§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (Mr. Sinclair, Forfarshire)
, in asking leave to introduce a Bill to encourage the formation of small agricultural holdings in Scotland, and to amend the law relating to the tenure of such holdings (including crofters' holdings);to establish Agricultural Commissioners for Scotland; and for other purposes connected therewith, said: Last July I introduced a Bill under the same title, with which it was not found possible to proceed. Since then the Report of the Select Committee on Small Holdings has been issued; and its recommendations have been seriously considered by the Government in relation to the Bill. The purposes of the measure are to encourage the formation of small holdings, to direct people and capital to the land by opening up a career in the industry of farming to those who work, or who wish to work, on the land. It is no exaggeration to say that the rural districts should support at least double their present population. Yet in Scotland during the last fifty years, while the population of the entire country has increased by close on 2,000,000, there has been an absolute decrease of not less than 400,000 in the rural districts alone. In the northern district the decrease according to census returns has been 5.13 per cent., in the north- 688 west 1.36, and in the southern district 5.08 per cent., or very nearly the same decrease as in the most northern and most remote parts of these islands. The population of the rural districts has fallen by 42,704 in spite of the great increase in the total population. If, disregarding for the moment the variations in the towns and villages, we look simply at the changes in population of the rural districts in the counties, we find that, except in the five counties of Elgin, Kinross, Renfrew, Lanark, and Linlithgow, the "rural" population of Scotland has during the last ten years shown a decrease in every single county. This is not a tendency peculiar to Scotland or to England. It is common to the other civilised countries of the world. No country comparable to ours has so small a percentage of people in its rural districts. Our competitors, Germany, France, Belgium, and even the United States, which has nearly half its population in the rural districts, are already taking active steps to defend themselves from these dangers. It is high time, therefore, that we should move in the matter. This is the purely political side of the subject. But there is another side. I am not belittling the unrivalled farming which is to be found in this country and the public spirit of many of those who lead the way in agriculture here when I say that we cannot be satisfied either with the productiveness of the land of this island as a whole or the uses to which that land is put. No doubt there are many parts in every district of the country where there are farms, especially large farms, which are thoroughly well equipped and highly cultivated, where there are prize herds and flocks, the blood of which is sought by buyers in every part of the world; and there are other branches of farming in this country which have no equal elsewhere which bring good livings; but when other tests are applied the answers are not so satisfactory. I ask, in the first place, is the rent of land what it was? Certainly not. Is the area of arable land increasing? It is not the case. Is our live stock increasing? Is there more live stock or less to the acre than in other countries? Compare this country with Germany and other countries, and inquire what the answer 689 is. Is there more or less perishable farm produce being imported this year than last year? What attention do we give to agricultural organisation? Practically none. What public money do we spend on agricultural education and agricultural colleges? This Bill, which is on the same lines as the Bill of last year, contains proposals which apply to the whole of Scotland, and I do not wish to lead the House to suppose that the circumstances of any part of Scotland specially have influenced the Government in framing the measure. As I have made an observation on the uses to which the land of the country has been put, let me give one or two details from Scotland. My indefatigable friend the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty was the parent of a Return on deer forests in the five Highland counties of Scotland, namely, Argyle, Inverness, Ross, Sutherland, and Caithness. In 1883 at the time of the crofter agitation the number of acres under deer in these counties was 1,700,000. In 1904 the similar figure was 2,900,000 acres. This figure omits all reference to other counties, such as Perth, Aberdeen, Elgin, and Forfar, everyone of which contains land which is exclusively devoted to sport. The area under deer in the five Highland counties which I have named is nearly one-sixth of the whole area of Scotland, and if a fair calculation is made in regard to the other counties which I have named we shall not be very far from the mark if we say that, approximately, one-fifth of the whole area of Scotland is under deer. The county of Forfar, which I have the honour to represent, contains 560,000 acres. In 1883 three times the area of the county of Forfar was under deer. Since that time there has been added twice the area of the county of Forfar. Now, I do not pretend that you can do impossibilities. It is true you cannot grow wheat where deer will live, but there are other uses to which forest land can be put. I am no enemy of sport, provided sport comes in its proper place. Modern science says practically, "Give me manure and give me water, and I will grow anything."[Cries of dissent.] That is a phrase and possibly an exaggeration. But if there is to be a revival of our country districts 690 there must be a revival of farming. Comparing this country with many others it cannot be alleged that the decay of farming is due solely to our soil, which is not inferior to that of other countries. Nor is it due to the climate. If there is to be a reversal of present tendencies it is safe to say that those who work on the land are at the present time to far too great an extent merely hired labourers. Both they and their savings must be admitted to a larger and more intimate interest in the land of the country. It is true of farmers as of other people that they will not invest their savings unless there is security for their money. If farming is becoming more scientific and more costly, more complete security will be demanded by those who put capital into the land. The first thing, therefore, we have to do if we are to check this tendency to depopulation is to give security of tenure to existing holders. We can then go on to consider what should be done to create new holders; but it would surely be folly to spend Government money in creating new holders before attacking and, if possible, counteracting the tendency which is absorbing the present holders. Much of what I have said applies beyond Scotland. Let me say that this Bill applies solely to Scotland and that there is nothing in it which is not founded upon and developed from the actual working of two statutes, namely, the Crofters Act, 1886, and the Congested Districts Act, 1897. To that statement I must make one qualification. Hitherto we have been working without compulsory powers, and we do take compulsory powers by this Bill. It may not be out of place if I remind the House what, a crofter is. Some crofters are yearly tenants, some are leaseholders, but only yearly tenants have been admitted to the benefits of the Act of 1886 and are technically crofters. A crofter is "a person who was a tenant of, and resided on his holding, the annual rent of which did not exceed £30, and which was situated in a crofting parish, and the successors of such person in the holding, being his heirs or legatees." A crofting parish is one "in which there were at the commencement of the Act or had been within eighty years prior thereto holdings consisting of arable land with a right of 691 pasturage in common with others, and in which there still were tenants of holdings from year to year, who resided on their holdings." Under the Crofters Act the crofter obtained a complete but a strictly conditional security of tenure. He cannot be removed from his holding except in consequence of a breach of statutory conditions. These conditions are that he must pay his rent when due and payable, that he is not to assign his tenancy, and that he is not to injure his holding by the dilapidation of buildings or by the deterioration of the soil to the prejudice of the landlord. He is not, without the consent of the landlord in writing, to sub-divide or sub-let his holding or any part of it, or to erect upon it any additional dwelling house. He is not to violate any written condition, signed by him for the protection of the interest of the landlord or of neighbouring crofters, which the Crofters Commission find reasonable. He is not to become a bankrupt and not to execute a trust deed for be hoof of creditors. The landlord has the right of entry upon the holding for mining, quarrying, making roads, shooting, fishing, and other purposes. He is not to open a house for the sale of intoxicating liquors without the consent of his landlord. Subject to these conditions the landlord's interest in the holding remains and power is reserved to him to resume the holding when authorised by the Commissioners for any reasonable purpose having relation to the good of the holding or the estate. Two other points should be mentioned. The Crofters Commissioners are given compulsory powers to assign land for the enlargement of holdings, and their decision—and this is a most important point—in regard to any of the matters committed to their determination by the Act is final and not subject to appeal. The Act applies to all the crofting parishes in the seven crofting counties. Of 163 civil parishes in these counties, 151 are crofting parishes. Let me give the House some particulars as to what the Commission have done. Up to 31st December 1904, the Commissioners had fixed 20,179 fair rents. They reduced the old rents so dealt with from £83,180 to £61,589, or an annual reduction of £21,590. The arrears dealt with amounted to £184,981. Of this a sum of £124,194 has been can- 692 celled, leaving the balance of £60,787 to be paid. The Commissioners then assigned 49,015 acres for the enlargement of crofters' holdings. There is no doubt, and now no question, of the success of the Crofters Act. It has benefited the crofter by encouraging him to spend his money and his labour in improving his holding. Better houses have been built; there is a higher standard of cultivation to be found, and a better standard of comfort, though much yet remains to be done in these respects. It is commonly supposed that while the Crofters Acts have proved beneficial to the tenants, they are, somehow or other, detrimental to the landlord. That is not the case. In the first place, rents which before the passing of the Acts were nominal rents in many cases, and were unpaid, are paid regularly now, and the interest of the landlord in the holding is increased by every such payment. If the sale value of crofting estates be taken as the criterion of benefit, fixity of tenure has very considerably increased the sale value of the landlord's property. Before fixity of tenure was given to the crofters nobody would have dreamed of valuing a crofting rental at more than seventeen years purchase. Now, under the changed conditions, such rentals are valued not uncommonly at twenty-two, twenty-four, and even more years purchase. And for this reason, that, although the rent may be reduced, it is regularly paid; and it is secured by the tenant's improvements, and in addition the landlord is relieved of all expenditure for improvements—outlay on account of buildings and repairs. Hon. Members may be able to test the statement which I make. It is within the knowledge of many that from twenty-four to twenty-eight years purchase of the net return is a common basis of valuation for the sale of large farms having rentals of £200 or £300 per annum, where, although the rents are large, the landlord has periodically to undertake considerable outlays for buildings. If that be the case it proves that the operation of the Crofters Act has tended to bring the value of crofting property very nearly, if not quite, up to the value of other property of a different character in different parts of Scotland. I am confident that I am understating 693 and not overstating the case when I give these figures. Another point must be emphasised. The average reduction of rent effected by the Crofters Commissioners amounts to something like 25 to 30 per cent. of the rental. Since 1883, when the agitation arose, outside the operation of the first Crofters Act rents have fallen at least as much as in the district within which the Crofters Commissioners administer, so that the landlords in the north of Scotland whose land has come under the operation of the Crofters Act are no worse off than their neighbours further south. Indeed they are better off, because they are relieved from the cost of upkeep and improvements, and every shilling which their tenants spend in improving their holdings or the buildings upon them increases the security of the landlord for his rent and the capital value of his land. It is often urged, however, that a crofter is not as other men are; that principles applied with success to the crofting counties are wholly inapplicable elsewhere. What are the characteristics of a crofter? The area under the Crofters Act presents two problems. In the islands there is congestion of the population; on the mainland there is depopulation. The croft of the western islands is simply an accommodation holding; a house and garden, with a bit of ground and grazing rights, at a rent of £1 to £5; a home for the old people, or for the wife and children, while the breadwinner is away earning his annual income elsewhere—working in Glasgow perhaps for the winter or at the herring fishing. From this extreme there are endless gradations until we come to the small farmer on the mainland, for example on the coasts of the Moray Firth, in Ross-shire or Inverness shire, who owns sheep, cattle, and horses, and pays a rent of anything under £30, but has no common grazing. Both these men are crofters under the Act. The crofter in Easter Ross is, as a matter of fact, indistinguishable, so far as the conditions of his farming are concerned, from any small farmer in the south of Scotland, with this exception, that he enjoys the rights and the responsibilities under the Crofters Acts and makes his own improvements. The Crofters Act 694 has never been amended in any important particular. Its object lesson is the advantage to the small holder of fixity of tenure, and the demand of the "excluded" crofter is identical with that of the small holder elsewhere and everywhere—security of tenure. That is essential for the successful conduct of his business. It is said that crofter tenure establishes dual ownership. All partnerships in land are more or less dual ownerships, but this criticism is intended to imply that the dual ownership established by the Crofters Act is the dual ownership of the Irish Land Act of 1881. This is not the proper occasion for argument on a detail of this kind, or it would be my duty—and I do not think it would be a difficult duty—to show that the crofter tenure differs widely from the tenure of the Irish Land Act of 1881. It would also not be difficult to show that it was not dual ownership but other considerations which brought about the amendment of the Act. Before I describe the operation of the Congested Districts Act of 1897, let me remind the House that in 1892 Sir George Trevelyan, then Secretary for Scotland, appointed a Royal Commission to inquire what land in the seven crofting counties then occupied for the purposes of a deer forest, grouse moor, or other sporting purposes, or for grazing, not in the occupation of crofters or other small tenants, was capable of being cultivated to profit or of being occupied by crofters or other small tenants. The Bill founded on the report of that Commission for the amendment of the Crofters Act was introduced in 1894 and again in 1895, but did not go beyond a Second Reading, because before further progress could be made with it Parliament was dissolved. Just as Sir George Trevelyan's Bills of 1894 and 1895 amending the Crofters Act followed the report of the Deer Forests Commission, as the expression of Liberal policy, so did the Congested Districts Act of 1897 express the policy of the Conservative Party. In dealing with the crofter question the policy which had been favoured by the Conservative Party in recent years is the policy of land purchase. Three members of the Deer Forests Commission advocated "a well-considered scheme of 695 land purchase" in an addendum to the Report of the Commission. The contention is that if, in the public interest, their lands are to be used against their will for the purposes of settlement of crofters, it is only fair that the Government should be ready to purchase from the proprietors. Then came the Congested Districts Act of 1897, which established a Board of Commissioners, with an income of £30,000 a year, to be applied at their discretion, for providing land by purchase or otherwise; for subvention into holdings; for aiding emigration from congested districts, developing agriculture, dairy farming, the breeding of live stock, and other purposes. This policy was probably in some degree due to the example of the Irish policy of the Government of the day, and while in many respects it was supplementary, and usefully so, to the policy of the Crofters Act, it was, in one particular, directly antagonistic to it; for while they refused to amend the Crofters Act and face the extension of crofter tenure, by the Congested Districts Act the Conservative Government gave power for the institution of land purchase and the creation of peasant proprietorships. In the formation of small holdings the Congested Districts Board have followed two different lines of policy. By land purchase on the Irish model they have created 230 holdings which are now being paid for by instalments. This number will be greatly added to by the tenants of Kilmuir in Skye, which has been bought by the Congested Districts Board and is now being adapted for this purpose. On the other hand, they have aided in the formation of 437 holdings, which are tenancies, mostly under the Crofters Act. Let me give one instance of how these schemes of tenancies have been worked. A proprietor is willing that a farm or farms shall be broken up and settled into small holdings of this kind. He notifies his assent to the Congested Districts Board and their officials inspect the land and draw up a scheme for the subdivision of the land with regard to roads, drains, watercourses, etc.—indeed for all the details which must accompany such a scheme. In some cases in which houses have to be built the Congested Districts Board have power to make advances on the security of the land to 696 the future tenant. In this way several farms have been broken up with the cordial co-operation of the proprietors. Let me give an illustration. Take a farm of £120 a year, and if this is not the actual figure it represents the facts. The landlord is getting a gross rental of £120 a year, having the responsibility to make repairs. By the agency of the Congested Districts Board the farm is broken up and a number of settlers are put upon it. The landlord, as before, receives a total rent of £120, but he receives it as a net rent instead of a gross rent and pro tanto his property has been improved by Government money in opening it up and providing roads and drainage. It may be asked, Is the Government outlay justifiable under these circumstances? I believe it is. It is not fair to put the question of adapting the land for this purpose upon the landlord, as everybody knows that the one great obstacle to providing model holdings is in supplying houses for those holdings. It is not fair that the burden shall fall upon the landlord, nor is it fair that it shall fall upon the tenant, as he will be sitting at a rent which he will not be able to pay. Nor is it justifiable that the Government shall advance all the money. Just as it is justifiable to advance money for the purchase of land, however, so it is justifiable, in these country districts, to come forward and help the landlord to adapt his land to the new conditions demanded by the public interest. There are two other Acts which I may mention in order to show that they have been entirely inoperative in Scotland—the Small Holdings Act, which has been entirely inoperative, and the Allotments Act, the work done under the latter being so small that it is practically a dead letter, and I need not allude to it. If the lesson of the Crofters Act is that security of tenure is essential to the well-being of a small holder, the lesson of the working of the Congested Districts Act is, first, that it is possible by Government action to settle people on the land, with the co-operation of landowners, giving security of tenure; and, secondly; that security of tenure can be conferred upon the small holder in one of two ways—by a system of land purchase, under which he becomes the owner of 697 his holding; and by a system of tenancy, under which he obtains a conditional security of tenure, similar to that enjoyed by the crofters. It is, perhaps, too early to draw inferences from the working of these experiments, but it is possible to compare the two policies without leaning too much on the experience of the last ten years. That experience, for what it is worth, is distinctly in favour of the tenancy system. While a system of land purchase confers complete rights of ownership, with all the advantages inseparable from that condition, it is more costly to the State, and it places the State in the position of a landlord in direct relations with the tenant. Now a Government Department is not a good bargainer. It is expected to buy dear and to sell cheap. Furthermore, a Government Department in the position of a landlord, especially for so long a term of years as a system of payment by instalment must imply, is subject to serious political pressure. Moreover, it is not necessary for the achievement of the purpose in view to expropriate the landlords. No doubt there is a market for limited purposes, and of a limited kind, for the sale of land on such terms in Scotland; but purchase is not desired or preferred as a policy, and it is not popular in Scotland, possibly for the reason that besides being costly to the State, it is also costly to the tenant. Tenants in Scotland wish to push on—they wish to make the most of their money. To be tenant of a holding requires not more than one-fourth of the capital which would be required to own and cultivate the same holding. On the other hand, a system of tenancy which is less ambitious, less drastic, and more conservative, involving, as it does, not the expropriation of the landlord, but the minimum interference with his discretion, requires no examination of title, no arbitrations, no great cost, and, in the security which it gives to the tenant, affords him an inducement equal to that of land purchase to make the best of his holding. At the same time he is not tied to his holding for ever. The land is neither purchased nor resold by any Government Department. The sphere of the Government is restricted to determining the policy and system under which the land is to be held and 698 adjusting the rights of the parties to the bargain. It is urged, however, that to apply this system to the Lowlands would be an injustice, on the ground that whereas in the Highlands the tenants have made their own improvements, it is otherwise in the Lowlands. If that were the case—if it were possible to draw any line in Scotland and say that north of that line, always, the tenants made their own improvements, whereas south of it that has not been the case—even so, I can see no injustice in applying this system to tenancies in which hitherto the landlords have made all the improvements. They will get a fair rent for holdings, equipped as they are, buildings and all. What landlord can claim more? But no such fixed line can be drawn. All that can be said is that in the Lowlands it has been the general practice that improvements shall be made by the landlord, and not by the tenant. As a matter of fact, and as a matter of history, the practice was gradual and not universal, or simultaneous, in its introduction. I should like, if I may, to read to the House a passage from a letter from a large farmer on the subject of the crofters. He says—The importance of this class of citizen to the State cannot be over-estimated. The cottar who has only a cottage and no land does not produce the same class of man at all. It is the toil, energy, thrift, and enterprise which the croft or small farm calls out that does it. This class of man, of such importance to the State, is gradually being driven out. Within the memory of living man, ninety crofts and small farms have disappeared in this district. The landlord is not to blame, for we know no one would be more anxious to have these small men retained than he. The cost of buildings is such that no landlord short of pure philanthropy can keep them up. Yet I hold that the State cannot afford to let these small crofters go. It is a matter for the State, pure and simple. The laws are largely to blame for this impasse. The present system has broken down, for there are fifty offers for every small place in the market, and yet those small farms are being done away with because the landlord cannot afford to keep them up. The history of the crofter in Aberdeenshire is something like this: A man built a house in a bog and was allowed for a nominal rent to reclaim what land he could. He built, he drained, he toiled and made a. small farm. At the end of his lease his rent was raised and all his buildings and improvements went to the landlord. This was all quite within the law, yet the tenant felt it a hardship. The next generation profited by the lesson and said, If our improvement do to the landlord we will not make any. The 699 result was and is that the landlord has to do all the improvements. If the tenant was assured of proper compensation he would do a great many things himself and he would do them cheaper and far more economically than the landlord can do. At present when anything has to be done the tenant tries to get all he can, but if he had the doing of it himself, he would try to do with as little as possible. This has the most important bearing on the difficulty raised.There are other portions of the letter which I need not quote, but it is important as coming from a large farmer in Aberdeeshire. If it is fair to the Highland landlord to impose these conditions upon him, why is it not fair to impose them on the Lowland landowner? One man has as good a title to his land as the other. And we all know that the differences which are said to exist between the Highlands and the Lowlands are being rapidly diminished. The introduction of railways, telegraphs, telephones, motor cars, and so forth is obliterating them; the need of the Lowlands for alteration in this regard is just as great as that of the Highlands. Moreover, owing to railway facilities and the proximity of markets the prospects of the success of a small holding are infinitely greater in the Lowlands than in the remote Highland districts. Hundreds and hundreds of tons of vegetables and other produce pass through the Lowlands every day to feed the teeming millions of Glasgow, and the prospects in that part of the country, therefore, are infinitely greater. The House will gather that the Government proposes by this Bill to provide security of tenure for all small holders, and for the creation of new holdings by agreement or by the exercise of compulsory powers.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
I was going to give those particulars in a moment, but it may be convenient if I give the House now the full particulars of what I propose to do. In the first place, the Crofters Act within the crofting area will be applied to existing leaseholds in the case of all holdings of a rent of £50 and under, and of all holdings not exceeding 50 acres in extent, whatever may be the rent. Secondly, the crofter tenure will be con- 700 ferred upon all existing small holders throughout Scotland—that is to say, continual security of tenure at a fair rent fixed by the Land Commission established under the Bill, who have powers of revision every seven years. This tenure will be conferred upon yearly tenants when the Bill passes, and upon leaseholders at the end of existing leases. The third point is this. The formation of new holdings under the tenure in the Bill is made possible by agreement, and also by the system of compulsory tenancy which I have described. The Crofters Commission is to be succeeded by the Land Commission, or Court, and the Congested Districts Commissioners are superseded by the Commissioners of Agriculture for Scotland, one of whom is to be charged with the special duty of supervising small holdings. The present annual income of £35,000 of the Congested Districts Boardwill continue to be applied to the congested districts, but it will be applied by the Commissioners of Agriculture. These Commissioners are authorised to expend an additional sum of not more than £65,000 per annum upon the purposes of the Bill. There will be three Agricultural Commissioners, including the Commissioner for Small Holdings. The principal changes in this Bill, as compared with the Bill of last year are as follows:—The Land Commission, or Court, is confined to judicial functions. Administrative powers and duties are given to the Commissioners of Agriculture for Scotland, and the Land Commissioners are thus enabled to act as arbiters when land is taken compulsorily, and on other occasions when it seems desirable that administrative action should be subjected to an appeal to a judicial body. Full restrictions are placed upon the exercise of compulsory powers for the taking of land for the purpose of new holdings. Land forming part of a holding or farm not exceeding 150 acres is not to be so taken when it is occupied by a person who has no interest in any other farm; and, secondly, when the letting value of the land or the farm of which it forms part is reduced by the taking of the land, power is given to the Commissioners to pay compensation to the landlord if his land is taken compulsorily; and that compensation is fixed by the award of the Land Commissioners. Then the preferential claim of the Commissioners 701 in the case of the bankruptcy of a landholder who is indebted to them for advances is omitted, and the claims of the Commission and the landlord will therefore be concurrent. One further question may be asked "Why apply these principles to small tenants and not to large ones?" The answer to that is, because it is the small tenants who suffer most under the present system. It is the small holders who are being absorbed under the present system to the injury of the common good. For the last twenty-five or thirty years there has been a continual effort on the part of the small farmers of this country to obtain more complete protection for the improvements of their interests in the farm they occupy. In large farms where the farmers pay high rents they are fairly secure. No landlord would be likely to part with the tenant of a large farm, if there be such tenants in Scotland, paying £3 and £4 an acre for the land. Such tenants are difficult to replace. The legislation of the last thirty years has all been in the direction of protecting the small farmer. The Agricultural Holdings Act gives considerable protection to the interest which the farmer has in his farm, but whether it produces a stable equilibrium is a matter of opinion. The expensive and elaborate procedure under that Act, even cheapened and simplified as it was last year, is least beneficial to the small tenants, and that is the reason for the application of this Bill to small farmers alone. It is not to be supposed that those who are responsible for this Bill contemplate the immediate division of all large farms into small holdings. The best expert opinion on the subject is that the best system is the production of small and large farms—a mixture of both kinds in every district in the country. That is precisely what the present system does not produce. It is the men on the small farms who produce labourers for the large farms. It is from the small farmers and the crofters that the large farmers will in the future come. It is country blood that invigorates our town population. You will not get men to live in the country districts if they are denied the chance of a living, of making a home for themselves, and of independence. The crofter class and the yeoman class are the foundation of 702 our social fabric. That is another reason why the Government propose to deal with their case. But the Government recognise that this is only a small part of a much larger question. There are land laws, railway rates, and the great expense of the sale and transfer of land, which press very heavily upon our present land system. But however small a part of a larger question this reform may be, it is important to look at the question as a whole. What we suffer from is not merely that in some parts of the country land is going out of cultivation; we are suffering from the decay of rural life. If it is desirable to encourage the formation of small holdings it must be done under such conditions as will secure some prospect of permanence, and money must be spent under conditions calculated to call out some responsibility from those who are helped and those who are interested. The experience in other countries goes to show that the small holding, to be prosperous, requires not only education, but organisation. In appointing Commissioners of Agriculture in Scotland no reflection is intended or cast upon the work of the Board of Agriculture in that country. Some expression has been given in Scotland to the fear that under this change which is proposed, under a separate organisation, Scotland will not be so well off as she is under the present administration. It has been suggested, in the first place, that there may be a difference of policy between the two Boards in regard to the question of Canadian cattle; but everybody knows that that question is regulated by statute and can only be altered by Act of Parliament. It has been further suggested that under such a change protection of the flocks and herds in Scotland will not be so complete as it is at present; that the traffic over the border will be difficult to regulate, and so forth. These fears have no firm foundation. There are two Local Government Boards, one in Scotland and one in England, but I have never yet heard that Scotland is less well protected than she would be if under one administration. It is simply a matter of adjustment and, let me add, of expense. It can easily be shown that there would be great practical advantage to Scotland in this change, but this is not the time to show it. For all these matters—for the supervision of 703 small holdings, for the general supervision and help of agriculture in Scotland, for the consideration of such questions as the encouragement of forestry, you may depend upon it that we shall require separate administration in Scotland. For the solution of these; problems, not only the time of Parliament is required, but also the brains of men who are thinking out these problems. But the real need and the real demand, I believe, in Scotland is that there should be a real effort by Parliament to deal with these matters. Hence the proposal of this Bill for the establishment of a Board of Agriculture, which shall have the general supervision of the whole subject. This Parliament is generous in its outlay for many purposes, and generous in its outlay, also, for the development of British dominions over the sea. From no outlay, in my humble judgment, will you reap a richer reward than from the expenditure involved in the carrying out of this measure. I beg to move.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to encourage the formation of Small Agricultural Holdings in Scotland, and to amend the Law relating to the tenure of such Holdings (including Crofters' Holdings); to establish Agricultural Commissioners for Scotland; and for other purposes connected therewith."—(Mr. Sinclair.)
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
It is quite evident from the exordium of the right hon. Gentleman that he was fully conscious, in bringing in this Bill, that he was dealing with a very large and important problem. He has led us to understand that rural depopulation was the difficulty which he meant to put an end to, at any rate so far as Scotland is concerned. The right hon. Gentleman was also conscious, I think, that there was a certain absurdity in bringing in a Bill of this character to apply only north of the Tweed. He must admit that the conditions of farming in the lowlands of Scotland and in the rest of this island are practically identical.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
If the right hon. Gentleman did not say so, he might have said so in far stronger language than I have inadvertently put into his mouth. Anybody with even the most superficial acquaintance with the facts of the case knows that the difference in farming between Berwickshire and Northumberland is incomparably less than the difference in farming between Berwickshire and the crofting counties in Scotland, or between farming in Northumberland and farming in the south of England. Therefore, I ask any hon. Member who considers this Bill not to consider it as a Scottish Bill at all. If we estimate the triviality of the public money devoted to carrying out the Bill, it is indeed quite evident that the Bill in its present shape will do very little good to Scotland and no good at all to England. But the principles which are embodied in the Bill, if they are accepted by the House, will, in the first place, necessarily extend to the whole of the island, and, in the second place, will necessarily involve, not merely an enormous increase of the wretched £65,000 a year which it is proposed to give to the Scottish farmers, but will involve an enormous expenditure of public money for the extension of the principles south of the border. Therefore, let everybody who is interested either in the land system or the financial system of this country remember that this Bill is one which they must imagine in their minds to extend though out the whole of this island. The right hon. Gentleman spoke with a certain suppressed and indignant surprise of the fact that our towns are increasing very much faster in population than the rural areas, and that a large number of the rural areas are even decreasing in the number of their inhabitants. Of course, that is true. It is the inevitable result and the foreseen result of our existing system. For my own part I am one of those who have always said that the abolition of the Corn Laws was a necessary and inevitable, and, with some qualification, a benefical change in our system. But everybody who either opposed the abolition of the Corn Laws or favoured them must have been, unless he was an idiot, perfectly conscious of the fact that the abolition exposed agriculture to all the difficulties of foreign competition if foreign competition should arise, and that it was deliberately intended by its 705 authors to stimulate that great growth of the manufacturing population which I view without dismay or regret, because I recognise it is the only possible mode by which the population of this country can largely increase or augment its wealth to meet the great Imperial needs with which we have to deal. But to come down to this House and talk as if these were unexpected and tragic results is really ignoring the whole theory of free trade as expounded by Mr. Cobden and his successors, who always recognised that we were to be more and more dependent, both for food and for raw material, on foreign countries, and that the progress in this country in wealth and population was to be found in the increase of our manufacturing population and of our great urban centres of industry. Do not let us talk as if this was an unexpected fact. It is a known and foreseen fact. Our business is not to try and turn back the inevitable current, but to see that in its process it does as little damage as possible to the whole social fabric. The most we can hope for is that the rural districts shall not decrease. That is a truism which we must accept. I am so far entirely in harmony with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that if we can mitigate the effects of this inevitable and foreseen tendency we are bound to do so to the best of our ability. Let us consider whether the plan of the Government is going to do any good even to that part of the country for which it is intended. There was one very singular lapse in the right hon. Gentleman's argument about depopulation. He divided Scotland into eight areas, and said, "Look how dreadful it is. The south-west district of Scotland has diminished 5 per cent. in population since the preceding census." Yes, but the crofting counties, whose system the right hon. Gentleman wishes to extend to all Scotland, have decreased to a larger amount.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Perhaps I misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman's statement. Certainly he has misunderstood my argument.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The right hon. Gentleman says that we have to deal with the great problem of rural depopulation, and how great that depopulation is we shall see if we look at Wigtonshire and other places. But we waited with anxiety to discover what the crofting system has done to prevent rural depopulation where the system has hitherto been in force. It turns out that the rural depopulation has been greater in the crofting counties.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that that has taken place in spite of the Crofters Act. What would have been the decrease if the Act had not been in operation?
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
The effect of the operation of the Act has not been to make the rural depopulation less than it has been elsewhere. The right hon. Gentleman appealed to experience, and I will meet him on that ground. On the ground of experience I beg to point out that the result of the very Act which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to extend has not been to make the rural depopulation in the Highlands less than it has been elsewhere; on the contrary, it remains greater. There may be other causes at work which have counter-balanced the effect of the Crofters Act, but then do not let us have this crude appeal to experience when it breaks in your hand directly you attempt to make any use of it.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman the exact figures. In the north division, which includes Orkney and Shetland, Sutherland, and Caithness, the decrease has been 5.13. In the north-west division, which includes the Island of Lewis, the other islands, and the counties of Ross and Invernessshire, the decrease has been only 1.36. In that district, of course, the Crofters Act also operates. That is a much less decrease than in the Galloway district, where it is 5.08. I think the argument holds good.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Well, I do not. In the first place, the right hon. Gentleman has revised his argument.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
I have no desire to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but what I said was that the decrease in the 707 northern district was 5.13 and in the north-west district l.36. All these districts are under the Crofters Act. The decrease in the south district is 5.08. Those are the facts.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
It is a very small matter. In those parts of the crofting areas which the right hon. Gentleman in another part of his speech said suffered from over-population, the population has practically decreased hardly at all. He told us that in the islands there was over-crowding, and it is just that part of the country where he now tells us that the depopulation has not gone on just where it ought to have gone on. And in those other counties where the Crofting Act has been in force it is greater. I am bound to say, on the point of depopulation, the right hon. Gentleman cannot expect to get much comfort from a study of the census figures. Let us consider exactly what this Bill is going to do for the four classes chiefly concerned—the landlord, the large tenant, the small tenant under £50, and the agricultural labourer, excluding, for the moment, the fifth class, the British tax payer. As regards the landlords, a class which does not meet with very much sympathy always in this House, the method which the right hon. Gentleman is adopting for recommending his measure seems to me very unfortunate. What he has told us is that the number of years' purchase of the crofting holdings has in creased, and that there are cases in which large holdings have been turned into small holdings, with the result that the landlord gets as much gross rent for the small holdings as he formerly got for the large holdings, and is relieved of the duty of finding the capital expenditure necessary for equipping the small holdings. I do not know why the landlord should get that, and out of public funds. I want the landlord to have justice; I do not want him to get more than he ought to have. If the right hon. Gentleman thinks he recommends the Bill to us because he says it is going to put straight into the landlord's pocket that which the landlord has not earned by his expendi- 708 ture, or in any other fair way, that is no recommendation in my eyes. What I want is that the landlord should have justice. What sort of justice is he going to get? At present the practice in the Lowlands of Scotland, more than in England, is that the whole equipment of the farms should be done by the landlord, and that the tenant is only asked to find what may be called the less permanent part of the capital necessary to work the farm. The landlord owns the land and is joint owner of the capital. How are you going to treat that part of the landlord's property which does not consist of the land but of the capital—the equipment of the farm? You are going to hand over to a set of irresponsible Commissioners the determination of what interest or remuneration the landlord is to obtain for the expenditure he has made in equipping the holding. Is there any other capitalist in the world whom you treat in that way, and is it a wise way in which to treat any capitalist? I apprehend the view taken by some hon. Gentlemen below the gangway that there ought not to be capitalists—that all the instruments of capital, land, or whatever they are, should be the property of the community as a whole. That is a perfectly intelligible view. But what really is not an intelligible view is that you should try and work a system of individual ownership, yet take away from individual ownership all that makes it useful to the community. That is really gross folly and injustice. Whether it would be right or wrong for the State to capture every instrument of production is a point I am not going to argue in this House. But what everybody, whether individualist or Socialist, thinks is, that so long as you have a system of private property, so long as you depend on private enterprise for improving and effecting that expenditure without which production is impossible, so long must you treat that property as secure—security is essential to it. The right hon. Gentleman uttered some very wise sentiments with reference to the security of tenants' property, but why are those sentiments only to apply to the tenants? I am entirely with him in saying that the expenditure of the tenant on the non-permanent portion of the capital required for farming should be rendered permanent, and I and this Party have done a great deal to carry 709 out measures making that portion of the capital perfectly secure. The sound principle which lies at the root of that legislation teaches also the lesson that the landlord's share in the capital should be made secure, and the idea of taking that and putting it in the hands of Commissioners to decide its value is a gross injustice to the landlord. As regards the past, and as regards the future, and from a public point of view, this is almost more important, it will of course dry up that source of capital expenditure, is intended to dry it up, and will prevent the landlords in the future from doing in Scotland, above, all countries, and the South of Scotland, what they have done in the past—namely, from making the most lavish expenditure upon the permanent improvements and equipment of their farms. In this connection, I am bound to say I think the right hon. Gentleman did not treat the House quite fairly, because in his speech he gave us elaborate accounts of what happened in the Highlands, or might happen in the Highlands, but did not deal with the Lowlands except by allusion and cursorily. But the Lowland problem is the Scottish agricultural problem, and not the Highlands. For reason connected with climate and with the soil, a vast expenditure of capital has been made, not in the Highlands, but in the Lowlands, whence the great food supply which Scotland can produce must obviously be drawn. The right hon. Gentleman talked a great deal about deer forests, and told us that in Forfarshire the amount of land under deer forests had greatly increased. Well, if the land can be profitably used otherwise, by all means let it be used otherwise, if you can find the money to do it. But the sort of land which can be used for deer forests is not land with which this Bill is concerned, or with which the inevitable extension of this Bill to England is concerned. There you have to deal with great Lowland farms, the soil relatively rich, the climate relatively good, where there is already a great system of agriculture in operation, where there has been an immense expenditure on the part of landlords, all of which you are going to treat as if it had never taken place at all. That, I venture to say, is a gross injustice to the landlord; and that is not the worst of the injustices to the landlord. I do not think it is fair to 710 turn a man against his will from a capitalist owner of land into a mere rent-charger on whom has been thrown the responsibility of collecting rents which the right hon. Gentlemen tells us it is too much trouble for the State to collect. He said, "I object to peasant proprietors who buy their holdings out of money supplied to them by public funds, because that brings the State into the direct relation of landlord." Well, is it fair to take arbitrarily a certain number of landlords and say to them: "You have in the past done your best"—that is admitted—"to see that your land is well cultivated; you have freely expended your money on farm buildings, drainage, accommodation roads, and all the other sources of expenditure necessary for cultivation; we mean to take that from you; we mean entirely to deprive you of the right either of choosing your tenant, or of having any relation at all with the land which is still nominally your own except the relation of extracting from your tenant a rent which we shall fix?" I have myself no objection to the compulsory expropriation of landlords if a reasonable public necessity can be shown; it is done every day for a railway. It may be done on a large scale if you think it right and can find the money; if it will really help the cause of social amelioration, it may be done to-morrow with regard to agricultural land. But to say to any class in the community, "We mean to take your capital and prevent your having anything to do with the management of it; we mean to fix the rate of interest to be paid for it, and we mean to turn you into agents for collecting rents," is a gross injustice to that class. I come now to the large farmer. The large farmers in Scotland, in conjunction with the landlords, have done more for agriculture in these islands than any other body of men. They have shown more enterprise, more knowledge; they have started on more original and effective lines; they have led the way, not only in these islands, but throughout the world, in matters agricultural more than any other agricultural class. You are going to say to them in the future, "You are a superfluous and unnecessary class; you are preventing, by your very existence, the cutting up of your three or four hundred acre farms into smaller holdings; we regard you more or less 711 as a nuisance, and we propose, as occasion serves, gradually to expel you from the industry of the land." [Cries of "Oh!"] But you do tell them that by this Bill. I do not think that is good for agriculture. Has the right hon. Gentleman realised that in order to spend £65,000 a year in the creation of small holders in Scotland he is producing insecurity in the whole agricultural interest, not merely in Scotland, but in England? And for what? In order to produce the number of small holders £65,000 a year will call into existence. [A Liberal Member: It is only a beginning.] I am not opposed to a small beginning, if it carries no collateral disadvantage. My argument is, that in order to carry out this really petty, trivial, and insignificant beginning you are disturbing the whole of the great industry of the land in these islands; you are making every landlord say to himself, "Shall I not be acting against my own interests and the interests of my children if I spend any capital sum on this farm which may to-morrow, or the next day, at the sweet will of an irresponsible Commission, be carried off with a fragment of this £65,000, and may be assessed at a valuation lower than its market price;" and you are making every large farmer say to himself, "Is it worth my while to take a farm and bring up my sons to agriculture, when I know that at the end of my lease—and leases are not so long in Scotland as they were—I may be dispossessed and a new arrangement with the landlord may become impossible, simply because an irresponsible Commission may say that some of the £65,000 a year should be employed in cutting up my farm, destroying the value of the buildings upon it and putting up others in their place?" I now come to the small tenant who, I presume, is the special object of the right hon. Gentleman's solicitude—the small farmer whose rent is under £50 a year. By his own showing, the right hon. Gentleman is putting the cart before the horse, so far as the interests of the small holders are concerned. He told us that no small holdings can flourish unless we have, first, agricultural education, and next a system of co-operation. But what provision does he make in this Bill for either one or the other of these conditions? Are provisions for education to come out of this £65,000 a year?
§ MR. SINCLAIR
Education is provided for by the establishment of a Commission for agriculture in Scotland which is intended to co-operate with existing departments.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
We all know to our cost that education is not a cheap thing. How is this Commission to act unless it is furnished with the money necessary for the carrying out of its work? Does the right hon. Gentleman contemplate that all he is doing for agricultural education in Scotland is to come out of this £65,000 a year?
§ MR. SINCLAIR
No, Sir. The £65,000 a year is to be exclusively devoted to the purposes of the Bill.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
Then the right hon. Gentlemen is doing nothing practically for education. And yet he told us in the very speech in which he proposes these drastic measures that small holdings cannot exist without education and without co-operation.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
I simply said they could not thrive. What is more, I say that the success of the Crofters Act would have been much more marked than it has been if the Governments which succeeded the Government of 1886 had during their twenty years of office done something to add to that Act powers of education and co-operation.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am quite ready to admit that political virtue ceased in 1886 and has only just been revived. But then I expect to see its fruits. The right hon. Gentleman says that these small proprietors cannot thrive without education and without co-operation. How does he propose to attain those conditions? By this Bill he brings small proprietors into existence, and then leaves them in a condition in which, according to his own showing, they cannot thrive. It is clear that, if this Bill passes, the right hon. Gentleman will have to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a great deal of money. I suggest that he should approach the Chancellor of the Exchequer at once for the money to deal with a problem which he admits to be pressing and which he says has waited since 1886 for a really beneficent solution. The right hon. Gentleman deliberately 713 contemplates that the small holder of the future is not merely to find, as he does now, the capital required to work his farm, but to find, with or without assistance, the capital necessary to equip his farm, which hitherto has been provided by the landlord. You are going to relieve the landlord of this burden—gratuitously, as I think—and you are going to put it partly on the shoulders of the new holder and partly on your own. I do not know in what proportion. Nor do you. I suppose it depends on the generosity of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But as there is only a sum of £65,000 a year for the purposes of the Bill, it is clear that practically the whole burden of equipping a farm must fall on the shoulders of the small holder himself. Do you really believe that there is in Scotland or anywhere else a large class in the possession, not merely of the not inconsiderable capital required to work a farm of the annual value of £50, but with the money to provide it with the buildings and all the other necessary equipments? I believe the man who has got that amount of capital is a man who can find a farm in Scotland to-morrow, and, what is more, he will be competed for, if he is a good agriculturist, by the landlords of Scotland. That your proposals will injure the landlord is obvious; I believe they will also injure the large farmer and the small holder. As for the agricultural labourer, it is patent that you are going to inflict a great injury upon him. The right hon. Gentleman lamented the fact that so much agricultural work is now done by hired labourers. I have a strong leaning towards the creation of peasant proprietors in places where they can carry on their business successfully. But I repudiate the idea that there is anything discreditable or degrading in being a hired labourer. The whole tendency of modern industry—not in the case of land alone, but even more obviously in other callings—is that a large number of the people concerned should be in the receipt of weekly wages. I wish most earnestly that they should also have some direct pecuniary profit-sharing interest in the work they are doing. But what is quite clear is that in a very large number of industries, and agriculture is one of them, you cannot work productively or with profit, at any rate under our present industrial system, without this combina- 714 tion of great capital expenditure with a large number of workers receiving weekly wages. The right hon. Gentleman is injuring or maiming the landlords and the large farmers, and in so doing he is inflicting a most serious blow on the labourers, for he is depriving them of the best market for their work. For years and years to come, however you may spend this £65,000 a year, the large mass of the agricultural labourers will be still dependent on their weekly wages. Is it not madness to destroy the whole interest of those who are the best employers of the labourer? You cannot do a more cruel act to the labourers of this country. If the right hon. Gentleman had brought in a gigantic scheme for the appropriation of the land of owners and large farmers, and to put every agricultural labourer into a holding which was equipped for him, there would be a system that would be one of great anxiety and one that would inevitably break down, but at all events it would be logical; but to come forward with a Bill which is only the mere beginning of what the right hon. Gentleman hopes will be a new agricultural heaven and earth, and which yet destroys what is good in the old system, is the height of recklessness and folly. For these reasons I think every class of the rural community in Scotland, from the agricultural labourer to the landlord, will suffer by the Bill; and I do not see that anybody will benefit. That is a sufficient indictment against the Bill, but it is not the most severe. I think there is worse behind, because we have to consider not merely the classes interested in agriculture, but the interests of the community as a whole. I ask the House to reflect upon what the Government in their recklessness apparently desire to do. At the very moment when we are straining to the utmost the credit of the country for the purpose of abolishing a system of dual ownership in Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman, with a light heart, proposes to establish a system of dual ownership in Scotland, and perhaps in England also. It will cost from £100,000,000 to £120,000,000 or more to make all the Irish tenants into proprietors, the Irish tenants who built their own houses, who made their own improvements, who are the authors of the capital value of the, land they 715 occupy. [Ministerial cheers.] Yes, that is the justification for turning them into small owners, and it is we who established the system for turning them into small owners. This is being done at the cost of £100,000,000 or £120,000,000, and you now propose to take a wholly alien agricultural system in England and Scotland, where the tenant outside the crofting areas in no case built his own house or suitably drained or fenced the land, where all these things have been done by the landlord, whom you wish to get rid of but are afraid to expropriate, and you now seriously desire to establish a dual ownership on that basis, and all the experience of the world allows that such a system is intolerable. No doubt there are distinctions between the dual ownership established by the Crofters Act and the Act of 1881. There were differences between the land system in France before the Revolution, and the land system in Prussia before it was swept away in 1808 or 1809, but all experience has united in saying there shall not be a double ownership which does not carry with it double responsibility. How can any set of men seriously suppose they can turn the clock back and establish a real system upon—I will not call it feudalism, but the wreck of defunct feudalism? You are going to have landlords with debts owed to them but no responsibility, you are going to banish the British landlord, who always had his duties and carried them out, and to turn him into a mere rent-charger, and you think that such a system can continue. Of course it cannot continue; you will have to go much further and do for Scotland what at enormous expenditure we are doing for Ireland, and the whole industry and credit of the country will be hampered to get rid of a system you are needlessly and foolishly hanging round your neck. I cannot imagine anything that gives more food for reflection to all; it goes far beyond the land question; it touches the whole social and industrial system. Any well-thought-out scheme that would encourage a system of peasant proprietorship I would look on with favour; but to keep the landlord, gratuitously taking from him his property and responsibility, putting him into the position of rent-charger to the tenant who has no connection with him but to pay rent, is so 716 wantonly foolish a scheme that I am convinced that when the Government have really time to consider it in all its bearings they will see that it goes far beyond the expenditure of £65,000 a year in a corner of Scotland—that it touches the great social and industrial needs of the country and involves legislation in the future carrying with it expenditure impossible at the present moment to estimate.
§ * MR. JOHN DEWAR (Inverness)
said that the people of Scotland who had been able to study this Bill during the recess had warmly welcomed it. Landlords and factors were perhaps not in favour of the measure, and a majority of the large farmers, he believed, were against it. But there was another section of agriculturists, he meant the small holders, who perhaps knew the position best, and it was not too much to say that there was not a single small holder in Scotland who was not an enthusiastic supporter of the measure. The Crofters Act, 1886, caused a revolution of the best kind in the Highlands of Scotland, and gave fixity of tenure and fair rents to the crofters; but the usefulness of that Act had been exhausted, and an extension of it was long overdue. The Crofters Act also gave power to extend holdings, but under several most unfortunate restrictions. That, he believed, was the key to the whole situation, because there could not be a greater curse to a man than to be tied to a holding which was to small for him. In the present Bill the Secretary for Scotland had swept away all those limitations and had given power to the Land Commission to extend holdings wherever they could be established without injustice to any of the interests concerned. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had said that there was great congestion of population in the west of Scotland which ought to be relieved. He himself could point to parts where there were 300 crofters with 100 cotters squatting on the crofts. The Congested Districts Board had done something to relieve those conditions, but not all that might or ought to be done. He believed that the Secretary for Scotland was working on the right lines in his endeavour to 717 solve this very pressing problem. He pointed to the history of the island of Barra, which was notorious for its over-population. The inhabitants of that island had adopted methods which were not generally approved of, but it should be remembered that their condition was deplorable and intolerable. To help the congestion the parish council applied to the county council to put the Allotments Act in force. The county council was not favourable, but appointed a committee, which went to the island and reported strongly in favour of the proposal. But the council never took any further action. Lord Balfour of Burleigh, as Secretary for Scotland, was compelled to intervene, and was able to make a partial solution, and only a partial solution, of the question by the purchase of land. The noble Lord was dealing with a friendly proprietor who was anxious and willing that the condition of the crofters should be improved; but he had to take such land as he could get, and the consequence was that the land he bought was purchased at fifty-six years purchase, and the crofters were settled on it at a price which makes it impossible for them to get a decent living. In another case a friendly proprietor placed a farm at the disposal of the Congested Districts Board. He did not know whether that was the farm to which the right hon. Gentleman referred when he instanced the case of a farm of £120 a year rent. But in that case the rent was £120. Under the new circumstances the landlord got the £120 free of all responsibility, whereas previously he was burdened with the cost of the upkeep of buildings, fences, and the like. On that farm the Congested Districts Board had settled twenty-four families, at a rent of £5 each, and the landlord got his £120 as before but free of in cumbrance. The families were prospering, making more than the farmer could possibly do, and they supplied besides ten men to the Army, Navy, and Naval Reserve. He thought that put in a nutshell the advantage of having farms divided up into small holdings. He would like to call attention to the advantage to the districts of retaining the landlords. The influence of the Scottish landlords was usually good, and 718 he was anxious that their influence should be retained for many reasons, but principally because in the Highlands with small holdings and common grazings, and large sporting values it was almost impossible to work a peasant proprietary system. The result of experience in the Scottish Highlands showed that while the tenancy system was a success, that of purchase was a failure. In his opinion the joint ownership system of the Bill was not at all dual ownership in the Irish sense. The absence of a free sale provision made all the difference between the joint ownership of the Bill and dual ownership. The Crofters Act had been a success in the Highlands of Scotland and the social and economic conditions of the people had very much improved under it. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition had spoken about the landlord being a mere rent-charger; but was that likely to be the case? In the Highlands and islands of Scotland were the relations of landlord and tenant better or worse now than they were in 1886? The fact was that there had been a very great change for the better, because before 1886 the landlords were looked upon as the enemies of mankind, and now they were trusted and respected. Before 1886 a Highland landlord, if he were a candidate for Parliament, would not have got a vote from his own tenants; he had contested a Highland county against a laird, and while that laird's tenants were Land Leaguers to a man before 1886, in 1900 they voted for their laird to a man because they respected him, although they were independent of him, and perhaps because they were independent of him. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland had mentioned how the landlords' condition had been improved, and he believed that the rents were better paid than they were when they were uneconomic. He believed that since rents had been revised landlords got more out of their tenants now than before 1886. He was informed that the crofters' rents were if anything better paid than those of the farmers. If the Act had been such a success in the Highlands and islands, where people were apt to forget that it had brought peace, contentment and 719 prosperity, why should it not be applicable to other parts of Scotland such as Perthshire and Aberdeenshire, where similar conditions prevailed? Another proof that the landlords were better off under the crofting than under the farming system was the relative reduction in rents. The reduction in crofters' rents was much smaller than that which had taken place in the rents of large farms, it being 25 per cent. in the case of crofters and 40 rising in some cases to 80 per cent. in the case of farmers. It was a great advantage to the landlord that he should have many tenants who paid him a fair and steady rent rather than a few large tenants who paid irregularly. The Leader of the Opposition seemed to be speaking with two voices, and he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that where there was no demand for small holdings they would not be given. He repeated that anybody who knew the Highlands and islands of Scotland was aware of the fact that in the last twenty years the social condition of the people had improved enormously. Since 1886 in Skye alone 845 houses had been built by crofters, and if they only cost £100 each that meant an expenditure of £84,000. In addition eighteen crofters had become farmers since 1886. He had great pleasure in welcoming the Bill, which would be received with enthusiasm all over Scotland and would have the very best results on the social life of that country.
§ * MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON (Lanarkshire, N.W.)
said that after the exhaustive speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland it became perfectly apparent that in its details the Bill differed from its predecessor. The revised edition introduced to-day showed that while changes had been made, the principles remained the same, and he personally did not think the Bill had been much improved by its sojourn in the limbo of the Scottish Office. In regard to the professed objects of the Bill, viz., the checking of rural depopulation, there would be very little difference of opinion between Members on the Unionist side of the House and the right hon. Gentleman. But when they considered the way in which those objects were to be attained under the Bill, and that its main principles remained unchanged in spite 720 of the fuller information in the Reports of the Small Holdings Committee and the Committee on Depopulation, the difference of opinion would be considerable. In that connection he would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman when it would be possible to give the Return asked for last November as to the number of small holdings in Scotland under a rental of £50. As the Return had not been given the House might take it that the information was not in possession of the Government, and that therefore the Government themselves were ignorant of what was going to be the real scope of the Bill. Everyone, fully sympathised with the object of the Bill, which was to check the decline of the rural population, but he would point out that it was perfectly truthfully stated in the Report of the Committee on Depopulation that that decline could not be ascribed to the absence of small holdings, and it could not be said that the provision of small holdings was going to provide a complete remedy for that decline. From the point of view of rural depopulation it was obvious that there would be no material benefit in repatriating a small holder on to land already in use as arable land, if by so doing the land would be depopulated to the extent of a farm labourer. But when it came to the means by which the object of the Bill was to be brought about they were perfectly amazing. The Bill was supported by hon. Members upon two entirely distinct and inconsistent grounds. Some hon. Members said that it was a natural extension and a logical growth of the system of the crofter legislation of 1886, and argued that as that legislation had done so much good it was worth extending. But when asked to do that, the first thing any reasonable man would do would be to ask how the legislation had worked where it had been tried, and, secondly, whether the conditions differed in the districts where it was proposed to extend it from those in the district where the legislation had been operating. It was hardly fair to argue as the Lord Advocate had done in Inverness that the Crofters Acts were to be regarded as entirely beneficial because they had reduced rents 24 per cent., unless it was also pointed out that in other parts of Scotland rents had also fallen. However, he did not base his argument on any 721 good or ill the Crofters Acts had done in the crofting counties. He contended that it could not be said because they had worked well there, that other parts of Scotland and of England—because this could not stop atScotland—under different conditions would be benefited by similar legislation. The Government were ignoring the whole basis upon which the legislation of 1886 was passed. The Lord Advocate of that day, speaking on the Crofters Bill of 1886, said it was one thing where there was a community established and in possession of their ancestral home to give them facilities for enlargement, but it was quite another to say that every person who had no land and who wanted it was to be provided with it. It was no part of their principle in that measure (the Crofters Bill of 1886) to assign land to every landless person, its purpose was to give certain benefits to existing crofters. If they were to go beyond that they would introduce a state of matters which would not be a benefit but a disadvantage. Lord Dalhousie, who introduced the Bill in another place, pointed out that the Bill was based on the recognition of the particular history and circumstances of the crofter population, and if they went further they would have to go on a very different principle to find themselves face to face with other great difficulties. Sir George Trevelyan, in introducing the Bill, said that it was of a very special character referring to a very special population living in a very special district under very special circumstances, and that if the Bill had been introduced for the Lothians or the eastern counties it would have been not a restoration but an expropriation. That was the first point of view of the supporters of this measure. The second was that the Bill was revolutionary and therefore that it was progressive. He was not sure about the progress. He was afraid that by the Bill they were going to take a short step forward and a long step back. Even setting aside the point of view of the landowner altogether and looking at the matter from the single point of view taken by the Liberal Party on the question, there could be no dispute as to its retrograde nature. Let them take the first point of hypothec. Landowner's hypothec was abolished thirty 722 years ago by the Liberal Party, as far as rural subjects were concerned. The hypothec over house furnishings, which remained, was denounced by them to-day, and yet this Bill reimposed hypothec, not in favour of the landlord who might have some bowels of compassion, but in favour of the State, which had none. Let them take another point, the point of entail. Hon. Members opposite were always inveighing against entail and saying it was not fair or just and ought to be abolished, but by this Bill they were going to set up 50,000 entails throughout the length and breadth of Scotland. As to the progress in setting up new holdings, his right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition had already pointed out that £65,000 a year would not go far—as a matter of fact it might suffice to equip four or five new holdings in each county during a year. To bring forward these proposals to achieve that end, was like burning down the house to roast a pig, and a very small pig too. If they were to review the whole land question it would mean money. If they were to carry a land reform it must mean money, if the land were acquired fairly; and if it were acquired unfairly, it meant robbery. If they were to introduce small holdings and to develop the functions of, not so much the Crofters Commission, but the Congested Districts Board on a national instead of a local basis, then it meant money to put the people on the land. It had meant £5,500,000 in New Zealand. But it meant even more than that, because it meant that some provision must be made to keep the people on the land after they had been put there. The small holdings must be so arranged as to be economic. They must be made to pay, and if they were to be made to pay and the gombeen man was to be abolished, they must not merely put the people on the land, not only educate them in its cultivation—and for that the right hon. Gentleman had made no provision—but there must also be the protection of co-operation, not only between the individuals themselves—whether in substance—as at Blairgourie or in credit as at Scawby and under the Raffeisen system, but between them and the State. Whether that protection was given directly by loans or grants, or indirectly by bounties or import duties, it must be forthcoming; and if not, the 723 experiment was foredoomed to failure. He earnestly called attention to one condition in this proposal. In all these experiments by which small holdings worked in other countries they were based on the permanent and solid foundation of ownership. [An Hon. Member: No, no.] He did not mean ownership necessarily by the small holder, though, as a matter of fact, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland had not apparently looked at the Report of the Small Holdings Committee when he spoke of the price of purchase being four times that of tenancy, because if he had looked at the Report he would have seen that there were two examples where the calculation had worked out in favour of purchase as against tenancy. But other existing Systems rested on the solid foundation of ownership by somebody, whether the large owner, the small holder, or the State. Under the system proposed, the land for the first time was put in commission between three separate parties. It was not dual ownership—it was triple ownership. All the privileges and powers of ownership were dissipated; landlords were being left without any rights, the State was left with no responsibilities, and the small holder had all the burdens and none of the privileges of ownership. Could the Government really expect that that would be a permanent settlement? When they considered the arguments of the right hon. Gentleman and of others in support of the Bill, they were really amazingly inconsistent. The Secretary for Scotland said that the Bill was highly desirable in the interests of the landowning classes; and the Lord Advocate, speaking in Inverness, pointed out that from the point of view of the tenant the Bill was an admirable thing, because, he said, they were not to be in a hurry about land purchase; they were to wait until they had depreciated the landlord's rights.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Thomas Shaw,) Hawick Burghs
What I said was that the only sound basis of purchase was to start with fixing fair rents.
§ MR. THOMAS SHAW
I should not suggest, nor do I think, that the result would be to depreciate the interest of the landlords.
§ * MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON
said he was sure they would be very glad to receive that expression of opinion from the right hon. Gentleman. But he was perfectly certain that the construction he had stated was the one put upon language similar to that used by the right hon. Gentleman. But when they considered the support other members of the Government had given to the principle of the Bill, really the most courageous reason advanced was that of the noble Lord who presided over the Board of Agriculture, who said that the Bill was a Government Bill, and therefore he supported it. He was sure that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sat on the Treasury Bench wished that there were more Members on the Ministerial side who preferred loyalty to intelligence. But the noble Lord had also said that it was a strong measure to interfere with contractual rights, and that such restrictive legislation was really the first step in the direction of valued rents, and a Land Court, and he doubted whether the people of Scotland were prepared to go as far as that. That was in Edinburgh, at a meeting of the Chamber on Agriculture. The hon. Baronet the Member for South Some set had spoken last session of the hard-headed Scottish farmers, in whose judgment they placed great confidence. The Chamber of Agriculture was composed in the main of those hard-headed Scottish farmers, and they had passed a resolution condemning the principle of the Bill. But it had really been left to a Committee of a Government Department to pronounce the most emphatic and serious condemnation of it. The Report of the Small Holdings Committee, from which the right hon. Gentleman only differed in a few details—or rather he said there were some differences between it and the Government measure—
§ * MR. MITCHELL-THOMSON
Very well; the House would judge how 725 important the differences were. The Committee said that while approving a proposal for the acquisition of land for compulsory purposes by a central authority, they did not approve of the giving of compulsory powers to hire land, or to interfere between landlord and tenant; that the exercise of compulsory powers of that kind would involve the creation of a system of tenant right under which the ownership of land would in fact be divided between two or even more persons; that experience had proved that the system of dual ownership of land was one which, under ordinary economic conditions, could not be permanent, and would be fatal to the proper maintenance of the holding, to harmony between the landlord and tenant, and to the prosperity of agriculture; and that that system might be suitable under such conditions as prevailed in the crofting areas of Scotland, but was quite inappropriate where rent, duration of occupancy, and general relations between landlord and tenant were determined by ordinary economic conditions. That was the Report of the Committee, and he left it at that. He was sure that they were all desirous of recognising the good intentions of the right hon. Gentleman, and, so far as he was concerned, he did not propose to vote against the introduction of the Bill. But, at a later stage it would have to go through a fiery furnace of criticism; and when it rose again—and he hoped it would rise—from the ashes to which they would certainly try to reduce it, it was to be hoped in the interests of the tenant, of the landlord, of the country, and of the great Party which the right hon. Gentleman adorned, that there would arise a phœnix of an entirely different kind.
§ MR. CATHCART WASON (Orkney and Shetland)
said his hon. friend who had just sat down had argued against the principle of the Bill and had not gone into the details of the measure which was causing so much interest on both sides of the House. But the argument of robbery and spoliation used against the Bill came with a very ill grace from hon. Members who represented the landlord Party. In the speech of the Leader of the Opposition, from beginning to end, there was very little which did not 726 command his sincere admiration; the right hon. Gentleman went to the root of the measure; he pointed out, with justice, that the Bill could not stop at Scotland, that it must be extended to England, and when it had gone as far as England, they must consider their whole position with regard to the measure. He agreed with every word the right hon. Gentleman said on that point. The right hon. Gentleman asked them how they were going to draw any distinction between that which was the land—which possibly they might deal with—and that which was capital, namely, buildings on the land. That, he thought, was a very important argument, which had to be dealt with. From his own point of view it must be dealt with in the interests of the country, and in the interests of the country only. Much of the expenditure which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded to had been absolutely wasteful, vicious, and useless. In the Lowlands of Scotland farm after farm had been founded on the ruins of numerous homesteads throughout the country. On one estate, near to which he lived when a boy, there were forty small holdings. The landlord came in, rich and generous, according to hon. Gentlemen opposite, bought the land, and expended money lavishly in pulling down the small houses and erecting fine palatial buildings where there were forty homes before. There the farmers lived in affluence, or, at any rate, in very large houses, just as if they were in villa residences. The people had gone; there was no happiness in the land, no life; it was destitution and desolation from beginning to end. Wheresoever they went they saw that wasteful expenditure of landlords on buildings, which were, in many cases, solely for their own profit, aggrandisement, and glorification. Let them open up the land to the people, who would find the money to put up their own buildings. They did not want much—they desired to live not in palaces, but only in a small way, if they were not at the mercy of the landlord class. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken not merely to the House but to the country at large; and they, on their side, were speaking to the country, and while they felt that this measure would not, perhaps, be settled there, it would be settled by the country at large, 727 before a satisfactory solution was arrived at. Agricultural labourers in Scotland really were badly off; and there was not a single word in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill which suggested that there was anything degrading in an agricultural labourer's taking work for reasonable hire. Still, it was better for the State that a large portion of the men settled on the land should be independent of any master whatever. It was one of the most deplorable things to see enormous masses of men absolutely dependent on some other person for a living and wages. His hon. friend had alluded to New Zealand, of which he had some experience, and he could assure him that the land settlement had done a great deal for that country. As to the question of compulsory powers, of which so much was made, he did not think that, if the Bill was carried in anything like its present form, those compulsory powers would be very often required to be put in operation. He thought the Government might very well, in the due exercise of their judgment, make some concessions where they did bring in those compulsory powers; but he was quite satisfied that when the country began to discover that there was such a widespread feeling in favour of this proposal, no body of men would stand up against doing something to relieve the present state of affairs. Sixty-five thousand pounds was a beginning. It was a question not of money, but of credit, and the credit of this country was good enough for all purposes at the present time.
§ * MR. BARNES (Glasgow, Blackfriars)
said he would not venture to say anything about the details of the measure, but he rose for the purpose of welcoming the Bill as outlined in the speech of the Secretary for Scotland. He welcomed it, on behalf of those with whom he was associated, for two reasons. In the first place, he agreed with the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland as to the extreme importance of having the larger proportion of the people of England and Scotland employed on the land. He looked with considerable misgivings and apprehension to the crowding of the people of the country in large factories in the towns and urban areas and the 728 consequent weakening of the physical and moral fibre of the people. Having regard to the evils enumerated by the Secretary for Scotland in connection with the depopulation of the rural districts, he was not concerned whether it was worse in the north or in the south of Scotland. It was sufficient for him to know that it was going on, not only in Scotland but in England as well. Having regard to that fact and the effects of a direct character which it had had upon the people of Scotland, he was in favour of the Bill as something which would tend in the direction of setting up such a condition of things as would make the stream of population revert from the towns to the country, and thus produce a more robust people. His second reason was that he represented in the House, in a special sense, town dwellers, and in that capacity he also welcomed the Bill. And why? Because they knew that the rural population was being drained from the country districts where the people had been getting their living under more wholesome conditions. Those people were being driven into the towns, with the result that they increased competition for employment. The Leader of the Opposition had said that all this was inevitable and foreseen by Cobden and Bright, but he ventured to say that nothing of the sort was the case. On the contrary, the speeches of Bright and Cobden and the early free traders, so far as he had been able to follow them, foretold, not the depopulation of the country districts, but increased prosperity for the town dwellers and the agricultural population as well. So far as his reading on the subject went, he found that not only was the depopulation not the result of free trade, but it did not follow free trade for at least a generation. There might have been a flow of the rural population into the towns after free trade, but he thought he was right in saying that it did not happen to any great extent, and the filling up of the towns which had come about during the last thirty years or thereabouts, was something not incidental or peculiar to this country, but which had been general all over the civilised world. In America, Germany, France, and almost every other country, the people had been attracted 729 from the dull life of the country into the glamour and glitter of town life. In those countries which most nearly approximated to our own, so far as free trade was concerned, they did not find that steady flow of the people from the country districts into the towns. In Holland and Denmark, which were practically free trade countries, far from there being any flow of people from the rural districts into the towns, the flow had been, with the exception of Copenhagen, from the town into the country districts. Therefore the flow of the people into the towns which they all agreed was an evil, had not come about as the result of free trade, but as the result of more general causes, some of which he would venture to point out. There were three real reasons. First of all there was the throwing open of this country to the importation of corn and other food products from abroad. That was one of the reasons why the population had drifted away from the agricultural districts. The second reason was quite as potent, and it was the unfair railway rates which were applied to English growers, and that had quite as great an effect in crippling the farming industry in Scotland as in England. If anyone would take the trouble to look up the figures in regard to the competition for the markets of Glasgow and the surrounding urban population, they would find that the people who were sending produce from Hamburg, and from other places across the North Sea, were getting their goods conveyed more cheaply than the people who were growing agricultural produce about the southern counties of Scotland. And thirdly, there was the application of science to the farming industry. He had before him a report of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, referring to the decline of the agricultural population of Great Britain, and it stated that as the result of careful investigations it had been found that in almost every county in Scotland there had been a great reduction of casual as compared with permanent labour, and it was generally agreed that the use of labour-saving machinery was the main cause. And so they arrived at the conclusion that one of the causes why more people were not engaged in farming was 730 the greater intensity of toil on the one side, and the application of science in the shape of machinery on the other side, which produced a great displacement of labour. He thought they ought to take steps like those which were taken in Denmark for the setting up of colleges for the encouragement of scientific farming, and he understood that that was provided for in the Bill. [Opposition cries of "No, no."] At any rate, he hoped it would be one of the features of the Bill that they would be able to spend public money in the best of all possible ways, namely, in teaching our own people how to apply their labour and capital so as to produce the best results. He gathered that some such proposal as that might eventually be grafted upon the Bill. He understood that there was to be fixity of tenure, and they all agreed that it would be an advantage that the person who possessed an economic advantage over another should not be able to come down upon him and turn him out of his holding at any time he liked. Then there was another important principle, viz., fixity of rent. He did not quite gather what the right hon. Gentleman meant on that point, but he understood that there was to be a rent court with power to fix rents which would be undisturbed for seven years. He thought he was right in assuming that the rent court would not be able to increase any rents unless there had been something put into the holding by the capital of the landlord. For those reasons he welcomed the Bill as a step in the direction of dealing with a pressing and urgent public question. He gathered that £65,000 a year of public money was to be spent in this way for Scotland. That, as the Leader of the Opposition had pointed out, was only a small part of what would be required if the same principle was to be applied to England and Wales as well as to Scotland. Therefore, it was very important, if public moneys were to be spent, to see that they should get full value. It appeared to him that they were not going to get full value for this money unless the freehold of the holdings thus set up was vested in and owned by the public. He looked upon the experiment, therefore, with some misgiving in that respect; and his misgiving had not been in any way 731 lessoned by the ten our of some of the speeches already made in favour of the Bill, for he found that several hon. Gentlemen had stated that they welcomed the Bill because it was going to do something to buttress up landlordism. [Cries of dissent.] That was what he understood, though they did not put it so bluntly. He gathered from what they said that they were in favour of the Bill because the multitude of small holders to be set up would be a bulwark to the large landowners. He did not like large landowners, and he did not think the small landowners were going to be an improvement on the big ones. He believed that landlordism was a great monopoly, and that the land ought to be owned by the public. He did not put that forward as an abstract or theoretical expression of opinion. He believed landlordism had been weighed in the balance and found wanting. Therefore, although the Bill dealt, perhaps, with a practical question in a way which had been forced upon the Government by the exigencies of the situation, he looked upon it with considerable apprehension. He had not consulted the colleagues with whom he usually acted, but for his own part he looked upon the measure with so much misgiving that if his colleagues were agreeable he would be willing to take the responsibility of moving its rejection on the Second Reading, unless there was some provision made that the public money to be spent, and the machinery to be set up, were not permanently for the interest of landlordism, but for the interest of the whole people, and unless there was some prospect that ultimately the land would be dealt with in such a way as to be of use to the whole people, instead of, as now, for the use and enjoyment of a few.
§ MR. COCHRANE (Ayrshire, N.)
said the hon. Member who had just sat down had stated that he was little acquainted with agriculture. That circumstance had possibly tinged the latter part of his speech in regard to the land system of the country. He had a great deal of sympathy with some parts of the hon. Gentleman's speech. Every one deplored the depopulation of the country districts, and the aggregation of people in the 732 urban districts. That was a very obvious evil, and if this Bill were an honest attempt to overcome that difficulty it would receive thoughtful consideration, and it would have more merits to commend it than he and his friends on that side of the House could find at present. This was not the only country where there was depopulation of the rural districts. Even in Denmark there had been a considerable falling off in the rural population. In Denmark they had the very system of agricultural education which was needed here. There was also a system of bounties on agricultural produce—a form of protection for agriculture which hon. Members opposite would probably deplore. In this Bill there was no provision for agricultural instruction whatever. The Departmental Committee recommended that there should be a system of agricultural education, but no attempt was being made by this measure to give it in any shape or form.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said he was glad the right hon. Gentleman agreed with him in that. The Bill was one of considerable magnitude, and hon. Members who had spoken had all concurred in saying that if it was passed for Scotland a similar measure would ultimately be introduced for England. It would be for the convenience of the House before the Second Reading of the Bill if the Government worn able to intimate when the Bills for the other parts of the United Kingdom would be presented, in order that they might see what differences existed in the different parts.. He thought there was ground for complaint in the fact that the right hon. Gentleman before introducing such drastic legislation on a question of such magnitude had not ordered some form of inquiry. There had been no demand for legislation of this kind in Scotland. The country was peaceful and quiet, especially in the Lowlands. Previous to the introduction of the Crofters Act there was great discontent and distress in the crofting districts, but at present there was no unrest of that kind in Scotland. The Agricultural Conference was a representative, and not at all a 733 Conservative, body; it had very Liberal tendencies. That Conference carried by an enormous majority an Amendment condemning the Bill brought forward last year. If the proposed legislation was confined solely to crofters he was sure that it would be regarded with considerable sympathy by many hon. Members. All acknowledged the part the crofters had taken in the history of the country. They made excellent soldiers, as those who had been connected with the Army could testify. They had had their struggles like other classes of the community. They had been the victims, to a considerable extent, of the policy of free trade. In the Highlands and islands of Scotland a thriving crofter population depended for their livelihood on the kelp industry. On account of the free-trade policy manufacturers of potash were able to import other materials, with the result that the price of kelp declined. [An Hon. Member: It brings a fair price now.] He was glad to hear that. The difference between the crofter and the Lowland tenant was very marked. The crofter in the old days had no security of tenure and was liable to be turned out on short notice.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said this Bill would apply to a different class—the leaseholders in the Lowlands. In ninety-nine cases out of 100 the leasehold tenants had a tenure of nineteen years. A tenant paying £50 a year, having a lease of nineteen years, had absolute fixity of tenure during the period of his lease. He was on an absolutely different footing from the crofter who was liable to be turned out of his small holding, and the steading which he had put up at his own cost, at forty days notice. In the Lowlands farm buildings had invariably been built at the cost of the landlords. Most of the fencing had also been done by the landlords. The right hon. Gentleman, without any inquiry whatever, and without having gone into the question, except in the most cursory manner, proposed to take away the capital the landlord had invested in farm buildings and hand it over to the Commissioners or the tenants. If the right hon. Gentleman 734 expected that capital was going to be invested under those conditions he would be disappointed. The present system of land tenure in Scotland had done much for the country. Could the right hon. Gentleman point to any country in the world where there was a more prosperous system? [Cries of "Yes."] He ventured to say that it would be difficult to do so. Go where they liked, they would not see farms better tilled, or crops more magnificent than those grown in the Lothians. He asked the right hon. Gentleman himself if he thought that all the high cultivation which was to be seen in Scotland could have been carried on if it had been divorced from the capital of the landlord? It was impossible. He ventured to say that what had made Scotland so thriving had been the intelligent interest, skill, and care of the landlords in the management of their estates and their close association with their tenants. It could not be expected that landlords would take that interest in their farms, in the modern machinery required for up-to-date cultivation, in acquiring the knowledge of the chemical composition of manures, if they were to be told that an irresponsible body could come down and carve certain portions out of their farms in order to make small holdings. That would produce a dangerous element of uncertainty in the management of land. Then, in addition, there would be the cost of equipping the small holdings carved out of the farms. At present he believed that some £10,000,000 a year were spent in improving farms under present conditions; but if this Bill passed that capital would be diverted from Scotland. The Act of 1892 was passed with the view of endeavouring to remove the difficulties of agricultural labourers in obtaining small holdings, but it had proved a failure, notwithstanding honest attempts to put it in force. To a large extent the reason for that failure was that it did not pay ploughmen and other labourers engaged in agriculture, whose wages were extremely good, to take a. small farm. The Report of the Departmental Committee showed that in the very district of Kilmuir to which reference had been made, the small crofters had not become owners of the land because they were afraid of 735 the rates and taxes that would be demanded from them. His friend Sir Charles Renshaw, who sat so long in that House, had given a description of what had happened in Renfrewshire. He did everything he could to put the Act of 1892 in force, and, by advertising, to induce people to come forward to take up small holdings under the County Council. But his efforts were in vain, the real difficulty being that the men supposed to be likely to take up a small holding were paid good weekly wages. What was wanted was an Amendment of the Act of 1892, and not the fanciful attempts proposed by this Bill to deal in an arbitrary fashion with the land. The recommendations of the Departmental Committee, based upon careful investigation, should be adopted. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland said that his plan was not a system of dual ownership. They had seen the operation of that in Ireland and were going to spend £150,000,000 in abolishing it. But the right hon. Gentleman was going further. He was proposing to establish a triple ownership—the farmers, the agricultural labourer, and the Land Commission, and none of them would have complete control over the land allocated in small holdings. He was not surprised that the Departmental Committee had passed the scathing criticism that the plan of the Bill would not be permanent, that it would lead to endless disputes and to the cessation of all responsibility on the part of the landlord. The dual system of ownership had not cured depopulation in Ireland, nor had all the Land Bills passed by the House of Commons. In 1897, when tenant right existed, the population of Ireland was 5,412,000; in 1881 it was 5,174,000; in 1901 it had fallen to 4,500,000—a fact which they all deplored. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the crofting parishes in Scotland, but the same depopulation had taken place there. The report of the Crofters Commission showed that the population in those parishes in 1881 was 155,000, whereas in 1901 it had fallen to 142,000.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said he was very glad to hear it, but he always thought that that 736 was one of the most congested districts in Scotland, and where the crofters paid their rents with the least facility. His hon. friend was constantly asking the House for assistance for those crofters. However, that did not affect his argument. In Great Britain two-thirds of the total number of farms were under fifty acres, and in Scotland there were 46,000 holdings with a rental under £50. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that in each of those 46,000 holdings the Land Commission should step in and assume the functions of the landlord. He thought that that would impose upon the Commissioners a very serious duty. Might he ask what would be the cost of the Land Commission? He had endeavoured to work it out and could not make it less than £100,000 a year, including the salaries of the Chairman, the Commissioners, and assistant Commissioners, travelling expenses, etc.
§ MR. COCHRANE
said that when they came to administer one-third of the farms in the whole of Scotland it would be necessary to set up, not only the Commission, but sub-Commissions and deputy sub-Commissions all over the country. Under the scheme propounded by the right hon. Gentleman what would be position of the unhappy landlord? Landlords were very much like other classes of the community, some were good and some were bad; and he thought that they were entitled to a certain amount of sympathy in the difficulties with which they had to struggle in the last few years. There was plenty of land for sale in Scotland at the present moment, and he submitted that if the right hon. Gentleman wished to make experiments in a scheme of small holdings the opportunity lay before him. Of course the Government would have to purchase the land and administer it if it was intended to plant out upon it deserving small farmers. It would be a mistake to deprive the tenants and landlords of Scotland of the interest they had in their business, and to make the landlords mere rent-chargers, bereft of all control over their estates. The small farmers would not have the 737 capital to keep the buildings in good repair in the same way as the landlords did at present. In the crofting counties the tenants had been satisfied with accommodation of a very humble character. No doubt the crofters wanted more land, and under the Bill there was an extension of their power to get it. But what would be the position of the large farmer who might find the eyes picked out his farm to benefit the crofters, who naturally would not take the worst but the best bits? The landlord might not be unwilling to sell, but the difficulty was that the small man would wish to get the parts of the farm which were most profitable and to leave the large farmer with the unprofitable portion and the obligation to keep up the steading. Such a course would be in the interest neither of the tenant nor of the landlord. If he could see in the Bill any really honest attempt to settle the population more successfully on the soil, and to provide a useful gradation of holdings, he would welcome it, but he failed to see in it anything which would carry out those objects. The hon. Member for Leith Burghs, a supporter of the Government, had indulged in no exaggeration when he described the measure as a crude form of Socialism.
§ THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Thomas Shaw,) Hawick Burghs
said it was satisfactory in some respects to find that both Parties admitted, first, that depopulation was going on in Scotland to a grave, if not alarming, extent, and that the depopulation of the rural districts was an evil to the community at large; and, secondly, that no attack could be made on the Crofters Act of 1886. For in none of the speeches delivered had there been a note of hostility to that Act, which had been administered with signal ability, and in the spirit of its founders. It had been a conspicuous success for Scotland, and parts of the Highland area had been almost completely transformed from a derelict into a prosperous country. The Leader of the Opposition was an adept in the prophesying of disaster with regard to this kind of legislation, but similar prophecies had been uttered before. In addressing the House to-day the right hon. Gentleman had said no word in con- 738 demnation of the Act of 1886, but when that Act was before a Liberal House of Commons his tone in regard to it was exactly the same as was his tone with regard to the present Bill. The right hon. Gentleman then, in an impassioned passage, said—I tell Her Majesty's Government and I tell the House that the legislation which they have initiated and which may pass into law this session will, whatever else it may do, undoubtedly dry up every source of prosperity derived from the security of capital. From this time forward, money which has been poured out like water on these barren wastes—the right hon. Gentleman was then dealing with the Highland areas, and defending the proposition which to-day he denied—will be poured out no more, and the very spring from which it came will be dried up.There were other choice passages, which were interesting to the historical student as showing that, whatever were the facts, prejudices still remained and found renewed utterance despite the teachings of experience. The right hon. Gentleman in 1886 also dealt with the four classes of people who he thought would be endamaged by the Act, but the evil that he prophesied had not occurred. There was hardly a landlord in the Highland area who if left to himself would not bless the day when the Crofters Act was passed, since when he had never huckstered for his rent or arrears, had enjoyed good relations with his tenants, and had found the capital value of his estate and even the sporting rentals, increased. Yet now they were told that the landlords were to be reduced to mere rent chargers. How sad for duke and earl who owned property in the Highlands! For the Duke of Sutherland, for instance, who owned a county, how sad was his case! It was that kind of mock sympathy that the House was asked to evoke—for those who were affected precisely as people were affected by the Act of 1886. One thing he must emphatically correct. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the landlord in the Lowlands had expended large sums of money on the improvement of his property. He did not think that that was quite the universal rule. But presuming that all that had happened, how could it be said that the landlord would receive no benefit from his expenditure, when the Bill provided that in fixing the 739 rent every contribution he had made to the value of his property should be taken into account by the Court? Let them assume that the landlord had expended large sums of money in the improvement of his property. That would be taken into account by the Rent Court in fixing the rent, as well as all other contributions of the landlord to the value of the property. Nothing was to be taken from the landlord. On the contrary, the landlord was secured in a strong position in regard to his property, and in the event of the violation by the tenant of the statutory conditions for the payment of rent the landlord could resume possession. What the Bill established were those two beneficent provisions without which content and progress on rural holdings were impossible—security of tenure and a rent fixed by an independent tribunal. It was said also that the landlord was to be reduced to the position of a rent charger. Why? Because he was to be deprived of the arbitrary power to evict a man from the holding which was part of his life's history. There was simply taken away from the landlord a certain power which, in the case of the landlords of Scotland, certainly had not been exercised. It was said that the large farmer was to be treated as a nuisance. Yet the Bill only declared that there might be tracts of land which could be judiciously used in establishing a system of small holdings. It was said that the proposed Commission would be an irresponsible body. It might safely be assumed that the Commissioners, in dealing with land, would have regard for all the interests concerned. It was said that the small holder could not thrive unless he was first taught the principles of co-operation. The Bill was pretty heavily loaded already; and the Government thought they were doing very well as a beginning when they established the small holder in an independent position, enabling him, in the first place, to bring up his family in comfort, and, in the second place, to equip himself, or, at least, those who were to follow him, with a better knowledge of the principles of agriculture. As for the agricultural labourers, if they were polled to-morrow they would give an answer by 99 per cent. in favour of the Bill. The present prospect of the agricultural labourer was 740 to pass a time in what some called a state of servitude, and in his old age to be reduced to poverty or to seek refuge in a town. By this Bill the agricultural labourer was given the opportunity of obtaining a small holding where, even in his old age, if he did justice to the soil, he could bring up his family. It was the homestead idea that underlay the Bill. Its aim was to provide that the homes of the race should be found, not in the slums, but on the soil.
§ MR. WALTER LONG (Dublin, S.)
There is no intention on our part to interfere with the First Reading of this Bill, and I only intervene because of some remarks made by the Lord-Advocate. It is remarkable that in all the land debates that take place in this House none ever take place without some hon. Members talking as if all the landlords of the country were dukes and earls. My right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition said that some part of the Land Act of 1886 had not been justified by example. He then proceeded to show that the Crofters Act had not prevented depopulation which the Government desired to prevent. The Lord-Advocate has defended this measure and sought to show that it would remove the evil upon which he said both sides were agreed. Of course both sides are agreed as to the evil of depopulation and as to the desirability of giving those who have either no land or insufficient land an opportunity of getting what they want. But the reason why we are criticising this Bill, and will do so in all its stages, is not that we do not admit the evils, are always ready to admit the evils—but that we do not approve of the remedy proposed. The Lord-Advocate said we had not learnt by experience. I say the experience of this country in land legislation ought to have taught the Government that they would have been wiser if they had proceeded more slowly and had proposed to set up landholders in a manner less fantastic. The Lord-Advocate said the object of the Bill was to establish these men on suitable holdings, to give them suitable homes and homesteads. I know something about the system of agricultural holdings in other 741 countries besides Scotland, and I know that the number of persons who are desirous of getting these holdings and who have sufficient capital to equip them is very small. I listened to the right hon. Gentleman with blank amazement when he told us that what the Bill sought to do was to establish in every district three classes of occupiers, the large occupier, the small occupier, and the labourer.
§ MR. SINCLAIR
What I said was that the best expert opinion favoured a gradation of farms ranging from small to large holdings.
§ MR. WALTER LONG
I do not think that I shall be guilty of any very extravagant assumption if I assume that that was one of the objects of the Bill. I defy the right hon. Gentleman or any member of the Party opposite to adopt that principle and apply it to the agricultural land of this country. There is only one way in which small holdings can be successfully established, and that is by selecting districts which lend themselves to that purpose. [Ministerial cries of "Hear, hear!"] But that is not the policy put forward by the Secretary for Scotland. I will not now discuss this matter in detail. I think it is much to be regretted that in a debate which has been so fairly conducted from a practical point of view on both sides of the House, the Lord-Advocate should have descended once again to adopt that form of argument which is the most cowardly that can be adopted in this House, namely, when you are defending a particular class and criticising suggestions made on behalf of the owning class, to drag in as a reason for the passing of the Bill that it is to prevent the eviction by the landlords of the tenants from their holdings. This has been dragged into the debates on the Land Tenure Bill for England, but the charges of eviction were never proved, nor has inquiry revealed a condition of things to justify the Bill on such 742 ground. I quite believe the Government have a sincere desire to deal with the difficult question of maintaining occupation ownership of small farms, but they appear to be blind to the lesson taught by experience that a system of dual ownership cannot go on without subsequent legislation; that once established it does not deal with the evil sought to be removed and creates another evil alongside for which the further remedy of making the tenants into actual owners is required. It is only in that way that you can give the tenants real security and plant in them the confidence and the desire to succeed without which they are not likely to prosper. We believe that this Bill is based up on unsound principles, and will require very considerable amendment before it is workable. We do not on this side of the House intend to offer any further opposition at this stage, but we do intend during the subsequent stages to criticise the Bill closely, and to do our best to amend it, not for the reason given by the learned Lord-Advocate, but because we believe that it is not a practical remedy, that it proceeds on wrong lines, and that it will do great injury to the landowners who have taken a keen interest in the development of their estates, whilst it will not give any advantage to the tenant and the labourer. For these reasons we shall do our best during the subsequent stages of the Bill to carry Amendments which will be likely to make it an effective instead of a most defective measure.
§ * MR. MORTON (Sutherland)
considered that the opposition to the Bill had been exceedingly weak, and it all came to the one proposition that they ought to purchase and not rent. A scheme of purchase might be all very well for Ireland, but they could not afford to go on in that way, and therefore he considered that it was a fair business-like proposition to fix what was a fair rent. If at a later period some of the tenants or the Government liked to purchase, by all means let them do so. He hoped that the Bill would be allowed to pass with the view of making an endeavour to settle this question in the interests of the people. The tenants would be 743 quite willing to pay a fair rent under a system which gave them fixity of tenure. If the House refused that principle the people might eventually insist that the land should be returned to the people from whom it ought never to have been taken, and returned upon very different terms from those which were proposed in the Bill. With regard to the Bill itself, he thought it would have been much better if the crofter districts had been dealt with separately. He would be able to bring before the House at a later stage actual cases where at the present time the tenants had no fixity of tenure, and where good tenants had been driven off the land because the landlord or his agent wished to replace them, sometimes out of spite, but mainly for sporting purposes. What had been said by the Chamber of Agriculture did not matter so much, because it was mostly a chamber of landlords and Tories. Fixity of tenure was wanted in order to stop the depopulation of the Highland counties. The vast stretches of land in Scotland which were at present devoted to sport ought to be let to tenants at a fair rent. In Sutherlandshire there were nearly 400,000 acres of land ear-marked by the Deer Forests Commission which ought to be allotted to the people for extension of crofts, new crofts, and small holdings, which should include cottars and other workers. He appealed to the Government not so much in the interests of Party but in the interests of the country to see the Bill through this session. The Crofters Act 1886 had been so successful that they might extend it without fear.
§ VISCOUNT HELMSLEY (Yorkshire, N.R., Thirsk)
said he had been particularly struck with the speech of the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division of Glasgow, who began by commending the Bill and the Government and ended by blaming the Government rather considerably for bringing in a Bill which was so favourable to the landlords. Of course they all knew what were the opinions of hon. Members below the gangway in reference to the land, and he was not sure that a good many of them would not prefer those opinions, impossible though they thought them, 744 to some of the proposals which were occasionally put forward by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The Secretary for Scotland had stated that the object of the Bill was to attract capital to the land. He thought the Leader of the Opposition had shown that the exact reverse would be the result, and that instead of attracting capital the Bill would have a tendency to drive capital away from the land.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Sinclair and the Lord Advocate.