HC Deb 27 May 1907 vol 174 cc1414-48

Postponed proceeding on Question, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to Small Holdings and Allotments," resumed.


said he had listened with delight to the introduction of the Bill. He believed that there were thousands of rural workers in different parts of the country who would welcome it as heartily as any one in the House. They were agreed on both sides of the House that something should be done to stop the depopulation of the rural districts and the flow of country workers to the towns. He recognised that the Bill was a real step in that direction; at any rate it was a great advance on anything they had had before, and it would inspire hope in the breast of many rural labourers who had hitherto been unable to get allotments or smallholdings. Everybody recognised that there were good landlords, and in those districts there was no difficulty in obtaining allotments or small holdings; but in some areas the parish councils had their hands tied, while in other areas, especially urban districts, their tongues had been tied. The county councils, many of them, were out of sympathy with small holdings, and in those cases nothing had been done to provide them. The right hon. Member for South Dublin seemed to think that the county councils had been showing their sympathy in regard to small holdings. That might be the case in a few instances, but in the majority of count councils nothing had been done. He had received a letter from an agricultural labourer who said that there were only two men on the county council in his district who for years had done anything at all in regard to small holdings. Where the landlord was in sympathy with the aspirations of the agricultural labourers things worked smoothly enough, but the difficulty was the insecurity of tenure. There might be a thousand allotments on one estate, and the owner could any day of the week, and at any part of the year, give notice to them all to quit. Unless a man had security of tenure he could not put his best into the holding; and they would not get the best type of men to go back to the land unless they had security of tenure. He himself had stuck to the land till he was nearly twenty years of age, when he got out of a job. He hunted the whole of the district for sixteen weeks, and everybody said there was no opening. The little he had saved soon went, and it was not before he got to Tilbury, which was a long way from Cambridgeshire, that he found a job. Afterwards he wended his way back to his native county. He could assure the House that every lad who had been brought up in the country had a longing for the land, and his thought was always to get back to it if only he had a fair chance. Acting upon that impulse, he went back to the land and found work of a rough kind. Having left once more he again came back and found work in the stone pits. Then he got an allotment of a quarter of an acre, and his mind became centred upon that little plot of land. He remembered that on the first Jubilee Day of Her late Majesty he spent the beginning of it upon that allotment, while others were getting warm for the after day celebration. He kept at work at the stone pits for five years, and meanwhile his allotment rose from a quarter to half an acre, then to a holding of one acre, then three acres, although he never got the cow which his right hon. friend had promised. Great hardship was occasioned by the fact that plots of land could not be had in the neighbourhood in which a man lived, and in his case, in order to get three acres, he had to have five plots in different places, in regard to some of which he paid £3 an acre and for some portion even a higher price. He had a wife who was not ashamed to help a little on the land, and he was enabled in the course of five years to lay the foundations of an existence which would make him a freer man. Some people talked about politicians being on the make, but the moment the labourer got his foot upon the soil he prospered. The politician was not the only man who was on the make, and there was no harm in the labourer being on the make in order to acquire a little plot of land which would make him freer. The freer and more independent a man was the better he was. Out of the ninemen who worked in his gang in the stone pits there were, including himself, five who were able to leave and start on their own Two of them had large farms under the Duke of Bedford, and in each case the plot of land had grown from portions of an acre to more. He got letters every day from agricultural labourers in all parts of the country who felt that they had every right to tell him their stories. The effect of them was that in many cases the demand for land had in past years been met with a blank refusal. The difficulty they had to deal with was that the large farmer was prejudiced against the smaller man, and that prejudice was shared by the landlord, while the land agent did not want the trouble of a number of small holdings. In one instance that he knew the first question the land agent asked in regard to an application for a small holding was "What is your client in politics and religion?" The agent for the tenant said, "I should have thought that that was the last thing that the man would have been asked about. All I can say is that the man is of sound character and good standing and he has the capital to work the small holding for which he is applying." He would have thought that those recommendations were overwhelming, but the reply was, "Oh, well, you know, it is not quite that, but we do not want a lot of Radical Dissenters on the estate." He felt that the time had come at last when the local councils should have power to act in the so districts where they had been faced with that blank denial or refusal of land, and if the local authority refused the people the privilege they should have a right to appeal to a central body or Commission. That central body might be responsible to the Board of Agriculture or be the Board of Agriculture itself, but until the people felt in regard to questions of this sort that they had somebody to whom they could go, beyond those local people who could not, in many cases dared not, move, the situation was hopeless. Many of the smaller men knew that the difficulty they had to face was that if they moved in the matter they themselves would not get any small holdings. They were called firebrands, and had in consequence to suffer. Only last Wednesday he received a letter in which his correspondent said that in his district there were several hundreds of acres let in allotments or small holdings, but in every case when they made a move and ''agitated" in order to make it felt that there was a demand for the land, those who had done the agitating did not get any small holdings. His correspondent said that in that particular instance the land agent had taken up the matter and had doled out small holdings of land to men who wanted them, but the live men who had raised the question had been boycotted and could not get a foot of the land which had been granted. That was the reason why, if the smaller councils and the smaller local district bodies were fettered, tongue-tied, and hand-tied, the people felt that they should have the right, as under this Bill, to go to the centre where there was somebody who could inquire into the situation and find out whether there was a demand for land which was suitable and men who were suitable to take it. That seemed to be the difficulty, but his experience was that there were always far more suitable men demanding land than could get holdings, and whenever the landlord was favourable and offered land, if it was suitable and the rent was reasonable, there was always a greater demand than supply. But in some districts the land was not suitable, and in some cases the men who wished to acquire a small holding were not suitable. He himself was not in favour of taking men from the towns and putting them in colonies and trying to teach them the difference between a wood and a potato, when there were thousands of men in the rural districts who knew all about it and were prepared to put all their time and energy into the work, and had moreover, a little capital. He had been ready to go back to the land, and there were hundreds of others willing to do so, but they would not go back to be merely the day labourer of another man. He had no faith in the doctrine that a man who did his duty to his master had no reserve strength for his garden or allotment. He thought that a man who had done a fair day's work for his master could still find time to cultivate his little piece of land. Then there was the question of whether a man in that position of life should pay rent in advance, and that was a ticklish question for a poor man. He would take his own case. He paid the first quarter in advance and there was the rent to pay every quarter after he took possession, and a year from the day after he did so he had paid his fifth quarter's rent. Because he had stated that, the landlord said "Nicholls has stated that they" (meaning the small holders) "are paying five quarter's rent a year." He had said nothing of the kind. What he said was that he had paid five quarter's rent down before the land had been of any use to him. After describing the advantages which labourers reaped from keeping pigs and the many ways in which a man with a low wage could and did make both ends meet, when he had a holding, he said he would like to do something to show that men of that class could be trusted to help them to tide over the difficulty of the first year, and to make it clear that the Liberal Government did really this time mean business and were going to help the larger number of people, even if they hit a few in order to do it. After all, every man, whatever his politics might be, must recognise that they had to look after the welfare of the poor, even though in doing it those who were better off had to suffer a little. In considering this Bill, everyone must see that they were going along the right line, and he believed that they would get some of the Opposition to help in the work

*MR. LLEWELYN WILLIAMS (Carmarthen District)

thought the House was to be congratulated on the tone of the debate, and on the speech of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He gathered from the tone of the speeches which had come from the Opposition that the Bill would stand a fair chance of passing into law. He was glad that the question had now come to be regarded as urgent, for he felt sure that the depopulation of the rural districts of England and Wales was nearly as great as the depopulation that had occurred in Ireland during the last sixty years. In the Llandovery district of Carmarthenshire the population had gone down from 14,000 to 7,000 between 1841 and 1901, or about 50 per cent; the diminutions of population would also be found to be the same in many rural districts which he had tested by the census returns. Those diminutions must be looked upon as permanent, for the number of inhabited houses had dropped by 35 or 40 per cent. during those years. The right hon. Member for South Dublin did not believe that small holdings would be a deterrent to depopulation, and had asked them to procure statistics to prove it. Wales was a land of small farms, the average holding running from 80 to 100 acres. If a comparison were made of the number of farmers engaged in agriculture in Wales to-day with the number engaged in 1841, no appreciable decrease would be found, notwithstanding the fact that within the last few years rents had been high, tenure was more insecure than in any other part of the country, and men had had to sacrifice more for their religion and politics than anywhere else in the Kingdom. The cause of the rural depopulation was due to the decline in the number of labourers from 66,000 in 1841 to something like 33,000, a decrease of about 50 per cent. He agreed that some of those men must have left from economic causes. In Ireland, the rural population left for the Colonies or the United States, but in Wales they were fortunate in having had large industries developed within the last fifty years, and therefore the agricultural labourer could secure employment either in the quarries or in the mines of Wales. He did not say that it was possible to keep all the rural population at home; it would not be good if they could; but he thought that the rural depopulation had gone further than it ought, and it was necessary to prevent it. Therefore, he thanked the Government for introducing the Bill, which seemed to him to be the best, the wise stand the most courageous of the measures for which they were responsible. It was not only in the interest of the agricultural labourer himself but also in the interest of the landlord and the farmer that the labourer should be kept on the land. From his own knowledge of those men he believed it was possible to get many of them back to the land, if proper conditions were offered. Whether that were so or not, he thought it was the duty of the House, in the interests of the nation at large, and not merely in the interests of a class, at all events to see that the agricultural labourers who were still on the land were kept there. He thought the Government had suggested the proper remedy. The first thing, undoubtedly, was to take away from the landlord the necessity for providing capital; and he quite agreed that the real reason why the landlords had been unable to act in the past was that their property was tied up in such a way that they were unable to provide the necessary funds themselves. The Government, as he understood, in order to meet the position, were giving power to the county councils compulsorily to acquire land and to equip the small holdings with cottages, spreading the repayment of the money over eighty years. He thought that got over two of the greatest difficulties which had been experienced in the past—the getting hold of land and equipping it with what was necessary for its proper cultivation. He understood that the extent of the allotment would be raised from one acre to five acres, and that the Act of 1892 was not to be interfered with, though it was not to be encouraged, that the allotment could be bought by the small holder. Speaking for those small fanners and peasants of Wales, he found that the instinct of property was so highly developed in them that he was perfectly certain that in order to get a better and more speedy solution of the problem some system of peasant proprietorship should not be excluded. With regard to the other remedy suggested in the Bill, he had found from his experience of co-operative effort that the great difficulty had always been to retain the young men on the land in their own district, and the failure of nearly every co-operative effort with which he had been connected had been due mainly to the fact that when the young men who had started it migrated to other countries or to the towns, the energy of those societies had disappeared. Now that the Government had taken the matter in hand he hoped there would be a permanent organisation which would keep alive the co-operative societies in the country districts. With regard to credit banks there was one matter of great importance to many country districts and especially to the Principality. A great deal was heard of the woes of the landlords and the woes of the tenant farmers, but very little was heard of the woes of the peasant proprietor who had been forced into buying his holding in order to secure fixity of tenure. Yet he knew cases where in order to secure fixity of tenure holdings had been purchased at seventy years purchase and where the tenant was paying more in interest than would be paid in rent. Nothing had, however, been proposed for the relief of that class. He hoped when the Government established credit banks something would be done to alleviate the burdens of those poor people.


said the speech of the hon. Member who had just spoken was in favour of lightening the burdens and difficulties of those who would like to own the land. This Bill put a positive barrier against the aspirations of that class. He fully admitted the great advantages of credit banks and co-operative associations, but they had never thrived in countries where tenancies prevailed. In Denmark, France, and Germany credit banks and co-operative associations were the natural outcome of ownership. Although by the efforts of associations and of private landowners co-operation had made some progress in this country, it was an exotic; it did not spring naturally from tenancies, and never could do so. He expressed the pleasure which he felt that the policy of small holdings was no longer in a debate able stage. They were all agreed on it. Thirty years ago it was a subject of ridicule and even of contempt. He thanked his right hon. friend for his eloquent and lucid explanation of this measure, and also for the manner in which he had referred to his own endeavours. The right hon. Gentleman had put the matter in the most favourable light possible. It was not a political question and ought not to be a Party question. It was a question of life and death to the nation—one to which every other question was second. He read the speech made by the Prime Minister at the Holborn Restaurant with an immense amount of pleasure, and he agreed with all that was said by the right hon. Gentleman about depopulation and the necessity of dealing with the subject in the interest of the welfare of the people. He know that, the right hon. Gentleman was subjected to a great amount of pressure, and his hopes rose high when the right hon. Gentleman said there were to be provisions, sweeping and strict, to enable the peasantry to live on their holdings and to call their souls their own. There was not such a thing as a peasant in the country. The peasant was a man who owned his holding, and there were peasants in this country for 1,000 years until they were deprived of their land and became mere agricultural labourers. After that great nourish of trumpets, however, the outcome had not been what one had been led to expect; and he was somewhat disappointed with it. His right hon. friend had said that they could not very well stay the stream of migration to the towns. He maintained that they could not only stay the stream, but reverse it. There were hundreds of thousands of men in the towns who had been brought up on the land, who knew all about it, who were good cultivators, and who would return to it on proper conditions. But they would not go back as day labourers or tenants. He could show hundreds of letters to prove that if land purchase were the basis of the Bill, people would flock back to the land.


said the Government had adopted the Act of 1892 which gave an opportunity to purchase. This Bill was an addition to that.


said that was the mistake that had been made. To ask an agricultural labourer on a purchase of land of £200 or £300 to put down 20 per cent. was to call upon him for something he could not do. When a Bill was introduced to remove that difficulty the other day the Chief Whip said the Government could not let the Bill pass because they had a measure of their own. But the Government Bill did not touch that matter. The Government refused to remove that bar of poverty which was the one great drawback to the Act of 1892. That Act had been an unqualified success where it had been put into force. In Worcestershire they had overcome the 20 per cent difficulty. Some members of the council had advanced money to suitable men, and in other cases payment had been postponed. In Worcestershire they could see men who had lived for twelve years in absolute prosperity on their little holdings, and the whole question was solved. The Act had not been a failure, except in areas, and that was because the county councils generally had not put it in force by reason of the money difficulty. If they would only take the large sum of money they were going to spend under this Bill and hand it over to the county councils for the purpose of putting the Act into operation they would find great results, whereas under the system now being proposed the money would be thrown away. The present Bill was admittedly opposed to peasant proprietors. No agricultural labourer in the country could ever hope under this Bill to possess a tiny bit of ground. But he would make the Prime Minister a present of a Bill in which he would find a solution of the whole problem without the paraphernalia of Land Courts and other expenses. [The right hon. Gentleman handed a copy of the Land Purchase Bill to the Prime Minister.] A great deal had been heard about "fixity of tenure.'' What was "fixity of tenure"? The Government did not give it; and it could not be given except by ownership.


I expressly said I gave no fixity of tenure at all, except that derived from tenure under a public body. I said the fixity of tenure I gave was not one which would confer on the occupier any power of sale.


said that that made the Bill ten times worse. The poor agricultural labourer had to depends for his fixity of tenure and his rent upon the local authority. The local authorities were a changing body, and they might find upon those bodies men like the hon. Member for Preston, who thought they could measure up by rules all human interests and desires, total them up, and tell them exactly what they amounted to. Such men, if elected to the local authority, might say: "This body of small holders has been paving £1 per acre for land which is worth 30s., and in duty to the ratepayers we ought to let it at the higher figure." That kind of thing would assuredly happen under the local authority. If the poor labourer by his exertions made the land of more value, his rent would be raised, and if he were turned out he would get no compensation worth naming. It was absurd to say that small holders did not desire to own the land they cultivated. The contrary was only common sense. The magic of ownership was intuitive, because it brought out the best powers of the cultivator in a manner which no form of tenancy could achieve. As to the proposed Commissioners under the Board of Agriculture, they had men at that Board second to none in ability, power, and understanding. They could not be bettered, and all that had to be done was to give them a little more help, and all the expense of this Commission would be saved. The present Government could not do anything without creating a new office, though they had everything to their hands. They reminded him of the proverb that "A bad workman always complains of his tools." The power of the Commissioners in the Bill was a monstrous proposition which would not be accepted in any country in Europe except Russia. Were they going to allow a central body to override the wishes of the elected members of a local authority and make the ratepayers of that locality pay for something to which their elected representatives were opposed? How could they put such a proposition into force? Were the elected members of it to be sent to prison? Would the ratepayers pay a rate when they had had nothing to do with striking it? It was as monstrous a proposal as was ever made. The right hon. Gentleman had described the Bill as the Bill of Eights of the labourer. All the loans and sinking fund and interest for which the local authority might become liable in putting the Bill into operation were to be paid by the rent. Was that a Bill of Eights for the labourer? He was not afraid of compulsory purchase, but compulsory letting on the proposed scale suggested serious questions. It was one thing to give parish councils the power which they had hardly ever used, of letting one acre for an allotment, but quite another thing to establish a system of compulsory letting in regard to holdings which might run up to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acres. There must be a house put up on the holding; to whom was it to belong at the end of the lease? The housing question was solved by the tenant proprietary system, but not by the plan of hiring. In Worcestershire there had been an experiment with thirty-two small holdings, and in connection with about a dozen of those there were nice homesteads. They were included in the holdings, and the tenants paid back the price by annual instalments. If the land was let under this Bill, what would become of the house at the end of the lease? That was a question to which he should like an answer. His right hon. friend had said there was going to be £100,000 spent under the Bill, if that money were spent in enabling local authorities to put the 1892 Act in force, the difficulties would disappear, and all the proposed paraphernalia would be unnecessary. It was said that at the end of the term the tenant would have the right of compensation. That would depend upon whether in view of the county council he had observed all the conditions of cultivation which had been laid down. Under this scheme there must not only be commissioners, but inspectors to see that the land was properly cultivated. The county council would be in the position of the landlord. Nothing of the kind was necessary under the ownership system, where the local authority was simply the receiver of well secured instalments every year. Reference had been made to the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee. It should be remembered that not a single labourer, or anybody connected with labourers, gave evidence before the Committee.

MR. TOMKINSON (Cheshire, Crowe)

said he brought forward a tenant on his estate who was formerly a labourer.


said several tenants gave evidence, but there was no witness representing the labourers, although dozens could have been found to give evidence. The only legislation that had had any effect in keeping men upon the land had been promoted by the Unionist Party, and the Act of 1892 indicated the direction in which legislation ought to go. One man who had acquired a holding under that legislation sold £600 worth of produce in one year. But for that legislation the money would have gone to Belgium to pay for the stuff. He remembered going down on his knees almost to Mr. Gladstone, and asking him to do something of the kind, but the Party did not then care two pence about the agricultural labourers, except for political purposes—[MINISTERIAL cries of "Oh, oh."] Mr. Gladstone came into power on an Amendment he had proposed, and when the Lioerals climbed into office by the votes of the agricultural labourers, the latter were cast aside. He would ask his right hon. friend whether he could vindicate the adoption of tenancy in lieu of ownership, except on Socialistic grounds. Hon. Members below the gangway might plume themselves on having captured the Government, in that they had induced the introduction of tenancy instead of purchase. They did not want increase of ownership, and they had succeeded so far, but the question was whether it was best for the country. There were only two alternatives, the Socialistic principle of the nationalisation of the land, and the principle of purchase. He had studied the question for many years, both in England and in almost every country in Europe. In the case of Denmark, for instance, it was only after they had adopted the principle of ownership that prosperity began to flourish amongst the small holders. So in Germany and other continental countries, he found that the principle of ownership underlay every attempt for the improvement of the agriculture population. To adopt the principle of tenancy in the Bill would be to fly in the face of all experience. The welfare of the country—aye, its very existence—depended upon the restoration of the peasant proprietor and the yeoman farmer. It was by legislation that they were destroyed; and it was only by legislation that they could be restored. But this Bill setup a barrier to their restoration. It divided public opinion into two camps, one favoured by the Government, that there should be no occupier who was owner of the soil, and the other approved of by all Chambers of Agriculture and by the villagers, namely, complete ownership. He hoped the time would come when the Unionist Party would place good, honest purchase and ownership on its banner. He agreed that at present that was an unauthorised programme. If they went into any village and put it to the agricultural labourers whether they would prefer tenancy under a local authority, which would be the worst form of tenancy, to ownership with the local authority only acting as the receiver of annual instalments, there would be a unanimous acceptance of the latter alternative, provided always that the bar of poverty were removed. He sympathised with the pathetic statement of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire of the longing desire of men born on the land to get back to the land. Arthur Young had well said that "the magic of property turns sand to gold." He believed that ownership would double the productiveness of the land. Why was that? Because a man who was dealing with his own land worked hard. It might be called slavery, but it was not. The man got up at five o'clock in the morning and worked upon his holding in the interests of himself. He put his labour into his own land and it became his bank. He was surprised that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite should try to show the advantage of tenancy over ownership, because in his view ownership would be of an advantage not only to the individual but to the community. He agreed that there was no absolute property in land; there never was and never could be, because the community had the right to demand that it should be worked under conditions which should produce the very best, and in his view no conditions could produce the very best, unless the land was worked under a system of ownership. He must apologise for keeping the House so long, but he wished to urge his principle, which was that of an honest purchase at a fair price, and his contention was that without that no small holder would be content. Let the Board of Agriculture, as an experiment, be directed to buy an estate of from four to five hundred acres, break it up into holdings of from five to fifty acres, and, totalling up the entire cost for roads and so on, put a fair price upon each. When such holdings were advertised for sale on easy terms, with repayment, interest, and sinking fund by annual instalments, there would be hundreds of applications from men experienced in agriculture. Why should not that be done, instead of embarking on impossible schemes foredoomed to failure?

*MR. WINFREY (Norfolk, S. W.)

said he rose with much pleasure to support the Bill. For fifteen years he had spent a good portion of his time in attempting to put into operation the Small Holdings Act of 1892, and the result had been most unsatisfactory. When the experiment was made in Lincolnshire of a county council purchasing three farms, under that Act their experience was that not a single applicant desired to purchase holdings. He thought that the fixity of tenure under this Bill would be quite as good as that which the tenant farmers of the country enjoyed at present. He saw no reason why fixity of tenure should not be as great under a local authority as under a private landlord. The Bill proposed that the land should be purchased under sound economic conditions, and that the money should be borrowed and repaid over a term of eighty years, the rents to cover the repayment during that term. They had found no, difficulty in so fixing the rents in Lincolnshire as to secure repayment in a term of fifty years. His right hon. friend had said that at the end of fifty years the land did not belong to the tenant, but during that period the ratepayers had been pledging their credit, and were entitled to take possession of the land considering that during the whole of the period it had been let to the tenant at a fair rent. As to the difficulty of taking land on a lease for twenty-one years, and erecting houses and buildings upon it, he took it that no local authority would be likely to lease land for that purpose for that period. In many cases the question of erecting houses and buildings would not arise. Moreover, it was quite possible for a county council to buy100 acres of land adjoining 500 or 600 acres which they had leased and erect the necessary buildings upon that so that the two schemes of purchase and leasing could run together. As to past legislation he did not wish to indulge in recrimination, but as the right hon. Gentleman boasted that the Party with which he was now allied was the only Party which had brought about any successful legislation in this matter, he must remind him that the Act of 1892 was a ghastly failure. Petitions were sent up from twenty-seven English counties asking for small holdings; of those counties only six had put the Act into operation, and in those six counties only a paltry 800 acres of land were acquired. That showed plainly the Act was a failure. In point of fact it was not passed with the intention of its being a working Act, but as a window dressing Act upon which to go to a general election. Moreover the Government knew that the failure of the Allotment Act of 1887 lay in the expense of putting the compulsory clauses into operation. Yet with that experience before them they deliberately passed a Small Holdings Act without any compulsory powers whatever. He did not condemn the Act of 1887 without a trial. For two years he explained the Act in the villages in the district where he lived and they applied to the boards of guardians for 1,600 acres of land. At the end of that period they had not succeeded in obtaining a single acre. The Act of 1887 gave very large powers of asking for land, but very small powers for getting it, and it was not until the county councils came in being in 1889, that they succeeded in getting any land at all. Then they succeeded in getting 13 acres for which the board of guardians gave £67 an acre, and for which, after adding the cost of management and an estimated amount for bad debts, they charged the people 84s. an acre or 6½ per cent. on the purchase price. The Government recognised that the Act of 1887 was a failure, because they brought in in 1890 an amending Act transferring the powers to county councils. In his district they made use of this amending Act, and the compulsory powers which, though never used, had the advantage that the mere threatening to enforce it led to agreements, and between 1890 and 1894 they succeeded in getting 800 acres of land for allotment purposes. He maintained, however, that it was not until the Parish Councils Act was passed the land needed was obtained for allotments. The official Returns showed that less than 3,000 acres were obtained under the Acts of 1887 and 1889 and before the Parish Councils Act was passed, while in the nine years succeeding 18,000 acres of land were obtained. The right hon. Member for South Dublin had said that ninety-nine out of every hundred landowners tried to get small tenants on their land. He would like to know where those landlords lived.

COLONEL KENYON-SLANEY (Shropshire, Newport)

All over the country.


said that in that case as men of business they had made a dismal failure of their attempt. It seemed to him that the modern landowning class did not go the right way to work in order to ascertain the wishes of the agricultural labourer as to small holdings. It was difficult to focus the demand for small holdings, because the agricultural labourers had no organisation, and the landowner with the best intentions did not get at the bottom of their views, whilst the larger farmers were quite out of touch with the labourer so far as small holdings were concerned. Those also who controlled estates in the hands of mortgagees or in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and other bodies did not consider the labourer. The agricultural labourer did not carry his heart on his sleeve, and was slow in his expression of opinion until he could ascertain whom he could trust. In the year 1885—and this showed the different point of view from which hon. Members opposite approached the question of allotments and small holdings—the right hon. Member for Wimbledon was then one of the representatives for Lincolnshire. In those days the Liberals advocated three acres and a cow, but the right hon. Gentleman went up and down the county saying that half an acre was enough for any working man. And he had the courage of his convictions, for when the Allotments Bill of 1887 was before the House he put down an Amendment that no allotment should exceed half an acre. That was the spirit in which in times past the Party opposite had approached the land question.


We passed Bills for all that.


Yes, but they were hardly worth the paper they were printed on. The agricultural labourer had no such organisation as had the skilled labourers of the town, and, therefore, it was very difficult to focus the demand for small holdings. Only a few days ago they had a deputation from Lincolnshire to see the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster with respect to small holdings in Lincolnshire; and only on the previous day he had received a letter from one of that deputation, who was a small shopkeeper. The writer said that since the deputation he had suffered in his business, for on the previous Saturday his man (his correspondent was a grocer) when he called at the Royalty Farm was told that he was not to call there again for orders because Mr. Ward had heard that his employer had taken part in the deputation. The writer had done business on the farm for thirty years with nearly all the people who resided on it. Mr. Ward was a non-resident farmer. There were several cottages on the farm, and the occupants had been actually told not to buy their groceries from this man who had supported small holdings. [An man on his rounds was told by the HON. MEMBER: What parish?] The tenants what had been said by Mr. Ward, who was a tenant under the Duchy of Lancaster, and had just recently been made a magistrate. But coming back to the question of small holdings in his district. Having gone through all the preliminaries with respect to allotments, and having fairly well succeeded with the parish councils in 1894, they were then able to make a solid attempt to put the Small Holdings Act into operation. He thought, however, that he would be able to show the House wherein that Act had failed. They succeeded, it was true, in purchasing three small farms. They arranged everything on sound economic lines. The rent covered the repayment of principal and interest, but although they did that they could not get the county council to proceed any further; they said they would wait to see whether the experiment was a success. That was thirteen years, ago, and the county council were still waiting. He was chairman of the committee during the time, and they had a great many inquiries for small holdings, and for ten years there had been lying with the county council applications for at least 1,000 acres, but no further steps had been taken. Had it not been that the present President of the Board of Agriculture had come to their assistance by leasing them two farms of 700 acres, they would not have been able to do anything more to meet the demand in the district. They let the farms very successfully to men who had made their allotments a success; these men had practically fixity of tenure as long as they paid their rents and cultivated the land properly. The moment they ceased to cultivate the land properly they ceased to be desirable tenants. It was quite true that they had only taken a lease of the farms for twenty-one years, but he thought that the owner was quite prepared to continue the transaction seeing that he was paid his rent regularly and was not asked for abatements. The demand of which he was speaking had been met and satisfied; and he maintained that there was the same demand in many other parts of the country. When they first took those 700 acres they had the land for seven years, and, to show how little capital the men had, they were unable to let the grass land as the applicants had only sufficient capital to take arable land; they had to let the grass land as accommodation land to a local butcher. But in the second year some of the men said that they were ready to take the grassland, and £100 was spent in fencing it in.

MR. HUNT (Shropshire, Ludlow)

Did you put up the houses on those small farms?


said the farm houses were divided into two tenements, and there was also the shepherd's house and three cottages on the farms, which gave accommodation for eight resident tenants. The whole of the other holders were men who lived in the surrounding district, and many of them had to go three or four miles to the land; so they had been really under a disadvantage because they had not the money to build cottages. The same local landowner had a farm which became vacant suddenly three weeks ago, owing to the death of the tenant. His widow was obliged to call the creditors together, and there were considerable arrears of rent. There were at once several applications from different men living in the neighbourhood for small holdings. That farm was not near a village or even a hamlet; it was a wide and scattered district in the Fens of Lincolnshire—a few small-cottages, a public house, a blacksmith's shop, and a chapel. The applicants had written to him saying that they could do with the farm, and within ten days the property had been lot in ten small holdings. The farmhouse and the three houses upon it vided accommodation for five tenants; the other men were living in the neighbourhood. The deceased farmer had not been successful, but they hoped that the small holders would succeed where the larger holder had not succeeded. He would like to ask the right hon. Member for Wimbledon what had been done in the Sleaford Division during the last twenty years, and whether he had explained the Act of Parliament to the working men in that district. In the neighbouring Stamford Division there were some 4,000 acres of Crown lands. There had been a demand for small holdings there for thirty years, but up to now they had met with a blank refusal from the managers of those lands to let any part of them for small holding purposes. But the moment that policy was reversed petitions were sent to the Board of Agriculture asking that some six or seven hundred acres in that particular district should be lot for small holdings. He would like to give to the House as an illustration the case of a little village called Eastville, which contained a population of 400 people, an acreage of 2,657, and a rateable value of £3,924, where the men were applying for some Duchy of Lancaster's land. Upon that land there were six large farmhouses tenanted by foremen and only two resident farmers. This year eight young men left the village and two of them had gone to Canada, and none of these young men could get small holdings in the locality. In a letter received from a neighbouring parish where there was a better opportunity of getting small holdings the writer said— I support the application for smallholdings because I have seen the advantage of them. In order to show that people will not only remain on the land when they can get it, but. will also come back to it, I can name seventeen persons who left this parish as young men and after saving a little money they have come back and are now occupying land. They include live ex-policemen, four ex-railway men, three ex-greengrocers, and three who have been abroad. As every house in the parish is occupied and as several houses have lately been built, I have no doubt the population is increasing. There are a large number of young men who would hire small farms if they could get them, but stewards who had farms to let seemed to prefer to let them to men who had large occupations. That was in Lincolnshire. The statement was very often made that the land was very good in Lincolnshire, and that they could not do in other counties what was being done in Lincolnshire. He had made an experiment to see whether they could succeed upon land of half the capital value of that of Lincolnshire, and so he formed a voluntary association, who in 1900 purchased three farms in the county of Norfolk. The land cost them about £20 per acre, and they were letting it at about 20s. and 22s. per acre. The men they put upon that land had paid their rent regularly during the last six years, not one of them desired to purchase, and he thought they possessed a fairly good fixity of tenure. The steward who managed that estate wrote— I paid a casual visit to Carbrooke in March. This is a farm of 109 acres and was previously occupied by a local farmer as an 'off' farm. The farmhouse was not tenanted except by an aged female caretaker, and the labour employed was such as the farmer sent over casually from his home farm. On going over the farm in March I found our principal tenant (Haylock), a man with seven children, employing two labourers I found four tenants in addition working on the land with horses and a hired team, in all twelve horses and eight men. The crops grown by the retiring fanner in the last year of his tenancy yielded not more than six coombs of barley and seven coombs of oats per acre. Haylock's average for barley during the last three years has been eleven coombs. On his fifty-seven acres I found three horses and twenty head of cow stock. During the year 1905 he turned out twenty-six bullocks for the butcher, and in the following year 1906 he fattened eighteen bullocks and 116 sheep. In addition to maize Haylock has consumed on the farm eighteen tons of linseed cake during twelve months. He told me he had spent £200 in feeding stuffs in twelve months. I have received applications for more land from four tenants on this farm, and from two of the sons of the present small holders. That man only started farming three years ago with a capital of £100. What he was anxious to point out to the House was that the demand for these holdings Existed, and that a certain amount of assistance was necessary to establish the men on the land. Quotations had been made in both Houses of Parliament from the correspondents of the Board of Agriculture with regard to the demand for small holdings in different counties. Some hon. Members had drawn from those Reports the conclusion that those who supported this Bill were exaggerating the demand. There was a case in the county of Norfolk in which the correspondent of the Board of Agriculture wrote that small holdings were readily obtainable when required, but there was no particular demand for small holdings in the district. That was written by a man who had himself large farms about six miles away from this small holding which he could see every day as he drove to his own farms. In Cambridgeshire the experiment of the hon. Member for East Cambridgeshire was going to be a great success. In that case a Crown farm which the Crown had farmed for two years at a loss was taken up within three weeks by no less than seventy-eight men. The remarkable part of it was that the gentleman who gave up the farm happened to be the Board of Agriculture correspondent for the district, and he had reported that by far the greater portion of the land in the locality was totally unsuitable for small holdings. He could mention several other counties in the East of England where the demand for small holdings was not satisfied. In the Isle of Ely all the land was suitable for small holdings, and yet only 15 per cent. of it was occupied by small cultivators. He knew a case where forty labourers were provided with allotments under the 1894 Act, and the movement had extended until to-day there were 120 persons, principally labourers, occupying small holdings varying in size from four to sixteen acres. On those holdings thirty-seven new cottages had been erected, and, besides, many other buildings had been rebuilt or enlarged. Surely those facts ought to dispel any fear as to the success of the movement in that particular district. The same might be said with respect to Leicestershire. While taking part in the recent county council election in Leicestershire he spoke on the small holdings question, and fired with enthusiasm one of the candidates who succeeded in winning a seat. That gentleman had lately written to him as follows— I spent lust night at New bold amongst the men and was agreeably surprised. I find that most of them have got a little money and although colliers are keen to have a bit of land. All have had farm experience and can milk. There are five men already keeping cows although they have not a yard of land. They put them out to agistment in the summer and buy hay and roots for them in the winter. This was useful as showing that not only arable land, but grass land was required. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Dublin had said that in his district small holdings had been the rule for thirty years, and that the system had not stopped depopulation. When the right hon. Gentleman was speaking, he interposed the remark that the small holdings in the western counties were not 15 per cent. of the whole of the agricultural land, and the retort was that the land was not suitable for small holdings.


said it was quite obvious what he meant. He meant that small holdings had from time immemorial existed in his part of England where the land was suitable. Experiments such as those to which the hon. Gentleman had been referring would not be successful if tried on Salisbury Plain.


said that was why the right hon. Gentleman should not lave used the argument that it did not stop depopulation in his district.


Not at all. If the land was divided into one-third which was suitable for small holdings, and two-thirds which were not suitable, it would be found that depopulation had gone on as much in one part as in the other.


said the right hon. Gentleman's experience was quite the opposite of his own, and as he had challenged anyone to give evidence that small holdings had stopped the rural exodus, he would take up the challenge. In 1881 the census was taken of the population in nineteen parishes in Lincoln shire South—that was before the allotment movement had got a start—and the next census was taken in 1891. The falling off in the population in that decade in those parishes was 2,280. The Allotments Act did not come into operation until 1890, and the Small Holdings Act until 1892. Operations were also commenced under the Parish Councils Act of 1894. In the same parishes during the decade from 1891 to 1901 the decrease in the population was only 115. He ventured to say that when the census was taken in 1911 those parishes would show an increase of population. That was entirely due to the development of allotments and small holdings, and therefore he heartily welcomed this Bill, for he was certain that other districts throughout England could do as well as they had done in Lincolnshire.


said they had had a very long speech from the hon. Member who had just sat down. Some of it was very interesting, but a great deal of it was unnecessary under the circumstances. The hon. Member seemed to take as his theme the necessity of proving to the House that the Bill, which would facilitate the creation of small holdings, was opposed on the Opposition side of the House. There was no reason why any such attack should have been directed against them.


I said there are exceptions.


did not think the hon. Member said that there were exceptions. The hon. Member had no justification whatever for his attack on the Opposition, and with his extremely limited knowledge of land he should be careful how he made unpleasant attacks on those who had spent their lives trying to understand the subject. He understood from the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill that his desire was to facilitate the creation of small holdings and allotments, but his right hon. friend, in his reply, had made it plain that there would not be much difference of opinion on the two sides of the House as to that object, though there was a difference of opinion as to the way in which it was to be attained. It was on that point, after all, that discussion was most likely to be useful. Several hon. Members had spoken as if the chief object of the Bill was to arrest the progress of rural depopulation, which it was contended was mainly due to the abstraction from the land of the rural labourer. There were other descriptions of labour employed on great estates, in building, in drainage, and in the maintenance of the establishment. That was largely decreased when the power of landowners to live on their estates was taken away from them, and it was that which had very largely caused de-population in many districts. The right hon. Gentleman had said that no attempt would be made by advancing loans to landlords to induce them to create small holdings of their own accord. He thought that the right hon. Gentleman had made a mistake in that respect. The object of increasing such holdings, properly equipped and let at reasonable rents, would be attained more rapidly by facilitating their creation in the way he had suggested than by setting them up through public bodies or by spending money through those bodies. Without destroying the Bill, provision could be made for the possibility of landlords themselves being able to take up the loans for the purpose of creating small holdings. In that event he believed that better tenants would be selected than by public bodies, that the land would be let at a smaller cost, and that the loss, if any, would fall on the landlords and not upon the ratepayers. It was a matter of common knowledge amongst those familiar with rural life that the owners of land were long suffering, helpful to their tenants, and kind to the poor among them when bad times came. That would be I impossible in the case of public bodies, I which would stand in quite a different relationship to the tenants. It would be their duty to the ratepayers to insist on rents being punctually paid, and in times of illness or distress they would not be able to show the same consideration as private landlords. What would be the position of the public bodies? The land having been acquired, buildings would have to be erected, and the occupier would have to pay the full rent plus the interest on the loan, and thus would be in a position comparing unfavourably with his neighbour. That would be the subject of grievance and difficulty. It was a grave responsibility to try to withdraw a man from well-paid labour and the assistance he could get from a friendly landlord in order that he might set up a small holding. There were several questions of detail on which he wished to touch. As he understood it the loan was to be repaid, principal and interest, in eighty years; but if the holding became vacant at the end of a fourteen years lease, who would be responsible for the unpaid portion of the loan? The success of small holdings depended very largely on the surroundings and the industries of the locality, and if such experiments as had been made were investigated he thought it would be found that success of the smallholder depended upon the individual, and was due also to the fact that he had the means of supplementing his earnings by some other work or by hiring his horse. If there was a class in the country to whom it was of importance to make the condition of the rural people happier, it was the landlord class. Those who lived on their land would know all the conditions and the surroundings, and could calculate the chances of success or failure for the small holder. There were hundreds of thousands of acres of light land where the experiment of small holdings was doomed to failure. It would be very easy to find faults with the Bill, but he would reserve a good many of his criticisms for a later stage. He assumed, however, that the introduction of the Bill implied the withdrawal of the Scottish Small Holders Bill. It would be an extraordinary position if both measures were proceeded with, because they set up different principles and different modes of procedure applicable to different parts of the island where exactly the same conditions prevailed, When the Bill was printed he would consider it, not in a hostile mood, but with an earnest desire to understand and appreciate its merits, if it should turn out to be a fair-minded effort to establish a system of tenure which many landlords had done their best to promote.


said the right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken had said that there was no opposition in the House to small holdings, and he welcomed that statement: indeed it was one which went no further than he expected. He thought at that stage it was well to look for any common ground of agreement that had been disclosed by the debate. Both sides of the House were agreed that an increase of small holdings was desirable, and he thought they were also agreed that such an increase was a proper object of direct action by the State. That also had been proved by the antecedent legislation of both Parties, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division had referred. Whatever was the value of the antecedent legislation, it at least showed that both sides, all Parties in the House, were of opinion that this was a proper subject for some national effort. He was surprised that some Members, including the-right hon. Member for Bordesley, were apparently contented with the state of existing legislation. [Mr. COLLINGS dissented.] The Acts of 1887 and 1892 were clearly and obviously failures. [Mr. COLLINGS: Not at all.] The Act of 1887, for instance, as far as the compulsory clauses were concerned, had resulted in sixteen acres, and there were less than 1,000 acres purchased by agreement. The results of hiring by agreement were little better, and taking everyone of the transactions from 1883 up to 1892 about 3,000 acres were dealt with; but when they come to the Act of 1894, which had been unfavourably compared with former Acts, under it 15,000 acres had been dealt with, and 30,000 tenants put upon the land. Those results he took from official figures. It was said that the Acts of 1887 and 1892 had led up to those agreements, but let him ask the House to consider why the Acts of 1887 and 1892 were such failures. The Act of 1887 was a failure because the whole administration was in the hands of district councils who were notoriously antipathetic to allotments generally. Then when the matter came into the hands of the county councils they had to go through an expensive procedure involving a public inquiry, and the system of the transfer of property was one of the most cumbrous ever devised by the wit of man. That was not by any means the end, because, under the Act of 1887, after the county council had passed the provisional order, the Local Government Board came on the scene and had to pass a Bill to confirm the provisional order. Could anyone wonder that no more than sixteen acres only were obtained? The Act of 1887 had proved a failure because of the costly and cumbrous nature of the proceedings; and the Act of 1892 was a failure because it avoided compulsion altogether, and left the operation of the measure to voluntary agencies and the option of the county councils, which when left alone were not very friendly to either allotments or small holdings. They were responsible for 800 acres under the Act of 1892, which was not a very promising state of things. From the failure of those two Acts the Government had learnt two lessons—first, that any legislation must provide a simple and cheap procedure; and, secondly, that the administration must be entrusted to people who were sympathetic with the object. those were the two main purposes the Government had in view. Then the preliminary inquiry should be made as cheap as possible, and the Government had taken the cost of such inquiries off the particular transaction between the county council and the tenant. That was a great relief to the tenant, because, under the Acts of 1887 and 1892, the cost fell upon the tenant, and it was almost impossible for anyone to proceed under any such conditions. It was only just and fair to limit the cost that the tenant had to incur to the commercial aspect of the transaction. The rates would, according to the Bill, be very carefully guarded, though there would be a small expenditure incurred by the Exchequer, mainly for the salaries of officials. The right hon. Gentleman for South Dublin had asked who was going to bear the loss of the constant depreciation in cases where holdings deteriorated in value owing to the operations of the tenant. He thought his right hon. friend had made it quite clear that it was the county councils. That was a very great safeguard both to the landlord and to the tenant. With regard to the power of the Commissioners to borrow money and to impose loans on the county councils, the Commissioners had no direct and explicit power to borrow under the Act either on their own or anyone else's behalf.

LORD WILLOUGHBY DE ERESBY (Lincolnshire, Horncastle)

said, it was a pity that in this debate there should have been such a great amount of rivalry between the two Parties as to which in the past had done most to promote the establishment of small holdings and allotments. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had made that a point, but the hon. Member for South West Norfolk had endeavoured to show how little the Conservative Party had contributed in the past towards providing small holdings, while the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had gone the length of quoting a great many figures which he (Lord Willoughby de Eresby) did not think proved very much. But, after all, a little practical experience on these matters was worth something, for he had always discovered that as soon as an Act of Parliament was passed on a subject such as that with which the present Bill dealt, Members went down to their constituencies and one side would say that the Bill was of very little use, and the oilier would declare that it was the charter of freedom of the agricultural labourer, that they were all going to get allotments, and were all going to do wonders with them. It had always been his experience that as soon as legislation of that kind was passed there was a number of applications for small holdings. It had occurred in his own case when a Bill had been passed, and he had always been very pleased to fall in with the wishes of the workmen who made the applications. But after a while, when the interest had subsided, one saw that the allotments began to be given up. In his own case, and he was sure that it was the same in many others, a number of the small holders had fallen out, and the land was hold by a few instead of by a large number. Personally he believed that the Bill would have the effect of increasing the number of applications for small holdings in certain parts of the country, but he believed, also, that, as soon as the talk about the Bill had ceased they would go back to exactly the same state of affairs as before. The hon. Member for South-West Norfolk had quoted the case of Lincolnshire. He thought that no man had taken a keener interest in this question than the hon. Gentleman, and he knew perfectly well that in several instances the hon. Member had been very successful in his experiments with small holdings. There could be no doubt that he had looked wisely into the matter, and had chosen land that was suitable for small holdings. But where he thought the Bill would break down was that, while it was true that a certain number of big farms could be turned into small holdings successfully, yet those were cases in which there were buildings to accommodate the tenants, or some of them. Besides the instance of successful experiments in Lincolnshire, there was the case of the hon. Member for Newmarket, who he believed had taken one of the large farms in his district and cut it up into small holdings, which had turned out very successfully. But it was to be noted that in none of those instances did the success take the form of bringing people back to the land, and that was the whole crux of the matter. It was perfectly easy to turn a farm into small holdings, but they must have houses for the tenants to live in. If there were houses already in existence the thing could be carried out; but the moment they had to build houses, to provide accommodation for the stock, and to furnish all the implements and the one hundred and one things necessary to the equipment of a holding, they were met with the difficulty of the great initial cost which people could not afford to pay. It was not the experience of local bodies alone, but of landlords and others with knowledge of these matters, that, where small holdings had been successful, in almost every instance it was found that there were buildings for the accommodation of the tenants. The right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill had said that he did not believe that certain farmers would approve of it, but that they would be wrong to disapprove of it because the measure would help to keep people on the land. He did not think that the right hon. Gentleman was very sanguine of getting more people back to the land; in fact, he had said that what they wanted was to keep on the land the people who were there now. He had also stated that farmers ought not to object to small holdings because, by their agency, they would have their labourers at hand. A large number of farmers, however, had stated to him that the labourers with small holdings were absolutely useless to them, because they were always most busy with their holdings when the work on the farms was at greatest pressure, and at the very moment when the farmers most needed their services. He did not himself think that the Bill would in any way help the farmer in respect of providing him with labourers. He knew that the hon. Member for Preston objected to anything in the way of subsidised industries, because it would be a bounty, according to him, and break through the blessed rules of free trade. He had always believed himself that if they wanted to get more people back to the land they would have to devise something acceptable to the owners of the land, and something acceptable to the farmers and labourers of the country generally, instead of spending money on wild-eat schemes like that now proposed, which might succeed in some instances where the building difficulty did not present itself. If they wanted allotments and small holdings to succeed, why did they not in some way, out of Government funds, provide money for the building of houses in the country in order to assist their object? If they went to the landlords of the country and said, "Give us half an acre of land, free of charge, and we will put up the cottage, for which of course a rent will be charged," he believed that in hundreds of cases the landlords would give them free of charge the sites for the erection of cottages. Such a scheme would have a far greater effect in keeping people on the land than the present proposal. One of the causes of rural depopulation was the fact that labourers' cottages were frequently so bad. If some such principle as that were adopted he believed they would be doing far more good than by spending such large sums of money in Scotland and England upon schemes which he did not believe would be a success, and were economically unsound. The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies had informed them that they were going to have a Bill under which an authority in London would supply the ginger for the small holdings. The noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture was to provide the ginger, but who was going to find the sugar? If county councils were forced to hire land for allotments and small holdings he felt sure that ultimately they would be thrown upon their hands. In that case who would have to make good the loss? The Solicitor-General had told them that the county councils would be responsible, but in case a scheme proved to be a failure they would have to fall back on the rates. In other words that meant that the neighbouring land would have to bear a rate of 2s. or 3s. in order to make good the loss. Such losses ought to fall not upon the local rates but upon the public exchequer. Although he did not intend to oppose this Bill as a whole, he believed that a universal system of small holdings would not be successful until they were placed under a system of peasant proprietors or some other form of ownership. A man was sure to work harder as an owner than as a tenant, and there were many troubles which he would overcome as an owner which he would not overcome as a tenant. Unless it was in those particular districts which were adapted for growing early potatoes or fruit farming, or some other special form of cultivation, he did not believe that small holdings were economically sound, and if they attempted to produce meat and corn upon small holdings he did not believe they would be successful. In producing corn in this country they had to compete against the whole world. How did they grow corn in Canada and the Western States of America? Did they divide the land up in small holdings? Certainly not. They ploughed towards the horizon, and there was nothing wasted. In ploughing three or four acres in this country the farmer had to turn his plough round thirty or forty times where the Canadian farmer only had to turn it once.

*MR. WEDGWOOD (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

said he should not have intervened at all in the debate but for some words which had fallen from the Prime Minister at Question time. There was only this week left to them to influence the Government in what might prove a critical session, and he for one did not mean to allow the chance to pass. In his opinion this Bill could not be a success unless it was preceded by a Valuation Bill. What was the machinery suggested for purchasing the land? It had to be purchased by the county council from private landowners, after certain expensive preliminaries, and upon the decision of a single arbitrator. The arbitrator had to decide between the local landlord and the public purse. The local landlord was generally a popular and influential person. Under those circumstances human nature would not be what it was if the landlord did not get the best of the bargain. Everybody knew what happened when a landlord went to arbitration with a public body or corporation in regard to the price to be paid for a piece of land. When a railway company or a public body obtained compulsory powers to purchase land and compelled a landlord to sell even a piece of land for a small bridge or a siding, the landlord generally asked about ten times as much as it was worth and he often succeeded in getting five times more than its proper value. Hon. Members knew that that was what invariably happened. He did not wonder that the Bill had been received fairly well by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, because it seemed to him to be very largely a landlord's endowment Bill. After the land had been bought, it was to be parcelled out among the unfortunate small holders. [Cries of "Divide."] There was no division. This Bill was welcomed by the other side. No one need stop. If the land was bought in that way, and taken up by the small holders at the enhanced price, and if they had to pay a sinking fund to clear oft all the charges in respect of land and buildings in eighty years, a fourth of them would be bound to go bankrupt before very long, and as soon as they went bankrupt the whole of the loss on the experiment fell on the rates. They would avoid all that if they produced a scheme which based the purchase price on a general uniform valuation all over the country. If they did that, they would be able to buy land at a price which might enable the small holder to make it pay. Personally, he should urge upon hon. Members that by far the best way of dealing with the question of small holdings, and getting the land used properly, was to have an entire reform of the system of local taxation. Until the rates were based, not on improvements as now, but on the unimproved value of land, they could not hope to get the land used in the best possible way. If they based the rates on the unimproved value, they would induce landlords to use the land in the best possible way. It was only by bringing the landlord to the tenant, and not the tenant to the landlord, that they could hope to solve this question.


said he agreed with the hon. Gentleman opposite that there was a great demand for small holdings in the country. His experience was that a working man would very much rather rent land than buy it. So far as ordinary allotments were concerned, he certainly thought that there should be compulsion to provide them at a reasonable price under fair conditions. It must, however, be remembered that in providing allotments there would have to be provision for houses, buildings, fences, and water supply. The moment a man got a small holding he was faced with the difficulty of providing these necessary things. The hon. Member for the Newton division did not say in his excellent speech whether, in connection with the cases to which he referred, buildings had been provided, or whether the tenants of the land merely took houses which were close by. The question of new houses, buildings, fences and water supply was at the bottom of this matter of providing small holdings. What was going to happen in regard to the buildings on a large farm for which large buildings had been especially erected after half the land had been taken and parcelled out in small holdings? That was a question which had to be considered. But the biggest difficulty, after all, was that they could not get labourers back on the land under present conditions, because they could not provide land and buildings at a price which would pay even two per cent. That was the difficulty which the Government had got to face, and unless they faced it, they were bound to get into a mess over the Bill. He knew that there was a great yearning among agricultural labourers for small holdings, and he should be only too delighted to provide small holdings if it were possible to do so, but it could not be done under present conditions. The difficulty was that people did not get enough money for their produce to enable them to pay the rates and taxes and the rent which would be required for the interest on the necessary outlay. The produce of other parts of the world was coming into this country without any taxation at all. He would put it in this way. All the things we produced from the land in this country, from a bullock to and egg, were very heavily taxed because the land was very heavily taxed. All foreign nations with their cheap land and cheap labour were actually given a bounty through the free entrance of their products into this country. Could agriculture be expected to flourish in this country when subjected to these hopelessly unfair conditions?

*MR. J. D. WHITE (Dumbartonshire),

considered that the system of purchase would not work satisfactorily unless it were preceded by a measure for the reform of valuation and rating, which would bring the cost of land down to its fair market price. If that were not done the prices would remain too high, and the burden would ultimately fall on those who had to repay it by instalments, while the plan would also have its usefulness impaired by the fact that as soon as a man improved his property the valuation and the rates would be raised against him. What was needed in the first instance to secure to our producers fair play as compared with their foreign competitors was that they should be able to obtain the land on reasonable terms and be assured that their rates would not be raised against them in consequence of their improvements.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Harcourt, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, Mr. Burns, Sir Edward Strachey, Mr. Lambert, and Mr. Solicitor-General.