§ Second Resolution—£100,000 (supplementary), Board of Agriculture and Fisheries)—
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY (Kent, Ashford)
said that in reference to this Vote he felt compelled to press the hon. Gentleman in connection with a matter raised on the previous night, and that was the unsatisfactory manner in which the Board of Agriculture were administering the Order in connection with gooseberry mildew. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think it was sufficient to read out a portion of an Order so as to show that some arrangement had been made for destroying and pruning infected bushes. But only in the latter part of last summer the Board, in their Journal, in dealing with this very matter, declared that spraying as a means of checking the disease was not altogether-satisfactory, as bushes previously affected had again shown the disease in spite of careful pruning. They had therefore come to the conclusion that it was only by the total destruction of the infected bushes that the disease could be extirpated. That was their opinion, and it was embodied in the first Order 420 issued, but, subsequently to that issue, a deputation from different parts of the country waited on the Board, who, in consequence, relaxed the provisions of the Order and went back to a state of things which they themselves had declared was not satisfactory and did not secure immunity from the disease. Under the first Order the bushes could be destroyed, but under the second there was the alternative allowed of pruning and spraying instead of destroying. His interest was in a county in which up to the present there had been no outbreak of the disease, and the growers were extremely anxious to keep free from it. But supposing an outbreak should occur, they wanted to avoid the delay attendant on going to the Board and having a separate Order made, because they knew what serious delays often happened when the Board was asked to forbid things, and they fear that in the event of such delay the disease would go ahead in the county where, probably, there were more gooseberries grown than in any other county in the United Kingdom. He had to appeal to the Board to enable any county, on the application of the county council, to regulate its own actions in this matter, and, if it chose, to order the destruction of the infected bushes at once. They preferred that to trying those half measures which, in the opinion of the Board, were not only unsatisfactory but also most uneconomical, and which, too, in the opinion of most of those who were acquainted with the subject, would not bring about the results all desired to see attained. He wished to ask the hon. Gentleman for an undertaking that any county should have the privilege, at all events, of returning to the first policy of the Board, a policy which they considered satisfactory and one by which alone they believed immunity from the disease could be secured, whereas it could not be secured under the conditions laid down in the second Order issued by the Board. In connection with another point he would ask the hon. Gentleman if he could not see his way, when scheduling comities for disease, to schedule not merely the county, but the particular district and the number of acres infected, so that people might know exactly how far the disease had gone. Such a course would be of great help to those who interested themselves in the matter. Then he desired to refer to the question 421 of milk-blended butter, and on that he hoped the hon. Gentleman, having had time for consideration, would be able to give a more satisfactory answer than he returned on the previous day, with regard to the manner in which the Board of Agriculture was exercising its right to allow certain names to be used for that article. They had mentioned on the previous day one very glaring case in which clearly the intentions of the Act had not been carried out, and he thought it very desirable that the Board should exercise more care in the selection of names. There was a large amount included in the Vote in connection with the subject of small holdings, and he thought they were entitled to ask for a clear statement from the Government with regard to the manner in which that money was to be expended. They had not, so far, been able to ascertain what were the objects for which the money was so immediately required. Indeed, so far as they could gather from the answers to the inquiries they had made, they were led to the conclusion that any expenditure under the Act likely to be incurred in the immediate future would have to be met by the unfortunate occupiers in the shape of an increase in the rent. Therefore they required more information as to the manner in which the money was to be spent. They wanted to know who would bear the cost of the preparations for carrying out the Act and of the valuations which undoubtedly would have to be made, with which cost it would obviously be unfair to hamper the new occupier in the first days of his occupation. They were well aware, of course, of the difficulty in which the hon. Gentleman was placed on the previous afternoon in being called upon to answer these questions in the absence of the real representative of the Board in that House, but, no doubt, now that he had had twenty-four hours reflection he would be able to give them more information.
§ *THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (Mr. HARCOURT,) Lancashire, Rossendale
I will deal only with that portion of the hon. Member's speech in which he asks as to the allocation of the £100,000 promised last year and which, in accordance with that promise, is being provided in the Supplementary Estimate. As the hon. Member, no doubt, is aware, that £100,000 is to be paid into the 422 Small Holdings Account of the Board of Agriculture, and, unlike ordinary Votes, no portion of it will be surrendered which may not have been paid out at the end of the financial year. There are three objects, which were fully stated in the debates in this House last year, to which this money is to be devoted. The first is the expense preliminary to the acquisition of the land, and, as I suggested yesterday, the Board will take a generous view of what are preliminary expenses in order to give as much assistance as they can to the county councils in the efforts which many of them are so readily making to put this Act into operation. The second object is the payment of any loss which may accrue to a county council which is voluntarily carrying out the provisions of the Act and which, having taken all reasonable precautions, still makes a loss on the transaction. That is in accordance with the promise which I gave to the Leader of the Opposition last year. Of course, it is a different matter where the Commissioners are compelled, if they are compelled at any time, to act in default of a county council which has failed in its duty. There, of course, the question of the payment of the whole or a part of the loss entailed will be a matter for consideration by the Board and the Treasury in conjunction with the county council, after full consideration of the circumstances which may have arisen.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY
Can the right hon. Gentleman say if the loss in respect of rent which the county council may incur during the period in which a small holding is being prepared will come out of the Central Fund?
§ *MR. HARCOURT
That is not a loss in the sense in which I am speaking. I will deal with that later on. The third object for which the £100,000 is intended, and, I think the only other object included in the Bill, is the making of grants to societies for the promotion of co-operation in connection with the cultivation of small holdings. The hon. Member has asked me as to the loss entailed by rent during the period the land is being prepared for the purposes of a small holding, and in regard to that I would point out that where you take a valuation or where a question of 423 tillages arises the amount paid to the outgoing tenant is very often more than recovered by the ultimate harvesting of the crop, and therefore the residual loss to the county council would be a very small one, and, indeed there might be a profit on the proceeding. But, in my opinion, undoubtedly any loss so entailed would be treated as part of the cost of the equipment of the land and would be spread by the county council over a term of years in any financial arrangement by way of loan or otherwise which they may make for spreading the cost of the equipment over a given period.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY
I was not alluding to valuations. I was alluding to the actual rent to be paid during the time the land is unoccupied and while it is being got ready for the new tenant.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
It is not quite clear that the land which is being got ready for the new tenant should, necessarily, become derelict during that time. The county council could easily make arrangements for the crops that may be in the ground to be gathered during that period. But still, if there is any loss during that period it obviously comes under the head of the cost of equipment. But the hon. Member must not assume that because some building or cottages are to be put up in a small corner of the holding, therefore the remainder of the land, either arable or pasture, cannot be occupied by the new holder. I do not see that there will be any serious difficulty in working the matter out in the way we suggest.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN (Worcestershire, E.)
How much of the £100,000 has been incurred this year? On two out of the three heads mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, I understand no expenditure has been incurred.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
Probably some expenditure has been incurred, but I cannot say how much. Arrangements have been made in the Act so that this £100,000 goes into the Small Holdings Account of the Board of Agriculture, and if not spent this year it will be retained for future needs.
§ SIR F. BANBURY (City of London)
said the right hon. Gentleman had sug- 424 gested that no loss would accrue by reason of the small landholder being pre vented from occupying his holding while the buildings or houses were being erected. But that depended on whether or not the small holder was living in close proximity to the holding. In the event of a man living in a cottage in a village and taking a certain amount of land adjoining it, he might be able to occupy the small holding while the buildings he required were in course of erection. But that, too, largely depended on the time of the year and the nature of the holding. He understood the object of the Act was to increase the number of people on the soil and to bring more land into cultivation. But they would not be increasing the number of people on the soil if the small holdings were to be composed solely of grass land. Such a policy would, on the contrary, tend to diminish the number, and he presumed therefore that the holdings would be largely arable. In that event it was absolutely essential, unless it happened to be summer time, that there should be buildings on the land, for the cattle, horses, and pigs would have to be housed. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen opposite might laugh, but he did not think they had over shown themselves serious in this matter, or that they had ever realised the serious difficulties involved in arranging a small holding successfully. If they would only take the trouble to go into the villages and ask information from people acquainted with the land, who had lived and worked upon it, they would find that his statement was right; they would discover that a man could not make a small holding by simply digging up a piece of ground. There was a great deal to be done on the land before it could be made profitable. There was another point which ought to be considered, and that was how was the tenant going to live while the crops were growing. It had to be remembered that they did not come up in one night.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
Order, order. The hon. Member is discussing a question which is not now before the House. He must confine himself to the expenditure of this £100,000.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said he desired to ask with regard to the expenditure of that money, how the loss in the valuation was 425 going to be made up in the event of the county council allowing the small holder to spread his payments over a period of years. He understood the right hon. Gentleman to say that this was all provided for by the amount of the Vote. But he was inclined to think that that was an error, because the £100,000 was not to be an annual grant, it was a lump sum intended to provide for the preliminary expenses which might arise in establishing these small holdings. It was to be presumed that in course of time, what with the expenses of arbitration and valuation and other things in connection with a large number of small holdings, the £100,000 would be exhausted. There was no provision, however, in the Act such as there was in the Scottish Bill for an annual grant of money. Yet they must bear in mind that a valuation would take place whenever there was a change of tenancy, and that might occur pretty often, as it was not to be expected a man would remain on the holding for ever. Then there was the question of spreading these payments over a number of years, and he did not know how the right hon. Gentleman could justify such a policy as that unless he first threw over the First Lord of the Admiralty and the Secretary of State for War, who had both expressly stated that they would not sanction this system of ex tended payments, because it was unsound finance. If it were unsound for the Army and Navy, surely it was equally unsound in the case of small holdings. He was glad to see the Secretary for War in his place. He hoped he would settle his difference with the First Commissioner of Works on this point in private, and then announce to the House what position the Government were going to take up on this very important financial question.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
I can only speak again, of course, by the leave of the House, but I am anxious immediately to relieve the mind of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London. He has said he would like us to settle in private the acute differences which he suggests have arisen between my colleagues and myself Well, I prefer to do so in public. I think he misunderstood me yesterday. No doubt, it was my fault, but my remarks were directed entirely to the provisions of the Act by which the 426 county councils are empowered to raise loans for two purposes. They are empowered to raise a loan for eighty years for the purchase of the land, and then they are empowered by the Bill to raise a loan for a term not exceeding fifty years for the equipment of the land. The valuation would come under the head of the necessary equipment of the land and it would be included in the loan raised for that purpose by the county council, and as that loan is only to be repaid by the tenant whoever he may happen to be, it will be spread over a period in the form of a small addition to the rent. I hope the hon. Baronet will not think my finance is so unsound as he suggests.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
I cannot see any difference between the finance of this Act and the raising of loans for naval and military works.
§ MR. BRIDGEMAN (Shropshire, Oswestry)
said he did not think they had yet got to the bottom of the question how that £100,000 was to be spent. They were told on the previous night that up to the present no expenses had been incurred under the Act, and to-day they were informed that possibly some had been incurred, but that the greater part of the money would be carried over to another year. If that were the case he ventured to assert that some of the supporters of the Government had been rather misleading the public by their speeches on this question. He saw that in the ordinary Estimates for this year there was no provision made for a continuance of the grant, or for a larger sum being used for the purposes of small holdings. But he had a leaflet in his hand dealing with the question of small holdings, and bearing the names of the hon. Members for Ilkeston and Northwich, in which it was said that for the three months ending March 1908, Parliament was to be asked to provide £100,000 for the purposes of the Act. Then he had a second leaflet issued by the Liberal Publication Department and written by the Member for the Rugby Division, in which it was pointed out that the £100,000 would only represent the expenditure for one quarter of the year. At the time these leaflets were being distributed in his constituency 427 speeches were also being made which undoubtedly led people to suppose that £400,000 a year would be spent under the Act. What they were entitled to know was whether this £100,000 was intended to cover such expenses as the county council might return as having been incurred by them before the 31st March, or was it supposed to be a grant to cover such proportion of the expenses as might be incurred in the rest of the year. As no provision had been made in the ordinary Estimates was he right in thinking that none was intended to be made? If so, the people had been grossly deceived as to the amount of money to be spent for the purpose of the Act.
§ *MR. J. A. PEASE (Essex, Saffron Walden)
said the Government, of course, did not feel that they were responsible for every statement made by their supporters in the country.
§ *MR. J. A. PEASE
said the Government were probably not responsible for those. The fund was not necessarily limited to £100,000; that amount would be augmented by the Treasury from time to time, so that the statutory purposes of the fund might be fulfilled. If more than £100,000 was required in the course of a year it would be supplied when wanted. He would like to add that if there had been any mis-statement by the Member for the Rugby Division he could only say it was quite excusable, for even an eminent K.C., like other hon. Members, could not always follow the complicated system of Treasury finance. The Government were undoubtedly grateful to the hon. Member for Rugby for the efforts he had made in the country to explain this Act. In reply to the hon. Member for Ashford who had expressed dissatisfaction with the replies given on the preceding night on the question of gooseberry mildew, he would like to explain that the growers protested against the drastic steps first taken by the Board, and as it was obvious that the Board must secure the cooperation of the growers if they wished to eliminate the disease from the country the regulations were modified, other- 428 wise the regulations might not be observed, and the very end which they had in view would be defeated. The Board were satisfied that the steps now being taken were sufficient. If they did not prove so, of course, more drastic steps would be taken. As to the request for more details of the scheduled areas and for more publicity, if it could be shown that it would be of any advantage to publish fuller details where outbreaks occurred that would be done. But the Board desired to go step by step and to take whatever course experience proved to be best. If, unfortunately, the disease broke out in the county of Kent, communication would be at once entered into with the local authorities, and in an hour or two possibly the order might be extended to Kent. Under the provisions of the Act the local authorities without the consent of the Department might pay compensation if they desired to do so.
§ MR. LAURENCE HARDY
And will they be allowed to vary the order and put in special provisions for Kent?
§ *MR. J. A. PEASE
said the Board desired to work with the local authorities, but while many of them had been active in the matter, others apparently had not realised the importance of the powers conferred on them by the Act. With regard to milk-blended butter, he was advised that the intentions of Parliament had been strictly adhered to. The article generally termed milk-blended butter must bear a complete description of its contents, quite apart from its name, which, of course, could not include the word butter. The description not only included the percentage of water contained, but also the number of ounces. He was confident that the suspicion was unfounded that in this matter they had gone outside the intentions or words of the Act.
§ SIR BERKELEY SHEFFIELD (Lincolnshire, Brigg)
said the hon. Gentleman had expressed the hope that during the 429 time the small holder was not in occupation of the small holding the county council would farm small holdings themselves. He wished to inquire how he proposed they should do that, and how it was proposed to get the money. Would the county council be supposed to appoint a bailiff, and were they to have a farm committee to look after these matters? If the county council had to farm land when the smallholder was not in occupation, he wanted to know how they were going to do it, and out of what money the expenses were to be defrayed. The hon. Gentleman had said that very likely the county council would be able to repay themselves the money out of the proceeds from the harvest which they would reap later in the year. But supposing the harvest was a bad one, and resulted in a loss—and the hon. Gentleman knew as well as he did that farming was not always a profitable occupation—who was to pay for the loss? Would it be the ratepayers, or would the money be provided out of the £100,000 for the working of the Act? A point was raised the previous night as to a farm he proposed to let. There were on it three sets of buildings, including a house and stabling for eight horses. The county council proposed to place two families in the farmhouse already standing—and he might leave it to the hon. Gentleman to imagine how they would get on together—and to arrange for another outbuilding to be converted into a dwelling for a third smallholder, while they were going to create a fourth in a field adjoining. The county council would have to put up fencings, and drain the land which they were dividing. The fields might be laid down either with wheat, turnips, or potatoes, and he wished to know who was to suffer the loss if the crop proved a failure. If the hon. Gentleman could inform him on this point he would be very much obliged, because he believed such information would help the county council a good deal in their management of the question. He did not raise this point simply with the desire to make political capital out of it. They had to find the means whereby they could make the scheme a success, and he asked the question solely with the idea of trying to make the Act a perfect success.
§ *MR. J. F. MASON (Windsor)
said he wished to refer to the possible loss during the year of equipment which might fall upon the ratepayers of the county. Before a successor was found he understood the county council would have to farm the place at the cost of the ratepayers. That, in any case, would be a speculative operation. Then there was the case in which the county council had taken the land on a 14 years' lease, and after the first two or three years the small holder abandoned it, and the farm again came into the hands of the council, who presumably, would not desire to lot it run to waste and would have to farm it again. If all those risks would be put upon the ratepayers it seemed to him quite possible that the demand upon the rates might very easily exceed the amount which the Act allowed to be raised from the rates for the whole of its working. If that was so it was evident that the whole operation of the Act would come to an absolute deadlock. He believed that the largest amount which could be raised under the Act in Oxfordshire would be £5,000, and supposing the number of small holdings was anything like the demand anticipated, it seemed to him quite possible that the call upon the rates would exceed the £5,000 limit and under those circumstances the Act was bound to come to an absolute deadlock.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR (City of London)
This is not, in one sense, a very convenient time to deal with some of these Estimates, because, being the Report stage, the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Vote has not the same freedom that he would have on the Committee stage. Nevertheless I am sure the House will be only too glad to give him permission to deal with the questions which are of the most fundamental importance in connection with this Act. I am only going to raise an instance which was brought up last night of which the Department must be fully seized, and of which I have no doubt they have adequate information dealing with the very general points of policy with which I mean to trouble the House on the present occasion. The actual question before us is the £100,000 voted in the course of the present financial year, and the question is to what purpose that is or ought to be devoted, 431 and how it should be expended in furthering the objects of the Act. My hon. friend behind me has already quoted a leaflet which has reached its second edition, written by the hon. Member for the Rugby division, in which the following words occur in respect of this very £100,000 with which the House is at present engaged.—The great difficulty in providing small holdings will be the cost of setting out the land, dividing it, fencing it, and supplying it with buildings and the like, and these expenses, unless some money help is given, will stop many a promising proposal.This help is given in paragraph 2, referring to the £100,000 and the successors of that £100,000 which no doubt the Government will ask the House to vote next year and in subsequent years. That being the promise which has been made, and for which the Party opposite are responsible as a Party, because the leaflet is published by the Liberal Publication Department in connection with the National Liberal Federation—the Party opposite so far are collectively, if not severally and individually, responsible for this impression which is widespread throughout the country. The right. hon. Gentleman opposite now gets up and tells us that not a single penny of this £100,000 is going to be devoted to the purposes mentioned in this pamphlet. That moans to say that not a penny of it is going towards the cost of setting out the land or towards dividing or fencing the land or supplying buildings and the like. It follows that the hon. Member who is responsible for this pamphlet and the society who have issued it have made their statements without a shadow of foundation. These proposals, which they say are going to be supported and sub-vented out of public funds, are not to have a single sixpence out of public funds to provide the initial cost of starting small holdings. In the face of these circumstances, my hon. friend behind me raised this very important question in a concrete instance which has come under his own personal experience. He offered, as the House knows, a farm to the county council at a less rent than the rent actually paid before, and less than he could probably get in the open market from a farmer prepared to farm the whole farm as an agricultural unit. His offer has been refused by the county council, and it has been refused because 432 the county council say, and say with obvious truth, that there will be a heavy expense thrown upon them during that period in which they would not be able to put small holders on the land because the land is not ready to support them, and they obviously cannot have a tenant whilst the land is in the process of conversion from a big farm into smaller farms. They say that that is a costly process and they are not prepared to undergo it. Then my hon. friend, having failed with the county council, went to the Department and said: "Are you prepared to undertake this offer? Here is a farm offered to you below its commercial value, suitable for small holdings and for which small holders are ready." There are many parts of the country in which they are not ready, but in this case by common admission the small holders are ready. It would, therefore, seem to be the most favourable example you can possibly conceive for carrying out the objects aimed at by the Act which was conducted through the House by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, and with whose objects everybody sympathises. If this is not an opportunity for turning a large farm into small farms, when are you going to have an opportunity? Both the county council and the Department say there are obstacles in the way; and yet the objection in this case is not that the landlord is asking an exorbitant price for his land, but that the carrying out of the scheme would be too expensive. Here the landlord offers the land at less than its value. Do you expect very much land to be offered you below its value? If you cannot deal with a situation in which the land is offered you below its value, how are you going to deal with it when the land is offered at its proper value? What peculiarity is there in connection with the farm offered by my hon. friend which is not incidental to every offer that is likely to be made, or, indeed, that you can conceive being made in a county or district where the farms are which you desire to make smaller? In every such case there will be this interval between the moment at which the large tenant leaves his holding either by death or resignation and the moment when the small holders can come into possession. There is no ground for thinking that the interval is likely to be longer or more costly to the county council or the 433 Government in this particular case than in all other cases. If, then, the interval is an adequate and reasonable one in the case of the farm offered by my hon. friend, how are we ever, under this Act, to see small holdings created in any part of the country? The right hon. Gentleman will thoroughly understand it. I do not urge this as an objection to the scheme for starting small holdings, but I do venture to point out that there must be some defect either in the machinery started by the Act of last year or in the manner in which that Act is being administered, which has interposed this obstacle between my hon. friend's intentions and the actual creation of small holdings. That obstacle is quite a simple one, and it is the very obstacle which the hon. Member for the Rugby division refers to in the pamphlet issued by the Publication Department of his Party, viz., the difficulty as to the cost of setting out the land, fencing it, supplying buildings and the like. You ought not to throw upon either the county council or the future small holder such costs as these. Why should you throw the cost on the county council? Why should the ratepayer of a particular county have their rates augmented and a new burden put upon them because the Government desire, for broad social reasons, to modify the existing system of occupation of land? Why should they bear the charge? I do not think any human being can find a reason. Why should the future holder bear the charge? The whole principle of the Act was that the county council should not lose any money by the creation of small holdings. If the county council are to lose no money, and if the State is not going to come to their assistance, and if the transforming of big farms is a costly proceeding, the only person who remains on whose shoulders that burden can be thrown is the small holder. If the taxpayer and county council ought not to be asked to do it, the only person that remains is the small holder. The money has to be found somewhere. I am afraid that in view of these facts you are going to start small holdings under conditions predoomed to failure. The difficulties of small holdings are very great, even when they are favourably situated in regard to markets, and the nature of the soil is specially fitted for intensive cultivation. If you are going to throw upon the small holder burdens which have 434 nothing to do with the equipment—because the cost of putting up cottages or the necessary fences and the other things referred to are not equipment but the waste incidental to the period of transition—then you are placing upon him a very heavy burden indeed. For that the small holder is to get nothing at all, and he ought not to be charged for it. I do not see how your system is to go on if that is to be done. It is plain that if you do not charge it to the small holder you must charge it to the ratepayer or the taxpayer, and it is manifestly unjust to charge it to every ratepayer, because it does not benefit the ratepayer as such, for it is only part of a general scheme of social regeneration. The conclusion is irresistible that the person who ought to boar the loss of this period of transition must be the taxpayer; and what I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman is whether the Government or the Department have faced the necessity—whether they are prepared to say that this £100,000, and the other Votes of the same character, will not be used merely to deal with the preliminary expenses—with valuation, and matters of that kind—but in order to throw upon those who really ought to bear it, the charge inevitable to the transition from large culture to small culture. That is a perfectly plain question and it is strictly revelant to this Vote. It touches the very centre, essence, and core of the whole policy of the Government. The justification for what I have said is to be found in the pamphlet issued by the Liberal Party of which I am speaking, and the whole thing is brought to a focus, emphasised, and made plain and lucid to the idlest intelligence by the concrete case brought forward by my hon. friend, in which he shows that even where land suitable for small holdings is offered to the county council, and where small holders are ready to occupy the land, yet in the opinion of the Government Department the county council is justified in refusing the land, and the Department is justified in not carrying a scheme over the heads of the county council by accepting this relatively cheap land for the purposes for which the Act of last year was passed. I have not entered into irrelevant details. I have tried to focus the attention of the House on the crucial point, and I earnestly trust the Government will give a clear answer to what I 435 am vain enough to think is a perfectly clear question.
§ *MR. EVERETT (Suffolk, Woodbridge)
said it was extremely unfortunate that the hon. Member for South-west Norfolk was not in the House at the present time. The hon. Member had probably had more experience in dealing with small holdings than any other Member in the House, being chairman of a small holdings association which had dealt with many cases precisely like that put before the House. Speaking in Committee yesterday he had stated that he had had to do with several cases such as that just described, and in every case had been able to make a profit during the year in which the farm was being prepared for the small holders. He himself imagined that the only reason why the county council did not accept the offer of the particular farm referred to was that their arrangements were not in a sufficiently advanced state for them to know who were suitable men to put on to the holdings, and the methods that ought to be adopted.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I am told that that is not the case. I am told that there were small holders ready and that the county council knew they were ready.
§ MR. EVERETT
thought the county council were wanting in pluck when they did not accept the farm offered on a thirty-five years lease at an exceedingly low rate. He regretted the farm was not accepted forthwith and made the best of in the year during which it was being prepared for those who were to become the future permanent tenants.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
I do not know how much longer the House will tolerate my disorderly intervention in the debate. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it is an inconvenient moment to have what is really a complicated Committee discussion on the administration of the elaborate details of a particular Act. I assure the hon. Member for Windsor that in no circumstances can the cost of equipment of small holdings fall upon the ratepayer. That is paid by the county council and is charged to the tenants subsequently in the form of rent, spread over whatever term of years may be agreed upon on the settlement of the question of loans with the Local Government Board. With 436 regard to a vacant small holding, I remind the House that the county council may let surplus land to others than small holders. When dealt with as surplus land it escapes the limitations imposed by the Bill generally.
§ MR. J. F. MASON
The land may fail to be let altogether and remain in the hands of the county council.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
Of course there are imaginary cases which could be produced in every discussion; but it is not in accordance with the general experience in England that much land should be left unoccupied. I am not as great an agricultural expert as the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, though, of course I have learned something from him, and I am aware, as he was good enough to inform the House, that crops do not grow up in an hour. The experience of small holdings associations does not confirm the fears of the hon. Baronet that there will be difficulty in getting a crop harvested by a neighbouring farmer or letting land temporarily to the neighbouring farmer himself, who will be very happy to attend to it. With reference to the questions of the Leader of the Opposition, what the hon. Baronet the Member for Brigg has done is to bring before the House special difficulties arising about a particular farm in his own possession. The county council seem to have had a most reasonable offer from the hon. Baronet, but they appear not to have been prepared with their whole scheme or ready at once to let off that farm to smallholders and wished to take it at a later date. I think they would have been well advised to have accepted what seems to have been a generous offer. I would have done so myself in their place without much anticipation of loss in the future. It is not the case that under the Act the Commissioners could come in and take the land. The Commissioners can only come in when the county council is in default or if in a district they wish to set up experimental small holdings to prove their feasibility. In this case there is a demand, the county council are ready to meet the demand, and they cannot be held to be in default, and it is not necessary to prove the feasibility of small holdings, as that is admitted.
§ SIR BERKELEY SHEFFIELD
said the Commissioners had informed him that if they had accepted the offer he made to them, the same difficulties would have occurred to them as to the county council.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
Perhaps the difficulty arose because the special class of tenants had to be brought from a distance to occupy that particular farm. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the cost of adaptation might be thrown upon the ratepayers under the Act.
§ MR. A. J. BALFOUR
I did not deal with the case of adaptation, but with the cost incidental to the fact that there must be an interval between the end of the tenure of the large holder and the beginning of the tenure of the small holder. Who is to bear that cost?
§ *MR. HARCOURT
In another well-known case, that of the Burwell small holdings, there was no interval at all, so that it is not the case that there must necessarily be an interval; but where there is an interval, undoubtedly the cost entailed is cost entailed in the adaptation of the land, and it will be charged to the loan for adaptation and equipment, and will therefore be spread over a series of years. What the right hon. Gentleman described as the waste incident to the period of transition is so extremely small when spread over a long period as to be practically a negligible quantity, and it has been proved to be so in the experience of those who have set up small holdings. There is another point I am bound to refer to. It is a point which was made by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, and that was the question as to whether his interpretation of the leaflet issued by the Liberal Publication Department was a correct one. If the right hon. Gentleman's literal interpretation of that leaflet is a correct one, then undoubtedly the leaflet is incorrect, and I will take care that it is corrected to that extent. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman and his friends that in any debates that took place last year in Committee upstairs or downstairs on Report, I never suggested for a moment that any part of the grant of £100,000 was to be applied to the equipment of the land or 438 for the erection of buildings. I made it abundantly clear in debate in Committee and on the Report stage that that money was to be applied to various expenses incident to the acquisition of the land, and to losses which might be entailed while the Act was being reasonably carried out by a county council; and also that the grant might be used in giving assistance to co-operative and other associations. I never suggested for one moment that grants from the £100,000 were to be made for anything else.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I did not sit on the Committee upstairs, but my friends who did entirely bear out the recollection as to the statement of the purposes for which the grant of £100,000 was voted. But that fact only makes it less excusable that it should have been stated that it was to be devoted to the purposes indicated in the leaflet published by the Liberal Publication Department and circulated broadcast over the land in connection with the agitation which the Government supporters are carrying on to stimulate the demand for small holdings. The statement has been repudiated by the right hon. Gentleman. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman will have it corrected, and I hope that he will exercise a similar much-to-be-desired censorship on the other publications of the Liberal Publication Department.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
If the right hon. Gentleman were to correct all the publications of the Liberal Publication Department so that they should square exactly with the truth it would require a great deal of his time. One word as to the real difficulty that has arisen, and which the right hon. Gentleman passes by much too lightly. No doubt there will be difficulties in carrying out the Act, and one of these has been illustrated by the case mentioned by my hon. friend the Member for Brigg. Doubtless there will be cases where the new tenant can at once occupy the land or where arrangements can be made for the cultivation of the land in the interval. But in the great majority of cases in order to turn the big farm into small holdings considerable work 439 will have to be done which must involve a disturbance of occupation, must destroy crops which may be on the ground, or prevent the ground being worked. The right hon. Gentleman refuses—and I do not charge him with any breach of faith—to give any portion of the grant of £100,000 to pay for the loss incurred. If he maintains that refusal, what will be the result? The rent for the land which cannot be used will have to be added to the expense of equipping the land to be acquired by the new tenant when he gets into the holding. What we are asking the new tenant to do is not only to pay for the full use of the land during the time he occupies it, but in addition to exact from him rent for the land before he gets occupation of his holding. I ask the Government: Do they think they will really promote the establishment of small holdings if they refuse to allow a grant out of the £100,000 to meet cases of that kind?
MR. STANLEY WILSON (Yorkshire, E. R., Holderness)
said that, as a Member sitting on the back benches, he wished to protest strongly against the fact that not a single member of the Government was prepared to answer the question brought forward by the hon. Member for Brigg. It was a most important question, and if no answer was to be given to it it seemed to him that the Act of last year, on which the Government prided themselves, would prove absolutely unworkable in practice. The question briefly was this: What was to be done with the land while it was being prepared for the new small holder? The right hon. Gentleman had replied by saying that the county council would crop the land. The hon. Baronet had asked a simple question, but the right hon. Gentleman had not given an answer to it. How could the county council find the money to carry on the cultivation of the land? The reason why no member of the Government was prepared to answer the question of the hon. Member for Brigg was absolutely simple. It was that the Government chose last session to place the right hon. Gentleman in charge of an important Bill dealing with agriculture when he had nothing to do with that Department himself. And the right hon. Gentleman was sent 440 down that day and on the previous day to reply to questions as to the administration of the Act now that it had become law. The right hon. Gentleman had got up at the Table on several occasions and declared that he knew nothing of his own Act. Such a state of affairs as now existed was an absurdity. The right hon. Gentleman had had a night's rest, and when he could not answer the questions asked on the previous day he might have taken the trouble to find out whether there was any possible answer to them. The answer which the right hon. Gentleman had given that day to the question put to him by the hon. Member for Brigg had, he thought, been of a most unsatisfactory character. The whole financial methods of dealing with the Act seemed to him to be absurd and impossible. In the Estimates of the present year there was no mention of the £100,000 and no Vote for another £100,000; nor was there the slightest mention to the House that £100,000 had been voted last year. He asked the right hon. Gentleman what was the attitude of the Government in regard to this particular matter? Did they intend to continue the grant of £100,000 during the coming year? And would it be done by way of a Supplementary Estimate, or how would it be done?
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG (Down, E.)
said he thought from what had fallen from the hon. Member that it must be obvious that the Government would have been better advised if they had not taken this particular Estimate to-day, but had waited until the representative of the Department of Agriculture could have attended. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman who was now filling his position repudiated the leaflet circulated by the Liberal Publication Department and that instructions would be given that the pamphlet should no longer be circulated in order to delude the people on this important subject. He wished the right hon. Gentleman had answered the question pressed upon him from more than one quarter of the House. They were very anxious to discover some of the details for which this large sum of money was to be voted. It was shrouded in mystery except that the £100,000 was to assist in 441 providing the machinery whereby the Small Holdings Act was to be carried on. It was in no sense to pay for building materials or the like. His recollection of the Act was that some of the £100,000 might be called upon to make good the losses which would arise under the scheme. The question he would press on the right hon. Gentleman was: In the event of the £100,000 being found in practice to be wasted on law charges and inspectors' fees instead of in actually providing small holdings, could he give the House any estimate whatever of the number of small holdings that would be carried on with the money? They knew that £100,000 was to assist in the project of providing small holdings, but they had no chance whatever of estimating what benefit it would be to the small holders in the long run. Was it not possible that a large part of the money might be frittered away in compelling the local authorities to put the Act into operation? The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the case mentioned by the hon. Member for Brigg had been tricked out in order to emphasise an argument, but he thought it was far better to take a concrete instance than to deal in generalities, and they all knew that the hon. Member for Brigg was in favour of a scheme of small holdings rather than against it. With no desire in the world to prevent small holdings being started where they were economically sound and where they did not undersell those who were engaged in a similar occupation, he thought the Government were making a very meagre effort to carry out their great flag-waving performance at the general election. They seemed to think that they could pass a Bill through the House of Commons and vote £100,000 for an indefinite period. The Junior Lord of the Treasury, in referring to the pamphlet issued by the Liberal Publication Department, said that, although it was wrong, yet if the £100,000 was insufficient to carry out the Act more money would be found. That was going further than the statement in the pamphlet to which so much objection had been taken; and surely the House should have some estimate as to what amount of money was wanted. It appeared to him that to rush this Estimate through the 442 House on the understanding that if it proved insufficient the Government were prepared to ask for an unlimited supply, was not a fair course to pursue. Nothing could be more vague than for a Government to say that if the Estimate of £100,000 they put forward was not enough they would present another for a further £100,000 or £200,000. He would like to know whether this sum of £100,000 was also to include a certain amount of expenses for instructors. The right hon. Gentleman had suggested that a man might be brought from one part of England to another in order to be supplied with a farm in a different part of the country from that to which he was naturally adapted. They all knew that farms, whether on a large or on a small scale, differed throughout England, not to mention Ireland and Scotland, and he wished to ascertain whether it was intended that Irish farmers who had been unsuccessful in obtaining allotments in congested districts would be brought across to Essex or Kent and have a farm provided for them under the Act.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. and gallant Member is now discussing the general provisions of the Act, but that does not come under the review of the House at the present time, but only the question as to the allocation of this £100,000.
§ CAPTAIN CRAIG
said he was just going to ask whether, in such a case as he had put, this £100,000 would be used to instruct any farmer coming to a fresh place, because it appeared to him that if a part of this money was spent in, giving instruction to those who were granted farms under the Small Holdings Act, everyone would agree that it should be given. He did not think that money for a Small Holdings Act could be better spent than in giving those who were to occupy the farms a thorough technical training in that industry on which their livelihood depended. If that was what the £100,000 meant he would like to see part of it devoted to that purpose. He would also urge upon the Government the necessity of keeping a close analysis of how the money was spent after the new holdings had been 443 created, because it would be an inestimable advantage if the right hon. Gentleman could produce evidence of the application of the sum which they were then voting. The right hon. Gentleman should keep a close record not alone of the actual salaries of the multifarious officials employed, but of the effect of having transformed some of the larger farms into smaller ones. He did not think that anyone who took an interest in agriculture, whether in Ireland or in England, could have more valuable data to go upon than that which might be the result of voting this large sum of money for this purpose. Another point to which he would like to refer was one which the right hon. Gentleman pooh-poohed as a merely imaginary idea, viz., that some of the farms taken over by the local authority, might be left derelict. If the right hon. Gentleman would only cast his eyes across the water to Ireland he would know that local authorities did have trouble in letting land which they had acquired under a scheme such as was framed under the Act. The right hon. Gentleman had said they were merely supposing a case, but they knew of concrete cases, and the right hon. Gentleman was really in the air, as he was apt to be in this matter, instead of studying practical details. It was extremely difficult for local authorities after having acquired land and equipped it to find a tenant who was willing to step in. The right hon. Gentleman had still left unanswered the question of who was to bear the loss in such a case, whether it would come from this £100,000 or be paid eventually by the ratepayers of the district. Surely it was not too much to ask for an answer to the question put by the Leader of the Opposition and that it should not be dismissed in the airy fashion in which it had been.
§ MR. T. L. CORBETT (Down, N.)
entirely agreed with his hon. and gallant friend that the Government would have been well advised in postponing this Vote until the Minister actually responsible was in the House. With the peculiar charm which the House unanimously admitted the First Commissioner of Works to possess, he had nearly persuaded the House to rush through the 444 Vote of £100,000 without any discussion at all. They were deeply indebted, as they often were, to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London for having dragged out of the Government what the Vote really meant, although even now-there was a somewhat confused impression of what it meant. This was not an annual Vote, but a lump sum of £100,000. The Junior Lord of the Treasury had pointed out that, although it need not all be spent at once, far more might be spent than £100,000. They were not told how much more was likely to be spent. It might be extended into many hundreds of thousands before the Government were satisfied. There was one refreshing incident in the speech of the Junior Lord, and that was the frank and complete repudiation of the abominable pamphlets published by the hon. Gentleman's Party. He thought it gave great satisfaction to every Member that he, standing at the Front Bench, should repudiate entirely leaflets circulated by the Liberal Party throughout the country, which leaflets they knew had been so completely misleading in the past. He could not help thinking, after listening to the discussion, that after the very able and weighty speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, and after the many speeches which had followed, they were entitled to some fuller answer as to what the distribution of the £100,000 would be, and whether the Junior Lord of the Treasury was correct in saying that the £100,000 did not mean the limit, but that it could be almost indefinitely extended. This mode of silently voting money without any discussion should come to an end. The party of economy really seemed to be a party of extravagance, and the pledges of economy made so freely at the election seemed to be departed from when any Vote came before the House. The only Party that appeared to take any interest in these matters was the Unionist Party. He looked at the Nationalist Benches. There was only one Member there. He looked at the Labour Benches. There were only throe Members present. And yet they had been discussing the voting of millions of money.
§ *CAPTAIN CLIVE (Herefordshire, Ross)
thought that the country had looked 445 upon this £100,000 as being practically promised for the purposes of the Small Holdings Act, because those interested in small holdings had certainly been led to expect that that amount and more would be forthcoming from the Treasury to start the Act. If he understood what had happened it appeared to be stated from the Government Benches that day that none of this money was going to be applied in the current year to carrying out the Small Holdings Act. The farmers in the country regarded the Act with some suspicion, because rightly or wrongly they feared that some of the best parts of their farms might be taken away, and from another point of view they felt that there would be an increased charge on the rates. He could not help thinking that they would suspect that the Government, who had opposed the Agricultural Rating Act but dared not repeat it, were trying to throw the burden of the Small Holdings Act, for which they claimed so much credit, on the ratepayers. It seemed to him that at least part of this £100,000 might have been used for such a case as that brought before the House by the hon. Baronet the Member for the Brigg Division, because it appeared that under the Act the Treasury might assist county councils where, through no fault of the county councils, there had been a loss in any particular year He thought the Treasury might have been more generous in assisting the county councils in these matters. It certainly would be extremely hard upon the small holder to have to pay not only the interest on the buildings, but also towards the loss which would occur during the first year. He still hoped that some encouragement would be given to the small holders with regard to these matters.
§ *MR. GEORGE FABER (York)
said the Unionist members of the Small Holdings Committee which discussed this matter for many days upstairs, last year, always foretold that the time of disillusionment would come to the small holders. The right hon. Member for Bordesley over and over again impressed on the Committee the fact that when the matter was completely understood it would be found that the 446 beast of burden would be the small holder. He, therefore, was not surprised if disappointment had already arisen in the minds of intending small holders all over the country when they found that this £100,000 was not available for the purpose of providing a great portion of the initial expenditure. They had only just awakened to the fact that they not only would have to pay the rent but also a sum which in eighty years would represent the capital value of the land, and it was a great blow to them to find that at the end of that time the county councils became the owners of the land instead of themselves.
§ *MR. SPEAKER
The hon. Member is not entitled to discuss the policy of the Act as a whole. He is only entitled to discuss the allocation of the £100,000.
§ *MR. GEORGE FABER
apologised for travelling rather wide of the question. He believed, however, that the small holder had got it into his head that this sum of £100,000 was going to provide for the indirect expenses, and that all he would have to pay would be the rent. But during the suspension period, the intermediate period between the time the land was taken from the landlord and the time when it was handed over to the small holder, during which a loss was likely to occur, such loss would directly or indirectly fall upon the small holder. He had not been present during the whole of the debate, but he understood that the right hon. Gentleman had not given any encouraging reply on this point. As he understood, the right hon. Gentleman stated that the £100,000 would not be available to recoup anybody for the loss that might occur during the intermediate period, and that certainly would be a great disappointment to the small holder. Last year the House understood that there would have to be a large sum provided for the cost of equipment, and he did not for one moment imagine that this £100,000 was going to be the beginning and the end of it. Many hundreds of thousands of pounds would have to follow the £100,000 which was now being voted. The House would be entering a fool's paradise if it imagined that this was anything more than the beginning of a great expenditure. This 447 Act, if it was to bring success, was going to cost the country a very large sum. The experiment might not be worth it, though he thought it would be if a large number of small holders could be put upon the land, but there could be no doubt that it must mean a great expenditure of public money.
§ *MR. CHAPLIN (Surrey, Wimbledon)
said that both the right hon. Gentleman opposite and the hon. Member for Suffolk seemed disposed to take the Lindsey county council to task, because they did not at once close with the offer of the hon. Member for the Brigg Division, but he desired to support the county council of the county to which he belonged. He ventured to say that that body was wiser than the right hon. Gentleman in not accepting the offer of his hon. friend. The right hon. Gentleman said that this was a special difficulty, arising in a special case, but the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition was quite correct when he pointed out that this was not a special difficulty in a special case at all, but these were difficulties which would necessarily arise in every case, no matter when they arose, and which would always have to be met. The right hon. Gentleman was quite correct in what he had stated as to the course he had always taken with regard to the £100,000. He remembered more, though he had forgotten it when this debate began, that this very question was raised in Grand Committee upon an Amendment which he himself moved. He did not remember exactly what the Amendment was, but he proposed to alter the wording of the clause so as to make the £100,000 available for this particular purpose. The ground upon which he moved the Amendment was that unless that were done, he felt perfectly satisfied that the Bill could never be made a workable Act or a success. The right hon. Gentleman however took the opposite view. His right hon. friend the Leader of the Opposition was quite right when he pointed out that all this must be an additional burden on the new tenant, the small holder. How would it work out in the case put before the House in the course of the debate? The hon. Member for the Brigg Division this 448 afternoon had given a concrete case, in which he showed that a sum of £1,200 and probably more would have to be spent on the buildings and equipment and the necessary conversion of this one farm into several small farms. That alone would result with some other expenses that he printed out in an addition of 9s. to 9s. 6d. an acre to the rent. But that was not all that would have to be provided, because the new tenant would be charged rent during the period of conversion which would be a dead loss. In this case the rent was to be 20s. That would come to £200 a year. But that was not all because the tenant right had to be provided for, and that also fell upon the small holder. It would not be a very extravagant estimate to put the value of the tenant right at two years rent which made another £400 a year. So that altogether £650 a year more had to be provided which would work out at 5s. or 6s. an acre more. Here they had at the commencement small holdings on a particular farm paying an additional rent of between 15s. and 16s., and he thought that under these circumstances the county council had acted very wisely. But this would not be a special case; it was what they would have to look forward to in every case. They would always be confronted with these difficulties. That was the reason why in Committee upstairs he had expressed his view as strongly as he could upon this point, showing that if they were determined to make this experiment in the form of compulsory hire, the burden ought to fall on the State. To that opinion he still adhered. And he thought that here they had an object lesson in the case brought forward, which ought to lead them to see that he was not very far wrong in the observations he had made in Committee.
§ *MR. HARCOURT
I do not rise to further intervene in the debate. I have been asked several questions with regard to the allocation of the sum of £100,000. Those who have taken part in the debate know very well the purposes to which it is to be devoted. I have risen because references have been made to a leaflet containing statements with reference to the allocation of the amount, and I should state at once that a blunder in 449 the leaflet was discovered long ago, and the leaflet was withdrawn long ago. I have in my hand the leaflet which has now been issued by the Liberal Publication Department for some time. It contains no statement with regard to the allocation of that £100,000 which is not absolutely correct, and I now offer the right hon. Gentleman the last revise.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Third Resolution—(£20 (Supplementary), The Mint, including Coinage)—considered.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said the original estimate was £12,000, and now it was £14,307, which was an extremely large increase of about 20 per cent. The explanation of it was that it was to defray the additional expenses for freight in respect of the large quantities of silver required for shipment abroad. He thought they must be indeed unusually large quantities if there was such a great increase in the amount charged for freight. He would like to ask first of all how such a bad estimate had come to be made of the quantity of silver required for shipment abroad. He spoke rather in ignorance, and would like to be corrected; but he presumed that the quantity of silver required for shipment abroad was well known, that it did not vary very much, and that consequently the Mint should have been able to ascertain with a greater degree of precision the amount required for the landing of silver abroad. He would also like to know why such unusually large quantities of silver coin were required for shipment abroad. He assumed that it was not preliminary to bimetallism.
§ MR. AUSTEN CHAMBERLAIN
I do not know whether I am right in supposing, though I think it is very likely, that a good deal of this silver coinage is required for West Africa, where for the most part the silver currency, as far as it existed, consisted of the Maria Theresa dollar, which was the customary medium of exchange. Since the development of the British Empire in West Africa, and possibly in East Africa as well, though of that I know nothing, the English silver coinage has been used, and I think I am right in 450 saying that it has already got considerable circulation. At the time of the death of her late Majesty the matter was seriously considered by the Colonial Office whether they could afford to change the head upon the coinage at the time when the new coins were struck, and whether the head of his present Majesty on the coins for use in Great Britain could be put on the silver coinage for use in West Africa. It was feared that the change might give rise in those regions to the idea that the new money was bad money, which would not meet with acceptance. I am glad to know, however, that those fears were overruled, and I believe that the coinage with the King's head on it is finding ever increasing currency in Africa. That being so, I wanted to ask the hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury if he can tell me what arrangement is prevailing as to the profits on the silver coinage. I think I am right in saying that some arrangement for procuring an account of the coinage has been made with certain Colonies, but I am not quite certain to what extent they do account for silver coinage in the great self-governing Colonies at the present time. I believe, however, there were certain arrangements by which they were to share the profits of such silver coinage as was absorbed by them. What I want to ask the hon. Gentleman is whether any similar arrangement is in force with regard to those African Possessions of ours—whether they are allowed to enjoy, as part of their revenue, the profits on the silver coinage sent to them, or whether it is all retained by the Treasury.
§ THE FINANCIAL SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY (Mr. RUNCIMAN,) Dewsbury
The right hon. Gentleman is probably aware that most of our West African Colonies, and I think the whole of the East African Colonies, are not self-supporting, and the view of the Treasury is that it would be ridiculous to say that we should share the profits with those Colonies to which we are already making grants in aid. It was agreed at the last Colonial Conference that we should allow the whole of the profits on the silver coinage to go to the revenue of the Australian Colonies. Last year we coined something like 451 £23,000,000. We could not possibly make a very near estimate. Indeed, in making up our Estimates we were bound to be guided by the Bank, and the Bank, like everybody else, were completely out in their estimates of the amount of money required last year. Very much more silver and copper coinage was required for circulation last year than we ever needed before. The hon. Gentleman knows that there was a movement all over the world, which no one could foresee. I need not go into further detail, but would merely ask the House to agree to the Resolution.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Fourth Resolution—Class III., £1,870, Public Trustee—considered.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said the details were apparently very small as to what had been spent. Travelling and incidental expenses, £200; salaries, £2,070; and appropriation-in-aid, £400. He presumed the appropriation-in-aid was fees received by the Public Trustee for the services which he had performed for the public. Personally he was very much in favour of the appointment of a Public Trustee, and he was extremely glad the House had passed an Act which permitted of that appointment. He believed his hon. friend opposite did not regard the appointment in the same way as he did, but even great minds sometimes differed, and perhaps this was a case in point. He was obliged to ask how it was that the fees were such a very small sum as £400. He presumed the explanation was that when the Supplementary Estimate was presented to the House the Act had only been working for a short time, and that consequently a fair trial had not yet been given to it. But he would like to know how the work was progressing, and whether they would require Supplementary Estimates of this sort again, or whether the amount of the fees would in future avoid the necessity for a Supplementary Estimate. As to the amount of the fees, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General would agree that it was not desirable that the fees charged should be such as to prevent people availing themselves of the 452 services of the Public Trustee. There was an idea—he hoped it was a misconception—that in addition to the fee charged at the commencement for the Public Trustee to take over the trust, certain other fees were to be charged which might be unreasonable. He was inclined to think himself that that was an error, and that the charges would not be excessive. He did not know whether the hon. and learned Gentleman could tell him exactly what the charges were. He would like to know whether the fees were fixed by the Treasury, and whether there was any intention of making a profit, or whether the Treasury desired so to fix the fees as to cover expenses. He thought they should not impose such fees as to make a profit. The conception of the Act was that a service should be rendered to the public, and the service should be one for which the public were justly charged the ordinary expenses arising out of the rendering of the service, but no opportunity should be taken to enable the Department to make a profit. He was quite certain, being anxious for the success of the Department, that if the idea got about that there was a profit to be made out of it it would probably militate against its success.
§ THE ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir W. ROBSON, South Shields)
The hon. Baronet has asked why the fees appearing on the Estimate as having been received by the Department are so small. I think he has himself suggested a sufficient reason. The Act only came into operation on 1st January, therefore there has not been time to receive anything but the initial fees. Of course, there are some fees, I apprehend, depending upon the duration of the administration of the estate, but I believe it is the desire of the Treasury, as it certainly was the desire of the promoters and framers of the Bill, not to make this a profit-bearing Department at all. On the contrary, I think the apprehension was that it might result in a loss, having regard to the provision that no estate was to be refused by reason of its smallness, so that naturally, although I believe some distinguished persons on both sides of the House have entrusted the Public Trustee with the management 453 of trust affairs, yet naturally the trust estates first put under the Public Trustee are of a very small character and will bear very small fees. Therefore, the fees have been fixed as low as possible. Of course, there is a margin which will have to be acted upon if it is found that they are too high, but certainly the present intention is to keep them as low as possible. They are fixed by rule, and as little element of discretion as possible is left to those who have the administration. The rule can and will be varied according to experience. At present those who are better able to judge of the Department than I, who have no direct connection with it at all, have been busily engaged, and so far during the short time in which it has been at work it appears to have given satisfaction.
§ MR. JOHN WARD (Stoke-on-Trent)
said there was one side of this subject that he wanted to mention. He had supported the appointment of the Public Trustee because he believed it would be a benefit to small testators, and he hoped the Attorney-General would use his influence to get some advertisement of the advantages of the Department exhibited in the Post Offices of the country. He had not seen any advertisement of the Act beyond a statement written by the Public Trustee and inserted in some of the newspapers, but a general standing advertisement in any of the Government offices he had not seen, and he thought the Trustee ought to do something in that direction.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present.
House counted, and forty Members being found present,
§ MR. JOHN WARD,
continuing, said he did not know whether notices of this description could be posted in Post Offices without the sanction of the Postmaster-General, but he should say that if the Trustee really wished to draw the attention of the public to the provisions of the Act, that would be a very good way and he should not think the Postmaster-General would raise any objection to that form of advertisement. He would like to know whether note would be taken of 454 that and the Trustee's attention drawn to it.
§ *MR. GEORGE FABER (York)
said be wished to ask the Attorney-General one or two questions regarding the Public Trustee. Could he tell him how many offices, if any, were being established in the provinces under the Act? He quite understood that the Act only came into operation on 1st January, but perhaps some developments in the direction he had indicated had already been made. When the Bill was passing through that House he remembered offering the objection, among others, that there would be a great tendency to centralise the duties of the office and the money as well. Being a country banker he took objection to this, because under the old system where a man died in the country the estate was wound up there, and the country bank and the country-side retained the advantage of the circulation of the money; but under the office of a Public Trustee there would be a great tendency for the money to come to London and the country would correspondingly suffer. There was a provision in the Act that bankers and solicitors who had been employed by a testator in his life-time should still as far as possible be employed by the Public Trustee, instead of the dead man's business being taken out of their hinds and brought to London. He hoped to be told that this was being done and that there was going to be no uprooting of business. If he had a satisfactory assurance on this point, a great deal of the feeling he had against the measure would be removed. He understood that the fees would in no way be prohibitive, because the good that was likely to accrue to small estates must be immensely affected by the proportion the fees would bear to the value of the whole estate. Poor men were not going to get the advantage which it was expected they would receive if the fees were anything like commensurate with the fees that would have been charged by the local solicitor under the old system. He quite agreed with the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London that the fees should as far as possible balance the expenses of the office, but no more. The whole object of the measure was that the public 455 should feel secure in employing this public officer and that the fees should be as low as possible. It would be shocking to find that a public Department was making a profit out of the trust. He forgot how it worked out in regard to the Colonies where this system was in operation, but he seemed to remember that in regard to the Cape the fees were found to work out at a high standard, and had a tendency, as all these matters had, to rise. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be able to reassure them in regard to that also.
§ MR. FELL (Great Yarmouth)
said it was manifest that it would be more difficult in this case than in most to settle the scale of fees, because in the past the business which had to be paid for under the Act had been done free of charge, so that if business was to be attracted to this Department, and if it was to become really a useful institution in the country, the scale of fees must certainly be very moderate, otherwise other trustees would be persuaded to act as they had in the past, and look after their affairs for nothing. If there was a very low scale of fees there might be large business, and he thought the largeness of the business that would accrue would counterbalance the lowness of the fees, so that although the scale of fees had been fixed, as some I considered rather high, still if the business became a large one, as was hoped, it would be possible to reduce the fees. The Department would thus be popularised and a large number of trust estates would be got under the management of the Public Trustee. It looked as if it would be a matter which might not pay at first, and they would have to supplement it in some small way, because unless low charges were adopted at first they could not secure the business, and it was on a large business being secured that profits would depend. He believed that in several of the Colonies it had been possible to lower the fees, and to make them very moderate indeed, and even then to make a considerable profit; so that if the Treasury would come to the aid of the Department for a short time until it could get the business he really thought it would benefit in the end. If they charged 456 very moderately at the first and so secured a large business—and of course the expenses of the Trust Department spread over this large business would be comparatively small—they would make the Department the useful one which they all hoped it might be.
§ SIR W. ROBSON
said that with regard to the establishment of branch offices, they had taken that power by the rules, and that was sufficiently indicative of the intent of the Department with regard to country business. Of course it would depend a good deal upon the prospects, and it would not be desirable to put up important offices at the cost of some hundreds a year, unless it was warranted by the prospects of business. In great provincial centres there ought not to be any difficulty in establishing branch offices. One of the most obvious advantages of the Act would be to localise business as far as it was possible consistently with economy and efficiency. With regard to what had been said by the hon. Member for Yarmouth, they were quite conscious of the importance of making the fees as low as possible, and it would be a great disappointment if the costs approximated to such a high amount as that which had been referred to. It was their intention to administer the trust estates as economically as possible.
§ Resolution agreed to.
§ Fifth Resolution—£327, Treasury Chest Band—considered.
§ SIR F. BANBURY
said that this was a very satisfactory Estimate, because, apparently this year the transmission of money abroad had only cost £327, whereas last year it was £14,600. That might arise from several causes. In the first place it might arise from the fact that the exchanges had gone in our favour. It might also arise from the fact that the official who was in charge of this Department had been extremely clever in his transmission of the money abroad, and had taken advantage of favourable exchanges. If so, he thought it was very creditable to the Treasury. Another cause might be that they had not transmitted anything like the same quantity as the 457 previous year. In view of the fact that there had been such an extraordinary diminution he hoped the hon. Member opposite would be able to give them some further information. It was a rather important matter, because the question of exchanges was very technical, and if the Treasury had by their ability succeeded in effecting this great saving it was much to their credit.
§ MR. RUNCIMAN
said the amounts sent abroad had been very much the same as in former years. The real cause of the diminution was that every effort had been made to avoid anything in the nature of speculation and the exchanges had been very largely in our favour. That was the explanation of the diminution.
§ Resolution agreed to.