HC Deb 13 April 1910 vol 16 cc1249-51

I beg to ask leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Small Holdings Act, 1892.

4.0 P.M

The reason I ask to be allowed to introduce this Bill under the Ten Minutes Rule is one to which I hope the Prime Minister will give some attention. The Session before last this Bill had the first place, and everyone expected it would come on; but the Chief Whip of that time, Lord Marchamley—I hope hon. Members when they are made peers will keep their names, it will save a lot of trouble—moved the Adjournment of the House rather than let the Bill come on, and we went home at 8.15 instead of discussing the measure. The Prime Minister assented to that proposal under a misunderstanding. He thought the adjournment was assented to by both sides of the House, which I explained to him afterwards was not the case. Therefore I hope, in common fairness, he will now afford an opportunity for the Second Reading of the Bill. Its object is to amend the Act of 1892, which enables county councils to buy land, divide it, adapt it for small holdings, and sell the same to those who will buy and cultivate the land. Lord Carrington and the opponents of ownership are continually taunting the Unionist party—the authors of the Bill—with the statement that it has been "inoperative." That is true to a very large extent, but the reason is not far to seek. The Act requires that the purchaser shall pay down 20 per cent, of the purchase money at the time the agreement is made, and that, of course, labourers cannot do. There are many men, labourers and others who can get a little, sufficient with the aid of their families, to cultivate a small holding, but few, if any, have enough to pay that proportion of the purchase money. The opponents of ownership declare that there is no demand for ownership, and that they all want tenancies. They have no right to make that statement. This measure would at least give men the opportunity of becoming owners of the soil they till. It is foolish, I think, to talk of men not availing themselves of advantages which it is impossible for them to have. Only four counties have put the Act in operation. Worcestershire is the foremost. In 1893 there was a large farm at Catshill cultivated, or at least occupied, by one farmer. The farmer failed, and the Worcestershire County Council acquired the farm and divided it into small holdings, each self-contained, and they put up cottages where necessary. Having done that, the members of the county council were determined that men should not be kept out of the advantages which the Act offered to those who had some money, and they helped them to pay this initial sum of 20 per cent. What was the consequence? At the present time there is a colony on that farm of thirty-two peasant proprietors with their families, who, during the last sixteen years, have done well and lived well, and many of them to my knowledge have saved money. What is important is this, I am informed on good authority that since the colony has been there there has not been an able-bodied pauper in the parish. I wish hon. Members would go and visit that place, they would see a sight that would delight their eyes. Under this system of small ownerships some portion of the many millions of small articles which are now imported from abroad could be produced in this country. There is room in England for hundreds of persons to be employed in this form of cultivation.

There is a clause in this Bill which provides that the county council shall reduce the initial sum payable from 20 to 10 per cent., and in certain cases that they shall do away with the initial payment altogether. I lay great stress upon that, and I ask the House to lay stress upon it also, because those who know country life know that in every village there are men who have no money, or not much money, but who are of good character, industrious, capable, sober, and honest. To my mind these qualities are real assets which these men possess, and are as worthy of being received by the authorities as actual security as if they were real estate. Especially should this House in legislation of this kind encourage the formation of such a class—a class that would enrich the nation more than any other wealth and would be a great element of strength and security to the national commonwealth. One could say a great deal more about this, but I can only repeat my appeal to the Prime Minister, or those who represent him here, to give an opportunity for the Second Reading of the Bill, seeing that by the action of Lord Marchamley I was unjustly deprived the Session before last of the opportunity of proceeding.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jesse Collings, Mr. Hunt, Mr. Bridgeman, Mr. Lane-Fox, Mr. William Nicholson, Mr. Philip Foster, Mr. Hamersley, Major Morrison-Bell, Mr. Mason, Mr. Peto, and Colonel Proby. Bill presented accordingly, and read the first time. (To be read a second time upon Wednesday, 27th April.)