HC Deb 06 April 1910 vol 16 cc447-9

asked leave to introduce a Bill to amend the law with respect to small holdings in Scotland,

I avail myself of this opportunity of the Ten Minute Rule to introduce this Bill to amend the law with respect to small holdings. A Bill was passed for England on this same subject by the present Government, which was said to have had satisfactory results in some parts of the country, and therefore it was only fair and right that Scotland should meet with the same "treatment. A short time ago the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan asked the Lord Advocate if he could say if any, and, if so, how many, small hold- ings had been acquired under the Act of 1892. The reply of the right hon. Gentleman was that he was not aware of any holdings acquired in Scotland under the Small Holdings Act. The recent Bill of the Government was so unsatisfactory, to say the least of it, to the landlords of Scotland that intelligent farmers and others, among Liberals would not believe it was intended to pass. Their county councils were not neglectful of their duties, and they sent out circulars of inquiry to ask if anyone wanted a small holding. The result was that only few applied, and, generally speaking, they were persons unsuitable in many ways. In my own county some thirty persons applied. Most of them retired when asked what they wanted, and three were left, and they either withdrew or were not found to be a class of persons for whom the Act was intended. In this Bill the county council must provide land for small holdings, and in default of agreement they may buy or take land compulsorily. If they take no action two Commissioners appointed by the Board of Agriculture will be directed to proceed to supply the demand. I ask the House to observe that the Commissioners must be persons with a knowledge of agriculture. They must inquire as to the demand and they must report to the Board. The Board will thereupon forward a scheme to the county council directing them to prepare and draft their scheme. If the county council decline the Commissioners will prepare a scheme which the county council must carry out and failing this being done the Board will do it, and saddle the county council with costs and expenses. Then, with regard to acquisition of land. If it is not given by agreement the county council may hire or buy any land compulsorily, but if so taken the approval of the Board of Agriculture must be obtained. The amount to be paid must be settled by a single arbitrator. All land thus acquired for small holdings may be adapted for sale or letting by erection of suitable buildings, making fences, drainage, occupation roads, etc. The rent or purchase is to be fixed at such reasonable amount as will protect the letting or sale against the Corporation. It must be recollected that the Board of Agriculture is not an independent body, but is responsible to Parliament. No land is to be acquired compulsorily from a farm less than 150 acres in extent occupied by a person who has no interest in another farm, or from a farm under lease on Whit Sunday, 1910. A small holding is that which exceeds one acre in extent, and is not more than fifty acres, or than £50 in value. Every county council shall establish a small holdings committee. Let the House observe that under this Bill fair rent and security of tenure is secured. The small holder will be treated as an ordinary small tenant. Present contracts remain untouched, and compulsion is carried out only when necessary. This is a very different thing from Lord Pentland's Bill, under which there was compulsion for all Scotland, with a costly land court. Surely it is better to work with the local authorities who know the wants of their counties well, than with such Commissioners as those appointed under the English Act?

Bill to amend the law with respect to small holdings in Scotland, ordered to be brought in by Sir Mark Stewart, Viscount Dalrymple, Mr. Yerburgh, Captain Gilmour, and Mr. Harry Hope. Presented accordingly, and read the first time. (To be read a second time upon Friday, 22nd April.)