill, and to re-let the small farms to the present tenants, but if such a proceeding was not within the purview of the Bill the scheme would no doubt be negatived by the Board of Agriculture under Clause 3. Moreover, the position of the existing tenant farmers of Wales under the Bill would be inconsistent with the attitude which the Government had taken in this House so recently as February last. The Secretary for Scotland then deplored the rural depopulation, and said that it was necessary to put an end to it, and to improve the conditions of the tenant farmers. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say that, in order to improve the conditions of things, they must give security of tenure to existing holders, and not to future holders alone; and that it would be mere folly to spend Government money in creating new holdings before justice was done to the existing holders. What had happened to make what was folly in February legislative wisdom in June? They might be told that there would be an objection on the part of the landlord to extend the provisions of the Bill to existing small tenants. Why? For his own part he thought the landowner would much sooner sell a small rather than a large farm. In the first place he would get a better price, and on small farms there would be no game, because the small tenant's son was generally an expert poacher. Under the Bill the Government relied on the county council's hiring rather than purchasing land. As a member of a county council he expressed the opinion that these local authorities would not be disposed to advance money for the erection of buildings on land which belonged to a third party, and for that 1522 reason the county councils would be compelled to buy the land, but small holdings would be a delusion unless they could be obtained at a fair price. There was no provision in the Bill by which county councils could acquire land on terms which would enable them to let it to tenants at an economic rent, and it was therefore necessary that provision should be made, either in this or another measure, for a fair valuation by which the price to be paid would bear some relation to the rateable value of the land.
§ MR. HEMMERDE (Denbighshire, E.)
said he wished to identify himself with the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, both upon the Welsh aspect of the Bill and upon the more important aspect of the measure which touched the question of valuation. The hon. Gentleman had pointed out that, so far as Wales was concerned, the Bill was profoundly unsatisfactory, and that was the case. Wales was a country of small holders, and although this proposal would do something to create more small holders in that country, it would do nothing for the small holder who was at present righting a hard fight for existence. It was quite clear that the, Bill was not drafted with a view to the Welsh position, but he did not know why, because, after all, there had been a Report of a Royal Commission upon the condition of land in Wales presented some time ago, and one might have hoped that the particular case of Wales, with its multitude of small holders, would have engaged the attention of His Majesty's Government. But somehow or other it seemed to have escaped their notice, and that was all the more surprising as the Scottish Bill did deal with small holders. It was a strange thing, therefore, that the case of Wales was not dealt with. What was the position of the Welsh small holder? The Bill would reproduce the state of things which they had seen in Ireland, where, on one side of the road a holding would be held on such terms as would enable the tenant to purchase in a certain number of years by paying instalments which took the place of rent; but the man on the other side of the road would be paying a rent which exceeded the instalments, without any chance of getting any interest in his holding or of 1523 purchasing it. It was not in human nature that a man who had been on a holding for years, and whose family had occupied it for generations, should see another man brought under these conditions and given fixity of tenure and not feel aggrieved. He was certain that the Bill could be altered by a few words so as to deal with the case of the existing small holders in Wales. He wanted to emphasise this in another way. Out of 65,000 holders in Wales he thought there were 48,000 who held farms under 50 acres in extent, and the effect of the Bill would be to create a great and artificial demand for small holdings in Wales. That demand would send up the price, and so far from doing any good to the existing small tenant he might find that he was unable to continue in his holding because of the demand created by the Bill and the higher price obtainable. That was obviously a situation which the Government would have to face if they were going to create this great demand. That led him to the second point he had to make, and that was on the question of valuation, He heard the Prime Minister speak on this j subject the other day, and after hearing his words he was at a loss to understand the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman said—The bridge between town and country will be furnished by a Bill which will, I hope, be passed into law during the present session as the Valuation Bill. I cannot say that valuation is a very exciting word—though it appears to have a mesmeric effect on you here—but in providing, as we propose to do. for making a separate valuation of the land, apart from the buildings upon it, we are preparing the way for reform in the rating system in our urban areas, and we shall, at the same time, very much simplify the process of public acquisition of land by establishing a record of how much of its value is due to public improvements. That is an indispensable preliminary stepWhy had not that indispensable preliminary step been taken? Then, again, the Chancellor of the Exchequer early last year, speaking on behalf of the Government to the municipal authorities, said—We are all agreed that valuation is the preliminary step, and the Government desire to have time to consider the best way of giving effect to the principle of taxing land values.Valuation, therefore, being said to be a preliminary step, why was not the 1524 Valuation Bill which they wanted brought forward? It was suggested that it might follow sooner or later; but he would suggest that it should follow sooner. Without a proper system of valuation, and without a proper system of rating based upon that valuation, the Government were not going to do very much by this Bill. How were they going to focus the demand for small holdings? The people could apply for them through a parish council meeting, but in a good many parts of the country not very much would be said in such meetings about small holdings. If they did not act through the parish council meeting those who desired small holdings could apply to the county council sub-committee; but there were a great many counties where tenants would not apply to that body. Failing these two courses the tenants could apply to the Commissioners, but they would always have the fear that if they did so the officials of the county would be consulted, in which case they might just as well apply to the parish council or the sub-committee of the county council. Of these three procedures the only one that would be satisfactory would be the direct appeal to the Board of Agriculture. It was obvious to those who moved about in agricultural centres that the process of providing willing buyers or rather willing leaseholders for small holdings was a very difficult process indeed; they not only wanted to supply people who were willing to take the land, but people who were willing to sell, and those who wanted a Valuation Bill did so because without one they could not create that willingness to sell or lease by the landlord. That could only be done by some system of valuing and rating the site value. Let him take the case of Blairgowrie in Scotland. There they had pasture land at£1 an acre, and certain young men who wanted to start a fruit farm got it at£2 an acre. After they had made that fruit farm succeed they were offered neighbouring land of precisely similar value at£10 an acre Let the House imagine that sort of thing happening in this country if this Bill were passed without a Valuation Bill. In Denmark and other countries they were finding that the successful cultivation 1525 of small holdings was bringing about its own ruin, and a system of valuation was necessary to protect prospective small holders against the greed of the land speculator. He knew a case where a labourer had a few acres at 65s. an acre, and twenty years ago the land would have fetched 10s., and eighteen months ago 40s. He wanted to know at what price that land was to be purchased or hired—at 65s. or 10s. an acre? Valuation was of vital importance, and yet the House was to spend its time in discussing other measures, such as the Patents Bill, while the Valuation Bill was shelved for another year or two. To hire or purchase the value must be put on a proper basis, and nothing in the Bill provided for that. We ought to profit by the mistakes of Denmark, Belgium, and Holland, and he hoped land reformers on both sides would emphasise the importance of valuation, and point out that the Bill which was the essence of their policy should not be delayed. There were two matters which he wished to emphasis, first the inclusion of the present small holders in Wales in the benefits of the Bill, and, secondly, that at the first opportunity a Valuation Bill should be brought in. That and this Bill were the only things that could make a success of small holdings. Such a Bill was necessary, because otherwise there was no security that the tenant would reap the benefit. They had to consider, not only the creation of small holdings, but also the people who were to become small holders. They wanted to see that what the small holder put into the land should be his; that he would not be rack-rented, and that the constant demand for small holdings should not force up his rent year after year. Those were the things they wanted to see, but those things this Bill did not give, and so far as he was concerned he could only support the Bill on the understanding that they had some sort of assurance that in the near future it would be put on a proper basis by the indispensable preliminary of a Valuation Bill.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
I do not wonder that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down should have indulged in many expressions of regret at the policy of the Government in 1526 regard to the land. I do not wonder that he and his friends should have-found themselves in some difficulty as to what the policy of the Government on the land question really is. The right hon. Gentleman in his interesting speech said he could not enter into any comparison between English and Scottish land legislation because it would, he thought, have been out of order. I think he will find later on that it was not only not out of order, but that anyone who desires to take a practical part in this debate must draw those comparisons. Students of the land legislation of this country during the last fifty years must stand aghast at the present situation. There has been legislation of all kinds—Irish land legislation, which began by adopting a method which we on this side of the House held then and have proved since to be impracticable unless accompanied by the buying out of one of the two parties. We have had legislation in connection with small holdings and allotments; legislation with regard to the tenure of land in England, and quite recently Scottish legislation. For my part I do not regret that the right hon. Gentleman has not adopted the Scottish practice for this Bill. To what are we driven? We have the Irish legislation, from which apparently the Government have learnt nothing, and now they are trying to deal with the same question in England and Scotland; to deal with the same people and the same class of land, the same difficulties and the same system of agriculture; and yet they apply a totally different system, which the right hon. Gentleman seeks to justify by the most remarkable and perhaps most interesting, but at the same time the most disappointing, of all expedients. For his justification he falls back on the precedents of those with whom he disagrees and of whose policy he disapproves, and which he and his friends when they sat in Opposition strove to defeat. He did not attempt to give any reasons for his belief that this remarkable policy would succeed. All he did was to dwell upon the desirability of extending small holdings. The reason we who oppose the Government take the line, which the Government very seldom took when they were in 1527 Opposition, of not opposing this measure is that the object of the Bill is to extend small holdings, and to make the occupation of the land a matter of more general concern than it is now. The question is whether the Government are going on the right lines. The hon. Member for Denbighshire disapproves of the Government scheme because, first, it does not render the sale of the land simple, and, secondly, because it renders the position of the owner of the land impossible. We hold that if the Government are really going to deal with the question of the depopulation of the rural districts and set up small holdings, not only on an economic basis, but on one that shall yield a benefit to those who occupy them, they must proceed on the lines of ownership, and provide machinery by which they can help and almost guide those they are going to put on the land. There is very little in this Bill that proposes anything of the kind. It has often been said that in Ireland the Government have a great object-lesson. I know well how difficult it is to refer to the Irish question without getting on the more controversial side of it, and in what I am about to say I am most anxious to avoid anything connected with Irish controversy. The speeches made upon this question, with the exception of one remark made by the right hon. Gentleman, have so far avoided anything in the shape of controversy. But the right hon. Gentleman made one remark which was unworthy of him or anyone in his position as a landowner who all his life has been interested in the land. The right hon. Gentleman said there were those among the country gentry who would be perfectly willing to see this land hunger go on in its present unsatisfactory condition so long as they could preserve their game. The right hon. Gentleman is not wanting in the power of speech and argument, he has a good cause, and I do not think it was necessary to fall back on such an argument as that, which has no confirmation in fact. If the right hon. Gentleman with his experience of the land has made himself acquainted with the practice of the country he must know perfectly well that, though there may be rural populations with an insufficient number of small holdings, the 1528 landowners as a rule have done their best and their duty in the matter at a great sacrifice to themselves. With that one exception the speeches on this question have taken a line which I rejoice to see. Very little has been heard in them of those old pointless and baseless attacks on landlords. On the contrary, the whole of the criticisms have been directed to the system. If the system is definitely shown to have broken down it is necessary first to find something to take its place. Secondly, the Government must show that the new system proposed is likely to be successful. The criticism of right hon. Gentlemen has been of a friendly character, but if it means anything at all it means that this scheme is not likely to be more successful than any other which preceded it. The Government wish to increase the number of people carrying on a profitable business on the land, and they propose to do that by machinery to which I will refer later. What the right hon. Gentleman opposite overlooked was this, that the Government are going to make a revolution in this country in regard to the cultivation of the land. That is what it means. It is not a question of occupation or ownership, but of cultivation. The question is, is the land going to be cultivated in a better and more profitable manner than it is at present? If you can prove that under your new methods you are going to improve the cultivation of the land, then no one is entitled to attack you. on behalf of the landlords, so long as you treat the landlords fairly. Whatever may be the faults of landlords and large farmers, nobody can contest the proposition that, in regard to the cultivation of land, they have been pioneers, and have made great experiments which have frequently been followed by smaller men, and that without them these experiments would never have been made. You condemn the agriculture of to-day; you say that the land does not produce what it ought to produce; but how much would have beer, produced if it had not been for the example of the landowners and the larger farmers? If your experiment means anything it means that you intend, not merely to set up here and there small owners, but practically to make 1529 small holdings the rule instead of the exception. Very well; if that is your intention you cannot do it; the number of your acres is limited, the amount of laud available for the purpose is still more limited; because if a man has a large farm he can afford to take the good with the bad, he can afford to take the average cost of the land. He may occupy a farm of 600, 1,000, or 1,500 acres, but I will guarantee that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, two-thirds of the land is indifferent, and only one-third of it is such as the farmer cares to have. You must take these big farms; you cannot get small holdings without them. Are you going to take the good land and leave the bad? If you take the good land you may injure; the farmer; if you take the bad land the small holders will not thank you, and you will put them in a position which it will be impossible for them to occupy. Therefore, you cannot carry out this policy in the wholesale fashion which has been suggested, and which I believe many hon. Gentlemen opposite have at heart. I believe that they do think that by some change in the land system they can bring into existence a large body of small holders who are to replace the present class of tenant farmers. I ask the House to learn from the experience of small holdings in Ireland; it is never too late to learn. We have discussed this question often and often. I have spent my life on the land; I have had now nearly forty years practical experience of land, management and cultivation; and I know that however many years a man may have spent on the land in trying to solve this problem there is still a great deal for him to learn in connection with it. Surely if that is true of a man who has been all his life on the land, how much more true is it of those who have only looked upon the subject from a theoretical point of view? I am not now thinking of political difficulties in connection with the land; I am thinking of the object which I believe the House has in view, namely, the improvement of the land system of the country from the point of view of the community and the productivity of the land. I say that from the situation in Ireland you have a good deal to learn: and if you deliberately set yourselves to create a 1530 large number of small holdings, you will got rid of many of those who are the pioneers and guides, and you must in common fairness help the small holders by giving them assistance, not through State aid or anything of that kind, but by developing those institutions to which reference has been made to- night, especially in the speech of the hon. Member for Cardiff, who dealt with an aspect of this question in terms with which I agree, although I entirely disagree with the. rest of his speech. It is said that because we hold these views we are pessimistic, that we grumble and throw cold water on this scheme. We do nothing of the kind. We say the things we believe to be best, and we give reasons why the Government should proceed cautiously, and why they should not adopt the line laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, that they will be extremely rigid in their consideration of Amendments. I do not quite know where the Government are bringing us to. We are getting a rather interesting development of our Parliamentary history. This is a Liberal Government, I believe; I am not quite sure about it; they generally call themselves a democratic Government; if there were time it would be rather interesting to ascertain what is meant by those two words. It is interesting that, under the control of a Liberal-Democratic-Progressive Government, we find two things. One is that the opportunities of the House to discuss openly and freely and without check, that is immoderate check, the provisions of a Bill are to be destroyed, because such provisions are no longer to be discussed in the House, but are to be discussed under conditions which are rather peculiar. Further than that, from the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman to-night, no Amendments are to be considered unless they are exactly in line with the views of the right hon. Gentleman himself" and of those who are responsible for the Bill.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman will forgive my interrupting him. All I said was that the Amendments which I should favourably consider would be those for the strengthening and enlargement of the measure, not for its limitation.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
Very well then, if that means that so long as the Amendment is likely to make the Bill more workable than it is at present—["No"]—Oh, it does not mean that? However, so long as it means that we may have opportunities of pressing on the Government what we regard as useful alternatives, practical alternatives, I do not find fault with the suggestion. But if that is the meaning, then I confess that I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman introduced the remark into his speech, because we always understand that the Government stands by the main provisions of its Bill. I understand that if we can make alternative suggestions they will be considered by the Government, and in that respect I hope our opportunities will not be curtailed. My right lion, friend has laid stress upon two details of the Bill to which we objected—first, the system of tenancy instead of ownership; secondly, the interference of a central department. I will take the latter question first. It has been claimed that a precedent was furnished by a Bill passed by the Conservative Party which the right hon. Gentleman and his friends fought with all the energy they could command, and fought on this particular point. They fought the Bill on the ground that it interfered with the rights and powers of the local authority. But how far is this a precedent? What is the right hon. Gentleman proposing? He proposes to give extended powers to county councils, and then, in addition, to give the central department of the Board of Agriculture powers of control over the county councils. I should be the last man to say anything disrespectful of the Board of Agriculture. I have served six very happy years there myself and I have many friends there, and I happen to know how well they do their duty. I think those officials may be thoroughly trusted, although they may occasionally have erratic people at their head. I do not complain of the Department, because if the President of the Board of Agriculture is guilty of eccentric conduct we can bring him to book in the House; but the Government are appointing Commissioners, who will have very wide powers. They are to go about, not to inquire into alleged demands or to 1532 report on the existing condition of things, but, as an hon. Gentleman opposite said, to stimulate the desire for small holdings. They are to go to these men and say, "Would you like to have a small holding?" Surely that is not the business of a Government. It is a new departure altogether, and for the right hon. Gentleman to rest himself on the Food and Drugs Act is astounding. Under that Act the inspectors are appointed to perform a duty which the local authorities dislike because it involves them in the prosecution of friends and neighbours. But these Commissioners, if they choose, can put on the county council the duty, not merely of raising a loan, but also of carrying on this operation after it has been begun. The hon. Member for Cardiff says there is a marvellous combination of central and local administration because you would have central control and local initiative. That is just what you have not got. The initiative is left with the Commissioners, and the local authorities may be holding inquiries at the same time. There are two controls going on at the same time. The right hon. Gentleman justifies it because he says the late Government have done the same thing in the Food and Drugs Acts; but why does he come to us for help? Does he not recollect what took place last session on the Education Bill? Surely a precedent from his own side should weigh more with him. A great controversy arose on that Bill over the power of the local authority to deal with what were called Clause 4 schools. Cannot the Government be consistent for two sessions? Last session that Bill stated that the local authority might do certain things. They proposed that, Parliament having fixed the conditions, the local authority should be called upon to carry them out. But the present Chief Secretary for Ireland has expressed in forcible terms the difficulty which the most powerful Board of Education would have in dealing with a recalcitrant local authority. He said, and I commend his words to the First Commissioner of Works, that—It would have brought us, I am certain, into conflict with the local authority, and I have already had grievous experience of the disad- 1533 vantages to even the Board of Education of coming into conflict with the local authorities.I have never been a member of the county council for my own county, but I venture to say that if in my own county of Wiltshire the county council decided not to create small holdings, and the Board of Agriculture attempted to force them to do what they were not prepared to do, there would be such interesting scenes as would make the position of the Minister a very disagreeable one. I will undertake to say that that would be the case while we are represented by hon. Gentlemen who sit on that side of the House. I am convinced that, whatever their politics, they would not support the Government of the day in any attempt to coerce the county council of their county. I believe that would be the case in regard to every county. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of a county having "seriously considered" the question. What authority is to decide whether a county council has or has not "seriously considered" the question of small holdings?
§ MR. WALTER LONG
The right hon. Gentleman says it is the President of the Board of Agriculture. It may be so in his intention, but it is not stated in the Bill. According to the Bill the Commissioners are to go about the country to do certain work. They are not to go under the direction of the Board of Agriculture.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
Then are we to understand that in any inquiries they make they are not to go anywhere except under the express authority of the Board of Agriculture?
§ *MR. HARCOURT
The right hon. Gentleman was speaking about the 1534 action to be taken eventually. Of course, it is their duty to inquire everywhere and discover what should be done, but action after these inquiries can only be taken under the authority of the Board of Agriculture.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
This is a most important part of the question. What I was asking the right hon. Gentleman was whether these Commissioners are to be free. Nay more, is it not to be their duty when appointed to go about the country where they please making inquiries and making reports on schemes? Is this right or is it not? It appears to me to be clear that they will do this free from the authority of the central department. It is only when their inquiries are to be translated into action that the central authority will be called in. They are to be given a free hand to make their inquiries, to make their suggestions, and to draw up schemes. We are told that they have no right of action except with the consent of the head of the department. Upon what authority, information, or evidence is the head of the department going to check them and say that their reports are not to be considered and acted upon? What other opportunity has the head of the department of ascertaining what the view of the locality is? It seems to me that these Commissioners are either going to have real powers which may be very mischievous, or else they will hold a series of inquiries which will upset districts, annoy county councils, owners, and occupiers, and end in nothing. When county councils realise the effect of the Bill the position of those who are responsible for it will not be altogether pleasant. The rate I assume will be a county rate; it will not be levied over a portion of the county only, and it will be interesting for the constituents of Members opposite to consider whether they, dwelling in towns, should contribute towards the setting up upon a small holding of a milkman or ploughmen in a 1535 distant part of the county. The right hon. Gentleman has not given many reasons to justify his opposition to ownership. He gave two reasons, I admit. He said that people were in the habit of dying without making wills and that there was a difficulty in dealing with intestate estates, and another reason was that some people might fall into the hand of the moneylender and gombeen man. If these are the two most serious difficulties in dealing with ownership, I confess that I do not think they ought to stand in the way of our making a man the owner. These are not the objections. Everybody in the House who has been a party to our debates knows perfectly well what the objections of the Government are and why they dare not adopt the principle of ownership. The right hon. Gentleman is full of democratic ideas, but when he talks about mortgage difficulties and gives his views of ownership he cannot have forgotten those views upon which his Party founded their Irish legislation. The real reason is that the Government have a variety of parties to please. Of course it would not do for the Government to adopt a policy of purchase as long as they wished to keep on good terms with those who propose to put a special tax on ownership. It is easy to put a special tax on ownership so long as the owners like dukes and earls are in a minority. But when the dukes and earls have all been disposed of, and supplanted by small holders, what becomes of the schemes for differential taxation in favour of the occupier as against the owner? The real reason why the Government cannot adopt this policy of ownership is that they fear lest they should have at their throats that section of their supporters which refuses to admit any extension of the principle of individual ownership. This atrocious system of leasing ought not to have been extended to large holdings in a country like this where the amount of land is limited. The scheme of the 1536 Bill reserves to the local authority all the advantages in case of improvement, and leaves to the owner all the losses in case of deterioration of the holding. The Government are taking a disastrous step in abandoning the principle of ownership, and they will find that they are wrong. I think they will find, when they put the question to those who are to be the small holders of the future, "Do you wish to become small holders on the basis of ownership or occupation?" in 90 per cent. of the cases the reply will be in favour of ownership.
§ MR. MASTERMAN (West Ham, N.)
said that was against all the evidence before the Committee in regard to small holdings.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
I do not at all agree with the hon. Gentleman. But supposing I am wrong, although the question was put before the people in the county of Rutland and there was no conversion there to the principle of hiring and leasing instead of ownership. If this Bill results, as hon. Gentlemen opposite hope, in effecting a radical change in the land system of the country, in generally altering the conditions under which land is held and occupied, then I ask the Government to pause and consider whether they really believe that a man would prefer to be a tenant under a local authority, to whom he cannot appeal, as tenants appeal to their landlords, for guidance and help in difficult times, rather than the owner of his own holding, getting out of it everything he puts into it to-day and to-morrow. It is really idle to argue it. If we are going to set up small holdings and extend them in a way that is really going to benefit the community, we ought to rest on ownership and not on occupation. We do not claim, either on the part of the landowner or of the large farmer, that they enjoy Divine rights of which they ought not to be deprived. But, at all events, 1537 credit ought to be given for the part they have played hitherto, and they ought to be treated fairly in any change that is made. I and my friends say that the Government will be rash and foolish in the extreme if they break down the existing system which has existed for centuries without being satisfied that the one they are going to put in its place is likely to be more successful to those immediately concerned and more beneficial to the community at large.
§ THE TREASURER OF THE HOUSEHOLD (Sir EDWARD STRACHEY, Somersetshire, S.)
It is difficult to know what is the real position of the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. The right hon. Gentleman said that he-approves of the creation of small holdings, but he does not think this Bill would be of any advantage in increasing small holdings. Then the right hon. Gentle-man stated that this scheme was not more likely to succeed than any other scheme. But the great difference between the present Bill and other schemes, such as the Acts of 1874 and 1892, is that it is compulsory, and not permissive. The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill would not improve the cultivation of the land, that where large holdings have been a failure small holdings would not be a success. There are, however, cases in which large holdings have failed and small holdings have succeeded. The Government have experience on this matter. A big farm in the hands of the Crown for two years was a dead loss to the Crown, but was let at a profit immediately when cut up into small holdings. The Woods and Forests split up the farm, or rather the gentleman to whom they let it did, into small holdings which enabled him to pay a rent of£700 a year, and also interest on equipping the small holdings. That shows that large farms can be split up with success. And the experience was that the small holdings were farmed just 1538 as well as the large holding. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon seemed to think that the creation of small holdings would result in the creation of a great number of bad farmers; but I believe if you compare the one class with the other you will find the small holders are quite as good farmers as the large. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the way in which we were likely to go to ruin in this matter. But what this Bill is going to do is to put right the mistakes of the fifties and sixties and seventies. Great mistakes were made in the West of England and other parts by farms being added to farms until the holdings became an unreasonable size. This Bill is to remedy those mistakes and to increase the number of small holdings. One hon. Member said it could be done by the landlords themselves, and that if they did not do it they had good reason for it. The fact is the landlords have not the money to spend on the equipment of small holdings. and where they have it tenants for life only do not like to take the possible risk. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the impropriety and indignity of coercing the county councils into dealing with this question, and he repudiated the idea that there was any precedent for such a thing in the Sale of Food and Drugs Act. There is a precedent not only in that Act, but also in the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
I did not say there was no precedent. I have been at the Board of Agriculture and have had to take action.
§ SIR EDWARD STRACHEY
Then we are in agreement that the county councils are liable to be coerced if they do not carry out those duties which Parliament decides they ought to undertake If the right hon. Gentleman had spent as much time as I have on local bodies, he would know perfectly well that these 1539 local authorities are constantly being called to account by the central authority. There is not the slightest idea of insulting the county councils by calling them to account. I feel sure they will work amicably with the Board of Agriculture in this matter, and there is not the slightest reason to suppose that if the county council, having gone into the question of whether allotments were wanted, and having made reasonable inquiries, represented to the Board of Agriculture that they were not wanted, the Board would override them. The Board would most likely make experiments in these cases, but those experiments would be made, not at the expense of the rates, but at the expense of the fund placed at the disposal of the Board. Then I would remind the House that there is to be a public inquiry at which the county council has a right to be heard, and their objections considered by the Board. These Commissioners will be civil servants, and therefore responsible to the Board of Agriculture and the Board to this House. Hence it is impossible for any injustice to be done to the county councils in the matter. Then there is the fear expressed by hon. Members opposite that, there might be a great increase in the rates in consequence of the schemes of the Commissioners. I am certain that no county council will adopt a reckless scheme calculated to increase the rates, and I am sure the Board of Agriculture will not force such a scheme upon an unwilling council. Then there is the question of ownership. The right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division talks of this question as if the Act of 1892 did not exist. That Act will still exist. It is not repealed by this Bill, and if the small holder prefers to become an owner instead of being a tenant of the county council he will have the opportunity of becoming so. The thing which the right hon. Gentleman seems to object to is that this Bill gives alternatives to the Act of 1892 if it 1540 becomes law, which it will as far as this House is concerned. It is a mistake, therefore, to say that this Bill only given an opportunity to a man to become a tenant, because whilst it gives these alternatives it takes nothing away from the existing Act. With regard to the question put forward by the hon. Member for Denbighshire, who said the valuation should come first, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that a valuation Bill will come. As regards our own Bill, it is so drafted that when it does come these provisions can be easily applied. The hon. Gentleman complained that this Bill did not meet the wants of Wales. That is simply because in Wales there are so many small holders that this Bill is not required as it is in England. It does not. profess to be a Land Tenure Bill, but a Bill to provide land for landless men. The reason the Bill does not do much for Wales is because Wales has so many small holdings. But if there is a demand in Wales for small holdings this Bill will, as in England, satisfy the demand. It is impossible for me to reply further owing to the short time left me by the hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin therefore I will end by saying that this Bill will be fair and just, I believe, to the ratepayers and the farmers who have to give up land.
§ Motion made, and Question "That the debate be now adjourned"—(Mr. George. Roberts) —put, and agreed to.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow.
§ [NEW WRIT.]
§ New Writ for the County of Monaghan (North Monaghan), in the room of Patrick O'Hare, esquire (Manor of Northstead) —(Mr. Patrick O'Brien.)
§ Adjourned at five minutes after-Eleven o'clock