HC Deb 27 April 1910 vol 17 cc581-95

Postponed proceeding on Consideration of Bill, as amended, resumed.

Amendment proposed to leave out Clause 1.—[Sir Frederick Banbury.]

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."


At the interruption of business I was pointing out that I moved the omission of Clause 1, not because I in any way wished to prevent the putting into force of the Act which received the Royal Assenton3rdDecember, but because I wished that Act to come into force in the form originally intended by the Government. The only effect of omitting the Clause would be to restrict the number of Commissioners to five, as before proposed; and, that having been done, I hope the remaining Clauses would be agreed to. There are many Members present to-night who possibly did not hear the speech of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie) yesterday, when he pointed out that if this Amendment was not carried the original intention of the Government to have a small judicial body would be abandoned, and there would be substituted a large body which—


On a point of order, Sir, is an hon. Member in order in repeating what another hon. Member has said in this House?


A large part of the speeches of hon. Members are made up of what other Members have said.


The original intention of the Government would be abandoned, and instead of a judicial Commission, consisting of a small body, which should approach this subject with open minds, and which would desire to give effect to what they considered to be the best interests of the country as a whole, we should have a body representing different interests. I think everyone who was here and heard the Debates on this matter in the last Parliament, will bear me out when I say that there was a general concensus of opinion that the Act would not be administered in a proper manner if it was to be taken and used for party purposes, or to represent, or to further, the interests of particular sections, instead of being used for purposes which would be to the advantage of the whole country. That was deliberately arrived at after considerable discussion upon the Question.

I would like to point out to the House that the Clause, as it would stand if my Amendment was carried, would be, not the Clause which was originally introduced into the Bill when the Government brought it forward, but the Clause which the Government themselves brought forward after considerable deliberation, and introduced at the end of the Committee stage in the last Parliament. It was passed without a single question on the Report stage. Therefore if my Amendment is carried, as I hope it will be, it will not affect in the least, nor is it desired to affect, the operation of the Act which received the Royal Assent on 3rd December last. It would, only give effect to the original wishes of the Government. It will establish a small judicial body which will be prepared to look at the schemes that will be submitted to them in an impartial and proper manner, and which will prevent any corruption or jobbery which, under this Bill without a condition of that sort might honestly be brought about, once you allow a large number of Commissioners who are appointed to represent different interests—the working classes, the landlords, and so on. It is a very important matter. There is a con- siderable sum of money to be dealt with. Therefore it is necessary that we should get the best tribunal to decide whether or not a scheme is good or bad.

May I point out to hon. Gentlemen opposite who interrupt that in the scheme as introduced this body is one that in any party question may very likely be used, in a perfectly sincere and honest manner, for party ends. Party questions are not always right, and sometimes hon. Members on both sides succumb to party pressure though they know it is wrong. We had the Chief Whip of the Liberal Party, who said so the other day in the other House. What we really want is to obtain a judicial body who will see that any scheme submitted to them, and which they sanction, shall be a good and proper scheme. What is the objection to this? If the right hon. Gentleman came down to the House and said, "I have appointed live Commissioners, and they have sat for six months, and I find that the schemes submitted to them are so numerous that however hard they work, and notwithstanding the fact that they have the power to appoint Advisory Committees, they are unable to cope with the work," nobody, including myself, would have objected. But he has not appointed his Commissioners. I venture to say the right hon. Gentleman will acquit me of any desire to be offensive when I say he has not the slightest idea of what the work will be, or whether the five Commissioners would be able to cope with the duty. Until he knows that he ought not to ask the House to over-ride the Clause he introduced and carried in Committee, and afterwards in this House, where he had a majority of 340 without a dissentient voice.


I desire to second the Amendment. There is no opposition whatsoever to the Bill, and the Amendment is intended purely for the purpose of restoring the status quo ante, and restoring the number of Commissioners to five instead of ten. The right hon. Gentleman last night adopted a very conciliatory attitude, but I can only say I feel more mistrust of the right hon. Gentleman in his conciliatory moods than I do in his truculent moods. In the speech he made last night he dealt in no circumstances with the points I endeavoured to raise. He spoke of an Amendment lower down on the Paper which deals with the question of a quorum, and which stood in the name of the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury). I asked the right hon. gentleman two specific questions, which I will ask him again now. Will he tell us exactly what is the reason for the change in policy, for there has been a change in policy?

It was the settled policy of the Committee which dealt with this Bill, and of the House that there should be five Commissioners. The House rose last December with that settled opinion. What has occurred since that has induced the right hon. Gentleman to bring in the amending Bill changing the number of Commissioners from five to ten? The speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Keir Hardie) last night showed that the increase in the number of Commissioners led him to believe that the Government had changed their attitude with regard to the functions of these Commissioners, and that instead of a judicial body they were to be a representative body. The right hon. Gentleman told us that was not his object, but that he believed ten Commissioners were required to carry out these duties. I venture to disagree with him, and I believe that five Commissioners, or less, are all that are necessary for an adequate and effective judicial body. I do not know what he is going to tell us to-night, but I think with regard to this Question he has adopted a very evasive attitude. I do not know whether he will be able to give us the names of the Commissioners to-night, but at any rate I should like him to explain to the House what has been the reason for the change in the policy of the Government, increasing the number of the Commissioners from five to ten. For that reason I second the Amendment.


The hon. Baronet has made the same speech on two consecutive occasions, the only difference being that on this occasion he has repeated in addition almost every argument used by everybody else. The Noble Lord has asked me the same question again, and it is suggested that the answer I gave before is not the true one. I have given him the only answer I have got. It may or may not be a satisfactory one, and the Noble Lord is perfectly entitled to criticise it, but he must know that the answer I gave him was a perfectly satisfactory and sufficient one. I was under the impression when we separated last night that the hon. Baronet, or the Noble Lord, was going to move the substitution of six for ten, and that I was to give the names of the six Commissioners, reserving the other names until the House had decided the question. I thought that was the understanding.


The position was this: My Noble Friend was to move to substitute six for ten. I did not move my Amendment to leave out the Clause, because on the. Committee stage the Question "That the Clause stand part" comes last. The right hon. Gentleman said that he would accept an Amendment of mine to give us an opportunity of discussing the matter to-night, and he said that he hoped he might, in certain circumstances, be able to give the names of the Commissioners. Under those circumstances the Debate was adjourned. The Question "That the Clause be omitted" on the Report stage comes first. As far as I am concerned, I do not care whether the number is five or six, and if the right hon. Gentleman will consent to six instead of ten, I am perfectly willing to withdraw my Amendment. Of what has the right hon. Gentleman to complain?


The hon. Baronet has not answered the point I was putting, and he has made an irrelevant interruption. I was under the impression that it was understood that the whole point would be raised upon whether the number should be six or ten, that that Amendment would be moved, and that I should then give the names of six of the Commissioners to the House.


I was going to withdraw my Amendment if that was so, but I did not understand it.


I was under that impression. I am not charging the hon. Member with a breach of faith.


I think the right hon. Gentleman is quite right in his statement.


Under those circumstances I am perfectly prepared to withdraw my Amendment on the understanding that the Noble Lord will move his to substitute "six" for "ten."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount CASTLEREAGH moved to omit the word "ten," and to insert thereof the word "six."


seconded the Amendment.


I do not think it is desirable I should give the names of more than six at the present stage. I will tell the House how the position stands. I am not in a position to state all their names because they have not been settled, but eight Commissioners are accepted. I have submitted their names to the Sovereign, and I am in a position to give them to the House.


You will not give the names of more than six now?


No, I do not think I had better give more than six until this is settled. We propose that the Chairman of the Commission should be Lord Richard Cavendish. I think it will be granted at any rate that he will be a guarantee of impartiality. We have certainly not suggested the name of anyone who is a partisan of the present Government.

The Vice-Chairman, who will also be a paid Commissioner, is Sir Francis J. Hopwood, G.C.M.G., Assistant Secretary and head of the Railway Department of the Board -of Trade from 1893 to 1901, Permanent Secretary of the Board of Trade 1901–7, and Permanent Secretary for the Colonies since 1907. Sir Francis Hopwood is one of the most distinguished Civil Servants of the day. I think his name will be an absolute guarantee that we have done our best to secure the services of a gentleman who will discharge the functions of his office impartially and judicially. Sir Francis could not take up his position immediately. He has certain obligations to discharge in connection with the Colonial Office, of which it will be quite impossible for him to get rid immediately; but he will be able to attend to the work of the Commission even whilst he is doing that business to which he must personally attend at the Colonial Office.

The third name I shall give is that of Mr. Sainthill Eardley-Wilmot, C.I.E., Inspector-General of Forests to the Government of India for several years.

The fourth name is that of Mr. William Stowell Haldane, W.S., of Edinburgh, Writer to the Signet, who I believe is also a land agent, and a good deal acquainted with agriculture—a singularly able man. I am sure the Noble Lord will bear me out in that respect, and that he will discharge his functions quite judicially.

The fifth name is that of Mr. Alfred D. Hall, M.A., F.E.S., who is director of the Rothamstead Experimental Station, one of the most famous experimental stations in the agricultural world. There is hardly an agricultural experimental station in any country that can compete with it in some respects.

The sixth name I shall give to the Committee is that of Mr. Sidney Webb, LL.B. His name is so well known that I need not expatiate on his qualification. Those are the six names which I was not in a position to announce the other day, but which I am at present in a position to give to the Committee. With regard to the selection of these gentlemen, I have done my best to choose those who are not prominently associated with any political party. I am not aware that any of them have taken an active part in the political world, and that is very largely the reason why they have been chosen. It was, in my opinion, very important that they should be free from the taint which hon. gentlemen who are criticising this policy seem to have apprehended would be present. The fact that these gentlemen have never taken any active part in party politics fully justifies the submission of their names; and under these circumstances I hope the Noble Lord will allow us to get on to the other names. I agreed when the matter was under discussion that, while there should be no representation in the ordinary sense, different parts of the country should be represented on the Commission, and it will be seen, when the other names are stated, that I have fulfilled that pledge.


I should like to support the Amendment. I never doubted for a moment that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would do his best to secure the services of men of great distinction, and in view of the names he has already submitted I congratulate him on the success which has attended his efforts. But I should still like to impress on the right hon. Gentleman the fact that these gentlemen will have duties of very great importance to discharge. They will not merely deal with the £500,000 which is secured to them in the Bill, but they will also have to administer such other moneys as from time to time the Treasury may grant. In other words, their powers in finance are indefinite; we do not know how much money they will have to dispose of. They will consider not merely schemes laid before them by Government Depart- ments, and schemes which have been framed in accordance with the desires of local authorities, but they also will have power to frame schemes of their own, to initiate great schemes for the general development of the country. That seems to me to be an important power Which ought to be exercised by the whole strength of a small and compact Commission, and not by a large body which may be broken up into detachments with diverse interests, and who therefore may frame schemes which do not come with the responsibility of the whole body.

Not only may they do that, but they also have power to make orders for the compulsory acquisition of land. It is contemplated therefore that they may be in want of expert advice in the matter, and this is provided for. First of all the application will come to them through a Government Department, and they will have the advantage of the skilled advisers of that Department. The Commission may appoint Advisory and Consultative Committees under restrictions to be imposed by the Treasury. I therefore think that it is impossible to say that this Commission needs to be increased in number. We have got a very good body submitted to the House by the right hon. Gentleman, but one must look to the future, and I think it is inevitable that pressure will be put on a future Chancellor of the Exchequer to secure the representation of particular interests and people in this body of Commissioners, who will deal with the large sums of money placed at their control.

I cannot help thinking that that will lead to an undesirable use of this money, and that you will not get the whole judicial strength of the Commission concentrated on each measure, and this body of ten Commissioners may be broken up into sections, each proceeding on their own lines, having their particular interests, prejudices, and crotchets, and each competing for a larger share of this money. I cannot help thinking that the interest of the public will be weakened, and will not be so great in the larger as it would be in the smaller body. These eminent men whose names are before us should bring their whole energies to bear on the various schemes submitted to them, and it is not desirable that the responsibility should be more widely diffused. I think therefore this Commission will be weakened in value by the increase in numbers. It is most important that the work of the Commission should give a sense of security to the public that the large sums hereafter placed at its disposal will be used to the best advantage, and I feel satisfied that the confidence of the public will be better secured if the number were diminished rather than increased, and I should be sorry to see it increased beyond the number of six.


I wish to congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the admirable selection he has made, and to beg him to restrict the number to six. I think there is a great matter of principle involved. We heard last night from the hon. Member (Mr. Courthope) that pressure had been brought to bear to give representation to tenant farmers and agricultural societies. The question for the House is whether they want to have represented on this scheme four additional names representing minor agricultural interests. It is very important to leave the matter in the hands of the six Commissioners at present appointed, and ask them to spend the money, using simply and solely their own judgment upon what experts tell them rather than to add four experts in agriculture and give them an equal voice with the Commissioners in deciding how the money is to be spent. It is not as though we were keeping experts out. You have judicial people whose names will meet with general acceptance throughout the country. Do not add to it four people who represent agriculture alone, and whom all those who sit for industrial constituencies will suspect from the very moment they begin to adjudicate on the schemes.

I was afraid last night, though I feel more satisfied to-night that we were going to see in this Development Bill the growth of another Agricultural Rating Act—another example of the taxpayer's money being taken from the industrial districts and squandered in the agricultural districts. I think there is still a risk of that if we add four tenant farmers names to it, and give them equal voting powers with Mr. Sydney Webb, Mr. Haldane, Sir Francis Hopwood, and Lord Richard Cavendish. The suggestion was made in the House of Lords the other day that we might stimulate the cultivation of beet sugar in this country by advancing out of the Development Fund moneys equivalent to the excise charge. That is Protection and nothing else, and we do not want to convert this Development Fund into a county fund for bolstering up industries which cannot stand of themselves at the expense of all the other industries of the country. The suggestion has been made that the Commission will establish light railways all over the country. If light railways will pay, and will be satisfactory for the community, they will be built. If they are going to put down light railways where they do not pay, and keep them going at the taxpayer's expense, that is a departure which is thoroughly contrary to the best principles of Treasury management, and I can only deplore that anything of that sort should happen. The land would be bought at extortionate prices so that the very money paid by my constituents in the industrial districts goes into the pockets of the owner of the land.


Those are objections to the whole Bill. The point at issue is the Commission.

12.0 M.


I was trying to point out that the extra Commissioners proposed to be appointed, if this Amendment is not carried, will be four members representing simply and solely agriculture and the landed interest. These people will have a direct incentive in spending our money building light railways for the benefit of the landlords, and I think it would be undesirable to build light railways which would not pay, and which would be a charge on the localities for the benefit of one particular interest. In the interest of sound finance, if not in the interest of Free Trade, we ought to confine the Commission to people of judicial capacity, and not introduce the representative element.


The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Wedgwood) is quite unjustified in the construction he has put on the words I used last night, and I should not have troubled the House on this occasion but for the statement he has made. Representations were made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer through me on behalf of agriculturists. We did not ask an increase in the number of the Commissioners. We merely asked in the first place that the Act of last year should be put in force without delay. We asked for no representation until reports came to us through the Press and other sources, rightly or wrongly, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had promised what I may call territorial representation to Ireland and Wales. We thought if this was the case, it was time that agriculturists should ask for representatives too. It was then only that a deputation waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who courteously received us, and urged that we too should have a representative, if it was to be a representative Commission. How does the hon. Gentleman opposite justify his statement that the other four members of the Commission are to be representatives of tenant farmers? How does he reconcile it with the fact that we are opposing the increase of the Commissioners from six to ten?


I think that shows excellent common sense. I do not think hon. Members opposite wish this Commission to be a log-rolling Commission, and it speaks well for them that they oppose the increase.


I have heard the names of three gentlemen who, it is rumoured, may possibly be included in the four, and not one of them is representative of tenant farmers. I may tell the House that one of the names on which we laid the greatest possible stress, Mr. A, D. Hall, has already been appointed. He is one we asked the right hon. Gentleman to appoint, and the suggestion has been accepted.


We are all fairly well satisfied with the names which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given us, but there seems to be no reason why the number should be increased to ten. The right hon. Gentleman has placed himself in a somewhat difficult position by provisionally appointing some members of the Commission before ascertaining whether the House of Commons was willing to increase the number from five to ten, and it might have been more courteous to the House if this amending Bill had been passed before any communications were opened with the additional gentlemen. It was suggested by an hon. Member on the opposite side that the four additional names would represent agriculture. From what I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say, they would not represent agriculture or any particular industry, but would represent different parts of the United Kingdom. This is perhaps even more objectionable than representing different industries. When the Bill left the Grand Committee there was in it a Clause that the Treasury, on the recom- mendation of the Commissioners, might if they thought fit to increase the number of Commissioners, but that was taken out by the House of Commons. Therefore the House of Commons on the Report stage, after carefully considering the suggestion, was decidedly of the opinion that the number should be limited to five, and it is a very remarkable fact that we should now be asked without any sufficient reason to increase the number to ten. Of course, we are all quite willing to accept the suggestion of the Noble Lord that the number should be increased to six, though I believe that five would be still better; but I cannot help thinking that the objects of the Commission would be interfered with to a very large extent if we have representatives of different localities and different interests. I prefer, therefore, that the number should be six.


The Chancellor of the Exchequer has made the suggestion that we should withdraw the Amendment in order to put in the word "eight." We think that is reasonable, and we are prepared on this side of the House to accept the proposal.


Before the Amendment is withdrawn there is one point which the Chancellor of the Exchequer did not make quite clear in regard to the paid Commissioner. I understand there is to be one paid Commissioner, but the right hon. Gentleman has not told us whether one or two or four of those whom he is going to appoint are to receive a share of the £3,000.


No; they will be all unpaid.


On this Commission England is to be represented, and Scotland is to have a very capable and efficient member, as far as I understand from the names, neither Wales nor Ireland find a place on the Commission. I think we are entitled to some indication that these two countries will at least have equal representation.


My hon. Friend is quite right. I gave a pledge on behalf of the Government that different parts of the Kingdom were to have at least one representative each, and I am bound by that statement. I frankly confess that I would have preferred that the House assented to the number which I first indicated, but I am very desirous of meeting hon. Members, because I think it very desirable that this Commission should start with the unanimous consent of both parties. It is important that they should be free from any suggestion of being a mere party machine, and that from the start the tradition of this body should be that it is free from any political control or political taint. That is why I assent to the proposal to substitute for the machinery which was in the Government Bill a perfectly independent body of that character. I agree with the Noble Lord and with Lord Robert Cecil that it is of the highest possible importance that it should be free, and that is why I am anxious that it should carry with it the general consent of the House. Therefore I am quite prepared to assent to the substitution of "eight" for "ten."


I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount CASTLEREAGH moved to leave out the word "ten" and to insert instead thereof the word "eight."

I am very sorry that the right hon. Gentleman thought there was anything offensive to himself in the speech I made. That was not in my mind at all. The question I tried to elucidate was the reason for the change of policy, because my belief is that the smaller the Commission the more efficient it will be. It is obvious from the speeches we have heard and from what the right hon. Gentleman has said that the different parts of the country are to be represented, and that, of course, does away with the idea of a judicial body. It means there is a representative body that represents different parts of the country. I am very sorry he should not have seen his way to having a fewer number. I should like to take this opportunity of expressing to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer my own personal thanks for the manner in which he has met the Amendment I have moved, and with that object I beg to move the Amendment.


The paid Commissioner is to be the Vice-Chairman, but I should have thought that the paid Commissioner, whom we know is a strong man, with great departmental and, so to speak, judicial experience, and a man who has travelled throughout the country, should be Chairman. I will not, however, press the matter.

Question, "That 'eight' be there inserted," put, and agreed to.

Sir RUFUS ISAACS moved after the word "and" ["and one Commissioner shall retire"] to insert the words "after the first two years have elapsed."

This Amendment becomes necessary after the Amendment just passed, and its effect will be that the eight Commissioners will retire year by year.


Does that apply to the paid Commissioner?


He will be one of them.


Will he retire in the ordinary rotation?


The question of rotation has to be considered by the Government. I am not at present to communicate to the House of Commons the order in which they will retire, but I shall be quite prepared to do so later on.

Question, "That those words be there inserted," put, and agreed to.


Will there be any alteration in the number of the quorum in consequence of the reduction in the number from ten to eight?

Mr. LLOYD GEORGE moved to leave out the word "five" in the addition to Clause 1 ["Five shall be substituted for 'three' in Sub-section (4) of Section 3 of the principal, as the number of the quorum by which the Commissioners may act"], in order to substitute the word "four."

I am much obliged to the hon. Member (Sir P. Magnus) for the suggestion. Last night five was substituted for three as the quorum out of ten, but as the number is now eight, I suggest four.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."


I can now give the names of the remaining two Commissioners. They are both gentlemen with practical knowledge and experience of agriculture. One is actually farming at present; he is a considerable farmer, a man of great experience of local government, who has been chairman of his County Council and of the Education Committee of his county. The other has done farming, but I think has now retired. One is Mr. M. A. Ennis, of Dublin. He has already served on one or two Royal Commissions, and has the advantage of never having taken any prominent part in politics in Ireland. I did not know there were any gentlemen of that kind in Ireland; but from independent inquiries I believe that that is a true description of Mr. Ennis. He is about the only one in Ireland of whom that could be said, and I thought the best thing I could do was to put him on the Development Commission. The other is Mr. Henry Jones Davies, of Carmarthen, a farmer and an efficient agriculturist. I am not sure whether he is now chairman of his County Council. He has not been a political candidate; he is a magistrate of the county, and a member of the Education Committee. The work he has done is purely of a local character. He is a very able yeoman farmer, and I am certain he will be a considerable addition to the strength of the Commission.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.

And, it being after half-past Eleven of the clock on Wednesday evening, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Twenty-three minutes after Twelve o'clock midnight.