HC Deb 27 May 1909 vol 5 cc1442-64

I wish to leave the more exciting topics of the Navy, and to turn to the cooler and calmer fields of agriculture, in order to call the attention of the House and the Government to the treatment meted out by the Board of Agriculture to a certain farmer in the East Riding of Yorkshire and to the East Riding County Council. It is a case, I think, of considerable importance, because it shows the methods of the Board of Agriculture in administering this Small Holdings Act. I am sorry to have to raise it on this Motion, but I endeavoured to raise it on the Board of Agriculture in this House, but was not successful in bringing it forward on that Debate. I am sorry I was unfortunate then. I know the hon. Member for Somerset, who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House, thought I was out of order in endeavouring to raise it on that Vote. I must apologise to him for raising it on this occasion and for bringing him away from his holiday, but I am told that this is the only opportunity, as far as I can see, of raising this particular case in the House of Commons. It was already raised in the House of Lords by Lord Onslow, who I do not think was entirely acquainted with all the particulars of this peculiar case. The reply then given by the President of the Board of Agriculture was one of a most unsatisfactory character, given in that flippant style which generally characterises his remarks. The case to which I refer is that of Mr. Clerk, of Welbech village, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, who is a tenant of the Crown, and has been dismissed from his farm for the purpose of having it split up into small holdings. I say at once that the action taken by the President of the Board of Agriculture with regard to this man is intolerable and unjust, and I go so far as to say that when the House realises what happened they will agree with the view I take. First of all, I should like to say that this gentleman is a most highly respected fanner in the East Riding and one of the best and most capable farmers—a man of whom it is impossible to speak too highly. He is a man who is deserving of some sort of consideration, for he has done good work for his country. When we raised the regiment of Yeomanry after the South African War this man joined with us and on his own initiative raised a troop of Yeomanry. He has been a tenant upon a farm of 320 acres for the last 16 years. When he took that farm 16 years ago it had been in an extremely bad state. During his tenancy, by his hard work and by a lot of money which he put into the land, he has immensely improved the farm—so much so that it is unquestionably as good, if not better, than any other farm in that particular district. I know the hon. Member —in reply to a question of mine the other day—stated this farmer was farming two farms. I do not know what argument he founds upon that. Does he contend that a farmer who is farming two farms ought to be expatriated from one of them? I do not think there is anything in that, particularly as this man has a bon who is just growing up, and as it is his intention to place the son upon that farm in the course of the ensuing year, the Crown have no complaints to make against this man — in fact, upon their extensive property in the East Riding he was one of the very best tenants. And yet in spite of all this the President of the Board of Agriculture selects this man to evict from a farm in order to split it up into small holdings. In April last year this man was given notice to quit, and this April he has been compelled to leave his farm without compensation for disturbance of any sort whatever. How can the Government possibly justify their action? Could any private landlord have behaved in the same way in which the Crown has treated this man? If they had attempted to do so I know the outcry there would have been in that district and probably in this House itself. It does seem absurd to act in this way when one recollects that this Government has passed an Act of Parliament, one of the main objects of which is to secure fixity of tenure. When one sees the Government behaving in this manner to a tenant farmer it makes one feel that that Act is a hollow mockery. I know what the hon. Member's reply on behalf of the Board of Agriculture is going to be. It will he that there was a very great demand for small holdings in that particular district, because that Ns as the reply given to me in answer to a question asked in this House, and the same reply was given by the President of the Board of Agriculture in the House of Lords in reply to Lord On slow. I dispute that entirely, for there was practically no demand in that district for small holdings, and I may say that the East Riding County Council are in entire agreement with me on that patricular point. The land in that particular district is very heavy, and utterly unsuitable for small holdings. This particular farm is about four miles from a railway station, and over 20 miles from the nearest market town. Under these circumstances I ask what prospects are there of small holdings being made to pay, unless they are let at absurd prices, on land such as that?

I will continue the story. Having been given notice in April, 1908, Mr. Clark, the tenant, waits for several months and hears nothing further. He does not see the small holders applying for small holdings on his farm, and in the month of November he writes asking the Crown what they intend to do with his farm, and whether he will be allowed to continue his tenancy. Out of ordinary civility one would have thought the Crown would have replied to that letter, but no response whatever was received until 31st December of last year, nearly nine months after Mr. Clark had received notice to quit. On 31st December last the Board of Agriculture wrote to the East Riding County Council telling them that this farm was to let. On receiving this letter the county council took the precaution of sending down their agent to report on the situation. He did so, and reported that there were only one or two applicants for small holdings, that the land, in his opinion, was utterly unsuitable for the purposes for which the Board of Agriculture had acquired it. Upon receiving this report the Board of Agriculture took a rather extraordinary course, because, after all, that Board and the East Biding County Council have worked amicably together in endeavouring to administer the Small Holdings Act, and the county council have clone their best to provide all the small holdings which are necessary. The Board of Agriculture, instead of accepting the report made by the county council inspector, sent down a man to find small holders in that district, and with the utmost difficulty he managed to get seven or eight names. I can assure. hon. Gentlemen that several of those names are not the class of men we wished to benefit when we passed the Small Holdings Act. Having obtained these names the Board of Agriculture proceed to write to the East Riding County Council, sending them the list of names of future. tenants, and telling them they have got to take over this farm, and if they do not do so the East Riding County Council will be placed upon the black list. Such dictatorial methods as these are most arbitrary, and also most unnecessary, and under threats such as these the East. Riding had no other course to pursue than to take up this farm and let it out for these small holdings. They did let it out, and let it at a loss. I shall be interested to know how the hon. Gentleman can justify the action of the Government in this particular case. The charges which I make against the Government and the President of the Board of Agriculture are these: the hon. Baronet's conduct has been cruel and unjust. He has turned a man off his farm, in which he had invested a great deal of money, and against whom the Board of Agriculture had no complaint whatever. I say that the way in which he was dismissed entitles him to reasonable and just compensation. The Board of Agriculture have behaved with discourtesy to the East Riding County Council, who have endeavoured to administer the Small Holdings Act with fairness and with justice. They have endeavoured to co-operate with the Board of Agriculture in the administration of this Act. Would it be possible for a private owner of land to act in the way in which the Board of Agriculture has acted? The administration of the Act is not likely to increase the popularity of the Act or to increase the popularity of the present Government.


I wish to refer again to the administration of the Small Holdings Act. I have to urge the importance of this subject. It is of importance not merely to the applicants themselves, but to the movement in the country, and also to the character of this House. There has been great delay in the administration of the Act. That we all anticipated. It was inevitable. The way in which it has been administered has caused bitter disappointment to the applicants themselves. Thousands of men find themselves at the end of 16 months without a prospect of getting any land whatever. They have not merely to complain of the delay; they have not merely to express disappointment. They have a more serious charge to bring against the Government. There has been a very serious error in the administration of this Act, a great deal of which can be traced back to the Board of Agriculture, whose conduct in carrying out the provisions of the Act has not been satisfactory. It is not a mere question of detail, not a question as to the manner in which the discretion given to the President of the Board of Agriculture has been exercised, but I shall endeavour to show that the administration has been fundamentally wrong, and that the Board of Agriculture has evaded and disregarded—no doubt with the best intentions—the conditions laid down by this House, and contained in the Act itself, and that they have thus caused injustice and hardship not only to county councils, on whom, in my opinion, an undue burden has been thrown, not merely on ratepayers, who have to bear far more than their share of the expenses, but also on the applicants themselves, many of whom at great risk to themselves made application, and are still without any assurance that their applications will be dealt with in a proper way. The Act undoubtedly contemplates a certain cooperation between the central authority set up for the first time and the Small Holdings Commissioner and the local authority—that is tit, county council. That is an essential feature of this Act—they are to work together, and their duties are distinctly laid down in Sections 2 and 3.

How have the Board of Agriculture carried out their share? How have they performed the duties laid specifically upon them? Take first the question of inquiry, which is in one sense the most important part. Have they obtained accurate information as to the demand for land. I suppose my hon. Friend will admit that the responsibility for inquiry rests with the Small Holdings Commissioners. It is quite true that they may confer with the county council; indeed, they are to do so. They may also confer with other persons with a view to ascertaining what is the extent of the demand in the several counties, and how that demand is to be met. I have here a pamphlet written by the hon. Member for the Rugby Division, which is, I believe, with the exception of one unfortunate slip, the best description we have had of the legal effect of this Act. The pamphlet has, moreover, the advantage of a foreword by Earl Carrington of a most laudatory character. It is laid down by the book that the new body called the Small Holdings Commission under the control of the Board of Agriculture is to inquire as to the extent of the demand for small holdings in each county and how far it is reasonably practicable to meet that demand in each county, and for the purposes of the inquiry the Commissioners are to confer with county councils and other authorities and are to take such steps as they may think necessary. What I want to know is how far these inquiries have been really carried out? I quite agree that roughly the Board of Agriculture have this information. Roughly speaking, they are able to tell us that there have been a certain number of applications, that a certain amount of land has been got; but they have no knowledge how these applications are distributed and what are the parishes and the quantity of land, still less can it be said they have any knowledge of how far it is reasonably practicable to satisfy the demand.

I must say that, as far as I have been able to tell, the Board of Agriculture know precisely as much as the county councils choose to tell them, and no more. They simply send down their inquiries to the county council, and they make no independent inquiries, and they hold no detailed inquiries of any sort or kind. I know that my hon. Friend thinks that that may be enough, but if he takes the trouble to read through the Act, and especially sub-section 4 of section 2, he will see that it must be a more detailed and more independent inquiry which was contemplated when the Act was passed, because under that section it is said that if in the course of their inquiry the Commissioners receive information as to the question of the demand for allotments as opposed to small holdings they shall communicate the information to the county council, and if these inquiries are made solely through the county council it would be obviously absurd for them to communicate the information as to allotments to the county council. It must show that when that Act was passed it was contemplated that in the course of their inquiries they were to make inquiries as to the demand for small holdings, and they were to satisfy it. I would say this, therefore, as to this first duty, that although it has been carried out to some extent it has not been carried out in a very complete and satisfactory fashion.


I must remind the hon. Member for Holderness (Mr. Stanley Wilson) that it is contrary to order to read newspapers.


I will refer to the next duty. It is the duty of a report which is clearly referred to in the Act. and which is clearly described in this book of the hon. Member for Rugby in his admirable exposition of the law: "After this inquiry the Commissioners are to make a report to the Agricultural and Fisheries Board in respect of each county, in any case in which they think there is a demand for small holdings. They are to state in their report that a scheme should be made to provide small holdings, and they may—if they choose—say in what manner they think this should be done. If the Board consider that the scheme should be made, they are to forward the report to the county council." That, it seems to me, is as clear a duty to be placed upon a public authority as can well he imagined. They are to get information, and, having got information, they are to make reports and forward those reports to the county council, and there is no question of default power here. They are not to wait until the county councils are in default, they are to make inquiries and report at once.

The duty is immediate, as I read the Act. On 6th May I addressed a question to my hon. Friend "Whether any case had yet occurred in which a report has been prepared and forwarded to the county council under the provisions of this Act 1" The answer was, "No, Sir, no such case has yet occurred." Ever since that no report, so far as we know, has been prepared or forwarded to a county council. Of course, I know the answer is that the President thinks he has a discretion, and he thinks these are in the nature of default powers, coercive powers, ginger some people call them, which are only to be applied in certain cases where the county council has behaved badly. Can my hon. Friend point out a single line in the Act which justifies that interpretation? On the contrary, I think it is perfectly plain, both from the book I have read and from the words of the Act itself, that when the Act was passed it was contemplated that the Commissioners should exercise a supervision over the whole administration of this Act by county councils, and that they should give the county councils the assistance which they required, help them to ascertain the demand, and help them, by means of these reports, in showing how the demand is being met and what schemes ought to he prepared. It seems to me that it is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, and I should like the hon. Gentleman to tell me what is the official reason of the Board of Agriculture for not having made these reports. The only reason contemplated by the Act is that the Board of Agriculture do not think it desirable that schemes should be prepared. Considering that we have these 20,000 people waiting for the land, considering that in many parishes nothing has yet been done, that in some counties, I think in Surrey, for instance, the schemes include 10 acres, it seems to me it is preposterous that the Board of Agriculture should still consider it is not desirable that schemes should be prepared, and I cannot believe it is really the reason why these reports have not been prepared and forwarded to the county council as required by the Act.

What is the result of this default on the part of the Board of Agriculture? In the first place, it is that no time limit has been set, because until the report is sent down there is no time set by the Act as to when the scheme should be prepared. If the report is forwarded to the county council then, within six months it becomes the duty of the council to prepare a scheme in accordance with the report, and in case they fail to do so the Board of Agriculture is in a position to take action. But no time is set, no definite task is put before the council, and, above all, as it seems to me, the applicants themselves have no guarantee—these men who have risked so much in reliance upon the duties and powers entrusted to the Board of Agriculture—that their case will be met. I do not want to use strong language. I was going to say I do not think the Board of -Agriculture have kept faith with these men, but I will say at any rate that they are not carrying out the Act in the way that was expected by these men that they would carry it out. There is, I admit gladly, a certain sign of repentance on the part of the President of the Board of Agriculture. At present it is no bigger than a man's hand, but there is just a sign. It consists of two special Commissioners, who were promised at the end of last year, and who have now been sent down to the counties of Wiltshire and Lancashire to carry out the Act and prepare a Report, and carry out the Act according to the terms of these sections. Six were spoken of first of all, and publicly announced at the end of last year. They have now been reduced to two, and these two counties are to have the benefit of this improvement of policy on the part of the Board of Agriculture. But why two only, and why special Commissioners? We never heard of special Commissioners in the Act. These gentlemen are only going to carry out the duties laid on the Commissioners themselves. At any rate, there is no suggestion that two counties alone ought to have the benefit of their assistance. I am at a loss to understand, though I have tried once or twice to ascertain from my hon. Friend, what was the reason for the selection of these two counties. Is Surrey less anxious in respect of land hunger than Wiltshire? Is Kent less deserving of help? Is Oxfordshire more forward? I have compared the number of approved applications in Wilt- shire and Oxfordshire and I find the number in both counties is exactly the same. It is 422 in each case, but in Wiltshire the county council has obtained schemes for twice as much land as the county council of Oxfordshire. It cannot be that we are less entitled to help. If backwardness alone is to be the test it cannot be said that we are less entitled to the benefit of a Commissioner than the more fortunate Wiltshire. I do not believe that any standard of selection has been employed in picking out these two counties. It is simply an instance of the haphazard and hand-to-mouth way in which the Act has been administered from the first. It is typical of the want of policy we have all through. A little pressure is put on here and there, and then you have a little activity, but I do not think it is possible to trace any real method in the administration of the Board of Agriculture. I will give one quotation from a gentleman who cannot be accused of being unfavourable to the Liberal Government. Mr. Fred Home has been making inquiries in various parts of the country, and he says that in every district he visited he had not found a single place where through the action of the Board of Agriculture and the Commissioners land had been more promptly obtained, and the answer to the question as to whose fault it was that the modest aspirations of the agricultural labourer were not realised was that the blame must be laid on the Board of Agriculture. It is not yet too late to have a change in the policy of administering this Act. The time is running out, and I do implore my hon. Friend to make representations to the Board of Agriculture to see that at least the provisions of this Act are carried out in the spirit in which the Act was passed, and that assistance is given to the willing county council and pressure put upon the unwilling county council as contemplated by those who passed the Act.


The hon. Members who have addressed the House this afternoon thought it necessary to make some apology for standing between us and our departure to various places in search of fresh air and holidays. I do not think in any case, in view of the interesting speeches to which we have listened and the importance of the subjects dealt with, that such apologies were needed. I certainly venture to think that the House, far from requesting an apology, will welcome any effort made by any of us present this afternoon to attract not only the attention of the House, but public attention, to any aspect of the important question of the revival of rural life in England. It is quite true that no one can accuse the present Parliament of neglecting agricultural questions, but it must be remembered that we have a great deal of lost time to make up. I think it was at Red-bill, in my own Constituency, Lord Onslow stated a few years ago that during five years the late Parliament only devoted some six hours to the discussion of agricultural questions. For that reason if we stayed here many hours when an opportunity arose many of us feel that we should riot be doing more than was needed to make up for lost time. Whether we shall succeed in our hope of revivieg rural life in. England depends at the moment very much upon the success or failure of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of 1907. Suppose the Act proves a failure and our hopes are falsified, even then we should not despair. We should have to find out other means of making the best of our own country. But., for my own part—and I think I can speak for Members on these benches, and probably on the benches opposite—we could not feel it possible to go away on our holidays with a clear conscience without taking this occasion to point out any weaknesses that may have occurred to us in what we have seen of the administration of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, and to offer suggestions for what they may be worth, and in doing so to afford the hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Strachey), who represents the Board of Agriculture, an opportunity of renewing on the part of the Board those sympathetic assurances which have been so often given to us, and, what is much more important, of furnishing the House and the country with information in regard to the recent progress of the Act, and in regard to the steps that are to be taken, because I am sure they must be taking steps at the present moment to press matters forward, after the promises that were made to us about a month ago, when we last discussed the question of small holdings in this House. I quite understand, as my hon. Friend below me stated just now, that we cannot expect that the great changes which the Act will bring about in the whole relations of the different classes of people in the country could take place very rapidly or without a certain amount of friction, but while a great deal has been done in some counties very little has been done in others. Why cannot the Board of Agriculture come forward frankly and give their assistance to the backward counties to enable them to advance more rapidly. I should just like to say a few words about my own county, Surrey, of which I represent the South-Eastern Division. In answer to a question asked by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Rushcliffe Division on 19th of April, the hon. Baronet provided the House, for the second or third time, with an up-to-date and interesting list of the conditions of the progress made under the Act. The Surrey figures are as follows: We have had 265 applicants for small holdings, and we require 2,948 acres. Out of these applications 104 have been approved, and to meet their case 1,273 acres of land will be required. Up to 31st March we are told in answer to questions that schemes involving 10 acres of land had been submitted by the Surrey County Council to the Board to meet the approved applications for 1,273 acres. About a month ago the hon. Baronet informed us, in the course of his interesting speech that only 10 acres of land altogether had been secured for small holdings, not merely in Surrey but. in Surrey and Sussex taken together, and out of that land so far as Surrey is concerned none had been supplied by the county council.

This morning, in answer to a question, I was informed that 11 of the Surrey applicants had got land. A month ago seven had received land through private sources, and it may be that the remaining four have also received land through private sources; at any rate, the Surrey County Council cannot have been able up to the present to have provided land for more than four applicants. It is quite clear that this county council, as well as -the Kent County Council, the Sussex County Council, and several other county councils are labouring under special difficulties. I do not wish to place any blame upon the Surrey County Council, because I know they have great difficulties. In the first place, the county council was elected by the people of Surrey, but the Small Holdings Act had not been passed at the time of the last election, and it is quite possible that different men might have been elected if it had been known that one of the most important parts of their duty would be to carry out the adminstration of an Act of this sort. There they are for what they are worth, and we have no right to say that they are altogether unsympathetic. I do know that most of the members of these county councils are drawn necessarily from the wealthier and more socially important classes of the community, and it is probably very difficult for them to appear to interfere in any way with their neighbours. It is very difficult for a county councillor living in any district in Surrey to come forward and say that they ought to take a piece of land of his neighbour, who, perhaps, dislikes the idea of small holdings altogether. Most of our land in Surrey is said to be building land whenever we want to buy. It may be land let at a very low rent, or it may be land with a low assessment for rating purposes, but it is called building land when required for public purposes.

I believe that under these circumstances the Surrey County Council, and, indeed, other county councils, would really welcome a little less timidity on the part of the Board of Agriculture in using the powers which they have under the Act, and to which my hon. Friend the Member for the Henley Division (Mr. Morrell) referred already this afternoon. It would really assist county councils such as the Surrey County Council if the Board would direct their Commissioners to prepare reports and send them on to the county councils in order that they might get out a scheme. I believe that then the council would find their hands strengthened, and they would be able to go as individuals to their neighbours up and down the country and say: "We have got to get out this scheme; you must not think we are interfering with you or your land in any spirit of hostility because we are preparing schemes, but the Board of Agriculture says we must do so." I believe that action on the part of the Board of Agriculture would clear away a great deal of friction. The Board, after all, are the experts, and we want their help. I think they might show a little more enthusiasm with their investigations of individual cases.

From time to time various Members in this House have asked them to send down Commissioners to investigate sonic cases of hardship, or apparent hardship, that had arisen. I remember the well-known case of David Nicholl in Kent. This man had applied for a small holding. He was approved, and then, suddenly, he received notice to quit his cottage. It was, as always in these cases, quite impossible to prove that he was turned out of his home simply because be was an applicant for a small holding. There is no doubt it was generally said by people in that district who were against small holdings that that showed the result of applying. At any rate, that man is still without a small holding, although lie is an approved applicant. The Board of Agriculture sent down an inspector to inquire into his case. This Gentleman came down, and instead of first going to the man and getting from him all particulars of his case he went straight to the farmer who had evicted the man from his cottage, and asked him what the position of affairs was. It seems to me not a very wise thing to have done. The farmer said, I suppose: "Oh, come along with me and see him, and I will soon show you the man has no complaint against me."

You can quite imagine that when the gentleman from the Board of Agriculture went down and saw the farmer, and, accompanied by the farmer, went to the man, who at different times had been employed by the farmer, the smaller arid the lesser man would naturally think that this gentleman coming clown from the Board of Agriculture was on the side of the great and not of the poor. He was thoroughly confused, and only able to say he had no complaint to make. Immediately afterwards he came along to the secretary of the local land club, and told him he was afraid his case was not understood. One does not want to rake up these series which are always full of unpleasantness and bad feeling, but it seems to me that the Board might have been a little less easily discouraged. From that day they have looked on the case of David Nicholls as anathema, and one that should not be mentioned, and as showing that every complaint is wrong. They never thoroughly probed the case, and one thing which has done the Board more harm in the eyes of people of the South of England who should have been their strongest supporters, is their readiness to take an interested explanation in a difficult case of this sort. I can understand how difficult it was for the Board really to prove anything, or for anyone to prove anything, and I do not believe they could have done much in any of these cases, but at least they might for their own sakes have shown that their sympathies were thoroughly impartial, as I believe they really were I do not want to recite a number of tragedies. It is an easy thing to do, because there are none of us who in our own constituencies have taken an interest in the working of this Act who have not conic across many sad cases. There are general cases of disappointment of those who, without any actual tragedy, are still waiting for the land. I had a letter a few weeks ago from a man in God-stone, a village in my Constituency, in which he said:— We are still apparently without any chance of small holdings; we have collected together implements and something in the way of stock for the land we hope to get; can nothing be done? It may be that they expected too much of the Act, and expected things to be done too quickly; but that does not take away from the suffering in which they are involved by delay and disappointment. There are many cases of people who either have been afraid to apply for laud or have become themselves marked persons in consequence of having done so, and do not find it so easy to obtain employment as previously.

The land clubs, which are now formed into a league, in which I have taken great interest, have investigated cases in some twenty typical villages, and in nearly every instance they have found avoidable failure to administer the Act. I have most of the cases here, but I will not weary the House at this hour by reading them out unless I am desired to do so. Hon. Members may ask what these land clubs are. They are simply organisations of countrymen and women having in view the revival of village life. Their object is to do all that lies in their power to obtain land and homes for the people of the villages and to encourage independence. The land clubs have received a good character from people in high authority. Lord Carrington, addressing a land club deputation in December last at the Board of Agriculture Offices, complimented the club members on the careful way in which they had presented the evidence in support of their case, and said that it appeared to him that they had acted with great fairness and consideration. Again, the hon. Baronet who represents the Board in this House (Sir Edward Strachey), speaking here on a previous occasion, said:— We shall watch their development with interest. The Dean of Durham has said:— I am a small farmer myself, and know the great need in country places of something corresponding to, and yet quite different from, the trade unions of the big manufacturing towns. I think your scheme of land clubs will till the big empty space well. These extracts from remarks by responsible persons will be sufficient to show that these clubs, which have been investigating cases and doing what they can to help small holders, are not organisations without an intelligent purpose and common-sense. In spite of the progress which has been made—progress which I fully recognise in various parts of the country—there has been profound disappointment in other parts. I myself, in my own Constituency, in the hope of trying to do something for these people, made application for a farm, in order that I might reflect it to these snail holders. The landlord from whom I tried to get the farm apparently did not care for me as a tenant. For that I do not blame him. But I do think the reasons he gave were not very strong ones. If he had said that I was an undesirable tenant I should have entertained no ill-feeling about it. I feel no ill-feeling about it as it is, for, from what I have seen of him, he is what you might describe as a charming, typical, English country gentleman.

For instance, in the first place he told me that it was not desirable to have as a tenant of his farm someone who was not a practical farmer. I do not pretend to be a practical fanner; but I imagine it would not be difficult to draw up a lease which should ensure that there should be no deterioration of any kind. In the second place, I was told that it was contrary to the spirit of the Act that one individual should let out small holdings. Yet lately a Conservative neighbour, presuming to speak on behalf of that same 'landlord, declared that many months ago lie was perfectly willing to let the land to anyone who wanted it at quite a small rent, if they applied to him personally. I only know that in that neighbourhood at present there is no single holding. But I agree these private efforts should not be necessary. The Act provides for the public provision of land—and land should be procured.

I venture, in conclusion, to suggest two or three remedies which have been previously brought to the attention of the hon. Baronet (Sir Edward Strachey). He will perhaps forgive me if I bring them before him again. In the first place, I would ask him to endeavour to persuade the President of the Board of Agriculture to appoint more Commissioners. We really require one Commissioner for Surrey, Sussex, and Kent. If for the next year we could only have, say, Mr. Cheney all to ourselves, I believe that progress would be made. In the second place, why cannot the hon. Baronet endeavour to persuade the President of the Board of Agriculture to carry out the valuable sug- gestions of my hon. Friend the Member for South Oxfordshire (Mr. P. Morrell), and instruct Commissioners to report to the counties and invite them to prepare schemes? Then, in six months' time, if nothing is done, the Board of Agriculture will be able to prepare. schemes themselves. In the third place, I would suggest the establishment of experimental holdings. We were told when this Act was passed that a considerable amount of money would be furnished in order to oil the wheels. Why cannot something be done in these backward counties in the way of experimental holdings? They would give the local landlords and the local farmers an insight as to what could be done in the small-holding way, and I think that would very much diminish the opposition, which comes largely through ignorance at the present time. Again, I suggest that the Board of Agriculture should endeavour to do something to clear up the confusion that exists as to the rule under which co-operative societies should acquire land. I joined one of these small-holdings allotment societies in my own Division, and we really found that. instead of being a help, it simply acted as a block. The county council seemed to be demanding more from the co-operative societies in the way of guarantees than they do from individuals. If the Board would make suggestions to the county councils in this respect I believe it would be a very useful remedy. There arc three more things that I might also suggest. One is that we should endeavour to obtain some security in his cottage for every person who has applied for a small holding.

I think we shall never get an Act of this kind to work properly unless those people who apply for small holdings, or who desire to apply for them, feel that they are secure in their cottages until the new plot is secured for them. Possibly that will need a new Act of Parliament. Possibly the hon. Baronet would suggest a clause which might. be inserted in the Housing Bill of the President of the Local Government Board, ensuring that if a man has applied for a small holding and a piece of land, he should not he turned out of his cottage without special compensation until his new plot is secured. Then again, I do think that the Board should adopt the suggestion made from the Benches opposite this afternoon to look much more closely into the question of compensation. I think it is quite natural some farmers should be against the Small Holdings and Allotments Act if they are asked to leave their farms for the good of their fellow countrymen perhaps without any special compensation. I think it would be right for this House to vote considerable sums of money in order that there should be generous compensation tie farmers who are unwilling to give up their land in order that it should be cut up into small holdings. Finally, if after adoption of these suggestions, and of others which will occur to the hon. Baronet, it is found that the Act does not work much more rapidly, and that greater progress is not made, one would be forced to believe that there is something that stands between the President and the hon. Baronet and their Commissioners, and their intention to carry out the Act. I am perfectly confident that the Board and those in authority as far as they are responsible to Parliament are fully desirous.. of carrying out the Act passed in 1907. There does seem to be some malign influence at work. For myself I look back sometimes to the village meetings held on village greens and in the cottage kitchen during the month preceding the general election, and the months after that election and preceding the passing of the Act. I remember the hopes and expectations. which were aroused at the meetings in those homes. Personally, I was most careful in pointing out the difficulties in the way, and I did what I could to prevent. those expectations becoming too great. This, however, does not alter the right of these poor people to the land, which Parliament has promised they should have if they are considered suitable applicants. I, for one, certainly shall not rest until everyone of the 104 approved applicants in the. county of Surrey and throughout the country have received the land to which they are entitled.


I should like to emphasise one or two of the points to. which the attention of the lion. Baronet has been drawn. I am not going to quarrel with the Board of Agriculture, because they have appointed special Commissioners for Wiltshire and Lancashire. If they have thought it necessary to appoint special Commissioners for those two counties we thank them for it, but I think that fact has demonstrated the necessity for appointing special Commissioners for other counties which are not in so good a position for acquiring land for small holdings as Wiltshire and Lancashire. I hope the hon. Member representing the Board of Agriculture will inform the President of the Board of Agriculture that we desire him to go and do likewise in other counties. I endorse all my hon. Friend has said in regard to the necessity of having these reports. For a long period we have been impressing upon the Board of Agriculture the necessity of having such reports, and I hope something will be speedily done in this direction.

I think it is time something was done regard to the recommendation made to the Board of Agriculture last year as to the necessity of a general circular being issued defining the administrative position of, county councils. There are one or two points which some members of county councils do not seem thoroughly acquainted with, and one of those points is as to whom is qualified to have a small holding,. Some councils seem to think that a man like the village blacksmith is not entitled to have a small holding. My opinion is that the blacksmith is given that right under the Act, and I think county councils would do well to let in such men. I believe the Board of Agriculture would perform a useful service by sending out a circular pointing out this fact, and also pointing out that the man who possesses an allotment to-day is not by that fact debarred from becoming a small holder if he so desires. Those are some of the points I wish to impress upon the hon. Baronet. I want to come to an individual case with regard to compensation to farmers. We are all, I think, in favour of that, and private Members of this House are trying to obtain facilities in this direction. Unfortunately while there is a generous desire on both sides amongst county Members in favour of an alteration of the law in that direction, nothing as yet been done. [An OPPOSTION MEMBER: "We moved it in the Committee upstairs."[At the present time one or two hon. Members are unfortunately preventing private Members availing themselves of facilities to get legislation of that kind passed. I know a vast majority of the county Members are strongly in favour of it, and the necessity for such legislation is fully demonstrated by the working of the Act of Parliament. In conclusion, I should like to ask the hon. Baronet whether he will look after the case in which 100 acres were offered in Kent to the county council. These acres are not in my Constituency, and. therefore, I can speak impartially. It was a voluntary offer. All the conditions may not have been right. On that subject I will not speak, but the acres were within a reasonable distance of small towns. The offer has not been accepted by the Kent County Council. I hope that the hon. Baronet will investigate all offers of this description, and the case which I have mentioned shows the necessity of having a special Commission..

The TREASURER of the HOUSEHOLD (Sir E. Strachey)

, who was indistinctly heard: Mr. Clark is not a tenant farmer, but is a gentleman farmer, farming 1,197 acres of land. But there is a much stronger case indeed. This was a farm occupied by a bailiff, and it was some considerable distance from the farm on which Mr. Clark had resided a good many years. Therefore Mr. Clark may fairly be described as an absentee tenant, and while it is undesirable to have absentee landlords, it is still more undesirable to have absentee tenants. The hon. Member said there was no demand for these holdings in the East Riding.


Not in that particular district.


The hon. Member says there is no demand in that particular district. But it turns out that the county council showed by their action what the real position is. Evidently they were not coerced or compelled by the Board of Agriculture to take this farm at a considerable loss to themselves. The fact is that the Board of Agriculture were pressing the East Riding County Council to take land, and this farm was offered by Lord Carrington, as Commissioner of Woods and Forests, to the county council, and when it is considered that the county council actually took from the Crown 311 acres, at a rent of £360, on a 21 years' lease, we may assume that the county council would not have taken it on those terms if it would have involved considerable loss to themselves. Surely, they would have taken it for only a year or two, at the most. What has really happened is that the county council has taken this farm of 311 acres, and divided it into eight small holdings. In addition to this, 69 acres of adjoining land has been let directly to tenants.


But none of these small holders are living on the land. There are no houses on the farm, and I may say a man has 50 acres and his wife another 40 acres, and these are specimens of the small holders on the farms.


it has been suggested that the action of Lord Carrington in regard to Mr. Clark was cruel, because he turned him out. But, as I have shown the House, it was no question of turning him out, because he did not reside on the farm, which was let to him as a temporary measure. It is well known it is considered bad agricultural policy to let several farms together to one man, and in this case it was only done for temporary purposes. I do not think that Lord Carrington can justly be described as a tyrannical landlord. Of course I will not labour the point, because I feel that there is not another man in the House who would make such a charge against the Noble Earl. Then, in regard to the charge of incivility, Lord Wenlock, the chairman of the county council, in a speech in another place, said that the council had not been treated with incivility by the Board of Agriculture, 'hut, on the contrary, that that Board had clone everything they could for them. I think that disposes of the charge of incivility which is brought against the Commissioners. Turning to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for the Henley Division (Mr. Morrell) he said there were a large number of people out of land. I do not think that anyone could expect that all those people who were out of land would he provided with land within a year. My hon. Friend further says that there was a serious error in the administration of the Act. He said the Department had gone outside the Act, and disregarded the duties of the Act. I can see what was in his mind—it was the Noble Earl whose duty it is to administer the Act, and I think he will agree with me that he was attacking Lord Carrington and not the Board, and Lord Carrington is entirely responsible for the action of the Board, and of the Com missioners. Of course my hon. Friend has a perfect right if he likes to say that the present Board of Agriculture has not properly interpreted the intentions of Parliament, or properly interpreted the letter of the Act itself; but, on the other hand, I think the great majority of the House will agree with me, and so I think will people outside the House, that the Noble Earl is certainly as good a judge, if not better, of how best small holdings can be provided, from his great personal experience on his own estate, and of how they can be carried out and worked, than even my hon. Friend himself, if he will allow me to say so. I think that must be the general opinion, and I think he will admit that the great experience the Noble Earl has had qualifies him to deal with these matters.


I am equally as good a judge of the meaning of English and the interpretation of an Act of Parliament.


I am not going to argue what the Act means, and whether there might be another interpretation put upon it, because we know, and my hon. and learned Friend knows, that if Acts of Parliament were not capable of different constructions there would be very little business for the profession which he adorns. The Noble Earl has taken the view that the right way, and that was certainly the intention announced by the First Commissioner of Works, was to work through the county councils, and so long as the county councils were willing to carry out the work with due expedition it was not the business of the Board of Agriculture to take proceedings. As I have said previously, if the county councils had become passive resisters instead of their being some 33,000 acres of land acquired or about to be acquired, we should practically have no land at all acquired in the country. I do not mean to labour this point, because my hon. Friend says what he desires is not for the Board to work with the county councils, but that Commissioners should be appointed in every county in England, who should draw up their schemes and act independently of the county councils and make their reports to the Board.


I said I particularly desired the co-operation of the county councils, but the only way in which the Commissioners can co-operate with county councils is under the terms of this Act.


That is certainly not so. What they are doing is to communicate with the county councils and help them when it is necessary, and schemes are being submitted every day. Only this week a county council submitted a scheme for taking a large number of acres.

Then as regards the Oxfordshire County Council, if it is not doing its duty in any particular case, the hon. Member ought to bring it before the Board of Agriculture, who will at once look into it. It is no good making vague charges against the Board and saying they are not doing their duty. if the hon. Member will bring a distinct case before the Board as regards the county council not doing its duty in a particular case, or, more generally, that they are not inclined to meet the wants of applicants in that county, I can assure him that the Board will at once send down an inspector or a Commissioner to look into that particular matter. Again, on the other hand, my hon. Friend always seems very jealous about Wiltshire. I should think there would be no difficulty if a county council, in the same way as Wiltshire, was so anxious to have a special Commissioner, in complying with their wishes.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Brodie) referred again to the working of the Act, and also admitted that there were great difficulties, though he did not say what the difficulties were. But I think he will agree with me that the real difficulty is the value of land in Surrey for building purposes. When the county council desire to buy land they are told they can only buy it at such a price that the applicant will be unable to pay the rent it will be necessary to charge. Then it is said: Why do not they lease the land? But there the difficulty is that the land /night soon be wanted for building, and he tenant in six or twelve or eighteen months might have to give it up. One of the great objects of the Act is to give security of tenure. I can assure the hon. Member that the Board are doing what they can to keep this matter to the front, and I shall be glad if he will come to the Board and make suggestions, in which case we may be glad to take some further action. The hon. Member himself admits that there is enormous difficulty, and that in some cases hopes had been unduly raised, and therefore there has been disappointment.


There are rim approved applicants, so one can hardly say their hopes have been unduly raised.


As to the facilities for acquiring land it is an easy matter. The difficulty is that a rent would have to be charged greater than they would be able or willing to pay. I am very much surprised at my hon. Friend being considered an undesirable tenant. I wish he would migrate from Surrey, and come to my county, and I should be only too delighted. Then, again, there is the question of experimental holdings in backward counties. The, object of experimental holdings is not to encourage a county which is backward. It is past contradiction now that small holdings are profitable and can be made to pay with a proper and fair rent. The hon. Member for Dartford (Mr. J. Rowlands) was in favour of compensation for farmers in case of disturbance. I need hardly say I entirely agree with him, and always agree with him on this matter. The President of the Board of Agriculture, speaking in another place, gave his blessing to the Bill of the lion. Member for Rugby (Mr. Corrie Grant), and I hope we may see that Bill go through without any opposition in this House.

I come lastly to the question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford as to a circular being sent out. I think one has already been sent out, and I rather understood him to wish that it should sent out again, calling attention to the fact that tradesmen, butchers, blacksmiths, and village shopkeepers have the right of acquiring land under the Act. That policy has been acted upon as a general rule. I know that in my own county small plots of land have been given to saddlers, butchers, and other tradesmen, and it is agreed that it is thoroughly desirable that they should have land. I shall inquire whether it is desirable to send out the circular again. The hon. Member referred to an offer of land which was made to the Kent County Council, which they refused to accept. The reply of the county council is that they had no applications for small holdings in that particular locality, and that it was no use buying land when it was not wanted. If that is not so, and if the hon. Member will communicate with me the county council will be once more communicated with.


There were applicants a little way off.


There may have been applications a little way off, but we have found that applicants will not go a few miles out of their particular parish. If the hon. Member will say that they are. willing to go to other localities, I will communicate with the county council and ask whether land could be acquired for them.

Motion, "That this House do now adjourn until Thursday, the 3rd June, ' put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly al Two minutes after Six o'clock.