§ MR. ROGERS (Wiltshire, Devizes)
rose to call attention to the subject of rural depopulation, and to move—"That the progressive decline of population in rural districts is a subject of serious national concern, and that this House ought at once to take such action, legislative and administrative, as will maintain a rural population as a reservoir of national strength and a necessary condition of national well-being." It was, he said, only owing to his deep sense of the importance of the subject that he brought it forward so soon after the notable declaration of policy by the Prime Minister on this subject. The importance of the problem, not only to rural districts, but to the towns, must be his excuse for submitting this Resolution. He had been a resident in a purely rural district for the last fourteen years, and he had come to the conclusion that there was no other matter which so deeply and so vitally affected the welfare of the rural democracy as this question of the depopulation of the land. The facts of the rural exodus were fairly well known, but the House, he hoped, would pardon him if he gave a few figures which would enable them to realise the real gravity of 301 the case. In the year 1881 there were 983,919 labourers on the land in Great Britain; in 1891, there were 866,543; and in 1901, there were 689,292, showing a decrease since 1881 of 30 per cont. or nearly 300,000. But they had to add the other persons who were employed in connection with agriculture, and when they took into account one or two classes they would find that whereas in 1881 there were 1,319,000 person engaged in agriculture in various ways, in 1901 the number was just over a round million. But this did not represent the true facts of the case, because the return only gave the number of people actually employed on the land, and they had to add dependents, women and children, and workers in village occupations which were dependent on agriculture, as, for instance, the village blacksmith, the carpenter, and others. It was probably no exaggeration to say that there was something like a million less people living on the land to-day than there were twenty years ago. This was a very unsatisfactory and serious state of things. It meant that we had a million less persons on the land from whose labour could be produced that portion of our food supply which could be grown at home. The causes of this exodus from the rural districts were various. The dulness of village life, the migratory instinct of the young men to leave the village for the towns or the Colonies, the attractions of the towns, were all causes which led to the decrease of the rural population. But the main cause of it he believed to be an economic one. They often heard it said that the conversion of arable land into grass land had had a considerable effect. He believed, however, that the effect of this had been greatly exaggerated. It was a notable fact, and hon. Members would find reference to it in the report of the Board of Agriculture on the state of the rural population, that in Scotland during the thirty years up to 1901 arable land hardly decreased at all compared with grass land; there was hardly any conversion into pasture during those thirty years. But later on there was the same exodus of labourers as in England. He thought that showed, along with other things into which he would not go, that it was not merely a question of turning arable land into grass land, but that there were other causes at work to account for the exodus. 302 One of these was the extended use in agriculture of labour-saving machinery. This was particularly to be noted among the large fanners of the country in the south and west and centre of England, where machinery has been used to a very large extent for the last twenty-five years, and it was in those parts where the largest amount of depopulation had taken place. He instanced the case of his own village, only eighty miles from London. Ten years ago a farmer in that village employed nine or ten men, and they were paid wages which amounted in the year to £420. That farm was now consolidated with others; that was to say, it had been added to neighbouring farms, which were all joined together as one large holding. On tins farm there were today employed no regular hands; all the labour was done by a gang of workers who moved about from farm to farm, with the natural result that cottages were uninhabited, and one did not need to go any further to seek the reason of the depopulation in that particular neighbourhood. On a second farm belonging to the same owner there were eight men less than were employed some years ago, and on a third farm there were six men less. The whole of the holdings were turned into a large sheep and cattle run, more like the primitive or colonial type of farm than the highly cultivated farm which they would expect to find within eighty miles of London. This consolidation of farms, probably more than anything else, combined with the use of labour-saving machinery, had brought about the decrease of the country population. In the particular parish of which he was speaking the population had dropped by 18 per cent., and of course it was not only the people who left the village who suffered, but those who remained in it also suffered, such as the small village tradesman, and all those who were dependent on the presence of a population for their means of livelihood. This consolidation of farms had produced a state of things which was deservedly unpopular—he referred to the extension of the system known as the tied-cottage system, which meant that a man took his house as part payment of wages. If he lost his job on the farm he lost not only his wages but his home; and it meant that he could not get work without moving from his native village and leaving all his friends. Nothing destroyed a man's 303 sense of independence more quickly than the knowledge that he was possibly living only for a short time in his cottage; he had no interest in his garden, and very little in his home. Again, this system of tied cottages led to the cottages being kept in a bad state of repair. The farmer was often only the middle man in regard to repairs, and he might not be sorry to have the opportunity to lord it over his labourer by refusing to do the repairs. Another fact was that it was the young men who left the country villages for the towns. They usually came to a town with some position already secured, and they performed, looking at it from the national point of view, a highly useful service in repairing the wastage caused by town life. In a memorandum by Mr. Wilson Fox, appended to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Agricultural Settlements in British Colonies, it was shown, as the result of a large number of investigations, that the following were the facts—Out of nearly 10,000 men out of work or in irregular casual employment as found in Salvation and Church Array Homes and Shelters, and in Rowton Houses, by the distress committees formed under the Unemployed Workmen's Act, 1905, and amongst dock labourers, the percentage of town-bred men ranged from 86 per cent. to 94 per cent., the percentage of country-bred men being only from 6 per cent. to 14 per cent.The Report went on to say—But perhaps the most conclusive evidence is afforded by the relatively large proportion of country-bred men employed in a selected number of the larger undertakings and industries, such as the post office, police, municipal service, railways, gas works, breweries, stores, etc. Of the total number so employed in London in these selected industries, early in 1906, 46 per cent, were country born.He contended that the statement showed that the towns were very largely dependent upon the existence in rural parishes of a population which could repair the wastage of the towns. There was an interesting passage on this question in the Report of the Physical Deterioration Committee—There cannot, however, be any controversy as to the expediency of arresting, where possible, the exodus to which such baneful results are attributed. Nothing, perhaps, would be so likely to force upon the urban communities the necessity of healing their own sores, and bringing up a healthy population within their own limits, as the cessation of the influx of vigorous bodies to take the place of the crushed and broken by the wheel of city life.304 Even if too gloomy a view of a portion, of London was taken in those extracts the evidence tended to show that the problem affected the town as well as the country. If this depopulation continued at the same rate as in the past, not only would the country districts suffer, but the national physique was in danger of being permanently impaired. With regard to suggested remedies he did not think the artificial raising of the prices of agricultural produce by fiscal reform would be any remedy at all. A tariff of 2s. per quarter on foreign wheat would scarcely raise the price, and a small rise in prices would not have the effect of bringing more land into cultivation, because no farmer in his senses would think of increasing his area of corn cultivation with a tariff of 2s. per quarter. If he was right in his contention that machinery had been a very important factor in the matter, surely no hon. Member would think of setting back the clock in order to bring back the population to the country. In the next place, if they were to adopt a tariff to raise prices high enough to induce farmers to devote a larger area to the production of corn, that would be a great injustice to the large populations in the towns, because it would be a hardship upon the consumer. It was preposterous to suppose that the 40,000,000 people engaged in industry would ever consent to any considerable sacrifice in order to secure a very doubtful advantage for the 1,000,000 people who lived in the country. If no rise in price was produced no advantage would be gained by the home producer. He did not think they could by fiscal reform give any advantage to the producer of home food stuffs unless they raised the price. He would like to quote as a witness on this point the Leader of the Opposition, who spoke with admirable clearness on this question in a speech delivered on the 4th of October, 1904, in Edinburgh, in which he said—A protective policy, as I understand it, is a policy which aims at, supporting or creating home industries by raising home prices. This raising of prices is a necessary step towards the encouragement of an industry under a protective system. The means by which it attains that object is by the manipulation of a fiscal system to raise home prices. If the home prices are not raised the industry is not encouraged. If the industry is encouraged it is by the raising of prices.305 In the face of that statement he thought he was entitled to say that the only possible way by which they could give any advantage to agriculture would be by the raising of home prices, which would be a state of things resented by a large majority of the population in the towns. If the, exodus to the towns was caused largely by machinery it could only be checked by encouraging that type of farming where machinery was least used. That might possibly sound an uneconomic proceeding. They often talked of farmers as if they were all one kind of farmers, but they were nothing of the sort. There were different types of farmers, as distinct in the kind of things they produced and the way they produced them as manufacturers engaged in other industries. Although machinery was in use on large farms there were a number of things done on small farms upon which machinery could not be used. No machinery had yet been invented for breeding or fattening pigs and poultry, or for raising fruit, vegetables, or flowers. All those things depended upon individual attention and care, and they were not articles that could be produced under a system of large production, because they depended for their success upon the individual attention of the man interested and concerned in their successful production. The encouragement of this kind of small holdings and small farms was economic, because the question of labour-saving machinery did not come in, and where machinery was required it could best be employed upon a co-operative basis. In this country two-thirds of the occupiers of land held fifty acres or less, but they only covered 15 per cent. of the total cultivable land. The problem, therefore, was how could they by State action of any kind so increase the proportion of small farmers as to make that 15 per cent. a very much larger proportion of the cultivable land of England? During the last fourteen years the value of the imports of butter, bacon, eggs, poultry, and cheese—the articles produced on the smaller farms—had increased from £27,000,000 to£48,000,000, and that increase of 80 per cent, had not been accompanied by a fall in price, indeed in many respects the prices were higher. With the assistance of a system of co-operation, there was no reason why the English market should not be 306 recaptured by the home producer of those articles. Lately there had been some correspondence in the London Press as to the demand for small holdings. He noticed that right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Members who had contributed to that discussion had called the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture to their assistance. The evidence of those correspondents was very largely biassed by the particular notions they held, and as they were known to be by no means friendly to a system of the sub-division of holdings, he did not attach so much importance to their evidence as to the fact that small farms and small holdings were always let at a higher rent per acre than big farms. If they wanted evidence of the reality of the demand for small farms and small holdings, it was to be found in the fact that the small holders and small farmers were now paying a much higher price for land than the large farmer, and they were prepared to pay the higher rent because they could make a good thing out of it by producing a variety of articles. He would like to give an example or two to the House. In the first place he would take an estate in Wiltshire belonging to the Crown. In one parish, out of 6,645 acres there were 6,575 acres let in large farms. After eliminating the buildings altogether so as to get rid of the most disturbing factor in the comparison, and taking the average gross estimated rental of those acres, he found that it worked out at 7s. 1d. per acre. Taking in the same parish the seventy acres let as small holdings, small farms and allotments, he found, eliminating the buildings, that the average gross estimated rental was £1 17s. 8d per acre, or about five times as much as the rental of the large farms. Taking another parish only about four miles away from the one he had just dealt with, where the soil was different, and where there was a different type of cultivation, he found that out of 1,488 acres 1,250 were let as large farms at a gross estimated rental of 6s. 5d. per acre. The remaining 238 acres let in small holdings and allotments produced a rental of £ 1 14s. 1d. per acre, or more than five times the rent of the land let in large farms. He knew too much about this problem, how-ever, to allow himself to be led away altogether by facts like those. He knew that land let for small holdings was possibly of superior quality; but the 307 discrepancy was too great to be explained away except on the assumption that there was a much greater demand for small holdings than for large farms. He would like for a moment to refer to experiments which had been made by various persons in this country. A good deal of pioneer work had been done by landlords in different parts of the country, and he thought the State should realise that it was time for it to step in and do on a large scale what individuals had been trying to do on a small scale, in order to bring about a very much better state of things than could be produced otherwise. Possibly some Members of the House had seen the interesting experiment which had been tried at Winterslow by a Wiltshire landlord named Major Poore. That was a place which, if it had not been taken in hand by one gentleman who know the subject, might have been described as land which, whatever might be done with it, could not be successfully farmed. It had a cold and unlikely soil, and a poor supply of water. The experiment was started on 112 acres, on which there were living one farmer and three labourers. At the present time there were forty-seven tenants in occupation of the land as freeholders. He should say that there were 157 men, women, and children altogether, but what was perhaps more important and striking than all was that they had built thirty-seven houses as the result of their occupation of the land. He contended that the Government might well bring forward legislation with the object of multiplying colonies of that kind. He was very glad in this connection to record his gratitude to Lord Carrington for what he had done in the administration of Crown lands. No doubt many hon. Members were aware of a case in Cambridgeshire where a big farm had been sub-divided and let to eighty-two tenants who were now in occupation of the land. It was a noticeable feature in this case that these men already had buildings, and that therefore the amount to be spent on buildings was not large considering the size of the holdings. There was another case of Crown lands at Bromham where a farm of 240 acres was farmed by one farmer, who gave employment to three or four men. There were now sixty-four tenants, among whom were a number of young men who were taking allotments 308 of one or two acres, and who from that would go on until in the end they became small freeholders. That was, to his mind, an illustration of what could be done in connection with the rural life of the country. He had given to the House some of the reasons why it seemed to him in this matter that they nee I not despair of reform. It was not in his opinion a hopeless problem. There were hon. Members on the Opposition Benches who might argue that this could not be an agricultural country. He must totally disagree with them. The very existence of large industrial populations implied that there were markets for our produce. When we had the enormous urban populations in and around London, in Lancashire, in Yorkshire, and in other parts of the country, we had at any rate very large and very good markets which we could supply and which, he believed, we would supply one day to a very considerable extent by the produce of our own people. But we could not do it as long as we had only a million people to do the work in the country districts, and as long as there was land in the country let to such a large extent in big farms and to an increasing extent, as it seemed to him, in farms which were rapidly being consolidated and added together one after another. The Government having put their hand to the plough had expressed their intention not to turn back. He could only hope that having put their hand to the plough they would plough their furrow straight and plough it soon. He begged to move.
§ *MR. WALKER (Leicestershire, Melton),
in seconding the Motion, said it was essentially a workers' problem, and could not engage too much of their time and attention. Agriculture was essentially the problem which bore on the question of depopulation. In the Report on Agricultural Depopulation, it was made perfectly clear that the decrease in the population had been entirely owing to the decrease in agricultural labourers. While farm labourers had decreased, bailiffs and shepherds had actually increased by 10,000 in the last ten years. Therefore this was a terrible workers' question in the country districts. While there had been a decline in the number of labourers in the last twenty years from 984,000 to 689,000, the decline in the amount of arable land had 309 been 2,000,000 acres, or a drop from 17,500,000 to 15,500,000 acres. If they made a simple calculation they found a percentage drop of thirty in the population and a percentage drop of only 11½ in the acreage of arable land. That proved conclusively that the laying of the land down to grass was not the main cause of depopulation in the rural districts. If they put on a duty which would delight the heart of Mr. Chaplin, they would not do much to restore the agricultural population. Labour-saving machinery was the main cause of the decline, and according to the Report of the Committee the adoption of labour-saving machinery had been greater on arable land than on land laid down to grass. The fact was that agriculture, though later in the day, had been subject to the same tendency as the manufacturing industries. But machinery had come to stay, and it was no good trying to get rid of it. It was true that, whereas twenty years ago labour-saving machinery was employed by comparatively few, it had now become almost universal on all holdings of sufficient size to make its use practicable. He found in the Report that in dairy farming the decrease in population was not so great as in other cases, and they had encouraging reports from Lincolnshire and elsewhere where fruit and vegetables had been grown. The following statement appeared in the Report on small holdings in regard to what had been done in Holland, Lincolnshire—The many small occupiers who get a living in growing flowers, fruit, and vegetables, have greatly, if not altogether, checked the decline.That was a clear sign-post showing the road they ought to follow. There were other causes for the decline in rural population, such as lack of attraction and luck of incentive in the country districts. It might also be admitted that the advantages offered by the Canadian Government acting through their emigration agents had had a great deal to do with attracting the youth of the country by genuine offers of 160 acres of free land. If we wished to keep a hold on the youth in the country villages we must offer counter-attractions. As in our educational system we were trying by a system of scholarships to make an education 310 ladder, so that the poor with ability might not through their poverty fail if they were able to rise to the secondary and technical schools, and even to the Universities, so we wanted diversified opportunity to enable the labourer to rise to allotments and small holdings, and thus reach an independent position. He attached very much importance to the scarcity and inadequacy of cottages in the rural districts. While in regard to small holdings there were certain differences of opinion among the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture, there was practical unanimity on the question of housing. The Report on the decline in the agricultural population contained the following—Among specific causes of discontent, a deficiency of adequate or satisfactory housing accommodation is reported from about thirty counties. The details where given may be referred to, but, speaking generally, there is evidence not only—or perhaps it should be said not so much—of an actual scarcity of cottages, though this is mentioned in some cases, as of a lack of cottages which satisfy the more exigent requirements of the labourers in these times, or comply with the demands of vigilant sanitary authorities. As with every other class, the rural labourers' standard of comfort has been raised, and they are not now contented with the accommodation which previous generations placidly accepted.Referring to the condition of things in Hampshire with respect to housing, the Report said—Mr. Perkins thinks that if the number of cottages in rural Hampshire were increased by 20 per cent. during the next ten years there would scarcely be one vacant. At least half required structural alterations and additions, and 5 per cent. ought to be condemned as unfit for habitation. The difficulty is aggravated by the letting of cottages to 'week-enders,' or to people who come to reside in the country, and are willing to pay a good deal more than the labourer can afford. A further demand is created by the servants of large householders who come to reside in the country.There was, perhaps, scarcely anyone in the House who did not know from his own experience of cases where the owners of motor cars had bought up two or three cottages and turned them into a single house, because they wished to spend the week-end in the country. There was also evidence on the same lines in the report of the Select Committee that sat on the Housing Bill of last session. The Committee pointed out that the Housing of the Working Classes Act of 1890 was primarily intended to cope 311 with the evils in the towns and was only incidentally applicable to rural districts. They went on to say that there had been no adequate inspection of the cottages by the local sanitary authorities; and they recommended that cheaper loans should be given to landowners for building cottages and that the period of repayments should be extended. Even so, as was shown by elaborate statistics, some loss had to be borne either by the Exchequer or the rates so long as economic rent was not paid by the cottagers. It seemed to him that the present system of demanding a lower rent instead of granting an increase of wages to the agricultural labourer was a most pernicious one. It might be asked how an economic rent could be paid. It appeared to him that the most promising solution of the problem was to attach more land to the cottages, the working of which would enable the labourers to pay a remunerative rent. The Report of the Select Committee last year on the Housing of the Working Classes Acts Amendment Bill stated that—There is abundant evidence to show that the difficulty of rent charge would be largely diminished by the addition of land to the cottages. The labourers and others who gave evidence before the Housing Commission of 1885 on the subject stated that the men could pay higher rent and would be pleased to do so if land, arable or pasture, were attached to their dwellings. One witness, of considerable experience, while admitting the difficulty of paying rent for good cottages alone, said it was 'easy to pay fair rent for land and cottage together.' He considered the two to be so necessary that he declined to consider them apart. The above evidence as to the great value to labourers of small plots of land to supplement their wages has been amply confirmed by the evidence received by the Committee.When he read that paragraph he thought he saw in it a hopeful line for future action; but he confessed that he was very much disappointed to find, on reading the Report further, that the Committee did not follow out that particular idea at all. He admitted that it might be difficult to follow it out at any great length, because the system under which cottages were let at an uneconomic rent was almost universal. Still, he was sorry that the Committee did not take more evidence upon that subject, because it would have been useful to the Government when they introduced their Rural Housing Bill, which he hoped to see pre- 312 sented before the session was very much older. In that way he hoped it might be possible to build cottages without any or at a very small loss to the rates or to the Exchequer. He was informed by one of his Irish colleagues that no less than 4,000 cottages were to be built this year in Ireland under the Irish Labourers Act of last session, and that it was hoped that there would be little, if any, charge upon the local rates. What they had to aim at in the country districts was the greatest diversity of occupation of those who dwelt there, and the multiplication of holdings of various descriptions. From official evidence they had the encouraging fact that there were at the present time in Great Britain nearly 250,000 holdings of between five and fifty acres. No doubt a good deal of that might be land held by people who had other occupations. If that were so it did not make the thing any less valuable to them, and in desiring that small holdings should be extended in England they did not necessarily mean that everybody who had a small holding should be entirely dependent upon it for his livelihood. Were they to try to meet the demand for small holdings by legislation or simply by trusting to the ordinary forces of supply and demand? That question had been settled once and for all by the Act of 1892 which, however, had failed to achieve anything like the object which it was hoped to achieve. In the first ten years that elapsed after the Act came into existence only 652 acres were provided in the way of small holdings, and since then only 130 acres had been added. The Act had now been in operation fifteen years, and surely it was a beggarly return that less than 1,000 acres should have been provided during that time under an Act which was passed by the House in the hope that it would do a great deal of good to the agricultural industry of the country. Lord Onslow's Committee had said that this result was largely due to the apathy of the county councils. Another difficulty had been that when small holdings were required and a public inquiry had been held, the price of land at once went up. The apathy of the county councils had, he thought, led to the discouragement of agricultural labourers up and down the country. The labourer was also very often discouraged when he saw that the small 313 holder was paying double or treble rent for land which was no better than that of the large farmer. What he would like to see was suggested in the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee, that it should be the duty of a small holdings committee of each county council to inquire every year, from the minor local authorities within the county, what land was occupied in the district by small holders; whether there was a demand for further land; and whether there was any available land. As to the question of land being sent up in price when a county council wanted to buy it, he could not dwell upon that as it would mean a now valuation law. Lord Onslow's Committee reported that they had not found that the people of this country wished to buy small holdings. They, unlike other people, would prefer to hire the laud, provided they had fixity of tenure; and it was quite clear that the Act of 1892 had been a failure. He welcomed Lord Onslow's recommendation that a central department should be established under the Board of Agriculture which should act for itself, and do what it could to encourage local authorities to move in the matter. On the point of Governmental action and purchase by the Government he held very strong views, because, having travelled in Australia and New Zealand, he had seen how successfully this purchase system could be carried out. In New Zealand they passed twelve years ago a Land Settlement Act. They purchased 158 estates with an acreage of 1,000,000 acres for £5,500,000. The sites were inspected and valued with extreme care, and sometimes three independent valuations were made, the Board of Land Purchase Commissioners having discretion as to applications. What was the result? In the last financial year 4½ per cent. was returned on the total outlay by the Government. The financial difficulty so often quoted here—lack of ability on the part of those who had taken small holdings to find sufficient capital for working and cost of equipment—had also been dealt with in New Zealand. There was the Advances to Settlers Act of 1894, under which sixteen freehold and five leasehold securities had been realised with the result that in most cases a fair surplus had been realised on the amount advanced, and in no case was there an actual loss, on a total of over £5,000,000. He hoped 314 that, experimentally at all events, something of the kind which had been attempted in New Zealand might be tried here, although he agreed that the process must be very slow unless hiring operations were undertaken at the same time. Parliamentary action was therefore advocated in two directions, directly through the Board of Agriculture, and through increased power being given to local authorities. These questions of housing and the distribution of land went to the very goal of our national well-being, and he hoped the Government would tackle them soon, and tackle them in earnest. He begged to second the Resolution.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the progressive decline of population in rural districts is a subject of serious national concern, and that this House ought at once to take such action, legislative and administrative, as will maintain a rural population as a reservoir of national strength and a necessary condition of national well-being."—(Mr. Rogers.)
§ SIR JOHN KENNAWAY (Devonshire, Honiton)
said there might be many reasons for the failure of the Act of right 1892, but no one who had heard his hon. friend the Member for the Bordesley Division describing the great success which had attended it in one part of Worcestershire where it had been put fairly in force, could doubt but that there had been considerable unwillingness on the part of the county councils to do what they had been invited to do, and practically engage on a large scale in land speculation. But there were also other forces which had interfered with the Act being put into force—namely, the nature of the advances, and the practically prohibitive terms on which they had to be made. The right hon. Member for Bordesley, he was glad to see, had brought in a Bill to amend the Act and to bring it into operation, but it had been blocked night after night apparently in order that His Majesty's Government should bring in a larger scheme of their own. He sympathised with the object of the Motion. The magic of property and the desire to obtain it were very great. People in this country would like to have some of the facilities for acquisition which were provided for their fellow-citizens across 315 St. George's Channel, and if they had, there would be a very great change for the better in rural England. He hoped we should see to an increasing extent the labourer becoming the owner of his own land.
§ MR. BLACK (Bedfordshire, Biggleswade)
declared that the real solution of the problem lay in the wages question. Nowadays young men were better educated than their fathers had been, and they refused to be content with the dreary life of ill-requited toil, with no prospect but the workhouse for their latter days. Only three weeks ago from the small Bedfordshire village of Lidlington five young men went out to Canada, and the country which had bred and fed and reared them had lost their services, while Canada had gained. Nowadays the average labourer earned only 14s. 6d. per week, and that was not a living wage. Farm rents during this time were increasing, while wages of labourers were almost stationary. We were putting the landowner first, the farmer second, and the labourer third; but that order ought to be reversed. He would like to see a minimum wage established for these labourers at not less than £1 a week. If the labourer were better paid he would be worth more, and until he was better paid the problem of rural depopulation would never be solved. In the long run the farmer could get no more out of the workers than their pay. It was the same with cattle and horses. They only got as much out as they put in. It was true the labourer got a cheap cottage, but that was part of the plan to deprive him of his just earnings. On many estates cottages formed part of the furniture of the estate. A cottage costing £150 or £200 could not be provided foils, or 1s. 6d. a week rent. As a matter of fact, in many cases a sufficient number of these cottages were not provided. But if the labourer were paid a fair wage he could pay for a better cottage. The agricultural labourer had never had a fair chance of getting a fair day's wage for a fair day's work, and of providing the necessities and a few of the comforts of life for wife and family. This proposal he believed would enable the labourers to become generally better customers for commodities, and in that way it would react beneficially over the whole industrial life of the country.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, E.)
thought that to whatever section of the House hon. Members belonged they must be in entire sympathy with this Resolution and the spirit and manner in which it had been moved and seconded. Opinions might differ as to the means by which the Resolution was to be carried out; but there was no doubt that the desertion of our villages and hamlets must have an unwholesome, if not a disastrous, effect on our national life. These people went from the pure air in the country to the stifling slums of the great cities, and that must, and undoubtedly did have, an evil effect on the character and physique of the people. When they came to contemplate the remedy for this state of things they were told about the burden of life in the villages, but they were not told how that state of things was to be remedied. He entirely agreed with what had been said about doing something more, and he had always worked loyally with his colleagues in Ulster so far as facilitating the building of cottages and the acquisition of allotments were concerned. The only remedy in his opinion was the fiscal remedy. We boasted of being a free trade country, a position we shared with only one country in the world—China; yet our customs taxation imposed by the Government was 12s. 2d. per head of the population. The customs taxes of the United States were 11s. 8d., and those of the so-called protectionist country—our great trade rival, Germany—were only 8s. 2d. We had no right therefore to claim that we were a free trade country. We were protectionists to our own Empire, we taxed the tea and sugar and other products of our Empire, but in the emphatic words of the Prime Minister we slammed the door in the face of our Empire.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT
said that during the last few weeks the Colonies felt that we had slammed the door. But he for one would not add to the cost of living in any way, knowing the wages of the agricultural labourer in the county he had 317 the honour to represent, and knowing that among his supporters he had none more loyal than the agricultural labourers. Their wages did not reach the ideal of £1 a week of which they had heard, but if the scheme of tariff reform were carried out they would rise to that ideal. He would endeavour by such means to cheapen the cost of luxuries and necessities such as tea, sugar, and tobacco, and he believed that such a reform would also raise wages by stimulating the great agricultural industry which, after all, must be helped and stimulated if we were to keep the population on the land at all. It was only by that means that the bone and sinew of the nation could be retained in the country—the population for whose condition no remedy had been found in this Motion.
§ *SIR FRANCIS CHANNING (Northamptonshire, E.)
said the hon. Member was very anxious to introduce Tariff Reform and thought it would raise the wages of the labourers to £1 a week. But he thought the hon. Member would have recollected that during the time protection was in force in this country wages were at the very lowest level they ever reached. If the hon. Gentleman had studied more carefully the wages of the agricultural labourers in protectionist Germany and France, he would know that they were only two-thirds of what they were in free-trade England. He would refer the hon. Member to the evidence given before the Tariff Reform Commission, if indeed the evidence had been published as well as the Report. One of the ablest farmers in the Midlands was examined before the Tariff Reform Commission and was able from his own farm accounts of many years to produce figures which showed conclusively, as he assured him (Sir Francis), that if the Tariff Reform proposals of the right hon. Member for West Birmingham were in force, the result would have been that his outlay in the cost of working his farm would be so increased, that it would cost him£3 for every £2 he added to his income. These facts he was able to establish in spite of the cross-examination of Mr. Chaplin and the other members of the Commission, who were wholly unable to answer the case thus made. It was really not worth while to waste further time on such absurd delusions. This was a very serious evil, and one 318 with which he for one had laboured to deal, and he hoped the whole House would so labour irrespective of Party or economic views. What he urged was that rural depopulation would not be remedied until a real hope was created in the agricultural population, by the agricultural industry being so organised that it was enabled to make a thoroughly good profit out of the land. Our agricultural education in the present day was quite unsuited to develop the higher energies-and capacities of those engaged on the land. No cause was so potent in producing depopulation as the feeling of despair which the conditions of country life bred.
§ *MR. PARKER (Halifax)
said the question of rural depopulation was a great deal more than an economic question; it lay at the root of our national prosperity in its best sense. He did not intend to reply at all to the remarks which had been made on the subject of tariff reform, which, with certain hon. Members, turned up like King Charles' head, no matter what might be the subject under discussion. Reference had been made to the breakdown of the Act of 1892, but one of the chief causes of that breakdown had not been mentioned, namely, that the landlord element in the county councils, an element so strongly represented, had hitherto regarded it as no part of their interest to insist on a larger number of small holders being brought on to the land. ["Oh."] He did not think that there was the slightest doubt about that, and he thought it was borne out by the evidence. He believed that only two county councils had as yet put the Act into operation. Each decade of the last fifty years had shown a continuous exodus from the country to the towns. During the ten years ended 1901 there was a reduction of the rural population by twenty per cent. There was one reason for this decrease of the population employed on the land which had not been mentioned, and that was the "make-haste-to-be rich" idea which prevailed amongst the population as a whole. It was due also to the fact that the labourer had been to school, and had had a sort of education—an education that had created a spirit of discontent that was not in all cases a righteous discontent, an education that had not been fitted to the man and given him a desire to stay 319 where he was and get the best out of the country in which he lived. There was a strong desire among labourers for access to the land, with which desire there was little sympathy on county councils. A purchase system with increase of owners was not required, but what was required was security of tenure; an educational system fitting a man for his occupation; encouragement for such home industries as could be followed by a man and his family in winter time when work in the fields ceased. The agricultural labourer who came into the town under the impression that he would improve his position very often found out his mistake when he came to compete with the labourer in the City. When he was a boy eight years of age his father was employed on the estate of a gentleman who was once a member of the House, and who was busily engaged in trying to get into the House again. This gentleman, Mr. Chaplin, was the landlord of the particular farm on which his father was employed at a wage of 12s. or 13s. a week. But in addition to that wage, the labourer had many things added in this particular instance, such as a cottage, the garden, three tons of coal every year, a fat pig, the privilege of gleaning the fields behind the labourers, &c, and the result was the wage instead of being 12s. or 13s. was probably nearer 22s. a week. To-day the wages in that particular district were less than they were thirty-five years ago. In addition to the causes of depopulation in rural areas to which he had referred he would emphasise the fact that landlords could considerably improve existing conditions if they ceased to regard their estates as possessions which enabled them to lord it over their labourers. [Cries of "No."] Yes; he spoke from personal knowledge and experience. They must cease to lord it over them in the matters of religion, of education, of politics, and of freedom of thought and conscience. If they wanted a healthy and contented peasantry it would be necessary for Parliament to act, and to act quickly, in the best interests of the nation as a whole. He had much pleasure in supporting the Resolution.
§ COLONEL LOCKWOOD (Essex, Epping)
said he did not for a moment claim for himself or for those who sat around him any superior knowledge on this 320 subject, but he thought it was a very good thing that the House of Commons should turn from high political matters in order to interest themselves in one of the most serious questions of the present day, and that they should seek calmly and dispassionately, and, if possible in the House of Commons, without Party feeling, for some remedy which would assist in the solution of the problem which lay before them. They were in search of something which would prevent the labourers from leaving their work in the country. Various remedies had been suggested, with most of which he thought they agreed. They all wanted good cottages, better wages, and employment; these were all remedies in which there was a great deal of truth, but they were not good for all cases. They might build more cottages, create more small holdings and pay higher wages, but that would not remedy the exodus of labourers from all parts of the country. The rush of the agricultural labourer to the town was really due to the spirit of the age, its restlessness and desire for amusement, and also to the force of example. Their grandfathers and great grandfathers used to drink heavily and so did the middle and lower classes. As time went on and education and knowledge spread, the upper classes drank less, and so did the middle and lower classes, and the force of example went on in that way. There ought to be a spirit of emulation in all classes. They all wished to better themselves. The agricultural labourer read of one of his own class making a fortune by coming to town, and thereupon he became dissatisfied with following the plough. The town had the same attraction for the upper classes also. An ancestor of his who had the honour of representing the City of London was content to come to town twice a year to vote, and to make perhaps two speeches in four years. Would the hon. Baronet who now sat for the City be content with a speech in two years? Would the Leader of the Opposition desire to pass his time in Scotland, wearing the kilt and tossing the caber, and only coming to the House twice a year to vote? Not a bit of it. In like manner the agricultural labourer thought the country dull, and he drifted to the town, not only to his own detriment, but to the loss of the nation. He thought that hon. Members were rather apt to forget all these things; 321 they appeared to imagine that there was a universal panacea which could be applied to this problem. The fact was often overlooked that in these matters the real secret of success was application and concentration.
§ *MR. BECK (Cambridgeshire, Wisbech)
said he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, in believing that the desire for novelty characteristic of this age had much to do with rural depopulation. He, however, begged the House to remember that our present system directly assisted to drive men of enterprise from the land, whereas land reformers were desirous of doing everything possible to counteract the tendency common to all civilised nations, of agriculturists to migrate to the towns. He was sure that all parties shared in this desire, however much they might differ as to methods. For instance, they on that side had a keen appreciation of the way in which the right hon. Member for the Bordesley Division of Birmingham had kept this question before the country. After the very convincing speeches of the mover and seconder of the Resolution there was little for him to say. The part of the Resolution which he particularly supported was that contained in the two words "at once." Nobody would deny that time and again the people in the rural districts had had held out to them on this subject hopes which had not been realised. They hoped the Government would grasp this nettle firmly, and introduce legislation on practical lines. He was aware that it was no easy task, and the debate had shown the extraordinary divergence of opinion in regard to the remedies suggested. He thought, however, that the great remedy was a ladder by which the agricultural labourer could climb up into the farmer class. In the constituency which he represented there was an excellent example of what could be done when men got hold of small portions of land for themselves. The soil there was pre-eminently suitable for all kinds of what were called the smaller agricultural industries. In that particular district a most remarkable change had come over the country since men had been able to get possession of small holdings, and he wished to add his voice to those which had already been raised in favour, not of small owners, but 322 of small tenants. He certainly granted that to a certain extent small owners had been a success, but there had been cases in which such owners had rack-rented more than any larger landlord would ever have done. Moreover, they were tied to a particular district and a particular piece of land in a way which was detrimental to their further progress. He had sincere pleasure in supporting the Resolution. No greater mistake could be made by hon. Members or by other reformers, than to suppose that the agricultural labourer was an unintelligent or stupid person. His own belief and experience was that no man was quicker to grasp opportunities than the agricultural labourer. It was the business of the House to help him, and he was sure that all, irrespective of party, were anxious to provide him with opportunities for the exercise of his energy and perseverance.
§ COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)
congratulated the mover of the Motion on the courtesy and consideration which he had shown to those opposed to him in the manner in which he had brought the question before the House. He would like to make one allusion to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Halifax, who had spoken on behalf of the Labour Party. He was sorry the hon. Member had made the acquaintance of any landlord who found pleasure in attempting to dictate to his tenants in any matter of religion or politics. Such landlords were not known to him, and he doubted whether any man would make that assertion and corroborate it. Referring to the system of tied cottages, he said that on his own estate he had thought it better to break away from it, and he was rather in favour of the suggestion made by the mover of the Resolution. It was a curious fact disclosed by his own experience that a long tenure or occupation by the same man was more likely to result from the untied system. That might be a good system in one county where, perhaps, the farms were smaller, and where acquaintanceship between the owner and the occupier was more direct, but it might not hold good in another county where the conditions were different. The hon. Member must not make the mistake of arguing generally from one particular locality. If he would look 323 at the North of England he would find that nothing would induce some people to remain in their cottages more than a year; they would insist upon going to different employers. When the hon. Member suggested that to stop rural depopulation we must go back to more primitive methods of farming, he was treading on very dangerous ground. If we went back to more primitive methods we should interfere with the system on which all our high-grade breeding of stock rested, and all that had given to this country its reputation in that direction. That would be abolished. It was by practising the highest scientific farming, and by using the best possible implements, that we had been enabled to maintain our great reputation as a farming country. The hon. Member must bear that in mind when he argued for the original type of farming as being most likely to check rural depopulation. The hon. Member had referred to the cost of buildings, but he himself thought that what was said on that question would, from the economic point of view, break down if subjected to examination. The hon. Member had said that there was a great demand for small holdings, but had he considered how limited the capital of agricultural labourers was who had to enter upon a holding of from three up to ten acres? He had no capital to risk in building, and often his sole capital was the promise of a loan from somebody. Then it must be remembered that a man who did not bring capital into a holding was naturally more willing to take risks in cultivation than a man with capital. The hon. Member had made a remark touching on the delicate subject of the possible effects of a duty on corn. The last thing why a man should support tariff reform was the idea that he was going to get an increased profit on his corn. It might give him advantages in other ways, but not an increased price for his corn. The hon. Member had also referred to emigration as the cause of rural depopulation, and there he was in close agreement with hon. Members on both sides of the House. But how were they going to check emigration? He maintained that they might check it by making the conditions of life on the land in this country such as would make labourers and small holders prosperous and comfortable even in their old age. Another question 324 raised was the insufficiency of the supply of cottages for agricultural labourers. He would like to see a wider knowledge and appreciation of the really splendid efforts which were being made by landlords all over England in the direction of the provision of fine cottages for their farm hands. Full credit should be given to those landlords who were trying to provide cottages which involved a direct heavy loss upon them. He knew from personal experience that a pair of cottages in his own county cost not less than £400, and they were let at £4 a year each, which was less than it cost to keep them up. He agreed with the hon. Member that wages should be based on the profits of the trades which gave employment to the workers; but he thought that £1 a week was a more accurate estimate, including incidental advantages, than 12s. or 14s. 6d. a week, of the average wages of agricultural labourers. Youngsters, as they were now brought up, had an instinctive desire for promotion; and they often fled to the towns where there seemed to be more promise of promotion open to them. He himself believed in a system of promotion. Some years ago he adopted a system by which his agricultural labourers rose steadily in position according to the number of years of their service, and since that time not a single labourer had left his service, except, of course, from accidental circumstances. Very hard references were made to the landlords in these matters, but he believed that it was more statesmanlike to encourage and stimulate them to make these experiments than to bring the State into play and to do these things by the irritating process of compulsion which seemed to recommend itself to many land reformers so that the landowners should not have the credit of doing them. Having some practical knowledge of the question, he felt competent to speak upon the subject, but it was a source of great satisfaction to himself, personally, that a great national question of this sort had been taken up in the spirit which had been manifested that evening.
§ THE TREASURER OF THE HOUSEHOLD (Sir EDWARD STRACHEY,.) Somersetshire, S
I am glad to reciprocate all that has been said by the right hon. Gentleman as to the way in 325 which this debate has been conducted, however much we may differ as to the means of carrying out the Motion which has been moved and seconded in such an able way. Although there may be some difference, there is none as to the urgency of this question. My hon. friend the Member for Wiltshire has referred to the decline of the agricultural population, and no one has differed from his statement of the gravity of the problem, and therefore, it is the fact that wherever we sit in this House we wish to deal with the question, and to apply any possible remedies. My hon. friend explained some of the causes, and said that in the main they were of an economic character. It is not possible for me to follow him into all the details, but one point he made did strike me particularly, and that was that, as he said, one of the causes of depopulation was that of adding farm to farm. I must say that I agree with that, but it is a practice which is not so common as it was in the seventies, when it was very prevalent. At the present moment I think the tendency is, where the landlords have the opportunity, to split up large farms, but the opportunity and the power of the landlords is so limited that I think it is very desirable to aid that process of sub-dividing again farms which joined together in the last century, and to discourage the system of adding farm to farm if it has not already come to an end. Then we are told that there are other remedies. It is suggested by some hon. Members on the other side that fiscal reform would be a remedy, but I will only say that in regard to the problem of getting the labourer back to the soil and giving him some interest in the cultivation of it by allotments and small holdings, fiscal reform is certainly not the remedy. The agricultural labourer has no desire for a return of the times when labourers' wages were 7s. or 8s. a week and the price of wheat was 80s. a quarter. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newport said that the farmer would be very foolish indeed if he advocated 326 fiscal reform hoping to get an increased price for his wheat. On the other hand, I do not think he would be so foolish as to advocate fiscal reform which raised the price of what he bought and not what he sold. I sympathise with the idea of the hon. Member for Wiltshire that we should aim at creating a ladder for the agricultural labourer, so that a man who has done well on an allotment may rise to the position of a small farmer, and eventually have the opportunity of rising to the position of the occupier of a large farm. No doubt many Members of this House, in common with myself, have had experience of the man who began life as an agricultural labourer, and by his own industry and thrift become in middle life a substantial farmer, and in his old age able to establish his sons on farms. Our desire should be to give more of those opportunities to labourers who, by having shown thrift and ability, prove themselves worthy of being helped and of being advanced in life from small occupiers to large farmers. It is an entire mistake, however, to suppose that on this side of the House there is any desire to split up the whole country into small holdings. Nothing of the kind is desired. The whole of our desire is that there shall be holdings of every description, so as to afford opportunities of improvement in the condition of capable men. Questions of building by-laws and sanitary improvements are more for my right hon. friend the President of the Local Government Board and his Department than for me, but anything the House can do to promote improvement in these matters will aid in solving the problems we are considering. The right hon. Baronet the Member for the Honiton Division has alluded to the unwillingness of county councils to engage in land speculation, but I do not think that in regard to small holdings there is much speculation. I think we have had sufficient proof of the success of small holdings to make the risk, if any, very slight. Men who live on the land and buy the land know perfectly well 327 that proper care should be taken in selecting the tenants and in putting the right men on the land, and they cannot understand why the county councils should not take the same care as ordinary landlords to do the same thing; nor can I see why they should not. It has been said that there are large numbers of landlords on the county councils, and it is as necessary that they should take the same care in the selection of tenants as others do in order to make the small holdings a success. This Resolution, which deals with the decline of population in rural districts, goes on to say that it is necessary that this House should take action as regards legislation and administration. I should like to point out to the House that as regards administration a good deal has already been done since my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has been appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands. No sooner was he appointed than he at once facilitated the letting of land in small holdings and allotments in every way. What has been the result of his efforts? My noble friend is in absolute sympathy with the provision of small holdings and the encouragement of agricultural labourers to remain on the land and to make the best they can of it in becoming occupiers of farms. Out of fourteen counties in which there are Crown lands spontaneous applications have been made in eleven for small holdings. Take, for instance, South Lincolnshire, where eighty-seven applications have been received by my noble friend as Crown Commissioner, for 2,800 acres, and he feels that he will be able to satisfy 50 per cent. of those applications without depriving a single farmer of his home or his livelihood. It is curious, and at the same time very satisfactory, to know that the great majority of those men who made applications are already allotment holders, showing that the men who have under previous legislation got allotments are the very men who have put their foot on the first rung of the ladder, and are now 328 proceeding higher in order that they may become small holders. I am one of those who approach this question of providing small holdings and cutting up big farms from the point of view that at the same time we must be very careful indeed that we do nothing unjust to the sitting tenant. Unless there is very good reason indeed, that man must not be interfered with, and if he is interfered with at all it must not be done in any way, as my noble friend has said, to deprive him of his own home or of his own livelihood. In the parish of Welby in Yorkshire, there are large estates of 3,600 acres, and there have been applications for 500 acres for small holdings. At the present moment of those 3,600 acres 2,000 acres are held by four farmers alone, and three of those farmers are non-resident, and do not live in the parish. I think that to have absentee landlords is undesirable, and it is also undesirable to have absentee farmers. Therefore it is no grievance to a man if he is not living in the parish, and if he is not living on his farm and does not farm it himself, that others who are anxious to farm land in the parish should have a portion of the farm of the absentee farmer. In Cambridgeshire, my hon friend the Member for Newmarket has been, able in the most successful way to cut up a large farm of Crown land of over 900 acres. It had been yielding no rent at all, and was carried on, I understand, at a loss, as is too often the case with land owned by a landlord who is not on the spot to look after it himself. What has the President of the Board of Agriculture been able to do? He has been able to let it at £700 a year, to secure a profit instead of a loss for the Crown, and at the same time to split up the land into small holdings to the number of seventy-five, thus providing employment and bringing back to the land a large number of persons.
§ SIR EDWARD STRACHEY
I have already explained to the House that a sum of about £1,800 has been provided for building, and to add to the houses already in existence. My noble friend, at an expenditure of £1,800, on which he receives interest, has been able to place seventy-five men on the land, he is getting a rent of £700 a year instead of no lent at all, and in having done all this I certainly think that he has done something well worthy of imitation. Of course we are all in agreement on this subject. Lord Onslow, the ex-President of the Board of Agriculture, when he was in office referred to this very question of small holdings. He said he would be very glad to introduce a measure to facilitate the provision of small holdings and the division of large holdings into smaller holdings, but that he did not feel justified in drafting a Bill that had no chance of becoming law. I can assure the House that we have the same feeling as to the necessity of introducing a measure for small holdings and the division of larger holdings into smaller holdings. But we do not say that there is no time to do it, and that it would be a waste of time to draft a Bill because there is no time to give facilities for it. It is just the contrary. The present Government mean to introduce a Bill, and mean to find facilities for it; they mean to carry the Bill through, and to deal with a question which the late Government did not deal with. This Government means to find the time, and they will not allow to weigh with them an objection which Lord Onslow, when President of the Board of Agriculture, advanced as a reason for not drafting a Bill, though the late Government had ten years in which to deal with this important question. On what lines the question ought to be dealt with is a very large subject indeed, and the House will not expect me at this hour to enter into it. But there is no doubt as to the way in which the matter should be approached. We must see whether the Act of 1892 has 330 been satisfactory; whether the county councils have really tried to purchase or hire by agreement and have failed for no fault of their own. As regards compulsory powers, which are wanting under the Act of 1892, I think we may very well take advice from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley, whose interest in this question has been so very sincere, so constant, and so consistent. The right hon. Gentleman in giving evidence before the Committee on whose Report the Act of 1892 was founded, said it was desirable not to recommend compulsion but to see how such an Act would work, and if necessary obtain compulsion in another Act thereafter. We have certainly seen that the Act of 1892 has not worked satisfactorily from the point of view of small holdings being provided generally by county councils. I am not going to blame the county councils, because they may not have had sufficient inducement to deal with this question; but it is perfectly clear that an amendment of the Act of 1892 is required, and that that very power which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley said might be necessary—the power of compulsion—will have to be applied. The right hon. Gentleman said that although it might not be possible to introduce it into that Act it might be necessary to do so in the future. It is quite clear that the time has come when it is necessary to ask for compulsory powers of purchase for county councils, and that county councils shall be made aware that this is a question with which they must deal, and that the country at large expects them to see that every opportunity is given to every labourer and every working man to get upon the land and rise. An agricultural labourer can look forward to little unless he has a prospect of acquiring a small holding and so improving his position. I venture to say that any Member of this House who is an owner of land, if he has a small holding vacant, has fifty applications for 331 it. His great difficulty is not to select a good man but to discriminate between the many applications which are made to him. There was a reference made tonight to the fact that small holdings are let at rentals out of all proportion to the surrounding land, and even at a price which, if it does not mean failure, at all events means that the small holder is very much handicapped in making it pay with the land surrounding him let in larger quantities at lower rents. In any cases where there have been failures those failures may be traced to the fact that the man in his anxiety to get a small farm has paid more than he could afford. It has been the experience of landlords who like myself let small holdings that it has been necessary to refuse rents which have been offered for small holdings and to accept smaller rents, because the landlord knew the tenant would either fail, or live under conditions which no right-minded landlord would desire to see his tenant living under. I can only say the Government cordially accept the Motion which has been moved so ably by my hon. friend.
§ *MR. HICKS BEACH (Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury)
said that apparently the Ministerial panacea for rural depopulation was the provision of small holdings. He would like to draw attention to the fact which had not been yet mentioned, that the same rural depopulation was going on in every country in Europe, even although there were to be found there the so-called advantages upon which some hon. Members laid so much stress, namely, small holdings, protection, fixity of tenure, and occupying ownership. He therefore ventured to submit to the House that the mere provision of smallholdings was not the only thing which was going to stop rural depopulation in England. It would appear to be assumed by some that no small holdings existed in England at the present moment, but if 332 they inquired they would find that the majority of holdings in this country were under fifty acres, if not under twenty-five acres. The hon. Gentleman representing the Board of Agriculture had stated that the Government were going to introduce a Small Holdings Bill. He suggested that as the noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture was now making some interesting experiments on land under his control, it would be better in the interests of the agricultural community as a whole to wait and see how those experiments turned out before attempting to legislate for the artificial provision, of small holdings. He had grave doubts whether small holdings would be a success except under favourable conditions, and he believed that in the majority of cases they were only successful where the small holder was engaged in a subsidiary employment as well. The hon. Baronet had alluded to the Burwell Farm near Newmarket where the provision of buildings for eighty-two small holders was carried out for the small sum of £1,800. That was a very exceptional case as there were no cottages to provide, and he believed all those who were now established as small holders there gained their living in the past by driving people to the races. That was an employment they were still able to carry on.
§ Resolved, That the progressive decline of population in rural districts is a subject of serious national concern, and that this House ought at once to take such action, legislative and administrative, as will maintain a rural population as a reservoir of national strength and a necessary condition of national well-being.—(Mr. Rogers.)