§ Mr. ANEURIN WILLIAMS
I beg to move, "That, in the opinion of this House, a large extension of the public ownership of land is urgently called for, and that the powers of land acquisition which are at present possessed by the State and by local authorities are inadequate and ought to be increased; that such authorities should have a general power to acquire (either by agreement or by compulsion) and to hold any land which they may consider necessary; and power to use such land for afforestation, reclamation, allotments and small holdings, housing, town-planning, open spaces, public improvements, or such other purposes as they may from time to time be authorsied to carry out; that such powers should extend to the acquisition of land for prospective, and not merely for present, needs; and that, in ascertaining the purchase price of such land, the basis taken should be the valuation made for the purpose of taxation."
I do so with a view to proving to the House, if I can, that private ownership of land cannot adequately fulfil the needs of the present stage of the civilisation of this country, but that it requires at least to be supplemented by a large measure of public ownership of land. I think it is tolerably evident, even if we suppose that under private ownership all the land is put to the best uses, that that means the best uses in the interests of the owners themselves, which are by no means necessarily the best uses in the interests of the community. Public ownership, one may hope, would give us the best use of the land in the interests of the community. This public ownership of land is very far indeed from a new idea—quite the reverse. It is and always has been, at any rate since the Norman Conquest, the theory of the law of this country. I could quote Blackstone and other authorities to prove that there is in this realm no owner of land except the King, the Crown as representing the community. The so-called owners of land are merely tenants under the Crown, even though they be tenants of an estate of inheritance. Nor is it only a 1790 matter of theory, for formerly, at any rate, it was a very practical fact, this public ownership of land by the country as represented by the Crown. The tenants, in fact, paid all the expenses of the nation, including all military, expenses, either in rent or in services, and as tenants of the land they paid that rent and those services to the Crown as representing the real owners of the land. If we think of it, I think we should agree that this is a most natural arrangement—I mean that the land should be recognised as the property not of individuals, but of the whole community, whatever arrangements may be made for the best cultivation and best use of the land, for, as a matter of fact, the land as distinct from the improvements upon the land is the gift of nature. The origin of private property is very properly supposed to be the fact that so-and-so created it or, rather, added to it the utilities it possesses; but that is not so with regard to the land. No man did make, and nobody can make, the land. It is the gift of nature to the whole of those inhabiting the country, and the law of equal liberty is violated if one man or a few men monopolise that land to the exclusion of the rest of the community. Therefore, I say it is the most natural, the only natural, arrangement that the land should be regarded as the public property of the whole community. The tenants who held it under the community and paid rent and rendered services to the community have gradually shuffled off practically the whole of those rents and servants, and the tenants have managed to convert themselves into, as they are now commonly called, the owners of the land.
The vast majority of our people have become thereby landless men, or, at any rate, they have less, and very much less, land than their share. For the most part they are absolutely landless, absolutely disinherited of their share in the common gift of nature to the community. This is no trifle and no mere theory; on the contrary, I believe those who have studied most carefully the social problems 1791 of our day consider that the monopolising of the land, with the evil conditions which arise from it, is the gravest of the causes of the evils in this country, both directly and indirectly. As to its direct effect on the well-being and poverty of the people, what is the share from which the landless people are excluded? What is it they are deprived of? There are some 77,000,000 acres of land in the United Kingdom, and there are about 9,000,000 families, so that there is a little over 8 acres of land for each family. That is the share of the land which naturally belongs to every family in this United Kingdom. I know, of course, that some of it is waste land, but there is, on the other hand, land of enormous value in our great cities which naturally forms part of the inheritance. Therefore, you may say that 8 acres is the inheritance, the natural share of each family in the common inheritance which is the gift of nature. If you try to put it into money value, it is, of course, extremely difficult to ascertain, because there are no exact figures. But for the United Kingdom, taking the unimproved value of the land—taking the city values due to the presence of population and manufactures, and the value of the agricultural land—I went into the figures pretty carefully some years ago, and came to the conclusion that somewhere between £2,500,000,000 and £3,600,000,000 is the capital value of the land of the country, the pure land value as distinguished from the value of the improvements upon it. That represents an estate of about £300 or £400 in value per family. Therefore we may fairly say that by this gradual monopolising of land in private hands, the disinherited or landless families of the country have each been deprived of an estate worth from £300 to £400 or a matter of from £11 to £15 a year. This is the wrong directly done to the landless families of the country, and I venture to say that restitution, and some considerable measure of restitution, is due to them. This, I think, is to a large extent the justification of the expenditure by the State and the community upon social reform at the present time.
But I will not delay over the theory of the matter. After all, as practical men what we have to ask ourselves is not so much in regard to the theory, but whether the present land system works well. The evils which arise from it are very practical 1792 and very easily traced. The evil effects may be traced most easily in two parts—in the towns and in the country. If you take the country you will find that the great majority of the people are divorced from the land without which neither they nor anyone else can live. They are therefore dependent upon those who have land—the owners and the farmers. From this arise very naturally and immediately the low wages which are at present the disgrace of our rural districts, and which react upon and keep down wages in the towns. If a man had the alternative of working for himself on the land instead of working for the farmer, it is quite clear that he would not be inclined to take such low wages. If you look at new countries where the land is readily accessible, you will see that wages are uniformly much higher than they are here. I will not say that there are no other causes contributing to that, but I do say that the accessibility of the land is one of the most important. In England, before the inclosures, the labouring classes had access to the land in a minor degree, and their position, according to the rough standards of that time, was much superior to the position of the mere agricultural labourer of to-day. In England, where at the present time there are alternatives to that of working for the farmers, for instance, work in the mines, or on allotments or small holdings, you will find the tendency is for wages to be very much higher. We may prove the effect on wages most easily by the fact that farmers for the most part are furiously opposed to anything that tends to allow the labouring class to get access to the land. The reason is that they think it will make the men too independent and able to demand too much wages. What would be the position in our agricultural districts if every family had its fail share of land, its estate of 8 acres, and had had that for a good many generations. Besides low wages, I need not waste many words in showing that bad housing is directly attributable to the landless condition of our people.
Moreover, when we turn from the country to the towns, we find even worse evils equally easily traceable to the land system. We find people driven from the country because, although there is plenty of land only half cultivated, under the present system they cannot get access to it; wages in the towns are beaten down, and the housing accommodation is overcrowded. People who come in have 1793 been accustomed to a very low standard, they have low wages, and they cannot pay for good houses; the consequence is that houses are overcrowded. There is worse than that. The fact that people come into the towns and industries are developed causes the value of land in the towns to go up, and that very fact causes the number of houses upon each acre of land to be increased very much beyond the healthy figure. If you have land at £240 an acre, you can afford to put only ten houses to the acre, and a man pays 6d. a week for his garden. That is what it works out at. If the land is worth £500 an acre you must put more houses upon it, because a man cannot afford to pay 1s. for his garden. If the land goes up to £1,000 an acre it means 2s. a week for the garden, if there are only ten houses to the acre. Therefore, the very coming of the people, the very industry of the people, and the enterprise of the manufacturers puts up the price of the land to such a point that houses are crowded together to save expense, and people suffer from the unhealthiness which is produced from a large number of houses being crowded upon the acre of land.
In addition, there results an immense abstraction of wealth from the people who create it. The ground rents in our cities do not represent any services rendered by those who receive them, in so far as they are real ground rents and not payments for improvements effected by the owners. In London, I believe, it was calculated by Lord Haldane some years ago that £16,000,000 per annum was taken for ground rents, and that that sum was increasing—I am speaking from memory—by £300,000 per annum. Recently the value of the ground rents within the county council area has not risen in proportion, perhaps not at all, but just outside that area, where the people are more and more going to live, the increase in value is still going on at an enormous rate. Therefore we can. say, in regard to London as a whole, that year by year a larger sum is being abstracted from the people simply for the privilege of carrying on their work in that particular position. For the United Kingdom it is estimated that from £100,000,000 to £136,000,000 per annum is taken for the rent of land alone, representing from £11 to £15 per family. If all this land were public property, all these ground values would go, as they should according to natural justice, into the pockets of the community. I will not give the House 1794 many instances, but I could show that in India and in Germany a great part of the public revenues are derived from land. I would, however, point out that there are in England and Wales ninety towns deriving substantial revenues from land and houses belonging to themselves. Doncaster, which was mentioned in this House the other day, gets so much revenue from its land that it has very low rates. Liverpool derives £100,000 a year from an estate which it purchased some centuries ago. Nottingham, I believe, derives £30,000 a year from its land; Bristol, £24,000; Leicester, £10,000; Swansea, £9,000; and so on. There are two small towns in Cornwall, Bodmin and Penrhyn, which pay the whole of their expenses out of the value of their lands, and the same is true of a little village, Cheddleton, in Staffordshire. There are also the Crown estates bringing in a very considerable sum to the nation. If all the land had been public, we should be getting into the public pocket each year this £100,000,000 or £136,000,000, which now passes into private pockets.
But that is by no means all. We have to get that which is more important—that is, control of the land. We have not been able to control the land in the interests of the whole community. As an example of the advantages of such public control I may quote the Small Holdings Act. Since it came into operation in this country, we know what difficulty there has been in getting it to work in most of the counties of England. The county councils, even when they had good will in the matter, have had to go hunting about the county getting a little bit of land here and a little bit of land there, and the expense and trouble has been intolerable. I know, because I myself have been on one of the county council committees. In the case of the Crown estates there was no difficulty, for within two and a half years about 3,000 acres out of a total of 63,000 were obtained for the purpose of small holdings and without any dispossession of existing tenants, simply by cutting up the farms when they happened to fall in. In the same way, if the town land was the property of the town, we should have open spaces and houses properly laid out with gardens. I know from experience of Letchworth that, although these things may perhaps seem extravagant, although to embellish a place with open spaces might seem to throw away a valuable piece of land, it 1795 is not really so. If you have an area in the hands of the community, or a trustee for a community, you get the value back—even the mere money value back—in the value of other land in other parts of the town.
I therefore ask the House to say that there is good ground why we should retrace our steps, at any rate to some considerable extent, from private ownership to public ownership of land. I do not ask the House to say pedantically that we are to go in for universal public ownership in this country. That will probably be a long time hence. But I do ask the House to say that we must, to a considerable extent, supplement our private ownership of land by a very much larger measure than we at present have of public ownership. How is this to be done? I do not propose for one minute that this should be done by confiscation, either directly by the taking of the land or indirectly by the process of taxation. Taxing reform and rating reform are highly important, and I have nothing to say against them so long as they are carried out—I do not like to use the word that I was going to use—but if they are carried out I will put it in this way—with due regard to the honourable interests of property of all sorts. The idea of taxing out, it seems to me, is entirely unjust as between one kind of property and another. I have said that in nature land is the property of the whole community. That is perfectly true. But we have to remember that for generations that has been gradually ceasing to be a fact in this country, and the community has allowed private interests of a most varied and ramified character in land to grow up, so that all sorts of people and all sorts of institutions have an interest in the land. Much personal property has been derived from real property. Land has been exchanged for money and money for land. Men who have earned their money in industries, good, bad, or indifferent, have bought land, and the people who had the land had taken the money and transferred it into industry. If you put the whole burden of rectifying what I have called the disinheritance of the whole people, upon land you will, in my opinion, cause a very great amount of injustice to people who happen at the present moment to be the holders of the land.
As far as it is necessary for property to make sacrifices in putting right this wrong treatment. I think that those sacrifices 1796 should be honourably contributed to by all classes of property. In other words, I propose that we should proceed by the fair purchase of land, and that the money for the fair purchase should be provided partly by taxation and partly in the ordinary way by borrowing the money. I should like to see the Crown making great efforts to purchase land, but I am not going into that side of the question at any length to-night. There are far more matters than I can possibly deal with in my time. The Crown, nevertheless, has a great scope before it for buying land for afforestation and reclamation, and I think it will probably rest with the Crown to buy land in the future for new centres of industry and residence, for what are called garden cities, where, say, a new port is to be opened, a new naval base made, where a railway junction is to be created, or where a new coalfield is to be opened. If the Crown does not do it, I know of no other authority, or individual, or combination of individuals, that can do it. I turn more especially to local authorities. What is the position of local authorities, of town and county councils at the present time with regard to the acquisition of land? They are absolutely prohibited from acquiring or holding any land, under the Statute of Mortmain. They cannot even buy land by voluntary purchase, and even if it is given to them they must sell it again. If land is given by will to a corporation it must be sold within one year. That is the general law on the matter, a law which was, of course, directed against the Church; but it still applies to corporations as to land, though subject to some exceptions. The exceptions are that corporations may be specially authorised to hold land for special purposes. In some ancient Charters some corporations have certain powers given to them for acquiring and holding land. They might have a private Act of Parliament authorising them to acquire them to hold certain land. There are also certain general Acts giving Corporations powers to hold land, but these powers are given in a very niggardly and restrictive way, and are limited to lands for parks, free libraries, allotments, etc.
Perhaps the most extensive powers that have been given to corporations to acquire land are under the Small Holdings Act. I believe about 150,000 acres have been acquired and purchased under those Small Holdings Acts. We want to reverse that general principle of our law—the principle that corporations must not acquire or hold 1797 land. We want to give them the general power to purchase and to acquire land, either to get it by gift or to buy it by agreement, or, if necessary, to get it by compulsion—at a fair price. I am not going over all the ground which has been rather bitterly contested in regard to the excessive prices paid for land. I think there is no doubt that there have been very excessive prices habitually paid for land when it has been wanted by public bodies; that the cost of arbitration under the Land Clauses Act, expert witnesses, arbitrators and all the rest of it, with the 10 per cent. given for compulsory purchase—nobody exactly knows why—amounts to a most serious and unfair tax upon the local authorities that wish to purchase land. The procedure under the Small Holdings Act of a single valuer is better, and under the Town Planning Act there is a very important power for towns to purchase land. What we really want is some better principle for arriving at a fair price, and I suggest to the House that the way to get at a fair price is to base the price upon the value of land as ascertained for the purposes of taxation. Surely land has not two values. Here is a piece of land, and when the tax collector comes round it is worth so much, but the next day when the agent of the municipality wants to buy it, is it to have a different value? If the value under the present valuation system is not fair it should be made fair, but I believe it is on the whole fair. We want the value as taken for the purposes of taxation made the basis of the price of the land, which is to be purchased by the public authority. I say the basis, for it is quite clear it can only be the basis. You may have considerable changes in the value since the valuation was made. You may be taking away half a man's land, or there may be other forms of special damage. These things must be taken into account by somebody, and I suggest it should be taken into account by a judicial commissioner belonging to the Land Department which we need so badly: a person with judicial office, who will take as a basis the valuation and see if any allowances are to be made outside that valuation.
I think it is quite clear from what I have said what kind of use I want public authorities to make of this land when they have purchased it, and I especially suggest that our towns should go to the outskirts of their areas and purchase land which is about to become town land, and 1798 about to be built upon. We have gone on for many years pretending we do not know whether our towns are going to grow or not, and letting everything go on in a blind way. If we think for one minute we will see that towns have grown enormously in the last two generations, and that everything points to their continuing to grow. We should allow our municipalities power to go to the outskirts of their areas, or even a little outside that, and purchase land which can be got now at or near agricultural value, and which when they have got it they can develop by putting down roads, and sewers, and waterworks, and electricity, and trams, and thereby do what is done in German towns where they get enormous profit out of the development of the land that they have purchased on the outskirts of their towns. I am not going into other questions such as the rural question. My ideas on that will appear from what I have said of the evils we have suffered. I ask the House to accept this Resolution. I believe what I have suggested follows to a considerable extent on the same lines as the Government's proposals—those proposals put before us so eloquently in several speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and in one great speech, at any rate, by the Prime Minister in the last twelve months. I am not asking the House, to endorse any theoretic matter I put forward at the beginning, or the idea that all land in this country or in any other country must necessarily be public property. But I am asking the House to accept my Resolution and to give local authorities much wider powers to acquire land upon fair terms for the benefit of their communities.
Mr. GORDON HARVEY
The Mover of the Resolution now before the House has dealt effectively and adequately with a subject to which he has given a life service, and I rise to second this Motion, because I, too, have for a long time taken a deep and continued interest in the study of the question of Land Reform. I may be permitted to remind the House that some two years ago, I had the honour of presenting to the House a Bill for the acquisition of land by local government authorities, and that that Bill embodied the same idea as is now within the confines of this Resolution. I only mention that tonight in order to tell the House what followed from the introduction of that Bill. I received about two hundred resolutions from the councils of county boroughs and urban authorities warmly 1799 commending the proposals of that Bill, and I can assure hon. Members here to-night that that was not a mere party endorsement. Indeed, so far as local government areas are concerned this question has almost ceased to be an acute party question, and many of the municipalities that supported my proposal were of a distinctly Conservative colour. The present powers of those authorities are miserably inadequate; not only that, but when they are ready to acquire land the transaction is surrounded by all the galling restriction that a Government Department can enforce. They are not allowed to hold land. They are not allowed to anticipate the most obvious necessities of the near future. It is only when they are actually driven to erect all necessary improvements that they can come into the market and buy, and they are obliged to specify the use of the land that they are about to acquire. They are forbidden to look ahead, and who is so well able as the governing authority of a town to anticipate what the near future may have in its hands.
The councils and boroughs may have before their very eyes the near coming of the most obvious necessity for which they need to purchase land. They may see rising within their confines, or just outside, a new population, due to one cause or another, and they may know that that increasing population may bring in its train certain needs. They know that schools will be required, that recreation grounds ought to be established, and all those things that ought to be done to make corporate life decent and respectable. Knowing these things, why should they not be allowed to anticipate their requirements? It would be economical to allow them to do so, and would hurt nobody. If they were allowed to come in and buy their land in time no doubt there would be plenty of land to be had at prices that would be reasonable, but we compel them to wait until the very pinch of necessity is upon them, and how often it happens in the development of a town that before the municipality can come in and buy, the most suitable and central plots are gone for ever, and the prices at which they must purchase are considerably enhanced. The consequence of that is, that they are driven to purchasing in the dearest market, and, consequently, they buy as little land as possible. That is not the way in which great businesses are conducted, and the government of a great 1800 town surely is a great business enterprise, and it is one in the service of which we ought to try and enlist the best work and the greatest enthusiasm of our most capable and leading citizens. And yet when they are elected to these local bodies, we shackle them with all sorts of difficulties, instead of giving them freedom. We deny to those who run our municipal business two of the most essential powers that all successful business undertakings must possess, namely, the power of organising and the power of foresight. There are many capable and successful business men who are Members of this House. If there are any present to-night, I ask them whether they are prepared to say that, whatever success their businesses may have attained, could have been attained had they been denied the power of organisation and foresight? I put a question on the Paper a short time ago to inquire if I could get information as to how much land the great municipal boroughs of this country held in their keeping. The answer I got was very brief, and it was, "There is no information on the point,"—that is to say, the whole thing is a matter of great indifference.
It is not so in Germany. There you can get all the figures, and the German Governments, both local and central, are proud of the figures they are able to put forward. If you take the thirteen greatest German towns with an aggregate population of 4,600,000, you will find that they own no less than 300,000 acres—that is to say, that the thirteen most important towns in Germany hold land to the extent of one acre for every fifteen of their population. It is a very remarkable thing to notice that of this land no less than 70 per cent. of it lies just outside the adminstrative areas of the municipalities. In Germany the Government departments, instead of hindering and impeding municipalities in the acquirement of land, are always urging and pressing upon them the necessity of buying up land as fast as it comes into the market. Take the town of Cologne. That town possesses land worth no less than £3,000,000. The Mover of this Resolution referred to the need and necessity of buying, in respect of growing towns at any rate, the outlaying belt of land around the city, and I believe that it is the most important thing a town could do with confidence. As my hon. Friend has said, in all probability a great profit would accrue to the municipality from the purchase of this kind of land in 1801 years to come. I think the profit would be very considerable indeed. In speaking to this Motion, I am not thinking so much of more profit as of more civilisation. I am not thinking so much of lower rates as of higher lives. If our councils could buy cheap land, if they were allowed to buy land while it is reasonable in price, I think they should try to keep a good deal of that land at a reasonable cheapness for the better living of the poorer people in the towns. We are becoming more and more a town-dwelling people. It may be that tendencies are arising, or about to arise, that will to some extent divert the people from the towns to the country, and I hope that will be the case. At the present time, however, the bulk of our population dwell within the confines of the towns, and I believe that the question of spreading out the growing population of our towns over a wider area is one which perhaps transcends all other political questions of to-day, and the regulation and the location of the dwelling-places of the people and their industry is one which is worthy of receiving the immediate attention of the highest statesmanship. It will be a very slow and a very costly thing to reform and set right the grievous mistakes of the past. We see them in every town of this country, and they are lamentable indeed. I hope at no distant date we shall take some steps to remedy these mistakes, and secure that they will not be repeated in the future. I would like to suggest that if it were enacted that municipalities could acquire land, that part of the profit on any land accruing from such a transaction should be earmarked for the demolition of the worst slums within the area of the town. We are very fond of saying that we are governed by certain laws which we call economic laws, which certainly do affect men's lives, and it is very strange how often these laws seem as if they had been invented to spite the poor. It seems a most outrageous thing that a necessity so inevitable as that of occupying a space of earth should cost the lightest to the richest and be the heaviest to the poor. It is not really a law, but it is a rule invented by perversity and the indifference of man and Governments. I believe this rule could be broken. I believe that by a better system of dealing with land, by placing more confidence in those who govern our towns, this rule could be changed. Success for the improvement of our towns depends, to my mind, on the ownership in part, at any 1802 rate, by the community of the land on which the citizens of the community reside. They can only get possession of this land while it is cheap. If they can do that and get plenty of it, and keep on buying more and more as opportunity occurs, I think then, and then only, will there be a hope for better things for the dwellers in our cities and our towns.
§ Mr. HILLS
I find myself in sympathy with a large part of this Motion, and certainly I feel myself also in sympathy with the very reasonable speech in which the Mover has proposed this Resolution. First of all, I would ask why cannot our corporations now possess land. The reason is a curious and an absurd one. It is because there exist upon our Statute Book old laws of mortmain, which were enacted for laudable purposes which have long ceased to exist. The mortmain laws were enacted for this reason: It was not good for the community that the land should get into the hands of corporate bodies. The land is never sold; it is taken out of the market, and it does not form a part of the land which is there for commercial purposes. It is held up by the dead hands of the corporation, and there it rests. For that reason, and that reason alone, our corporations now cannot hold land. I agree with a great deal of this Motion, but I do not think that you can regard the problem in the town and in the country as being the same. I notice that the Mover almost entirely, and that the Seconder entirely, dealt with the town problem. Still, the Motion does refer to the rural problem, and to the need for the acquisition of land by the State for purposes of allotments and small holdings and afforestation. Therefore, we must consider it in the terms in which it is on the Paper.
A great deal of mischief is done by confusing the rural and the urban problem. I submit that they are entirely different, and, speaking for myself, as far as the country is concerned, I want to see occupying ownerships—ownership by the man who farms the land. I think that is right, for the reason that in the country you have permanent conditions. If you look at agriculture, you see that things are more or less stable. You see that the farm unit has not changed for centuries and will not change in the future, and so, as far as the country is concerned, I do not think that public ownership is right. You had far better press for ownership by the occupier. I do not think that the present system of small holdings is good, because 1803 you thereby take away from the small holder all those imaginative and spiritual appeals which are involved in ownership. Although you may say that he gets security, he does not get ownership, and it is ownership he wants. When you come to the town, you find a totally different state of conditions prevail. In the town you have changing conditions, and you want the municipality to have control of its destiny; you want them to control the land in their area. Therefore, whereas in the country you have more or less a stable condition of things, in the town you have change. Anybody can see it for himself. If he casts his mind back, he will see that in the last thirty or forty years London has changed completely. The conditions that apply to the country do not, therefore, apply to the town. I quite agree with the Mover that the town ought to control its own destiny, and for that purpose it must have, if not the ownership of land, the control of more than the land on which the town stands now, for most towns are extending, and it ought to control the future as well as the present. The exact system that ought to apply is a matter for debate.
I do not believe that the system of individual ownership which obtains in the country is really the best for the town. In the first place, the leasehold system in our towns is not a good one. No one really defends it. It is not really fair to the tenant or to the merchant. It puts too great a power in the hands of the landlord. It is really a very bad system, and is one that sprung up against the interest of the community. But I do not think that you meet your object by saying that all leaseholders are to be turned into freeholders. I do not think that leasehold enfranchisement is an answer, for the simple reason that when you come to consider the corporation of the town you have to give them certain overriding advantages. The corporation is more important than the individual, and a series of smallholders in a town would make improvements even more hard than they are now. All hon. Gentlemen in this House who have been concerned in their local affairs and in town improvements know very well that one landlord is much better to deal with than a series of small landowners. Therefore, I do not think that a series of small owners in the town is to be desired. I want to give the town the right to acquire land for the purposes of improvement, housing, and 1804 open spaces, and to acquire that land at a fair price, and yet meet the fair claim of the owners of the land and of all the people who live in the area, and who make business there, and may eventually be bought out. I am not sure that the best way is to allow the corporation to buy the land. More mistakes are made in buying land than in buying anything else, except a horse. People sometimes look at the large fortunes which are made out of land, but I assure the House that as much money is lost in buying land as is gained. It is extremely speculative. It requires the highest skill. It requires more than skill. It requires the gift of prophecy. If corporations are going in largely for land speculation, a great many of them, with the best intentions in the world, will lock the ratepayers' money up in unremunerative investments, for, though you can make a good case on paper for buying land, and though you can point to cases where a corporation has failed to buy it and has then at the end bought it at an increased price, you must not forget the other side of the account, the years the land lies vacant, the interest that runs up, and the mistakes that even the best judgment must make.
I do not think that our corporations, highly as I rate their ability and integrity, should go in for the business of land speculation, and I do commend my scheme to the House because under my scheme they get all the advantages of purchase without the risk. Supposing you take any town, and allow that town to say, "We are a growing town. We have grown to a certain extent in the last few years, and we expect that in the next fifty years we shall extend to a certain area, and, besides that, we want garden suburbs and parks and open spaces and playgrounds." Suppose you allow the corporation of that town to have a preemption on all land in that defined area, on all the land that would be required for the growth of that town and for more than its growth—for its amenities—for a period of fifty years. Suppose you allowed for a periodical revision of the estimate, and for asking for an extension of the period. Then we come to the question of price. That is a very important matter. It is the ruling factor in all town improvements, and public corporations and bodies are handicapped because of the excessive price that has to be paid for land. It is a curious circumstance, but it never was the 1805 intention of the law. It is due, however, to the rooted mistrust of public authorities in the English heart, and when a corporation, a gas company, or a railway company wants to buy land, everybody concerned—the counsel, the expert witnesses, and the jury—all favour the private individual. Even in an arbitration under the Land Clauses Act the witnesses called on both sides assess the value on a different basis to that which they would adopt if they were buying the land for themselves or for their clients. You must, therefore, find some more fair way of ascertaining the price. It should also be a more speedy and cheaper way. I see the Motion suggests that the purchase price should be the price fixed for taxation.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
Not that it should be the price, but that the price should be based on that basis.
§ Mr. HILLS
I quite agree the hon. Member would allow for a fair increase, and, if I may say so, he has put his case for purchase and for compensation very fairly indeed. I have always thought that if the State would allow each man to put a value on his own land, and to put what price he pleased, on the condition that he is taxed as well as bought out on that price, he would not dare put a small value merely in order to pay low taxes, because he would run the risk of being bought out. But, unfortunately, the Government in their Budget did not do that. They did not allow a man to assess the value of his own land. They put on it a value which is very hard to understand, and which is somewhat remote from the plain market value of such land. You must have something different from the present system, and I suggest that, under the scheme I have tried to outline, the line should be fixed at the simple price or the fair value of the land as between buyer and seller, and that then the corporation should have the right of buying out the land and allowing for a reasonable increase in value during the time, but not allowing for an inflated price to be placed upon if. Yon must also provide for the fact that the person occupying the land might have treated the business, and secured a certain good will. It is open to argument whether you ought not to compensate such a person. I do with some confidence ask the House to consider some suggestion of that sort. I do not want to see the ratepayers' money locked up in enormous land schemes. I do not believe that in 1806 that case the ratepayer would come out on top. The land that he would buy could be bought by other people, and those other people on the whole are better able to decide the value of the land than he is. I do not believe that in a long course of years, allowing for the loss of interest and the mistakes that are bound to be made, corporations would do better than by buying the land, as they now do, from hand to mouth. Under my scheme, a town would be master in its own house. It would say, "We expect to extend on to this land in fifty years." They could buy it out by a cheap and simple process. They could make parks and open spaces, and they would not have to employ any capital expenditure until they wanted to do the work. I believe that thereby they would gain great advantages in both ways.
§ Mr. GEORGE ROBERTS
I wish to state the position of the Labour party towards both the Resolution and the Amendment. I presume it is contemplated that the Amendment shall in due course be submitted, and, therefore, I hope that any reference I make to it will not be regarded as out of order. Those on whose behalf I am entitled to speak to-night approach the question from the standpoint of the State giving its land up to the best possible purposes, and in the event of socially created values appropriating them for social purposes. But in our opinion these two purposes will never be achieved except on the lines of the principle embodied in the Resolution. The hon. Gentleman who has just addressed the House in his customary interesting and serious fashion, has outlined a proposal providing that municipalities should be invested with the power of preemption for a fixed period. I candidly confess that there is something of attraction, even in that proposal, although it falls short of what those for whom I am speaking would advocate. On the other hand, I can conceive some considerable disadvantage attaching to it. For instance, a corporation may mark out its surrounding area. Presumably, they have no right of proprietorship in or any power of developing the area thus preempted. The fact that the corporations had that power of pre-emption would, in my opinion, have the effect of destroying all private initiative in that area, for certainly no private individual or body would go to the trouble of raising capital, erecting buildings, and establishing a 1807 business with the uncertainty as to whether the corporation, at the expiration of the given period, would exercise the power of pre-emption conferred upon it. For my part, I feel that that hardly meets the case which seems to be very widely admitted here to-night. Municipalities, when they require to extend, are entirely and admittedly, on the admission of the hon. Gentleman himself, at the mercy of the private landowner. It seems to me that the private owner has a very poor conscience when he is dealing with that impersonal abstraction called a public authority. Some of us have entertained that opinion for many years, but we are glad to have it recorded from the benches opposite that it is really a matter of fact. We want to protect the public authority in a case of that sort.
I most heartily associate myself with the sentiment expressed by the Mover of the Resolution, and say that I am not an advocate of confiscation. I desire as fair treatment for the landlords as for any other class of the community. We may differ as to what is fair treatment, but we agree that our purpose is identical and that we are equally animated with a sense of public right and justice. A municipality has a right to look ahead. A municipality should be a business concern. It should have regard to the probable development of the district, and it ought not to be restricted in the sense of being unable to make provision for public needs until such time as the public necessity becomes an absolute urgency. Every one of us is familiar with cases of the most reprehensible exaction where a municipality has desired land for the purposes of housing. I am able to recall one instance where a burial board was faced with a necessity for more land, which was required in order to fulfil the sacred purpose of burying its dead. The whole of that district was owned by one gentleman. Perforce the municipality and the burial board were compelled to negotiate with that gentleman, who is a Noble Lord and a very estimable person. There was no consideration there of a fair value, but the highest possible price that could be extorted out of a pressing public need was charged. Such a circumstance as that is quite indefensible. When the burial board bought the original cemetery site they knew full well that it was not adequate for all time. They believed that they would have to renew a request for 1808 more land in a few years' time, but the owner of the land refused at that time to sell them more land. He foresaw that they would have to come again, and he was then able to perceive that owing to their sheer necessity they would be compelled to pay him whatever price he cared to place upon that land. I believe the increment in that case in the course of thirty years was over £1,100 an acre. In the first place, £700 an acre was paid—already a very high price in my view—and in the subsequent transaction over £1,800 an acre had to be paid by this burial board for the purpose of fulfilling its duty.
If municipalities were relieved of the great disability presently imposed upon them by mortmain, or the "dead hand," as we more commonly call it, they would have been relieved of such an exaction as that. I desire that municipalities generally should not only be possessed of this power, but should be encouraged to exercise it. Everybody who has visited Continental cities will be aware that the extraordinary developments which have taken place in them during the last generation or so are very largely attributable to the fact that there municipalities are not restricted in the same fashion as those are in this country. Neither under the existing order, or under the suggested form of pre-emption, as outlined by the hon. Member, do we seem to safeguard municipalities in this matter from exaction, nor do we allow them proper and appropriate development. The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. Hills) has suggested that in connection with the principle of public ownership there was a real differentiation as between the rural and the urban problem. I have admitted in this House on many occasions that in some points there is a distinction between the two, but I am going to advance a few reasons showing that from our point of view you are not justified in saying that while purchase is good for urban areas, it is not applicable to agricultural or rural areas. I am not very much enamoured of immediately supplying landlords with extraordinarily inflated values which prevail in urban areas. On behalf of those with whom I am associated, I want to say that we extremely regret that the Amendment should have been put down in the form of a direct challenge to the principle of public ownership. It is well-known by those hon. Gentlemen who have made themselves responsible for the Amendment that there are many of my 1809 hon. Friends who would go a very long way with them, and it is extremely unfortunate that they should forego a certain amount of support. They could have formulated their proposals without throwing down this challenge to the central principle of this Resolution.
In respect to urban values I think their proposals have a peculiar form of application. The taxation of urban values is at least a temporary expedient. We are not in favour of large sums of public money being devoted to the purpose of buying out landlords in urban areas at the extraordinary prices which presently prevail. The hon. Gentleman has introduced there what is not a novel principle, that you should allow the landlord to place his own value on the land, and that we should have the power to tax him or buy him out on that value. That has received very widespread advocacy, and I believe it is one of the proposals of the Land Nationalisation Society. I would point out that the, hon. Gentleman may find that act harshly towards the landlords, because the State and the municipality, being invested with the power of rating and taxation respectively, can place such rates and taxes as they desire upon those values. The landlord having declared his value, if he has put it too high, neither the State nor the municipality will purchase, but they will continue to tax him. On the other hand, they will only buy if he has placed a low or fair value on the land. The hon. Gentleman states that he is all for occupying ownership in respect of the rural problem. We know that that is the particular panacea of the party with which he is associated in regard to the rural problem. We on these benches are strongly opposed to that.
I believe the time is ripe for the State to make very large purchases of agricultural land. The demand for small holdings and the revival of agriculture seem to make this period particularly appropriate for a very large State venture of this character. I believe it is only by State ownership that you will ever be able to appropriate the social values which are created, not by individuals, but by the presence and industry of a population. I believe that our agricultural land is going to receive a very great increment in value in succeeding years. The growth of the population in all parts of the world, the present admitted restrictions of food supplies, the fact that the virgin qualities of the soil in our Colonies are already being exhausted, 1810 which means that great expenditure has to be devoted to the raising of crops, the use of more labour, and to expenditure on more manures and that sort of thing, are bound to increase the cost of producing the food supplies which have hitherto so plentifully flowed to these shores. I believe that is an inevitable world movement, and I am certain that we are reading the signs aright when we say that there is a very hopeful future for the agricultural industry of our country. At any rate, that is an opinion of my own, and I believe it is very widely shared by other thinkers in the community. That seems to me from a business point of view to afford a very strong reason why the State should not disregard the rural part of this problem, but should regard that as one of the most practicable and immediate means of realising the purpose of transferring land from private to public ownership. Of course, we are told that this will be a very expensive undertaking, and that we have no right to use public funds for this purpose. In my opinion, public money could not be devoted to a better purpose than bringing back the land of the country to the ownership of the country. We have spent light-heartedly, or at any rate freely, money on expensive expeditions in other parts of the world. I am not going to argue as to whether they were avoidable or justifiable, or what not, but if we had been able to avoid that form of wasteful expenditure and so have devoted £300,000,000 to the purpose of bringing our land back into the possession of the people, our country and our Empire would be much greater and better for our population than is the case at the present time. Thus, then, we favour the Resolution as it stands, and I hope that my hon. Friends who are in charge of the Amendment will accept my observations in the spirit in which I have intended to convey them, that whilst we find ourselves in a large measure in agreement with them in its application to the urban problem, and we are prepared to go with them to a very great extent, we very deeply regret that they should have issued this direct challenge to us and that we find ourselves compelled to vote against them, and in full sympathy and support of the Resolution as it is submitted to us. All those who have spoken have laid stress upon the direct relationship of land ownership to great social problems. Private ownership often means bad housing, and it is sometimes responsible for overcrowding.
§ Mr. ROBERTS
I accept that. I always prefer to err on the side of moderate language, and I want to avoid a reputation for using immoderate or extravagant argument. I have said these things, and they are facts, and they are demonstrated in our everyday affairs. A great demand exists, too, in our rural parts for land. Small holders are constantly preferring those demands, and they cannot be adequately supplied, largely because of this consideration of public ownership. At any rate I have known this, that land which has appeared to be almost without value has enormously risen as soon as any agitation ensued for the purpose of small holdings under recent legislation. We believe that the social values accruing to land ought to be devoted to public purposes. There are only two ways of raising the sums requisite for national purposes—either by taxation or by business enterprises—and we feel that there is so great an outcry about the amount of direct and indirect taxation that the State might very well cast about for another means of bringing in money for the great purposes that we have to consider. The hon. Member (Mr. Gordon Harvey) made a point that we are constantly emphasising—the injustice of our present conditions. The rich man lives on cheap land and the poor man lives on expensive land. That is an anomaly in itself which is indefensible, and, after all, I feel sure that everyone will desire that there should be equal treatment as between all classes, and that when we have circumstances of this character in our midst at any rate some consideration ought to be given to this problem. My colleagues and myself intend to vote for the Resolution. We hope we shall not be placed in a position of having to vote against the Amendment, because we are very largely interested in the known purposes of those who are promoting it. We support the Resolution because it is comprehensive in character, and if it were carried out would be of incalculable benefit, not to a class, but to the community as a whole. We support the Resolution, and we believe that the land of every country ought to be the property of the people of that country.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I beg to move to leave out the words, "a large extension of the public ownership of land is urgently called for, and that the powers 1812 of land acquisition which are at present possessed by the State and by local authorities are inadequate and ought to be increased, that such authorities should have a general power to acquire (either by agreement or by compulsion) and to hold any land which they may consider necessary; and power to use such land for afforestation, reclamation, allotments and small holdings, housing, town-planning, open spaces, public improvements, or such other purposes as they may from time to time be authorised to carry out; that such powers should extend to the acquisition of land for prospective, and not merely for present, needs; and that, in ascertaining the purchase price of such land, the basis taken should be the valuation made for the purpose of taxation," and to insert instead thereof the words, "the policy of land purchase is mistaken; that what is wanted is the use rather than the ownership of the land; that secure tenure on fair terms is better than proprietorship; and that the first step to reform is to rate and tax those who hold the land according to the value of the land which they hold, whether they use it or not, so as to increase the available supply of land and reduce land prices and rents to their natural level, while at the same time unrating improvements, so as to give free course to production."
I have listened with very great interest to the speeches which have been made, and I am sure everyone who appreciates the importance of the land question will be glad at its increased recognition on all sides of the House. I listened with particular attention to my hon. Friend (Mr. Aneurin Williams). To the first part of his speech I listened with great satisfaction, but when he came to the second part 1 failed to see where was the connecting link. I failed to see the logical connection between the first principles which he laid down and the extensive scheme of purchase he put forward as his solution of the difficulty. I very much appreciated the words which have fallen from my hon. Friend (Mr. G. Roberts). At the same time there is this fundamental difference. The main object of the Resolution is to facilitate and finance a general scheme of land purchase, and my hon. Friend spoke of desiring an extensive system of land purchase or something of that sort. The reason why I put down the Amendment is because some of us disapprove of that, and do not consider it the right way to solve the problem. Consequently we come up 1813 against a difference of principle, or at least a difference of practice, in matters of the very first importance. With many things that my hon. Friend (Mr. Aneurin Williams) said I entirely agree. He spoke of the way in which under the Feudal system there had been no land ownership as, technically, there is now, but those who had the land were tenants of the Crown, fulfilling certain obligations. He spoke of the way in which they had gradually shuffled off those obligations and put obligations on to their tenants, and thus practically come into a position equivalent to that of landowners. Of course, there was no technical ownership of land. He laid down the fundamental principle with which those who sympathise with my views entirely agree when he spoke of the land being the gift of nature. We all recognise that the land, in so far as it is there naturally, is the gift of nature, and we go further, because we agree with what he said, that from the point of view of justice and equity, according to the law of equal freedom, the land is the property of the whole community.
Our fundamental principle is that the rights of the people to the land ought to be based on that. We maintain that all the community have certain fundamental rights to all the land of the country. We do not say that they used to have it, and have lost it. We maintain that these are fundamental and natural rights extending to all the community from generation to generation. Assuming that the community have that power, what is the best way of asserting it? Our proposition is that the best and simplest way is to reform our present system of rating and taxation, because it is really by the payments made in respect of landed property that the rights of the community to the land are recognised. Therefore, what we say is that all those who hold land, instead of being rated and taxed on the present basis as regards the land, should be rated and taxed according to the market value of the land they hold, whether they use it or not. That is a fundamental principle, and that is the financial method of maintaining the right of the people to the land. Not only so, but it would have a great many effects in other ways. I am not here arguing the point as to the single tax. What I am arguing is that the rating and taxation of land on the basis of its market value is a practical scheme, and, being a practical scheme, we want this new standard for rating and taxation. When 1814 we look at what the effects, direct and indirect, will be, we find that our position is very much fortified. After all, we have been hearing a great deal about the excessive prices of land, and often the excessive rents which have to be paid for land. That is admitted on both sides of the House. I am sure it is recognised, broadly speaking, in regard to land as in respect of other things, that the amount which can be got for it depends on the amount available in the market. Our position is that a large amount of land is kept back from use, or the best use, so that the existing supply is narrowed and prices and rents are sent up far above their natural level.
That is the first thing we have to deal with. Any attempt on the part of municipalities to embark on wide schemes of land purchase at the present inflated prices will be a mistake, and will tell in after years. If you adopt the principle—I include the unrating of buildings that those who hold the land should contribute to the needs of the community in proportion to its value, whether it is used or not, then you will break down the monopoly, land will be available, and land prices and rents will fall to what they ought to be. We will have solved the problem in that way without having to embark on the ownership of land at all. If the rights of the people are properly secured in that way, I do not know that there is any objection to the Statutes of Mortmain going to-morrow, for the conditions which led to them have long passed away. We have no objection to that, but we object to commit ourselves to extensive schemes of land purchase. A good deal has been said about the depression in towns. The conditions as to low wages and bad houses are the same in both town and country, and here I would make an observation as to what fell from the hon. and learned Member when he spoke of the fundamental difference between rural and urban land. I recognise no such difference. You cannot draw a line and say that a town begins here and ends there. It is a fundamental principle that you must treat the land question as a whole.
I would like to give an instance of the difficulties we find in towns from the city of Glasgow—the second city in the Kingdom—one of the Divisions of which I have the honour to represent. In that city we have a population of over a million, and the overcrowding is worse by far than in any of the cities of England. The corporation recently required some unused vacant land for 1815 public purposes. The land was being treated for rating purposes as having an annual value of £5. When they tried to acquire it they found that the price asked was £2,340, or something like that. What is our simple solution for the difficulty? Not a scheme of land purchase. What we want to see is that the land is properly taxed. Take that land at its owner's valuation. Rate the owner, say, upon 5 per cent. of the capital value. What would happen? In this case he would be rated at nearly £100, and, if that were done, this and other land which is being held up against us would be—
§ Sir FREDERICK BANBURY
What would be the yield on a million of Marconis, which make no dividend at all?
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I notice that when one tries to give an illustration of how land is dealt with an attempt is made to switch off the discussion on to the question of Marconis. I absolutely decline to discuss that question. My hon. Friend spoke of the outlying belt around a town. Hon. Members will recognise the gravity of the situation to which I have referred. That outlying belt is one of our difficulties. The hon. Member spoke of the flow to the towns. That flow still continues to some extent, and the best way in which we can meet it is to extend the town so as to meet the needs of the people. In the case of Glasgow there are thousands of acres in the outlying strip. I am not exaggerating, for I have seen the figures. The last municipal election largely turned on the land question. The people want to know why they should not have this land available. It is rated, roughly speaking, at an annual value of 30s., but when you try to get it, whether you are the municipality or a builder, to meet the needs of the community you find that what we call in Scotland its feuing price—that is, the annual Feu Duty—is not 30s., but something like £30 a year. That is the problem which we are up against. It is because Glasgow understands the nature of the problem and sees that what we want to do to settle it is to rate the land on its market value that it has taken the matter up. If that were done a great deal of the land would be brought into the market to-morrow and those conditions which are holding the towns in an iron grip and keeping the people herded together would be broken down, and the land would be open to the people without any State-aided purchase or any purchase whatever.
§ Sir J. D. REES
Will the hon. Member explain why the people who own the land are not people just as much as any other people?
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
They are, and the other people have certain rights to the earth as well as they. On what basis should those who have the land be rated? On its true market value. I maintain that there should be, broadly speaking, one value, whether the community is to purchase from the landlord or the landlord is to pay rates to the community. That is our simple proposition. One law for the rich and poor alike. One law for all and an equal value. That is the way to deal with the land problem in our towns and in our country districts as well. Hon. Members who know country districts know that the problem is quite as pressing there as in the towns. One of the things which prevent people from settling down and drive them from the country into the towns, is the enormous difficulties which young married people have in obtaining housing accommodation. I know from my own experience numerous cases in which people have gone to live in country districts where they can get land year after year for merely agricultural purposes and at almost nominal sums, but if they want to get it for building they have to pay a very high price. That I can show in Scotland in abundant cases, and it is shown in England by the latest Report of the Local Government Board and the prices that have often been paid. There, again, we say that those who own the land should be rated and taxed on the basis of its market value, whether they use it or not. If that were done the land would be available. I know that there are difficulties of building conditions, and I know that building may be costly, but just to minimise the cost of building we want to relieve houses from rating as far as we possibly can.
We have already taken Inhabited House Duty off the poorer class of houses. Why have a house tax at all or a house rate at all? I do not say that we can abolish it altogether. I know that the complete carrying out of the idea is difficult at the moment. My point is that we ought to go in that direction and that we should try gradually, as far as we can, to centre rating and taxation on the market value of the land, and then frank houses 1817 and improvements of every kind in order that people may be able to get what land is required and that our industries may have a fair chance in the competition of the world. I may quote some observations made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer not very long ago, because they have an important bearing on another question. I have heard the point raised by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and raised with some force, that the real difficulty of housing in country districts was not merely the difficulty of land or housing, but the lowness of the wages. We want to do what we can to raise the minimum wage. In the passage which I wish to quote, the Chancellor of the Exchequer spoke of taking the working classes in the towns right out to the country to live in districts where land is cheap, where they can have not merely comfortable houses, but where they can get large gardens, which will help to solve the problem of unemployment when trade is bad, because—and these are the words to which I would direct the attention of the House—no man need starve if he has got a good garden.That takes us back to the very fundamentals of the labour problem. No man need starve while he has sufficient productive land at his disposal. I would supplement that by saying that nature's minimum wage is what people can get from the land to which they have access, and what keeps the minimum wage down is that people are denied the fundamental rights to the land and the opportunity of earning a living from the natural resources of land, and are driven into towns to manufacturing employments. The way to end that is to open up the natural resources of the country. The one way of doing that is to deal with the problem along the lines which I have indicated.
I have said that we would favour certain things—for instance, the abolition of the obsolete laws of mortmain or various other things—but we certainly decline to commit ourselves to a policy of land purchase, and of speculative land purchase. I would put it to hon. Members that if those reforms can come about we would find that though the productive capacity of the land would be increased, the fact that there was a much greater available supply would send prices down, so that in many cases the land speculation would be a losing matter. In fact, what the people want is not so much the 1818 ownership as the use of the land. What municipalities want is the right to give people a chance to get the use of the land on fair terms. There is no need for purchase for that. You can do it in the way I have indicated. So far as peasant proprietorship is concerned, of which the hon. Gentleman spoke, I would like, if I may, to associate myself with his criticisms of the speculative character of land purchase. I do not think that any attempt was made to anticipate that either by the Mover or the Seconder of the Resolution. I differ from him entirely in his suggestion as to the advantage of occupying ownership. It is far better for the small man who wants to work a small piece of ground to get it with a secure tenure on fair terms. He can do very much better by paying rent than by capital purchase. Even when you assist him in the capital purchase, when he comes to transfer to somebody else the whole work has to be gone through again. On that point I would like to read some words that were written recently by Lord Carrington, who has a great personal knowledge of small holdings:—To the farmer, whether large or small, the principal consideration is not what is the value of the land he tills, but what is the value of the produce which he can get out of it. This being so, it goes without saying that the whole of a fanner's capital should be free to be utilised for productive purposes and for the development and extension of his business. … Under a system of tenancy, a man has the whole of his capital available for his business, while under a system of ownership he is handicapped by having a portion of it either locked up in the land or in the pocket of the usurer or moneylender, who sooner or later may swallow up the whole.With those words I entirely agree. In fact, what we want is not a policy of land purchase, but the recognition of the fundamental rights of the people, a true valuation of the land on the basis of its market value, and the adoption of a proper standard of rating and taxation.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I beg to second the Amendment.
While I think we are justified in putting our view before the House, I recognise to the full what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich (Mr. G. Roberts) on behalf of those with whom he is associated. I can quite understand that in regard to the different schools of thought on this question they are put in a somewhat difficult position when they have to choose. I am in perfect agreement with my hon. Friend the Mover of the Amendment in paying a tribute to the earnestness of my hon. Friend the Member for 1819 North-West Durham (Mr. Aneurin Williams) in moving this Resolution, yet while I fully appreciate all that he has said as to the evils associated with land monopoly, I think that we are entitled to take this opportunity of challenging the proposal made constantly in the country that land nationalisation is a real remedy for land monopoly.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
The hon. Gentleman is suggesting that I argued on land nationalisation to-night. That is not the subject before the House.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I think that I shall be able to show that I am quite in order. What I am endeavouring to point out is that we are told again and again in the country that while our proposal would do very little to advance in a small way the solution of this problem, land nationalisation is a real remedy. I think it will be admitted that we have a right to respond to that challenge when we have the opportunity. This Resolution which has been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham calls for public ownership of land as a solution of this question, and it has been supported by speeches in which we are told that the community ought to possess the land, and that these social values should belong to the community, and be acquired by the community by purchase. We are entitled to ask why it is that our Friends have not the courage of their convictions when the opportunity comes to submit their proposal to the House of Commons, and why it is that they run away from it. What is it that we are told about the social values which should belong to the community? The valuable land is in the centre of the towns; it is the land which is most likely to increase in value in the future, and it is the land which is to remain in the hands of private individuals. But in regard to the least valuable land, the land in the outskirts, the land furthest away from the community, they are to indulge in gambling by buying land in the hope that it may increase in value, and that it may in this way gain as a social value. According to the Mover of the Resolution, they ought to buy land suitable for afforestation, the moors and mountains; yet when it comes to land in the centre of the towns it is to remain in the hands of private holders. I think we are entitled to something more like definiteness, and as to the 1820 proposal in regard to the towns, surely I have represented it fairly. The proposal with regard to the towns is that the plots outside the towns ought to be purchased, but the community is not to be encouraged to buy land in the centre of the towns.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I did not say anything about the land in the centre of the towns. I suggested that they should have power to buy such land as they chose, and that probably they would choose to buy land on the outer edges of the town, because it is increasing enormously in value, and the population is going there.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I have no desire to misrepresent my hon. Friend, but if the reason why the land is to be bought is that it is increasing in value, surely in a growing and progressive town the land in the centre of it will increase more rapidly in value. I think I am entitled to compare the proposal of the hon. Member for North-West Durham with that contained in the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend and supported by those who agree with him. The Member for Durham told us that the present value of the land of this country is between £2,500,000,000 and £3,600,000,000. I assume that this is the value which is likely to be ascertained by the valuation now going on. I do not understand him to suggest that it is a monopoly value, but that it is the value likely to be ascertained by the valuation now in progress. If I strike the mean at £3,000,000,000, which incidentally is the figure I have always put to myself as the capital value of the land at the present time, then the estimate of the hon. Member is that every landless family in this country is at present deprived of a value of £300 or £400. He pointed out that this was a great grievance, and said that restitution was due to the people. I agree, but under his system that restitution they will never get if you go into the market at the present time and pay the landowners of the country in hard cash £3,000,000,000 on the basis of this Resolution. I venture to say that the democracy of this country, when that value is presented to them, will hardly agree to buy back the right to live on the land of their birth at such a cost. I think a proposal of that kind is hardly likely to be adopted. We have the proposal to buy up the cheap land, the moors and the mountains, and on the outskirts of towns, and in my view when you make that proposal you hide from the people the magnitude of the financial transaction. 1821 From what my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich said, I understand that, so far as the Labour party is concerned, they do not agree with buying up land in towns on a large scale at present. Our case is that, alike in towns and country, you ought to reach the real price of the land by imposing taxation on an adequate scale before you carry this proposal further. Obviously, surely all schools of land reformers will agree that it is undesirable that we should engage in schemes of land purchase of this magnitude, and that we ought really to endeavour to secure for the community by means of taxation and by means of rating some of that social value which we all agree belongs to the community before any scheme of that kind is attempted! We are told that under municipal ownership, under national ownership, you will secure control which you cannot secure under the proposals which we make. I have never been able quite to realise whether our Friends have thought out what control means. Do they suggest that the municipality or nation is to hold the land in its hands, and to only give yearly tenancies or monthly tenancies, so that at any time they can reconsider them?
§ Mr. RAFFAN
The hon. Member says weekly, under that scheme you would probably be able to have control in the sense that you could clear an area and you could then do with it as you liked. But I think everybody will agree that under a scheme of that kind security is absolutely impossible. If you are going to give leases, what kind of leases are you to give? We had the criticism to-night that the present system is unfair, because the leases are too short. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] That is cheered. Leases of ninety-nine years are said to be too short, but if the community is to give leases, as I imagine no doubt they would be bound to lease out the land, giving the people power to retransfer the leases, how are they in a better position to control the use of land in that area than the community at the present time, with power to take possession of any land which it considers necessary at a valuation?
§ Mr. COTTON
I do not think there is any proposition before the House to purchase. I never heard of such a thing before, and I am at loss to understand it.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
As to the land of Scotland, and of Wales, and of England, of the United Kingdom, much the best method which we can adopt to secure the use of the land to the people is to shift our rates off our buildings and our improvements, and put them on the unimproved value of the land. The result of that would be that instead of a man being able to hold up land, as they do hold it up by demanding exorbitant prices for it, because there is now no burden upon it while it is being held up, they would then, in order to recoup themselves, be compelled to allow the land to be used by those who are willing to buy at a fair price. In that way you would get to the user what he wants—the opportunity to use the soil—and you would get for the community the social value to which the community is entitled. I beg to second.
§ The PRESIDENT of the LOCAL GOVERNMENT BOARD (Mr. Herbert Samuel)
Although the question before the House is strictly the Amendment which you have put from the Chair, I understand that the Debate may still range over both the proposition originally moved by my hon. Friend (Mr. A. Williams) and the Amendment just proposed. I shall devote myself primarily to the Motion which was first placed upon the Paper, the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham (Mr. A. Williams). His proposition, as I understand, relates primarily to the public ownership of land for public purposes. He is not asking the House to-night to assent to any general measure of land nationalisation. He has in view the purchase of land for the erection of schools, of houses for the working classes built by the municipality, of baths and libraries, or for burial grounds, parks and open spaces, or for other specific public purposes of that kind. With regard to the powers of municipalities for the purchase of land for municipal purposes, the attitude of Parliament has of recent years changed very greatly. Many of the laws which now relate to this matter date back a long way, some of them 1823 almost to days before the great Reform Bill of 1832. Before that date, and for a generation or so after, this House was largely filled by members of the landowning classes, or by representatives nominated by the landowners, who controlled certain boroughs or counties, while the other House has always been mainly composed of landowners. Unquestionably, until comparatively recent times, Parliament looked at all these questions with a landlord's eye, and that fact is impressed upon our earlier legislation. Gradually, Parliament has allowed larger and larger powers to public authorities for the acquisition of land, and for the compulsory acquisition of land.
If you examine the Statutes which now regulate this matter, you will find that the provisions they contain vary greatly in character according to the period when the Acts were passed. I have lately had them examined, and extracts made of the different methods by which Parliament allows local authorities to buy land compulsorily. I find that there are no fewer than twelve different procedures authorised by Statute for the compulsory acquisition of land. Some, those which have been passed in recent years under the Housing and Town Planning Act, 1909, or the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1907. are comparatively simple. They forbid the addition of 10 per cent. to the properly ascertained value of the land, in consideration of the fact that it is compulsorily purchased. The procedure is simple. There need be no recourse to Parliament. But when you come to the earlier Statutes you find that the procedure is complicated to a degree. It would appear as though Parliament, since it could not refuse to grant municipalities powers to acquire land, set out to make those powers as limited as possible, and to hamper and restrict them by every complication that the draughtsman could devise. It was regarded almost as a monstrous intrusion on the land system of this country that any municipality should dare to purchase in any considerable quantities, or even in small quantities, land for public purposes. Even so absurd are the laws that remain on the Statute Book that it is still necessary to invoke the power of Parliament itself—of this great legislative assembly of two Houses dealing with vast Imperial and National questions—in most cases to authorise some education authority here 1824 or there to buy two acres or even half an acre of land for a school. It is ludicrous that we should still retain the procedure of the Provisional Order, as though it were some stupendous undertaking for the ratepayers to buy a site of land in order to satisfy the public needs of the locality. The result of all this is that our municipalities are still hampered at every turn in their efforts at improvement. Do they need land for street widening, for parks, for open spaces; do they desire to purchase land for the housing of the working classes, or land for schools, they are subjected to these ancient and foolish restrictions which still survive from earlier legislative times? The result of it is that our towns are what they are. Local bodies acquiesce in the present conditions of their towns, thinking that they may be regarded as natural, and very often out of mere custom—through not thinking about the matter at all. We accept the existing urban conditions simply because we do not think about them. I do not say that of Members of this House; I am speaking of the community in general. The attitude of public men in this country is that our towns are what they are, and that is all that is to be said about them.
If in a calm hour and with a philosophic eye we view the urban conditions of this country we are compelled to come to the conclusion that they are profoundly unsatisfactory. Our cities contain vast areas of mean, squalid, treeless, grimy and ugly streets, which are totally unfitted to be the abode of generation after generation of a highly civilised nation. When, here and there, in some locality we find some eager municipal reformer who is impressed by these facts, and works to reform his town, and to try and make it better, he finds himself faced by these restrictions upon the powers of his local authority to acquire land, and in every improvement that he and his friends may urge, his town council is hampered and thwarted, partly by the difficulty of obtaining land at all, and partly by the exorbitant price that has to be paid for it, even if it is obtained. As I pointed out to the House on another Bill, the Housing Bill, many of the old corporations of England under their Charters had almost unlimited and unrestricted powers to buy what land they considered necessary, and for what purpose they considered it desirable, and many of these corporations are still in the possession of land which brings them in large 1825 revenues. Some of them, like Doncaster, have been freed from the necessity of levying any borough rate at all for a period of years on account of the revenues from the land. Then we have the Crown lands which bring to the revenues controlled by this House about half a million net profit every year.
There is no doubt that the extraordinary development and beautification of modern German industrial towns is due in no small degree to the full powers possessed by municipalities for the acquisition of land. Those of us who have had the opportunity of travelling in Germany in recent years must have had a feeling of little less than national shame when we compared our great cities—I will not mention them because it would be invidious to do so—almost any of our great industrial towns with such cities as Cologne, Dusseldorf, and Frankfort, or any of the other rapidly developing modern German towns. What is the reason? The reason is that in Germany the law takes every step in its power to encourage the municipalities to buy land on which their cities are situated and on which they are growing. Frankfort, for instance, owns nearly 50 per cent. of the site of her city. Cologne, Munich, Innsbruck, and other towns own 30 and 40 per cent. The municipalities of Greater Berlin have in the last ten years from 1901 to 1911, as I mentioned to the House previously—acquired land to the extent of 20,000 acres at a cost of £17,500,000, purchased by the communes of Greater Berlin; and if you take the question of afforestation you find that Germany has 35,000,000 acres of forest land of which the State owns 11,000,000 acres and the communes 5,500,000 acres. On the other hand, as I say, we have gone to the other extreme, and have endeavoured in every way to deter our municipalities from the purchase of land, as if they were engaged on some predatory incursion into the proper domain of the landowners. My own view is we should no longer be content to give specific powers to our corporations for the purchase or acquisition of land, but we ought to give them general powers to acquire land subject to any necessary restrictions that may be thought expedient, as that they should be subjected to the control of a central Government Department when they desired to borrow money for the purchase of land.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
Certainly, I would allow them to buy land in advance. Hon. Members opposite speak of a speculative land policy. Well, in the first place, municipalities, I think, will have a very shrewd idea as to what is the probable course of the development of their localities, and they are by no means rash bodies. The danger is rather that they will, through fear of possible risk, abstain from buying when in the public interests they ought to buy, than that of engaging in rash adventure and borrowing large sums for the purpose. Besides, corporations very frequently know—it is their intention—under the powers of other Acts, themselves to develop certain quarters of their city or neighbourhood. Corporations have power to improve transit and should, in my view, have greatly extended powers to improve transit within and in the neighbourhood of their own areas. They may improve them by laying tramways and they may provide parks, schools and so forth, knowing that a certain area within their neighbourhood, or close at hand, may in the near future rapidly develop. It is surely absurd to say a corporation may buy some land, and may start their scheme, with the effect that the land round about will at once rise in value, and that when they have by their own act raised the value of the land surrounding the plot that they have bought, then, and only then, and after they have enhanced the price by their own action, will they be able to secure more land. I think our corporations ought not to be treated as children incapable of managing their own affairs, acting as they do under the eye of the ratepayers and the public, always subjected to keen criticism in their local Press and in local politics. I think these authorities should be given very large powers indeed for the purchase of land in order to secure the better development of our municipalities. Why should we assume that a town will only grow healthily and well and upon good lines if the matter is left to the individual landowners who happen to own the soil and who are animated primarily by the desire for their own profit, and often also I am glad to say by public spirit, but sometimes by mere caprice. Why should it be supposed that the development of our towns will be on the best lines when left to the unrestricted control of the landowner, and must develop on bad or on worse lines if left to the municipality?
1827 The hon. Member who has moved this Amendment has, I regret to say, put it down, not as an addition to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Durham, but as an alternative; and not merely as an alternative, but as one which excludes the first alternative. The hon. Member first proposes by his Amendment to negative the hon. Member for North-West Durham's proposal, and then he submits his own proposal for the rating of land values. The substantive Motion does not propose any general measure of land nationalisation, and therefore the attack made upon it is somewhat beside the mark. The purpose which it has specifically and primarily in view could not, in my opinion, be obtained through the method suggested in my hon. Friend's Amendment—at any rate it could not in practice be obtained rapidly. Looking at the matter as President of the Local Government Board, and charged with the interests of the local authorities of England and Wales, I have to consider how they are to be assisted to get the land which they need year after year for the several public purposes I have mentioned. My hon. Friend suggests that it should be obtained, not by purchase, but by leasing. He suggests, rather than ownership, that there should be "secure tenure on fair terms," and that to me means some form of leasing. If my hon. Friend is against purchase, and says they must not purchase, and if the local authorities must have land for their needs, they must necessarily obtain it by leases.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
I would like to point out that my proposal has reference to a matter not dealt with in the Resolution itself.
§ Mr. HERBERT SAMUEL
The hon. Member proposes to leave out all the words after "House," and if his Amendment became the substantive Motion, it would not allow municipalities to purchase land which is necessary for public improvements in their localities. That would be the effect of his Amendment, which declares that purchase is the wrong policy and that rating is the right policy. My hon. Friend's proposals, whatever their virtue, will not effect the purpose which many of us have in view—that is, to free the hands of the municipalities in order to obtain more land for housing and so on. I agree, however, with the hon. Member who moved the Amendment, that we should 1828 take every step in our power to release buildings and improvements from rating. Local taxes on buildings and improvements are bad taxes, and they are taxes upon the production of dwellings for the people. Even if we were to accept my hon. Friend's Amendment and his principles to the full, even if we were to put a rate on land values and relieve buildings entirely from rating, still you would not deal with the problem which the Mover of the Resolution has brought before the House, namely, how to enable local authorities to obtain the land which they need for the various public purposes they have in view. It might facilitate it—indeed, you may say that it would cheapen land and enable them to get it at a, better price. All that is quite true, but it is not a substitute for the land purchase proposals and for conferring on these authorities powers to purchase the land as it is needed.
I now come, lastly, to the question of price. All the hon. Members who have spoken in support of this Resolution have emphasised the fact that they make no proposal for the confiscation of land, that indeed their Resolution must not be read as in any sense taking that direction, but, on the contrary, that they are wholly opposed to any confiscatory policy. I need hardly say that in that all of us here would naturally concur. Whatever may be the theory as to the origin of private property in land, the fact remains that from time immemorial private property in land has been recognised. A large part of the soil of England does change hands for value received every generation, and it would be a monstrous thing to deprive people of that for which they have paid under the sanction of long existing law and custom. If, on the ground that in theory and in origin, land was communal property, it were proposed to confiscate the land from the present owners, then I would ask to whom should it be transferred? I am not sure that the present inhabitants of England have any right to its possession, and I think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would perhaps be entitled to put in a claim on behalf of the Welsh as representing, perhaps, as far as we know, the original races that inhabited these islands, or we should even have to go to the Basques of the Pyrenees, or any other long-headed race related to those whose remains are found in the prehistoric burrows of this country. To such absurdities are we led if we accept the doctrine that 1829 we had to go back to the origin and give the land to people to whom, in theory, it belonged. Of course, we are all of us against confiscation by the community as against the landowner. That is no reason why we should tolerate in any form confiscation by the landowner against the community, or, indeed, that the necessities of the community should be made use of in order to extract from the public a higher price than the land which is needed is really worth. At the present time, as everyone knows, when land is needed and it is obtained compulsorily for any public purpose, a most excessive price is usually paid. There is no greater good fortune that could befall a landowner than for him to have his land taken away from him against his will. If a man can say, "The municipality wants my land," then he knows that he is to secure an unexpected windfall.
The hon. Member for Durham (Mr. J. W. Hills) said very truly that there is always a bias against the corporation. There is always a bias against the public authority when the price of the land is being fixed. I remember very well when I was at the Post Office, that whenever a question arose of obtaining a site for a new post office in any town the land had to be obtained with the utmost secrecy. If the arrangements for secrecy were successful and if the name of the purchaser was successfully concealed, then we got the land at its normal price, but, if it once became known that the Post Office was in the market and was about to purchase the land, then we might be sure that we should have to pay at least 10, perhaps 15, and possibly 20 per cent. more than it was worth for the particular piece of land which was specially suited for the Post Office. In our view there ought not to be two values on the land. There ought not to be a low value for the purposes of taxation, and a high value for the purposes of sale to any public body. We do not wish to tax any landowner on a value which is above the real value, but neither do we wish to pay for the land on a value above the real value. We should use the true value for both purposes. Then, again, there is the question of cost. Most excessive costs are incurred—legal costs, costs for expert witnesses at the arbitration, and so on. Even if there is no arbitration, the local authority again and again has to submit to being charged far more than the full value in order to escape the costs of the arbitration, and I am informed there are 1830 many cases in which the local authority has to pay not only the ordinary value of the land itself, not only special compensation for severance if it is part of a larger property, not only compensation for injurious affection of any property belonging to the same owner, but in addition he has to pay a sum almost equal to the costs of both parties in an arbitration, in order to avoid arbitration and to get the land by agreement. It is urgently necessary, in our view, that we should simplify this procedure and cheapen it—that we should enable land to be bought for public purposes on the basis of the land valuation now being made under public authority, and that this land valuation should be for this purpose, and all such purposes, brought up to date, that due compensation should be given if the remaining property of the owner is injured by severance, and that any cost which the owner is specially put to by the fact that his land is compulsorily taken—any reasonable costs should be refunded to him. There is no reason why the owner should be out of pocket by compulsory purchase; but he should be paid no more; and in the event of a difference of opinion the matter should be determined by one of the Judicial Land Commissioners who are to be appointed under the land proposals of the Government. When those proposals come to be laid before Parliament certainly they will contain measures simplifying, consolidating, extending, and cheapening the power of public authorities to acquire land for necessary public purposes.
§ Lord A. THYNNE
If I understand the policy of the Government correctly as expounded by the right hon. Gentleman, they are in favour not only of the original Motion moved by the hon. Member for North-West Durham (Mr. Aneurin Williams), but also of what I may call the Single-Tax Amendment.
§ Lord A. THYNNE
I understand the right hon. Gentleman that they are prepared "by taxing those who own land to reduce the rent and prices of land," and having done that, they propose to confer on local authorities "general powers to acquire land by agreement or compulsion." That is a perfectly definite policy, and it is a policy which we do not hear of this evening for the first time. The part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech which interested some of us on this side of the 1831 House was his last reference to the costs which local authorities are put to in acquiring land. The right hon. Gentleman gave expression to a very common fallacy—the fallacy which the hon. Member for the Leigh Division is very fond of expounding to the House, and that is the right of local authorities to buy land at the valuation on which it is rated. I would remind the House that at the present moment the local authority strikes the rate on land on its annual value, and that that annual value necessarily differs from the market value because the market value of the land includes the latent or prospective value. It always has been the custom to rate land on annual produce.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
I do not think anybody suggested buying the land on the basis of the estimate for annual value, but on its value for purposes of taxation, which is on its capital value.
§ Lord A. THYNNE
I understand that the hon. Member is referring to the total value, which is one of the four values set up by the Finance Act, 1909, but I was referring to the injustice from which hon. Members opposite say that local authorities suffer because, when they buy a site for public purposes, they are called upon to pay a higher price than the capitalised value on which rates have been paid. So long as you have the present system of rating in this country, which has been established by long practice and sanctioned by general convenience, a system of rating on annual value, so long will you get that discrepancy. The existence of that discrepancy does not argue that there is any injustice involved to local authorities in the matter. And the position would be fully met if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to restore to the local authorities the increment duty which is in theory at least nothing more nor less than a deferred rate. We have to approach this question from two points of view. The right hon. Gentleman, when he drew that very tempting analogy of the German towns, approached the question from the point of view of the large reduction of rates which would accrue to municipalities if they became large landowners. I admit at once that that is a very attractive proposal. I admit, also, that in a great many German towns there has been a considerable lightening of the local burdens owing to the extent to which they are landowners. But I would remind the House 1832 that there is a very great difference in the constitution of the governing bodies which govern a German town and the governing bodies which govern an English town. Secondly, I would call the attention of the House to the fact that we do not select our municipal representatives because they are skilled dealers in land. In spite of the ridicule which the right hon. Gentleman poured upon our contention, I submit there is no form of speculation which is more hazardous than the purchase and sale of land, as a great many Members on both sides of the House will know from personal and, perhaps, somewhat bitter experience. In a great many of the larger municipalities we have been carried away by a similar argument, not in regard to land, but in regard to certain municipal trading undertakings. There is more than one municipality in England at the present moment which is regretting that it ever embarked upon an enterprise to reduce its rates by means of municipal trading. Quite apart from that, I doubt very much whether it would be to the advantage of the local authorities concerned, or the ratepayers, or whether it would be their wish that municipalities should become great landowners. I will take the case of London. We have known in London municipalities and the county council make grave errors in the development of their estates.
§ Lord A. THYNNE
I am not going into some of the transactions in land which have been embarked upon with unfavourable results by the London County Council, but I am going to take one point on which I think the House will be agreed. When the London County Council originally took to dealing with the housing question they invested a very large amount of money in what was then considered not only the most scientific but the only solution of the question. People who had thought the matter out with great care came and said, "The more your site value increases the higher must be the building that you put up," with the result that we spent a very large sum of money in building those huge block dwellings which everyone on both sides regrets to-day.
There is another aspect of this question. If you encourage the municipalities to buy a larger portion of the land within their area you are encouraging them to pile up 1833 a very large debt, and unless soon after the purchase of the land has been accomplished there is an immediate and material increase, not only in the capital value of the land, but in the return which the municipality is deriving from the land, you will be increasing the burden upon the ratepayers, and not relieving it. The other point of view from which we approach this Motion is a very much exaggerated point of view of the difficulty which municipalities have in acquiring land for public purposes. I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the process is very much too expensive, and most Members on this side of the House would cordially cooperate with him if he could see his way to reforming the methods under which land is acquired compulsorily. But when the right hon. Gentleman suggests that a general power to acquire land should be given to municipalities, a general power subject not to the sanction of Parliament—we are to be relieved of that expense—but to the sanction of a Government Department, I become rather suspicious, because I think that a great many of us would sooner come to an impartial committee of this House to obtain that sanction, although it might be rather more expensive, than see the local authorities put under the despotic arbitrary heel of the bureaucracy of a Government Department. That is a salient fact which the right hon. Gentleman has to bear in mind. There is great room for cheapening the process and cost of acquiring land, both in limitation of the number of expert witnesses, providing a proper scale for the taxation of costs and regulation of fees and setting up a judicial tribunal to deal with the matter, instead of the present system of having professional men sitting as arbitrators. But be that as it may, I do not admit that at present there is any grievance suffered by local authorities in this connection which cannot be easily remedied. When we consider that there is little difficulty in obtaining compulsory powers, that when those compulsory powers are obtained the price is, as a rule, fixed by arbitration, in a great many cases in which attention is called to the injustice suffered by local authorities, such injustice is grossly exaggerated for the purposes of current controversy.
§ Mr. A. WILLIAMS
rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question. Debate resumed.
§ Mr. BOOTH
The State, in the shape of the Duchy of Lancaster, is a large owner in every district, and I am bound to say that, generally speaking, I prefer to deal with a private landlord rather than with the State. I remember very well the Rev. Hugh Price Hughes having two chapels in Soho. One he leased from a Tory landlord, a member of the Church of England, and when he approached him he got most excellent treatment and every consideration. He had another chapel which was rented from the Crown, near Oxford Street, and the lease fell in. They simply would not listen to him. They would hear nothing of his philanthropic work and would not receive any particulars about nursing sisters, but simply gave a blank refusal and a curt dismissal whenever an interview was sought.
§ It being Eleven of the clock the Debate stood adjourned.