HC Deb 06 May 1909 vol 4 cc1305-22

Postponed proceeding on Question, "That a sum not exceeding £98,169 be granted to His Majesty to complete the sum required to defray the charge which will come into course of payment during the year ending the 31st March, 1910, to pay the salaries and expenses of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, and of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; including certain grants in aid," resumed.


When this Debate was interrupted [at a Quarter after Eight o'clock this evening] I was venturing to make some comments upon the speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite and by some hon. Members below the Gangway on the question of small holdings. I think upon this matter that the Board of Agriculture ought to steer a middle course, and the hon. Baronet, representing the Board of Agriculture, should not allow himself to be rushed by the speeches which have been made this afternoon into taking precipitate action, which the Committee and the Board of Agriculture may afterwards regret. There are many difficulties in the way of carrying out the Act, both in the spirit and the letter. There are many difficulties of a physical nature which it is really impossible to get over in a short time. Several hon. Gentlemen opposite have referred to the fact that one of the difficulties in the way of the quick application of the Small Holdings Act is the fact that a large number of tenant farmers object to the land being taken away from them. I think it is noteworthy that we have not heard from those quarters, which are by no means friendly to the landlords, any general complaints of the attitude of landlords. It is generally admitted that one of the principal difficulties in the application of the Act is the grievance of tenant farmers that the land is being taken away from them, and I think that is a very important aspect of the case. Undoubtedly there is at the present time a demand for holdings not merely of the nature technically known as small holdings, but a demand for land in larger sections. Any farm put up for letting always finds a great many applicants.

The hon. Member for one of the divisions of Warwickshire said the tenant farmers objected to their land being cut up for small holdings for the reason that it would prevent them getting another farm elsewhere. In the Act which created small holdings it was laid down that no farm under 50 acres should be sub-divided into small holdings. It is not possible now to criticise the provisions of that Act, but I am not at all sure that the limit should not be higher than 50 acres. I know many cases in the county of Sussex and all through the South of England where a man has a farm of 60, 70, or even a hundred acres. Such farms are generally worked by a man and his son, who manage to make a living out of the farm. As a rule they do not employ any labour, or at the most only one labourer, but by sheer hard work and ability they are able to make a living, and sometimes do very well.

There are a number of people living in the neighbourhood who have small businesses, and they are anxious to obtain small holdings. These people go to the local authority, and say they want land, and the land societies and other clubs which have sprung up recently like wildfire, and which are not altogether unconnected with the propaganda of some hon. Members of this House, say, "Here are a number of men who want land and are unable to obtain it." What is going to happen to those unfortunate men already in possession of the land who are not big men, but simply working partners? What is going to happen to them if their farms are split up into small holdings? It is certain that they will not be able to obtain another farm of that size in that neighbourhood, or any other neighbourhood. I ask the Committee to consider this point when speaking of the delay which is alleged to have taken place in providing small holdings. It is by no means an easy thing to find land which is suitable for small holdings without doing an injustice to the existing holders.

I am now speaking of these small farms, and perhaps I may be allowed to give a personal case. A short time ago a man applied to me for a small holding. The farm in question is between 80 and 100 acres. It is good land, farmed by a man and his son, and they occasionally employ labour in the summer time. The bulk of the labour, however, is done by the man and his family. They are very respectable people, and no one will deny that they are just the sort of people who ought to be farming. The man who applied to me for a small holding wanted 15 or 20 acres. He had already got three or four acres at the back of his house, on which he was able to keep a cow, but he wanted 20 or 30 acres more in order that he might keep two or three cows. He said he was employed as a jobbing painter on cottages and farmhouses, and he thought he could fit in his painting with a small holding. No doubt it is desirable that he should have a little more land, but it is equally desirable that this tenant of mine should be allowed to continue in the enjoyment of his farm, upon which he and his family are making a living. This farm contains the statutory number of acres provided for in the Act. If you take land from a small farmer in this particular way you should bring in a Bill giving him compensation. You should properly compensate a man if you are going to take any of his land from him. That spirit has been already recognised by the Land Tenure Bill, which is now the law of the country. It is not right that land should be given in this way without compensation, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture will bring in a Bill for compensation. I am glad to hear that the hon. Member for Barnstaple quite agrees with that principle.

I want to say one word on a point referred to by the hon. Member for Wimbledon, and that is the question of horse supply. It is intermingled with the Army question and with the Army generally. I do not wish to refer to what was said on the subject by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War on the Army Estimates. We may agree with him that the figure he gave—namely, that 116,000 horses represents the number of horses which will be required on mobilisation if this country should be engaged in a great war. There may be sufficient horses in the country; but what organisation is there to obtain the horses if war should break out? If war broke out it would take months to get the horses together. There is another point. If this country should have to go to war we must not assume that all trade and commerce would cease, and of course a certain number of horses would be required for trade and commerce. But I believe that at the present time we are in a most serious condition in this matter, and it is impossible to exaggerate the position. During the past two years questions on this subject have been constantly addressed to the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture for the purpose of endeavouring to extract from him information as to whether the Board of Agriculture and the War Department were doing anything in this matter, and the replies have been most unsatisfactory. I venture to say that the root of the evil has not been touched by the present Government. They have not done a single thing with regard to the horse supply of this country. Judging by the replies which have been given to questions, it would seem that the Department of Agriculture has not taken the matter into consideration at all. We had from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a very interesting and important statement with regard to the Development Grant. Every word that he said on the subject might have been said three years ago. All he said about assisting agriculture might have been said by former Governments. Right hon. Gentlemen on this side are as much to blame as right hon. Gentlemen opposite. I venture to suggest that the Noble Earl who represents the Board of Agriculture in the House of Lords would perhaps have used his great talents to greater advantage to the State if he had devoted more time to this subject than in perambulating the country making speeches on other subjects. The Government, during the time they remain in office—whether it be two or three years—might take the question of national horse-breeding into their consideration; and is it too much to hope that the hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture will confer with the War Department on the subject of horse-breeding?

I should like to ask the question whether the Department of Agriculture has taken any steps to verify the figures given by the Secretary of State for War? Are the inspectors able to inform us what is the number of light horses suitable for cavalry which could be obtained at short notice should war break out? This is a matter in which the Board of Agriculture might co-operate with the War Department. I hope that the Government will give their attention to this important matter before the Session comes to a close.


The hon. Member for Oswestry, in opening the discussion this afternoon, referred to counties in Wales in which he said that nothing has been done under the Act. We are not sanguine as to the practicability of the Act nor optimistic as to the value of small holdings. The explanation is perfectly well known to agriculturists in Wales. It must not be forgotten that sub-division leads to an increased number of applicants, and once you increase the number of applicants for land you increase the price. This has been the bitter experience of the Welsh farmers. When people buy agricultural land on a big scale it is only from £30 to £35 per acre, but when land is bought for small holdings the price ranges from £60 to £100 per acre. Land purchased at £100 per acre is hardly likely to carry with it the economic rent upon which an applicant for the first time would expect to take land. But there is another danger. Not only has the subdivision of land led to enhanced prices, but the interest charged on loans from the Government are so high that it is practically impossible for the county councils to let land at a fair rent to the tenant. I do suggest that if the Government is really in earnest they will effect improvement in one of two ways—either that they will allow the loans to be of a permanent character or that councils should be enabled to buy land and give in exchange a yearly rent charge equal to the present rent. Reference has been made to the question of the diseases of cattle and to tuberculosis and I am surprised that the hon. Member for Somerset made no reference to that very serious question. Experiments which have been made by the Agricultural Department of Aberystwyth College have proved that tuberculosis exists in dairy cattle to the extent of 24 or 25 per cent. Experiments in Anglesey proved that the proportion suffering from tuberculosis was practically the same. The farmer is thereby faced by a serious problem. I think if a severe test is to be applied to cattle, and the farmer is to be prohibited from selling milk from the cow suffering from tuberculosis, according to that test, the Board of Agriculture ought to take the matter in hand, and, for the first years at any rate, compensate the owner partially if not wholly for animals destroyed.


I am very glad the hon. Member who has just sat down has referred to the very important question of tuberculosis in cattle. I intended to ask the hon. Baronet opposite when we are going to hear about the Milk Bill? We have been waiting for a very long time—


Order, order. The question of the Milk Bill does not arise.


Then I will pass on to other subjects. I do not wish at this late hour to enter into details of the various questions which have been brought before the Committee during this Debate. I have listened to the greater part of the Debate with interest, and have been impressed by the difficulties which have had to be faced by the county council in Warwickshire and those in other parts of the country. I do wish to make one or two quite general and quite short remarks as to the difficulties of administration, which those who are called upon to administer the Small Holdings Act, and the other matters which have been mentioned this afternoon are confronted. I should like to say with regard to the Small Holdings Act that from my own personal experience, and what I have heard of what has been going on in other parts of the country, I believe the county councils have, on the whole, been doing their very best under great difficulties to administer that statute fairly, and I believe also that the President and the other officials of the Board of Agriculture have also been doing their best, and working to the best of their ability. But I do wish to draw the attention of the Committee to a rather curious fact, which I have noticed this afternoon, and that is with regard to three very important questions which have been brought before the Committee the same criticism applies, and that is, that in connection with the administration of these three matters, two Government Departments are concerned in each, and I think it is pretty easy to show that that is a state of affairs which leads to a great deal of delay and difficulty. Take, for instance, the administration of the Small Holdings Act. The county council has to find land available, it has to arrange with tenants who wish to become small holders, it then has to submit the scheme to the Board of Agriculture, and that scheme is open to a great deal of criticism, and in some cases the Board has a great many suggestions to make with regard to it. When it comes to spending any money on buildings and land, then the unfortunate small holdings committee has to go to the Local Government Board, and there they have a fresh crop of questions and difficulties to encounter, and I think a great deal of the delay which hon. Members have complained of, and in some cases justly, has been due to that fact.

In connection with another matter which has been mentioned this afternoon—one of great importance—the horse supply, there again we have two great Departments concerned. I am glad to say they are both represented by two hon. Friends of mine on the Treasury Bench at this moment, but I think they will admit that it does cause a great deal of difficulty. We were told a year ago, or even more, that the President of the Board of Agriculture had a scheme which was going to solve this most important question, but we have heard very little of it since, and if we knew the truth, I have no doubt we should find that there is a great deal of discussion, a great deal of correspondence, a great many memoranda passing between the War Office and the Board of Agriculture on the question of horse breeding. Last year I had an opportunity of giving my views to the Committee with regard to this Question, and I will not, therefore, go into the details of it tonight, but there is another subject to which I think hardly enough attention has been given to-day, to which the same difficulty applies, and that is the most important matter of rural education. There we all know that very serious difference of opinion has arisen between the two Departments concerned in this matter, namely, the Board of Agriculture and the Board of Education. This is a question, especially in view of the increase of small holdings throughout the country, which I for one hope will go on and progress. It is a matter of increasing importance that the rising generation of farmers and the rising generation of small holders should have an opportunity of obtaining that practical and technical education which is absolutely essential for the successful carrying on of their business as cultivators of the soil. Unless the Government Departments, for which I have the very greatest respect and admiration, which are concerned in connection with this and other great questions, are able to come to some working arrangement, or unless some new arrangement can be made in which their several interests can be represented by some Joint Committee or other body re- sponsible for both, it is quite impossible that we can have that progress in this matter and that good administration which is so necessary in order to ensure success. I do not wish for a moment to criticise the Board of Agriculture in connection with any of the matters which have been brought before the Committee. I had the advantage at one time of seeing something of the inside of that Department, and I am perfectly certain, not only in connection with the small holdings question, which is a new question, but with all the other important matters which they have to administer in the interests of our great agricultural community; they all do their very utmost to bring the matters brought before them to a successful issue. I listened with great pleasure to the statements which were made on behalf of the President of the Board of Agriculture, by the hon. Baronet, and I have no doubt he will be able to give a very satisfactory answer to the various questions which have been raised.


I think, on the whole, we may congratulate ourselves on having had an eminently businesslike and satisfactory discussion on the question of small holdings and on other matters affecting the Board of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon asked me the average price of land. I can only give that roughly. The average price of land purchased by county councils varies from 20 to 30 years' purchase. Then, again, he asked me to compare the price given for the land acquired voluntarily and the price for land acquired by compulsion. It is very difficult to compare these two at the present moment, because for all practical purposes a very large amount of land has been acquired by voluntary agreement, and hardly any has been acquired by compulsion, although a very large number of compulsory orders have been submitted and have been approved. Therefore, it is very difficult to compare them. I should think, on general principles, there would be very little difference in price between the two unless, of course, in those cases where county councils made bargains by buying land cheaply at auctions. Where land is acquired by compulsion the proper and fair value has to be given as valued by competent valuers. Then again the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon asked what was the average rent. Well, I can only say to the right hon. Gentleman, who is himself very well acquainted with the manage- ment of land, that he must know very well that the average rent varies as regards particular counties, and depends upon the question whether it is good or bad land. It is perfectly impossible to say what is the average rent even in a particular county. Take the case of Somersetshire. You have there land varying from 2s. 6d. to £5 per acre, so that it is perfectly impossible to say what is the average rent. The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the question of the supply of horses. That is a question which is very properly being considered by the Board of Agriculture and the War Office. I think the Noble Earl the Member for Sussex said that we were thinking too long about it. I have to say that if an important question like this could not be solved by hon. Members on the other side of the House during the 10 years they were in office, we ought not to be in too great a hurry, and we ought to have a practical scheme before announcing it publicly. The hon. Member is aware that there is not the same demand for horses in time of peace. In time of peace we only require from 2,500 to 3,000 horses per annum to replace the wastage in cavalry. It has been pointed out by my hon. Friend that we have done something by legislation to provide for the supply of horses in case of war. We have taken power to compulsorily acquire horses in this country for the purpose of remounts. Therefore, a very valuable power has been taken to obtain horses in case of emergency. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wimbledon referred to the question of glanders, and to the outbreak of the disease which has occurred in London. With that I agree, but that does not detract from what I said with respect to outbreaks of glanders. It only shows that the Board of Agriculture are now informed and notified of outbreaks of glanders, and that there is not the concealment which occurred in the old days. There is practically no concealment now, and, of course, there being no concealment, when an outbreak takes place we are able to take precautions to prevent the spread of the disease. The right hon. Gentleman further referred to the question of swine fever, and said the present state of affairs was most unsatisfactory. I do not go so far as to say that it is satisfactory, for I think all agriculturists feel that it ought to be better than it is at the present moment.

The President of the Board of Agriculture hopes, however, that a real improvement will be made, and he only asks that time should be given to us to ascertain whether the regulations now in force will produce a greater reduction in the outbreaks than has been the case up to the present moment. There has been a reduction, so far, under the working of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the unsatisfactory state of things as having gone on during the last 10 years. That only shows that during the last seven years when the late Government were in office they were not more successful in stamping out swine fever than we have been during the past three years. Going back over the 17 years I have been in this House, I can state that we have always had swine fever with us, and from hon. Members on both sides of the House there have always been complaints that the disease has not been dealt with successfully. It seems to me that both Governments have been groping in the dark in trying to find out a remedy. I hope that we may be able to find out a remedy, for there can be no doubt that this is a serious matter for agriculturists. Speaking as the representative of one of the counties where there is a large number of pigs within the area, I can state that it is a question of great importance in that part of the country as elsewhere, and, so far as I am concerned, I assure the Committee that I will always do my best in connection with the efforts which are being made to find out a remedy for this terrible state of things. When the right hon. Gentleman complains that local rates were affected by the question of swine fever, I may remind him that £50,000 a year is voted by this House for the purposes of swine fever administration, and therefore for all practical purposes the local rates suffer very little. In reference to the matter mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for the Woodstock Division of Oxfordshire, I may state that we have appointed special Commissioners in the case of Lancashire, and Wiltshire, and I hope that before very long they will be able to remedy the backward condition of these places; and, if necessary, my noble Friend will not shrink from appointing other Commissioners if he thinks necessary. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for Woodstock will feel that in this case the Board of Agriculture may be very safely trusted to do what is right in this matter.

Then, again, my hon. Friend the Member for Woodstock referred to a certain number of applications being thrown out. No doubt the county councils find that a certain number of applicants were unfitted for one reason or another. I was glad to notice that my hon. Friend the Member for Northamptonshire, sitting below the Gangway on the other side, said it was quite right for the county council to see that the applicants were fit persons who would be likely to work the land properly. That is my answer to the hon. Member for Woodstock when he says that a certain number of men are struck out. I think it quite right that a certain number should be struck out who are not likely to cultivate small holdings effectively. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford said that not sufficient consideration had been paid to the county councils. I am sorry to differ from him, but I think that the Commissioners have done their utmost to treat the county councils with the utmost deference and courtesy; and from the information which I have I believe that the great majority of the county councils quite appreciate that they are always met with the greatest courtesy by the Commissioners who come to them and speak to them as friends in consultation in reference to any points that may arise. As regards the question that the Noble Lord has raised that the Report made to the chairman of the small holdings committee by a Southern Commissioner was not submitted to the county council, there was no reason why it should not have been submitted to the county council by the chairman of the small holdings committee.


It is marked confidential.


I quite accept the explanation of the Noble Lord that the chairman of the committee was under the impression that he could not communicate the Report, but I may say he was mistaken in that. I cannot conceive for one moment how a chairman of a committee could consider that there would be any communication of such a confidential character as to prevent him from showing it to the chairman of the county council. The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford as chairman of the county council of Oxfordshire will be glad to know that so far from there being any reason for not communicating the Report the Board have not the slightest objection to Reports by the Commissioners to the chairmen of small holdings committees being communicated to the county councils. There must be some misunderstanding on this point, and I trust that the Noble Lord will confer with me later on about this. I do not admit that there has been any undue delay as regards the Board's sending down inspectors in reply to communications from county councils, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman who raised this point that there has been no want of courtesy either to the county council or to himself. If anything can be done to expedite any scheme which comes before the Board, it will be done. The hon. Member for the Rugby Division claimed that tradesmen should have an opportunity to obtain land. We know that a circular has been sent out to various county councils by the Board dealing with this very question: that men carrying on trades in villages should have land in the same way as other men are now obtaining holdings. The hon. Member for Barnstaple, who referred to the question of horse supply, considers that mares should be ear-marked, though he did not wish to prevent the owners of them from obtaining better prices. But in connection with this matter, the difficulty is that the very fact of a mare being earmarked might prevent its owner from getting the good price which he would otherwise obtain. The hon. Member for Oswestry referred to certain photographs which appeared in a publication issued by the Board of Agriculture, and he said that they did not precisely represent the kind of animal which he would recommend. Out of ten photographs there was only one he complained of.


I said which one was the worst.


I think there may be justice in the criticism of the hon. Gentleman as regards one of the photographs, but, taken as a whole, they are admirable. We know, too, that photographs sometimes turn out very badly, and do not properly represent the subject, whether animal or human.


My point was that they deliberately chose a mare which was not in condition.


The hon. Gentleman has been perfectly frank, and I do not pretend to defend the particular photograph in question; but I do not think that he is justified in complaining that the whole of the photographs are actually bad. In regard to the question of the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway as to applications which have been refused, I fully appreciate on behalf of the Board of Agriculture the way in which he approached this subject, and we shall do our utmost to see what can be done in the matter. The hon. Member for West Shropshire, and other hon. Members, referred to the question of tuberculosis of cattle, and the question of milk. I cannot now go very much into detail, and I would be out of order if I referred to legislation. I can assure hon. Gentlemen, as far as the question of tuberculosis of the udder, to which no doubt the hon. Member referred, that is a question that has been for some time under the very serious consideration of the Board in view of the legislation that may be introduced by my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. I can assure him this very important question is not lost sight of, and it will be very seriously considered whether the Board should exercise their powers of making tuberculosis of the udder a notifiable disease. I rather gather that the hon. Member for Shropshire and other hon. Members desire that it should be made a notifiable disease.

The hon. Member referred to the Departmental Report of the Board on agricultural education. I will not yield to anyone in my desire to see a large amount of money spent on agricultural education. The difficulty has always been that the Board has not had the money to apply and to promote agricultural education. It is to be hoped that all that will be altered from the statement that has been made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget as to the Development Grant. Hon. Members who desire to assist agriculture and agricultural education can do so by assisting to pass the Budget, and thus place money at the disposal of the Board of Agriculture for agricultural education, both as regards primary and secondary schools. The hon. Baronet the Member for Northamptonshire also referred to this question. He went further, and said as regards the question of experimental farms that we ought to set up experimental farms out of the £100,000 which has been placed at the disposal of the Small Holdings Account. May I remind my hon. Friend that as regards the £100,000 we would have no right to spend money on experimental farms, much as I might like to do so. We can only spend money upon such farms to demonstrate the feasibility of small holdings in different parts of the country. If there was ever any doubt as to the feasibility of small holdings it is perfectly certain there is none now. The hon. Baronet said he desired experimental farms for the purpose of educating small holders in farming. Personally I should be only too glad to see such experimental farms not only for small holders, but for larger occupiers, so that the experiments could be made at the cost of the country, as I have found such experiments to be very expensive indeed. But for that again I look to the money to be provided from the new Development Grant.


Is not the hon. Baronet aware that the agricultural colleges now supported by the Board of Agriculture, with their insufficient funds, are carrying out these experimental farms for the benefit of farmers?


I am quite aware of that, but it is also true that a totally inadequate amount of money is voted by Parliament. It is not only desirable to teach men how to farm their land properly, but it is of the utmost importance to teach the teachers by experiments and by research, so that they may tell agriculturists how to make the best use of their land. The Noble Lord is amused, but it is of the greatest importance that we should get this money through the Development Grant. I only hope the Noble Lord will change his mind and support the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so that we may get this money for experimental farms and the benefit of agriculture.


It will not cover everything; it is not a bottomless pit.


It is a very large sum of money, and a great deal more than any other Government has ever suggested should be applied for the benefit of agriculture. I think I have now replied to all the questions which have been asked, and I hope the Committee will allow us to have the Vote. Although there has been criticism of the Board, there has been no general disagreement, the general view being that the Department has impartially done its duty in administering the various Acts. As regards the Small Holdings Act, although there has been a certain amount of criticism—it is very desirable that there should be criticism, so that the Board should be kept up to its work in the same manner as the Board desires to keep the county councils up to theirs—that criticism has not been hostile; it has simply been with the object of keeping the Board up to its work. Therefore I hope the Committee will now agree to give us the Vote.


The hon. Baronet has not dealt with the question of compensation to tenant farmers.


Nor with horse-breeding.


We have always been led to suppose by the President of the Board of Agriculture that one of the most important items in his horse scheme is the census. The hon. Baronet has not referred to that.


The War Office is doing that.


I understand that the War Office have shifted the burden on to the Board of Agriculture. A circular with a most extraordinary picture has been circulated to a large number of persons with regard to horses, though it has not reached me. I should like to know how this census is being carried out?


The circular is supplementary to the one always sent out as regards the number of stock on the 4th of July in each year.


The War Office is not trying to shift its burden on to anybody. We have taken money in the War Office Estimates this year for that purpose and we are going ahead as fast as we can.


Is the Board of Agriculture educating the War Office as to the proper type of horse, or is the War Office educating the Board of Agriculture? Then what is the policy of the Board in regard to the working of the Fertilisers and Food Stuffs Act? There are practically no prosecutions at all under that Act, and I would like to ask whether it is to be an absolute dead-letter? I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not rest satisfied with what has happened in the case of the prosecution of the Needham Company versus the Worcestershire County Council. The decision which has been given now remains law. If it is allowed to remain as it is now the Fertilisers and Food Stuffs Act will be an absolute failure. I hope that the Board of Agriculture will appeal against the decision, and that steps will be taken by which that Act will be made effective. I know that want of action in these matters is largely due to apathy and want of knowledge. In this case it is the duty of the Board of Agriculture to help those concerned as far as they can. I know that my hon. Friend opposite knows the facts thoroughly, and is anxious to help all that he can.


I want to refer briefly to some remarks made by the hon. Gentleman in his two speeches in dealing with the Small Holdings Act. I believe that my hon. Friend is considerably mistaken as to the general satisfaction which he believes exists in the country as to the working of the Act. No one denies that a great deal has been done. We all know that matters are going forward, and that negotiations are in progress, but, compared with the task which is before the Board of Agriculture, compared with the number of applications and the number of persons who are waiting, and, moreover, compared with the simple expectations which have been aroused, and justly aroused, by this Act, I think that the progress which has been made is altogether disproportioned to what we were entitled to look for. I do not want to follow hon. Members in discussing the conduct of the county councils in these matters. I want to confine myself entirely to the working of the Act, and whether it is a fact that the Board of Agriculture have carried out satisfactorily the powers conferred upon them by this Act. Here is an Act which, for the first time, sets up a central authority to deal with this question of small holdings. Commissioners are appointed for the special purpose of seeing that this demand is met, and not only are Commissioners appointed, but in express terms certain powers conferred on them are pointed out. They express definitely the powers given for the satisfaction of that demand.

Everyone who knows the rural districts knows that they were relying upon the policy of the Commissioners. But these applicants are waiting now—many of them at considerable risk—in the hope that the Board of Agriculture will put into force the powers conferred upon them. May I have my hon. Friend's attention for a moment? In his earlier speech he said I was mistaken in the view I took, and that I have endeavoured to express on other occasions, that the Commissioners have failed in their duty in not preparing reports, and sending down reports to the county councils, of the schemes which were required in order to satisfy the demand.

May I ask the hon. Gentleman's attention of sub-section (3) of section 2 of the Act which has already been referred to. It is quite true that the Commissioners were within their powers in asking the county councils to inquire into the demand; but the Commissioners, surely my hon. Friend will agree, are responsible for ascertaining the extent of the demand. When they have attained that information what have they to do? They are to report the information acquired by them in respect to any county to the Board. They are to embody this information in a Report. The Act reads:— Where the Board after consideration of the report and said representation in respect to any county are of opinion that it is desirable that a scheme should be made, the Board shall forward the report to the Commissioners with such modification as the Board considers desirable to the county council. The complaint we make is this, that from that day to this no Report has ever been made by the Commissioners to any county council as required by this Act. It is not a question of putting into force the full powers, but it is a question as to whether the Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture have carried out the statutory duty placed upon them by the Act of Parliament. A great deal has been said about endeavouring to dragoon the county councils and endeavouring to force the pace. I do not believe anyone wishes to do anything of the sort. We said, and always have said, that these powers were put into this Act by this House with the intention that they should be carried out by the Board of Agriculture, and it is a flagrant case of the overriding of the will of this House by the Executive that the Board of Agriculture has failed to carry out the provisions of this Act in the manner laid down for them. We all agree that the Board of Agriculture have excellent intentions in this matter. They are willing to issue circulars, to send down inspectors, to do everything but to carry out the Act in the way the Act provides. And because they have not done that, however urgent may be the case, however obvious may be the course of terrorism and boycotting which exists in many of these divisions, yet any county council delaying or declining to take action—the Board are not in a position to take action—to say to them, "This man is entitled to get the land you promised to give him." I say that is a very unsatisfactory state of things, and I am very much disappointed that we have no sort of assurance from the Board of Agriculture to-day that anything is to be done to improve matters.


Why do you not move a reduction?


One other point, what about the special Commissioners which have been promised? If this Act is going to be properly carried out there ought to be more special Commissioners. Some time ago it was clearly stated in this House that it was the intention of the Board of Agriculture to appoint six sub-Commissioners. I believe I am within the recollection of my hon. Friend in that. Now we know that only two have been appointed, one for Wiltshire, and the other for Lancashire. I ask on what principle have these two counties been picked out. I have no objection to Wiltshire having its inspector, but if my hon. Friend will look into the matter he will find that the proportion in other counties of the applicants waiting for their land is every bit as great if not greater than the proportion disappointed in Wiltshire, and it is extremely unfair that this preferential treatment should be given to one county alone—

And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.

The House adjourned at Five minutes after Eleven o'clock.