HC Deb 14 August 1916 vol 85 cc1577-80

Where land is purchased for small holdings under this Act such holdings may be purchased by the tenants with the consent of the Board at any time on equitable terms by means of payment in full, or by such addition to the rent as shall include ownership at the end of any term of years that may be arranged between the tenant and the Board.

Provided that no holdings purchased shall be reduced in extent without the consent of the Board.—[Mr. Haslam.]

Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a second time."

One of the questions which naturally arise in connection with this subject is whether ownership or tenancy is the preferable system. I think the proper plan is that there should be equal facilities afforded for both systems. One of the principal dangers in connection with this Bill is the institution of State management. Unless we are very careful we may set up a new Department with a fresh army of paid State officials. That would be very detrimental to the interests of the taxpayers and to the workers of the country. I think that owners or tenants, after the first assistance—which in my opinion ought to he liberal—should be taught how to work out their own salvation. All the evidence goes to show that small holdings lead to an enormously increased output of food and other products. Many Members may not have read the recent booklet by Mr. P. H. Middleton, Assistant Secretary to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, on the recent development of German agriculture. My point with regard to this Clause is that in Germany 93 per cent, of the land is owned by the men who cultivate it. In England and Wales only 11 per cent, is so owned. In England and Wales 15.8 per cent, of all holders hold under fifty acres, whilst in Germany 48 per cent, hold holdings under fifty acres. Take the question of products. According to this report, the meat product is 3.9 tons per hundred acres in Great Britain, as against 4.27 tons per hundred acres in Germany. In regard to milk, in Great Britain it is 17.4 tons per hundred acres, while in Germany it is 28.1 tons. The product of wheat is the same in both countries—31 bushels per acre. But when we come to meadow-hay, we find 23 tons in England as against 33.7 tons in Germany. Is not this enormously increased production in Germany due to the men being the owners of the soil which they cultivate? In France, 3,000,000 persons on holdings of less than 25 acres, and 80 per cent, of the total acreage is cultivated by proprietors. If ownership is found so preferable in foreign countries, in order to ensure increased production, would it not be well in this country to have a system by which the tenants could become purchasers of their holdings on fair terms?


It is in the Bill.


The right hon. Gentleman says it is in the Bill, but it is not very distinctly stated, and I know that in some quarters there is a prejudice against ownership. I have studied the question a good deal, not only with regard to foreign countries, but in regard to Ireland, and I assert that where ownership prevails production is greater than where tenancy prevails. In Ireland, the tenants are becoming owners of their holdings; and I would point out that with a system of ownership there is greater likelihood of a profitable use of the system of co-operation; whereas, under a system of tenancy there is a greater probability of the tenants leaving their holdings, and therefore they do not feel so interested in co-operative methods. In regard to this co-operative system, in Germany, in twelve months, the local societies had a turnover of twenty millions—


The hon. Member is getting a long way from the point.


I want to emphasise the point that under a system of ownership in this country the results would be greater than they would be under a system of tenancy. In Ireland there has been a very successful development of co-operation under the ownership system, the turnover being four millions, and it is constantly increasing. Where you have co-operation associated with ownership, the cultivators of the land can be educated in the best system of farming. This is taking place in Ireland under the Agricultural Organisation Society in that country, and it is a system which can easily be developed by the people themselves. If each of the 100,000 farmers now members of the Agricultural Co-operative Societies in Ireland paid 5s. per head towards the agricultural education movement the sum of £20,000 per annum would be raised, twice as much as the sum which is now being expended by the Agricultural Organisation Societies in Ireland. The whole subject is one which requires careful consideration in order to see whether we cannot introduce some system by means of which occupiers may become cultivators of their own holdings.

12.0 M.


I have appealed to the Committee several times to deny itself the pleasure of plunging into a discussion on the general question of ownership versus tenancy, and I hope we shall not plunge into it now, and particularly as the point is really already dealt with in the Bill. If the hon. Member will look at an Amendment I moved early to-day he will see that it is already possible for persons cultivating their holdings to become owners of their holdings by making peri- odical instalments or otherwise as the Treasury may direct. That really covers the point, and I hope the hon. Member will not press me to do more than what I have done. Our policy is to keep both methods, that of tenancy and that of ownership, completely open in the Bill, and leave it to those in charge of the colonies as they develop to adopt the method they think best.

Commander WEDGWOOD

Would it not be better to state the matter explicitly in the Bill as proposed by the hon. Member (Mr. Haslam). When the Amendment was moved by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board there were very few Members present, and it was approved sub silentio. It is absolutely wrapped up in wording which conceals the object, while we have the whole thing in clear unmistakeable language in this Clause. Whether the House is for tenancy or ownership it should state whether the two systems are available or not. Although I do not wish to emulate the Prussians and prefer to retain tenancy, it is far better to have a clear statement of what the law provides. If you read the words moved by the right hon. Gentleman I defy anybody who is not an expert in the drafting of these Bills to discover that by that Amendment you have a system of land purchase introduced. I do not think any of us are in favour of a very extensive system of land purchase at present, as prices are high and you are going to burden the people who purchase with very high mortgages; but for goodness sake make it clear what you want, and that is not done by the present Bill. I do not think there will be very much movement towards purchase, because capital to develop small holdings is what is required, and there will not be much capital available for other purposes. I do not see why you should not give opportunity to people to go on both lines and state so clearly.

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and negatived.

The following appeared on the Order Paper in the name of Commander WEDGWOOD: