HC Deb 27 March 1912 vol 36 cc446-518

Order for Third Reading read.

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


I desire to draw the attention of the House, and particularly of the President of the Local Government Board, when he appears in the House, to the anomalous position in which county councils find themselves at the present time owing to the different attitudes of the various Government Departments in respect of loans made to-local authorities for the purpose of providing land for small holdings. The President of the Local Government Board has repeatedly assured us in this louse during the past few months that it is open to the county councils to exonerate the small holders from payment of sinking fund charges when those are added, as they have in most cases been added, to the rents of small holdings, and to fix those charges upon the ratepayers of the county. The President of the Board of Agriculture has similarly stated on a recent occasion in this House that he is prepared to assure the county councils that they may go forward with the process of exonerating the small holders from the sinking fund payment, and charge the ratepayers generally, and have the burden thrown on the county rates. It transpires now that loans upon this footing are being applied for to the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and the Commissioners are, in reply, stating that they are not in a position to> make any loans to county councils for the purpose of small holdings, unless the whole of the sinking fund charge is charged to the small holders in the rent of those holdings. In other words, the county councils are being made to look very ridiculous and are being placed in a wholly anomalous position owing to the rather absurd squabble which is going on, and it is not by any means the first time such squabbles have taken place between the two Government Departments, or the three Government Departments, with whom they have to deal. It is not at all fair on the county councils that they should be left in this anomalous position. What I want to ask the Government is, once and for all, to get us out of this anomalous position and to declare plainly what the Act of 1908 really means, and if the Small Holdings Act of 1908 cannot operate to enable the county councils to do what many of them would like to do, namely, to charge the sinking fund -charges to the ratepayers generally in exoneration of the small holders, then surely it is the business of the Government, if that is their intention, to bring in as soon as possible an amending Bill, so as to save any risk of the county councils being surcharged in consequence of doing what is ultra vires an Act of Parliament.

I have taken some trouble to look up the various Small Holdings Acts. I find that the provisions of the 1907 Act, as regards the acquisition of land for small holdings, were by reference (a most obnoxious system) to the Act of 1892, and that, in fact, the details as regards the acquisition of land are not set out in any way in the Act of 1907. It is impossible to say whether this matter was discussed while that Bill was passing through this House, because it was sent to a Grand Committee upstairs, and there is no Parliamentary record of their proceedings. In the year 1898, that is after the passing of the first Small Holdings Act, and before the passing of the Act with which the present Government have been associated, the President of the Local Government Board announced in this House that in the opinion of the Law Officers the amount of rent charged to small holders must be limited to the interest on the loans, with a margin over and above for eventualities—that is to say, that in the period between the coming into operation of the 1892 Act and the introduction into this House of the 1907 Act, it was acknowledged by the various Governments of the day that the smallholders could not be charged with any part of the sinking fund of the loan which was raised for the purpose of acquiring their land. In 1907 the Government introduced their Bill, and they did not, apparently, at that time say who is in fact going to pay the capital value of the land acquired for small holdings; but immediately after the Act has been passed, a question is asked in this House by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Collings), and the answer given by the then representative of the Treasury, before he had become Parliamentary Secretary to the Board, was as follows:— The intention of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act of last Session, is that the charges to which the right hon. Gentleman refers, should be included in the rent (those are the sinking fund charges), but so far as the Board are concerned, they will offer no objection to the inclusion of those charges in the calculation of rents, when the county council is itself willing to defray them. Therefore, according to the opinion of the representative of the Board of Agriculture at that time, it was possible for a county council to charge those sinking fund charges to the ratepayers, but no provision was made to that effect in their Act. Then comes the Small Holdings Consolidation Act of 1908, which, like many Consolidation Acts, turns out to be not a mere codifying measure, and, as the result of ingenuity on the part of the Government draftsmen, they apparently make new law, and they introduce a Subsection into that Act, Sub-section (3) of Section 7, which puts it beyond all question that those sinking fund charges are to be thrown upon the small holder. I see that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Runciman) differs from my opinion. I shall be very glad to hear if he is able to mention a single legal authority by name who has stated, either to him or anyone else, that this Act can bear any different interpretation. I suggest to him and to the House that there are not two ways of construing that Act, and that the only construction to be put upon this particular Section is that the county councils will be going beyond their powers unless they charge the small holders themselves with the sinking fund charges in their rents. That Section is as follows:—

"A county council shall not acquire land for small holdings save at such price or rent that, in the opinion of the council, all expenses incurred by the council in relation to the land will be recouped out of the purchase money for the land sold by the council, or in the case of land let out of the rent, and the council shall fix the purchase money or rent at such reasonable amount as will, in their opinion, guard them against loss"

4.0 P.M.

I have the support of the Law Officers of the Crown, for at any rate a period of the time during which the present Government has been in power, in support of the view that that Section cannot mean anything else than that the county councils must throw those charges upon the small holders. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Agriculture is prepared, as I understand, to dispute that suggestion. If the Law Officers have changed their opinion it is only right that this House should know what the opinion of the present Law Officers is. It is very unfair upon the county councils, upon the small holders, and upon those Members in this House who are interested both in county government and in the small holders, that they should be left in any doubt as to what is the meaning of the Government's own. Act of Parliament. It is more than ridiculous when it comes to a matter of administration that the Presidents of the Local Government Board and of the Board of Agriculture should say to the county councils, "You may do what you like in this matter; you are not the least likely to be surcharged, because in our opinion you are not acting ultra vires so far as our Act is concerned," while, on the other hand, the Public Works Loans Commissioners, without whom the county councils cannot get any further in this matter, say, "You are acting ultra vires when you endeavour to throw these charges upon the county rate, and we are not prepared to make loans to you upon that footing."

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Runciman)

Have the Loans Commissioners said that the county councils are acting ultra vires?


The Public Works Loans Commissioners have certainly stated to the county councils that they are not prepared to make loans under this Act to the county councils unless they charge both sinking funds and interest to the small holders.


That is quite another matter from saying that the Public Works Loans Commissioners have declared that the county councils will be acting ultra vires.


I apologise if I I have stated the position incorrectly. As a matter of fact, the Public Works Loans Commissioners are not entitled to make any suggestion as to whether a local authority is or is not acting ultra vires. But it is rather absurd that those who, like the right hon. Gentleman and his colleague of the Local Government Board, are in a position to guide the county councils in this matter, guide them in certain directions, and then they find they are brought up against a stone wall presented by the Public Works Loans Commissioners, because in their opinion such a transaction cannot properly be carried out under the Act. It seems to me that we have come to a time when we are entitled to ask the Government to say plainly what they intended in their own Act in this respect, and whether in fact the construction put upon that Act is what they intended when they brought it in. If they did not so intend, the time has arrived when it is only fair to all parties that the Act should be amended. Why are the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues afraid of moving in this matter? At any rate, why are they reluctant to do so? I suggest, in the first place, that they are naturally not very anxious to offend the small holders, who are becoming exceedingly sensitive upon this matter On the other hand, they do not like to take upon themselves the responsibility of doing anything which might raise an outcry on the part of the county ratepayers, who are already seriously overburdened largely as the result of Departmental administration. What are the two alternatives? One is that the small holders should pay for land which will never belong to them, but which will eventually belong to the county councils. We say, and I think the House will agree, that that is not fair to the small holders. The second position is that the county ratepayers, whether they like it or not, under considerable pressure from the Government, shall pay for land for which they may have no use hereafter if the small-holding movement turns out to be a failure, and which land has actually been acquired as the result of very considerable pressure from a certain political party in this House and also of pressure imposed upon them by the Government of the day. It is not even fair to ask the county ratepayers to pay for property which they themselves, through their representatives, are reluctant to purchase, and which they have purchased only under very considerable pressure from a Government Department. The only way out of this muddle and difficulty is so to interpret the Act, which I believe to be impossible, or alternatively so to amend the Act as to make the charge for sinking fund a Treasury, charge, and thereby make logical the process of pressure or of "gingering" which has been carried on to such a very severe extent in connection with the small-holdings movement. At any rate, I think we are justified in demanding now from the Government what is their interpretation of the Act, what the county councils are able to do in this matter, and what shall be their procedure when they want to adopt the alternative now suggested by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, but which they cannot adopt because the Public Works Loans Commissioners say that they will not grant loans upon any such footing.


I should like to endorse all that my hon. Friend has said about the confusion in which this matter stands. The President of the Board of Agriculture will recollect that I raised the point earlier in the Session, and told him what had been the position in my own county council, where I endeavoured to ascertain whether it was not possible to relieve the small holders of the onerous charge of the sinking fund, at all events for the acquisition of the land if not also for the buildings. We were given to understand that it was the opinion of the President of the Board of Agriculture and of the President of the Local Government Board that it was within the power of county councils not to charge the sinking fund upon the small holders, but to put it upon the rates. We were also told that certain county councils had done that without being surcharged, and that they would not be surcharged so far as the Local Government Board and the Board of Agriculture were concerned. That in itself is not a very satisfactory position, because the Government are not capable of giving an interpretation of the Act in that direction. The Act is as it is, and can only be interpreted by the Courts of Law. I suppose that if any ratepayer chose to raise and carry to the Courts the question whether the county council was or was not acting ultra vires, the promise of the Government that the county council should not be surcharged would not be valid. If the Courts held that the council had acted ultra vires it would be liable for having so done. Therefore the position is not at all satisfactory. And when my hon. Friend points out, as he has done, that the Public Works Loans Commissioners are refusing to grant loans on the very ground that the sinking fund is not charged to the small holders, I think the position becomes very serious, and something will really have to be done to put it on a satisfactory footing. That is how the position stands at the present moment. The county councils do not really know what they can or cannot do.

It seems to me that there is both a question of fact and a question of policy which it is desirable should be considered. I would press very strongly that it is a most unjust thing to put these sinking fund charges, at all events for the purchase of the land, upon the small holder. There are two or three ways out of that difficulty. One is to put the charges upon the Treasury. There is a good deal to be said from that point of view, although I quite realise that it is open to many objections which no doubt at once leap to the mind of the hon. Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), and it would no doubt need a good deal of consideration before being adopted by the House. Another proposal is that the county council should pay them through the rates in that they eventually acquire the land, and, therefore, presumably in the end, if they bought the land at a reasonable price—which is not always the price put upon it by the Government Commissioners—they will not ultimately make a loss when the land comes to be sold. A third alternative, which, I think, would be the best, is that of vesting the freehold of the land in the small holder. I can see no reason whatever why that should not be done. The loans will work themselves off in a period of years very little longer in most cases than the period over which the Irish farmers purchase their holdings. It seems to me it would be a far wiser policy immediately a small holder is put upon the land to invest him with the freehold of it, not making him pay any more than he pays today, so that under proper conditions, if he remained, he would become the owner of the land, but would not be able to mortgage it until the sinking fund charges had been paid off. Those are really the courses, one of which ought to be adopted if justice is to be done and the small holdings movement is to have any chance of success.

It is obviously unfair that these charges should be put upon the small holder, who, although he knows perfectly well that he is paying the charges, yet is not acquiring any permanent interest in the land. I recollect when the Bill was going through the House the discussions which took place upon this subject. I have not made those deep researches into the debates of the period which my hon. Friend (Mr. C. Bathurst) has evidently done, but I recollect the right hon. Gentleman, who then represented the Board of Agriculture, arguing that, as a matter of fact, no injustice was being done to the small holder under this provision, because he was getting the land on far easier terms owing to the credit of the State. As far as my recollection serves, that argument was answered, and proved to be utterly fallacious and unsound. Still, it held the field at the time, and when the Bill was going through the House the Government absolutely refused to entertain the view which we are now putting forward that injustice was being done to the small holder. I think events have proved that injustice is being done. I submit that it is the duty of the Government to do something to clear up the uncertainty that exists, and also to develop a sound line of policy which will be just both to the county councils and to the small holder. I am not particularly anxious that these charges should be put upon the rates. I prefer the alternative that the small holder, in that he pays for the land, should be vested with the freehold of it. I do not wish to see the rates largely saddled with these charges; at the same time I would rather do that than see a perpetuation of the injustice which is at present being inflicted on the small holder. I hope the Government will clear the matter up as regards both fact and policy, and at the earliest possible date, if necessary, introduce a Bill to amend the Act in these particulars.


I think there is a very important question involved in this matter. First of all, I would ask whether the person to determine this matter in the first instance is not the auditor. Neither the Board of Agriculture nor the Local Government Board has any power in regard to surcharge at all. Primâ facie the auditor makes the surcharge, and the question is whether the Department will remit that surchage for the benefit of those who have been surcharged by the auditor. If the question of law arises it arises in this form: Has the auditor acted within legal authority or not in making the surcharge? What the Department do primâ facie is not the deciding factor; that is decided by the auditor himself. In addition to that, it is not the function of a Department by remitting a surcharge to introduce a power of charge which the Legislature has not given. If the Department did that it would not be adminstering the law; it would be creating some new obligation upon the rates or upon the small holder which does not exist under the law at present. That ought to be a matter for the Legislature. If the auditor has made a surcharge, and it is shown that the matter in dispute arose out of a mistake, or a mere technicality, it is quite right that the surcharge should be remitted; but it is not right to remit the surcharge if it has been properly made in respect of an illegal payment, or by a system of remitting surcharges to make a payment legal which according to what the Legislature intended is illegal. That is a very important matter. The Department has not got dispensing power; the Department has to see that the law is administered, not altered.

Upon the other point, the important question of principle as to who should pay the sinking fund in connection with the shall holdings, it is certainly unfair that the small holder, who has only an annual interest, or at least a terminable one, should pay in respect of the freehold which ultimately he does not possess, and for the benefit of someone else—the county council. I think that unfair and unjust. I am all against putting an obligation of this kind upon the ratepayer or the county council if we can possibly prevent ii. I myself believe that the county council have in a very full way tried to administer the Small Holdings Act. I know they have in my own county, where I am a member of the small holdings committee. We have done all we possibly could, and gone rather in the direction of making a demand, because there was every desire to increase the number of small holders as much as we possibly could. I believe every one who is cognisant of country life will desire so to do. A much better system than the present, as the Noble Lord suggests, is to increase the number of small freeholders. Ownership is a very much better system than occupation. As I was going to point out, and as the Noble Lord has pointed out, when you have the occupier, in the form of a sinking fund, really paying freehold value—for that is what it comes to—it ought to inure to his advantage when the time comes. That is the proper solution of this difficulty. There is a great deal of difference in principle between small freeholds and small occupation.

I am certain myself—quite apart from the localities, which have done all they possibly could to increase the number particularly of small owners—that we want a larger number of small owners and email freeholders in this country than we have at the present time. I therefore [...]horoughly endorse what the Noble Lord has said, that the proper solution would be to allow the occupier to pay on condition that if he pays for the sinking fund in course of time he becomes the owner. I entirely object to a charge being put upon the ratepayer by the Department which the legislature has not put upon him. If it is the law, if the auditors decide that the sinking fund cannot be put upon the rates, and if the local council should be surcharged, it is not within the competence of the Department to alter a legal principle of that kind. They must do it by legislation and not by administration, by legislation, and not by administration, though I see the hon. Gentleman the Member for the City of London here, I think it ought to be taxes and not rates in this case, because the compulsion has not come from the locality but from headquarters. I am not complaining of that. It was part of the Act that the full discretion was not left to the local ratepayers as represented by the county council. An additional power was given to the Board of Agriculture to push the matter further than perhaps the local bodies desired. I do not, however, want to find fault with this because I am in favour of the principle. But I hope, when the right hon. Gentleman comes to reply, that he will be able to tell us what in his view is the best solution of what is a difficulty of a very practical kind.


The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down has delivered a most interesting speech. The same remark applies to the hon. Members who preceded him. I have no intention of following them, and perhaps they will excuse me if I introduce another subject if you, Mr. Speaker, declare it to be in order. I want to call attention to—


Perhaps the hon. Member will allow this matter to be disposed of first, and I will find him an opportunity later of raising the question that he wishes to raise.


As one considerably interested in small holdings, I would say that inasmuch as the movement for the provision of small holdings has been taken up by the Government in the interests of the State, the State ought to find sufficient financial aid to make the movement a success. We must all agree that it will handicap small holders, apart from the injustice of the principle, if they have in addition—as they probably have—to make a payment covering a fair interest for capital expended, and also a percentage—I understand reaching to 15 per cent.—for administration and equipment expenses, they have to make a contribution to a sinking fund. I am afraid that the small holder, save in very exceptional cases, will not be able to make his enterprise a success. On the other hand, if even it is made legal for the money to be raised from the rates, I submit to the House that, having regard to the extremely heavy increase of the burdens on the local ratepayers, that that will be an unfair and unjust alternative at present. Hence I think that the third alternative is the only one that can be found to possess any degree of justice all round, namely, that the small holder should be put in a position similar to the Irish tenant-farmer: be allowed to make his payment to the sinking fund over a given period of years, and ultimately own the land he tills. I submit that would be an encouragement to the development of the land to its utmost capacity, would secure employment for people, would encourage the dwelling of more people in the rural districts, and also at the same time tend to encourage the greatest possible production of our own native food supply. I do hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to hold out some prospect of an alteration in the system in this direction. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman cannot pretend for a moment that it is right that the small holder should make a contribution to a sinking fund by paying towards the cost of the land, while at the same time never having the prospect of owning the land. On the other hand, having regard, as the right hon. Gentleman well knows, to the great burdens of the local ratepayers, I trust he is not prepared to increase those burdens by calling upon the ratepayers to raise the money to carry out this transaction.

The establishment of the small holder is not on the principle of Free Trade. It is an effort—I think a wise effort—to use an especial means to counteract the movement outwards of the rural population, the depletion of the country due to the fiscal policy which for many years we have adopted. I do not pretend to follow that for a moment. But I would point out that, seeing this is a non-economic movement in the interest of the State, that it is the State that should find the money, and not the local ratepayers. Further, in support of that contention, we must remember that the large number of local ratepayers are agriculturists themselves, and the setting up of these small holders means competition, and making it more difficult for those agriculturists to carry on their industry with a degree of success. I am quite prepared, in the interest of the State, to do all that can be done fairly and reasonably to encourage the increase of small holdings, but to do that and then to call on the agricultural ratepayer to find the money to set up opponents in his own business, is, in my own opinion, contrary to every principle of fair play and justice. From every point of view in the interests of the small holder, of the ratepayer, and of the State, too, I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to hold out some hope that the principle we have given effect to in Ireland, and which has borne such good fruit, may be extended, and that, in the first instance, in connection with small holders of this country arrangements will be made whereby those paying to the sinking fund over a period of years shall ultimately own the land. I heartily support the appeal that has already been made to the right hon. Gentleman to deal strongly with this question. We do want to see more people living in the rural districts, and the only way to do that is to make it better worth while for them to stay there.


This subject has been raised this afternoon on two entirely different grounds. First of all, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire has asked me a number of questions in regard to purely Departmental matters. He laid stress particularly in the fact that three Departments are concerned in financing the Small Holdings Act, and he thinks those three Departments at present are not in agreement on this subject. Let me, first of all, take the Local Government Board. There is no disagreement between the view held there and the view which we hold at the Board of Agriculture in regard to the sinking fund charges. I can reassure the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, too, that the Local Government Board have not exceeded their Departmental functions in anything they have done in respect to sinking fund charges for small holdings. There has been no attempt, as he suggested, to override the law, and I understand that no occasion has arisen for the President of the Local Government Board to exercise the power entrusted to him of waiving a surcharge, if one had been made. No auditor has yet made a surcharge in a case of the kind. There are three counties which from the very first have raised a sinking fund as a charge upon the rates. None of the auditors, who, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, are semi-independent of the Local Government Board, have ever taken exception to that charge. The first difficulty has not yet arisen at the Local Government Board in the form which he suggested, and I doubt if it ever will arise. In any case the view of the Local Government Board is that nothing improper is done by charging the sinking fund upon the rates. I come now to the Board of Agriculture. I stated in this House, on the 5th March, somewhat briefly, the views which are now held by the Board of Agriculture. I cannot go into the past history of what may have been said on behalf of the Board of Agriculture. I have not looked through the whole of the Debates and I cannot answer for the individual opinions of everyone who has spoken on the subject, but I have taken the greatest trouble to go into the whole problem to satisfy myself, because I believe it the duty of the Board of Agriculture to give a lead. The hon. Gentleman asked me what legal justification there was for the views I expressed on the 5th March. I repeat the words I used then. I said it was not the intention of the Government to compel the county councils to put this charge upon the small hollers, and that there was nothing in the Act which compelled the county councils to lay this charge upon the small holders.


The right hon. Gentleman will admit that that is entirely contrary to the views expressed in this House by his predecessor.


I have not had an opportunity of reviewing the past but I took my own view, and I repeat it again I did not make that statement without authority. The hon. Gentleman asked me to quote the Law Officers' opinions. I must point out to him that to quote the Law Officers is contrary to practice. Anything done is done by those responsible as the heads of their Departments, and such legal guidance as was given to me justified me in saying there is nothing contrary to the 1908 Act in placing the sinking fund as a charge upon the rates. I went further on the 5th March, and said I was prepared to circularise the county councils giving them that view as the opinion of the Board of Agriculture. I have no intention of quoting the opinions of the Law Officers, but the hon. Gentleman may take it from me I was not acting without the necessary advice. The other Department referred to is the Public Works Loans Commissioners. I do not know whether they can be called a Government Department at all. They are interested in the administration, but they must act upon their own judgment in the making of loans. But it is quite untrue to say that the Public Works Loans Department said that the action of the county councils in making this sinking fund a charge upon the rates was ultra vires. They have done nothing of the kind. They acted strictly within their legal powers when they said they were not prepared to make loans to county councils in respect of a scheme—and one county council only is concerned—which throws the sinking fund charge upon the rates.


I happen to know the exact statement, and it was that they could not approve any scheme in which the sinking fund charge is not a charge in the rent of the small holder. That is what they say.


That is only expressing it the other way round; it is identically the same thing. That was what they did in respect of the County Council of Wiltshire. But in that case they acted strictly within their legal rights. They may or may not make a loan according to their own discretion. It is not their duty to interpret an Act of Parliament or to say a certain course is legal or illegal. It is their duty to say whether they will or will not make a loan in this case, and they said that such loans in conformity with their views cannot be authorised. That is what they did. I told the hon. Gentleman last Thursday, and I repeated it on Monday, that we are now in communication with the Public Works Loans Commissioners upon this point. Communications are passing, and until they are completed I cannot say what will be the final decision of the Public Works Loans Commissioners. Then the hon. Member said it is impossible for county councils to finance small holdings, and that the Public Works Loans Commissioners stood in the way. That is going beyond the fact. It is possible for the county councils to finance small holdings without going to the Public Works Loans Commissioners at all. If the Public Works Loans Commissioners were the only source the county councils would have to accept them whatever might be the views of the Commissioners irrespective of any legislative Act, but that is not the position. The county councils can, if they like, adopt other means. I admit a difficulty has arisen, and in a way which makes it impossible, I think, for the county councils to proceed in connection with the Public Works Loans Department's administration, and it is that we are dealing with at the present time, and until a decision is finally arrived at I do not mean to say more about the functions of the Commissioners in respect of the administration of the Act.

The Noble Lord opposite asked me questions with regard to three alternatives which he thinks are open to those administering this Act, or, at all events, to those who are responsible for the policy of small holdings. He admits it is unfair to charge the sinking fund upon the occupier or small holder, and I am glad he drew a distinction in respect of sinking fund on land and other sinking fund charges. I am afraid there is a good deal of confusion in the minds, not only of small holders, but of the county councillors themselves in respect of this charge. I would like to draw a sharp distinction between the three alternatives. Sinking fund charge in respect of buildings should, I think, be borne by those who benefit by them during their lifetime. I think it is perfectly clear that those who use a building should during that portion of its lifetime pay their fair quota for exhaustion. Therefore, I do not think it is unfair that the sinking fund charge should be borne by the small holder in connection with buildings.


Of course, that is entirely different to our system of tenure throughout the country, and unless there is some system of compensation those who would have paid for the building would get nothing out of it when they left.


But they might have a portion paid to them in the amount of the exhaustion. I do not want more, and, as far as one can gather from small holders, the amount of the sinking fund charged in respect of buildings are so paid. But difficulty arises about the period. Many are of opinion that in the life of a building the period is placed far too short. I know that in respect to some periods it has been pointed out, I cannot say with what justice, because the investigation is not complete, that provision is made for the repayment of the whole cost of some buildings over ten or twenty years, when it is well known that buildings of the same material elsewhere have existed for a period of forty or fifty years. That means the small holder, in respect of this building, has paid far more than the natural exhaustion of the building. I am quite alive to that fact, and with the concurrence of the President of the Local Government Board, I set up a committee of inquiry into the cost, life, and payment of buildings upon small holdings. The Local Government Board is represented upon that committee. It has already started its inquiry and has accumulated a good deal of information and is receiving assistance not only from county councils, but from private land owners all over the country, and I hope when we have that Report we shall be able to have more justification in asking for the extension of the period over which the payment is to be made.

So much for the sinking fund in respect of buildings. There are also sinking fund charges in respect of other things which appears under a different class of accounts. There again I think it is only right that the small holder should during the period of exhaustion pay for the amount exhausted during his tenure, and I do not think it should be difficult to arrive at that. When you come to the land an entirely different problem has to be dealt with. In the ordinary normal case there would be no exhaustion. In some cases the land will be badly used, but, on the other hand, the freehold would be worth a good deal more when the small holder went out. I have seen some poor land made good productive land as a result of the occupation of the small holder. But in normal cases you can say the small holding will be worth as much when the occupier left as when he came in. I think it is unfair that the charge should be borne by the occupier or owner. The Noble Lord opposite suggested three alternatives. It might be borne by the State. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) objects to anything being paid by the State out of which the State gets no benefit. Perhaps we might get out of that by saying if the State pays the sinking fund the State should own the freehold. I believe that is not a good way to solve the problem. I do not propose to press the matter too far that the Exchequer should pay the sinking fund, and so I may relieve the mind of the hon. Baronet. The next suggestion is that the county council should pay. I think the county council are justified in paying, and if they are prepared to pay the sinking fund I think they would be doing nothing illegal, and I should do everything to encourage them to take that course. I understand the Noble Lord holds very much the same view although he dislikes to add any further burdens to the rates. I should like to point out quite clearly that the large farmers are not the only ratepayers in the county. The small holders are also ratepayers, and they themselves are bearing in proportion to their acreage a proportion of the rates. They are paying a larger proportion in respect of their acreage in the way of rates than the large farmers.


Does the right hon. Gentleman mean small holders under the Act?


Yes, the acreage is becoming now a very considerable one, running up to 100,000 acres, and before long it will be double and treble the size it is at present. These small occupiers are also ratepayers, and it is scarcely fair to suggest that they, apart from other farmers in the county, would be receiving benefit without bearing their proportion of the burden. My view is that under the present rating system they are bearing a larger proportion than, in justice, ought to be placed upon them. The third solution put forward is also pressed by hon. Gentlemen opposite, namely, that the sinking fund charges in respect of the land ought to be borne by small holders, and that they should become owners. That brings us back at once to the whole controversy over the Small Holdings Act when it was a Bill. All the old objections then raised to ownership being a solution of this problem stand again to-day. I mention only one to show that really it would be doing harm to the spread of small holdings and the small holdings' movement if you were to say small ownership is the only solution of this problem. Men do not go into small holdings with the idea of remaining in them all their lives. A large number of small holders are those who take them with the idea of getting a step higher. They choose small holdings because they want to become large holders. If you are going to tie them down to their small holdings, you will be putting a most serious obstacle in the way of the spreading of the small holders' movement. I have seen many of the schemes which are now being worked, some of which are financed by benevolent landlords, and I have seen side by side with them county council holdings where you have at least thirty applicants for one holding. Under the ownership scheme you are tied down with many financial restrictions, which is a great disadvantage. What I have seen of these other schemes leads me to believe that there is really no demand for small ownership, and that there is an ever-increasing demand for small tenancies. That must be taken into account by any Government Department which has the administration of the Small Holdings Act. I admit the difficulty which has been raised, and so far as I can at the Board of Agriculture, I shall endeavour to remove that difficulty, and I hope to be able to do so.


There is one other point to which I wish to draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention; it is in connection with the sale of timber. That is a matter upon which there has always been great difficulty and confusion. So far, I believe the attitude taken up by the President of the Local Government Board has been that if you buy a holding or a property and turn it into small holdings, although it may be worth £10,000 and you sell £50 worth of timber, instead of being allowed to use that timber for repairs or to sell it in order to use the money for Repairs or alterations, at the present time the Local Government Board says you must use that £50 for paying off the loan, and if you want to do any alterations you must borrow another £50 to do them. That seems a very cumbrous plan, and I think the practice of county councils is to try and dodge this provision by a manipulation of their accounts. In ordinary estate management you can use the timber you cut for repairs on the farm. As a rule it is a matter of small monetary value, and to say that you must use the money to pay off the loan and borrow the money again is a costly and cumbrous process. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see if he can put this matter on a more satisfactory basis. As to this question of the sinking fund, I think he will admit that it is at present in a most unsatisfactory position. I do not think the President will deny that what I am going to say is a true account of the position. The first stage is that the Government pass a Bill, and they actually say, in so many words, that they could not have passed it unless they had made it clearly understood in the House that the county councils would not be compelled to put any charge on the rates for the sinking fund. The second stage is that the Law Officers of the Crown advise that it is illegal to put the sinking fund on the rates, and the President of the Board of Agriculture made that announcement in the House of Lords in so many words. The third stage is that the Board of Agriculture, in spite of the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown say that they will allow county councils to put that charge upon the rates. In other words, the Board of Agriculture say that they will allow and rather encourage county councils lo break the law in this respect.

Three counties did this on the advice, or on the suggestion, of the Board of Agriculture at that time, and when the right hon. Gentleman came into office he went a step further. He says that not only will he allow county councils to take that course, but he thinks that it ought to be done, and in spite of the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown and the announcement of Lord Carrington, the right hon. Gentleman thinks this is legal and right. Then we get a fifth stage, and on that advice the Wilts County Council has acted. They go to the Public Works Loans Commissioners. I know it is true theoretically that you can float a loan in many other ways, but I should like to point out that it would be very difficult for county councils to raise the money at the short notice at which it has to be raised in these small holdings transactions. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will acknowledge that it would be very difficult, I think I may say it is impossible, to have a system of raising the money from any other source other than the Public Works Loans Comsioners, because you could not rely on getting it at the time when you want it. The Wiltshire County Council go to the Loans Commissioners and ask for money for a small holdings loan, and they are told that the Commissioners will not lend the money unless they put the charge on the small holder, which the President of the Board of Agriculture has advised you ought not to do. Surely the right hon. Gentleman must admit that you could not have a more unsatisfactory position than that. Whatever solution the right hon. Gentleman adopts on behalf of the various county councils, I ask him to let their position be made a little more clear than it is at the present time. He can do this by an amending Act or by what I believe would be the better plan, to get up a case in the Law Courts in order to have the question settled by a Court of Law.


The Public Works Loans Commissioners would not be bound by the decision of a Court of Law, because they may refuse to sanction a loan or they may sanction it entirely on their own discretion, no matter what the decision of the Court of Law might be. They need not make a loan for small holdings at all if they do not wish to do so.


I think the right lion. Gentleman would acknowledge that a decision in a Court of Law would have considerable weight with the Commissioners. The question has been raised as to what is the proper solution of this difficulty, and after looking at the thing in all its bearings, I agree with the Noble Lord below the Gangway that the best way out of the difficulty is the ownership solution. I say that from practical experience. I have had experience of villages where there are large numbers of small owners, and they are not in a prosperous condition because they had to mortgage the land when it was worth more than it is at the present time. The administration of the Small Holdings Act has shown conclusively what a benefit this small ownership system might become. I believe, in the first place, you would actually be able to charge a man less when he was acquiring the ownership than you charge him now while he is only a tenant, because you would be able to put down your charges, and you would not have a heavy charge for management. It is the practice of some councils to insist on two inspections of the small holders' land every year. The reason is that many people think there is a great danger of the small holder racking the land out, and then the land might come back to the county councils in a few years in a very much worse state. In the second place, you have to spend a considerable amount of money on land agents to inspect the land twice a year to see that it is being properly farmed. As things are now, it is in the interest of the small holder to take all he can get out of the land, and put as little back as he possibly can. That is his interest now, because he has no sort of ownership interest in the land. If you gave him the ownership under the sinking fund in the same way as matters are regulated in Ireland every year, he would be getting nearer and nearer to becoming the absolute owner of the land, and it would be in his own interest not to rack the land out, but to make it more valuable. For that reason the charge for inspection would be less than it is now, and that would come off the charges he would have to pay.

This would do a great deal in the direction of disarming the opposition to the Small Holdings Act which undoubtedly is felt by many of the big farmers and ratepayers. If you could show them that it was not to a man's interest to rack the land out, and that the small holdings, committee of the county council were not running the risk of getting the land back upon their hands, then, I believe, you would do an enormous amount to wards disarming the opposition to the Act which undoubtedly exists among the big farmers, of the country. The question of repairs, would be very much more easily dealt with under an ownership system. At present the question of repairs has to come before a committee which meets only once every two months, and that is a most cumbrous system. The members of that committee have to go and see what repairs are to be done. You have to apply for estimates, and it takes a long time to get the repairs done, and all this makes the whole thing more expensive than it ought to be. If the occupier was the owner he would do his own repairs, and he would do them directly they became necessary. Probably he would not do them in such an expensive way as they are being done at present, but a stitch in time saves nine, and as soon as it became necessary to do the repairs he would do something to make the holding more convenient. For this reason I believe the expense of repairs will be very much less than it is at the present time. Then there is the point that the man who gets the small holding always wants something better. Way I point out that there is nothing to prevent a man occupying land in the way I suggest from passing it on. If he had improved the land, he would get a considerable sum when he passed on the land. Under the system I have suggested I do not see that in this respect there would be any more disadvantages than under the present system. A man would be able to get a bit of money by passing it in that way, and he would be able to get a bit of money also for having paid a certain amount of the charges on the sinking fund and for having made the time when the sinking fund would be paid off approach a few years nearer. For all those reasons I believe this solution of ownership is the one which, I do not say this Government, but which some Government or other, will inevitably be driven by force of circumstances to adopt.

5.0 P.M.


I think the arguments in favour of the alternative of the occupier of the land becoming the freeholder are almost unanswerable. The chief objection of the right hon. Gentleman was that there was a small demand for ownership as compared with the demand for tenancy. How many existing small holders, if they were offered freeholdings at exactly the same price as they are now paying, would refuse? If they are paying sinking fund charges, it will not cost a fraction more to promise them the ownership and give them a certain share in the land. Do you think any of them would refuse it? I think, if the right hon. Gentleman considers the matter, he will see his argument is a very weak one. Is it not possible to put this question exactly on the same footing as the present tenant-right valuation and give a man so much for the years he has paid off the sinking fund? When he went out of the land, the incoming owners would have to pay him so much for tenant-right value, and, if he had left the land in a better condition, he would get a considerable sum to start him and help him on his tenancy, and he would not be prevented from getting away from the land as he is at the present time. The other alternative which the right hon. Gentleman seemed to favour, that of putting it on the rates, is one to which I strongly object. It is merely a question of the sinking fund on the purchase of the land. It is not a very large amount. He pointed out the small owners themselves pay rates. That is perfectly true, but I want to point out there are a large number of small holders who existed before this Act came into operation. The Liberal party did not invent small holdings; they existed in enormous quantities before. They have got to pay rates, and it is the small holders under a landlord who would feel sore more than the big farmers if they saw they had to pay sinking fund charges in respect of the land of small holders under the county councils. It would be very hard if a small holder under a landlord had an increase in his rates in order to give a somewhat better chance to his competitor under the county council. Why should he bear that burden? Then there is a sort of feeling that the land might be thrown back on the county council and a loss might fall on the rates. The slightest increase in rates is the one thing which makes the farmer break out into strong language, and, if you show there is a slight increase for putting this cost upon the rates, it will lead to a still further amount of opposition to the small holdings movement from the big farmer.

The State is the real person who benefits from the movement, and the State should pay, because the more people you get on the land the better it is for the State. The State is getting the real benefit, and, if you cannot see your way to small ownership, it is better the State should pay this small sum than that the rates should pay it. You do not want to do anything to make the big farmers more antagonistic to small holders than they are naturally by the fact that the small holdings' movement lessens the number of large farms in this country. We had some figures published the other day showing there has been a decrease in the number of large farms as the result of the small holdings' movement. The big farmer naturally does not like that, and any idea of small holdings also increasing his rates will make him more antagonistic. That is what we want to avoid. The less feeling there is against the county council small holder, the better chance he has and the more likely is the movement to go on. I think this very small additional sum which may be put on the rates will provide additional friction, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his idea and try to put it on the Treasury, if he cannot see his way to small ownership. If he fails in getting the Public Works Loans Commissioners to allow the county councils to borrow where the rates have to bear this charge, I presume he will have to bring in a small amending Act. If he does so, may I appeal to him to endeavour to get the administration of the Small Holdings Act more into the hands of his own Department and less under dual control than it is at the present control. Many troubles have arisen from the fact that the Local Government Board has a good deal to say in the matter. They have been able to order certain things to be done. If the right hon. Gentleman can only get more control for his own Department, I feel certain he will have the ready support of everybody interested in the movement on this side of the House. I hope he may see his way, if he is going to bring in an amending Bill, which I believe will be necessary, to endeavour to get the administration more into the hands of the Board of Agriculture.

Captain MURRAY

I wish to discuss a matter which has on several occasions claimed the attention of this House. I refer to the suggested erection of a statue to the late King Edward in Green Park, and, as this is the first occasion upon which the subject has been discussed under the jurisdiction of the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. George's-in-the-East (Mr. Wedgwood Benn), may I take the opportunity of congratulating him upon the new office conferred upon him, and of expressing the hope that his period of office will be marked by many progressive reforms. I myself and at least two other Members on my own side of the House drew attention to this subject during the course of the Estimates last year, and since that time many questions in connection with it have been put, not only from this side of the House, but also from the benches opposite. It may be contended that the erection of a memorial to the late King in Green Park should be a subject for discussion in the King Edward Memorial Committee, and it may be further asked in what way the House of Commons is concerned with the placing of statues within the Royal Parks. The answer is very simple. This House is responsible for voting certain sums of money which are devoted to maintaining the Royal Parks, and I submit the Members of this House should have something to say in the question whether or not statues are to be placed within the confines of the parks. I have, in company with several other hon. Members, endeavoured from time to time to press this matter upon the attention of the hon. Member who for the time being represents the First Commissioner of Works and to restrain the Office of Works from the policy upon which they seem to have entered of placing statues and memorials here, there and everywhere within the boundaries of the parks. We hold, and public opinion outside also holds, as I firmly believe, that in a large city, such as London, every tree, every leaf, and every blade of grass is worth untold gold. People do not go to sit down in the parks in order to feast their eyes upon statues and memorials. If they desire to do that they can go to Trafalgar Square or spend an afternoon in St. Stephen's Hall. On the contrary, what they desire is to have inside this great City large open spaces with gree trees and with no statues, brickwork, masonry, or anything of that description. I was one of many hon. Members of this House who objected, from this very point of view, to the alterations that were carried out some time ago to what is now called the Mall. There is inside this House, as I believe, a very strong feeling against placing any further statues in the parks, and it is certainly a sentiment which is shared very largely by the public outside.

I now come to the King Edward Memorial itself. I do not desire to say anything that reflects in any way upon the good intentions or the sincerity of any of those who have been responsible for the selection of the site proposed. The site which has been chosen is in the Green Park, at the end of what was known as the Broad Walk, and I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the First Commissioner of Works upon removing from the Green Park what was, at any rate in my humble opinion, a very unsightly highway. All I can say as to the site is that it is very much better than the one originally selected by the King Edward Memorial Committee. That site, as the House well knows, was given up after public attention in this House and outside had expressed itself adverse to the scheme. This site is certainly a somewhat better one. I think there are very few who will say that it is a good site. As to the memorial itself, I really hesitate to express an opinion about it. I do not think it is artistic; I do not think it is sufficiently well chosen for the particular site. I am one of those who had hoped that, if this site were finally selected, there would be placed upon it a memorial not such as we see now, but a simple equestrian statue. Certain reasons have been given for the sanction of this particular site. At a meeting of the King Edward Memorial Committee a short time ago one of the strongest reasons urged for the selection of this site was that if it were finally selected and the memorial placed upon it it would be possible to enter upon what is commonly known as the Shadwell Market scheme.

The opening up of the old Shadwell Market would no doubt form a most appropriate memorial to the late King. It would open out a breathing space in East London which does not at present exist, and it would add to the dignity of the waterway on which London now stands. I think that a most appropriate scheme, and I, for one, would be very sorry indeed to be in any way responsible or to take any action whatsoever that might involve any delay in carrying out the Shadwell Market scheme. I have been told, and I believe it to be correct, that if the Green Park site is finally chosen and the memorial placed on that particular site, there will be a sufficient amount of money at the disposal of the Memorial Committee to enable them to carry out, without delay, the Shadwell Park scheme. If the hon. Gentleman representing the First Commissioner of Works were to assure me that continued opposition to the Green Park site will involve delay and the possible destruction of the Shadwell Park scheme, it will certainly have considerable weight and influence on any action I may be prepared to take. The hon. Gentleman may not be able to give me precise figures as to the effect of the Green Park scheme on the Shadwell Market site, but if he can assure me that the Shadwell scheme cannot be proceeded with unless the Green Park site is finally selected, and if, further, he will, on behalf of the First Commissioner of Works, take into account the very considerable feeling there is in this House and outside against the policy of placing a memorial and statues in the parks, if, taking that into account, he will further be prepared to give an undertaking to the effect that, in the future, no more statutes or memorials shall be placed within the confines of the Royal park, then, so far as I am concerned, I shall use any little influence I possess to restrain any further opposition to the Green Park site, and shall do everything possible to insure that the two schemes, side by side, shall go through in as short a time as possible.


I desire to submit for the consideration of the House one or two matters in connection with the proposed Royal memorial and certain other points within the province of His Majesty's Office of Works. I should like first to express my own personal indebtedness to the First Commissioner of Works for the manner in which he has always been prepared to receive and consider and, where possible, to act upon suggestions which have been made to him in connection with the Royal parks. And if the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East will allow me to do so, I should also like to thank him for the manner in which, on behalf of the First Commissioner, he receives and considers our suggestions. This matter raises an important principle with regard to the Royal parks. I agree with all that has been said as to what is the function of these great spaces, so necessary to the health of the people of London. But those of us who are disposed to criticise the present memorial would, I think, like it to be understood, in the clearest possible manner, that we desire to see instituted a memorial worthy in every way of the late King. In this connection too the wishes of the Crown should receive the most respectful and especial consideration. I think it would be unfortunate if we indefinitely extended this principle of putting large memorials, involving a great amount of building, in our public parks. The last thing we desire is to make the parks museums of monuments. In the present case our attitude towards this memorial is very much affected by the fact that the memorial in Green Park has only one aspect. It is one part of the memorial; at the same time it is proposed to institute a park in the East End of London, on the river side, and, I am sure, every Member of this House will regard that as a most worthy memorial to the late King.

But I desire to address myself to the proposed memorial on artistic grounds, and I wish to criticise it on those grounds. I would like to remind the House that the Office of Works should be subjected to criticism in connection with all memorials and buildings which are to remain for a great length of time; otherwise those who follow us would suffer for the action which we permit. I am bound to say, in passing, that the artistic level of any Office of Works which regards the buildings in Whitehall as architecturally beautiful and impressive leaves something to be desired. I am reminded that one very eminent art critic—Mr. Ruskin—was referred to in a newspaper as the author of "These Seven Lamps of Architecture," and the learned editor put a footnote to this announcement saying that "Our readers will be very familiar with these buildings in Whitehall." I say the Office of Works must not be free from the restraints imposed upon it by the canons of art. On this occasion we have had the advantage of a miniature model of the proposed memorial being placed in the Tea Room, and I, in common, no doubt, with many other hon. Members, have carefully studied that model. I am bound to say that I have done so with profound disappointment. I think it is of an extremely-conventional character. It involves a great heavy building of masonry, and it is unfitted to the character of the park.

I wish to criticise the method by which this design has been selected. I have nothing to say regarding the eminent sculptor and the eminent architect who have been associated in this matter, but I do think it would have been of very great advantage to the artistic merits of the memorial if the Office of Works had thrown open the design for competition. In saying that one does not reflect upon the eminence of the gentleman who have been chosen to carry out this memorial. My point as illustrated by a question put yesterday by an hon. Member who desired to know whether we could not have, in the Tea Room, the alternative design submitted by the sculptor, who is responsible for the accepted design—a design which shows an open colonnade which would give from Piccadilly a long view of the grass and trees behind. I very much regret that this open competition has not taken place, and that we have not been able to have a wider area of selection. I hope my hon. Friend the Member for St. George's-in-the-East will represent to the First Commissioner of Works certain specific points on which we desire to criticise the artistic merits of the proposed memorial. I suggest, for instance, that the height of the memorial is a very serious drawback to its merits. It is fair to state that the height can only be justified on the assumption that the memorial is to be studied from a great distance, but people who desire to see the statue are more likely to be near it, and, if the present design is carried out, they will only be able to have a distinct view by straining their heads in a very painful attitude. What I say as to the height of the statue also applies to the height of the emblem of St. George and the Dragon, which surmounts the whole. I regret that the most conventional type of combat between St. George and the Dragon has been taken. The sculptor has followed very largely the conventions imposed upon this country by our own gold coinage, and he has not departed very far from the designs which hon. Members will find on their sovereigns. He has avoided some of the errors of the gold coinage design, because, in the model, St. George is no longer putting out his foot in order that the dragon may take a bite at it with the least possible trouble to itself. We still have the conventional St. George riding without bridle or stirrups, and I am a little surprised that no sculptor ever arises in this country who is willing to undertake a greater and more artistic design, such as the design as was rendered by the great Carpaccio. I wish his design had been chosen in this case, and that the opportunity had been taken to place before the public something really beautiful in art. These criticisms are directed to one thing, that is to impress upon, the Office of Works, and upon the hon. Member who represents the Office of Works, the fact that that Office is not only the guardian of our parks and open spaces, but is also the guardian of our public art, and that it should seek to raise the canons of art in this country. I am a little fearful that what is happening in our other parks might happen in our Royal parks. I pass every day that little open space at Vauxhall which is known as Vauxhall Park, which I suppose is not much more than an acre in extent. Many years ago a statue was erected there to the memory of Rowland Hill. I mention it for the reason that in design, colour, and workmanship it is a most inferior statue—I do not know who is responsible for it—and i[...] also takes up a piece of ground which can be ill spared. What I have to say about that statue can be summed up in one fact. In a statue erected by the admirers of Rowland Hill, to celebrate the benefits of cheap postage, there is a relief picture at the base of the statue showing a poor woman who, after having received a letter containing bad news, falls in a fit up an the ground. In order that this crude symbolism might not be lost there is scrawled underneath the picture, in very bad lettering, the words "Bad News." I plead for the most careful guardianship, not only of the open spaces as open spaces, but of their artistic amenities. I hope we shall hear from the hon. Member for St. George's-in-the-East an undertaking that the Shadwell site will go forward, and particularly an undertaking that our public parks shall not be regarded as the dumping ground for memorials.


I desire to add my tribute to the point which has been urged by my hon. Friends in regard to the memorial and the proposal to erect it in the Green Park. There are various grounds on which objection might be taken to the scheme. There is the artistic ground, the ground of public convenience, and there is another, which, I think it is our duty to express in this House, the wishes—it may be they are the sentimental wishes of the working-class people who use the parks. I think that this matter should not be viewed too much from what I may call the West End point of view. The committee which has decided to put forward this scheme roughly, perhaps, but very accurately, represents a West End view. But there is a very large number of people who use the West End parks, although they live a long way off, whose view is not vocal in polities, and who have no chance of having their wishes put forward unless they are put forward by Members of this House. I have been at some pains to ascertain what is the view of the working people who use the parks, and from such particulars as I have been able to gather I find evidence of a very strong resentment against the encroachments made upon the park, and a great desire—perhaps of a sentimental kind—that the open spaces should be left untouched. There is a sort of resentful feeling that the interests of those who use the parks are only rarely respected, and that their rights are being encroached upon and interfered with by those who have power and influence, against which the voice of the poorer class is powerless. I think we ought to consider that class of people.

I am sure there is a very strong feeling against such an encroachment as was made in the case of the Queen Victoria. Memorial upon St. James's Park. The arguments that we used against the proposal to place the King Edward Memorial in St. James's Park, or near it, apply almost entirely with equal force to the present proposal. The House will remember with what zest and almost violence the opinions of many weighty persons were expressed at the time that proposal was put forward. Notably there were the opinions of one so widely lamented as Lord Carlisle, who riddled the arguments in favour of the encroaching upon the parks. The arguments Lord Carlisle and others used apply with almost equal force to the Green Park. Perhaps St. James's Park is unique as a piece of rural parkland in a great city. The Green Park is one of the very small number of rural parks in the great cities of the world. Upon the hill, where it is proposed to place the King Edward Memorial, there is just a touch of an open moor, of which many people are very fond, and at the side of which you have a dell which is also an object of great affection to many people. If you place the memorial near the top of the avenue, you turn the Green Park into a mere site for a great piece of masonry, and it ceases to be a rural park in the true sense of the word. It becomes a mere garden setting for the memorial. I share my hon. Friend's objection to the artistic nature of the memorial itself. The model which has been placed in the Tea Room must be a source of some embarrassment to my hon. Friend the Member for St. George's-in-the-East, because I do not envy him the task of having to defend its artistic merits. Indeed, in point of the number of artistic principles which it introduces, and its strange, perpendicular character, it constitutes almost an artistic Tower of Babel. If you look at the place where it is proposed to put it, it is even more remarkable a proposal, because the trees near the site are not old trees, and they are not high trees. I suppose they are plane trees, perhaps forty years old, which will be almost dwarfed by the memorial itself. I do not believe that so good an artist as Mr. Lutyens ever gave his approval to such a scheme. That is hardly credible.

There was another scheme not long ago put forward and considered by the memorial committee for placing the statue at Hyde Park Corner. The wishes of His Majesty have been properly kept from the field of discussion. We do not know them, and they have hardly been alluded to, but we all would like to see a memorial which is adequate. It is the most conspicuous site and the most distinguished that can be given to a memorial of King Edward VII. There is no question that a memorial at Hyde Park Corner would be a very magnificent memorial. I think that scheme is not one to which the objection could be made that it used up so large a part of the fund that none, or not enough, would be left for Shadwell Park. It was one which involved a great improvement in the arrangement of the road, and in which, therefore, the road authorities would have naturally taken a large part. I venture to hope that it is not too late yet to see the proposal withdrawn for a memorial in Green Park, and another brought forward again for a much greater memorial at Hyde Park Corner. We all want to see the Shadwell Park scheme carried out. The universal opinion of this House is that that is the first charge upon the fund. That does not limit the choice to this most unfortunate proposal to place the memorial in Green Park. I think we ought to remember that in the parks of London we have something which is quite unique. There is admittedly nothing like them in Berlin, or Paris, or in any capital of the world. If we sacrifice the Green Park to make it a mere setting for a piece of masonry, by no means remarkable for its beauty, we should be throwing away what is the unique and priceless possession of London for the sake of a rather slavish imitation of ideas which are not English, but foreign.


I should not have intervened in this Debate had it not been for the fact that the hon. Member who has just sat down and the hon. Member for Kincardineshire (Captain Murray) both attacked the proposed memorial for artistic as well as other reasons. I share to the full their view that the Green Park is a most undesirable place for a monument of this kind—that is to say, a large architectural and sculptured monument. But I do say this, that when a committee has chosen an architect and a sculptor it is of no use this House crabbing the design. We may quarrel about old masters as much as we like. They do not suffer. But this is not the place for criticism of living artists, and of the work that they have executed. I think that there are a great many merits in the design. The chief fault in connection with it is the place in which it is to be put. I do not think it will look well with the small trees, isolated in the Green Park, and looking down to the Queen Victoria Memorial. The setting will not give it a fair chance. But the actual model, which now appears in the Tea Room, seems to me to have some very striking merits. At any rate, it is simple; it is not overburdened with sculpture, and the main lines of architecture are not weak. It is a good, strong, architectural elevation with columns. The criticism which the hon. Member for Kincardineshire made with regard to St. George and the Dragon, namely, that it would not be seen, I believe to be an absolutely unfounded criticism. The hon. Member criticised this sculptured group. I have examined similar models, and it seems to me that the small group of St. George and the Dragon is by far the best sculpture in the whole design. It follows one of the finest designs that has ever been made, that is the design we have on our coin. I think the design for the coinage by Pistrucci is an exceedingly fine one. Really it is quite impossible to talk about translating a design in paint to stone or metal. I do not know if the hon. Member has seen the original of the St. George and Dragon in the Church of San Giorgio dei Schiavoni in Venice, where the tinting, the colour, and the whole surroundings bring it to the mind of anyone at once that it could not be translated into cold stone or metal. The whole point of Carpaccio is delicacy of treatment, and the small details, especially in the background, and things of that kind which give a charm to the picture. That cannot be translated into metal or stone.

There is one suggestion which I should like to make if it is not too late, and that is that the architectural part of the design should not be executed in white marble. The appearance of the Marble Arch in Hyde Park is a proof of my contention. Anything more unsatisfactory than the appearance of the Marble Arch it would be difficult to find. White marble is effective in London, but gradually, in the process of years, it is affected by the atmosphere and the acids of London, and you may scrub it with spirits of salt and other things, but it seems apparently to have no effect except to drive a sort of smokiness into the surface of the stone. It will be of enormous value that we shall have this monument executed in some good British stone, and you cannot improve on the magnificent Portland stone of which so many of our buildings are built. You cannot have anything finer in colour than Somerset House or the Banqueting House at Whitehall. To put white marble in the Green Park against the background of the Naval and Military Club will cause considerable ugliness and will not add to the merits of the project. I think marble is most unsuitable for London. We do not want an imitation of the Thiergarten at Berlin, where you have white marble statues stuck about in various places.


I was glad to hear my hon. Friend say that Shadwell Park was the first choice of the House of Commons. I think the interest the [House of Commons displayed in Shadwell Park has had a very great effect in inducing the Lord Mayor's Committee to take up this portion of the scheme. But Shadwell Park, unfortunately, is not the first choice of the Lord Mayor's Committee, but the second choice, and the monument in St. James's Park has the first claim on the Lord Mayor's Fund. I, as an East London Member, have always been afraid that the West End monument might take such a very large slice of the fund that there would be very little remaining for the Shadwell Park scheme, and the present scheme has this satisfaction to me, that it certainly limits the expenditure in the West End part of the scheme to £20,C00. I am afraid if the original design of the colonnade had been accepted by the committee it would have taken up a larger sum, and the remainder for Shadwell Park would have been much less than the satisfactory sum that at present exists. Then, again, I think there is another danger to the Shadwell Park scheme if there is further delay. The two schemes were before the public a year ago. The longer they are kept back the less chance there is of public enthusiasm being maintained and of getting a satisfactory extra subscription. If there is further delay I am afraid there will be great danger to the fortunes of Shadwell Park, which have been very varied indeed. Those who have had the scheme at heart have had many moments of great anxiety, and I am anxious now, when it really seems to have become a certainty that we shall have this East End park, which we all agree is the best and most sympathetic memorial to King Edward VII., that nothing can happen in the Debate to night to put the whole expenditure of the fund back to a further period. It has already been delayed so long that it is in danger of losing public interest. The present proposal has to me the great satisfaction of leaving a large sum available for Shadwell Park. If it is referred back, further delay is incurred. We in the East End think that Shadwell Park is likely to come into being. It will be an inestimable boon to a very large portion of London. It has touched the imagination of the whole of the country in a way that no other scheme has done, and I think that if this Debate ends in any further delay the fortunes of this scheme, in which we are all so much interested, may be imperilled.

Mr. WEDGWOOD BENN (Lord of the Treasury)

The point which the House has to decide is a very narrow one. The Office of Works is not responsible for the design which appears in the Tea Room. I am not called upon to defend its artistic merits, although were it necessary I am thankful to think I have such an ally as the hon. Member opposite. What the House has to decide is whether or not they will permit the First Commissioner to grant permission for this memorial to be placed in Green Park. The hon. Member (Mr. Noel Buxton) objected to this permission being given on the ground that the memorial was an encroachment on Green Park, but I do not think that an examination of the plan which has been put in the Tea Room will bear out the contention that there is any real encroachment on the rural amenities of Green Park. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Captain Murray) asked me to give two undertakings. One was that on the acceptance of this scheme the success of the Shadwell Park scheme depended; and the other was that the First Commissioner would undertake that in future no more statues should be placed in the Royal parks. As to the first point, I propose to give some figures in a moment which I think will convince my hon. Friend of the interdependence of the two parts of the scheme. As to the second point, I believe my hon. Friend has put a question on the Paper, and I had much rather that a considered reply were given in response to an invitation of that kind than any impromptu reply that I can give. There is another point, as to the material for the architectural part. It is not intended to have marble, but Portland stone, which will set the hon. Member's mind at rest.

Perhaps the most convenient way of dealing with all the criticisms generally would be to rehearse the circumstances connected with this case. In November, 1910, it was decided that a memorial to the late King should take the form, not of a general memorial for the whole nation, but of a London memorial, other memorials being erected in other great cities of the kingdom, and accordingly a large committee was formed, of which Sir Vezey Strong became chairman on assuming the office of Lord Mayor. I think it would not be impertinent to say that certainly the East End of London owes a very great debt to Sir Vezey Strong and the committee for the constant and successful labour which he has put into this task, the consummation of which we hope shortly to see. Sir Vezey Strong formed a committee consisting of 250 members in all, comprising all the Metropolitan Members and the Metropolitan Mayors and representatives of banking and commerce and all the religious bodies in London. This large committee selected an executive committee of fifty members, who, in their turn, selected an advisory committee of nine members. I should like to read the names of these gentlemen to the House. I should feel happier if the responsibility were laid on the shoulders of these gentlemen who are responsible for the design. They are Lord Plymouth, Lord Revel-stoke, Sir John Stirling Maxwell, Sir Edward Poynter (President of the Royal Academy), Mr. Leonard Stokes, Sir Vezey Strong, the First Commissioner, and Sir Schomberg McDonnell. The first thing the advisory committee did was to get a general instruction from the larger committee as to what course it was desired they should pursue. It had been proposed, for instance, that the memorial to the King should take the form of a new building for the London University, but the larger committee met and unanimously passed a resolution that whatever was done with the money which they had collected a memorial statue to the King should be one part of the project which they had taken in hand, and consequently all such other projects were ruled out. Guided by that resolution, the advisory committee set to work examining sites land plans with a view to seeing where such a statue might be placed. Their first proposal was that it should be placed in St. James's Park, but in view of the opposition expressed in this House and elsewhere, and in deference to the wishes of this House, the advisory committee withdrew and cancelled their proposal, and it passed out of the region of practical politics. Other schemes were proposed.

6.0 P.M.

The Hyde Park scheme was one proposed by Professor Adshead, of Liverpool. It was to divert the roadway at Hyde Park Corner and erect in the middle of the open space a statue to the King, flanked on one side by the present statue of the Duke of Wellington, and on the other side to put up a statue of the Duke of Marlborough. After all the House would have no power, nor would the First Commissioner of Works, to compel this independent committee to erect a statue and memorial to King Edward at Hyde Park Corner. The most the First Commissioner of Works could do would be to express his opinion if he thought well. But the scheme has many drawbacks. It was fully examined. Professor Adshead was asked to come before the committee, and he had a long interview with them, and they were unanimously of opinion that for various reasons the scheme was not suitable. It was felt that it would not be harmonious to put up a structure flanked on each side in that way. There were many other reasons, such as the amount of traffic which would have made such a scheme impracticable. It would have entailed the narrowing of Piccadilly, which has only recently been widened at that point. There was another scheme before the committee, known as the colonnade scheme, in the Broad Walk; but the committee felt that in view of the objections raised to a large architectural scheme in one of the public parks they could not like that scheme. So we came to the present scheme, which is approved by the general committee and the executive committee. Hon. Members will have an opportunity of seeing a model of the memorial in the Tea Room. It is proposed that it should be 43 ft. high, 21 ft. broad, and 16 ft. deep. The statue of the late King will be 8 ft. 10 in. in height. [An HON. MEMBER: "HOW far will the memorial be from the present railing?"] The plan will show my hon. Friend the position of the memorial. It is, I think, about 50 ft. down the park altogether. Putting in the masonry gets over the very great difficulty of having the statue facing the Queen Victoria Memorial and turning its back to Piccadilly, or facing Piccadilly and turning its back to the Queen Victoria Memorial, which it is obvious would not be a proper position.

The site for the memorial will be given by the First Commissioner of Works, and consequently will cost the memorial committee nothing at all. But on the question of cost perhaps it would be well to give the House a few figures to bear out the contention I made a little earlier that unless the committee got a free site and were saved the expense of buying a site, there would not be enough left to carry out the Shadwell Park scheme, which has met with so much approval. The amount collected by Sir Vezey Strong's committee is £68,000, including a special grant in connection with the Exhibition at Shepherd's Bush. An anonymous donor has offered £25,000 on condition that the other £25,000 is raised for the Shadwell scheme. The Poulter Trust will give £5,000, and the London County Council, by surrendering a piece of land, of which they are at present in occupation, will make a contribution equal to £14,000 That is to say £112,000 is available for the committee. Sir Vezey Strong and the committee hope to raise that to £130,000. How are they going to spend that sum? They propose to spend on the memorial in the West End £20,000, which will leave £110,000 for the Shadwell Park scheme, when the full sum has been raised. That, I think, should satisfy my hon. Friend that the interests of the East End are being fully considered. More than five-sixths of the total amount of the money is to be spent there. If the object of my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine is to make two blades of grass grow where only one grew before, I can assure him that many blades of grass will be grown if the scheme is carried out. The committee propose to buy the Shadwell Fish Market and convert it into a park. The total area of that land, which it is hoped the Port of London Authority will give, will amount to about eight acres, and the total cost of the park will be £110,000 as estimated. It is proposed to reclaim three-quarters of an acre of the foreshore for the park. It was to save money for this purpose that it has- been necessary to reject the other schemes to which I have referred. I think the House, after what I have said, will agree that the task of the memorial committee has been well carried out, inasmuch as they achieve two things. They have succeeded in putting forward a plan for erecting a worthy memorial in a suitable place near the Victoria Memorial, but not in competition with it, and they have attained another object with which we all feel the late King would have warmly sympathised. They have secured a park to be for ever a source of well being and delight to thousands of his poorest subjects.


I assure the hon. Member that we are much indebted to him for the clear statement he has given us, both as to the scheme and the intentions of his Majesty's Government. I do not wish to criticise the scheme in any way, except in one respect to which I will refer in a moment, I wish, in the first place, to say I do not propose to embark upon any criticism of the design which is now exhibited in our Tea Room. The hon. Member for Mid-Lanark (Mr. Whitehouse) made a very spirited attack upon this design in particular and upon modern art in general, but I think the House in this connection ought to recollect that the artists concerned have not been given a free hand. It is obvious from the plan in the Tea Room that the design finally accepted is a compromise brought about either by pressure of public opinion or the criticism of the committee. This committee, which apparently began by consisting of 210 gentlemen representing commerce and religion, and was ultimately very greatly reduced, is ex hypothesi a body which must contain divergent views, otherwise it would not be what is called a representative committee. If you have a committee representing various parts of London, various points of view, and various callings in life, inevitably, of course, the result must be reflected in the monument they select. I am not going to criticize the outcome of the committee's deliberations, but I would remind hon. Members who are inclined to criticise the scheme that the committee must have been faced with very real difficulties, and I think under the circumstances they ought to be congratulated rather than condemned. It is on this point I desire to criticise the hon. Member. I frankly confess I regret to see parts taken off the Royal parks. I dissent from what the hon. Member said that the Office of Works does not hold itself responsible for the design. That may be so technically, but I do not think the Government Department in charge of the Royal Parks can divest itself of responsibility for anything which is placed within these parks, and it is no excuse or defence for an ugly monument to say that it has been paid for by private sources and arranged by an unofficial committee, and that therefore the responsibility of the Office of Works begins and ends with the granting of a free site. I do not think that free sites should be granted in the central parks for any purpose whatever except the maintenance of trees and plants. I regret that 350 square feet of the park should be sacrificed for this particular purpose. When the hon. Member says that there is no encroachment on the amenity of the park I differ from him, for I think we look at this matter from somewhat divergent points of view. Anything which makes it easier for people to see out of the park when inside, is an encroachment on the amenities of the park, and anything, in my opinion, which makes it easier for people to see into the park from the outside, by destroying the border that surrounds it, is equally to be deprecated.

There has been too frequent invasion of the central parks during the last few years. The Marble Arch improvement, I believe, from the practical point of view is a great success, but I do not know that from the artistic point of view it is a great success. The Marble Arch stands there isolated amidst a waste of perambulator refuges which are horribly dangerous to the perambulators and to pedestrians, but it is said that the traffic improvement has been very great. In carrying out that improvement a certain portion of Hyde Park has been sacrificed. Then a horrible tea house has been put up, and, so far as I see, almost nobody visits it, but that has caused the enclosure of another acre of Hyde Park. That, I think, is regrettable. This tendency, rapidly increasing in the last few years, to place statuary within the parks is in a minor degree, of course, reducing the area of verdure, and with the introducing of that positive loss you get the very negative advantage of statues which may or may not be worth looking at. I confess I am sorry I could not detect throughout the hon. Gentleman's speech a single expression of regret that this further invasion of the park, necessary as I am prepared to admit it to be, should have been recommended. I do hope that the hon. Member will use all the influence at his command to preserve intact what we possess in London, an asset of large and incalculable value, namely, this great sequence of four central London parks, smaller it is true and certainly less beautiful than the great sequence of public parks which you find outside Berlin or outside Paris, but a hundredfold more valuable because of the fact that they are in the very centre of a great population. An acre in Hyde Park is worth ten acres at Hampton Court. An acre, if we could have it, at the Place du Carrousel in Paris is worth fifty acres at Fontainebleu or Versailles. I think that upon the Office of Works rests a tremendous responsibility of guarding this asset which grows in value every year; therefore, while I regret that this tendency to use the park for the purpose of traffic or of decoration is steadily growing, I rejoice to think with the hon. Member for Limehouse who spoke earlier in the evening, that the prospect of securing one other fresh park—and a very beautiful and significant monument it will be—in the East End of London is likely to be brought to fruition.


I wish to call attention to the blasphemy laws and to make an earnest appeal to this House and to the Attorney-General for their repeal. Whatever was the case when they were first introduced I think that they ought now to be repealed, and that there should never again be any prosecutions under them. If a man is so unwise and wicked as to use language such as that for which some men have been prosecuted recently, I think it is better to leave him to his own wickedness and unwisdom. I fail to discover any good that was ever done by prosecuting men either for their religious or non-religious views. The moment you begin to prosecute a man you begin to make him popular. I think that the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Ormsby-Gore) is this evening to introduce a Resolution on Syndicalism. I very much regret that. I think that far too much has been said already in this House, and in the newspapers, about Syndicalism. Let it alone and it will die a natural death, but by persecuting men for it you tend to make them very popular. I think that all history will show that you cannot by repression stop a man from using the old right of free speech. I am a Nonconformist, and make no apology for the fact. I know something of Nonconformist history, and I have been obliged to know a great deal of it. For thirty years, as I followed my profession, it has been my pride to know something of its history, and I have discovered that all attempts to repress it by persecution have only helped it forward. So it will be if these prosecutions are pressed that are now being carried on. It seems to me that on every ground it is better to let these unwise men alone. I have always held very dearly that no man should have any civil advantage because of his religious belief, and I also hold that he ought not to suffer any civil disadvantage because of his non-religious belief. I desire to enter a protest against that which is going on. I hope that we shall soon hear the last of these prosecutions under these old Acts, and that the Acts may be repealed, and that we shall allow these men, if they are so foolish to adopt the course of conduct they do, and if you give up prosecuting them these things will die a natural death.


I wish to associate myself with the appeal that has been made by my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Leach). I, too, desire to say that perfect freedom of speech in regard to the religious matters is essential to the well-being and for the peaceful and rational and healthy development of the intellect of our country. I do not believe that any attempt to discourage or put down opinions which are seriously held and maintained, and for which men are-willing to make sacrifices, is ever successful in any degree. I look upon this as part of a large issue. It is really part of the great question which must always be before our minds as to the liberty of speech generally. Perhaps one of the greatest men who ever sat and spoke in this assembly used the expression that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and I believe that that is as absolutely true to-day as it ever was. There are at least three directions in which that liberty of speech has been, or is being, threatened at the present time. There is this question of the blasphemy laws, which certainly ought to be repealed. There is also the question of the right of public meeting, which I am glad to say has been maintained in Belfast, however, at the cost of several hundreds, probably thousands, of pounds on behalf of the First Lord of the Admiralty. I am sure that we all recognise that the Government has done right in that matter. Even those people who were prevented from making a disturbance on that occasion are probably grateful for the action of the Government. Then there is also this question which we were discussing a day or two ago—I mean the prosecution of the Syndicalists. Here, again, we have not only a legal question to face, but we have at the same time to face a great question of public right and justice. I know that it is very difficult to reconcile the letter of the law with the wide principles of justice and public policy, but it has to be attempted and the Government, if it has to make a choice between the two, ought, in my opinion, to throw over the letter of the law and maintain the principles and the great policy of free speech.

In connection with these prosecutions under the Mutiny Act, I would like to point out that they have produced from public men of widely different points of view vigorous and most earnest protests. I will just take three men who are very typical of society at the present day, men of very different points of view, who all unite in this protest against these prosecutions because they see in them a menace to free speech. The first is Mr. Bernard Shaw. What was the most remarkable thing in his career, at any rate since I have watched him, is that on Monday last there appeared a letter in the paper from him which had not one gibe or one joke, and did not even raise one smile upon anyone who read it, because it was an earnest protest. I ventured to say that no more earnest and convincing words were ever penned than the letter which appeared in the Press on Monday morning on behalf of free speech and in protest against these prosecutions. Then take the protest which has been most courageously put forward by the man who has done as much as anybody else in journalism to maintain Liberal policy during the last few years—I mean Mr. Massingham. He is a man whom we all respect. Hon. Members may choose to laugh at him because he has exposed the follies perhaps as much as anyone else living, but that makes no difference. We respect that man as one of the highest types of journalists of the present day, and he, again, has made public his protest against this policy. The third public man is a man who, again, may be laughed at by hon. Members opposite, but who, I venture to think, is the greatest social reformer of the present day—Canon Barnett. He is, to my mind, the man who has created a new social movement of the greatest value to religion and to society, and in the "Times" to-day there is a very earnest protest against these prosecutions from his pen. I venture very earnestly to represent to the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General, whom I see in their places, that in continuing these prosecutions they should think at the same time whether they are not endangering our traditions of free speech and raising up political and other difficulties far more serious than those which, by a few prosecutions, they desire to suppress. I submit this aspect of the question to the attention of the Government.


My right hon. Friend the Attorney-General has dealt very fully, and, in my judgment, satisfactorily, with the prosecutions which have taken place with regard to the Syndicalist cases. I do not propose, therefore, to re-enter upon that subject, but my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Leach) has raised the question of the prosecution of two men some four or five months ago for blasphemy. I am very much obliged to my hon. Friend for giving me an opportunity of clearing up very briefly certain misunderstandings with regard to cases of this kind. My hon. Friend the Member for North Somerset (Mr. King) asked for perfect freedom of speech with regard to religious opinion. I can assure him that there is in this country perfect freedom of speech, not only to give our true religious opinions, but with regard to all subjects, including political opinions, however disagreeable they may be to hon. Members. There is only one qualification to that statement, which does not affect the matter of the opinion at all. The opinion must be expressed in a manner which preserves the ordinary decencies of controversy. My hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley appeals to me to let these unwise men alone. We should be only too willing to let them alone. Nobody wants to prosecute them. It is they who will not let other people alone. They use offensive language which is calculated to lead to a breach of the peace. It is not the mere fact that a man may express what opinion he likes, but that he is using language which he knows, and which everybody knows, is going to lead to riot and to a breach of the peace that causes prosecutions. That man commits an offence against the ordinary law of this country, and is prosecuted, not for his opinions, but for the peculiar and offensive method he adopts in expressing them. That was the sole ground for the prosecution of the men refered to by my hon. Friend.

The learned judge who heard the case summed up to the jury, if I may say so, with the most complete fairness. I have his language here, but it is not necessary for me to quote it. But he stated the law was that a man was at liberty to express whatever opinions he pleased, merely with the limitation that he must preserve the decencies of controversy. He explained to the jury that this view of the law had been acted upon by the judges of this country for fifty years. It is really not quite fair in this controversy to speak of the blasphemy laws as old and obsolete laws which ought to be repealed. In a sense the old blasphemy laws are not acted upon in this country at the present day. They have been limited and construed by the learned judges since the time of Lord Coleridge, over fifty years ago, as to mean only, not the matter of opinions, but the manner in which they are expressed, and I think the House will agree that with that limitation of the blasphemy laws a prosecution may be thoroughly justified. In the particular case of the two men to whom I have referred they were undoubtedly, under cover of expressing religious opinions, using language, or dessiminating literature, which was not merely offensive and irritating, but of an immoral character; and in view of those facts I do not think that my hon. Friend has really any solid ground to complain of the convictions within those limitations, which were thoroughly justified.


I wish to call attention to the attitude of the Government in regard to the Committee appointed a short time ago to inquire into the financial relations between Great Britain and Ireland. We were told in answer to a question a few weeks ago that the cost of the Committee would come out of the Vote for Temporary Commissions. I hope it will be in order to discuss this matter very shortly, because the Consolidated Fund covers the salary of the Chief Secretary, among other items. I do not want to use any unnecessarily strong language, but I do submit that the attitude of the Government with regard to this Committee is unsatisfactory in the extreme. Hon. Members will recollect that the names of the Committee were announced in the Press in April last after many unavailing efforts to extort them in this House by hon. Members below, names, according to the Government, of the most fitting persons who could be persuaded to sit upon that Committee. The Committee deliberated for months, and examined a cloud of witnesses, official and unofficial; it has reported to the Government, and the Government, presumably, have reviewed its findings. The cost of the Committee, I may say, was defrayed out of the public purse, and all this has happened while the financial future of Ireland was hanging in the balance. So far as the public is concerned, and, so far as this House is concerned, the whole of the proceedings, of that Committee have vanished into thin air, leaving not a wrack behind." Question after question has been asked from this side of the House, and also in another place, in order to try to elicit a little information, but up till now entirely without avail. Not a ray of light has been vouchsafed, not a morsel of information granted.

The Prime Minister, who answered questions in this House, declines to say what the Report contained or whether it will ever be published. He declines to say whether it has been shown to any members of the Nationalist party, or to any other person outside the Government. He declines to say whether the recommendations of the Committee will be adopted. He declines to give the names of those persons who gave evidence before the Committee, and he even declines to tell us what was the reference to the Committee in the first instance. In fact, the whole matter is enveloped in a blanket of impenetrable mystery, and yet we are now within almost a fortnight of the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. I submit that the finance of the Home Rule Bill will probably form its most critical part. Surely the Prime Minister does not intend to follow the example of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who issued the actuary's report on the Insurance Bill only twenty-four hours before the Second Reading, and thus deprived the House of any practical opportunity of understanding or discussing the Bill as a whole. Or is it that the Prime Minister is going to guillotine the financial Clauses, and that it is a mere waste of time to give any information? The Government hold out hopes in various directions that their Bill is going to be a final settlement. To my mind, the only chance of its being a final settlement at all is to take the public into their confidence and place all the available information before them. It certainly will not be a final settlement if it is going to be concocted in the dark. I only wish some Members of the Nationalist party were here this evening, and I do wish that hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House would bring pressure to bear upon the Government to make a full and fair disclosure of this matter. I was very much impressed the other day in reading an article by the hon. and learned Member for Waterford (Mr. John Redmond) in the "Nineteenth Century" in regard to the last Home Rule Bill. I do not want to quote it with any purpose of controversy on the Home Rule question, but I think it is rather applicable to the present circumstances. The hon. and learned Member wrote:— I regretted the policy of withholding information as to the lines of Mr. Gladstone's scheme from the electors before the Dissolution. I deeply deplored the success which attended the efforts made in Ireland to prevent the Irish people discussing during the past two years the circumstances in which they would have to live under Home Rule. We are now paying the penalty of the policy of silence and mystery in the violent and unthinking criticism to which the Government measure is being subjected, and later on we shall have to pay a still heavier penalty when the House of Lords refuses to pass the measure, even the main features of which were disguised from the electors. If the hon. and learned Member were here, I should very much like to ask him whether he has changed his mind. I should like to ask him whether he is now reconciled to this policy of secrecy and mystery. I do not know whether he is afraid that the Dublin Convention may not like the Bill if they see the Report of the Committee. The hon. and learned Member for Waterford has always told us that he stands where Parnell stood; in fact he tells us that he still stands where Parnell stood. What did Parnell say on very much the same point that I am trying to place before the House now? Speaking in Liverpool in 1896—as Lord Randolph Churchill reminded the House of Commons on a memorable occasion—he said:— The House of Lords would be perfectly justified in throwing out the Home Rule Bill if the electors had not a proper opportunity of studying its details The hon. Member for East Mayo made an equally significant admission in Dublin in 1893. How can the electors even begin to study the details, and especially the financial details, of the Bill with any fair chance of understanding them if the information is withheld on which those details are going to be built up? How can the jury be expected to come to any just decision unless the evidence, the whole of the evidence, is placed before them? Does the hon. and learned Member for Waterford think, does the Irish party think, that this information ought to be withheld from the people of Ireland, and that the Nationalist Convention ought to go through the solemn farce of sitting in Dublin without the remotest idea of what the recommendations of this Committee, affecting the whole financial future of Ireland, really are? I do not think the position of the hon. and learned Member for Waterford is so strong that he can disregard public opinion in Ireland. The hon. Member, whom I see sitting opposite, knows perfectly well that he has already had to finance the "Freeman's Journal" out of the Nationalist party funds in order to stem the criticisms of the Irish Independents. It is really not enough that the hon. Member for East Mayo should have seen the recommendations of the Committee. The hon. Member for East Mayo may control the reins of Irish government, but he is certainly not yet Member for Ireland. The expenses of the Committee have been paid for out of public funds intended for public purposes, and surely the public has a right to see the whole Report before the Bill is introduced.

I daresay that the right hon. Gentleman, in his reply, will say that there are plenty of precedents for the course which the Government have adopted. I submit that there are no precedents, and can be no precedents. The whole machinery of government has been altered by the Parliament Act. What may have been excusable in days gone by, when the Second Chamber could not only delay but prevent the passing of the measure into law, is inexcusable and grossly unconstitutional when the Government of the day are all-powerful. There is no precedent which can excuse the withholding of such enormously important information under totally different conditions. The fact that the Veto of the Second Chamber no longer exists makes it all the more important that the evidence on which the Government are going to pass this, great constitutional change should be sifted in the light of day, and that we should be given an opportunity of estimating its value and drawing our conclusions. I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether they are withholding the publication of the Report of this Committee because they are really afraid to publish it? Is that really the secret of all this mystery and concealment? I can hardly believe that they would refrain from making it public if it had been in accord with their own predilections and intentions. I think we should have heard a great deal about the recommendations of the Committee in that event. They would have been thrown upon us ad nauseam. These great financial experts would have been paraded on every platform, and in every speech in this House. But I suggest that a very unfortunate thing may have happened. These experts may have been called in to bless the scheme, and they may have stayed to curse it. The Government got all the credit of publishing the names of the members of the Committee, but when the members of that Committee do not agree with them the matter is to be hushed up, and we are to hear no more about it. I should like to know what hon. Members opposite would have said if a Tariff Reform Government had appointed half a dozen tariff experts to examine a host of witnesses, official and unofficial, had framed a tariff Budget, and then had kept the recommendations secret, having paid the expenses out of public funds. They would have announced it as the most corrupt transaction in political history, and the Gladstone League, backed up by the Cocoa Press, would have held meetings all over the country for the purification of our public life. But the Government are going to ask us to approve the First Reading of the Home Rule Bill without giving us time or opportunity to examine the work of those financial experts. Is that really likely to facilitate our discussion or to introduce harmony into the Debate? Is it in the best interests of the State? There are a great many clever and distinguished lawyers sitting on the Front Bench opposite. They can almost prove that black is white and white is black. They can make the worse appear the better reason, but although they may have got the greater courage in this matter, certainly we have got the better case.

I submit that it is in the interests of the whole United Kingdom that this information should be placed at the immediate disposal of the public in order that they should be able to weigh the pros and cons before the introduction of the Home Rule Bill. It is equally important that this House should be in possession of the information before hon. Members opposite can definitely pledge themselves to support it. If the Government are going to follow the recommendations of the Committee it is in their own interests to make them public as their Home Rule Bill would have the inestimable advantage of being buttressed up by this expert opinion. If on the other hand they do not intend to follow the recommendations of the Committee it is all the more necessary tint we should see what they are in order to be enabled to compare the two schemes side by side. I know it is not in order to go into the question of the merits of the scheme, but are we not entitled to know for instance whether the Committee recommend a contribution by Ireland for Imperial purposes. As hon. Members know there are only three ways in which this can be done, either by taking a particular branch of revenue, or by a certain fixed quota of revenue, or by a definite sum. Did the Committee recommend any one of those methods, or did they recommend the contrary process of the payment by Great Britain of a subsidy to Ireland? What again was their decision in regard to the reservation or delegation of the Customs? Is the Home Rule Bill likely to be a final settlement if the Government intend to keep the Irish financial trump card up their own sleeve? The hon. Member for East Mayo once said that it was not consistent with Irish nationality to crouch and cringe before a foreign Queen. Is it likely to be any more consistent with Irish nationality to crouch and cringe before a foreign chancellor of the exchequer? What again was the decision of the Committee as to the alleged over-taxation of Ireland and do they consider that expenditure upon Ireland can be justifiably regarded as a set off? We ought to know these things and to be able to consider them before the Bill is introduced.

By maintaining this secrecy, and at the same time letting a small section in this House into their confidence for their own party ends, and they have been challenged over and over again to deny that they have done so, the Government are placing all other hon. Members at a great disadvantage in the discussions on the Home Rule Bill. Those hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House who have seen the recommendations will be prepared for the weak points in the Home Rule Bill, and be able to steer their course accordingly by prolonged discussion on the less essential and less vulnerable parts. The whole machinery of Parliamentary ingenuity will be applied to those under the guillotine, which, on the other hand, will be mercilessly employed to stifle argument where argument is likely to prove inconvenient. This will be done deliberately, in concert with the Irish party and in callous disregard of all those outside the ring. In view of all those considerations, I submit that the Report of the Committee, the whole Report of the Committee, and not the Government edition of it, with the tit-bits left out, should be made public, and immediately. It has been a packed Committee sitting in secret, commandeering the public Departments, and paid for out of the public purse, all in order that the Government may be able to say that the Committee agreed with them if it did happen to, or in order that it may be smuggled out of the way if its recommendations were adverse to their own. That is a very dangerous principle, in conflict with all our ideas of free and impartial government. It is particularly dangerous taken in conjunction with the gigantic revolution they are going to propose. If they persist in it, they will hardly be able to complain if such a spirit of bitterness is aroused as will make their task more difficult than it otherwise would have been. I do therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reconsider his decision and publish this Report as soon as possible.


I sincerely congratulate my hon. Friend opposite on the great skill, industry, and eloquence which he has displayed, and also on his being the first person on the Consolidation Bill of this year to make an anti-Home Rule speech. We will, I am sure, hear a great many more of them. I am the last person in the world who has any right to complain of being kept here this afternoon, or to complain of the pertinacity which for months past the hon. Member has displayed in asking questions on this subject, which have fallen chiefly to the lot of the Prime Minister, because, but for my own incredible folly, he would not have had the opportunity of displaying curiosity upon this subject, and had it not been that I, who should have known better, whilst speaking in the somewhat indiscreet society of the Oxford undergraduates in their Union debates mentioned the fact, which I ought not to have mentioned—namely, that the Cabinet, the Government, were taking the advice of a certain number of persons, not, as my hon. Friend supposes, upon the financial relations between Great Britain, and Ireland, but upon this question, "Assuming that there is going to be a Home Rule Bill, what advice would you give us on certain matters relating to the Financial Clauses of that Bill?" It was in that sense they were asked, and no more than that, and it was what any intelligent body of men, or even semi-intelligent body of men, would do when they are engaged in what is admittedly a difficult task—namely, to seek advice from persons whom they think are financially competent to give it. They did not ask their advice on Home Rule or no Home Rule, but on the assumption that there is going to be Home Rule on certain lines, they sought their advice in a particular direction.

Does anybody say that that advice so tendered is of a character that no sooner is it tendered than that it must at once be made public? Obviously it could not be made public unless those who sought it had the fullest possible opportunity of considering it and of clothing it, or any portions of it in the language of a Bill. That is the task upon which I and my colleagues have been engaged for a very considerable time. We have been indebted to those gentlemen for the advice they have given us, but my hon. Friend says, "Show it to me, and show it to everybody else." Now, why should it be shown to him before we had the opportunity of giving it expression, so far as we can give it, in the language of our Bill. He says, "You have shown it to other people." My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister claims, and I certainly claim a perfect right to consult whom I choose, and to show anybody anything I choose, assuming always that those are persons who are going to give support to the general principle of my measure, because otherwise I should indeed be a very foolish person if I were to go and show the whole contents of my correspondence and my dispatch boxes to persons who, though they may be very worthy, will use every piece of information I give them, not for the purpose of getting those financial Clauses into the Home Rule Bill, but for the purpose of destroying the possibilities of any Home Rule Bill at all. I am sorry to be so suspicious of my hon. Friends, and, though there is nobody in the world to whom I would more willingly open my bosom than to him, I cannot show him domestic documents which I should otherwise be glad to do. I beg him to bear this in mind, that he is mistaken in supposing, and he is not justified by any language that I have used in saying, that this Committee had anything to do with the financial relations between the two countries, or was concerned with or was in any way dealing with the famous Report of the Royal Commission on that subject. It was private advice which we were obtaining from persons in whom we had confidence. Therefore we were only doing what we were absolutely entitled to do, and indeed, as sensible men, bound to do, assuming that we were entitled to take advice at all. I am quite aware that there are those who think we were not entitled to have a committee of inquiry, who perhaps were not entitled to ask persons acquainted with Departmental work in Ireland to give evidence before them. I do not think that that view is one which is justified in a matter of this kind.

I therefore really think that up to the present time no human being is entitled to find fault with us for acquiring that information, which many people think we stand greatly in need of upon the financial problems of Home Rule. We think we were wise and right to instruct ourselves in that way. Then, my hon. Friend goes on to say, and here there is force in his argument, for the future, although up to date I do not think there is any force in his remarks, "You are paying for this out of your own salaries, you are getting a Vote out of the Treasury Chest to pay small sums, still public sums, and you have got a document in your possession, presumably a State paper of very considerable value, for which I as a taxpayer have paid my share. Do you mean to withhold it for ever from consideration, do you not mean us at any time during the progress of our discussion upon this important measure, to have the benefit of knowing what those gentlemen have said? I know my hon. Friend chuckled with imaginary delight over the party advantage that he saw in anticipation he could derive from this document if he could get it—to denounce us if we had departed from the principles laid down in the Report, and to curse us if we had adopted them. However, I do not know that he would feel that amount of intense pleasure that he anticipated, and very often anticipations are much greater than reality. I quite agree, I think, this Report will have to be published. We never had any other intention. There you have got your party advantage. I can assure you it was never our intention to do anything else. It was the course we intended to adopt.




Why now, while we are considering this measure?


made an observation which was inaudible in the Press Gallery.


I am very glad to hear that the hon. Baronet's only objection to Home Rule is its financial clauses.


One of them.


I am very glad to hear the hon. Baronet say so. He will have the opportunity of studying this Report. I have no doubt whatsoever I shall be able to obtain for that course the consent of my right hon. Friend, which he has never withheld and has always been ready to give, after the First Reading of this Bill, some time after the First Reading of this Bill, and long before the Financial Clauses.


Will the right hon. Gentleman let us have an advance proof?


No, I will not, and I will tell you the reasons why. This Report was given to us to enable us to frame our Home Rule Bill, the Financial Clauses of the Bill, to assist us by placing before us the thoughts and ideas of individuals, derived from their own experience, to enable us to deal with this measure. When we have framed our measure and have printed it you shall have the opportunity, and I hope very much you will read it in a spirit of candour and in a spirit of anxious desire, and if you agree with it, or the modifications of it or with anything else in it, that you will assist us in carrying it out.

7.0 P.M.


I wish to refer to the constitution and administration of one of the numerous Boards in Ireland, namely, the Congested Districts Board. Yesterday the right hon Member for West Islington (Mr. Lough), and the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. Keir Hardie), spoke of the good work which Parliament had done by actively interfering in the conditions of Irish land tenure. They suggested that the numerous Irish Land Acts, dating from 1881, had practically abolished land lordism, and I suppose the hon. Member for Merthyr would suggest that similar action might abolish capitalism in the coal mining industry later on. But the Land Acts did not actually abolish landlordism. What they did was to plunge us into the Serbonian bog of dual ownership. The Round Table Conference, at which Irishmen for the first time in our history, and perhaps for the last, sat in peace round a table to discuss matters, was called to get us out of that dual ownership, and was followed by the great Act of 1903 and the right hon. Gentleman's Act of 1909. One thing that the Land Acts did was to establish the Land Commission and the Congested Districts Board, which is an offshoot of the Land Commission. This important Board has a revenue of over £100,000 a year. In the Estimates this year a sum of £169,750 is taken for it. The Board is administered by fourteen Commissioners, including the Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Undersecretary, and the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture. We want, if possible, an absolutely impartial commission. This Board has to deal with one-third of the land of Ireland, and it ought to be absolutely above suspicion. Who are the members other than those to whom I have referred? I do not wish to say a word against any of them. There are two Bishops of the Catholic Church, two parish priests, the hon. Member for South Mayo (Mr. Fitzgibbon), who has been in the limelight already on this subject, Sir Horace Plunkett, Sir David Harrel, the Earl of Shaftesbury, and three other gentlemen. These Commissioners have to supervise a staff, including amongst others, sixteen land inspectors. The work of the Board is divided into four sections, namely, the Estates branch, the Fisheries branch, the Works and Industries branch, and the Collection branch, and there are two sides to the work. On the side of social advancement the work of the Board is most admirable. When it confines its attention to building piers, developing harbours, importing Spanish jackasses, well-bred queen bees, up-to-date table poultry, and so on, we give it our warm approbation. But there is another side to its work, and that is the task of transferring the land of Ireland from the landlords to the tenants. There it is something more than a Committee for social advancement. It is a great judicial body, and with the great autocratic powers it possesses it ought surely to be absolutely above suspicion. We have recently had set up in connection with the coal mining industry boards of control, which I understand are to consist of two members representing the employers, and two representing the miners, with an impartial chairman. What we have there ought surely to be set up in connection with the Congested Districts Board. Have we got it? I do not want to say a word against any member of the Board. I am not going to refer to the Member for South Mayo in any way whatever. Have the landlords proper representation on the Board? We have one man, the Earl of Shaftesbury.


What about Sir Horace Plunkett?


I will refer to him in a moment. I do not say a word against the Earl of Shaftesbury. He is a gallant colonel of Yeomanry, but he is not a prominent Irish landlord. Why have we not got on the Board, as well as Lord Shaftesbury, men like Lord Mayo or Lord Dunraven? Sir Horace Plunkett would make an excellent impartial chairman, and so would Sir David Harrel. We landlords have not got a fair representation, in view of the important duties of the Board in transferring land from the landlords to the tenants. I trust the Chief Secretary will do something to remedy this in the very near future. Then with regard to the sixteen land inspectors. In 1904 I sold my property to my tenants. I did not have inspectors running down to inspect my property before I sold it. I made my bargain with the tenants, the bargain went through, I got my money, the tenants got the land. What happens now with these inspectors? A landlord is willing to sell, the tenants are willing to buy. Down comes one of these inspectors, quite properly, to inspect the property. But the inspectors do not inspect the property in a fair way. They do not simply go over the farm and value it. They ask the tenants what they are willing to give. Of course the tenants naturally offer a very small sum, the landlord cannot accept it, and then come in compulsion, disagreement, and ill-feeling. I suggest, therefore, that the composition of the Board should be improved, and that the Board should look more closely after its inspectors to see that they make a fair valuation of the property, instead of asking the tenants what they think ought to be given.

The VICE-PRESIDENT of the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Ireland, Mr. T. W. Russell)

I had some difficulty in finding out what the hon. Member was really driving at, or what he thinks is wrong with the composition of the Board. He tells us that the landlords are not fairly represented. My answer to that is that the landlords of Ireland are more anxious and willing to sell to the Congested Districts Board than they are to sell to the Estates Commission or to the Land Commission. That does not bear out the hon. Member's assertion.


They can get their money.


I have never heard the constitution of the Congested Districts Board called in question in Ireland at all. As showing the willingness of the landlords to sell to the Congested Distracts Board, I may say that at the present moment we have more than £6,000,000 worth of land waiting to be dealt with. The hon. Member says that the plan of inspection and valuation is different from that of the Estates Commissioners. The Congested Districts Board have not only to purchase land, but to make arrangements for improving the land. If they merely purchased the land, they would do very little. The improvement of the land is the real object of the Congested Districts Board. It is not enough to purchase the land and hand it over to the tenants. They have to purchase the land, to make the most minute inquiries into the whole condition of the tenantry, to create economic holdings, to see that the land is in a fit state, and so on. As to the constitution of the Board, I do not believe that the hon. Member objects to the two executive officers.


I object to none of them at all.


Then I do not see what the hon. Member does object to. Does he require the presence of more landlords?




Lord Shaftesbury is said not to be an Irish landlord?


Not a representative Irish landlord.


How many tenant farmers are there on the Board? Not one.


In my opinion, Lord Shaftesbury is a very representative landlord. He not only owns large properties in Belfast itself, but agricultural property in the neighbourhood of Belfast. He has sold some of his land, but he still owns a large quantity, and is a very good representative Irish landlord. To make good his case, the hon. Member ought to have shown that the Congested Districts Board had been engaged in some work that they ought not to have been engaged in, or had not done their duty in the work they are called upon to do. I have never heard any expression of want of confidence in the Board in Ireland. As the hon. Member knows, economic laws do not work in the West of Ireland. A great deal has to be done for the people there that need not be done for the people elsewhere, and much of the Board's duty consists in doing that work. I do not think that any case has been made out against either this personnel or the administration of the Congested Districts Board.


I think a very few words will suffice in reply to what I think is an exceedingly feeble attack on the personnel of the Congested Districts Board. I will not enter upon the invidious task of canvassing the names of every single member of the Board. A very good proof of the fact that it was fairly constituted was given by the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken. The hon. Member (Mr. Newman) complained that there was not an Irish landlord upon it, or that it wanted a larger number of landlords upon it. Let me point out that the Irish tenants never had one. The hon. Member could only ground his case upon an analysis of the assumed prepossessions which the members of the Board would bear towards one class or another. As a matter of fact, there are two men on that Board who may be said to represent the landlord interest. One is a landlord, and the other is a brother of an Irish landlord. There are no tenants at all on it, and there never have been since the Board was formed. There is another answer to the hon. Member which is so overwhelming in its force that there is no need to analyse the personnel of the Board—that is the answer given by the right hon. Gentleman the Vice-President of the Board of Agriculture.

What is the recent history of the Board? We passed this Act in 1909. It has been frequently denounced as having killed land purchase in Ireland. I think the hon. Member who initiated this discussion has frequently in my hearing so described it. Take the great portion of Ireland covered by the Congested Districts Board, and which has now been handed over entirely to the administration of that Board? What has been the history of that part of Ireland? That is the part of Ireland in which land purchase was most needed, and which for many years was left out in the cold; where land purchase was not working properly, and where it was far more necessary and urgent than in the eastern and more prosperous parts of the country. What has been the history of the progress of land purchase in the province of Connaught, and other portions of Ireland which are now under the administration of the Board, and have been since the Act of 1909? The present problem is this: the desire of the landlords in these western districts to sell to the Board since the re-constitution of the Board is so great that the Board is completely paralysed and blocked with excess of business.


Why do they not get more money from the Government?


That is not the question at all. The question is: Did the Act of 1909, which reconstituted the Board and created the personnel of the Board, destroy the confidence of the Irish landlords in the Board?


They will not get their money otherwise; that is why they sell to the Board.


Yes, but if the Irish landlords have lost confidence in the Board they are not going to sell to it. They were not selling in the West of Ireland until the Act of 1909 was passed, and it was after that Act came into operation that the estates in the West of Ireland came tumbling in, until at this present moment the Board has £6,000,000 worth of property offered in the West of Ireland under the Act of 1909. I think it is five hundred estates.


Over five hundred.


I do not see why the hon. Baronet laughs.


I did not laugh.


This is the Act under which we are told there has been a paralysis of land purchase. I say that is a complete and conclusive answer to the attack made by this hon. Member on the personnel of the Board. If the Board is distrusted by the Irish landlords, why are they rushing in to sell to the Board? Why is it that there has been this great rush of estates in the West since the commencement of the Act? Why did it only commence after the Act of 1909 began to operate? I say that the Act which was responsible for the new personnel of the Congested Districts Board has been, at all events, in the West of Ireland, an immense blessing. We hear men constantly stating inside and outside of this House that it has been the death of land purchase.


It has been in Ulster.


I am speaking about the West of Ireland.


Quite so.


And I say that one of the greatest evils in Ireland, admitted on all sides, was that up to the Act of 1909 the West of Ireland, where all this land trouble originated and which was the main cause of the land policy in Ireland, had been to a large extent left out in the cold; that the districts where the people most needed land purchase were not obtaining the benefits of the Land Acts until the Act of 1909 and the reconstitution of the Board. This Act, which the hon. Member now complains of, has had the effect of expediting land purchase to an unparalleled extent in the West of Ireland. Why does the hon. Member raise this complaint against the personnel of the Board? There has not been, so far as I know, a single protest from the landlords in the West of Ireland against it. I never heard of it, and I live in the West.


What about Lord Oranmore?


Lord Oranmore is at war with his tenants, but I do not understand that he has made any complaint of the Board.


And the Marquis of Sligo?


Or the Marquis of Sligo either. You may go over the whole gamut. The only man I know is the Marquis of Clanricarde. He stands alone. He, no doubt, is at war with the Board because the Board has tried to expropriate him. I hope they will succeed. But I have heard of no general complaint from the landlords in the West of Ireland as against the Congested Districts Board. On the contrary, I think they have confidence in the Board and in its staff. With regard to the hon. Member for South Mayo (Mr. Fitzgibbon), I do not think even the landlords of the West raise any point about him. I do not think they have any strong feeling about him. I do not think they have expressed any special feeling against him.


They did protest against him.


. Of course I know they protested. Be that as it may, the Board as now reconstituted has carried out the work of land purchase in the West most successfully and rapidly, and the only difficulty that those of us who represent Western Connaught are aware of, is not that the Board does not enjoy the confidence of the landlords—for, on the contrary, as the working of land purchase proves, it does enjoy that confidence—the only difficulty we know of is that so great has been the success of the Board as reconstituted that the whole machinery is now threatened with paralysis by an over-supply of estates. I do not know how the Board is going to continue its work. I invite hon. Members whose minds are affected by the attack upon the personnel of the Board to go down to the West of Ireland and see the work. The hon. Member (Mr. Newman) himself admitted it.


I spoke of the social side.


I am not speaking so much of that social side which he refers to, harbours, fisheries, and the like; I am speaking of the work which no language could exaggerate, the work the Board is doing to elevate the standard of living in the West of Ireland. The wretched, deplorable condition of the population of the West was a reproach to this country, and the subject of frequent Debates in this House. I say the work which has been carried out by the Board in elevating the condition of these people, in improving their houses, and in introducing amongst them the spirit of improvement and of self-help, is almost past the power of language to describe. I notice that the hon. Member had no word of criticism for the work which has been carried out by the Board. Therefore I am puzzled and amazed to know what motive should have induced him to make this attack. The Board is an institution which I really do think enjoys the confidence of the landlords, and, to a large extent, the confidence of the tenants also. I am bound to say that any criticism I have seen against the Board in the West has been from the tenants, who have frequently complained, I do not say without reason, for the work in which it is engaged is one of stupendous difficulties. Taking over land and redividing it and adjudicating amongst these small tenant farmers is a work which would exercise the patience and wisdom of Job. I do not wonder that quarrels arise, but all the criticism I have heard comes, as I have said, from the tenant farmers, and not from the landlords, with the one solitary exception I have mentioned. I felt bound, as a Member from the West of Ireland, which has enormously benefited by the work of this Board, to stand up and defend it from what appears to me to be a very irrational attack. I think it is manifest that the Act has conferred enormous benefit upon the Western population of Ireland. Those of us who live in the West look with every hope to the Board as an institution which, if it is encouraged and allowed to go on with its work, will ultimately be successful in rescuing this Western population from the state of chronic poverty and periodical famine in which it found it, and turning it into a prosperous, happy, and improving population.


I am glad to see that provision has been made for sylvi-cultural training in Scotland. That policy in Scotland has become a matter of first-class importance; more so than in any other part of the United Kingdom. With this additional provision considerably more progress may be made than has been made for many years, since some of us started to get definite support for this work. Under the financial provisions now before us we should be able to do a great deal. The question I should like to bring to the notice, both of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland and the hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, is as to the control of this expenditure. A Departmental Committee on Forestry recently published their report with reference to the control that is required. The Committee suggests that the money ought to be either under the new Board of Agriculture for Scotland, which is a department having a sub-department on forestry, or else under a separate Board of Forestry, to be nominated by the Secretary for Scotland. For my part I think the second suggestion is the better of the two; but control there must be.

At the present time I see that controversy is raging as to whether Edinburgh or Aberdeen is the more likely centre for this higher sylvicultural training. The Committee has reported in favour of one centre for the higher training. I think upon examination by the Department concerned that that will be found ample. Whether it is to be Glasgow or Aberdeen is a secondary matter. But there is one important consideration: Edinburgh has lately been put upon the same footing as Cambridge, along with Oxford, in regard to training for the Forest Service of India. No change would be made in Edinburgh which would be likely to lose that advantage. I think that is a great advantage. It came about as one of the results of the committee of inquiry held at the India Office, and which attached the greatest importance to one centre in Scotland being recognised and put on the same level as Oxford and Cambridge. But the control at Edinburgh is deficient. You have there, as in the other university centres—and this centre for the higher training in Scotland must be a university—you have a university and a college, and it is only by having a joint committee of the college and the university that you can secure the control necessary when making the best use of public money voted. At present the control is exercised by the university, the Board of Agriculture, and the Scottish Education Department. None of these are ideal authorities. None of them know very much about sylviculture. It might be possible, however, to contitute a strong joint committee between the university and the agricultural college which would be able to conduct sylvicultural training in Edinburgh. I admit also it can be dealt with at Aberdeen. We have not been able to get that joint committee. The University Court at Edinburgh seems incapable of coming to a decision upon the subject, and the matter has been dragging on these last two years. The agricultural college has made an offer to obtain a joint executive committee representing both. Without that I can assure my right hon. Friend no good work can be done, and the public money voted will be wasted. The matter is really urgent, and I invite him, as we are unable to come to an agreement by ourselves, an agreement long sought after and promised, but which never seems to come about, I ask him to exert his authority to bring about that arrangement. If we could have a joint committee appointed we should be able to get along until the new authority promised by the Departmental Committee is established. As I say, I think it would be best to have a board of more or less competent persons, with a paid secretary, under which the training in sylviculture generally should be conducted. The question of having effective control by a university centre, and a university centre there must be, is one which demands special attention, as nothing can be more unsatisfactory than the present control of sylviculture at the different universities of Aberdeen and Edinburgh.


No one who has read the Report of the Departmental Committee upon Forestry, and who is aware that the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken was a member of that Committee, can be surprised at the absolutely fair and impartial speech to which we have just listened. As to the question, if it is a question, of Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities, I do not admit there need be any difference of claim between them. I am not here putting forward the different claims, but I am anxious to state what is the best in my view for forestry education in Scotland. In the interesting speech to which we just listened, and in this Report, I recognise that that same spirit of impartiality animated the experts who have drawn up this Report. No one who has studied this Report will doubt for a moment that the matters mentioned by my right hon. Friend, such as degrees and control, must in the end be found wanting in comparison with the geographical supremacy of Aberdeen as a forestry centre; and the inferiority of Edinburgh is still more marked as you read the extract from the Report itself. As a footnote on page 11 of that Report, the Departmental Committee give an extra from the Report of the Scottish University Committee of 1909, which says:— We have some doubt whether the argument of Sir W. Turner for the establishment of a complete forestry school under the control of the University of Edinburgh, in spite of some advantages powerfully stated by him, warrants at this moment a claim for support from public funds. In the face of that I wish to ask His Majesty's Government to give most careful attention to the question which I have put down upon the Paper for to-morrow asking for an explanation of certain action of the Development Commissioners in face of that Report and as to the action they took two months ago in granting for this important question £9,000 of public money to the Edinburgh University. At the time that Grant was made it remained a mystery and was very much criticised, and it has remained a mystery still, and has aroused certain grave suspicions. All that I claim to ask now is that in justice to Aberdeen University that action of the Development Commissioners should not for one moment be allowed to interfere with the perfectly impartial consideration of a claim for the Grant which Aberdeen University has in the course of the last six weeks put before His Majesty's Treasury. The history of forestry is, in Aberdeen and Edinburgh Universities, before them. It is true that in the short period since we have opened the centre we hare a larger forestry class than any other Scotch university, and the Forestry Report is wrong in one of its figures. In the Appendix to the Report it is proved we have in Aberdeen twenty-four students for the higher class as against Edinburgh University's twenty-two.

In Aberdeen we have twenty-four in the first class and eight in the advanced course. Beside that we have complete unity of action between our North of Scotland Agricultural College and the University Court in Aberdeen. With this great advantage of the Agricultural College acting in complete unison with the University Court, we are justified in asking for the most serious consideration to be given to our claim, not for supremacy, but for consideration of our appeal for a Grant from this fund. The application has been made, the requisite articles have been drafted instituting the degree of Batchelor of Agriculture and of Forestry, so that Aberdeen will start as a perfectly equipped forestry school. I have referred to the two comparisons which my right hon. Friend made between Aberdeen and Edinburgh, but there still remains the great fact that nothing can get over the geographical situation of Aberdeen. That is something which no one can take away. In Kincardineshire and Inverness-shire there is the greatest extent of wooded area in Scotland. In Aberdeen county alone there are 90,000 acres under timber in comparatively close proximity to Aberdeen University. We have also the fact that we are close to the great nurseries of the Moray Firth and the North of Scotland—Elgin and Nairn—where the greatest experiments are carried out in the cultivation of forest timber. For these reasons I trust I shall receive, in answer to the question which I have put for to-morrow, an assurance that, whatever occurred in the past or whatever mistakes were made in the past, they shall not be allowed for one instant to interfere with the absolutely fair and generous consideration of the claims of Aberdeen. I recommend that consideration, not only to the Secretary for Scotland, but also to the Secretary for the Treasury.


If there is to be a Committee of competent persons appointed for the Universities of Edinburgh, and Aberdeen, I do not see why St. Andrews University should not be included, and more particularly the university in the West of Scotland, where there is a very considerable amount of forest area which I believe is almost equal to that on the East Coast, near Edinburgh. I hope, when the Secretary for Scotland comes to reply, he will tell us something about this £9,000 given to the Edinburgh University, and the reason why such a Grant was not given to the other universities. I hope he will tell us the number of people there are studying forestry in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and if there is such a class in Glasgow University, and why the £9,000 given to Edinburgh should not have been divided. It appears to me the House will acknowledge that £9,000 among twenty-four, or even thirty students is a very large amount indeed.

The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. McKinnon Wood)

We have the advantage, in considering this subject, of having received a very excellent Report from the Committee of which my right hon. Friend (Mr. Munro-Ferguson) was a member. His knowledge on this subject is known to the House to be very great indeed, and also that he takes an immense interest in it. The Report of that Committee is at the present moment referred to the new Board of Agriculture which will come into being on the 1st of next month, and in these circumstances I do not think it will be well that I should attempt to deal with any of its conclusions. I think it is enough that I should promise the right hon. Gentleman and the other hon. Gentlemen who have spoken that all the points will be carefully considered before we come to any conclusion as to the future methods of education with regard to forestry in Scotland. With regard to the particular points raised, I can only answer my hon. Friend's question as to the number of students for the years 1910–11. The number of students then in Edinburgh was twenty-four, in Aberdeen sixteen, and in Glasgow eight. The hon. Member for Aberdeen has pointed out that the number has since been increased. With regard to the £9,000 granted by the Development Commissioners, the fact is that at that time there was no other claim before them but that of Edinburgh. That was a couple of years ago, and the claim for Aberdeen has only been sent in in the last six months or so. The reason why the money was granted was because Edinburgh was the only university which granted a degree in forestry, and for forestry in India. Those are the two reasons why this money was granted. That does not, however, interfere with a proper claim Aberdeen may make for another Grant. I am well aware of the importance of this subject, but I do not think it would be advisable until I have had time to consider it, that I should enter into the question as to what the best authority is, or the further questions whether there ought not to be a school of forestry in the administrative area. That would be for a different purpose. One would be for scientific forestry and higher education, and the other would be for practically dealing with the matter. I think I need say no more about this subject except that the considerations which have been put before us will be carefully considered.


It will be within the recollection of the House and the Financial Secretary that we have had, some short time ago, a considerable discussion with regard to the purchase of pictures, and a very large sum was spent upon purchasing a certain picture. During that discussion we found that a considerable number of hon. Members were extremely desirous that the Grant in future years should be increased, and that more pictures should be purchased. I do not know whether the Financial Secretary felt in his mind that his economical spirit would prevail over the artistic desires of Members on both sides of the House, because I do not think he gave any expression of opinion as to whether or not he proposed to renew the Grant which in the Supplementary Estimates it was stated would not be renewed. I wish to draw attention to a statement made by the Comptroller and Auditor-General with regard to the care and custody of pictures and works of art. Everyone will admit that the nation has a very large sum invested in these particular pictures and works of art and subjects of interest in the different museums in the country. Without expressing any opinion as to the advisability of that expenditure, I think it will be generally agreed that these particular things are objects of great value, and if they should be lost or injured it would inflict a very great injury on the whole country. The Report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General reveals a very serious state of things, and I will call the attention of the House to that Report. I have given the Financial Secretary notice that I was going to raise this Question, and I have given the reference paragraphs which I am going to quote, and upon which I desire to ask one or two questions. The Comptroller and Auditor-General's Report of the 15th January this year contains the following passage:— EXHIBITS IN NATIONAL MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES. In connection with the general observations on the subject of Store Audit contained in the Treasury Minutes dated 5th November, 1886, and 19th October, 1894. the two questions of (1) Inventory record, and (2) Stock survey of exhibits in the several National Museums and Galleries maintained by State Funds, have for some time been engaging ray attention, and steps have been taken in my department to ascertain what regulations existed with a view to secure efficient control over the receipt and custody of articles required, and whether the regulations laid down were duly carried into effect. Here we come to the result of the inquiries made by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. He says:— As the result of my enquiries, it was found that in most cases attempts were made to keep inventories of all acquisitions. The Comptroller and Auditor-General says attempts were made. Of course, it is easy to make an attempt, but it is very difficult to carry out a change when you have agreed that it is advisable. I will continue the quotation:— Attempts were made to keep inventories of all acquisitions, but in no case was there any systematic survey of stock, either by the custodians themselves or by any independent officers I, therefore, referred the matter to the Treasury, and in a letter dated the 9th October, 1911, in which I suggested for their lordships' consideration the advisability of issuing general instructions for the establishment at these museums and galleries of full and permanent records or inventories of all acquisitions, and for the introduction of regular and systematic stock survey. In reply, the Treasury informed me that the Board of Education had proposed to appoint a small committee to consider this question as regards museums under their control, and that their lordships proposed to await the report of this committee before taking any steps with regard to the collections under other authorities. From that quotation it does not seem to me that the Treasury has regarded this matter in the light in which it should be regarded. An inventory ought to have been made originally, and if it has not been made before it ought to be made now. Once the inventory is made all that is required is to keep it up to date, and add the new things. That cannot in any way be considered a difficult matter to do. Where there is a large collection probably a considerable amount of labour would be entailed to start an inventory, but that is the fault of the Treasury for not having done so before. It is evident that an inventory alone is not sufficient, and there ought to be a stock survey to see what actually is in the exhibition or the gallery at that particular moment, or else the inventory is practically of no avail. I admit that there is considerable difficulty in taking a stock survey of the different articles in a museum or a picture gallery. I understand that at the British Museum a very careful inventory is kept, but I am not sure that at that institution a stock survey is made or has ever been attempted. I admit there is a difficulty in making a stock survey, but I may point out that the Comptroller and Auditor-General, who is a man of practical knowledge, thinks a stock survey should be taken, and I think it might be possible to take such a survey once in every five years. I trust the Financial Secretary will take this matter into consideration. I think a stock survey is worth having, in order that we may be quite certain that the nation does possess all these valuable pictures and other articles upon which large sums of money have been spent, and which ought to be in the control of the custodians.

I wish to draw attention to the report of the Comptroller and Auditor-General upon another subject. It appears that with regard to the national schools in Ireland, and especially with regard to the building of the schools there, that the report of the Public Accounts Committee last year was absolutely disregarded. It seems that in Ireland—I am sorry there are no Irish Members present, because I should have liked to have asked them for an explanation as to the method in which they carry out their finances—when tenders were required for certain works which had to be undertaken by the school managers, for which they receive a two-thirds Grant out of the Vote, that no steps were taken to obtain from the contractors competitive tenders. That opens rather a serious question. Here you are spending money provided by the tax-payers, and it is spent on school buildings, and all the laws which govern business and commercial undertakings are thrown to the winds and no competitive tenders are taken. We have heard that in Ireland there is a system by which politics come in, and tenders are sometimes given because the tenderer happens to be a Unionist or a Nationalist, and not because he is a good builder prepared to work at the lowest price. It does seem to me that it is absolutely necessary, if the Treasury are to do their duty and control the public purse, that all these matters should be looked into with a view to seeing shat proper business arrangements are made when public money is spent. This is what the Comptroller and Auditor-General said:— I was informed in reply that no such steps were taken as the rules of the Commissioners of National Education Ireland, which govern the payment of Grants, do not require competitive tenders to be obtained. 8.0 P.M.

Will the Financial Secretary give me an assurance that he will withhold the Grant until competitive tenders are obtained and unless the money spent on works in Ireland is spent in a proper and business-like manner. I trust the business instincts of the hon. Gentleman will overcome his political instincts, and that he will be able to give me the assurance for which I ask. There is one other question I want to raise, and it also deals with the Beard of Education. It appears that a Grant is made to certain local education authorities to aid necessitous areas, and in some cases the Grant has been larger than ought to have been made. I find in 1908–9 a clause was inserted in the regulations which the Treasury sanctioned to the effect that, if the total Grants payable under the regulations exceeded £200,000, the sum voted by Parliament for the purpose, a pro rata reduction of the Gran[...] to each participating local authority should be made. It appears that was not carried out. That this procedure was not covered by the regulations laid before Parliament, was admitted in a letter addressed to the Treasury in March last, in which the Board proposed (a) the abolition in future of the system of spreading capital expenditure over a series of years, and (b) the clearing off of outstanding instalments. The Treasury, however, appear to have confined their sanction of the new procedure to the present year. That is good, and it is also bad. If they have confined their sanction to the present year, that as a step in the right direction, because they have shown some desire to see that the regulations laid down for the protection of the taxpayer are observed, but, on the other hand, if this ought not to have been done, why do they sanction it for one year? Why do they not say boldly: "The method is wrong, and we will not sanction it at all." Then there is a very long letter written to the Secretary of the Board of Education on 28th November last year, laying down certain things which should be observed in cases where after full payment has been made for a given year, the registers are found to be defective and questions arise as to how much is to be reduced in respect of their regular payments or in respect of a penal fine. This is the decision the Treasury have arrived at in the second class of instances:— My Lords are content to leave entirely to the Board's discretion the amount of penalty (over and above the amount of irregular payment to be recovered) which the Board with their knowledge of the local circumstances think it desirable to inflict. Why is this left to the Board of Education? It is a Treasury matter, and the Treasury ought not to part with their control and leave it to the discretion of the Board of Education. What is the use of a Treasury if it says to a Department over which they ought to exercise control, "We will not exercise our rights of supervision, but will leave it entirely to your discretion1?" In the next paragraph the Treasury take a different line:— My Lords will only request that the Board will boar in mind the observations which the Public Accounts Committee have made on this subject, and will cause them to be informed from time to time of the amounts of the penalties so inflicted and of the cases in which the Board have refrained from exercising this power This information might, it is suggested, be furnished by means of a yearly schedule. I am not quite certain whether the Treasury request the Board of Education to inform the Public Accounts Committee of what they have been doing or the Treasury. My contention is that in both these crises the Treasury ought to be informed. They ought to know what is going on, and they ought to exercise the supervision which it is their duty to exercise. It then goes on to say:— Their Lordships gather it is the policy of the Board to exact repayment to the full in all ordinary circum- stances of sums ascertained to hare been overpaid or irregularly paid, and they do not desire that their sanction should be sought for each instance in which the Board adopt this course. I do not quite understand what that means, but it appears to me it is again an attempt, I will not say to evade, but to abandon their proper duty. There is one other question which I wish to put to the right hon. Gentleman. Why is it that the Treasury attempt to exact Income Tax under Schedule B on gardens? Anyone owing a garden does not make a profit out of occupying that garden. The unfortunate person who owns a garden makes a very large loss on it, and yet he has to pay Income Tax under Schedule A, and then the Treasury come and demand that he should pay Income Tax under Schedule B. I am sure that is quite illegal, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will see the Treasury exercises a little less control in attempting to exact money which ought hot to be exacted, and a little more control in regard to the other matters of which I have spoken.


The hon. Baronet has asked me several questions of a somewhat intricate character concerning a variety of matters not entirely affecting my own Department, and he will forgive me if in that case I am brief. As to the question of the schools in Ireland, I will certainly look into the Report to which he has drawn my attention, especially as to the desirability of open tenders, in regard to which I thoroughly agree with him in every respect. With regard to the Board of Education, the reason the Treasury sanction in connection with the Grants to necessitous school areas was limited to the year under discussion was that it was only required in connection with the year in question. The Board of Education ceased from that year, and intend to cease in future, distinguishing so-called capital from current expenditure in payment of the necessitous grant. Until that year they provided three-quarters of the money over the 1s. 6d. rate only for current expenses, and as regards items of capital expenses, they spread them over a period of years charged to revenue. They have come to the conclusion that is not a desirable method, and in future it will be abandoned. I think the hon. Baronet will agree it is better it should be abandoned. The hon. Baronet raised a matter of considerable importance as to the question of museum stores, and I have no complaint to make of the way in which he dealt with it. The Comptroller and Auditor-General has called the attention of the Treasury to two points. He thinks there ought to be a more complete inventory of these national treasures, and he points to the desirability of a more frequent and systematic stock survey. The hon. Baronet must recognise there was some difficulty in the matter of this periodical stock-taking, and the Board of Education thought the best method was to appoint a Committee to consider the subject, especially in connection with those museums which are directly under a public Department. The British Museum, as the hon. Baronet knows, is under trustees, but the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum are directly under the Board of Education, and the Board of Education suggested that a Committee should investigate as to what would be desirable in connection with the inventory and stock-taking being made more perfect. The Treasury agreed that it was desirable to look into the matter, first of all in connection with museums under Government Departments, with a view afterwards of considering how far that might be applied to other museums. That Committee was appointed last autumn. Sir John Bromley, the late Accountant-General of the Board of Education was in the Chair, and it was a Joint Committee of the Board of Education and of the Treasury. The Report has now been presented. It is being considered by the Board of Education, and I hope on some subsequent occasion in the next few weeks, if the hon. Baronet will either put a question or take some other opportunity of raising the matter, to be able to tell him what action, if any, has been taken in the matter. In addition to that, the Comptroller and Auditor-General has reported on the subject, and the Report of the Public Accounts Committee will also be before the House in due course. I have taken advice from the authorities in the Inland Revenue as to the question the hon. Baronet raised in connection with gardens, and they tell me there is no doubt at all in the matter. Schedule B charges, not merely on money profits, but on amenity profits as well. The Section is quite clear, and it has been in operation for the last eighty years:— That Schedule B shall be charged on the amount of the annual value I think the hon. Baronet will find he is being charged on the annual value of his garden, less the house and one acre, which comes under the Inhabited House Duty. The Inland Revenue authorities tell me they are quite willing the hon. Baronet should appeal against his assessment, but they do not hold out much hope of any legal uncertainty about the matter. I can only hope, after this explanation, the hon. Baronet will have more enjoyment cut of his garden in the knowledge that he has been legally and not illegally taxed

Question, "That the Bill be now read the third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.