§ Mr. RENDALL
I beg to move, "That this House, while recognising the increased efficiency that has recently been shown in the administration by the Board of Agriculture of the Small Holdings Act, is of opinion that a conclusive case exists for the Board to put into operation Section 4, Sub-section (2), and Section 20 of the Act, and further that it should direct its attention to the serious questions of sinking fund charges, valuation of the land, management expenses, and additional rates at present charged to the tenants under the Act."
In moving the Resolution which stands in my name, I would like at the outset to say that I do so in no hostile spirit to the President of the Board of Agriculture. Hon. Members on this side of the House, at all events, rejoice to know that at last there is a business man at the head of this Board. Whilst we believe in the good intentions of philanthropic amateurs, and of the country gentlemen who so long have occupied various positions connected with the Board, we are pleased that at last we have got a business mind at the head. I also desire to say that whilst in the early days of the administration of this Act we had very great cause of complaint of the then President and of the administration of this Act, I think that cause of complaint was entirely wiped out last year when Lord Carrington took the matter into his own hands, and appointed six additional Commissioners. From that day we have really seen that the Act has been worked on thoroughly business-like lines. We rejoice all the more because Lord Carrington, when he appointed these Commissioners, did so in the face of the moans and groans of a lot of old women. I will not say where they were, but they were all around him. He had to fight a great deal of opposition. That opposition he overcame, and great credit, I think, is due to Lord Carrington.
All of us who have constantly to deal with the small holdings question in our divisions and in various parts of the country realise the extraordinary change that has come over the scene. We realise how much the work, the ability, and the energy of the new Commissioners has been appreciated during the last nine months. We realise what that work amounts to. The word "ginger" was once used in one of our Debates. There is no doubt that a little moral ginger is required to prompt the rather Conservative type of mind that monopolises the administration in certain 278 rural districts and on certain county councils. I think this moral ginger has been in many cases applied by the Commissioners, but there is a good deal more to do. The old bad days, I ant thankful to say, are gone. We remember then that we used day by day to get letters from various approved applicants all over the country who, having been approved, thought that approval meant that they would get small holdings. We all remember the letters we used to write to the Small Holdings Commissioners. We remember the answers we used to get, printed, official, stereotyped—from two overworked men—to the effect that our letters would receive attention. From that time we never heard anything more about the matter.
Now we have live Commissioners. They have already done a great deal. There is healthy emulation, regular meetings, and the result of all has been that small holdings have become much more possible within the last few months than ever before. Whilst we are grateful to the President for what has been done, I think our gratitude must be defined in the ordinary way as rather a sense of favours to come than the feeling that all that ought to be done has been done. Much remains to be done. There are, indeed, large parts of the Act still absolutely unadministered. We feel that something in the direction of administration where unadministration has obtained ought to be attended to. At this moment 130,000 acres have been applied for by approved applicants. These have not yet got their land. At the end of 1910, 7,000 approved applicants had asked for land; had been approved, and had not got the land. The figures for 1911 have not yet come out, but I shall be surprised if there is not even an increase of that number. That increase will not show a lack of duty of either the Board or the Commissioners. It will show that wherever a Commissioner goes he has done his work, and proved there is an increased possibility for getting small holdings. They will have made the people who have not thought so in days gone by think that they can get small holdings.
The policy of too many county councils still is to try and smother the Act. When they have failed to do that, owing to the action of the Commissioners, they try to smother the poor small holders. At this moment there are two counties who have not yet administered the Act at all—London and the Scilly Isles. There are also 279 five counties which have declined to buy land. Many other counties have bought next to none. A large number of counties take land on lease only. They will not buy or lease if they can by any means persuade the local landlord to let direct to the small holders. I think hon. Gentlemen opposite are rather prone to think that the nearest approach to paradise is to be a tenant of the ordinary country gentleman. One of the main objects of this Act, one of the main results which we all hope to see by the working of the Act, is to try to get security of tenure for the small holder, to free him from either the kindness or any other quality which the ordinary landowner possesses. The main object of the Act is to try to free the small holder from that feeling of dependence for his very existence, his local existence at all events, upon the local landlord. How important that is we see in many cases around us to-day. We have an example of what that dependence upon the local landlord is in the county of the hon. Gentleman opposite. This was the case of the parish council, who thought they would like to put the Housing Act into operation. They passed a resolution calling upon the district council to do something. The district council communicated with the landlord, and the Local Government Board was informed. The result was that Sir Evererd Hambro gave notice to nine tenants in the village of Winterbourne Stickland to quit. Those nine tenants included the chairman of the parish council, who had lived at the place for forty-eight years, and had been seventeen years chairman of the parish council, and the vice-chairman, who had been forty years in the same house. I am glad to say that these notices have been withdrawn, but only conditionally, and there is still great fear that the people will be turned out. With evidence of that kind before our eyes, I think we may realise the justice of the position taken up by those who advocate what we are advocating. The policy of many county councils is simply to evade their duties. Their main object is to exclude the operations of the Act as far as they possibly can. The sort of job carried out is somewhat of this kind. First, the applicants apply for land. Some of them are approved. The small-holding surveyor is sent to see what land is available. He reports that everybody refuses land. Thereupon in many cases comes, with the help of agitation in 280 the country, in Parliament, and elsewhere, the Board of Agriculture. The Board at last presses that something should be done. The small-holding committee is frightened, or from a sense of duty, more often the former than the latter, and they admit something must be done. They depute one of the landlords on the committee to see a local landlord. He approaches this local landlord and says, "This beastly Radical Act is spoiling estates all over the country, but we are in great trouble, and do you not think that something should be done, and that you could grant a small part of this demand? If we got a small amount of land we could keep the Board quiet," with the result that by practically evading the carrying out of the Act an arrangement is come to and some small portion of the land is leased. A few only are satisfied, the larger number are dissatisfied, the Act is discredited, and the small-holdings committee is content. I do not pretend that that is a truthful story at the present moment, but I do maintain there is abundant evidence to prove that it was overwhelmingly true of many county councils all over England in recent times. What we say is that this demand for land should be honestly met under the Act and in no other way.
If you want an example of this method by which these arrangements with the landlords for giving land direct to the tenant are made, you have only to go to the county of Dorset. There the council up to the end of 1910 let 1,486 acres direct, and through what they call the intervention of the County Council that is through the landlords they let 1,696 acres, a larger amount than under the Act. The whole of that land was applied for by small holders who had a right to expect land under the Act and not outside the Act, because we have to remember whenever they get land outside the Act all the security of tenure vanishes. No doubt they have got the land, but they have not got the security which they would have under the Small Holding Committee. I maintain that, leasing the land is a bad policy, bad at all events for the small holders, and especially is it bad in the case of the Home Counties, where invariably there is a building clause which in effect means that if the land is wanted for building purposes by the landlord the small holders may be turned out. It is true he gets compensation, but there is very little value in compensation if he 281 has built up a market gardener's trade and made a goodwill in that locality when he is transplanted to another spot. Therefore leasing is by no means beneficial to the tenant. There is also another disadvantage in regard to leasing, and that is that the management expenses have to be added to the rent, and therefore the rent of these holdings compares unfavourably with the rent of holdings round about.
§ Sir RANDOLF BAKER
Are not those charges made where the county council purchase land as well as where they lease land?
§ Mr. RENDALL
I have not said they are. I say where the county council leases land you have two plots adjoining on which there is a very serious difference of rent. Take the case of the hon. Member's Division at Winterbourne Zelston. You have this fact that there land was formerly let at £1 5s. an acre and the county council having taken it on lease now let it for £1 17s. an acre. I fully admit a portion of that was for sinking fund and interest, but even allowing for these, there is a very considerable increase of rent, and I believe it is a fact that whereas under the old arrangement the landlord let his land to the former tenants at £1 5s., and did all the repairs himself, the county council has taken this land from the landlord at about £1 4s. an acre upon the condition that the county council do all the repairs. I want to refer also to another matter mentioned in my Resolution, and that is Section 4, Sub-section (2), in regard to the defaulting county councils. Practically this Sub-section has not been put in force at all. I believe there are two cases where threats to use it were made, but to a very large extent this important and very valuable Section has not been put into operation. Further, there is Section 20, which enables the Board of Agriculture to start experimental holdings to demonstrate the feasibility of small holdings. That has been a dead letter for four years. I may be told it was not advisable for the Board in the early stages to press county councils unduly, but rather to allow them to work the Small Holdings Act in their own way. I think that was a right and proper policy, but I think the time has now come in reference to these county councils who are, I will not say unwilling to work the Act, but who are unconvinced of the feasibility of small holdings to put this power into force.
282 In regard to the county of London, we have some approved applicants who for four years have been waiting and have not got small holdings. I do not say the London County Council is not doing its best. Their position is simply this. They cannot find within the confines of the London County Council land which they can procure at such prices as would make it worth the while of small holders to take it on. That is a case in which the Board ought to come to the rescue. These poor people in London, and in many other county boroughs like Bristol, where the land is too expensive inside for the county council to procure it at fair rent, should be helped by the Board. These people get no help from their own local authorities. You could hardly expect local authorities to try to take land outside their confines and so denude itself of a portion of their ratepayers, nor could you expect other county councils to take upon themselves the burden and trouble of finding small holdings for people who do not live in their confines. These poor people are between the devil and the deep blue sea. There is no one to help them. Here is a case for the Board to come to the rescue, and I suggest that the Commissioners concerned in the Home Counties might call a meeting of these small holders already approved in regard to their finance and knowledge of agriculture, and ask them whether they are prepared to accept small holdings at certain distances from London and try and agree upon what would be a possible distance. The Commissioners might then look for small holdings for them and find some land coming into the market near a railway station, and find out from those respective small holders whether they would be willing to go there and thus satisfy them. If that is the only thing that can be done it should be done, and a concrete plan should be placed before these people either to accept or reject, and until that is done they will not be satisfied. Take Bristol. A portion of my own Division lies within the Bristol boundary; it is several miles from the city, but inside the municipal boundary. All the land suggested near Bristol is very expensive, and they have not seen their way to take it at the rent asked for. The Bristol City Council has an enormous business undertaking to look after, and it has not seen its way to find time and money to provide small holdings outside the boundaries of Bristol. I think that is a duty we ought not to throw on them, and surely here is a case where what is known 283 under the Act as the feasibility of small holdings being provided ought to be demonstrated by the Board if it is not done by anyone else. I suggest that the President of the Board of Agriculture might look into this matter in order to see if something of this kind cannot be done. With regard to the sinking fund, the Act is drawn so that if the county council like they can throw the burden of the sinking fund for the purchase of land on the rates.
§ Mr. RENDALL
I am not prepared now to quote the Section, but I will look it up presently; at any rate, it is implied, if not expressed, that the county council has power to place the sinking fund charge upon the rates.
§ Mr. SANDERS
It was stated in the House of Lords by the President of the Board of Agriculture that the Law Officers of the Crown advised contrary to what the hon. Member has stated.
§ Mr. RENDALL
Probably if the hon. Gentleman opposite will wait he will hear what the opinion of the Law Officers is on this matter. At least we have this reliable information, that three counties—two in Wales and one in England—have chosen to act upon the law as I have defined it. I know we have been told by various Conservative speakers that there is no such right, and that those who act in this way might look for a very unhappy time when the Local Government auditor came round. The auditor has been round, and he has not surcharged them, and the sinking fund in those counties is coming out of the rates. Up to the end of 1911 the President of the Board of Agriculture stated the other day that 78,871 acres had been purchased by county councils at a price of £2,493,121. That sum includes buildings, and the actual cast of the land is £2,200,550. The whole of the sinking fund on that large purchase amounts only to a capital charge of £5,263 per annum on the land, and on the old buildings is £2,314. The sinking fund upon works adapted and new buildings is £4,040, so that at this moment, for the whole of the small holdings and new buildings up to the end of last year, the total sinking fund amounts to £11,617. What a small sum this is spread over all the various counties which come under this Act! If you want an example of how small it is, take the county of Gloucestershire. We have got the fact that there 1,802 284 acres have been purchased by the county council. The sinking fund for the land only amounts to £122 13s. a year, and for the land and buildings the sinking fund is £266. This amounts to a rate of .039 of a penny, or, in plain language, it is only one-twenty-fifth of a penny rate. That is to say, in Gloucestershire to-day the whole sinking fund for nearly 2,000 acres of land bought by the Gloucestershire County Council would be met by a rate of one-twenty-fifth of a penny. I think it is much fairer to put the sinking fund on the rates than on the tenants. I am aware that that opinion is not unanimously held by Liberals, but I think it is a fair thing to do. When county councils can buy land and pay a sinking fund charge which lasts over eighty years, if they can buy at reasonable rates and are able to pay back the money in such an easy way, it is hard that they should not be able to do that out of the pockets of the ratepayers, because the ratepayers will be acquiring valuable land.
I am aware that hon. Gentlemen opposite object to this policy of throwing this charge on the rates. I know that they much prefer to make speeches in their own Divisions in which they say, "Look at this Radical Government, here they are buying land; you have to pay for it and they get it." That is a nice platform point and as long as county councils interpret the Act in the way hon. Members do they will be able to say those things. I think it is a very evil thing. An alteration can be made under the Act as it stands. As I have already stated, three counties have done this, and not generosity but justice demands that other counties should do the same. I know hon. Members opposite are in favour of a purchase scheme, and they are not prepared to put a sinking fund amounting to £11,000 a year on the rates, although they are prepared to allow individual purchasers to borrow millons of money in order to purchase small holdings. If they are in favour of the larger scheme they should not begrudge a few thousands in favour of the small holders under the present system. The valuation of these small holdings has been a bitter pill for the small holders to swallow. Really it is a small man taking land from a large man, and the valuation has been dead against the man who is taking the land and all in favour of the man who is selling it. The ordinary method is to have a valuer representing both sides and the Board of Agriculture can appoint another valuer of the 285 highest probity and with great experience, but they are to all intents and purposes landlord's men. I am not anxious to add to what hon. Gentlemen opposite call "jobs," but I think it would be a good thing if this business could be administered in a regular consistent manner by one valuer to be appointed for a certain time to act in a given district. I think it is undesirable that we should be constantly having eight, ten, or even twenty different men acting for one district. I think it would be better to appoint one for a particular district because he would have experience there. Whilst I do not say he ought to have more sympathy with the small holder than with the landowner, at any rate, he ought to be able to hold the balance evenly. I do not think a man who is continually valuing for the landlord is really capable of doing fair and even-handed justice. His proclivities and tendencies are all in favour of the landlord. He does not like the Act to start with—he regards it as interfering with the old customary ways as between landlord and tenant, and when he is asked to value land for small holdings his tendency is to assume "Here is a nice landlord, who has always been a kind friend to the poor; why should we practically force him to give land to these small holders?" I think that is a very natural attitude for a man who is practically living off this kind of person to take up.
§ Mr. SANDERS
Is the hon. Gentleman referring to land bought compulsorily or to land bought voluntarily?
§ Mr. RENDALL
I am referring to land bought compulsorily. It is valued by a land agent appointed by the Board of Agriculture.
§ Mr. RENDALL
Quite so. He is appointed by the Board, but he is one of a certain number of experienced men on a list who are from time to time appointed to value. I do not say a word against these men's probity or their knowledge and experience, but we are all of us the victims of our environment, and I do say that a man who is continually living on one set of people will be likely, if called in once a year to be rather in favour of the land-lord than in favour of the small holder. I think, therefore, a case is made out for the President of the Board of Agriculture 286 to try and alter the existing arrangement, and to place the matter in the hands of one man for a given time for a given district, so that he can gain experience. I gather from an answer given a few days ago that if we combine management expenses with insurance and repairs the amount generally payable is about 17½ per cent. At the time the Small Holdings Act was passed its sponsors talked very generously in regard to the money the Treasury would bestow on the Board for the working of it; and Clause 21 was passed for the purpose of stating on what subjects they were not to be generous with this money. The only three things in regard to which their generosity was curbed were these: The Board was not to be allowed to pay the purchase price of the land; they were not to be allowed to pay compensation, and they were not to be allowed to pay rent. Those, three things were specifically excluded, and morally, if not legally, everything not thus specifically excluded was therefore inferentially included. Consequently, the Board was armed with powers enabling it to pay management expenses, insurance, and repairs. I am not going to suggest it ought to do anything of the kind, but the Board has had given to it £100,000, and has spent it in a somewhat niggardly way, although they were far more generous last year than in previous years, and I do say they might spend it more freely; and, if they do, I hope they will be able on the assurances given at the time the Act was passed to get more money. It seems to me if it would be wrong to throw the expense of repairs on the State Fund, it would not be wrong to throw the expenses of management on it. I think that is a reasonable thing to ask. The Board has power to do it, and we shall look forward to the right hon. Gentleman being able to say something sympathetic on the matter.
I do not say that in the alteration of the rateable value of small holdings we have to complain of the action of the Small Holdings Committee, but I do say that owing to the system under which the Act is now being administered a sense of very grave injustice exists in the minds of smallholders, and it ought, if possible, to be removed. A small holder has to pay rent, sinking fund, management expenses, insurance, and repairs, and all these, or at least most of them, are lumped together as rent. He is consequently asked to pay a very much higher rate upon the land he occupies than was ever paid upon it before. There are plenty of cases throughout England where the farmers' rates amounted 287 to 10s. or 15s. per acre, and where the small holder is paying nearer 30s. per acre. That is not wholly due to the improvement of his holding or to buildings being put up, it is due to the fact that the management expenses and those sort of things have increased the rent upon which the assessment has been based. I think we ought to have some expression of opinion at least from the Government as to the justice of the case, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman, if he has not power under the Act, will seek power to deal with the matter. There is a very great sense of injustice now, and there ought to be some opportunity of trying to remove it. We want the right hon. Gentleman to make use of Section 4, Sub-section (2), which deals with the defaulting or the unconvinced county council. We want the right hon. Gentleman to try and make use of Section 20 which deals with county councils who refuse or are unable to administer the Act, and the feasibility of dealing with large numbers of applicants who have as things are no hope, whatever of getting small holdings during their life. Further, in the schemes the Commissioners are bringing before him, we ask the right hon. Gentleman to use his influence and to get them to use their influence to give every prospective small holder the advantage of holding his land inside the Act and not outside it. With regard to the sinking fund, we ask that the right hon. Gentleman should circularise the county councils as soon as the opinion of the Law Officers is to hand, pointing out the small charge on the rates, and I think he might recommend them to bear it. We ask the right hon. Gentleman to regularise the valuation and to give consideration to the rating question. If those things can be done, I am quite sure the possibility of administering this Act will very much increased. We, on this side, will certainly do all we possibly can to aid the right hon. Gentleman in that work. By so doing I am perfectly certain the Act will become more popular, and we shall have a larger and larger number of men coming forward for small holdings.
§ Mr. WINFREY
I am glad to have the opportunity of seconding this Resolution. I am also glad it commences by acknowledging the substantial progress that has been made in securing land under the Act. Perhaps not so much as the most sanguine hoped for, but still those of us who know 288 the enormous amount of work entailed, consider it a matter for congratulation that in three years we have secured 132,000 acres of land, and put on it upwards of 7,000 tenants. It fell to my lot as chairman of a Small Holdings Committee to try and administer the Act of 1892, and although the county council with which I was then connected succeeded in purchasing 250 acres of land—more than any other county council did—we soon came to a deadlock because we had no driving force behind us and the Act became a dead letter. But, under the present Act the compulsory powers granted and the setting up of two Commissioners, have produced a wholly different state of things, and in several counties, as will be seen by the return, real progress has been made, notably in the eastern counties. We will take five counties in which there are seven county councils. Cambridge has 6,030 acres; the Isle of Ely 3,025 acres; Huntingdonshire 3,271; Lincoln 9,329; and Norfolk 8,271, or a total of, practically, 30,000 acres, and 2,603 tenants have been placed on that land. I am glad that the Norfolk county council still heads the list, and I believe that in my own constituency they can boast that they have got more land under this Act than any other district. I feel it due to members of county councils throughout the country to congratulate and thank them for the valuable services they have rendered in this matter. I have personal friends who have worked very hard indeed, some of them have travelled thousands of miles in order to attend inquiries.
Naturally after four years working those of us who have watched closely and sympathetically the administration, have discovered certain weak places, and we think the time has arrived when attention should be called with a view to finding a remedy. I always felt it was a misfortune that we started with only two Commissioners. At the time the Board of Agriculture did not seem to realise the volume of work which would inevitably fall on this Department, and the result naturally was a considerable delay in sanctioning the schemes sent in by county councils, and more especially I think was found impossible for these two Commissioners to carry out the provisions of the Act and assist backward county councils by preparing reports and urging on the preparation of schemes. That has been remedied by the appointment of six additional Commissioners, and I cannot help thinking that it will 289 redound to the credit of Lord Carrington who recognised that we agricultural Members had made out a good case for the appointment of additional Commissioners, and boldly and fearlessly made those appointments. So far as the eastern counties are concerned, I may say we are well pleased with the two Commissioners who have been allotted to us. They have set to work in a business-like manner, and have been welcomed by the county councils.
Regarding this Resolution and the criticisms of a friendly character which I propose to make, I come first to what I am inclined to think is the most important, and that is the sinking fund charges now added to the rent. I know there is a difference of legal opinion whether the Section which says that rents are to cover all expenses is to be interpreted as including sinking fund charges. The Board of Agriculture are not now enforcing the adding of these charges to the rent, although they did at first. As my hon. Friend has said, three county councils are not now doing it. I am convinced there is a growing volume of opinion not confined to one particular party against doing so, and I think it cannot be defended under all the circumstances of the case. I am prepared to admit at the outset I do not for one, take up an attitude of hostility to it. I was passive. I felt the foremost duty was to get hold of the land. It has only been since I have witnessed the other charges for management, etc., added to the rent and the consequent increase of assessments, and the resultant total rent the small holder is called upon to pay, that I have come to the conclusion that the sinking fund charges ought not, at any rate, to be put on the tenant. Especially is this so when I find that the placing of these charges on the tenant is a severe handicap and a great hindrance to the proper equipment and development of the holding. I am convinced from my long experience as chairman of the Small Holdings Association, which now controls 2,000 acres of land, that to make the small holdings movement the success we all want it to be we must do all we can to encourage the full equipment of the land; we must make self-contained economic holdings, where men have a sufficient acreage to live upon, and there must be a decent house and sufficient buildings. True, other holdings are required, such as accommodation land for blacksmiths, publicans, and villagers, but there is, and 290 still will be, a great demand for self-contained holdings with sufficient land for a man to get his living upon and with decent houses and buildings. There is not much difficulty with the sinking fund charges on bare land; they amount to 4s. 9d. per £100, without houses and buildings. It is when you come to purchase a large farm and equip it; when you have to put up additional buildings, it is then that the sinking fund charges on the tenant become a burden. At the present time we are only permitted to borrow on existing buildings for forty years, and the sinking fund charges are £1 3s. 8d. per £100. If you put in new brick houses and buildings you can get the money for fifty years, and the sinking fund charge is 15s. 3d. per £100. If you build them of creosoted timber and corrugated iron, you can only get the money for twenty years, and then the sinking fund charges amount to £3 10s. 8d. per £100, plus £3 10s. interest, and that means practically that the small holders are paying a rent equal to 7 per cent. on that class of building. Say, for example, we acquire a 40-acre holding at a cost of £25 per acre, that is £1,000 for the land, the sinking fund on that would be £2 7s. 8d. New house would cost £250, with a sinking fund of £1 18s. 2d. If you put up £150 worth of creosoted timber and corrugated iron buildings, you get a further sinking fund charge of £5 6s. Then you spend £15 on fencing, and the sinking fund is 15s. 6d., and perhaps a £l0-note on better roads, paths, and so on, and that is 7s., so that for the equipment of forty acres you pay £10 14s. 4d. sinking fund, which works out at 5s. 4d. per acre. If you do that for twenty acres, and in my Constituency where there is growing of fruit, plenty of men have been able to get a good living out of twenty acres of land which may cost £50 an acre, and if you have to put the same equipment on that it means that you have to pay 10s. an acre, because you have to spread the £10 over twenty acres, instead of over forty acres. But if it stopped here, with the sinking fund charges you might argue that as the rent is only based upon 3½ per cent., because you are able to borrow at 3½ per cent. interest, that the sinking fund charge should be reasonably borne by the tenants. You might say that that was a fair rent, seeing that the tenant gets security of tenure, but it does not stop there, and I want to press this point upon the President of the Department of Agriculture. 291 The county council having ascertained the minimum rent, that is the interest upon the purchase money plus the sinking fund, there comes upon the top of that 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. for other expenses, for management, repairs, insurance, and so on, so that the tenant is called upon to pay in addition to the original rent, as we may call it, 3s. in the £ for management expenses. If his rent is £2 an acre, and in a good many of the small holdings in my Constituency it is a great deal more than that, that means 6s. per acre for management expenses, and if a man has a farm of forty acres it is £12 which he has got to pay to the county council for management expenses. Not only has he to pay the sinking fund, but he has to keep up the house and buildings in a thorough state of repair during the whole of that time.
What is the life of these houses and buildings? He has to pay, and indeed buy, for that is what I must call it, the corrugated iron building in twenty years. I have known such buildings which have been up for twenty years and have been kept in good repair, and are almost as good to-day as when they were erected. A good house, a well-built house, lasts a good deal longer than fifty years. I should like to give some actual facts with regard to this showing how hardly it works out. I will take one case which I know very well in Lincolnshire in the Holland Division, where the sinking fund amounts to 6s. per acre. We have a farm in Norfolk which is rather well known, the Ringer farm, where they had a dispute with the owner over the purchase. The rent on this farm for years was 15s. an acre. Now the men have got to pay sinking fund charges, management expenses, etc., and the average rent of this farm is not 15s. an acre, but 28s. 6d., and £15 is the charge for the farmhouse and buildings. That is a conclusive statement. I have the case of a farm in my own Constituency in which the county council gave £8,000 for 300 acres. There was a farmhouse and buildings and two cottages on it. The farmhouse was converted into two dwellings and the cottages had dairies added to them, and there was very little expense of equipment. The rent of that farm to-day—I have got it from the various tenants—is £475. They are paying thus 6 per cent. upon the purchase money, and I venture to say that none of us who know anything about the value of land will consider it is a reasonable rent. I can give another 292 case at Moulton, in Lincolnshire, where on one Crown farm of 900 acres they are paying £500 more rent than the previous tenant paid.
But that is not all. We come now to the question of the increase of rates. My hon. Friend has dealt with that, but he has not given a case in point, and as one fact is worth twenty arguments, I will give the President of the Department of Agriculture the particulars of a case in the district which he visited the other day. I am afraid it was a very hurried visit, and I wish he had had more time. Take the Crown farm at Wingland, which was taken over and is now let in small holdings. In 1907 it was assessed at £1,228. We took it over and equipped it and put on a number of houses and buildings, and the land itself has been increased on assessment by £169 per year. The new assessment on houses and buildings was £124, so that you get an increased assessment altogether of £293. The county rate at the present time is 1s 2d. in the £. Therefore the small holders upon that one farm are paying the Norfolk County Council £15 a year extra in county rates. I cannot help feeling that the county council have got it all ways. They get the sinking fund charges out of the tenant, they get the management expenses upon a liberal scale, and they get an increase of rates at the same time. I really do not think they ought to have it all ways. Seeing that the county council becomes possessed of this valuable property, some of it at the end of twenty years, some at fifty to eighty years. I think the sinking fund ought not to fall upon the tenants.
I ask myself the question, ought it exclusively to fall upon the county? That is a question which, I think, cannot be discussed here and now. But I should like to point that the nation also is getting a benefit by the establishment of these small holdings. The towns in the vicinity are also getting a benefit. They are already benefiting and getting an increasing population. The Lincolnshire market towns are benefiting by the fact that these small holders are coming in—and spending money and trade is good and the nation as a whole is benefited. In those circumstances I do think that the sinking fund charges might in some way be divided between the county councils and the nation. My hon. Friend has told you something about the land purchased. I have not gone into it throughout the whole 293 country, but in the county of Norfolk, my own county, we purchased 4,859 acres, and the sinking fund is £770, which is one-seventh of a penny in the £, if we were to pay it out of the rate. The other day the Lincolnshire County Council made a purchase of 400 acres of land, costing £20,000. That was £50 an acre. It was very good land, and the sinking fund on that comes to £50 a year, so that you see if you divide 400 acres by eighty it means that the county council is redeeming five acres of that land every year. They are getting cheap money from the Government, and for every £50 they redeem five acres of that good land which cost £50 an acre to buy. I have got to this point—that I do not think it is necessary, even under the present Act of Parliament, that this sinking fund should be paid for by the tenants. I have here a statement sent to me to-day by the clerk of the Whaplode Parish Council. This happens to be the very first land purchased under the Allotment Act of 1887. He says:—I have much pleasure in giving you the information you seek. The annual instalment of principal is not paid by the tenant but is borne by the parish. The tenant pays the interest on the loan, rates, taxes, and tithes. The Holbeach Urban District Council also adopt this method in respect of the land purchased by them for allotments, and their rents to-day have been reduced to £2 10s. an acre.They borrowed originally, in 1889, £950. The rate of interest was £3 15s. per cent., and the principal owing at the present time is £755, so they have paid off £200. The principal paid during the year by the parish is £14 0s. 7d., and the interest paid by the tenants in the shape of rent is £26 13s. 4d., and the amount of principal still owing is £740. So under that Act of 1887 it is quite evident that the tenants are not being asked to pay sinking fund charges. I cannot help feeling that what the parish councils are allowed to do the county councils will, of course, be allowed to do also. It is a point for considerable discussion, whether the periods of loans, at any rate for houses and buildings, should not be considerably increased. Another point which wants consideration is that when parish councils under this Act of 1908 buy land for allotment purposes they can only borrow money for fifty years, whilst the county councils are allowed to borrow for eighty years. There are several illustrations of it in the same parish, the county council buying the farm and borrowing the money for eighty years and the parish council buying the self-same sort of land only for fifty years, the result being that they have to charge increased rent. I think a case has been made out generally 294 that the tenants should not pay. It is not just. Most of these tenants are hardworking, patient, self-reliant men, but because they are all that surely they ought to be protected from injustice. I believe we have the sympathy of the President, and I urge him to find a way out for us. I say nothing of the political cry of our opponents, but it is very difficult to answer them when they try to make party capital out of the present position of affairs.
I come to Section 20, which is referred to in the Resolution, the Section which has not been put into operation, that is that the commissioners have power to demonstrate the feasibility of small holdings. I cannot help feeling that the Board have interpreted that in much too narrow a sense. I think there was an excuse when we only had two commissioners for their hands were very full, but I do not think there is any excuse now that we have eight commissioners, and the time has arrived when we ought to put the Section into operation. I am convinced that there is no way of helping townsmen unless you put it into operation. I was speaking at Islington two years ago: Two young men came to me and said, "We want to go back on the land." They told me who they were, and I remembered their father, who was a very respectable farm foreman in Lincolnshire. I know these young men had a thorough training in agriculture. They came to London and were engaged in the potato market. They had saved between £200 and £300 apiece. They would make splendid small holders. The London County Council has done nothing for them, and I advised them to write to Lincolnshire and see if the Lincolnshire County Council would do something for them. The reply they got was, "We are so busily occupied in providing land for the men who are already resident down here," so there is no chance for these able young men to get down into the country unless you demonstrate the feasibility of small holdings in their case by instructing your commissioners in their different areas, when suitable farms come into the market, to purchase them. I know there is no compulsory power in this Clause, but they could purchase a farm when it comes into the market and bring down these men from the towns; and what is true of London is true of all our large towns.
Now a word with respect to the Default Clause. The Board of Agriculture, up till now, has been, I think, rather too slack in putting this Default Clause into operation where county councils have moved too 295 slowly. I know the difficulties At the same time in the two cases in which they have put the Default Clause into operation they have been very successful. The case I know best is in the Soke of Peterborough, where I am a member of the county council, and I should like to tell the House what has happened in this particular case. We commenced with respect to this particular farm in March, 1908, directly after the passing of the Act. We interviewed the applicants; we came to the conclusion that they were suitable and that they were deserving. We held no fewer than thirteen meetings from March, 1908, to February, 1909. When we had made the necessary inquiries we prepared a scheme. The committee decided, when they could not get the land by voluntary means, to go for compulsion. A scheme was approved by the Board, and a valuer was appointed, who made a valuation, and we went on until June, 1909, when, to the annoyance of the small -holdings committee, the county council itself rejected the scheme. They said they would not put into force the compulsory powers, so we were at work from March, 1908, until June, 1909, and then we had the whole of our work upset. In October of the same year the Small Holdings Commissioner addressed a special meeting of the county council, urging them to reconsider the position. The county council told him they did not intend to exercise compulsory powers, and then the Board of Agriculture, instead of proceeding with the Default Clause as they ought to have done without further delay, waited until November, 1910. They waited for thirteen months before they called upon the county council to prepare a scheme. I cannot help feeling that that was much too long to wait, and if that is taking place in other parts of the country it is quite evident that we are moving too slowly. The county council declined, notwithstanding the letter from the Board, and in February, 1911, the Commissioners prepared a scheme.
The Order was made for carrying out the scheme in March, and in June the governors of Brown's Hospital, who had refused the land before, gave way. The chairman of our county council, who is also one of the governors of Brown's Hospital, like a good sportsman, saw that the game was up and advised the governors to give way. They gave way and they said, "You can have the farm at the value put upon it by the Board of Agriculture's valuer." So we are going to get possession 296 of the farm at Michaelmas, 1912. We have had four and a half years therefore, but have been triumphant at last. I think if the Board of Agriculture would do more in putting into operation the Default Clause it would be very helpful in many other cases. The success of this small holdings movement is perhaps the one question in which I am most interested. Much good work has already been done, and very few mistakes, I think, have been made. I look forward to still greater progress in the near future.
§ Sir RANDOLF BAKER
I should not have intervened in the Debate except for the fact that Dorset County Council, of which I am a member, was mentioned on two or three occasions by the hon. Member who moved the Resolution (Mr. Rendall). It seems to me that this attack upon the Board of Agriculture has been, to say the least of it, a very mild one indeed. The Seconder of the Resolution (Mr. Winfrey) seemed very satisfied with the work done by the county councils as a whole. To my mind the chief part of the attack which has been made by both hon Members had very much better have been directed against the Local Government Board than against the Board of Agriculture, because it is on the matter of loans and the period for which loans are granted that difficulties have arisen. During the time I was vice-chairman of the small holdings committee I found it was the Board of Agriculture which had the approving of schemes, while the Local Government Board fixed the rate of interest. Rumour said at one time that there was a certain amount of feeling between the two Boards as to what rates of interest should be allowed in respect of the various things which the Local Government Board required to be done. I remember a case in which we proposed a scheme, and sent it up to the Board of Agriculture. It was agreed to by that Board, but the Local Government Board sent down another inspector to view the land. The Local Government Board insisted on an entirely new drainage system, which the Board of Agriculture did not think necessary, and this hung up that particular scheme for some nine months. That was due entirely to the action of the Local Government Board, and not the Board for which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Runciman) is responsible. They also on several occasions gave a great deal of trouble about the terms on which loans were granted.
297 The hon. Member quoted some figures showing the terms on which loans were allowed for fencing. I think the Local Government Board were prepared to allow a period of ten years for wood fencing and fifteen years for iron fencing. Of course, any hon. Member who has had much experience of the life of fencing would say that fifteen years is a very short time to allow for iron fencing. It would last probably forty or fifty years at least. It is owing to the action of the Local Government Board that hon. Members have been able to bring forward this charge as to making land so expensive. The hon. Member for the Thornbury Division (Mr. Rendall) first of all made some remarks in relation to the fact that the county council got some 1,600 acres taken by small holders direct from the landowners, and he said that was bad policy. I want to give the House two instances showing how these things occurred. There was a Small Holdings Committee formed, and we got an offer of some land from the landlord to let to the Small Holdings Association, and at the same time he offered the land direct to the association if they liked to lease it direct from him without the intervention of the county council. Everyone who desired to become a small holder preferred to take the land from the landlord instead of from the county council, because they knew that by doing so they would avoid all those management charges, and they were satisfied also that the terms given by the landlord would be equally good. There is a property which was sold last spring to, I believe, some sort of land speculator, and about two months ago the land was put up again, for sale. Instead of asking the county council to buy it for the existing small holdings, the occupiers preferred to get representations made to the landlord asking him to purchase the land because they preferred to be under him rather than to be under the Small Holdings Committee of the county council.
§ Mr. RENDALL
May I ask if it was not owing to the fact that Dorset County Council had such a reputation that they would rather have the holdings from anywhere than from them?
§ Sir R. BAKER
I do not think there was anything of that nature, or that the county council had a reputation of that sort. These men liked to come under a landlord who, they knew, would give them good security of tenure. No landlord voluntarily turns out his tenants for any reason 298 whatever if they are paying their rent. There is hardly a case where that is done. I do not propose to go into the other case referred to by the hon. Member. It appeared to me to be more a case in regard to housing than small holdings. But I might point out to him in regard to that case that I believe the facts are as follow: The district council were applied to by the parish council to provide more housing in the village. The landlord, who owns the greater part of the land there, was prepared to provide sufficient houses for all the people working on his farms, or on the farms owned by him and rented by farmers. He is, I believe, putting up a certain number of houses, chiefly cottages, but there are certain men in the district working for other landlords, and who are living there. He said that if there were not sufficient houses for his own tenants those men who were working on farms belonging to other landlords must make way for those who were working on his own farms. He did that by giving notice to the people in that village not working on his farms.
§ Sir R. BAKER
The landlord says he will provide houses for those on his own land. That is the sole justification which the hon. Member has for the attack he has made. He also referred to a farm where there has been an increase of rent. I think it is a most difficult case to deal with. It is a case as to which, I think, there has been a great deal of exaggeration on the part of those who make the attack. I could give evidence to show that there has been an enormous amount of exaggeration. One of the members of the Dorset Small Holders Committee and one of the members of the sub-committee who managed that farm from the start is the agent of the hon. Member for East Dorset. He has always acted thoroughly loyally with the county council. He agrees that we have done our best to make this farm a successful colony of small holders. He never made any attack on us, and as he is a prominent Member of the party opposite naturally he would attack us if we did anything outrageous in any way.
The hon. Member said that we had taken land at 24s. 6d. for which the farmer before was paying 25s. In the first case the landlord did the repairs, and in the second, we did. Our reason was perfectly simple. We said we have got to adapt, as far as possible, old existing 299 buildings for a big farm to small holdings. All that we can require the landlord to do is to put in repair the existing buildings as suitable for a big farm. Therefore it was much more advisable, instead of forcing the landlord to do so, that we should take at a slightly lower rent and put them into repair for small holdings. If we had forced the landlord to do the repairs as for a large farm the money would have been entirely thrown away, because the work would have been of no value for the purpose which we desired to carry forward. On the question of valuations I might point out that there are two sorts of valuation with regard to these small holdings. There is a valuation for compulsory working—there is no valuation where the purchase is by agreement as between purchaser and seller or in the case of a purchase by auction where the valuation is done by the county council—but there is also the valuation as between the incoming tenant and the outgoing tenant, and it is this valuation to which the hon. Member referred. In that case there was no real reason why the valuer should be more prejudiced in favour of the outgoing than in favour of the incoming tenant. I think that the hon. Member suggested that there was a natural bias in favour of the landlord because he was a landlord which led him to increase the valuation, but there is no probability that the land agent is going to get any money out of the outgoing tenant and there is no reason why he should be biassed in favour of him.
An attack was made on the action of the county council for charging the sinking fund to the tenant instead of paying it themselves. Three county councils have taken the view that they would be legally right in paying the sinking fund themselves, but other county councils have preferred to do what they believed to be the legal thing and to charge the small holders. I would ask the hon. Member opposite, who is anxious that the sinking fund should be paid by the county council, which refers either to the purchase of land or to the adaptation of buildings, what justification have you for purchasing land to adapt it, for a man taking, say, forty-five or fifty acres, and paying for it out of rates paid by the ratepayers to the county council? By paying the sinking fund for him you thus allow him to get his land cheaper, and the slightly additional rating may fall on a man who has sixty or seventy acres, or even less, 300 because he does not happen to be a county council tenant. There is no justification for giving an advantage to these county council tenants over other small holders or farmers in the district. You cannot justify spoon-feeding one class of tenants over all the others. The county council represent the ratepayers of the county. What are the ratepayers going to get out of paying these sinking fund charges? From the national point of view there may be something to be said for paying them, but there is no justification for even a slight addition to the burden of the ratepayers of the county, who are paying far too many national charges already. It is argued that it is hard on the tenant to pay sinking fund charges on the purchase of land which in eighty years' time is going to become the property of the county council, but it would be a hardship on the existing ratepayers of the county council, who are not likely to be alive in eighty years, to pay an additional burden because the county council is going to own the land in eighty years.
From the national point of view of the desirability of getting more people on the land, and to avoid the hardship on the tenants, the nation might undertake the sinking fund charges, but there is no shadow of a case for making the county councils bear this additional charge. The Resolution of the hon. Member asks to have put into operation two Sections of this Act. The first is Sub-section (2) of Section 4, which says that if county councils decline to undertake the duty the Board is to do so. The only case made out has been with regard to two counties. As to one of them, I cannot say anything. With regard to the London County Council, I think that for the sake of one particular county council it would be much wiser that it should be done by negotiation between the Board and the county council rather than by operation of the compulsory powers. As regards Section 20, the powers of the Board are definitely limited. They have got no power to borrow or to acquire land compulsorily for the purpose of this Section of the Act, so it is unnecessary to have a Resolution which calls for putting these Sections into operation, which really would have very little effect. If hon. Gentlemen will turn their attention rather to the Local Government Board than to the Board of Agriculture with regard to the question of charges generally, and the expenses consequent upon small 301 holdings, I think it would probably be very much more valuable in the interests of small holders than is this Resolution.
§ Sir HARRY VERNEY
I have listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Baronet who has just sat down, but it did not seem to me that he added much to our discussion in telling us that one or two isolated landlords are good to their tenants. I do not think anybody in the House will dispute that.
§ Sir R. BAKER
It was only in reply to the hon. Member for the Thornbury Division (Mr. Rendall), who attacked a county council in respect of 1,600 acres that were settled.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
The hon. Baronet will agree that both he and I are model landlords, but that hardly adds to our discussion. I, too, welcome in the Resolution the reference to increased efficiency, which I think we on this side of the House agree is due to the new Commissioners. I am rather surprised at what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Strand, because his words on agriculture carry weight in this House. In regard, first of all, to the Commissioners having too wide powers, as I understood him, and his considering it undesirable that they should interfere in questions of details in regard to individual applicants, I do not know how far the right hon. Gentleman has had any experience of the actual administration of small holdings, but since the new Commissioners have been appointed, speaking of the county I have the honour to represent, and being a member of the Small Holdings Committee, I can tell the House that certainly twice quite recently individual cases occurred in which there was a deadlock, and in which we have successfully appealed to the Small Holdings Commissioners, who intervened and smoothed matters over; otherwise it would probably have been necessary to resort to compulsory powers. Hon. Members opposite appear to take pleasure in the fact that there have been fewer compulsory orders this year than in the year before, and I think that is in a great measure due to the way in which the new Commissioners have been able to smooth over individual difficulties and help the working of the Act. I want to refer particularly to one or two grievances under which small holders actually labour. First of all, there is the question of the valuing of the land. I think the hon. Baronet will bear me out that under the county 302 councils there are at present admirable valuers who do the work of valuing in a satisfactory way. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear." "Manchester 580!"] The small holders who are more particularly affected continually show their gratitude to the Liberal Government for having passed this Act. The value of land has been decided again and again by the ordinary valuer, who has proved himself to be quite right in his figures, which have not been disputed. I ask the President of the Board of Agriculture for information as to who are the people who go down to the county councils and very often upset the figures of the local valuers? What reason is there for an official being sent down by the Board?
Why is it that the qualifications of that official should be considered better than those of the local valuer on the spot, who has no interest in the matter beyond ascertaining the actual value of the land? Why should he be overruled by a man who comes down from London, who knows nothing of the local circumstances, and who decides that a certain value is necessary for the land. The small holders have a definite grievance in this matter of a value being put upon the land, against the opinion of the local valuer and the community on the spot, by the valuer of the Board of Agriculture. Then the small holder has another grievance in the matter of compensation. I think the Committees and all who have to administer the Act will agree that the chief opponents of the measure are the large farmers rather than, the landlords. They have a deadly hatred to this Act. If it becomes necessary to turn some of these large farmers from the land to make way for small holders, I think it is essential and right that those farmers should receive adequate compensation. It is a real hardship in many cases to those farmers, and I think this House will agree with me when I say that the compensation ought not necessarily to be the actual minimum that could be found or agreed upon, but that a fairly reasonable compensation, and even more than that, should be given to the farmer to make up for the loss he has sustained. The great objection to this compensation is that it will fall on the small holder, and the small holder is quite ready as a rule to pay what is just and reasonable. But if he has to find, I do not say unreasonable compensation, but compensation above what the ordinary 303 valuer decided, it is not fair that the additional sum should fall on the small holder. One other question is that of the sinking fund. The hon. Member for Bridgwater interrupted my hon. Friend on the question of the powers conferred under the Act. I would ask him whether his interruption was the expression of a real regret that in his opinion it was not possible to put this sum on the rates? He will agree with me that it is a hardship that the tenant has to pay the sinking fund charges?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Then we agree in all parts of the House that it is not fair that the tenant should have to pay the sinking fund charges?
§ Sir H. VERNEY
Very well, a hardship that the tenant should have to pay the sinking fund. The argument on this side is that it should be put on the rates. [An HON. MEMBER: "NO."] An hon. Member on these benches quoted figures to show that the rate was one-fifth of a penny in one county and one-seventh of a penny in another, while in a third case it was the larger amount of one-fourth of a penny. Still, the amount is comparatively insignificant when we consider that the land in question becomes the property of the county council. The county councils being what they are, and these small holders being opposed to a large extent by farmers, it would be extremely difficult to persuade those bodies that they should pay the sinking fund out of the rates. I therefore venture very humbly and tentatively to suggest to the House why should the sinking fund be paid at all, why should anyone pay it, or, in other words, why should not the State undertake it? Why, instead of becoming a debt, should it not become an investment of the State on the best possible security—that is, the security of the land of England, which every year, as is shown by the anxiety of some hon. Members to sell their lands, becomes more and more valuable, and as shown by the interest of an equal number of people to buy the land? That land is probably as good security as could be found. Whether it is a possible financial problem as an amateur I have no idea, but I do suggest, whether it is possible to have a sinking 304 fund or not, that at least it is a reasonable suggestion that the State should undertake this responsibility. Whether they like to have a small sinking fund or not would be a question for the State and the House to decide, and as the hon. Member for Bridgwater and all hon. Members on the opposite side consider that it will be a hardship for the tenant to pay, they also would consider it would be a hardship that the rates and the county council should pay. Therefore we come to the only other solution that the State should pay.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I do not think it would be a hardship on the tenant if he became the owner of the land.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
That I know is the view of hon. Members opposite, but what about the mortgages they would raise on the land and which would eventually ruin them? I would venture to suggest that the question of the State undertaking the sinking fund is not one that can lightly be put aside. That we have been able to bring before the President of the Board, whose activities and administration are welcomed by agricultural Members in all parts of the House, some of the grievances of the small holders, the thanks of the House is due to the hon. Member for Thornbury.
§ Mr. SANDERS
I desire to say a word in answer to the hon. Baronet as to this matter of a sinking fund. I do not think it is so much a question on whom the hardship rests, but I think the real thing that we have got to get at is as to the law on this point, namely, whether county councils are safe if they take the action, which two or three counties undoubtedly have taken, of bearing this charge—that is, of throwing it on the rates. I asked a question of the right hon. Gentleman not long ago whether he or his predecessors had been advised by the Law Officers of the Crown that this charge if thrown on the rates was illegal. The right hon. Gentleman, as far as I remember, informed me that it was not usual to give the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. His predecessor had not the same scruple, and speaking in another place on the 26th March, 1908, on this very question, said:My Lords, I am asked in the first place whether the Board of Agriculture concur in the opinion given by the Law Officers of the Crown that where the county councils purchase small holdings for the purpose of their being let, the Act requires the rent to be fixed at such reasonable amount as will recoup the purchase money as well as the interest on the loan raised to provide it. The answer is in the affirmative. The Small Holdings Act of 1907 requires that the purchase money 305 must be recouped, and the interest as well, by way of sinking fund.In the latter part of the same speech the Noble Lord said:—Some county councils in England objected to putting anything on the rates, and it was absolutely necessary in order to get the Bill through to give a distinct pledge that if a county council BO desired there should be no charge on the rates whatever.10.0 P.M.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman, and especially to ask his Friends behind him, if they adhere to the pledge which Lord Carrington told us was distinctly given, and without which he said it would have been, impossible to get the Act through. If the charge is not put on the rates, and in face of that pledge I think it is clear that it cannot be put on the rates, unless the county council so desires it, where are we to put it? It must either be put on the small holder or on the State. If the hon. Gentleman is able to get on the soft side of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and get him to pay this sinking fund out of public moneys, then, I think, all is said; but, according to the pledge given by Lord Carrington, it is clear that if He cannot get that concession from the Chancellor of the Exchequer then there is no alternative that, hardship or no hardship, it must remain as a burden upon the shoulders of the small holders unless the county council is willing and anxious to bear it. It is a question whether the county council ought voluntarily to undertake that duty. With regard to the bare land, the hon. Baronet below the Gangway (Sir K. Baker) has already spoken on the subject, and the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir H. Verney) has also referred to it. As a member of a county council, I think it would be exceedingly difficult, even when the question is merely that of the bare land, to get the county council to undertake that burden without any result for eighty years, putting aside the question what are you going to do in the case of buildings where you have a much shorter sinking fund. The hon. Member for Norfolk spoke of the sinking fund in the case of buildings being for twenty years at £3 12s. Suppose the county council undertook that charge, then at the end of twenty years they would have paid the whole of the cost of the buildings, while, if the Board of Agriculture's contention is right, at the end of that time the tenant will have got the entire benefit, and the county council will have nothing to show for their expenditure. That, of course, is one of the things which makes this Act so expensive to the tenant.
306 I think that what has been said by hon. Members opposite as to the charges put upon the tenant being high is perfectly true; but why is it so? We have to put on charges for sinking fund, for management, and for repairs. All these charges are not put on at the will of the county councils. They are not put on because the county councils are unnaturally anxious to be on the safe side. Speaking from my own experience in the county of Somerset, when small holdings were first started we were anxious to charge a lower rate than we are charging now, but we were told by the Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture that we were not charging enough. The charges we have to-day were put on after consultation with and on the advice of the Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture. The Commissioners were perfectly right, because, in spite of these charges, of which so many Members opposite complain, it is the fact that in my own county we are not working at a profit. When we last worked out our accounts we found that, taking the sums that had been paid out and the sums we had received there was a net loss on the whole account of over £2,000. The fact is that this system of tenancy under an elective body, that elective body being controlled and often hampered by two and sometimes three Government Departments, is the most uneconomical form of tenancy ever invented. If you complain that the tenants are charged too much, the fault lies not with the county councils, but with the provisions of this particular Act and with the policy of those responsible for it. Another big question also included in this Motion is that of going behind the county councils and going in for indiscriminate compulsory purchase. If you are so fond of the democratic principle, why do you want to overrule these freely elected bodies—bodies elected on a much wider franchise than the House of Commons itself. We heard the other day of the inequality of the plural vote. The county councils are elected without the plural vote. County councils have a wider suffrage than the House of Commons, because among those who vote for them are not only men, but women. You wish to go behind these elected bodies. When one of these bodies says that it does not think on the whole that it would be wise to acquire land by compulsory purchase, you wish to say, "The elected body is wrong. We know much better, and we are going to take this land compulsorily, whether the elected body wishes it or not."
307 I am not an enemy of small holdings. Ever since the Act has been in force I have done everything in my power to promote the cause of small holdings. But I hold that there is room for both small holdings and large holdings at the same time. If you go in for indiscriminate compulsory purchase, without considering whether or not it is a grievance to the farmer, without considering whether you are doing great hardship to a man who may have been in a farm for many years, and whose family may have been there for hundreds of years, if you propose to turn a man out under these circumstances, undoubtedly you are causing hardship to that man. By doing that you do all you can to destroy what we have heard so much about tonight, and what it is said to be the object of so many hon. Members opposite to promote, namely, security of tenure. There is no greater danger to security of tenure than these proposals for turning men out compulsorily under the Small Holdings Act or any other Act of the same description. I believe that this Act can be worked smoothly, and it is very much better if it is worked smoothly; but it needs a little patience. It is very much better that men should wait a year or eighteen months longer and get land without friction than that they should get it immediately with the maximum of friction. If you want to make this Act a success, if you want to make small holders not only prosperous, but on good terms with their neighbours, you must work the Act with tact and by conciliatory methods, and not in the sledge-hammer manner that hon. Gentlemen opposite propose.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
Those who are responsible for this Motion are not desirous of making an attack upon the Board of Agriculture. Their purpose is rather to stimulate activity in the administration of the Small Holdings Act. The Motion acknowledges the marked improvement that has recently taken place, undoubtedly largely attributable to the additional Commissioners who have been appointed. It is not my intention to make any attack on the Board, nor do I think that anybody can complain of the tone and temper of the speeches delivered from the other side of the House. With certain of the observations made by the hon. Member who spoke last, I find myself in hearty agreement. I certainly do not desire to 308 see a universal system of small holdings. I entirely agree with him that there should be, and is room in the country for both small and large holdings. Undoubtedly some forms of cultivation are best carried out on large holdings, while on the other hand there are other forms of cultivation, particularly where individual attention is requisite, that can be best carried out on small holdings. I wish to confine my observations mainly to a point which has already received attention from previous speakers, namely, the question of the sinking fund charges. It appears to be a matter of doubt whether the local councils may or may not bear the sinking fund charges themselves. The Noble Lord who previously presided over the Board of Agriculture, seemed to have laid it down in the House of Lords that the county councils had no power to undertake these charges, or, at any rate, that a solemn obligation had been entered into in that sense in order to facilitate the passage of the measure, which obligation constituted almost a legal disability.
The point is not a new one. My attention has been drawn to the fact that sixteen years ago the question was very widely canvassed in respect to the Allotments Act, 1887. In the year 1893 the Board of Agriculture issued a circular to local authorities laying down that rents need not, and in equity should not, be fixed so high as to cover the annual instalments of the repayment of the purchase money of the land. Therefore it seems to me that in recent years a most undesirable departure has been undertaken by the Board of Agriculture. As there is now universal agreement that hardship is entailed upon a small holder, I think this House does well to consider whether there is not a method that can be adopted to relieve the small holder of that acknowledged hardship without imposing any particular hardship upon any other section of the community.
It is asked what would the local councils receive in return for their undertaking this obligation. It appears to me that the ownership of land in perpetuity is a very good return for a small expenditure out of the rates. The very best investment that anybody could make is the land of our country. I am certainly convinced that the best investment a local council can make would be to acquire the land that surrounds it. County councils do find themselves in some difficulty. Let me read the concluding observations of 309 the 1893 Circular to which I have referred. It says:—It would be sufficient that the rate should cover, with a fair margin for eventualities, the interest of all expenditure, including the purchase money.This appears to be an indication that the purchase money itself can be borne elsewhere. It certainly appears to me that it must have been contemplated in the circular that it should be borne on the local rates. I certainly felt when the 1907 Act was passed that this circular was indicative of the policy of the Board of Agriculture, and that the purchase charges, the annual repayment of the purchase money, would not be imposed on the small holder. In fact the Norfolk County Council, of which my hon. Friend who seconded the Motion, is a distinguished member, laboured under that impression. They approached the small holdings question with the 1893 circular in their mind. In course of time they had to direct the attention of the Board of Agriculture to the matter. They were then, in 1908, distinctly informed that it was not competent for them so to place the instalment of the purchase money on the rates, but that it must be included in the rent. Therefore, I feel that it is but due to the councils, as well as to small holders, that this matter should receive further consideration at the hands of this House. It will inevitably follow, if this policy is pursued, that these small holders will have to buy a number of estates which will be ultimately invested in the county councils.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member who seconded the Motion that this matter is of national importance. To open up the land of the country to better cultivation is not only calculated to bring advantage to the immediate district, but in the opinion of a considerable number of Members of this House, must also be of great social advantage. If that be so I think it is quite legitimate to advance the view that the State and the locality might really share this burden between them. Having secured a general admission that it is unjust to place the burden exclusively upon the small holder, it seems to me that we have to turn in the other direction, and to decide whether it shall be borne in one of three ways: either entirely on the local rates, entirely as a national charge, or whether equity does not demand that it should be divided between these two. For my part I feel that there is a great deal to be said, although in a speculative fashion. First of all, that it was one of those charges that might be thrown upon 310 the National Exchequer alone, but I am compelled to say that the immediate locality receives first benefit from the establishment of those conditions, that it undoubtedly secures a practical advantage in the increased rateable value, and therefore it may be said in equity that the burden should be divided in these two ways. But, at any rate, we have to protest against the small holder being compelled to continue bearing this obligation any longer. A fair rent for land is rent for the use of the land only, and if you are going to make it cover the cost of purchasing the land as well it becomes an unfair rent, against which everybody is bound to protest. I respectfully direct the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this point, because I believe if we can once find a solution of it we would give a great stimulus to the possibility of small holdings in the country. Another point of fundamental interest is the valuation of the land.
I do not intend to traverse the ground already so well covered, but I want to address this question to the representative of the Government. A public valuation of land is now taking place. I presume all parties will have to be satisfied that that valuation is being pursued upon a just and fair principle—at any rate, we have to presume that a national duty will be performed in an impartial and fair manner, and until evidence is adduced to prove the contrary I elect to hold the views I have expressed. There certainly ultimately will be statistics available for the Government, and I think we may consider whether these statistics that are now being compiled cannot be placed at the disposal of the local authorities in cases where they have to purchase land, and if an actual figure cannot be determined upon it will enable them to form a fair idea of the actual value of the land. I do not claim to be an agricultural expert, although I happened to be born of a family of agriculturists. Nevertheless, since the passing of this Act I have had something to do with various bodies concerned in its administration, and I know of numbers of instances where, as soon as a demand has been created for land an enormous inflation has taken place in the price, and small holders have either been deterred from proceeding with their applications or those who have been placed in occupation have had to pay a rent far higher than what justice would acknowledge. This question of the valuation of land is of primary importance. I respectfully draw the attention, of the 311 right hon. Gentleman to the 1893 Circular, and I feel the Board of Agriculture has made an undesirable departure when it contemplated that a sinking fund should be placed upon the resources of the small holder. I think that is an undesirable practice, and one that ought to be changed.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
I think the House must feel that there is an air of unreality about the protest which is couched in the somewhat strong Resolution moved from the other side of the House. It is noteworthy that those who have addressed the House from the other side all represent counties, and in one case a county town in which admittedly the Act has been worked uncommonly well and with remarkably successful results. I have good reason for suggesting that there is an air of unreality about this campaign for speeding up, by the process known as "gingering," the working of the Act with a view to putting pressure upon the county councils. In the month of April last year the Report of the Small Holdings Commissioners was issued, and about that time, or immediately after, there commenced a restlessness on the part of what has been described this evening as the extreme left wing of the party opposite in favour of the appointment of new Commissioners to speed up the working of the Act. It is rather remarkable to note that the Report, published two months before the new Commissioners were appointed, wound up with the following words:—We have no hesitation in saying in conclusion that the provision of 9,000 small holdings through the instrumentality of the Act in three years is a result which reflects great credit on the various councils concerned. With very few exceptions they have lost no opportunity of providing for the needs of all suitable applicants, and we are satisfied that, in the great majority of counties, the work could not have been done more quickly without serious risk and disaster.I, for one, am wholly in accordance with the principle of this Small Holdings Act, and I have done my best to forward the working of it in those counties with which I am associated, but I am more than ever convinced that the one way to wreck this Act and make it unworkable is to try and work its machinery faster than machinery can reasonably be worked. The conclusions of the Commissioners go on to say:—It is inevitable that some of the applicants should consider that there has been unreasonable delay, but that this is in most cases not the fault of the councils is shown by the fact that in those counties where the Act has been vigorously administered ever since it came into operation, such as Norfolk, Somerset and Cambridge, the unsatisfied demand from suitable applicants still remains a very large one, even after three years' hard work.312 The Commissioners end up by saying:—If the small holdings movement is to be the permanent success for which we hope, it is essential that it should be carried out with the hearty co-operation of all classes connected with the land and with the minimum amount of friction and hardship.The Commissioners point out in a previous chapter some of the reasons why they are anxious that undue pressure should not be put upon the councils, and why undue haste should not be shown in working out the provisions of the Act. They say:—The economic success of the small holdings movement depends almost entirely upon improved methods of education, more especially in the practical application of the results of scientific research, and upon organisation and co-operation. The small holders principally need expert advice in two directions, first, in the selection of the crops to grow and how best to grow them; second, in the methods of marketing their produce and stock to the best advantage.One reason why I hope we are not going to try to travel too fast in this matter is that the Board of Agriculture has at last—I think somewhat late in the day—set aside large sums of money for all these purposes which the Small Holdings Commissioners say are essential for the successful working of the Small Holdings Act. The more progress that is made with co-operation and with practical instruction in agricultural processes, and in marketing, with the help also of credit associations, which are badly needed in our agricultural districts, the more chance there will be of creating—I was going to say a land hunger, but there is not a land hunger at the present time; I wish there were—at any rate, an appetite for land among agricultural labourers, and those are the persons whom you ought to consider first for small holdings if they are to be an economic success. Reference has been made by the hon. Gentleman who moved this Resolution to the state of affairs in the county which he represents in this House. I live in that county, and I should like myself to testify to the very great success that has been achieved in the county of Gloucester owing to the great judgment of Sir Ashton Lister, who is not merely a distinguished Radical, but a practical expert in the matter of small holdings, owing to the fact that he, as chairman of the small holdings committee of that county, has urged his colleagues and the council to, as he puts it, "hasten slowly in this matter." That is valuable testimony from a man who admittedly has made a great success, so far, of the working of the Act in the West of England. We have been told quite truly by the hon. 313 Baronet the Member for North Bucks (Sir H. Verney), for whose opinions in these matters I have considerable regard, that, in spite of what may have been said by way of prejudice in the past, it is not the landowners who have stood in the way mainly of the working of this Act; it is naturally and necessarily the larger farmer.
§ Sir H. VERNEY
I said the farmers principally were the persons who complained of the Act. The landlords do as much as they can in many cases, but not so much as the farmers.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
The hon. Baronet has, I think, a little whittled down the statement which he made to the House, and I, for one, am not going to join him in abusing the honourable class to which he belongs. At any rate, I think it is common knowledge that the great difficulty has been, and necessarily been, with the larger farmers. It stands to reason, if you are going to take a small slice of the best land out of a large farm, which cannot be economically and commercially worked unless it is maintained as an agricultural entity, as it has existed for many years past and which has been worked upon, certain principles because it is such an entity, it must necessarily cause a certain amount of reluctance if not of resentment, on the part of the farmer whose land it is proposed so to take. I do strongly urge upon the right hon. Gentleman and the House the advisability of not tackling this problem in piecemeal fashion. Why not endeavour to take the whole of farms, if they happen to be suitable, when they are in the market, and not carve out of those farms, one small holding but a colony of small holdings. He member a colony of small holdings possesses many advantages which a single small holding does not. They are able, as has already been shown in Cheshire, to form their own co-operative society, and to join in the purchase of the raw materials of their industry, and also for the sale and distribution of their produce. I am quite sure that this friction might be very largely avoided if only that policy were put forward as a desirable policy for the Board and for the county councils to adopt, and if they did adopt it we 314 should hear very little grumbling on the part of landowners or farmers in the future. There is one point the hon. Member for Thornbury put forward with which I agree. He suggested it was unfair that the charge for local taxation should be not merely on the annual value as shown by the bare rent paid for the holding, but that it should be on the supposed annual value shown by the aggregation of that rent with the cost of management and sinking fund, which is no part of the rent. I feel that that is a strong point, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will take note of it.
As regards this sinking fund, are we not entitled to ask the Government what they meant by the word "expenses" when, in 1907, they passed Section 7 of the Act? Did they, or did they not, mean when they submitted that particular Clause to this House that the charge for the sinking fund should be included in "expenses," and should be added to the small holder's rent, or did they intend it should be borne by the ratepayers? They must have had some idea in their minds when they laid this Clause before the House. But even assuming that they had no idea, it is really unfair to tell county councils as the Local Government Board is telling them, that certain county councils have, without being surcharged, decided to throw this burden on the ratepayers and take it off the shoulders of the small holder. The right hon. Gentleman must know, and the House knows, that if at any time this matter is brought before the Courts and there is a judicial decision in favour of the view held at any rate at one time by the Law Officers of the Crown, after the date of that decision every single county council which had thrown the charge on the ratepayers would be surcharged for so doing. Surely then it is the duty of the Government to get county councils out of the muddle into which they are rapidly drifting to their serious disadvantage. When the hon. Baronet the Member for North Bucks suggests that the State could find the money, we know it may be a very convenient way of getting over rating difficulties. But those who are responsible for local administration must also to some extent be responsible for finding the money which they administer, or the result is bound to be extravagance. I sympathise most heartily with the present position of the small holder, but I cannot help thinking that the ratepayer will have some reasonable 315 grievance if you are going to throw the burden on him, especially in cases where pressure has been put by Government Departments on county councils to force them to take steps which they would not otherwise have taken, and bearing in mind that the purchase of land at a time when it was admittedly at a higher value than a few years ago, may turn out to be a bad bargain for the ratepayers.
May I ask the right hon Gentleman who has now passed into control, not merely of the agricultural affairs of this country, but also of the control of Crown woodlands, to try and do something to make it possible for those put on agricultural land to find additional employment during the winter months by working at woodland work which is found to be the only economic way of carrying out a system such as this in most other countries. I am sure the advice he will get from the Forest of Dean will be to the effect that small holdings can only be worked economically in that district if worked in conjunction with the woodland industry, and that it is extremely difficult for agricultural labourers to work them at a profit without) such a combination of employment.
§ The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)
The discussion which we have had to-night has been different from previous discussions on the administration of the Small Holdings Act by reason of one fact, namely, that no single speaker on the other side of the House has thought it worth his while to condemn small holdings either in part or as a whole. It now appears to be accepted in every quarter of the House as a dictum with which no one will disagree that small holdings are an essential part of our agricultural economy, and that, having come and having been well established, they are bound to stay. That is a great advance upon the position occupied by those who attacked small holdings, not only at the time that the measure was passing through this House, but afterwards. [HON. MEMBERS: "No, no."] Yes, I can well remember the attitude taken up both in this House and outside by many Gentlemen who believed that the reversion to smaller holdings was a retrograde move. [HON. MEMBER: "NO, no."] I accept the view of the hon. Member opposite that he never held that opinion.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
I am very glad to hear that for his part he is a believer in small holdings. Let us accept that as common ground all over the House. The only question which has been under discussion here to-night is how the small holding system can be established on a sound basis, and how it can be rapidly extended. The Mover of the Resolution, my hon. Friend the Member for Thornbury (Mr. Rendall) gave us two or three cases where something had been done, and where he hoped more might be done. I will deal first with the case of Bristol, which he knows well. In Bristol they found they could not obtain land sufficient for their applicants within their borders, and they had to make a provisional arrangement to lease a farm at Seamills, and that proposal was only abandoned because the Board refused to sanction the proposal. The reason why the Board refused to sanction the proposal was because, first of all, upon inquiry it was found that of the applicants very few of them had any capital, or they had not the necessary capabilities to ensure their success, and that very few of them had any agricultural experience to speak of. It seemed clear that a scheme of that nature was bound to break down, and I think Bristol was well advised in taking the advice of the Board and not pressing the scheme. The other case mentioned by my hon. Friend applied to eight or nine applicants, who applied for amounts of land varying from five to thirty acres. They refused to go to land which was more than one mile away, and for that reason it was impossible to supply them with the land which they required. I think that disposes of the two cases which were raised with regard to the city of Bristol, but what I should like to add for Bristol as a whole is that they have shown themselves well disposed towards the movement, and they have already within their boundaries 200 acres distributed among no less than 2,000 allotment holders.
I come next to the case of London, a case which is more interesting. It is a curious fact about London that there have been only something like twenty-three or twenty-four applicants, and these applicants are all men who wish to continue their work in London. If they wish to 317 continue their work in London it is quite clear that they cannot be planted in the country. I do not know what would have been the view of the County Council of London if these men had wished to go out into the country and the request had been made to them that a colony should be started in another area. But certainly in this case it would have been mistaken policy on our part to have pressed the London County Council to embark on a scheme in Essex for these applicants. We knew "what the views of the applicants were, because a large deputation of the London applicants waited on my predecessor to discuss the question with him. With regard to the Winterbourne scheme in Dorset, I inquired into it both in London and on the spot. I saw representatives of the county council, and I saw those who occupied the holdings, and the conclusion I came to was that it was one of the worst worked schemes I have ever come across.
§ Sir RANDOLF BAKER
Was it a fact that that scheme was carried out with the approval of the Commissioners the whole way through, and with the approval of the Board from start to finish? They approved every step of the scheme.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It is, not correct to say they approved every step in the scheme, for there are many steps in every scheme which can be carried without the approval of the Commissioners. Instead of employing a man who knew something about the designing of small holdings and the proper equipment and alteration of cottages, they employed a surveyor, who was not a specialist at that work, and he made many mistakes in design. Unfortunately, in the middle of the alteration, he himself died, and the contractor was allowed to do pretty well as he pleased, and the result was that the expenditure on these holdings was amazingly large, and there is precious little to be seen for it Another great mistake was that when they did spend money they spent it recklessly. I need only mention one instance. The boundary fences between the various holdings on many parts of the estate are not creosoted timber, but are actually park railings.
§ Sir R. BAKER
This is a point to which I drew attention nearly two years ago. We were then attempting to put up creosoted timber fencing, but we could not get 318 a sufficient term from the Local Government Board to allow us to do that efficiently, and, as we thought, cheaply, because we should have had to replace it in seven years.
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
The hon. Baronet says that park fencing, according to his estimate, to last from forty to fifty years, was a better bargain for the small holders. Everyone knows it was not. They are bound to pay a sinking fund for a short period even on the park railings. When I went down there I found the whole scheme was likely to tumble to the ground unless some attempt was made by the county council to put it on a proper basis. I am glad to say the county council themselves have undertaken to carry out every recommendation which I made to them, and have, of course, involved themselves in very large expenditure. I think the hon. Baronet had best have left the Winterbourne scheme alone. Certainly it is not a scheme of which he or the county council need be proud. I hope the experience they have had will prevent them from making a similar blunder in the future. My hon. Friend referred in particular to valuations. The valuations in the case of compulsory purchase are, of course, the valuations arrived at by valuers appointed by the Board of Agriculture. I think it is very easy to overestimate the natural tendency of those valuers to put high prices on the land they value. I can give the House some particulars of values which have come under my notice in two cases—one of purchase and one of hiring. A larger amount was awarded than was asked by the owner only in two cases. In ten cases smaller amounts were awarded than was offered by the county councils themselves. We cannot say therefore that these valuers were behaving unjustly. These valuers did, as nearly all valuers do—they split the difference. Out of 122 cases the county councils have exercised the power of withdrawal in 33 cases only. It may be necessary that we should give some guidance to the valuers, but I think it would be a departure from custom to tell the valuers beforehand how they were to value, except with some general advice an instruction could be given. Advice has been given to this extent: They were told that they should take into consideration the rent at which the land had previously been let, and they were told also of the great importance of taking into consideration the value at which it is assessed for Income Tax or rating. I venture to say 319 that both of those suggestions were wise, and were not likely to act unfairly against anybody.
My hon. Friend suggested that the amount of charges for management are too heavy. As to management expense, it does not appear to be an exceptional amount. I think 5 per cent. is not excessive. As the number of small holdings increases that will be a decreasing amount. At present it barely pays, and in some cases it does not pay the salary of the county land agent. And there is an allowance of 2½ per cent. for contingencies, and 2½ per cent. for insurance, and where there are buildings of 7½ to 10 per cent. for repairs. It is scarcely a fair description of these charges to class them all as management charges. I think, on the whole, it may be said that 20 per cent. allowed over a period of years is not too large, and it is for that reason that that percentage has been sanctioned by the Board of Agriculture in the past. My hon. Friend suggested that we ought to pay something towards the management expenses. We do pay some contribution. We are actually now making a contribution through the small holdings account, which is equivalent to a shilling per acre per annum. I cannot hold out any hope of the management expense being reduced.
I now come to the contentious subject of sinking fund charges. It has been suggested on the other side of the House that if these sinking fund charges are not paid by the small holders, the small holders would be spoon fed, and that if they are paid by the ratepayers there will be a charge thrown on the ratepayers, and that all other classes of the community will pay for the benefit of one class. I think those who make these criticisms of the present system as to charging the sinking fund overlook the fact that the land is county council land, and there is every justification for the county itself, all the ratepayers, including the small holders, paying their quota towards the sinking fund.
§ Viscount HELMSLEY
Is it yet determined whether it is in the power of the county councils under the Act not to charge the sinking fund to small holders?
§ Mr. RUNCIMAN
It is said that county councils who put the charge for the sinking fund on the rates will lay themselves open to surcharge. Are they likely to do that? The West Riding have all along 320 paid the sinking fund contribution out of the rates and have never been surcharged. The same has been done by two Welsh counties. I know that when my Noble Friend was discussing the subject in the House of Lords, he said it was not the intention of the Government to compel the county councils to put these charges on the rates. It was not the intention of the Government to compel the county councils to put them on the small holders. I believe there is nothing in the Act which compels the county councils to lay these charges on the small holders. The Noble Lord has asked me pointedly if county councils who put the charge on the rates lay themselves open to surcharge. I believe that they do not, and I express that opinion as the responsible head of the Board of Agriculture. I know there have been varying legal opinions about it, but I have taken the best advice at my disposal, and the opinion I express now I am prepared to communicate to the county councils if necessary. In our opinion we do not believe that the county councils would lay themselves open to surcharge if they put the sinking fund on the ratepayers.
There are three divisions of the sinking fund—a sinking fund on land, one on buildings, and one on the cost of adaptation. The amount on land is a very small amount, and I cannot understand why any county council should shrink from it. As regards buildings, those who have the benefit of the buildings ought to pay for the exhaustion of the buildings. I hope that, having admitted that the county councils will take the advice which I now offer, in the near future that the sinking fund on the land of small holdings should be put on the rates and charged to the whole county. One point was raised by my hon. Friend with regard to additional rates. I have every sympathy with the small holder in the complaint which is made. He complains that when a farm is cut up into small holdings the rates are pushed up very high, and there are some cases where they have been quadrupled. That strikes at the very root of our assessment basis. I cannot attempt to alter the assessment basis; that can only be done by an Act of Parliament. It is unfair to the small holder, and if there ever was a good case for legislation to safeguard the small holder against over-assessment, it is this. In the county of Hertfordshire action has been taken in this matter and instructions have been given to appeal against the assessment on behalf of the tenant. 321 The gentleman in charge of the matter has had the good sense to inform the Assessment Committee that if the assessments are not reduced on small holdings he will appeal against the assessments of the large farmers with the object of having them raised. I agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite that it is only by the spread of co-operation, co-operative sale, co-operative purchase, and credit banks, and by educating the small holders in intensive culture and allowing them to have a fair chance of existence in competition with large holders as well as with men of their own class, that there is any hope of the small holdings movement being a really prosperous movement.
§ And, it being Eleven of the clock, the Debate stood Adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed to-morrow (Wednesday).
§ ADJOURNMENT.—Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Gulland.]
§ Mr. F. E. SMITH
Will the hon. Gentleman, before the House adjourns, inform the House whether he is in a position to state what steps the Government propose to take in order to fill up the regrettable vacancy in the Whip's room?
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly, at Two minutes after Eleven o'clock.