§ Motion made, and Question proposed: "That a sum not exceeding £98,169 be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the charges which will come in course of payment during the year ending 31st March, 1910, for the salaries and expenses of the Board of 1215 Agriculture and Fisheries; the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew; including certain grants in aid."
§ The TREASURER of the HOUSEHOLD (Sir Edward Strachey)
In some ways I regret that the Vote for the Board of Agriculture should be taken now, because, amongst other reasons, it is only a few weeks ago that we discussed a Supplementary Vote for the Board of Agriculture, when a variety of subjects were dealt with, particularly the question of small holdings. Nothing very new has arisen since then, though now a fuller and more complete discussion can be taken on the work of the Board as a whole. If the Debate on this Vote had not been asked for by the Opposition, the Board of Agriculture would have preferred a discussion later on, when the Annual Report on the proceedings under the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts would have been issued and available for hon. Members. They would then have had a great deal of valuable information in their hands, the result of detailed information supplied to the Board by some ten thousand local authorities. Last, but not least, I think it would have been better because, in all probability, in two or three months' time, there would have been speaking at this box the Under-Secretary for the Board of Agriculture, instead of one who, on one occasion, was described by the Leader of the Opposition as a "mere Court official"—though I confess I do not see why a Court official may not have as good a knowledge of agriculture as an Under-Secretary. Though it is not possible, under the circumstances, to give as much detailed information as I should like to do, yet it will interest the Committee to shortly review the working of the Act for the last sixteen months. In doing so, I will divide the time the Act has been in force into three periods. The Act only came into force on 1st January, 1908, though, owing to the fact that it was so much discussed and canvassed during the year before, this is often lost sight of. The first six months was really a period of preparation and investigation. What was done by the county councils? They had to form committees; they received some 23,000 applications from gentlemen who were anxious to have small holdings; they had to hold an infinite number of local inquiries.
Very often, after having held a local inquiry, it was found necessary to hold the inquiry over again, because further appli- 1216 cations had come in, or from other circumstances. But it shows the amount of work that was done, when we consider the number of preliminary inquiries carried out by the county councils, the moderate sum spent—money simply paid for the actual cost of the inquiry and the official expenses—and that the members of the small holdings committee of the county council did all this work absolutely for nothing—although it has too often been forgotten—a great debt of gratitude is due to these gentlemen, who gave such an enormous amount of time to these local inquiries. The £2,000 expenses did not fall upon the local rates, because half was given by the Board to relieve the local rates, upon which only £1,000 fell. Then, again, the county councils had consultations with the Board of Agriculture in regard to their schemes. During these inquiries and consultations, I am glad to say, that up till now there has been the greatest good feeling between the county councils, the commissioners, and the inspectors of the Board, and the county councils have only been too ready, as a rule, to accede to the good offices and advice of the Commissioner.
During this first period of six months—during that time of investigation—it is not surprising that only the small amount of 1,406 acres was acquired by the county councils, and that only one compulsory order was made. During the last six months of last year there was a very great increase indeed, and the amount of land acquired by the county councils voluntarily amounted to 17,090 acres, whilst 11 compulsory orders were made by county councils. Then, again, in the third period into which I am dividing my survey, the four months of the present year, 11,754 acres, and, what is more striking still, 41 compulsory orders were applied for by the county councils. Surely the county councils have not shrunk when there was a difficulty in acquiring land in asking for compulsory orders to enable them to supply the land asked for in that particular district!
I come now to a very remarkable figure indeed. That is during the last six days, the first six days of this month, actually county councils have acquired in this short space of time 1,169 acres of land, and have applied for one compulsory order. That may be contrasted with the first six months of the working of the Act, when only 1,400 acres were acquired, and one compulsory order was asked for. That shows, as 1217 I have always contended, as this Act goes on it will be found that it will gradually grow and grow, and more land will require to be provided continually. I ask my hon. Friends on this side who have expressed impatience with the working of the Act, and those who have not much knowledge of the difficulties of dealing with land, to remember that. You cannot buy land as you would buy a pound of butter or a pound of tea. Whether it is a case of purchase or of notice people have to be considered. If it is a case of purchase, for instance, under a compulsory order, and a tenant has to leave before his time, it may be that heavy compensation has to be paid. This would very unduly increase the rent to the applicant. It is desirable that the title should run out before the tenant goes in, so as to avoid compensation being paid. Then, as I have already said, it is very remarkable the number of compulsory orders that were applied for. It shows the readiness of the county councils, when necessary, to resort to the powers entrusted to them by the Act. The total number is 53. Twenty-two are for purchase, and 31 for hiring. Up to the end of last year there were 200 schemes submitted to the Board of Agriculture for their approval. These, of course, had all to be most carefully examined and inquired into before they were sanctioned. I have often heard hon. Members complain of the need for greater speed. But the Commissioners have personally to examine all these schemes before the county councils are allowed to acquire land for them. I think we can say fairly that, as a whole, the county councils have worked both willingly and well. Undoubtedly there are some county councils that are more forward than others. There are others which lag behind.
But what has been done? The County Council of Lincoln has acquired 2,521 acres; that of Norfolk, 1,907 acres; that of Cambridge, 1,573 acres; that of Berkshire, 1,436 acres. If we take Wales, we find that Glamorgan has acquired 1,400 acres; Denbigh, 1,000 acres. On the other hand, there are county councils who have been very backward. Such counties as Surrey have only acquired 10 acres, and Sussex has only acquired five acres. Sussex has two county councils. One has only acquired two, and the other only three acres. Cardiganshire and Flintshire have acquired none.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is thinking about the county boroughs. I am dealing now with the county councils. No county council, so far as I know, has gone outside its own area, and it would only be the case with county boroughs when they found it necessary to do so.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
No; it would be a most extraordinary thing to do so, so far as I am aware. The neglect of the counties to which I have referred is to be very much regretted indeed. It will be necessary for the Board to take the question up, and to urge upon the county councils that they must put their house in order, and take the same course as other county councils; do something to provide much more rapidly than at the present time for the applicants in their particular county. They must put into force first of all peaceful persuasion. If peaceful persuasion is not sufficient, then they must take active steps to see that this Act shall not become a dead letter, because I can assure hon. Members that the Board of Agriculture is perfectly convinced that the county councils have been given a proper time to carry out these Acts thoroughly.
§ Mr. HENRY CHAPLIN
Would the hon. Gentleman say what have been the number of applications in those counties where very little land has been acquired?
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I have got it here. In the county of Flint the applications numbered 114. The approved applicants were 56. In Cardigan there were 131 applications, of which 129 were approved. This involved in Flintshire 1,400 acres applied for, and 2,096 acres in Cardiganshire. In the case of East Sussex only two acres were acquired, and in West Sussex three. The applications were for 2,023 and 1,613 acres respectively. Taking the 16 months as a whole, what has been the net result? The amount of land acquired voluntarily for schemes has been 30,250 acres. The acreage actually in possession of the county councils is 11,346. This was purchased at the cost of £370,965. The acreage leased was £10,071. Take the value together of these two. The estimated value of the leased land represents something like three-quarter million sterling. You will then see what has been done in the 16 months by the county councils of 1219 this country in the purchase or the lease of land. Except 1,400 acres acquired in the first six months, it has all been acquired in the short space of 10 months.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I think I have explained to the Committee that the amount acquired by purchase was 11,346 acres, that leased 10,771 acres, and that the amount paid was £370,965, and that the estimated value of the leased land was the difference between that and the three-quarter million. The amount of land acquired voluntarily amounts to 30,000 acres. In addition, compulsory orders have been applied for for 4,170 acres, which will make the total amount of land, though not actually all acquired at the present moment, 34,921 acres. England is divided into the southern area, the northern area, and Wales. In the southern area 18,685 acres have been acquired. In the northern area (which includes Wales) 10,983 acres have been acquired. Then as regards land acquired by the county boroughs, only 582 acres have been acquired, all in the northern area, with the exception of Northampton and Reading. It seems as if the northern area had done rather less than the southern area. That is due to the fact that in the northern area higher prices are asked for land. There are smaller farms there. On the other hand, I think that as regards Wales there are signs that the Welsh county councils are waking up, and inclined to put the Act most stringently into force than they have been inclined to do.
I sometimes hear it said that there is an enormous number of applicants, 23,000 unprovided with land. It is quite wrong to say there are 23,000 applicants unprovided, because there were 13,203 out of 23,295 who applied which were approved by the county council, and the total amount of land acquired by the approved applicants was 30,250 acres. Up to the present moment about 2,200 applicants have been provided for, but are not at the present moment in actual possession. Last year over 500 were in actual possession of land, and when I say the number of 500 in actual possession, that excludes those provided by co-operative societies. The amount of land acquired by co-operative societies was 1,016 acres, and it is probable they provided for something like 200 applicants. These societies acquire land for small holders, but the larger applicants 1220 prefer to hold direct from the county council. It may interest the Committee to know that out of the provided applicants only 34 per cent. were actually agricultural labourers. I regret we have not complete information showing the occupation followed by the various applicants. An interesting return was furnished by Hertford, showing how 306 applicants were made up, and what their condition in life and what their occupations were. In Hertford 75 farmers applied, 65 agricultural labourers, 16 bailiffs, 18 shepherds, 18 joiners and carpenters, 13 blacksmiths, 12 carriers and carters. Now there is a very striking feature of the 23,295 applicants. Out of these applicants 629, or 2.7 per cent., desire to purchase the land for which they applied. Of these 281 applicants came from Wales, and it is remarkable that out of that 281 applicants 191 applied from Breconshire. Taking them alone, the figures are more remarkable. Only 1.6 persons desired to purchase their holding. Perhaps I ought not to say it is remarkable, when I remember that under the Small Holdings Act of 1892 only 709 acres were purchased, and 118 acres leased in the last 15 years, as against 11,346 acres purchased by county councils under the Small Holdings Act in the last 16 months and let out by them, and 10,071 acres leased by county councils to persons applying in the county council areas. Now, as regards the question of co-operative societies, I know many hon. Members taking a good deal of interest in that, and I only wish that more was done with regard to letting to co-operative societies. The county councils are not obliged to let to co-operative societies unless they desire; therefore, so far as the Board is concerned, all we can do, and we do it very strongly and sincerely, is to urge upon county councils the desirability of getting co-operative societies, both in the interests of the men and of the county council, to take this matter up. The counties which so far have adopted the principle of bringing in the co-operative societies are Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Northampton, one of the divisions of Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Somerset, and Wilts. Perhaps I might remind the Committee that what is done generally in connection with co-operative societies in this matter the councils have, as a rule, insisted the societies must have, called or uncalled capital equivalent to three years' rent, or in the case of paying half a year's rent in advance, then only 1½ years' equivalent is required. I think a great deal has been done in Berkshire as regards this, and I think a very great deal 1221 of the credit is due to my hon. Friend the Member for North Berks. The county council of North Berkshire first arranged to let to agricultural co-operative societies 2,500 acres. They have done that under certain guarantees, furnished by districts of the county, assisted largely by my hon. Friend the Member for North Berks. I cannot help feeling that it will be well for gentlemen who wish to assist in the acquisition of land by co-operative societies to guarantee county councils where there is a difficulty of raising sufficient capital equivalent to three years' rent, and to assist in that way. I should like to refer to one point raised by the hon. Member for West Somerset. On discussing this question the other day as to whether it is sufficient guarantee for the county councils if they get three years' uncalled capital equivalent to three years' rent. He asked me whether I would recommend that course as sufficient to my own county council of Somerset, of which both he and I are members. I said I would be perfectly ready to do so, and I am glad to know that since that time my own county has agreed to these conditions. In fact, they were found to be rather more favourable than the terms laid down by the Board of Agriculture. So that when my hon. Friend suggested that I was willing to do something very reckless which I would not urge my own county council to do, I am very glad to think my own county council has adopted this plan this year. There is some dissatisfaction as to delay in the acquisition of land, and I know my hon Friend the Member for Oxfordshire is one of those who is dissatisfied. He said there was a vast amount of dissatisfaction, discouragement, and discontent because of the slow working of the Act, and my hon. Friend used to blame his own county council for delay in Oxfordshire.
§ Mr. PHILLIP MORRELL
Is my hon. Friend alluding to me? and does he say I blame my own county council? I did nothing of the kind.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
I am glad to hear my hon. Friend say he never blamed his county council for the delay. My memory may be at fault, but I was under the impression he did blame them strongly at one time, but that now, instead of blaming the county council, he blames the Commissioners.
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
No; and if the hon. Gentleman tells me he never blames the county council of Oxfordshire I at once accept his assurance. I had a very strong impression that he did blame them, but of course if he says he never did so I at once accept his explanation. It is my fault, for when he was praising the county council I must have thought he was blaming it. My hon. Friend will not deny that at the present moment he is blaming the Small Holdings Commissioners and the Board of Agriculture for the delay. Well, as a number of charges have been made against the Commissioners by hon. Members, and when they blame the Commissioners I have often reminded hon. Members that it is not the Commissioners but the Board of Agriculture they should blame, because the Commissioners act under the direction of the President of the Board of Agriculture. My hon. Friend blames them because he says they did not put in force sub-section (1) of section 3 of the Small Holdings Act, and my hon. Friend often quoted the subsection. It will be for the convenience of the Committee that I should read it, and read it through:—The Commissioners, acting under the direction of the Board of Agriculture, shall estimate the extent to which there is a demand for small holdings in the several counties, or would be a demand if suitable land were obtainable, and of the extent to which it is reasonable and practicable, having regard to the provisions of this Act, to satisfy such demand.My hon. Friend always stops at the word "demand." I looked at what he said in previous Debates, and the quotation ceases after the word "demand." He ought to go further, because the section goes on to read:—And for that purpose shall confer with the county councils, and may co-operate with such other authorities, associations, and persons as they may think best qualified to assist them, and take such steps as they think necessary.The whole essence of the clause is in the latter part of it. The clause does not direct the Commissioners to go about with a roving commission through the length and breadth of England, inquiring whether it is desirable that land should be let in small holdings, but they are to consult with the county councils and other persons if necessary in order that they may see what land is available and what it is that is desired for the district or the area. That is exactly what the Commissioners have done. They have been in consultation from the very first with the county councils upon the question, and they have carried out, under the direction of the Board of Agriculture, this first sub-section of section 3 of the Act and made those inquiries 1223 from the county council. On the other hand, I agree if the county councils would not carry out their duties and would not co-operate with Commissioners, and were unwilling to make these inquiries in regard to the 23,000 applications, it would then have been necessary for the Commissioners to have done all that work themselves. The whole intention and essence of the Act was that the preliminary work should be done by the county councils, and not by the Commissioners, and if it had been done by the Commissioners I think it fair to assume that we should not have at the present moment obtained a quarter of the land we have, or perhaps any land at all. If it had been necessary to resort to compulsion there would not be a single small holder on the land at the present time. As regards this question of delay, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire has complained because the present Board is not carrying out the Act in the way he thought they should carry it out; but I should like to point out to the hon. Member that I believe if the President of the Board of Agriculture did not carry it out on the lines he laid down we should have much greater delay than there has been. I should like to have seen a larger amount of land acquired, but I quite see what the President of the Board of Agriculture has done has been most reasonable and desirable, and leads to the most work and least friction, and leads to acquiring the greatest amount of land in the shortest possible time. I think hon. Members who have followed the attitude of the Board will see that the Board have always gone on the principle that as long as the county council shall show a reasonable desire to acquire land, so long will the Board refrain from any undue interference. That is the policy of the Board set out by Lord Carrington in the speech he made last February, in which he said:—In framing the Small Holdings Act we always kept in view the great advantages which would be gained if it were administered by men possessing local knowledge both of the nature of the land to be cultivated and of the character and ability of the applicants. I am no lover of bureaucratic methods, and I was satisfied that we could secure better and more practical results by enlisting the help of local representative men instead of attempting to do everything from Whitehall.That is to say, the Noble Lord believes in decentralisation and not in centralisation, which is a thoroughly good Radical principle. The Noble Lord goes on to say:—Our policy in this respect was much criticised at the time and we were told that we were very simple-minded people to believe that county councils would be able and could be trusted to carry out the provisions of an 1224 Act of Parliament so revolutionary in character as that for which we were responsible. But I think we were right, and looking back now at the work which has been done I do not for a moment regret our decision, a large area of land has been acquired for division into small holdings.I have said already that the land is held subject to the tenancy of the present occupier, and what did the President of the Board of Agriculture say on this point? He said:—The Act must be worked without doing injustice to the vested interests of farmers, and land must be taken where it did not seriously affect their livelihood and their homes, and as opportunity arose and changes of tenancy occurred.If the Board are to act on these two principles laid down by its President, then some delay was, and is, unavoidable. I think on the whole the Act has worked fairly and smoothly, though, of course, there are backward county councils which require stimulating and urging forward. I can assure the Committee, on behalf of the President of the Board of Agriculture, that nothing will be lacking to see that these county councils are brought into line with the more progressive councils, and my Noble Friend will not shrink, where county councils are not doing their duty, from putting into force the full powers which he has at his command.
On the other hand, supposing the President had taken a different attitude altogether, as some people would like him to have done. Supposing he had adopted the policy of reproving the county councils instead of inviting their co-operation? If he had not consulted them, and acted on his own account by sending Commissioners into every single county in England and Wales, what would have been the result? Everyone knows the temper of the ordinary English public representatives, because it cannot be denied that members of county councils are representatives of the locality in which they live, and they are, in fact, members of their own local parliament. If there had been an endeavour from Whitehall to coerce the members of those county councils who are freely elected, I venture to think there would have been passive resistance, and the Board of Agriculture would have been told, "Very well, do your own work, and do it in your own way, and we will do nothing." The result of that policy would have been that no land would have been acquired up to the present moment, and you would have had to negotiate for the purchase of land at enormous prices without any local knowledge to assist you in approving of the applicants; and last, but not least; in the great majority of cases you would have 1225 had to proceed by compulsory orders for every purchase or hire. In the case of purchase in this way, possession could not have been obtained at the earliest in less than six months, and very often the date of possession would have been as long as 12 months. Compensation would have to be paid to the tenant who had to leave before the expiration of his tenancy and this would increase the cost to the small holder. The result would have been that in the case of compulsory hiring it would have taken over a year to take possession.
Although compulsory powers may be useful as a reserve force, I think if there had been any attempt to put them into force against county councils and the owners and present occupiers, instead of producing any rapidity of action that policy would have caused enormous delay and a great deal of unnecessary friction. I have just stated that very little would have been acquired under compulsion. May I point out that only two cases have occurred where land has been acquired by compulsory orders and in both those cases no land is actually yet in possession of any county council, either by purchase or lease. I often think that when the Board of Agriculture is blamed for not doing more in stirring up reluctant county councils those hon. Members who think that the county councils are not doing their duty ought to use their influence with the members of their own county councils and stir up the progressive members on those councils to bring this question forward. [Cries of "Oh, oh!"] I have done it myself with very good effect. The county councils are wholly dependent upon their constituents and the county council elections are coming next year. Why should those people who think the county councils are behind not see that those members who are lax should be called to account and called upon to give to their constituents a reason for their action in this matter. I do not see why it should be thought to be entirely the duty of the central authority to stimulate or coerce a county council. It is as much the business of the electors of a particular county to see that at the forthcoming election only those members are returned who are willing to put this Act into force, and see that the action of their county council is stimulated.
On more than one occasion I have been asked questions in regard to this £100,000 grant. There has been a great deal of misapprehension about it, and perhaps hon. Members would like to know the actual position. Some hon. Members 1226 seem to think that this grant would be made every quarter, and was to go on accumulating, but that is not so. The money was voted to set this Act into force, and to have the Small Holdings Account as a reserve Vote. More money cannot be voted until this sum has been exhausted. The £100,000 was voted to meet the legal and other expenses in connection with the acquisition of land, the payment of one-half of any irrecoverable loss under a scheme, and other purposes. County councils are only just beginning to send in their claims for expenses in connection with the acquisition of land, but it is probable that considerable payments will be made under this head in the next few months. No payments in respect of losses under a scheme will be made at the present time, as time must be allowed to see whether or not the schemes will be self-supporting. A grant of £1,200 a year to the Agricultural Organisation Society, from the 1st of April, 1909, will be paid out of the small holdings account, and we are also asking the Treasury to sanction the payment of £500 to them out of the last financial year for the work of the Agricultural Organisation Society before that date.
These figures have only been roughly reckoned, and I believe that the cost of the acquisition of land by the county councils, which will have to be paid out of this £100,000, will come to something like £1 per acre. Up to the present moment £34,000 has already gone out of the £100,000. The figures for Oxfordshire show that 426 acres have been acquired, and the county council lately sent in their Bill, which amounts to £500. The cost of compulsory acquisition, which necessarily must be higher to the county council, is also paid out of the £100,000, and it is pretty safe to say that in a very short time something like £50,000 will have been spent out of the £100,000, or at any rate there will have been liabilities incurred for that amount.
A question has been put to me in this way: Supposing a landowner who has got a farm now let as one holding of 1,000 acres chooses, in order to avoid having that farm taken over, to split up that 1,000 acres into 20 holdings of 50 acres each what would be the result? The opinion of the law officers of the Crown has been taken upon that point, and in their opinion it would simply be an evasion of the Act. On the other hand, where a man holds land in 50-acre holdings from different owners it would not be competent for the county 1227 council to interfere. If the 1,000 acres is split up into 20 parts held by 20 different men it would not be competent for the county council to interfere by asking for a compulsory order.
It has been said that there are occasions upon which applications for small holdings have been prevented because there has been intimidation. I think if there had been such cases of intimidation county councils would not have been slow to act in the matter, and I can assure the Committee in every single case brought to our notice where it has been suggested there has been intimidation we have always inquired most carefully into them. If it can be proved up to the hilt that any owner has intimidated any one upon his estate who has applied for a small holding, or has been evicted from the small bit of land which he had already, the Board of Agriculture will not shrink, even if the county council shrinks, from interposing under their compulsory powers in order to see that that landowner is brought strictly to account, and steps will be taken to put on that land the man who has been intimidated. I should like to see any owners expropriated who attempted to defeat the working of this Act by intimidation, or eviction, or interfering with a man's livelihood. I can assure the Committee that strong action will be taken by the Board of Agriculture in any case where intimidation can be proved.
In the same way complaints have come in that county councils have had notice given to them that certain small holders have received an intimation that their rents are going to be put up, and that the particular county council interested should be urged to put up the rents as well, although the land was let at 15s. per acre, and small holders paid £2 per acre. It has been said in these cases that the county councils would not interfere. I have got a particular case in my mind. We at once sent down an inspector to investigate it, and the Board of Agriculture will interfere if the county council will not do its duty in the matter. As I have already said the Board is fully alive to its position in these matters. They have got every county under review, and they will not fail to act when county councils do not do their duty. But many county councils are doing their duty, and are co-operating with the Board of Agriculture. A few years ago no one would have thought that it was possible that in 10 months a great 1228 rural revolution would take place. Yet in 10 months 30,000 acres have been let out to small holders by county councils without friction or pressure at fair rents and on an economic basis. This has been done with the co-operation of the county councils, and the Board of Agriculture is fortunate in having two gentlemen as Commissioners—two gentlemen who have a thorough knowledge of land with great sympathy with the policy of small holdings, both in the north and in the southern parts of this country. I feel perfectly certain that under their good management and under the management, last but not least, of the President of the Board of Agriculture, whose heart and hope are in the cause of the small holdings movement—and I do not think any man will venture to get up and state that the President of the Board of Agriculture is not wholly whole-hearted in this matter—there will be a successful movement. My Noble Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture does not spare time and effort in promoting the policy of small holdings, and he takes care that all this is done with common honesty, fairness and justice to all concerned.
Before I sit down I should like to refer to another important part of the work of the Board of Agriculture, and that is the question of the care of our flocks and herds under the Diseases of Animals Act. So far the health of the stock of the country has been satisfactory, but I regret to say that anthrax shows rather an unfavourable increase during eighteen months compared with the previous period of eighteen months. There has been an increase of 78 outbreaks. On the other hand, as regards glanders there is a decided improvement. The new Order of the Board of Agriculture has had a very favourable effect. It is working very well, especially in the county of London. In London the outbreaks in 1904 were 10,038, whereas last year they were only 425. This shows that the new Regulations of the Board of Agriculture has borne good fruit. Then, again, in the case of sheep-scab, there were only 196 outbreaks, and, therefore, the position in England and Wales is much better than it was some time ago. As regards the question of swine fever, there were 39 outbreaks less than previously, and, with reference to foot-and-mouth disease, there has been no recurrence since the outbreak which occurred last year, and which was effectually grappled with rapidly by the 1229 Board of Agriculture and stamped out immediately. The only danger was owing to the outbreak in the United States last year. The Board of Agriculture acted promptly in this matter. The States where it occurred were scheduled, and the cattle were not allowed to land at our ports. The steps taken by the Board of Agriculture were very effective, and no case of the disease took place in any port of this country. That was a great deal due to the fact that the United States co-operated with the Board of Agriculture in this matter. The Government of the United States at the present moment gives us every possible information on the subject. It was a serious outbreak in the United States, but I am glad so say that it has been stamped out now at a cost of a total amount of 88,269 dollars, a third of which was paid by the States and two-thirds by the Federal Government. I think that I have now touched upon all the questions of general interest. No doubt there are other points upon which hon. Gentlemen desire information, and I shall be very glad to reply to any questions which hon. Gentlemen may put to me and any questions which hon. Gentlemen may think that I have not dealt with in a manner to give every information.
The only rule is that the hon. Member who catches my eye is called. In this case the right hon. Member for Wimbledon caught it.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I gather from the very able statement of the hon. Gentleman that the general outcome of the Small Holdings Act is—and I endeavoured to follow the figures as well as I could—that land to the extent of £750,000 has been acquired by the county councils?
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I understand that 10,000 acres have been acquired by lease, 11,347 1230 by purchase by the county councils, and that there are compulsory orders issued for 4,000 more acres. He gave us to understand, if I understood him aright, that on this land acquired by the county council no less than 3,601 persons have been provided with small holdings, although not in actual possession. I understand him to say that, and that 500 people are actually in possession of small holdings at the present moment by virtue of an Act which has been in operation during 16 months. With some exceptions I understood him to say that the Board of Agriculture was acting with the county councils. The Committee will be glad to hear of this co-operation, and also that for the most part the county councils are performing their duty. On the other hand, I understood him to say that there are some county councils which appear to be rather lax in the discharge of their duties, and it is on that point I should like to put my first question. When that has been the case, when 1,000 or 1,500 applications have been made, I understand that the result has been that only two or three people have received small holdings. Have there been any reasons offered for this failure to acquire more land? If so, will the hon. Gentleman be good enough to tell us what those reasons have been? Can the hon. Gentleman give the Committee any information as to the average price which has been paid for this land? I mean the land which has been acquired already in very considerable quantities, and the price of the land which has been acquired compulsorily. Again, there comes a very much more important question. Can he say what the average rent of these small holdings already in occupation is? Is he able to give any idea of what the cost has been per acre where it has been necessary to equip the land and convert it into small holdings? That is a point upon which the Committee will be glad to have any information which the hon. Gentleman is able to give us. Perhaps it is too early to ask how the land is being dealt with by these new holders, whether these holdings are giving satisfaction to those who have got them, and whether the experiment is likely to be satisfactory. I think it is rather early to expect information of that kind; but if the hon. Gentleman is able to give us any information, however small, it will, I am sure, be a matter of great satisfaction to the Committee. The hon. Member made some observations as to the action the President has taken in this 1231 matter, and I entirely agree with him. While I acknowledge that under the terms of the Act where county councils neglect their duty they must expect that pressure will be brought to bear by the Department responsible, I am sure we must agree that it would be most unwise, in the first instance, to attempt anything in the nature of "dragooning," and I am sure that the Noble Lord has shown wisdom in proceeding in a temperate and a conciliatory manner.
There are one or two other questions. I was rather hoping that we should have heard from the hon. Member something in regard to the efforts which have been promised, and which, I rather fancy, are being made at this time in regard to the improvement of the supply of horses in this country. Perhaps the hon. Member will have an opportunity of giving us some further information on this subject. It is a matter of the utmost importance, of course, as regards our national defence. I was very much struck by the statement which was made by the Secretary of State for War on the Army Estimates quite early in the Session, and I want for a few moments to refer to what occurred then. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion made an elaborate calculation to show what number of horses would be required for what is called general mobilisation—that is to say, a mobilisation of the expeditionary forces, in the first instance, and also a mobilisation of the Territorial forces, and the conclusion, to put it as briefly as I can, that the Secretary of State came to was this—that 116,000 horses would have to be provided for general mobilisation. But then he proceeded to calculate how many horses there were in the country. Roughly speaking, he said that, with the assistance of the President of the Board of Agriculture, he had ascertained there were something like 2,000,000 horses altogether, but he had made very large deductions from these—and very wisely, as I think—and it ended in this, that he came to the conclusion that after meeting the necessary reductions there were left us 500,000 horses in the country able and fit for Army purposes—a number sufficient to mobilise the Army between three and four times over. There is that satisfactory feature of the situation. The only question is not whether the horses are there or not, but whether we can mobilise them. It is upon that branch of the question that I want to direct the attention of the Committee, because the great object of the Board of 1232 Agriculture is not achieved merely in meeting the supply of horses; there is very little good if we cannot get them mobilised afterwards. And I ask this question because in 1906 the President of the Board of Agriculture summoned a great conference of people whom he considered to be interested in the question, and whose opinions would be of value, and among others were members of the Royal Commission on horse breeding. We had a very interesting discussion which my hon. Friend opposite will very well remember, and towards the close of that conference a gentleman spoke with the highest possible authority, Colonel Benson, who at that time occupied the high position of director of transports and remounts, and who has received promotion since—the one man in the country best entitled to give an opinion, and he made a very remarkable statement which I find considerable difficulty in reconciling with the statement of the Secretary of State on the Army Estimates some time ago. In the presence of the President of the Board of Agriculture as well as the hon. Gentleman opposite he said:—Our position is this. We have to face certain facts. The facts are these; during the last war (that was the South African war) we had to buy some 300,000 horses. Out of that number 76,000 I only could be produced in the United Kingdom in three years.If only 76,000 horses could be produced in the United Kingdom in three years during the South African War surely that is a very different position to that about which we were informed by the Secretary of State for War when he said there were 500,000 horses available in this country, all of them able and fit for Army purposes and mobilisation. There must be, I imagine, some explanation which we shall hear in the course of this Debate. There must have been something said which I am not aware of.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY of the WAR OFFICE (Mr. F. D. Acland)
May I point out we have now the power which we had not then of taking horses compulsorily, in the event of an emergency, at a fair market price.
§ Mr. CHAPLIN
I am perfectly well aware of that; but I cannot agree—I should think it is very questionable indeed—that it would enable the War Office to secure such a number of horses over and above that which they could obtain during the South African War. Surely some more will be necessary. What number it will be I do not know. However, I have called attention to the fact which I think requires 1233 further elucidation, and is certainly deserving of the serious attention of Parliament, because the inconsistency is very remarkable. We have heard from a man of the highest authority in the country that during the three years of the South African War only 76,000 horses could be produced here, and yet we are told by the Secretary of State for War that 500,000 are available for the purposes of mobilisation at the present time. I pass on to say this, while I am about it—and I think I mentioned it at the time—that there is nothing more important in connection with this subject than that these horses, wherever they are, should be what is called fit for their work. Everybody knows that the horses that went through the trials better than any others during the war were the omnibus horses of London. Why? Because they were fit to go out. But just compare those with the animals brought from abroad, and then it will be understood why it is I am pressing the enormous importance of increasing the supply here. Hundreds of thousands of horses were brought from the Argentine during the war, and what were they? Animals fed upon grass. How long did they live? How much work did they do? How much good were they for the service of the Army when they got to South Africa? The average life of these horses I am told was not more than a week. Nor was it likely to be more. You might just as well expect me to take my hunters from their loose boxes in summer time and begin hunting every day in the week. A more wasteful and abominable expenditure of public money than was made at that time I cannot conceive. I cannot conceive how a great Department like the War Office could ever have been responsible.
I want to say a word in regard to the diseases of which the hon. Member spoke, and then I will make way for anyone else who desires to speak. He said that anthrax had been bad, but that as regards glanders the position was very much more satisfactory. I was very glad to hear that, because, curiously enough, a half an hour before I entered the House, my attention was called to a statement in "The Times" of to-day, from which it appears that glanders is extremely bad in London at the present moment, and that in the stables of one great firm there are 200 horses affected. I do not know whether the hon. Member is aware of it, but I am quite sure, if he is not, it is a matter which ought to receive the immediate attention 1234 of the President of the Board of Agriculture, because glanders, on reaching such a stage as it apparently has done in this case, becomes an exceedingly serious matter. I come now to the question of swine fever. I must say the position of that disease appears to me to be eminently unsatisfactory, and it has been most unsatisfactory now for a great number of years. I take the last Report of the Board of Agriculture which has been published and which I understand is for 1907, and I take the last ten years. In 1907 the total outbreak of the disease in England was 1,958. Well, after spending a considerable amount upon it and on what, after all, I suppose are the best efforts of the Board of Agriculture to control if not to get rid of this disease, I find that in 1907 there were 2,185 cases. They have ranged up and down to all kinds of numbers in different years, but here we have the bald fact that at the end of ten years' hard work to control the disease it is worse now than it was then. I want to call attention to another matter in connection with that. The expenses for dealing with swine fever are not paid altogether, as they ought to be, out of Imperial funds. There has been a grant allowed to the Board of Agriculture now for a considerable number of years from the Local Taxation Account, which falls, of course, on the rates and on the ratepayers of the country. I really do begin to think that when after ten years spent in trying to deal with this disease we find the position is worse now than it was then, it is time that we should reconsider whether the ratepayers, at all events, ought to be allowed to continue to bear that burden. I think the Imperial funds ought to pay the whole of it, and ought to have done so from the first. It has become a question which I do think will have before very long to be considered. I have asked the hon. Gentleman a great many questions, some of which I hope he will be able to reply to before this Debate is finished, and I will say nothing further, except to thank the Committee for kindly allowing me to do that.
§ Mr. E. N. BENNETT
I very much regret with my hon. Friend on the Front Bench that this Vote was not postponed for a few weeks until the Report of the Small Holdings Commissioners came before the public; but even apart from that Report there is ample scope for discussion of the Small Holdings Act. 1235 I think we may fairly say that not only amongst Members of this House, who are keenly interested in the success of this Bill, but throughout the ranks of those who applied for small holdings there is a profound feeling of dissatisfaction and discouragement with the work of the Act up to the present. I fully appreciate the remarks of the hon. Gentleman with regard to recent development and recent acquisitions of land in the course of the last few weeks. We are thankful for small mercies, but it seems to be a trait of the Agricultural Department to continue to dangle before our eyes these small and recent advances, as if they demonstrated real and substantial progress. In February, it is true, there seemed some ground for optimism. On the 4th of that month Lord Carrington made a speech at Slough upon the kind and conciliatory lines with which we are familiar in the speeches of Lord Carrington, in which he indicated that a new method of dealing with this question had been adumbrated. The drift of that speech was to show that the county councils had been given a generous tether of a full twelve months, and the time had now really come to make the carrying out of the Act a much more drastic and efficient thing than it had been. The Noble Lord might have added that some, at least, of the councils had frittered away those twelve precious months, and done little towards carrying out the Act. My hon. Friend quoted a passage from Lord Carrington's speech; may I be permitted to quote another? Lord Carrington said on that occasion, on February 4th:—The Act had now been in operation for twelve months, and the demand for land must be satisfied without further delay.And he goes on to say that:—They proposed to appoint special Commissioners, who would indicate the localities in which land was to be acquired, and the time within which the scheme was to be carried into effect.And further, as a kind of bon bouche at the end of the speech, we were informed that Mr. Frank Lloyd, of "Lloyd's News," had generously offered £1,000 for prizes to small holders.
That was on 4th February; it is now May, and at this moment no time limit whatever has been fixed for the working of the Act. Lord Carrington said that the time within which the Act is to be carried into effect would be indicated, but no time has been applied, and Mr. Lloyd's 1236 generous offer will apply to a very small number of people, as there were 21 applicants out of 422 people after considerable delay. Lately two Commissioners have been appointed to look after the 62 counties and county districts recognised by the Board of Agriculture. One of these Commissioners is sent to Wiltshire and one to Lancashire. I congratulate the Members for Wiltshire upon their Commissioner. I do not covet my neighbours' Commissioner, in the sense of grudging them that privilege, but I should like to say this: that up to the appointment of that Commissioner my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes had persistently represented that Wiltshire was doing very well, and that we must not hurry up things among the county councils, because the Wiltshire County Council was doing its best, and everything seemed to be going on satisfactorily in that county. That is the county to which an available Commissioner was at once sent, but I may point out to the hon. Member and others in this House that there are other Liberal Members in this House, and I am one of them, who have never cherished these amiable delusions and taken the view that the Tory county councils are likely to be enthusiastic about the sub-division of the soil and the creation of an independent peasantry.
§ Mr. E. N. BENNETT
Elected on lines which show that your party knew perfectly well what they were about when they created county councils and refused to pay the out-of-pocket expenses of the members of those county councils. Many of us know by bitter experience in recent elections and going about our Constituencies, that the party which deliberately welcomes and rejoices in the prospect of two bad winters, in order to secure Protectionist votes, is only too likely to be inspired with and exhibit the same ghoulish joy if they can refer to the failure of the Small Holdings Act, to point the moral and adorn the tale of Tariff Reform.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN (Mr. Caldwell)
Without going into the merits of the insinuations, they do not seem to me to be out of order.
§ Mr. BENNETT
We cannot share the blithe optimism of my hon. Friend the Member for Wiltshire when we are left out in this allocation of special Commissioners. We are not sufficiently altrustic in Oxfordshire to rejoice exceedingly because Mr. Fordham is at work in Wiltshire, nor does the mention of some local success in Buckinghamshire and Cambridgeshire give any substantial comfort to our poor applicants in Oxfordshire. I mention these facts to show the spasmodic and unbusinesslike way in which the Act is being carried out.
§ Mr. LESLIE RENTON
May I ask my hon. Friend whether he includes all county councils in his condemnation?
§ Mr. BENNETT
No; there are a large number of these county councils besides Oxfordshire. Let me see if I am wrong. What are the results of the working of this Act up to date, or rather, not up to date, but up to the date of the return which brings us up to December 31st. I realise that certain additions have been made within the last few weeks, but speaking roughly, they are not sufficiently numerous to make any very great difference in the balance of the figures. Up to the 31st of December there were 13,202 approved applicants, and out of that number 490 and three co-operative societies had been provided with land; whether they are in possession of the land is another matter. But even if they are in full possession that only means that in these many months since the passing of the Act something like 4 per cent. of the applicants have been provided for. In that return, it is true, we hear of some 700 applicants who have been provided for by private arrangements with landowners, but it is scarcely necessary to point out that that has nothing to do with the working of the Act. A further fact put forward is that a small number of compulsory schemes have been submitted to the Board. Submitted to the Board, but not acted upon, of coarse. The small number of compulsory schemes up to the 31st of December was 38, and the number now, I think the hon. Gentleman said this afternoon, had reached 53. When one hears of a scheme being brought before the Board it has a somewhat grandiloquent sound about it, but a scheme may mean the provision of two or three acres of land round a particular village, and we find these 53 schemes represent an utterly insignificant fraction 1238 of the land actually applied for. When the representatives of the Board of Agriculture are in their best mood of prophetic optimism they look forward to 50,000 acres as being provided at most by Michaelmas. I am not content to contrast this hypothetical result with the achievements of the party opposite, for their Bill of 1892 was the cheapest form of shop-window legislation that has ever been seen in this House, while our Act is intended to be a real and living thing. I think it is fair to say that in the counties at the present moment the same old policy of drift and interminable delays and private arrangements between county councils and the landlords, many of whom still sit on the county councils, still holds the field. One result of that policy is—and I think few people will deny it who will look into the matter—that exorbitant rents have been charged for the lands that have been provided. Let me give an instance. Some time ago the Noble Lord opposite who represents Oxford City rather took the Board to task in this House for not forwarding two schemes that were sent to it by the Oxfordshire County Council. The Board had been dilatory in not completing these two schemes.
§ Mr. BENNETT
That makes my case better. What is the reason that the Board of Agriculture had not been able to sanction those schemes? Why, because the rents charged were so utterly out of proportion to common sense and reason that they refused to ratify them. That is what has been going on all over England. We are told that there has been a rise in the value of land, but I deny that any economic law of that kind can account for a rise of 50 or 100 per cent. in some remote country village. It is not an economic law. It is the old law of greed, which, speaking generally, in rural England has always told against the small man. The smaller the allotment or holding the higher very often is the rent exacted by owners and land agents. Is it any wonder in these circumstances that hope deferred is making the applicants' hearts sick? I know it from personal experience, and I think a good many of my friends, know it from personal experience. Even if our experience is at fault, let me call the attention of the House to these pathetic figures. Out of 23,000 applicants 13,000, that is 55 per cent., have been approved, but at the commencement of the 1239 work a year ago we were told, and no one doubted it, that of the applicants from 85 to 90 per cent. were acceptable and suitable candidates, and now only 55 per cent. are there. What has become of the 30 or 35 per cent.? They simply have lost heart and have dropped away. They existed then, they exist no more. People have given up their applications in disgust and with something akin to despair. I am quite well aware that sometimes the surrender of the application is unnecessary and foolish and somewhat unmanly. I have taken some of my own friends in the villages to task over the matter, and told them they ought to weather out the storm and stick to it till they got the land, but those who know the conditions of village life cannot be surprised that they lost heart. Can you wonder at it where the applicants lived in remote villages where all kinds of petty, mean persecutions are directed against those who have applied for the land?
§ Mr. BENNETT
In Oxfordshire and elsewhere. Let me give an instance of the sort of treatment that our villages are receiving from county councils. During a tour which I made in my Constituency, accompanied by Mr. Kemble of the Board of Agriculture, or rather which he made accompanied by me—["Hear, hear"]—I am going to repeat that tour whenever I like and with whomever I like. I am going round next week. During that tour we found this, and anyone who goes anywhere in the Division will find it, that a very large proportion indeed, well over a half, I should say, of the applicants had never even been informed by the county council whether they were approved or not. That occurs again and again, and they do not know how to make their future arrangements. A great many are rejected. Let me give an instance of the way in which people are rejected. In the case of two men who told me they were rejected and did not know why they should be, I took the trouble to write to the county council, and found they had been rejected because they had never been to the preliminary meeting. These meetings may be held in a village some miles away, they do not turn up, and therefore they are, ipso facto, struck off the list of suitable applicants! No inquiry was made whether they were ill or whether they got notice of the meeting, or as to the scores of things which might have taken place to prevent them attend- 1240 ing the meeting. It really is a disgraceful way of treating these humble people. Again, one hears that local information is against them. What is local information? If a man is a strong Nonconformist, do they go to the rector to ask if he is a suitable candidate? If he is a strong leader of local Radicalism, do they go to the great farmer who dominates the parish council to ask his opinion of the man? Where do they get their local information from? I know there is a right of appeal, but that is more valuable in theory than in fact. It is all very well for right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench to say anyone can appeal to the Board of Agriculture, but these poor people in little villages are not great hands at writing. They are frightened of writing letters. You cannot expect much epistolary finish from a man whose education ended at 13. As to credit banks and co-operative societies and the building of houses, the sort of embellishments of the Act which can be put in force by the county council, in co-operation with the Board of Agriculture, I think that people are beginning to see that many of them will be crumbling in their graves long before they see the houses or the co-operative societies.
We have not received in carrying out this Act the enthusiastic or active assistance that we might have expected from the great corporate bodies. Take the colleges of the University of Oxford. Take the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Lord Carrington has himself described their action as slothful. One hears that one of the great firms which conduct the business of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners is supposed to be openly against the Act. It is bad enough to have your opponents inside this House, but really it is hard lines on any Government to be opposed by its own paid servants and officials. A few words in season to that firm might be very useful. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners have not done their duty. They have been very backward. I know of one case in which a letter written to them asking for their help was not answered for six months.
What is the prospect immediately ahead of us? Everybody, I think, will agree with the chairman of the small holdings committee in Oxfordshire, who has worked admirably, that practically the limits of voluntary arrangement between councils and landowners have been reached. Nothing lies before us except compulsion in one form or another. Thirty-one claims have come before us for compulsory hiring. Compulsory hiring is all very well in its way, but it is a very long pro- 1241 cess, and the machinery is very complicated. If anyone wishes to see corroboration of what I say, let him look at the Memorandum published by the Board of Agriculture. It is absolutely impossible that any land can be secured by voluntary hiring by next Michaelmas in this country, and if the county councils or the Board of Agriculture want to get land by Michaelmas, 1910, they must look alive with their schemes now. They must be put in force this year, and already four months are behind us of the existing year. Compulsory purchase is a much more satisfactory method. Twenty-two schemes out of 53 are for compulsory purchase. Land under compulsory purchase can be secured practically any moment after the expiry of six months. Then, of course, the value of the unexpired tenancy must be paid for by the incoming tenant. As far as I know, the would-be tenants are not averse to paying extra. They are tired of waiting, and do not see why they should be put off until another period, which would make three years since the passing of the Act before they began to work on the land. What other remedy can be suggested? No doubt hon. Members around me will ask that question this afternoon. It is obvious that a very much larger number of extra Commissioners must be appointed if you want to see things carried out satisfactorily. These Commissioners might ask in writing from the county councils whether or not they can supply so much land by voluntary effort next Michaelmas, and as to the balance, let them bring forward schemes, either through the county councils or off their own bat, for compulsory purchase which may be set to work almost immediately. Failing this, there is nothing before the applicants except looking forward to a long delay and the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of a chance of getting land three years after the passing of the Act.
I hope I have not been unjust to anybody concerned with the working out of the measure, and I have no desire certainly to lay undue blame on the Board of Agriculture. Everyone is aware that the President of the Board of Agriculture is as enthusiastic and indefatigable as anyone, and the life of a Commissioner, like Mr. Cheney, the one I have been most brought in contact with, is one unceasing round of unselfish toil and labour. I do not blame the Commissioners, but they were intended by the nature of their appointments to be mobile and locomotive beings, and they have tended to develop into sedentary 1242 and clerical creatures. The office is under-staffed. Least of all do I blame my hon. Friend on the Front Bench, who has really borne the burden and heat of the day in this House, under trying and difficult conditions, with great good temper and equanimity. More in sorrow than in anger I must say I blame the Board mildly for not fixing a time limit, for appointing their Commissioners unduly late, and, lastly, for not concentrating their efforts on last September. That was really the crucial time. In my own division one of the great landowners, I suppose the greatest, is the Duke of Marlborough. He has set a splendid example to other landlords up and down England. Last Michaelmas he gave notice to a large number of his tenants in order that at the coming Michaelmas the land might be available, and they will be able to get it without any further friction and, of course, without the payment of compensation. If the Duke of Marlborough could do that, why did not the county council do it on a bigger scale with the assistance of the Board of Agriculture? I lifted up my voice on that point a year ago. That was the time to concentrate their efforts and give notice for as much land as they possibly could. If there is any blame it rests primarily on the county councils and secondly on the Treasury. Ireland can get what money it wants for agricultural purposes. The other day we voted away £3,000,000 more cash to Irish landlords, but in order to colonise England we have been able up to the present to squeeze only a beggarly £3,000 for the payment of two extra Commissioners. £100,000 I know is earmarked for other purposes, but I hope out of the £200,000 which appears in the Budget some portion will be forthcoming to help on this work by an adequate number of Commissioners.
Among all the splendid achievements of the Government in various fields of legislation this Act stands apart as a comparative failure. A stronger Act, I have no doubt, might have been put together, one, for instance, on the lines of the Scotch Act, but the Scotchmen were much too shrewd to put their Land Act in the hands of county councils. If we had framed an Act on those lines it would indubitably have been thrown out by the other House. I hope in the future an Act on the lines of the Scotch Bill may occupy the attention of the Liberal Government when its next return to power means the disappearance of the opposition in another place. You will not keep us out till the Day of Judgment. We will come back some time or 1243 other. Meanwhile, and until then, it is not too late to some extent to redress the situation, even although the time available for our opportunity may be running out. This ought to be a splendid measure, and I do emphatically claim that the Government should give more sympathy and more money for the carrying out of its provisions than they have done in the past.
§ Viscount VALENTIA
I have to express my gratification that the Member for Mid-Oxfordshire has expressed his confidence in the county councils. I must say that I think there are some difficulties put in the way of county councils. They do not get quite the amount of encouragement they ought to get from the Board of Agriculture. I do not think the Board of Agriculture have treated them with sufficient confidence or liberality. I ventured to ask a question this afternoon, and the answer given by the hon. Gentleman who represents the Department in this House, though to some extent satisfactory, was not, I thought, quite satisfactory. The Government puts the whole of the administration of this Act into the hands of the county councils. To begin with, that shows some confidence in them, and I think the Government ought to show some consideration and mercy to them when possible. I contend that the county council to which the hon. Member opposite referred has been treated with considerable discourtesy in the remarks which he made. If the Board of Agriculture had put into the hands of the hon. Member the administration of the Act, I could understand sending him on a tour. If he had been sent on a tour he would have learned something of the difficulties connected with the carrying out of the Act and placing tenants on small holdings. I do not think the hon. Gentleman is an unprejudiced person by any means. Ever since the Act came into force he has made himself conspicuous by doubting the bona fides of the county council, and he has never lost an opportunity, either on the platform or in the local Press, of saying that the county council is composed of Tory landlords, and that the applicants for small holdings are not likely to get justice from them. Whether the county councils approve of the Act or not—many of them do not, but on the other hand many of them do approve of it—since the Act became law it has been their duty to administer it, and I maintain that they do so to the best of their ability. Anyone hearing the hon. Member who has just 1244 spoken would think that Oxfordshire is a sort of desert, where men live in fear and trembling of the landlords and their neighbours, and dare not hold up their heads or show any independence, and that they are driven to despair because they are so badly treated by the county council. He almost suggested that it is a county we ought to be ashamed of, and I am surprised that he should be willing to sit as the representative of a division of it. The hon. Member has thought fit to misrepresent entirely what the county councils have done. He told the House that there had only been 21 allotments arranged so far. That is not the fact, and I should think that the hon. Member knows it is not the fact.
§ Mr. BENNETT
Does the Noble Lord mean to say that I deliberately told a falsehood? Here is the document from which I quoted. It is an official return.
§ Viscount VALENTIA
I am not in the least insinuating that the hon. Member told a falsehood, but I think he grossly misrepresented the facts as they are. Besides these 21 allotments which are arranged for there are 88 acres—
§ Mr. SOARES
I am sorry to interrupt, but I understood the Noble Lord to say my hon. Friend had wilfully misrepresented a certain fact. I submit to you, Sir, that is not quite in order. [An HON. MEMBER,: "He did not say so."]
§ The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN
That incident is past. We are now dealing with another statement. The hon. Member has given his version and the Noble Lord is now giving his version, and it is only courteous to hear what the Noble Lord has to say.
§ Viscount VALENTIA
I am sure the hon. Member knows that I would not accuse him of wilfully telling a falsehood. Possibly he is not in possession of as much information as I am, and possibly he does not know that there are 88 acres now to be let besides the 21 allotments to which he referred, and 426 acres have been actually acquired on lease. There are 700 as to which there are applications for compulsory powers applied for. That I think puts a very different complexion on the case from that given by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. BENNETT
May I interrupt on a point of order? I was quoting from an official document. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not a point of order."]
§ Viscount VALENTIA
I think the hon. Member made a statement very much to the discredit of his county. What I do complain of as chairman of the county council is that as I understand a report was furnished to him giving an account of a tour, and, so far, that report has not been made known to the county council. I think the county council has a right to know what is in that report. The hon. Member for Somerset refused to answer a question I asked him whether the hon. Member for Mid-Oxfordshire had been shown that report.
§ Viscount VALENTIA
I should think that he has been shown this report, and if that is so, it ought to have been shown to the county council also. I think before this tour was undertaken behind the back of the county council—there can be no other way of describing it—any complaint made should have been submitted to the county council in order that it might be investigated. So far as I know, the hon. Gentleman has in no ease brought a complaint before the county council. The county council is within a reasonable distance of where he lives, and it is perfectly ready to answer any questions he likes to put to it on the subject. If there are any complaints to be made, I think he knows that when they are made to the county council he will get a civil answer. If the county council is not aware of the circumstances it will take care that it becomes aware of them, and the council will endeavour to see justice done. The hon. Member has never asked the county council to carry out the directions sent to them. When first the Act came into force a circular was sent out to labouring men in Oxfordshire, and it bore all the appearance of an official document. The circular invited applicants for allotments to give their names, to state the quantity of land desired, the locality proposed, the previous experience of the applicants in connection with agriculture, their capital, and so on. At the end of the circular there was no recommendation to apply to the county council, but there were the words that the information was to be returned to E. N. Bennett, M.P. I do not think that showed be had very much confidence in the county 1246 council. This was done entirely on his own initiative, and very naturally various people in the county did not act in accordance with the requirements of the statute. There is no doubt there has been a great deal of very regrettable delay in placing people on the land. I must say that in some cases the delay is owing to the action of the Board rather than to the action of the county council. The cases quoted by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxfordshire in regard to the Duke of Marlborough's land are cases in point. That land was dealt with, and agreements were made without a hitch, the Duke himself and his agent giving every possible assistance. Long ago the agreements were signed and everything concluded there, but unfortunately the people concerned had to wait for months until an inspector was sent down. It was on that account that I ventured to ask the Member for Somerset what compensation would be given to them for being kept out of the holdings owing to the delay in inspecting the schemes and confirming the schemes. There were other cases where unnecessary delay undoubtedly took place and the tenants were kept off the land, very much to their own loss, by the delay. I think in one case there has been compensation already given for the damage and loss naturally sustained. That is a thing which might be obviated in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Mid-Oxfordshire by having more Commissioners or more inspectors. More inspectors would probably be of the greatest use, but generally, I can assure the Committee that there has been no avoidable delay on the part of the county council. There has been, on the contrary, every disposition on the part of the county council to administer the Act as best it can, and if there are applicants who have been refused they have invariably been refused, I think, on sound grounds. There has been an enormous number of applications, coming from almost all the villages, and some of them were clearly from people who could not manage such large quantities of land as they applied for. Meetings have been made known and made as public as possible, and there was every opportunity of attending these meetings of the committee, and if they did not like to come it shows they are not very anxious to get the land, so that I am sure the delays which have occurred are not entirely the fault of the county council.
§ Mr. CORRIE GRANT
I wish to deal with matters on which we agree rather than with matters on which we differ. My hon. Friend the Member for Woodstock said he could produce cases of persecution. I would like to know in the administration of what Act you cannot find cases of persecution? The question I ask myself is—Out of the number of applications that I have from the villages in my division, how many cases of persecution are there? I know two, both of which I think are very gross. One was the case of a man who was turned out of his land because his son applied for a small holding. Every Member of this House would condemn that. I know another case where the farmer, knowing that a small holder who was a contractor for the rural district council had applied for land, put in a contract against him at a price which could not pay because he was determined to punish him.
§ Mr. GRANT
Certainly not. I have got the letters in my pocket now, and if the hon. Member likes to see them he can do so, but he knows perfectly well that to give the names publicly would be to punish the man. But my point is that those cases happen everywhere. There is not a single Act of Parliament ever put into force which puts pressure on somebody that there is not some man foolish enough to behave in that way. The man came to me about it. I said, "You are very badly treated. You have got a remedy." The Noble Lord pointed that out. He said the county council is an elected body. This man referred to is a farmer, a member for the rural district council, and also, I believe, a member of the county council. I said, "If he has treated you badly, make it an electoral matter, and turn him out. That is the way to deal with the matter." I will show the hon. Member the letters if he wishes, and I will tell him the name of the village now if he likes. The point I am making is that it is an absurd thing for a member for a county division to say because he has one or two cases of persecution in his division that that is a reason for saying that the whole of that division of the county is against the Act. 1248 I do not think that that is so at all. From my experience, which I believe is as wide as that of any Member in this House in the administration of this Act, I think that the landlords as a class are not against it. I may give a personal illustration. I went down to the meeting called by our lord lieutenant to discuss the Territorial Army scheme. We got on very nicely together, and after finishing we all went to luncheon. Some of my friends—and I number friends among my opponents in my division—are among the landlords, and one of them was a man who fought me in 1895, and beat me. He said, "What are you doing in the House about the Small Holdings Bill?" I said, "I cannot understand the attitude of you landlords with regard to the Act. Here is an Act which will add to the number of persons willing to take land. What must be the economic effect of it? It must be to raise both the rent and the capital value of the land. Why do you oppose it? The answer was, "What right have you to say that we are opposed to it? We are not." The landlords as a class in this country are not opposed to the Small Holdings Act. They are doing a great deal to carry it into effect. The Commissioners will tell you—I have heard it from them—that they find case after case in which a landlord, not a Liberal, but a Tory, has come forward to provide land voluntarily because he has found a demand for it. What is the main reason of the block which there is in the Administration of the Act? The block is put on by the farmers. Why is it? Because the farmer knows that in many instances if his land is taken away from him to provide small holdings he will have considerable difficulty in getting land elsewhere. In the Small Holdings Committee upstairs in 1907, when the compensation for the labourers clause was under discussion, there was a suggestion that we should also give compensation to the farmers. It was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for the Barnstaple Division. It was rejected without a division.
§ Mr. SOARES
If my hon. Friend will allow me, the Amendment was divided on and was lost. But he moved another Amendment subsequently on much the same lines, and that went over much the same ground.
§ Mr. GRANT
If I am wrong, after looking it up, I must be very inaccurate. Both parties on the Committee said it was quite unnecessary to protect the farmers, they could protect themselves. I maintain, and everyone who has watched the working of 1249 this Act will agree with me, that over and over again voluntary arrangements could have been made by county councils if farmers were willing to help them; in order to deal with the difficulty, with the help of some of my hon. Friends opposite I brought in to-day a little Bill which extends to farmers the provisions of the labourers clause of the Act of 1908.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Emmott)
I think we have enough to deal with in the question of administration. Legislation is entirely out of order in this.
§ Mr. GRANT
I did not wish to speak on legislation, I was only trying to show what the evidence is in favour of my criticism on the administration of the Act. What else does this Debate this afternoon show? We have all of us the greatest respect and admiration for my hon. Friend the Treasurer of the Household, who looks after agriculture in this House. After all the Treasurership of the Household is a sort of thing which involves wearing a gorgeous uniform and the carrying a wand or something of that sort, and to those onerous duties, which are quite sufficient for any one man, he adds the task of carrying on the work of the Board of Agriculture in this House. Surely the time has come when we should have a Cabinet Minister to look after that work. One or two points have been raised in attack to-day on the Board of Agriculture. There are one or two things that they might have done which they have not done. When they have been asked for advice in particular cases they have advised, but there should have been established a common practice for county councils in regard to dealing with applicants. Some county councils take the view that small tradesmen, blacksmiths, butchers, and even postmen are not eligible for small holdings, because they already earn their living somewhere else. There is not a word in the Act to support that. Of all the men in the country who should be entrusted with small holdings it is these men, who are often far better fitted to have small holdings than agricultural labourers. When they ask the applicants whether they have allotments or not, in some counties if the men has a large amount of land in allotment, they say, "You do not want a small holding." One of the applicants for a small holding in Warwickshire has five acres of allotment in six parts of the parish. He wants eleven acres more, and is told, "You have already got a small holding." This man has added bit by bit 1250 to his allotments, until to-day he is holding six allotments of five acres, scattered over a parish of over two or three miles in extent. He is a man above all others who should have a small holding. He came to me. He had worked out the whole thing most carefully in his mind. He wanted 11 acres—eight acres of grass and three acres of arable, and he wanted £20 to work it. He was going to buy an old horse off the canal and a second-hand set of harness. The man had worked it out to the end. Then he said: "Mr. Grant, do you know where I can get £20?" [Laughter.] I said: "It would depend upon what you pay for it. Are you ready to pay 7½ per cent. for it?" He said: "What is 7½ per cent.?"I envied him his ignorance. I told him that 77½ per cent. on £20 was 30s., and I said, "You will have to pay 30s. a year for it." He said: "Thirty shillings! Why, I made £4 last Christmas out of my fowls."
That man is really a typical labourer of every village in Warwickshire. I believe that every village in my Constituency has applied for small holdings. The Act has now been in force practically for very nearly two years, because it was passed in August, 1907, and many county councils set to work when the Act passed, but only a single farm has been obtained so far as I know in the Rugby Division since the Act was passed; and the extraordinary thing is, that the getting of that single farm, which has been in the market for sale for the last two years, and was bought by the county council, has put the greatest hope into every one of the other villages in my division. They all say: "We did not believe the county council meant to do anything for us, but the fact that they have taken that farm shows that they do mean to do something, and we have only got to wait and we shall get what we want." The point I am making on those two things to my hon. Friend and the Board of Agriculture is—Why do not you give the whole of the county councils in England a lead? If you are asked privately no doubt you say that in your opinion the interpretation of the Act is that a small tradesman or a postman or a travelling hawker is entitled to a small holding if he wants it; but why not say so in a public document which can be published everywhere, and directly go to these people, who would apply for small holdings? Why not say, in a similar way, that they must not regard the holding of allotments as being a disqualification? Why 1251 not say that a question which the county council can fairly ask is as to whether a man has managed his allotment well, and kept up his rent and improved his land as a whole, and that these are qualifications for having land, and he ought to pass at once as an applicant? I do not find that people are losing heart, and I think we can trust to time for the working of this Act, because ultimately we must succeed in getting what the men want. I do not believe in anything like coercion about it. The older I get the more I am against attempting to make people do what they do not want to do. Even if you get county councils who are opposed to this Act, and who have deliberately appointed chairmen opposed to it, I should be reluctant to apply compulsion. We know the county councils who do their work thoroughly. Probably every Member in the House knows that there are three counties which have administered the Act, according to our idea, thoroughly. In one county the whole of the applications brought before them were dealt with within seven months of the Act coming into operation. [Cries of "Name, name."] Why, Cambridgeshire, of course. The Board of Agriculture might help all the counties much more than they do if they would make public once a week or once a month the information which they have at their disposal. The Return which my hon. Friend quoted to-day was of the most encouraging character, because it showed that there is a steady increase in the orders and compulsory orders. If that is so, then there is no need of more compulsion. More officials are wanted. These points to which I have referred may appear comparatively small to men who know nothing about the working of this Act, but the matters to which I have ventured to call attention are really matters in which the Board of Agriculture could do much better than it does. Everybody knows that Lord Carrington's heart and soul are in his work, but Lord Carrington is a man in the wrong place. He ought to be in this House. He ought to be subject to the inspiration of hon. Members on this side of the House as well as of hon. Members on the other side. Then, I am quite sure, we should get the Small Holdings Act administered in a way in which we all desire to see it administered. Hon. Members opposite, I am sure, agree with us that if there be this demand 1252 for small holdings among men competent to work them, then they ought to have such holdings, for this simple reason, that they get greater crops out of the land than do the ordinary farmers. That is an economic reason why we should all support small holdings, so long as we can find men of character and ability to cultivate them. County councils did not at the outset understand the Small Holdings Act and the Allotments Act, and the first step taken was to pass a Consolidation Act. The working of these Acts may go slowly at first, but I think we shall find when we come to debate this matter next year that there has been a steadily accelerated pace in the provision of small holdings and allotments throughout the country, and in the working of them by men who have experience and are best fitted to cultivate them. Occasionally a failure may be made, but I would rather you got one success out of a hundred applicants than that you should grant ten applications out of a hundred sent in and have three of those ten failures. There are other points on which I had intended to address the House, but having already occupied a longer time than I thought I should, I shall not touch upon them, as in all probability they will be dealt with by other hon. Gentlemen.
Mr. F. A. NEWDEGATE
I should not have addressed the House but for the speech of the hon. Member opposite. In his speech he said that two people in Warwickshire had suffered from persecution on this question. I cannot believe it myself. One often hears vague remarks about people being persecuted for not doing this or that. After the last election in which I was engaged, I was told that people had been persecuted because they voted Conservative instead of Liberal. I pay no attention to this sort of allegation, and I think such allegations of persecution are not worthy to be believed. At all events, that is my opinion.
§ Mr. GRANT
I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's view of the position. When I hear a complaint of persecution I always investigate it personally. Sometimes I find it is wrong, and I say nothing about it, but when I am satisfied of the truth of it then I state it publicly, when I think I have an opportunity for usefully doing so.
I venture to suggest to the hon. Member that the next time he is told about people being persecuted in Warwickshire because they have 1253 not got small holdings and cannot get them, he should send straight to the county council for information. I am prepared to tell him that all the members of the Warwickshire County Council, to whatever political party they belong, would be just as indignant as is the hon. Member if they thought any of the Warwickshire people were suffering persecution. I might mention that this alleged persecution cannot have permeated very far if we look at the result of the Stratford election yesterday. From north to south it is an agricultural constituency, and if there was any wrong being done, or any persecution such as is suggested in connection with small holdings and allotments, we may be quite certain from what we know that it would have been heard of and used for all it was worth at that election. In regard to the county council and small holdings, I am a member of the committee which deals with them, and had I known that the hon. Member was going to bring the question of Warwickshire before the Committee, I would have had every fact at my fingers' ends. I should like to inform the hon. Member how the authority proceeds in this matter. Sub-committees are appointed from both political parties, and some well-known member of a county council is added in the particular locality in which inquiry is to be made. The names of the people who require small holdings are then brought before the sub-committee. Evidence is heard in private, the very greatest care is taken on every possible occasion, and small holdings are granted to applicants who are found to have the means and to be in a position to do some good in them. A good many inquiries have already been made in the county, and these inquiries are not yet finished. There are a good many more applicants to be dealt with. The work has been done systematically, and is being done systematically. I may tell the hon. Member that 342 acres have been arranged for already. It is in the White Paper, and he could have seen for himself if he had looked at it. Two compulsory orders have been made, and up to 31st March a scheme for 373 acres had been submitted to the Board of Agriculture.
There were 388 applications, and of these, according to 1254 the White Paper, the County Council has provided 163 to those of the applicants who were considered eligible for small holdings. A good many of the applicants who originally came did not, it turned out, want to have the land.
At the present moment there are 84 out of the 163 dealt with; they are being dealt with continuously; we are going on as hard as we possibly can. I may say, though it may seem rather a personal matter, that I myself have found small holdings, quite apart from the county council, for several people, and at the present moment I am breaking up another farm of which I shall make some small holdings; and I am going to go on in that direction. I must apologise to the House for talking about private concerns relating to my family and myself, but it has always been our policy to have as many small holdings as possible on the estate. But I do beg the Committee to believe that, as regards the county of Warwick, we are going on with this work in that county. I can appeal to the hon. Member for Nuneaton who brought before the county council only a short time ago the question of somebody who had been refused a small holding, as he said unjustly. The county council dealt with the matter, and on reconsideration the man got his small holding after all. It can safely be said, no matter to whatever party we belong, that in Warwickshire we are keen to increase the number of small holdings, and to proceed in the work as quickly as we can. I am bound to say that it would be extremely hard on a farmer if his ground were to be taken away from him and turned into small holdings. What we ought to do is this: when a farm becomes vacant, then seize the opportunity of acquiring it, and converting it into small holdings, if that possibly can be done. As it is there are many farmers in the county who are desirous of furthering the establishment of small holdings, and they do their very best to support the committee. I hope hon. Members will excuse me for standing up and speaking for my native county, and I am perfectly certain that if the hon. Member opposite has got any complaint to make as to small holdings if he will make it to the committee of the county council we will try to deal with it at once. We are trying to get the Act brought into force as quickly as we can, with justice and equity all round.
§ The CHAIRMAN
Before we proceed further I would remind the Committee that we really have nothing to do with county councils except so far as the administration of the Department is connected with them, otherwise we have nothing to do with whether this or that individual county council has been doing its duty.
§ Mr. E. J. SOARES
There is one peculiarity about the Debate so far as we have gone, that we have devoted ourselves to one particular province of the Board of Agriculture, namely, the administration of the Small Holdings Act. As a rule, when this Vote is before the Committee we are always asking the hon. Member who represents the Board for more money for agricultural research for experimental work, and for other projects. We have always hitherto received the same answer, that he is very fond of all those projects, that he would like to see them carried out, but that unfortunately he has not got the money to do so. Well, now, thanks to the Development Grant, of which we heard in the Budget, the money will be available, and I will only say to the right hon. Gentleman that I hope he will see that this Development Grant is placed under the Board of Agriculture, and that then the money can be devoted to the purposes which both sides of the House, I believe, desire that it should be devoted to.
Just one word with regard to small holdings. I think one thing stands out clearly from this Debate, and that is that no one says that the idea of the Government with regard to the advisability of encouraging the policy of tenancy instead of the policy of purchase has not been a good one. That is agreed now by all parties in the House, and the fact that only 1.6 applicants out of every hundred desire to purchase his holding prove conclusively that the policy of the Government was right in that direction. The hon. Member for Woodstock said in the course of his speech that the Act was moving slowly. With that I agree. He said also that more Commissioners ought to be appointed. I do not know whether he was on the Committee of the Small Holdings Bill. I may remind him that I moved an Amendment to that effect, and it received very little support on either side of the House. I only hope that the Board of Agriculture, which now has the power under the Act to appoint more Commissioners, will avail themselves of that power at the earliest possible moment. Personally, I live in a county of 1256 small holdings, and I represent a portion of that county. Those who have experience of small holdings know full well the good that can be done by them. There would be no object in my enlarging on that aspect of the question, because both sides are agreed upon the advisability of the policy of small holdings. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for the Rugby Division said, and so far as I have been able to see the landlords in the county of Devon have no hostility whatever to the small holding movement. In fact, a great many of them have made small holdings on their own estates utterly irrespective of this Act. Then the operation of the Small Holdings Act is popular with the labouring class. There is only one class with whom the policy of small holdings is not popular, and that is with the tenant farmer. The reason of that is because you do not give him compensation for disturbance when he has to leave his farm.
I moved an Amendment to that effect in the Committee, and that Amendment received very little support from either side of the Committee, so that it had to be withdrawn. Still, I would urge on the hon. Baronet that this can now be rectified. He can rectify it himself in the administration of his office. He has £100,000 at present, and, as I understood, and I was present during the whole of the Debate on the Small Holdings Bill, that £100,000 was not given as a final sum; but that if he wanted he could get £100,000 every quarter—that is, that he could obtain from the Treasury £400,000 per year. That is what I understood the small holdings grant meant. He would be able, if he chose to do so, to pay compensation to every tenant farmer who was dispossessed of his land under the operation of the Small Holdings Act. There is power to do that, because the purposes of this grant were, inter alia, to meet the expenses incurred in the acquisition of land. One of those expenses could easily be interpreted if the Board chose to put that interpretation upon it, to pay compensation to any farmer who is deprived of his land. We were all very glad to hear the hon. Baronet quoting Lord Carrington's opinion on this Question. Lord Carrington said, so I understood the hon. Baronet to say, only land must be taken where it did not seriously affect the livelihood of tenant farmers, and must be acquired as opportunity offers. Now, that is the right policy, and I think, so far as it is possible, only vacant farms should be taken 1257 by the county council with the aid of the Commissioners. It is not fair to turn the tenant farmer out of a farm of 100 or 150 acres in order to turn it into small holdings.
I do hope that the hon. Baronet will look after the interests of the tenant farmers in this direction, and then he will make this Act popular all round. It is, as I say, popular with the landowners, and popular with the labourers, and if he will only give the tenant farmers fair compensation I am quite sure it will then become popular with them. He must remember that it is very awkward for a tenant farmer in these days to have to leave a farm. They are very difficult to get; they are wanted all over the country, and even if a man gets ordinary agricultural compensation it puts a great burden on him to shift from one farm to another. Under this grant of £400,000 at the disposal of the Board compensation for disturbance might be paid in each one of these cases. Then, I am sure, that the administration of this Act would be much more popular than at the present time. It is important it should be popular. He himself said in the course of his speech that one of the remedies for the people who are dissatisfied with the administration of the Act was to return representatives to the county council who were in favour of its due and efficient administration. Tenant farmers have a great deal to say with regard to the people who are returned to the county councils, and if, therefore, he could only take means to ensure that the tenant farmers approve of the Act then I am sure he will get it well and efficiently administered in all of the counties where at present, I am afraid, it is rather lagging behind.
With regard to the horse supply which has been alluded to, I think it is a very serious matter. We all know that there is a serious decline in the last Report of the Board of Agriculture in the number of horses in this country. The reason is not far to seek. We find that many people now who used formerly to keep carriage horses now use motors. We find the cab horses are being displaced by taxi-cabs, we find horses which used to run in 'buses and in trams are now displaced by motor 'buses, and there is a decline undoubtedly all over the country in the number of horses. Then I am not at all sure that the quality of the horses supplied has not to some extent been deteriorating. It is said so on all hands. This largely arises from the fact of all good mares being purchased 1258 and exported out of the country in considerable numbers, and that they are not bred from in this country. There is one fact about horse-keeping that everybody who keeps horses recognises, and that is that it costs just as little to keep a good horse as to keep a bad one. Therefore, if the Board of Agriculture and the War Office between them could only devise some means by which the quality of the horses in this country could be improved, they would be doing a good thing, not only for the War Office, not only for the supply of remount horses, but for the country at large. Personally, although as I shall presently say I should like to see the export of brood mares limited, still I would also like to encourage the export trade generally of horses, because it is a good trade, and it is a valuable trade. Every horse breeder knows it is a good thing to export horses, but at the present time he cannot afford to export all the good mares of the country. What are the kind of mares you want to retain; the heavy weight polo mares, light weight hunter, and heavy weight hunter mares. The way to retain them is to use the plan devised by the Earmarking Association. I think you could do that with very little expenditure.
§ Mr. SOARES
No; the Earmarking Society. When you have got a good mare of the kind I have indicated, then the Government would put a small mark on its ear. Any mare so branded would not be allowed to be exported from the country. I do not think you could expect the farmer to agree to this, or the dealer, but I think that most private people who keep horses would be quite willing to have their horses branded in this way for a merely nominal sum in order to encourage the breeding of horses in this country. I think if the Board of Agriculture and the War Office were to put themselves into communication with each other and those men I believe a great deal could be done, and that not only would the supply of horses for use in this country be very much improved, but that also the export trade in horses would ultimately develop and increase, and that this would incidentally do the agricultural community a great deal of good.
§ Mr. W. CLIVE BRIDGEMAN
Almost the whole of this Debate has been occupied with the discussion of the Small Holdings Act, and although there are one or two 1259 other subjects I should like to refer to I should not like to let the speech of the hon. Member for Woodstock pass without protest, because I think it is a condemnation of the county councils all round, which is grossly unfair, and which should not have been made. I do not know anything about Oxfordshire, whether it is better or worse than other counties. We gather so far from the Debate that Cambridgeshire was the best county and that Oxfordshire was the worst, according to the statement of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but that is not the point. What the hon. Gentleman complained of in his very vague and general complaint was that the applicants for small holdings never got a proper chance of getting them. He said they did not appear at the preliminary meetings, and, therefore, they were knocked off the list. Surely if they were very anxious to get them they would have taken the trouble to appear at the preliminary meeting. I expect what happened was this: the hon. Gentleman himself in going about to create or to encourage the land hunger which he has been saying exists all about the place, probably persuaded people to apply for small holdings, and that after he had left, and they had time to think the matter over carefully for themselves, they came to the conclusion that probably it would not pay them to apply. Therefore, I do not think he can complain of the county councils if those very keen applicants did not take the trouble to appear at the preliminary meetings.
§ The CHAIRMAN (Mr. Emmott)
I do not think the hon. Member has made it clear that this has anything to do with the Board of Agriculture.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Is it not in order to review the action of the county councils so far as it affects the jurisdiction of the Board of Agriculture over them with regard to putting into force their compulsory powers? The hon. Member for the Woodstock Division appealed to the Board of Agriculture to act on the ground that the county councils had not done their duty. Would it not be in order to go into that question?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If it is complained that the Board of Agriculture has not exercised powers which it ought to have exercised, then to some extent the question 1260 of the county councils becomes relevant. But if the hon. Members wish to put the matter in that way, I want them to make it quite clear.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
That was exactly the point raised by the hon. Gentleman opposite, his contention being that the county councils had been so remiss in carrying out their duties that the Board of Agriculture ought to step in and put pressure upon them, and I was venturing to point out that he had not proved the remissness of the county councils. The hon. Gentleman went on to make reference to the composition of the county councils, which, he said, was responsible for this slackness, because they were composed of the landed classes and others who, he appeared to think, were all hostile to the small holdings movement. If that is so, perhaps he will be able to explain why it is that, according to the statement of the hon. Baronet, the Welsh county councils, which nobody would say contained a large proportion of those who agree in politics with us on these benches, should have been the most backward in this matter. Therefore, I think he failed to prove a sufficient case to warrant the intervention of the Board of Agriculture. I can quite understand that persons holding his views, assuming as he does that the success of small holdings is already proved, naturally feel aggrieved that the movement has not proceeded more rapidly. Those of us on this side who are very anxious to see small holdings, but not to see them unless they are going to be a success to the small holders, will be disappointed if, provided their success is perfectly clearly proved by the experiments of the first two or three years, the county councils do not then accelerate their action, and the Board of Agriculture does not encourage them to do so. But I deprecate calling upon the Board of Agriculture to force the pace at a time when certainly nothing has been proved as to the positive success of the experiment. I think, however, that two or three hon. Members laid their finger on a weak point in the administration of the Act when they stated that not enough money was being put into it. They held the view that this £100,000, which has been explained to-night as being only for preliminary legal expenses, was a grant for one quarter, that it meant £400,000 a year, and they naturally complained that their hopes had been disappointed. There is no doubt that a great many people entertained that view, and I have no doubt whatever that if those 1261 hopes had been fulfilled the progress of the small holdings movement would have been infinitely more rapid. A very interesting point mentioned by the hon. Baronet was that 2.79 per cent. I think, of the applicants had actually asked to be allowed to purchase.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
I must have misheard the figure. But, at any rate, 1.6 per cent. asked to be allowed to purchase, although they, or most people, knew that purchase was impossible under this Act. ["No."] Under this Act purchase is impossible. ["No."] I put it to the hon. Baronet: Is purchase by small holders possible under this Act?
§ Sir E. STRACHEY
The county council has no power to sell land which it has purchased by compulsion.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
Then all it amounts to is, that people who can buy land now could always have bought it. Those who listened to the speeches of Ministers when the Bill was under discussion will remember that the one object of the Government was to prevent purchase under this Act by the small holder, and the First Commissioner of Works was extremely emphatic in his remarks on that point. I should like to know whether in the administration of the Act the Board of Agriculture have taken steps to see that even the percentage of people who asked to be allowed to purchase were put in touch with people who probably were known to be willing to sell? If the small holdings movement is to be encouraged, I think that every effort should be made to facilitate not only hiring but purchase. There is no doubt that, in many places, those who were willing to purchase might have been provided with land by private arrangement or under some previous Act. With regard to this £100,000, if it is not spent this year, will it be swallowed up in the General Development Fund which we are promised next year? If so, I trust that the rate of expenditure will be sufficiently rapid to dispose of it before it goes to purposes for which possibly it was not intended.
I have been much disappointed at the apparent stagnation of the work of promoting the purchase and breeding of horses for the Army. I have had put into 1262 my hands a paper issued by the Board of Agriculture, entitled "Types of Horses Suitable for Army Remounts." I know people in my part of the world who are very anxious to bring farmers into touch with the remount officials, and to enable them to sell their horses direct for Army purposes. This pamphlet contains a number of pictures of various horses supposed to be suitable, and this is the description of the horse required for cavalry of the line:—The class required is a deep short-legged, short-backed, good-barrelled horse of the hunter stamp, with substance and quality, true action and going without brushing the joints. Light, active, well-bred horses, that move truly and well in all their paces, well ribbed up, with plenty of bone and short backs, may be said to represent the cavalry type.To illustrate that there is a picture of a horse. I do not profess to be a great judge of horseflesh, but anybody who knows even as little as I do about it can see that the horse in the picture has almost exactly the opposite qualities to those I have read out. It certainly is not short-backed; it is not good-barrelled; it has not much bone; it is not well ribbed up; and it has several other faults which, perhaps, are not so important. The description of this picture says that it represents—A young chestnut mare (5 years, 15.3 hands) from the 21st Lancers, well bred with plenty of bone. This animal is not looking its best in the photograph. It wants time to furnish, and will look better in another year.Then why photograph it? If there was not in the whole Army to be found a horse that could be represented as a better type of what is wanted it would have been better not to have issued a picture at all. However, it might appear in the next number of a type of what is not wanted. I admit that in photographs you may be greatly misled, especially if there is any white in the subject of the photograph; but I think the Board ought not to issue these things without taking more trouble about the type of animal and to secure a successful representation of it. I have also heard complaints as to the difficulty of getting these horses bought by the remount officers. I have in mind the case of a farmer who wished to sell a horse. The remount officer of the division practically bought it. It had been through a Yeomanry training, and the remount officer gave the owner to understand that if it passed the vet. it would be bought. But after that had been done the owner received a letter from somebody at headquarters in London saying that that sort of horse was not wanted for the mounted infantry, as they had enough.
§ The CHAIRMAN
I do not complain of the criticism of the pamphlet at all. All I am saying is that this particular case, as far as I understand it, deals with action by the War Office, for which the Board of Agriculture is not responsible.
§ Mr. BRIDGEMAN
It bears upon the pamphlet which I have been quoting. The question is as to the height of the animal. At any rate, the Board of Agriculture are responsible for this pamphlet; but whether they got their information from the War Office or not it is impossible for me to say. My criticism is that after having been selected as suitable the horse was rejected because it happened to be a quarter of an inch less than the very narrow margin given in this pamphlet as the proper height for a cavalry horse. The height given is from 15.1½ to 15.2½ hands. I say that such a margin is ridiculously narrow, and that, if you are going to treat farmers in that sort of way you will never get them to work together with you in the breeding of horses for the army, or for any other purpose.
There are two other small points I should have liked to have referred to. One is what is being done to deal with the great difficulties under which we are suffering from tuberculosis. The hon. Baronet did not mention this, perhaps, because he had many other things to speak about, particularly small holdings and the anticipated criticisms on them. But I do hope that he will give some idea, if he has the pleasure of speaking again, as to what is contemplated by the Board of Agriculture for dealing with the situation that is becoming very difficult, and very serious in many places. Lastly, he did not refer to the question of rural education. This, I think, was very disappointing. I should like to have heard his opinion about this matter. As everyone knows, there has been a Report on Agricultural Education, and certain recommendations have been made. I have no doubt that some of these recommendations would be of some advantage: I think there are other things 1264 which might be done which would be of greater advantage. But what I believe is one of the most serious factors in the situation is the extreme difficulty that exists for anyone who has been brought up, and lived all their life in the country, and who understands country matters, to ever become an elementary teacher. Although the Majority Report does not make any great recommendation upon that point, there is an additional Report by Mr. J. C. Medd which points out:The dearth of elementary school teachers qualified to teach rural subjects is one of the principal obstacles to the uniform improvement of rural education.I wish we had had a little more encouragement from the Board of Agriculture to hope that something serious was going to be done, instead of merely talking about rural education. In my opinion not only do you want better teaching in the higher grades, but you want more science brought into agriculture altogether. What, however, you do want is that elementary teachers should understand country life, and see the pleasures of country life, and understand how it can be made happy and prosperous; teachers who can teach the child to be a successful cultivator of a garden, and subsequently of a small holding. You ought to do something to give opportunities to children who live in the country to become school teachers, instead of, as at present, having regulations which practically prevent them ever getting into the profession at all. The result is that you get into your elementary schools people who come from towns—excellent people, and very good teachers very likely—but who do not understand the elements of rural life. Until there is a sufficient supply of teachers who really know about country life, I do not believe you will ever solve this problem of bringing up children in the country to be useful inhabitants of the country, rather than bringing them up to think that it is much better to wear a black coat, and go to town.
§ Mr. GEORGE NICHOLLS
I hope the Committee will pardon me if I say a few words on the small holdings Question again. It has been so thoroughly discussed and treated by almost every Member that has addressed the House. I may say at once I do not agree with any section who suggest that the county councils have not done anything. I think the records that we have had to-day, and the records that most of us have been able to face in the country, show that a great deal has been done by the county councils. 1265 What I want to say a word or two about is in connection with some of the inspectors and their visits into the rural districts, and some of the difficulties that have really arisen. Although the county councils are really to blame in some quarters, I think the inspectors are to blame in others. So that the Board of Agriculture will be to blame, and the county councils will also be to blame. The hon. Member for Woodstock seemed to complain that there was a much less number of applications now than at the first, 13,000, as being very low as compared with what they were. I think that is really accounted for by the fact that a very large number of the first applicants had really been deceived. Most hon. Members—not only Members of this House, but thorough enthusiasts with regard to small holdings—went about the country talking as though a man had nothing at all to do but to sign a paper, and that he subsequently would be told when and where he could have his small holding. Some of the applicants imagined they were going to get the land at less money. The result was that when these men saw what was going to happen they did not trouble any further about it, and the people who did keep up their applications were the persons really keen about the matter. In some districts where the men were really keen barriers have faced them. I will refer to one or two cases.
I take Crowland, in Lincolnshire, as one. It will show the difficulties of the situation. Crowland really is the home of small holdings. For a hundred years there have been small holdings there. There are many of them there yet. There you get the thoroughbred small holder. The boy grows up with this instinct, and wants land like his father. This demand for small holdings has forced up the price of small holdings. Rents went up to £4 an acre. The keen competition within the last few years has hit these men very hard. They have been looking forward for 15 years for what they call a liberal measure—I do not mean Liberal politiclally—but a measure very different to what they had had before, to secure them the land on fair terms. They have been waiting all this time for it. They hoped that with the Small Holdings Act they would get what they required. They took the necessary steps. They appealed to the county council. Subsequently, not getting satisfaction, they appealed to the Board of Agriculture. An inspector was sent down. There were two farms before 1266 them. One is known as The Poplars and the other as Empsons. The inspector interviewed the clerk of the council, but he did not go to the representative of the applicants. In this case there was an association of the men who wanted small holdings, so that one man should not bear the brunt of the matter. But the inspector did not go to see their secretary. He only went to visit Empsons farm. It seems that Empsons would be much easier to get. The simple reason it would not be hard to get was that it was strong, stiff, land, not easily cultivated; it is 2½ miles from town, and has a bad road to get to it. The inspector recommended the men to take Empsons. They want The Poplars. They know it is very much better, with a better road; it is better land, and easier to get at. He recommends Empsons, suggesting that if they do not take that they cannot get The Poplars. Because—no matter what they want—if the man holding it has 10 farms—they cannot take his land away from him for small holdings so long as Empsons is there. They appealed to me. I used a little influence at this end. It seemed quite clear at first that under no circumstances would they take Empsons. An alderman of the county council writes to these men and asks them—knowing the inspector has recommended that course—"Are you prepared to take Empsons?" It is 46s. an acre. The men know very well that is too much. But many others are paying much more, and in the end they decide that they will take Empsons at 46s. an acre. That is 15s. above the rent that had been asked for it before. They take over 200 acres of this stiff land 2½ miles away from the town, with a bad road, etc., because they believe from what was said by the inspector that if they did not take it they could not get the other. This is the type of small holder that, if a few seasons come wrong and times are a little bad, would come to an end. Then the men who do not like small holdings would say, "There are your small holdings!" They would point to that particular spot and say, "We told you all along that small holdings would not be a success." The men are ruined. But they are handicpped from the start. Yes, but we have not got to the end of it. As soon as ever you get the rent fixed there are the assessments. The Earl of Normanton has 7,000 acres assessed on an average of £1 per acre. As Soon as ever land is needed by the small holder his assessment is dealt with. I 1267 have received receipt after receipt from men to prove that the small holders are assessed on a rental of £2 15s. an acre. What do I find? The agent on this Postland estate is the very man who holds the Poplars farm. He did not want these men to have it. This man is on the assessment committee.
I want to suggest that at least the inspector might have gone and visited the Poplars. At least he ought to have conferred with the men who were the applicants for the land, and at least have visited the secretary of the association. Take another case I know at Coates, Cambridgeshire. There the men applied for 500 acres. The difficulty, of course, is to get it. One of the difficulties referred to by some hon. Member here is the difficulty of electing the wrong men for the county councils. That is real in some districts. I admit it. Here is a man elected by these very applicants. He goes straight and hires above their very heads the farm that they were applying for. Then they applied for 300 acres known as Gravel House Farm, Elderwell, just outside Coates. They want 500 altogether. There is 300 on this farm. They form themselves into an association, and ask the county council to consider their application. The council did not answer them at first. They evade the matter for a time. The applicants appeal then to the Board of Agriculture. Months roll on, and they cannot yet find out whether the Isle of Ely County Council recognises the association. The Board send down an inspector. There again the same thing happens. The clerk to the council was busy. These men, that is the members of the council, when they find a little pressure put on by the Board, to save their faces, and feeling that they must do something for the applicants, for 500 acres, tell them that they have succeeded in getting 95 acres of this farm.
§ Mr. E. S. MONTAGU
May I interrupt for one moment. I think the hon. Member said Cambridgeshire. Is he not dealing with the Isle of Ely?
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
Yes; I said that. I mean the Isle of Ely Council; but it is in Cambridgeshire. As I said they could not get from the council any assurance that the association would be recognised. On 15th April this year a letter was sent by the clerk, not to the secretary of the association, but to another man, to say:—I am hoping we shall obtain some, land before Michaelmas next. The council have passed a resolu- 1268 tion that the land, in the first instance, shall not be offered to any society. Of course it is open to the council to reverse their decision, but as things stand at present land will be offered to individuals.Now, what happened? That letter was sent by the council, not to the association, but they had written before to the Board of Agriculture, and said this:—That the council committee had not failed to appreciate the advantages and desirability generally of letting land to associations rather than to individuals.They said that to the Board; but now they are not going to recognise associations; They will only recognise individuals. Now, what will happen? I have gone through the list of applicants. There are over 40 in the association. There are eight not in the association, and they applied for just 95 acres. There are 18 others just outside the area applying for others. Letting to individuals means at once that those men in the association will be penalised for making the move. The man who has taken an active part, such as the secretary of the association, and all the prominent men in this movement will get none of this 95 acres. Their association is not recognised. Eight persons that may be strongly opposed to them, and were at first opposed to any movement to approach the county councils, they will fall into line and will reap the advantages won by the other men. Now, this 95 acres is taken with three objects, first, that the council will be able to say we have acquired land; the second, they will be able to stop the Board of Agriculture and prevent them from making any move, and third, a move is made to penalise the men who have made a start in this matter. I think really there is a case here for further inquiry. The whole of this matter ought to be inquired into in the interests of the persons applying for the 500 acres. I do not say they will get 500 acres, but I think it is absolutely absurd to push off 60 tenants and to be only able to settle eight tenants, leaving the association out altogether. The organised men feel now that they are done. They will say, "What is the good of our organisation. The object was to kill our organisation." If hon. Members have any doubt of the risk and of the boycott that goes on they should find proof of it in this instance. Here is another case—a typical case that can happen and has happened. A number of applicants applied for land to the county council, and when the county council was about to move the landlord found out that they were moving, and his agent called the applicants together and he decided to let them have land voluntarily, but the 1269 man who had taken an active part, and who had written to the Council, and who had led, as it were, the other men, that man was branded, and they raked up against him a little thing that happened some years ago, although the man had been living in that village and leading an honourable, hard-working life for years, and has a little shop which his wife manages; that man was penalised simply because of his action.
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
Yes, but the hon. Member forgets the direction in which he has to appeal. Where can he appeal to? All the land is held in the hands of the man whose agent called the other men together and decided that the men should be helped, but that the man who led them should be left out altogether. Take two other cases, and these came under my own notice within the last few months. Two applicants applied to the county council and succeeded in getting their small holdings. One of them paid his £20, what they call covenant, or "ingoing," for what was on the land—turnips and other things. His employer, who is on the council, the moment he found out that the applicant paid £20 "incoming," which really represented the saving of his life, sacks him the next week.
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
The excuse he made was that probably before long the occupant of a small holding would not be able to come to him to work for him, and he said to himself, "I will make myself safe."
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
Surely hon. Members must recognise that people who go round professing such faith and love in small holdings, and saying that they are so anxious to help, must recognise that this man was penalised. This man is simply told to go in the hope that he would be smashed. The only way by which cases of that kind have been saved has been by paying these men out of the lockout pay of our agricultural union of the labourers of Norfolk every week to try and tide them over until the harvest comes round again. It is all very well saying there are no difficulties. There are difficulties and difficulties of a very real kind. I have another case in my mind, and I brought this particular case to the notice of the Board of 1270 Agriculture. It is the case of a coal carter. He had nine acres of land and a house in which he lived for the past 12 years, and in which his wife's mother lived for 40 years, and because this man, having a horse and employment and a little capital, was anxious to develop his resources, and applied for 20 acres of land more than his 9 acres, and because he foolishly put into his application for 20 acres an application also for a house, received notice to leave the house in which he has lived up to this. As soon as the agent of the 9 acres on which he lived and worked found out that this man was applying for land, and asked also for a house, he at once gave him notice to leave the 9 acres, next Michaelmas. I called the attention of the Board of Agriculture to this. They sent down an inspector and inquired into it, but they found they could not do anything because the man had foolishly asked for a house as well as the 20 acres.
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
I am only showing how easily a man could be penalised. Hon. Members think that this Act is going to work smoothly. I admit the man did wrong in this particular case.
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
Well, it was a foolish thing for him to do. It was foolish of him to apply for 20 acres and a house. If he had looked ahead he would have said nothing about a house, but the point I want to make is this, that this is made an excuse to get rid of a man who wanted to improve his position. What else is this Act for? This man works in that particular district. He has lived there for 12 years. He feels that agriculture would help him, and that he could do more if he had more land. He has been living by carting. The 20 acres of land would be very useful to him. It may have been an error for this man to have asked for a house, but it is rather hard that for doing that he should be told to clear out of a house in which he has lived so long next Michaelmas. These are some of the real difficulties that confront us in these rural areas, and although I want to congratulate the Board of Agriculture on sending to inquire into a case of this kind, and upon their being willing to help if anything could be done, I feel it is regrettable that nothing could be done. I want the House 1271 to recognise that whatever good is coming out of this Act, and I am ready to admit some good is coming out of it, greater things are before us, and further additional help should be given to the Commissioners, and additional inspectors engaged, so that in these districts the whole situation should be surveyed and fully dealt with, and the councils that are willing to act should be helped and the councils that are slow should be gingered.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
The hon. Member who has just sat down seems to think it rather peculiar that we on this side of the House should question some of the "hard cases" brought to the notice of the House from time to time. It seems to me that the House ought to be very chary of accepting these obviously ex parte statements. For my part I think that the other side of the case should be inquired into. One does not know the causes leading to what has perhaps very properly or very obviously occurred. It becomes all the more doubtful when we are asked to accept the view that those people wanting small holdings are persecuted by the landlords. In the case last given by the hon. Member it seems perfectly obvious that if a man asked for a house and 20 acres in addition to his house and 9 acres that the owner of the house on the nine acres came to the conclusion that he no longer required them, and therefore, in order to ensure that his house should not lie upon his hands empty, he gave notice so that he might have an opportunity of getting another tenant in good time. I imagine that that is a very likely and probable explanation. I do not believe that it is at all safe to assume, as the hon. Member very readily does, that so many people in this country are so ready to persecute others who want small holdings and for no earthly reason. Then he gave another case, which is surely asking too much from the credulity of the House of Commons. He gave an instance where, he said, a number of people wanted small holdings and applied to the county council, and then that terrible instrument of oppression, the landlord, came along and said, "Do not go to the county council. I will arrange to give you small holdings voluntarily;" but so angry was the landlord at the application having been made that, although he makes this offer to those who want small holdings, he disposes of the secretary by not giving him one.
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
I did not say it was the landlord. It was the agent. The agents are generally worse than the landlords.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
On the face of it, that is an absurd thing for any man not in a lunatic asylum to do. If he is so opposed to small holdings that he must vent his spite upon those who ask for them why does he voluntarily offer small holdings to those who are asking for them? I think that is playing so much upon the credulity of the House that I am surprised the hon. Member has brought such cases forward, and if he has nothing better to put forward I am forced to the conclusion that this Act is working smoothly and well, and that landlords are doing their best to get suitable people on to the land as speedily as possible. I think it is rather a pity that the Debate this afternoon should have concentrated so closely upon particular instances and upon what has occurred in particular counties. I take the view that one cannot survey the working of this Act either in particular districts or for a short period of time. We shall not be able to tell whether this is successful or not until nine or ten years have elapsed. I think ultimate success is far more likely to be assured if due deliberation is taken by the authorities in putting suitable people on to the land than if we rush at it, as the hon. Member for Oxfordshire seems to desire. I do not think we ought to take the view that this Act can only be successfully worked if all the applicants and everybody else who want land is immediately put upon it. I think that is a very erroneous and short-sighted view to take, and one which is not likely to contribute to the ultimate success of small holdings. It seems to me that those who agitate in this direction have an eye more to assisting individuals for the purpose of acquiring their goodwill for some motive which I do not need to suggest to the House, rather than wishing for the success of small holdings as a wise agricultural policy, and as a benefit to the people of the country at large. I do not propose to say very much about small holdings.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
I do not know why the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent deems it necessary to cheer that observation. I only wish to ask a few questions which I will put to the hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture, in regard to the horse supply, and with refer- 1273 ence to the steps, which have been taken by his Department to encourage it. I have in my hand a paper which was circulated at the same time as that very edifying pamphlet which my hon. Friend has already referred to, and it seems to be almost a grotesque monument of how things should not be done, because anybody reading it will find it very difficult to see exactly what they are asked to put down. It is a form in which the Board of Agriculture ask owners of horses to state how many they have got. For some reason or other it makes an obscure reference to a previous form issued by the Board of Agriculture, which the recipient is supposed to know all about. It divides the spaces into which the information is supposed to be put under two heads: (1) Horses returned on June 4, 1908, and (2) horses in your possession on June 4, 1908, but not then returned. That is a very confusing head under which to ask people to give information, because, in the first place, no information at all may have been returned on the previous occasion, and in the second place if information was returned it may have escaped the memory of the person who returned it as to what it exactly was. It would have been far simpler, and it would have saved the Board of Agriculture a good deal of trouble, if the return had been a plain one, asking how many horses the owner had in his possession of different kinds on such and such a date, and in such and such a year. Of course, it should be the latest date and the latest year possible. I think this form which has been issued is a very confusing one.
I should also like to ask the representative of the Board of Agriculture to whom has this form been sent? I know a great many horse owners who have not had those papers, and I should like to know whether the information which is supposed to be gained by this circular is expected to be a complete census of the horses in this country. If so, it will be far from complete, and it will be very inaccurate indeed. I very much doubt whether a great many hon. Members of this House and the other House who keep horses have been approached at all on this Question. There is another great mistake, and it is the way in which the horses are classified. What is it you want to know at the Board of Agriculture? What is it the War Office desires to know, because I suppose this information is being got for the War Office? I imagine this matter is of some importance to them, because when we ask the 1274 Secretary of State for War about the horse supply he tells us that the preliminary step is a census. In this list the horses are divided into thoroughbreds, other light horses, and ponies, and then into heavy horses and into various breeds. The heading, "Other light horses," for the purpose of classification, includes van and cart horses. Why is this? You cannot mount your Imperial Yeomanry or your Territorial Force upon van horses. At least, I hope that is not the proposal of the War Office.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY of the WAR OFFICE (Mr. F. D. Acland)
It has. nothing to do with the War Office.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
Then I do not understand what it is for, because I find these types of horses have been supplied by the Board of Agriculture to the War Office, and it says here, "Horses suitable for Army remounts." If it is not for the purpose of ascertaining how many horses suitable for Army purposes there are in the country, then I fail to see what the object is, and it seems to me to be a waste of money. Perhaps we shall hear later what the object of the inquiry is. I do not see that it will throw any useful light upon the horse question at all to have horses so sub-divided as they are in this particular circular. What you want to know is how many thoroughbreds, how many riding horses, and horses of a driving character, and how many different breeds there are in establishments which have stud books of their own. A classification of that description would be far more valuable. In all those breeds in which there are stud books it would be very useful to know how many of each there are, but the classification which is proposed will tell you nothing of the kind.
As regards the horse supply, the hon. Member for the Barnstaple Division seemed to think that there was a great future for the proposal of the Earmarking Association, but I do not think it has made much progress in the North, and I do not see it is likely to be very conducive to keeping horses in the country. The people most likely to allow their horses to be earmarked are those who are least likely to sell them. Horses do not leave this country when they are seasoned and have reached the age of six or seven years, but they leave when they are young, and when they are passing from the hands of the breeder to the dealer. The majority of horses which leave Ireland and other 1275 breeding districts, like Yorkshire, to go abroad, are three years old, and I do not think any earmarking association would keep those mares in this country. The only way to keep those horses in the country is to get those Departments of the State which want horses to give higher prices for them, and higher prices for their produce. I am not a great believer in all these various schemes for encouraging horse-breeding, because, in my opinion, it is all a question of price. The reason why you have not sufficient horses now is because we have such a small demand for them for the Army, and the War Office buy far fewer than they ought to do.
Another reason is that when we do buy we give a very indifferent price for them. It is a well-known fact—and I think the hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture will endorse my statement—that the foreign buyer who purchases young horses in Ireland pays a far better price, and takes the pick of the horses, or, in other words, skims the cream, with the result that we are left with a very inferior class of animals—like that which is so excellently portrayed in the Board of Agriculture circular. If the hon. Baronet who represents the Board of Agriculture would use his influence as representing that Department, and the breeders of the country with the War Office, in order to induce them to buy their horses younger and give a higher price for them, I believe there would be no difficulty at all in reference to the horse supply, because then you would get people to lay themselves out to breed the type of horse suitable for the Army. Until you do that, no matter what schemes you may have, you will not get farmers and practical men to go in for horse-breeding. Unless you do that you will find that the horse supply in this country will continue to diminish at the same rate, or at an even greater rate, than it has done in the last few years.
I should like to take this opportunity of most thoroughly endorsing what my hon. Friend the Member for Oswestry said about rural education. That is undoubtedly one of the things which is most urgently wanted, namely, a more practical system of education in our rural districts. One of the reasons which makes it so hard for county councils and education committees to get money for education is the fact that so many people in the country find that so many of the lads educated in the schools are no use to them. I have heard it said by farmers over and over 1276 again that the boys who come from the schools do not know anything at all about the land, and, what is worse, most of them do not want to learn. That is a very bad state of things, and it is no use trying to encourage small holders if by our system of education we are doing everything in our power to unfit people to become small holders. I hope the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Education between them will lay their heads together, and take this very important matter into their consideration.
§ Sir F. CHANNING
It seems to me that attention has been drawn to the most practical and urgent Question which can be dealt with by the Board of Agriculture at the present time, the question of Rural Education. We have had an interesting discussion on small holdings, and it would be wrong to prolong it. I should like to draw the attention of my hon. Friend who is in charge of this Vote to one or two points with regard to the general discussion which we have had. They are rather of a different nature to those which have already been brought before the Committee. The first point is one which was dealt with on the Debate on the Address. I do not think that the Board of Agriculture have fully appreciated the absolute unwisdom of the circular issued by them with regard to share capital in co-operative societies. I do not think that they realise how unwise that demand is. My hon. Friend spoke with some sympathy with co-operative societies, and I believe that the action of co-operative societies is the best method and the best machinery for dealing with small holdings. It is also the best method that will lead to economic success, but the policy of the circular has been to penalise co-operation. I think that has been a fatal policy.
I know of two societies which have been severely handicapped by this absurd provision. They naturally expected that when men had adequate capital to work the land—men of experience and skill—they would be treated by the county councils as ordinary tenants, but in the two cases to which I have referred the result of the conditions imposed has been to paralyse the initiative of the societies and make it hopeless to carry out their work. In one of the towns of my Constituency it is hopeless to find land at a price likely to be remunerative, and a society which was formed to deal with this matter is on the 1277 point of dissolution. Another society, when they dealt with the financial aspect of the scheme proposed, have been compelled to withdraw from the bargain which they had entered into. That is the result of this unwise penalising of co-operation. I do not understand why that form of combination should be penalised by these extra demands on the part of the Board of Agriculture. It seems to me to be the height of unbusinesslike capacity and the action of the Commissioners in insisting upon the preposterous requirements has resulted in strangling co-operation, and the holding of land by co-operative societies.
I will turn to another point: The Act gives a great deal of power to the Board of Agriculture to encourage co-operation. It not only gives power but it gives funds to encourage co-operation. I am a member both of the Agricultural Organisation Society and of the National Poultry Society, both of which are doing the best work that can be done for small holdings. I venture to say that the action of the Board of Agriculture in respect of these societies has been altogether unsatisfactory. That is, as regards helping them in useful work. I attended the other day a very important meeting at Buckingham with my hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire. The Principal of Reading College stated that owing to insufficient funds, the training of teachers, as well as small holders and small farmers, in the poultry industry was being practically paralysed. I believe myself that the Board of Agriculture, owing to difficulties which I do not quite understand, has failed to give any requisite or adequate support to that enterprise. I make a very earnest appeal to my hon. Friend that he should, out of the funds at the disposal of the Board, find money to support so useful an undertaking as the poultry and farming institute at Theale, and also in educating small holders in the best methods of cultivating small holdings so as to obtain adequate and satisfactory results.
I rose specially to draw attention to this question of agricultural education. We have had very important reports and memoranda laid before us in the last two months on this subject which seem to me to demand the earnest and the instant attention of Parliament and the Government. They are very careful Reports. They are important Reports, and they contain practical suggestions. The 1278 Noble Lord who has just spoken referred to lads in the country who, instead of becoming useful instruments in agricultural development and helping to regenerate rural life, drift away to the towns, while the more energetic of them go to the Colonies. I have no doubt that those hon. Members who have listened to this Debate will read the admirable Report of Lord Reay's Committee. I would wish to draw attention especially to two points in that Report. In the first place the Committee examined a most admirable group of witnesses. They collected a volume of evidence upon the effect which agricultural colleges would have on practical agriculture, in helping farmers in the country and in encouraging facilities with reference to agricultural teaching, not only in elementary, but in secondary schools. The committee reported strongly in favour of a large subvention in that direction.
I hope, before the Debate closes, that the hon. Member for Bute, who was a Member of Lord Reay's Committee, will contribute some suggestion to this Debate. Not only, I hope, shall we hear that we have a substantial sum for the purpose to which I allude, but that it is a growing sum, and that the sum at the disposal of the Government is adequate to deal with this question, in which is involved the future of rural England.
In the creation of winter schools and farm institutes, one of the recommendations of the Committee, you have exactly the machinery which is wanted, and which was alluded to by the Noble Lord opposite—to provide for the practical training of lads from 12 to 20 years of age—lads who have already some acquaintance with agriculture. It was recommended further that 50 to 60 of these schools should be provided in England and Wales. We do want from the Government some assurance on this subject, and that the whole of the splendid suggestions which were made with reference to the development of rural life will be carried out. I suppose I shall be out of order if I deal with the institutions which lie specially under the purview of the Board of Education; but as some of us, including the hon. Member for Barkston Ash, took part recently in laying the whole of these questions in the deputation from the Central Chamber before my noble Friend Lord Carrington, the President of the Board of Agriculture, and the President of the Board of Education, I think I shall be in order so far in expressing the warmest possible wish that the 1279 considerations which we then urged, and which have been alluded to in these Reports and Memoranda, and supported all over the country by various conferences, and which we hope will be supported by more conferences this summer, the suggestion that joint action should be taken by both Boards, will receive the warm and cordial support of His Majesty's Government, and that we shall get some solid result from the bold schemes adumbrated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day before the House, which gave to me and other Members who have laboured these questions for many years the deepest sense of happiness and a desire to see them translated into practical realities.
§ Earl WINTERTON
I desire to say only a word or two in relation to what has been said by the hon. Member below the Gangway—the Member for North Northants. We all recognise that throughout this controversy—for it has become a controversy—on the question of Small Holdings, the hon. Member has been actuated by the greatest sincerity and enthusiasm, and he has presented his case in a perfectly fair manner, in striking contradistinction to some hon. Members opposite. But he said one thing which I do not think should be allowed to go unchallenged. The hon. Member said he knew of the case of a man who I think applied and successfully applied for nine acres of land. This man was working for a farmer, who on hearing that he had obtained the land said he would no longer employ him, because he could not depend on having the whole of the man's time for his farm. I venture to think that that was a perfectly reasonable attitude for the farmer to take up.
§ Mr. NICHOLLS
Perhaps I may be allowed to explain. I did not say the employer gave that as his reason. I want to make it quite clear. The man applied for the holding, and paid £20 as covenant. His employer was on the county council. As soon as it was known his employer gave him notice without giving any reason, and the other man who applied at the same time with him was "sacked" three weeks after. These are facts that I can corroborate.
§ Earl WINTERTON
The hon. Member said that the ground on which the farmer got rid of the man was that the farmer would not be able to have the whole of the man's time.
§ Earl WINTERTON
Exactly. I see. The mistake is entirely mine. But the very fact that the hon. Member entertains, that assumption really cuts away the whole case. Any man in business employing labour has a perfect right if he wishes to say he will only employ a man on the whole, whose time he has a right to call, provided he employs him for reasonable hours. And surely that is a perfectly reasonable attitude for the farmer to take up. He could say, "Here is a man who just on the day when I may want him to put in wheat or to reap oats will be wanting to put in his own wheat or to reap his own oats." Attending to so much land of his own will take up a large part of the man's time. I have no doubt the hon. Member has made himself familiar with the case, and there may be special circumstances connected with it which make it a case in which undue influence has been put forward. But I say there is nothing really to prove that the farmer was not acting in a fair way. We on this side of the House are anxious to discourage anyone bringing any kind of undue influence to bear either in regard to a small holding or upon a man who is about to enter upon a small holding to prevent him doing what is a perfectly legitimate thing. We admit that there have been cases; but we submit that it is not fair to cast these reflections on the farming class and the county councils unless you are able to give specific instances and to support them by evidence that the action of the individual or the county council has been unduly biased by unworthy motives. I do not think the hon. Member has quite made that case good. The hon. Member stated what is undoubtedly a fact, that use has been made, and I will say unscrupulously made, by some Members of the party opposite, of the Act to obtain votes and support. It has been a lamentable failure. But that is a state of affairs which is really very serious. It has allowed people in the country districts to believe that they would be able by writing to an individual in the Member of Parliament to immediately obtain small holdings from 10 to 50 acres. Hon. Members opposite may have been perfectly sincere in thinking that it was possible for labourers to obtain land by that simple process. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and the result has been to create a great deal of unnecessary bitterness 1281 against the county councils and against the local authorities. The people believed that the process would be so simple, and they find it has been so difficult. I have no doubt there have been cases of undue delay on the part of the county council. Although hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway pointed out that they were wrong people on the county councils, I would venture to point out that, after all, the county councils are elected by the people. They might just as well say that they were the wrong people elected to the House of Commons. I submit that on both sides of the House there should be shown patience towards the working of the Act. We are quite ready to admit that the Government brought forward this Act as a perfectly sincere attempt to deal with the small holdings Question, and we are only too anxious that the Act should have an opportunity of being tried; but it is not right that wild accusations, such as those brought by the hon. Member for Woodstock, should be brought against county councils and against the Board of Agriculture. After all, the Act has not been in force long, and in the country districts everything moves slowly. I submit that there has been nothing brought before this Committee to-night to show that the county councils or the landlords or the farmers have shown any attempt to hamper the working of the Small Holdings Act. I hope that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House will not follow the wild suggestions of the hon. Member for Woodstock, and will allow county councils to have a reasonable time to put this Act into operation. If it is found there are any county councils that do not carry out the spirit of the Act in a reasonable time it will be another matter.
And, it being a quarter past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.