§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Acland)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
65 This is a Bill which reaches us from the House of Lords to enable the State to use 6,000 acres of agricultural land in England and Wales, and 2,000 acres in Scotland, for settling ex-Service men on the land in colonies of small holders. It does not mark the beginning of any large new departure in State policy; it is only an experiment. It does not mean that the State will find small holdings for all ex-Service men, or that all such men have a right to have land found for them. It will, of course, if passed, have the advantage of finding land for a certain number of such men, but its main object is not that, but to try an experiment on a sufficiently large scale that its results shall be decisive with regard to certain questions as to which at present we have not enough knowledge. Personally, perhaps I may be allowed to say, I hope it will be the first of many experiments by the State devised with the object of proving to landowners and farmers that our land can be used to produce more food and support more men, women, and children than it does now. But I am not at present authorised to say anything of that kind on behalf of the Government, and the Bill must be considered simply for what it is. The object of the experiment, stated in its simplest form, is to test whether by settling ex-Service men, in the main hitherto untrained, on land in colonies, and employing co-operative methods, we cannot make such colonies an economic success, as well as a success from the point of view of increased production of food and increased nurture of good citizens. I hope the House may consider that an experiment well worth trying.
The Bill, as the House knows, is the outcome of a Report of a Committee appointed to consider how to promote the settlement and employment on the land in England and Wales of sailors and soldiers on discharge, whether disabled or otherwise. It takes its rise from the first part of the Report of the Committee on Settlement, and during the consideration of this question the Committee was presided over by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for North Buckinghamshire (Sir Harry Verney), and he had the assistance of the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) and the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. G. H. Roberts), and of several other gentlemen equally qualified to help in working out the problem.
66 Whatever the views of the House may be of this Bill, I think there can be only one opinion of the Report, namely, that it is an extremely thorough and interesting and practical piece of work upon which the Committee are to be very heartily congratulated. It has also the great and rather rare merit of being unanimous and of having no Minority Reports or reservations. I will assume, if I may, that hon. Members have read the Report and will not wish me to describe it at all in detail, but I ought to mention certain points in order to indicate the policy upon which the Bill is based. The Committee found that small holdings meant increased productivity, and a substantial increase in the population engaged on the land; land settlement for ex-Service men must in the main be undertaken by the State acting through the Board of Agriculture; and that if untrained men were to be settled in small holdings with the best chance of success it must be in communities provided both with expert agricultural advice and business organisation. They further recommended that each community should number about 100 families, and that the settlements should be of from 1,000 to 2,000 or 2,500 acres, according to the type of cultivation for which the land was most suited, and that the land must be good land easily worked. The Committee went into the vexed question of ownership as against tenancy very thoroughly by practical inspection and investigation of existing land, as well as by hearing-evidence, and they came to certain conclusions. I do not think, however, that this question should arise on the Bill, because this measure makes either system of the ultimate disposal of the land to the settlers equally possible, and I do not think that anyone will dispute at first, at any rate, tenancy and not ownership must be the basis. The Committee recommend that the men should be trained by being employed on the land which is acquired in the ordinary way until their means and experience entitle them to take up holdings for themselves, and that as their capacity increases their holdings should be enlarged; that there should be a central farm at first large and then gradually decreasing, which would after it had served its purpose as a training ground probably remain, though perhaps on a smaller scale, as an example of cultivation, and of the best systems of trading, management, and accountancy, and 67 as a demonstration centre. The Committee hold that co-operative organisation by the tenants is absolutely essential, not only in the more obvious directions of marketing and sale of produce, and providing machinery, implements, and other agricultural requirements, but also, and this is equally essential, to provide the credit which the holders will require when they settle on their own holdings. They recommend also that there should be a director for each colony to supervise the farming of the land, the training of the men, and the business organisation of the whole settlement, assisted by specialist instructors where necessary. They thought it necessary that there should be a central depot for trading purposes, and other central buildings for social purposes, and they hope that village industries, subsidiary to agriculture, would develop, and that provisions should be made for these things in each colony. They concluded by pointing out the urgency of taking action even during the War to establish these three typical pioneer colonies. They estimated the cost of these three colonies at a maximum of £334,000, if the land had to be bought, and a minimum of £120,000 to cover equipment, tenant right, and farm capital, if none of the land had to be bought to start with.
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
I think the right hon. Gentleman will find that the Report does not make that statement.
§ Mr. ACLAND
The statement that the cost would be £334,000, if the land had to be bought, and £120,000 to cover equipment, tenant right, and farm capital is made in the Report, if the hon Member will refer to the passage. They believe that if properly administered, this expenditure should be recouped to the State by the rents charged and the profits made, the State bearing only the expenses of organisation and instruction, as it does with other classes of small holdings at the present time. So far I think I may say that the policy of the Government in the acquisition and development of these colonies will be exactly the same as that of the Committee, though in carrying out this policy this House would wish those who will be responsible should have a wide liberty of action as they learn by experience of actual founding and developing of the settlements. But the Committee went beyond anything which is contained in the 68 Bill or is at present the accepted policy of the Government in recommending the-appropriation of £2,000,000 for the purpose-of these colonies. That, of course, is a fact which I do not pretend to conceal, and it suggests a very obvious method of criticism of the Bill. There are hon. Members of this House who do not want the State to do anything in connection with land. They may think that an experiment involving a possible maximum cost of one-third of a million a most unwise and extravagant proposal. There are others who-wish that the Government are going at least the whole length recommended by the Committee and possibly beyond it. I would fain hope that they will turn their criticisms upon one another rather than upon the Bill; and that those who would prefer that nothing should be done will support the Bill because they are thankful that it is no worse, while those who would' like more will also support it because it is better than nothing.
A more helpful line of criticism and one-of which the Board are fully aware would;. I think, be on the lines of pointing out the-difficulty of working out even for three colonies the scheme upon which we hope to proceed. Much will depend upon the selection of the land, and the terms upon which it can be obtained. Much will depend upon the right selection of the-men, and upon the weight which should be given to previous experience of work on the land by the applicant and his wife, in comparison with the possession of intelligence, industry, capacity, initiative, and good will, which may often in themselves lead to success without previous experience. Much will depend upon the selection of directors for the colonies, upon the cost of building houses for the settlers, and the necessary central buildings being kept reasonably low, which is no easy thing at the present time. Finally, much will depend upon the terms upon which money can be found by the Treasury for these buildings, for stocking the holdings, and for the purchase of land, if purchase be necessary. I can make no prophecy with regard to these difficult matters, but I think it is right to tell the House that a good deal of preliminary work has already been done, though naturally no final commitments have been made or will be made until the Bill passes. This work has been done under excellent auspices, for the hon. and gallant Member for the Wilton Division (Captain Bathurst) has taken charge of it as a piece of unpaid war work. I am 69 not going to say anything about the value of his work or the gratitude of the Board to him for it. It would be presumptuous for me to do so, and as he is present I am sure he would rather I did not; but I think I ought, in justice to him, to make it clear that the responsibility for success or failure of this scheme will not rest upon him. He is not responsible for the Report or for the Bill, or for the financial basis upon which the colonies will be started. He is doing his utmost with the limitations imposed by the Government plan, and by the necessities of the case, to make the scheme a success, but he must not be taken to be responsible for the conditions under which he is working.
The House will now wish me to describe rather more clearly what is in the Bill, for it contains certain provisions that I have not yet referred to. First of all, if hon. Members will look at the Bill, they will see that the power of acquiring land for experimental small-holding colonies is limited to the continuance of the War or twelve months thereafter; that it can only be exercised with the consent of the Treasury; and that it applies only to acquiring land by agreement, and not by compulsion. The area is limited, as I have stated, to 6,000 acres in England and Wales, and 2,000 in Scotland. Provisions are made in Clause 1 for giving compensation to any farmers or labourers who may be displaced by incorporating the relevant Clauses from the Small Holdings Acts of 1908 and 1910. These provisions were inserted in another place, and were, of course, willingly accepted by the Government. It had seemed to us so much a matter of course that proper compensation would be given in accordance with existing Statutes, that it seemed unnecessary to repeat Clauses from these Statutes in the Bill, but it is no doubt better to have them in black-and-white. I ought to add, of course, every endeavour is being made, and will be made, to find land which will involve the very minimum of displacement or disturbance to anybody. There is a further point upon which I shall move an Amendment in this Clause-namely, to make it clear that we shall not take common land. That is almost unnecessary to state, but there will be no harm in having that in the Bill in black-and-white. The Board of Agriculture know too much about the difficulties of taking common land to have any idea of doing so. In Clause 2 proper provision is made for aiding cooperative societies for credit and other 70 purposes. This Clause is taken from the existing Small Holdings Act. Clause 3 has nothing to do with these colonies at all. I ask the House to look at this Clause. It is covered by the Title of the Bill, which includes the phrase "to extend the powers of acquisition and management of land … under the Development and Roads Improvement Funds Act, 1909."That is Clause 3.
§ Mr. ACLAND
At present land may be bought under the Development and Roads Improvement Funds Act, but it cannot be taken on lease, nor can an option be taken for purchase or leasing. It is proposed to give to the Government those two powers, the power of purchase and leasing the land, as well as taking an option of either purchasing or leasing. I believe these new powers will be very useful to the Government for the purposes of afforestation and reclamation when those questions have been further considered. This is a slight extension of the present powers of obtaining land under the Development Act.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I do not quite understand by the Clause whether the powers of the Development and Roads Improvement Funds Act with regard to the purchase of land are conferred upon the people who will administer this Bill by the way in which the Clause is drawn.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I do not think it is proposed to empower any new body to do anything, but only the body or bodies that are empowered to purchase land under the Development and Roads Improvement Funds Act, and they are to be empowered to lease land, and obtain options either for-purchase or leasing as well as the present limited power, which extends to purchase only. If this is not so, I will make it quite clear in Committee. Clause 4 gives power to lease, sell, manage, and enfranchise. Clause 5 in the present Bill I shall move to omit. Naturally it is inserted in this form in a Bill coming from the Upper House to avoid any encroachment upon the privileges of the House in regard to finance, and I shall at the proper time move to substitute a simpler Clause providing that the expenses of exercising the powers conferred by the Act under the Development and Roads Improvement Funds Act shall be charged to the Development Fund, and that the powers with regard to colonies shall be 71 charged on the Small Holdings Account. Clause 6 gives landowners power to let land for the purpose of the Act under long lease subject to the proper consents being obtained. Clause 8 empowers the present legal adviser of the Board to act as a solicitor for the purpose of the Bill. Clause 9 provides for the presentation to Parliament of an annual report and statement of the financial position of each colony. Clause 10 applies the Act to Scotland, and Clause 11 does not apply it to Ireland. I think it would be right to ask the House to agree that the Bill should be taken in Committee by the Whole House. If the House will give it a Second Reading this evening, though there is nothing at all new or revolutionary in the Bill—if its principles be accepted—I shall propose not to proceed further with it until next week, so as to give ample time for putting down and considering Amendments. I hope we may then be able to proceed with it and finish it fairly rapidly.
I want to conclude by answering one or two questions which have been put to me about the Bill. First of all, I have been asked to say what, if any, provision will be made under the Bill for disabled soldiers. The Board have been in communication with the Committee over which Mr. Cyril Jackson presides on that subject, and I think no one would desire, certainly not that Committee, that there should be a colony wholly composed of disabled men. Disabled men, if they are still sufficiently able-bodied to be able to do work, might be properly mixed up with the rest of the population and given opportunities of doing what they can, but, if they are not-sufficiently able-bodied to do work, they are not, of course, fit to be settled on colonies of this kind. It is hoped that it may be possible to absorb a certain, though not a large, proportion of partly disabled men among the able-bodied holders. The Committee will keep in consultation with the Board on the subject, and will help the Board in the selection of men who, though technically disabled, might make very useful and efficient colonists. Another question that has been raised is: What will the Bill do for reclamation? The answer is, "nothing,"and I hope the House will agree that is perfectly right. It is perfectly right that this Bill should be limited to a totally different thing. Reclamation, of course, is a most important problem— 72 one which I am glad to say is now being pretty actively investigated—but it is full of difficulties of its own. Personally I do not think that very much can be done by the State in the direction of reclamation without compulsory powers of purchase, and without exercising such powers on a basis which would not be quite the basis usually followed under the Land Clauses Acts. We have to recognise that reclamation is primarily, at any rate, a problem of employment, and not of settlement at all. If one really contemplates any practical proposition with regard to reclamation, one sees that not until a great number of men have been employed for some time on the rough work of reclaiming can anything be done to settle the very much smaller number of men who may be able to live by cultivating the land that is reclaimed. I personally hope that there may be a very great future before reclamation in this country, but this Bill arises only out of that part of this Report dealing with settlement, and not out of that part dealing with employment. Reclamation is a problem chiefly, of employment rather than of settlement. Therefore, this Bill deals with none of the problems of employment which are dealt with in Part II. of the Report of the Committee which has recently been published.
Finally, I should like to make clear why it is that I commend the Bill to the House—though I confess frankly that it is framed in no heroic mould—as a very important step forward, well worthy of our favourable consideration for what it is. I believe that men at present inexperienced can be settled on land successfully. We do not know that for a fact, but this Bill will prove it. I believe the best chance of so settling them is in communities which also possess the requisite social life. This Bill will test the question also. I believe that if such community settlements are to be a success they must be nurtured upon co-operative principles, both as to production and credit. The Bill will test that also and show us the best way of developing cooperative and credit societies. I believe that these communities of men, associating together co-operatively, can be made independent and self-supporting economic units. This Bill will show us whether or not that is true. We have still much to learn as to the type of land most suitable for the settlements that are contemplated. Under this Bill, if it is passed, we intend to start three colonies 73 of different types in different parts of the country. If we proceed in this way we shall learn much as to the conditions which promise the greatest amount of success. I believe that landowners, holding as they do their land in trust for the people, have still much to learn and a long way to go in securing that their land shall maintain the largest population and produce the greatest supply of food. I hope that these pioneer experimental colonies may be so successful that they will be widely studied and imitated by private landowners. I hope, if this does not happen to a sufficient extent, that the State may, after no long interval, emboldened by its own success, consider whether it ought not to go further than it is proposing to go to-day, or, if by chance there be failure, then learn by failure a better way of progress. This Bill will settle upon the land some of the men who have fought for us. It will settle them in a manner well calculated to command success. It will shed light upon questions which are now the subject of doubt or controversy, and thus make the path of future progress more easy. For these reasons, I have the honour of moving that it be read a second time.
§ Mr. JESSE COLLINGS
The right hon. Gentleman has truly said that this Bill does not proceed on heroic grounds. I would venture to add that unless it is largely amended in Committee, as it is capable of being amended, it will fail in its object. I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill for several reasons. It proposes the colony system, which is the only system that is effectual. In it the State recognises its responsibility for the employment of ex-service men. Thirdly, and more important, the State by acquiring land and cultivating it ceases to rely solely on farmers for the increase of produce. The ex-President of the Board of Agriculture during the whole time of his office used every endeavour to get the farmers to carry out the objects which he had in view, but he completely failed, and the production of the land now is as bad as or worse than it was before the beginning of the War. The right hon. Gentleman opposite in his speech on the Vote for the Board of Agriculture said:It is clear that the danger point of gravely decreased production has already been reached. Even as things are now we cannot. I fear, maintain production at the level of last year.That is a serious statement looking at the perilous position we are in with regard to food supply. Imports are increase- 74 ing yearly. In 1914 we imported food to the value of £283,000,000, and last year that had increased to £367,000.000. That is a position in which no other country in the world has ever been placed. We are subject to perils on that account. Should our food-laden ships be interrupted, even for a few weeks, either by shortage of transports, by the action of the enemy, or by any other cause, this country would be reduced to a state of famine. The right hon. Gentleman opposite stated that wheat last year had increased 20 per cent. That is satisfactory as far as it goes, but that increase was made at the expense of other crops. In the Report of the Board of Agriculture for England and Wales, we find that there are nineteen different articles of food raised on arable land. Of these only four have increased in the area of land on which they are grown. They are wheat, barley, potatoes, and kohlrabi. The remainder of the nineteen show very serious decreases. The increase in wheat is readily accounted for. Fortunately we have in this country some of the finest farmers in the world, and it is to their patriotism and skill that the increase is due, but that class of farmer is in the minority. The ordinary farmers are men who have little enterprise and little scientific knowledge. They are content with high prices and the low production which usually accompanies low rents. They have shown that no reliance is to be laid upon that class of farmers for the supply of food. No doubt they have had difficulties in the shortage of labour, and other difficulties, which they have not tried to overcome. We have seen by some of the reports that in many parts they have declined the services of women. We see they are reported in many parts to have declined the assistance of soldiers on the ground that the rate of wages required is too high. Now with wheat at 60s. per quarter, and hay at £8 per ton, the farmers can well afford to pay any reasonable wage. But instead of that they prefer to put the land down into grass to save labour. And they do save in that way, because one hundred acres of grass land require only one man, while a hundred acres of arable land require five or six men. Laying down land into grass accounts for the decline in the arable land. Last year we saw by the Report that there were 300,000 acres less arable land than there were before.
The right hon. Gentleman said that these are experiments which are to be 75 made in the Bill. Well, experiments are very good in a time of peace, but seeing that we are at war and the present necessity that exists I think that there is no time whatever for more experiments. I would earnestly appeal, therefore, to the Government that they should extend the scope of this Bill, as can readily be done, so that it should include in its operations some of the waste land and some of the large area which is in poor grass. That, after all, is the solution of the food question. If that were consented to by the Government and the work were to begin at once, large areas would be ready for the spring sowing of 1917 and a substantial increase of the food supply would be secured in that way. We have immense areas of alluvial land on the banks of our rivers and estuaries, which by draining and embankment, could be brought into cultivation and could produce enormous crops. I have a typical instance in my mind which I know well, having visited it on several occasions. Nearly opposite Devonport Dockyard there are about 1,000 acres of such land, and with no heavy expenditure that could be made to produce large crops. If that were done, no less than 4,000 quarters of wheat could be produced upon that area, which would be sufficient to keep 5,000 persons for one year. Or, seeing its neighbourhood to three large and populous towns, it could be devoted to market gardening, and the Government would recoup itself fully five times for the expense. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman is aware of the opinions of Mr. A. D. Hall. He is the highest authority on land reclamation, and in his Presidential Address before the British Association he strongly advocated that and gave estimates to show that from £20 to £25 profit could be made out of every acre of land reclaimed. He concluded his suggestions by saying that: "The reclamation of such land is a long-sighted policy and a sound commercial venture."The Government are urging the public to retrench their domestic expenditure and practise economy. But here we have a Government voluntarily allowing a preventible expenditure to an enormous extent.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the Bill was based on the Report of the Departmental Committee. No doubt there are good recommendations in the Report of the Committee, some of which are adopted in this Bill; but, in my opinion, 76 they are all vitiated by insisting upon tenancies instead of ownership. The Committee are loud in their praise of the soldiers who have risked their lives for their native land, but they are rigidly opposed in the Report to their possessing a single acre of it. I do not know whether hon. Members present heard the speech delivered by the hon. and gallant Member for East Clare (Captain W. Redmond) a short time ago. What he says is worthy of attention. He said thatDuring the past three months he had exceptional opportunities for seeing the spirit and the work of the men at the front, and he wished to tell the House and the public that they ought to be exceedingly proud or the work they were doing, not only on account of their hard and laborious lives, but because of the splendid spirit they displayed,"Nothing,"he said, "is too good for him."That may be regarded as a matter of sentiment, but sentiment is a ruling factor in human affairs, and I think that legislation when it is framed should not lose sight of it. The right hon. Gentleman said the Report of the Committee drew its opinions against ownership from the evidence and from the example of existing estates where ownership prevailed. I think he is in error. There is one estate which I have known from its foundation in 1892. I allude to the colony of Catshill, near Bromsgrove. In the Report of the Committee it is represented as a dead failure, and that there are only so many of the original holders living on the holdings and that the land is badly cultivated. I think these are like most of the other statements in the Report. Many of them are contrary to the facts. I have visited that colony periodically and I was there about three weeks ago. If the right hon. Gentleman will go himself he will find that there is not a word of fact in the Report with regard to that colony. J hope he will do so, because it is important just now when we are making experiments. Here is an experiment, which I ask the right hon. Gentleman to see—that experiment at Catshill which has stood the test of twenty-five years, a quarter of a century, and has stood the test of population, seeing that it was originally a small area of 150 acres and was farmed by one man, who with his family made up about a dozen persons. Now he will find and hon. Members will find—I hope they will go there—a beautiful place occupied by thirty-two small holders, who, with their families, perhaps number 150 people. Therefore I repudiate with some indignation the aspersions upon this great experiment. If the Government were going in 77 this Bill to create a large number of such occupiers it would simply be another means of settling the question of food supply and population. The food supply at Catshill at this moment is at least ten times more in value than it was when the 150 acres were cultivated by one man. Why is it we are in this difficulty about tenancies and ownerships? We know that the Unionist party throughout the country and in the House are in favour of ownerships. The First Lord of the Admiralty stated:I earnestly hope for my part that whenever it is possible we shall adopt this system of ownerships, which is the true root and secret of any successful system of small cultivation.In the same strain Lord Selborne, addressing a public meeting of agriculturists, expressed his belief that:Ownership was the only principle on which the land question could be settled,but, he added,other members of the Government have pinned their faith to tenancies.We have in that utterance the secret of the antagonism to ownerships on the part of the Government. We have a Coalition Government which evidently contains elements that will not coalesce, and on this land question, as on every other disputed question, the Unionists have to go to the wall; therefore those who have pinned their faith to tenancies have had their way. It is a strange change. I remember the days when the Liberal party made ownerships the first plank in their platform. They probably found that the creation of peasant proprietors and yeoman farmers was not in their party interests. Hence this change! I implore them to sink party considerations for the good of the nation. Clause (1) of the Bill aims at the employment of ex-Service men on the land. It does not say in what capacity, whether as tenants or as prospective owners.
§ Mr. COLLINGS
That is left to the House to decide. I would point out that there will be a great difficulty in getting ex-Service men, after their experience abroad, to work on the land as mere wage earners with no prospect of owning the land. On the other hand, there is no difficulty whatever, under any scheme of land cultivation, in getting any number of willing workers, provided always that the men have the prospect of owning some of 78 the land they have cultivated, and of experiencing what the First Lord of the Admiralty calledthe joy of possession.At the present moment there are thousands of men discharged from the' Army as medically unfit for further active service. These men would be quite fit to be employed, under the conditions I have mentioned, on the land. During the training to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded they would succeed in getting the training to befit them to become small owners. There are other sources from which labour might be obtained. It was officially stated in this House that there are about 50,000 Austrian and German prisoners in this country. They could be put to the work. Then there is the suggestion of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero), that the great army of conscientious objectors should be employed on the land. There is another important reason why this Bill should be extended in the way in which I have suggested to the right hon. Gentleman: At the close of the War several millions of soldiers will be disbanded and thrown on the community, mostly in towns. What is to become of them? After being accustomed to military life and outdoor work they would not return to their civil occupations, even if such occupation were open to them. Added to these, there are probably a million or more persons who will be discharged from the munition works, making a tremendous unemployed population, who, if they are not dealt with and supplied with employment, will be liable to create labour and social trouble of which we cannot see the extent. Mr. Hughes, the Australian Premier, made a speech the other day at the Mansion House, which probably hon. Members have read. He used these emphatic words:Are you going to turn adrift the men who fought and the men who worked to save the Empire and find no place for them? This is a tremendous complex problem, and at all hazards we must find a solution to it or face a situation not less disastrous than the War itself.Mr. Hughes asked for but one solution and that might be contained in this Bill. The solution is to be found by so enlarging this Bill as to place the men on the land where there is room for most of them. If that is to be done the proceeding cannot be improvised. It must be done before the end of the War. If left until the end of the War it will be too late. The Final Report to which the right hon. Gentleman alluded has just been 79 issued. The Report itself contains little else than repetitions of the statements and recommendations in the introduction. There is a strong Minority Report, in which the chairman of the Committee practically agreed, and perhaps I may be permitted to read one or two paragraphs, because they are very instructive and bear directly on this Bill. In paragraph 38 the Committee state:We are glad to see a start being made with the three pioneer colonies provided for by the Government Bill recently introduced in the House of Lords.Speaking of the thousands that ought to be placed on the land, they say:If this is to be done the land should be acquired, and the colonies equipped when they are wanted before demobilisation takes place.They think that the Government should forthwith extend the operations on the lines of the present Bill, and amend the Small Holdings Act of 1908. They say:But to many we think that employment in agriculture will be unattractive to many of the men unless they see a chance of ultimately becoming small holders.Every man who emigrates to the Dominions knows that his holding is certain if he works hard and fast, and it is just this certainty of independence which is the great attraction of the small holdings in our agricultural economy here at home. In paragraph 56 the Committee state:We think it is of the first importance, if the objects of our Report are to be attained, that the State should secure the breaking up of a large proportion of the land which has been allowed to go down to grass during the last forty years. Each million acres broken up would provide employment for an additional 40.000 men and, of course, the families of the men would mean a very large increase in the rural population.In paragraph 54 they say:Speaking broadly, the money value of the produce of arable land is, in normal times more than twice as great as the produce of grass land, and the food value which, in time of war, may be a matter of serious importance, is from three to five times as great.Then again:We suggest that reclamation work should be undertaken to whatever extent is necessary to ensure the retention of the men. Military hutments could no doubt, be used for the purpose.They say:We realise that our proposals are drastic, but the opportunity we repeat is unique, it will never recur and the time which will be available for seizing it will be short-just as long as it takes to discharge men at the end of the War. It is the exigency of the occasion which necessitates such rapidity of action.There is one other quotation which I recommend to my right hon. Friend as a member of the Government:If the Government realises what a tremendous opportunity the end of the War will present of achieving the twin objects of an increase in our rural 80 population and in our home-grown food and how essential these two things are to the national welfare, then the thing can be done, because it must be done, and if it is to be done it must be done at once.The Chairman of the Committee, Mr. Henry Hobhouse, who was formerly a member of this House, said:I have signed the Report as Chairman in deference to the opinion of the majority of my colleagues, and because I am in substantial agreement with them as far as it goes, but it does seem to me not to emphasise sufficiently the magnitude and urgency of the opportunity now for combining the development of British, agriculture with the employment of ex-soldiers. From inquiries we have made it is clear to me that a very considerable acreage, say, at least a million acres, or a third of the land which has been allowed to go down to grass during thirty years, might be brought again under the plough, to the advantage of the nation.I would ask the Government if they are ready to reject the overwhelming evidence placed before them by men who are entitled to give it. If they stick to the Bill as it stands it is better to withdraw it, because it is like trying to put out a burning building by means of a hand-pump.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I am sure we congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on being amongst us again. It is some thirty years since I stood on the same platform with him, and although we speak now from different sides of the House, I have always retained my admiration for the way in which he has worked for the labourer in; this country. I am sure we all appreciate the speech he has delivered this afternoon. I am not going to follow him into the vexed question of tenancyversusownership, because he knows we differ on that point I speak from some practical experience when I say I have tried tenancies and have succeeded in making small holdings a success for the last twenty-five years, and I am in the proud position this year of being able to say that some of my small holders have been able to retire on a competency and pass on their tenancies to their sons. But, at the same time, I have always recognised the case which the right hon. Gentleman makes out for ownership, so that I think we may say we have agreed that both schemes might run side by side. There is no reason why they should not. Then, of course, the fittest will survive. There are districts where ownership will succeed and tenancy will not, and vice versa. We need not have any conflict with regard to that. With regard to the Bill itself, I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that unless drastic Amendments and improvements are made in it we need not waste-much breath about it, for it is hardly worth the paper it is written upon as it appears before us. Clause 1 talks about providing 81 experimental small-holding colonies. For heaven's sake, how many more experiments do we want? We have been experimenting for thirty years, and we have found that they can be made a success. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted Catshill in support of ownership. Some of us, sitting on both sides of the House, can give plenty of evidence that other forms of small holdings are a success. This Departmental Committee which has reported to us came down to a colony in which I am interested, where we have 1,000 acres of Crown land and where the Crown has built twenty new houses—there were ten or a dozen before—and where we have thirty or forty families who 'have been farming there for seven or eight years, and all are doing remarkably well off it and producing a great deal more than the land produced when it was occupied as one large farm. That is an experiment which the members of the Committee saw for themselves, and I believe they have been to other parts of the country as well. Yet when we come to frame Bills we have always got a Department that begins by talking about providing experiments. I should have thought the Board of Agriculture must have known by this that we have got much beyond the experimental stage so far as small holdings are concerned.
Not only have some of us demonstrated this in our private capacity, but we have now had five years' working of the Small Holdings Act. This Bill only provides for a paltry 6,000 acres of land in this country, and 2,000 acres in Scotland. We could mop up the whole of that in my Constituency alone. Of the young men who have gone to the War from my Constituency, I trust enough will return for me to guarantee to find enough eligible men to take the whole of the 6,000 acres in my Constituency alone, and mine is only one agricultural constituency out of many. We want a colony like this in every county constituency in England and not three miserable colonies. One, I believe, is to be placed somewhere near the Humber. I do not know where the second and third are to be, but I expect the Welshmen will get one. They will try I have no doubt. But we poor fellows in the Eastern Counties look as if we are not going to get a colony at all as far as I can see, and yet what has been the result of the Small Holdings Act? Here are some figures given me by one of the Small Holdings Commissioners the other day. We have now been working this Act for 82 six years, this is our seventh year. In Norfolk we obtained 15,850 acres under the Act, and we have put 1,382 tenants upon the land. In Cambridgeshire we have 10,000 acres and have put 1,438 tenants upon the land, and in Lincolnshire we have done about the same as in Norfolk. In the three Eastern Counties of which I have some knowledge, we have secured between 30,000 and 40,000 acres of land. Then the Government come with a piffling Bill like this. Really it is ludicrous. They have set up machinery in the Bill to provide colonies for 300 soldiers. If it were not so laughable it would be deplorable. Even under the Small Holdings Act we-have got six Small Holdings Commissions spread about over the country—one in the Eastern Counties, one in the North, one in the West. At present they are kicking up their heels doing very little.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
They are attending War Agricultural Committees, I know, and are not doing very much good. I have watched them very carefully—quite as carefully as my right hon. Friend (Mr. Acland)—and they would be much better employed at their work. Their work was to look after the Small Holdings Act, and they are the men you ought to put in control of these colonies. But to bring a Bill forward for three of these colonies? I hope we shall laugh it out of court altogether. Although I shall vote for the' Second Beading, I hardly think it is worth while giving to the country.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
I wish to associate myself with what has been said by the last two speakers. The Bill seems to me to be wholly inadequate to the circumstances it is intended to meet. We have believed that the War, among other things, was going to teach us some lessons in regard to the use and the development of land in this country. It seems as if these lessons have not yet reached the Government if they hope that anything is going to be done by mere experiment that is going to deal with some 6,000 acres of land and 2,000 in Scotland on which they propose to settle some 300 able or partially disabled soldiers. That is really toying with the whole question, and if anything is going to be done it has got to be done on much bigger and much bolder lines. I believe that is not in the least a party point of view, but will 83 appeal to hon. Members of all parties who feel that this is a serious matter from the standpoint of the future of the land and of food production in this country. The Government must show that it is going to tackle the problem in earnest and not in this tinkering fashion. I believe broadly in the principles which underlie the proposed experiment. I believe in the colony system. I believe it will do a great deal. I believe it will do away with the isolation and the monotony that sometimes prevails in regard to agricultural life, and I believe also in bringing the little communities together, where men can not only have the healthy occupation of agricultural work, but also have more outdoor life and enjoyment than they very often can under present conditions. I believe that is wholly a gain, and I believe entirely—though I do not pretend to be an expert like hon. Members who are now present—in the introduction of the co-operative principle into this work. It seems to me that we have been taught, or we ought to have been taught, during the last two years especially, how much more of the food supplies of this country we ought to be able to produce under some better land system than we have got. I believe that we could not only produce far more food than we now do by cultivating the land and putting it to better use, but that we Could build up a strong, healthy population that never will be built up under present conditions. I am sure that we can have more healthy children in the country districts than can ever be brought up under the crowded conditions that obtain in many large towns. Therefore from every point of view, it is of enormous importance that this problem should be tackled in the right way and in the right spirit. I do not mean to enter into any discussion with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings), whose appearance in this House we are so pleased to note, but I would say this to him, that even if these land changes do not wholly go along the lines that he advocates or would desire, I think there are very few men who have done more to arouse interest in the land question than he, and to see that necessary changes are brought about. I agree with him that this is a very important matter.
I am very sorry that the Government have not been able to cast this Bill in a more heroic mould, because I do think 84 that the times demand not little, small tinkering changes, but big changes, and that the Government would have had the House of Commons behind it in making big and brave experiments along the right lines. I hope it is not too late to change very vitally the character of this Bill. The principle which underlies the Bill is, I think, on the whole on right lines, but the measure must be reshaped entirely, and the Government must be prepared to launch out on much bigger lines. You are not going to solve the problem of your soldiers by an experiment of this kind. We have had any number of experiments, and the Board of Agriculture ought to know by this time whether this is going to be a successful experiment or not. In its various forms, either of tenancy or of ownership, there have been any number of experiments in this country. The Small Holdings Act was very largely in the nature of an experiment, and we have had all the accumulated experience that comes from agriculture and the various methods of dealing with the land. I believe, on the whole, in tenancy, under public ownership, but that is a matter that can very easily be tested. I believe that what the great bulk of people are craving for is not what you call the joy of possession, but some sense of security and independence in regard to the land; some feeling, for instance, that if they do their best and put their best work into the land, that some private owner is not going to immediately penalise them by raising their rent as a result of what they have done. I believe that there ought to be independence and security in that way, and that if that were done the people would not worry very much about the exact method as to ownership or tenancy of the land, provided that they were safeguarded against that sort of thing.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
That is a debatable point. I think we might have a good deal to say if the land were publicly owned and we found that some pressing abuses were going on there would be far more opportunity for this House and local administrative bodies to assert themselves in regard to that matter than they have now. This is one of the many problems that we have been speaking about as an after-the-War problem. We have been trying to visualise the conditions that are going to obtain after the War. We have 85 been trying to realise that we ought to make the most of our country and that there will be, possibly in this direction and that, unemployment after the War, and that the Government ought to prepare to cope with these difficult problems. One of the very best ways in which that can be done is to establish this land-colony system and put the land to its most fruitful use, but that is not going to be done by a Bill like this. This Bill is a mere drop in the ocean. Therefore, I hope before it leaves this House, during its Committee and subsequent stages, we will set to work in earnest to make it a bigger and a better Bill than it is. I believe that the land question lies at the root of many of our social and economic problems and that with wise treatment on the part of the Government many of these problems will yield to treatment in a way that they have not done before.
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) has not had very much encouragement from the House in regard to this Bill. No one who expected a large and comprehensive scheme of land settlement could be satisfied with it. A Bill that simply proposes to take 6,000 acres in England and Wales, and 2,000 acres in Scotland, simply means that if you divide the land it provides in 20 acre holdings it will only give employment to 400 men. Of course, that is ridiculous. To describe a measure of this—I will not say magnitude—limited kind as one to promote land settlement, is entirely out of the question. I desire to say a few words about this measure, rather from the economic point of view. After all, this Bill must depend largely upon finance, and no one is going to engage in agriculture or take a small holding unless he thinks he can make a .good living from it. That is the real point. One never knows how many soldiers now fighting at the front will desire to go back upon the land. Some 320,000 have gone. Whether our young labourers who have left the land and joined the Colours will care to go back to agricultural pursuits one never knows, but I sincerely hope that conditions may be so favourable that they will. However, that is a matter for the future. Whether we shall get the urban dweller to turn to the land is quite another matter. If he does so, it will be a revolution in our national habits, because we have always been complaining of the superior attraction of the town to that of the country to men, and especially to 86 women, who flock to the town rather than remain upon the land. It all depends upon the future of agricultural prices. That is the real point, as to whether these colonies will be a success or not. There are very divergent views as to what the future of agriculture will be after the War. We can depend upon it that it will not be the same as it was before the War. Some people think that prices will be higher; that after the hundreds of millions of pounds that this and other countries have spent in developing Colonies, Argentina, and other countries, the food supply from those countries will decrease. There are others who say that the thousands of millions that have been squandered by Europe in this War will so reduce the purchasing power of the people in the purchase of food, that prices of agricultural produce will go down. No one can prophecy; it is absolutely impossible.
I find that this Bill is founded on the Report of the Committee. It is a very able Committee. My hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Leslie Scott) and others were appointed in July last year, and they appear to have solved all the agricultural difficulties by their Report. I shall have to point out one or two factors which may give the House to pause in regard to the finance of these colonies. The Committee is bold. It proposes that there shall be a minimum wage for agricultural labour. The Minority Report—
§ Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKE
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. The right hon. Gentleman is now going into the second Report. I understood from Mr. Speaker that we should not discuss the policy outlined in that second Report. If that is to be the case, the Debate may possibly go on for two days.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I merely made reference to it. I propose to pass entirely from that point and to deal with the first part of the Committee's Report. I simply made the reference to show how the Committee deal with this matter as a whole.
§ Mr. LESLIE SCOTT
I submit very strongly that it is quite impossible to consider this first proposal of the Government with a view to the reconstruction of our agricultural community after the War, and to do what is just by our soldiers, except as a part of the whole. It is ridiculous to suppose that you can consider whether this is an adequate or inadequate Bill without considering it in 87 relation to what problems the Bill has been brought forward. I submit that some latitude in discussion on the general subject must inevitably be allowed on the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Mr. Whitley)
The hon. Member has correctly stated what would be the scope of the Debate. Any discussion of the Report of the Committee must be relevant to the Bill now before the House. In so far as it is relevant to the Bill it is permissible.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
The Committee is very bold and comprehensive in its proposals. It proposes a minimum wage for agricultural labourers, and stable prices for agricultural produce. These are two very debatable propositions, but I shall not enter upon them now. I can quite understand that they would give rise to much debate. If you fix, say, 42s. a quarter for wheat as a minimum price, you give rise to a great deal of discussion both here and in the country. I will deal with the Bill itself and the Report of the Committee, upon which the Bill is founded. There is no doubt that this proposal for the Board of Agriculture to provide agricultural colonies must be in the nature of an experiment. I do not think it has been done before. Whether it is going to be a successful experiment is naturally going to depend on how the experiment is worked. I do not know, but if the figures that I am going to quote are to be the basis of the rents charged for these small holdings, these small holders will be rented out of existence. They cannot pay such rents. I fancy that the Committee have rather underrated the difficulties of fruit farming, and small holders generally. The Committee state in regard to a fruit market garden colony it should be possible for an intelligent man, even without any previous experience, to acquire sufficient knowledge on the cultivation of the principal crops in the course of one year's training, and that in special cases a shorter period might suffice. I have been brought up all my life amongst agriculturists, and in Devonshire we grow a good deal of fruit, but I candidly confess that I should hesitate very much about taking a small holding for the purpose of growing fruit with only one year's experience. I do not wish to discourage the Board of Agriculture, but they must realise that a man, to be a successful small holder on those lines, must 88 have had a great deal more than one year's experience. In fact, he almost wants a lifetime at it. The Committee have suggested and worked out a scheme with the' cost. My right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill gave the cost, and I think it runs for 1,000 acres to £82,000. That is an enormous sum of money, You will not be able to borrow it now for less than about 5 per cent., and you have got, therefore, to provide, if it is to be an economic experiment, for £4,000 a year in rent for 1,000 acres. All these things which are suggested now depend on finance. The Committee suggest that the land will cost £40,000, and the equipment will cost £42,000 for 1,000 acres. To give anything like an economic return you will have to rent these small holders so high that it will be impossible for them to pay the rent unless you have a very large increase in agricultural prices. The Committee state:We estimate that the rent of a small fruit and market garden holding of 4 acres, provided with cottage, pigsty, fowl-house and tool-shed, with 1½ acres planted with fruit trees and bushes, would be about £24 a year.To pay £24 a year for that would be simply impossible.
We are told that this is an urgent question. If you plant your fruit trees, say, in the coming October or November, you would be very lucky if you got a paying crop from them in three years' time. I do not want to discourage the Board of Agriculture about the principle, but this a matter of detail, and I am quite certain that it is impossible for any small holder to pay £24 a year for 4 acres of land unless it is in an exceptionally favoured position. Then the rates, I presume, would not be less than £6 a year. That is £30 which this poor man would have to pay for a cottage with only 2½ acres of land which he can cultivate while the 1½acres are coming to fruit bearing. If the Board of Agriculture are going to conduct their farm colonies upon these lines, I am afraid that I must prophesy failure. They cannot help failing. I am not sure that in these matters Government Departments are the best body to carry out an experiment of this kind. I have had a great deal of experience in Government Departments. They do their work extremely well, but economy is not one of their attributes. But though they generally do the work very well, it is done on a very expensive scale. If you are to get economic results from these colonies you must keep down the cost to the very lowest possible limits. I assume that the Board of Agriculture will have inspectors 89 to go down and inspect the land. I believe that my hon. Friend (Colonel Bathurst), who is a great authority, is dealing with this matter. But I doubt very much if among all the Board of Agriculture inspectors there is even one who has lived the life of a successful small holder. And I would like to suggest that if the Board are going to lay out these colonies they should let the laying out be done by two or three men who actually know what small holdings can do, what they can grow, and what they can pay.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I am glad to hear it. I do not wish in the least to disparage the Board of Agriculture in its work, but I do suggest that none of the Small Holdings Commissioners whom I know of have been engaged in the cultivation of small holdings.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
A tenant farmer but not a small holder. To my mind the Committee have gone upon lines which will not give a rapid opportunity for settlers upon the land. Take this question of time. Assume that the Board of Agriculture have bought their land or will have bought it by Michaelmas next, they will have to give twelve months' notice in order to clear the present tenant. That is to say, they cannot begin operations until Michaelmas, 1917.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I might suggest to the right hon. Gentleman and the Board of Agriculture an alternative scheme. Before the War—and the question will be equally acute after the War, or probably more so—the real problem was housing in the rural districts. We could not get houses for men. We made all sorts of inquiries. The House remembers that the present Minister for War was engaged in an inquiry, in an electoral campaign, before the War. It was very difficult to get houses. I am afraid that it will be more difficult after the War. The Committee in their Report recommend that some £2,000,000 90 should be spent. I very much prefer that you should spend the money in providing houses in rural localities, and I think that if you had £2,000,000 probably you would be able to build 10,000 houses—at any rate, it could be done before the War—at £200 a piece. That would give an opportunity for these men to go down to country districts and settle there. You could dot these houses all over the country. The Small Holdings Commissioners could carve out pieces of land for these men to cultivate later on. But if you are to provide holdings for soldiers who have fought across in Flanders I would not mind, and I am sure the House would not mind, if you let them have the houses for the first year rent free until they could see their way as to how they could make a living and get on. I am quite certain that the housing problem is at the bottom of all this. If you could put a man into a cottage in the country he would like it. There is plenty of employment to be had in the country. There are all sorts of postal arrangements, road work, and other employment. These men would be enabled to build up a small industry, with the advantage of a cottage and a piece of land. For £2,000,000, which is only about three times as much as you are going to spend on these colonies, you would be able to provide 10,000 houses for soldiers returning from France and elsewhere. I cannot help thinking that that would be a much more feasible scheme, and a scheme that would put larger numbers of men on the land. This Bill cannot put on more than about 400 men. For three times the cost you could put on 10,000 men. That would really be to some extent grappling with the problem.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
At any rate, my figures are unaffected. You are only going to provide for 400 men at a cost of £300,000, while you could provide for 10,000 men at a cost of £2,000,000. I wish success for this scheme, but unless it is conducted upon lines which are very much less limited, the rent which the small holder will have to pay will inevitably ruin them, and bring the whole scheme to an end. I support the Bill, but am sorry to say that I have not much hope of its success.
§ Mr. PROTHERO
On the whole, I approve of the experiment that is being tried under this Bill. Though the Bill 91 has been attacked because it does not do enough yet, as I look upon this as an experiment, I think that on the whole the caution of the Government is wise, and I say this as a firm friend of small holdings. Both before and after the passing of the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908, both outside its provisions and within them, I have had a hand in creating a very considerable number of small holdings, and my experience convinces me that they are a very valuable part of the community, and especially on the social side. Small holders, I believe, work harder than agricultural labourers, and in many cases their income is not larger, and it is often more precarious. For all that, they are happier and more contented, because they are on their own and call no man "master."As to the question which has been raised only to be dismissed by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, that for ownership or tenancy, I quite agree with him that it does not arise on the present occasion. This is an experiment, and though I am a great supporter of ownership generally, I should by no means put it forward in this experimental Bill. Therefore I think that we may leave that fruitful subject of discussion aside this afternoon. Small holdings seem to me to be so valuable on the social side that they are worth this experiment. They foster self-reliance, independence, and initiative among men who probably would not develop those faculties if they spent their lives in obeying orders. They train up children to make themselves generally useful, and they train them in habits of thrift and industry. They are the means of putting a larger rural population upon the land. All those are great advantages.
I do not know any class of men in which you are more likely to find the right material for small holders than the men who have shown that they have got the requisite grit in them, by fighting our battles by sea and by land; but there is one danger which anyone who has had any experience in rural districts can confirm. The passion for independence does drive men who have got a small occupation of their own to excessive labour, which they also impose on their dependants—which is very often physically mischievous. Apart from that, on the social side they are invaluable to the community. But when you come to the 92 economical side, I think there is a great deal of need for caution. It is just there that I agree with the Government Bill, that it does not go-too far; I am glad that it does not go further than it does. In the first place, let me say this: You cannot generalise about small holdings with any degree of safety. It is not enough to say because they have succeeded sometimes and somewhere, that they are going to succeeed always and everywhere. Neither is it any good to point to a man who has prospered in one parish, and say another may prosper there, too; it is just as likely that they would cut one another's throat. Therefore, you cannot generalise upon this subject with any degree of safety. The right man, the right produce, and the right situation, and the small holding will probably succeed. I confess, however, that the man is almost more important, to say nothing of his wife. Then, again, I think the produce that can be raised on a small holding is very limited in its range. You will not find that the small holder is likely to succeed except where the form of agriculture which he adopts gives a large return per acre, and also is a form in which manual labour is a very large proportion of the cost of production. If that is the case, then the man has a chance of success, but that limits him—and this is the point I want to drive home to the House—to the production of vegetables, fruit, and flowers. If a man is in the happy position of being able to form a milk round of his own he is likely to be successful, but those cases are in the minority, and the wholesale milk is-better produced in a large farm. But now, with the limited range of production, vegetables, fruit and flowers, is there not a very great risk, if you increase the number of small holdings very largely, that the competition will so affect them that they will cease to be remunerative. Further than that, is there not the risk, to which the right hon. Gentleman in front of me has already alluded, that, after the War, the demand for this particular class of commodities will be decreased by the general poverty which will necessarily result from the War. On that ground again, there is need for caution.
But the greatest need for caution comes from the fact that we have not yet decided as to the national policy—whether we are going to make ourselves more independent of the foreigner in the 93 production of essential articles of our food supply; that is to say, are we going to grow more beef and more bread in this country, or are we going to remain dependent upon the foreigner for these essential supplies? If you are going to change your policy, if you are going to aim at feeding yourselves more than you have hitherto done, then you cannot destroy the large farms, which are the economic factories of beef and mutton. Against them the small holder is as a hand loom against the factory in that range of produce. Therefore, the first question you have got to settle is, what are you going to do with regard to national policy? If you decide to grow more beef and more bread and more wholesome milk, then you cannot afford to cut up much more of your land in order to create small holdings, which are limited to vegetables, flowers, and fruit. That is an important point we have to consider. And here is the interesting side of the present Bill—it introduces the principle of co-operation on new lines. If, as an experiment, the Act, when it is put into operation, can show to us that a group of small holders, united under one head, can be a good economic unit for the production of beef and bread, then a strong and, to my mind, an invincible objection to a large extension of small holdings will be removed. That is the experiment which I hope will be tried by the Government under this scheme, and it is for the trial of that experiment that I support the Second Reading of this Bill.
I think there are many other points which will have to be considered by the Government before they can make the state of the small holder in this country more tolerable than it is at present. One great point is a preferential rate upon the carriage of this class of produce. I speak on that subject with some diffidence, for I am a member of the Royal Commission on railways, which is now in "cold storage,"but which may have to report upon this and other subjects. I should like to point out, however, that our railway system is designed to help large wholesale import trades, and is not adapted for the small local trades, which we have to foster for the benefit of the small holders. That is an important point which must be noticed by the Government, and care must be taken to meet it. There is one other small point in the Bill, and that is as to the credit facilities 94 which are offered. I did hope that the Government would bring forward some-large scheme of credit facilities. It seems to me an astonishing thing that England, Scotland, and Wales are the only parts of the British Empire which have not got an elaborate system of State assistance to the land—literally the only country. Throughout the civilised world you will findcredit fonciers, in some form or another, which have been efficacious for the encouragement of small holders, and I am sure the hon. Member who described the Bill as a "piffling"Bill will agree with me that one of the things to be desired for the benefit of the small holders is the means of obtaining credit. That is a thing which the Government should seriously think over before they start in the colonies; and on those lines that I have indicated, and within those limits, I support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Colonel Lord HENRY CAVENDISH-BENTINCK
Whether this Bill is adequate or inadequate, no doubt there are some very sound provisions in it. First of all, you have the director or instructor, and secondly, the co-operative principle is to be introduced among the tenants, and each worker is to prove his working: capacity as a wage-earner before he is admitted as a tenant. But perhaps the best thing in connection with the Bill is that my hon. Friend the Member for Wilton (Captain Bathurst) has been given the management of the matter, and he brings to it not only his great knowledge, but his great sympathy. I am sure that if the Treasury and the Board of Agriculture do not bind him too tightly round with red tape, he will do his best to make the whole thing a success. With all due respect to what has fallen from my hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Prothero), I cannot help thinking that this Bill, as a means of meeting what will surely arise on the return of our soldiers from the War, is not adequate. It was stated in another place the other day that Sir Douglas Haig had caused inquiries to be made as to how many of our soldiers would like to go upon the land after the War, and I am told that about half a million gave in their names. When you have sifted all these names, I think you may be quite certain that there will be many thousands who will wish to be put upon the land, but it must be in such a way that it will offer to them a life which is independent.
95 What answer does the Government give to this? The Bill provides that at no time is much more that 6,000 acres to be acquired by the Board of Agriculture; but why should the operation of this Act cease with the lapse of a year after the War? It seems to me very difficult to understand the attitude of the Government towards the British soldier when he has done fighting. They would appear to say, "We were very grateful to you while fighting, and we are very grateful to you after the War, but when a year has elapsed you need not bother us any more."Lord Selborne, speaking in another place, said that small holdings had proved uniformly successful, and that the amount of rent owing is infinitesimal. Why, under these circumstances, should this Bill be so very experimental? What is going to happen to the soldier, who has probably been an agricultural labourer before he went to the War, who has only served a year and a half with the Colours? Is he to be put in a glass case and made a subject of experiment? What will happen, if these conditions are imposed, is that you will find the returning soldiers drifting to the Colonies, to Canada and Australia, instead of coming to this country. I am not in the least bit jealous of the Colonies getting our good men; but I do submit that if we do have a scheme for a country the size of this, we should be put on something like equality with the Colonies. But we are to have a sum of something like £2,000,000 for this country, while in Australia they are providing £16,000,000.
This is a reform which for a great many years has been an urgent necessity, and it is a reform which has been long overdue. It has been due ever since the In-closure Act robbed the labourer of his independence and of his hope of rising in life, and made him a mere wage earner at a pitiful wage. What happened before the war is somewhat ancient history, but I may remind the House that the Unionist Social Reform Committee, of which I am a humble Member, in its scheme for agricultural reform made a very prominent feature of a scheme exactly similar to this. It recognised that the only way of bringing hope to the agricultural labourer was to give him a chance of rising, and the opportunity of some day becoming a farmer. We often hear that we cannot take up things exactly after the War as they were before I believe that is profoundly true, and even we Members of the 96 House of Commons may possibly suffer some change. I fear very much that that portion of our social life, agriculture, where change is most needed is that portion which is likely to experience the very least change. As everybody knows, there is a very strong body of opinion in another place voiced by a Noble Lord who not many years ago was a prominent Member of the Benches opposite which maintains that the present system of land tenure is something too ideal, too sacred to be touched at all. There are others who consider that farming should be carried on, on a much more extensive system than it is at present, that fences should be broken down and that fields should be laid to each other, and that farming should be carried on with all improvements of the most up-to-date character, a maximum of capital, and maximum of science and a minimum of labour. On the other hand, there is another school which says that the land should be cut up into small holdings. There is nothing antagonistic in those two schools.
A very large portion of the land in England is utterly unsuitable for cultivation as small holdings, but which no doubt could be cultivated very profitably more so than at present, if taken up by men of large capital and large ideas. But there is a very large area in this country which is suitable for small holdings and which I should like to see scheduled, and to see the Government make a determined attempt to develop that area as thickly as it could be cultivated. I think it would be the best investment that the State could possibly make if they helped forward a generous scheme of that kind. What we want is a definite national policy to bring back more people on the land. It is really quite beside the mark to say that small holdings will not produce a certain amount of beef and a certain amount of corn. We must depend in the long run ultimately on our imports of corn from abroad. There is a great deal of produce which can be produced on small holdings. Unfortunately a policy, a definite policy, for repeopling this country of ours has never had the serious attention of any of our prominent statesmen with the exception of the present Minister for War, and as far as I can make out all that he has done is to talk a great deal about it. What we have, unfortunately, considered more important is the accumulation of capital rather than the welfare of the individual. Let me give an instance. A Scotsman has succeeded in 97 turning everybody off the land in a very large area in Wiltshire, which is surrounded with barbed wire and wire netting, and whereas it used to maintain 100 or 200 agricultural labourers, it now produces a tremendous lot of sheep looked after by one or two Scottish shepherds. That is what I mean. What is needed is not that we should regard so much the accumulation of capital as the welfare, the physical welfare, of the individual.
I am afraid we are not going to get very much on by the help of this Bill. From what I can make out of it I am afraid it is far too bound up with red tape. For instance, I understood, reading Lord .Selborne's speeches, that it is essential that is shall be made an economic success. I understand also that those who are responsible for this Bill are not to have from the Treasury any facilities for cheap credit. They are not to be allowed to have the use of the wooden huts which the War Office are now utilising. Building material, as everybody knows, is up from 30 to 50 per cent. What that means is that in order to make the holdings economic they must be a considerable size, from 30 to 40 acres; or, in other words, the soldier must have a holding greatly too large for him if he is to have any at all. If he does have a small holding he has it with a staggering weight of charges. I should like to see the Government come forward and treat this subject generously, not with the idea of producing food or anything else, but with the idea of getting soldiers back on the land, and of getting this country better populated and better peopled. I should like to see a large scheme for handing over a large block Grant for the Treasury in order that the tenants might have a really good chance of making the thing a success. If the Government are too timid to go on with a comprehensive scheme I should like to see them encouraging voluntary associations, which I believe could do a very large amount of this work. At the beginning of the War there was a very useful Bill to enable public utility societies to have cheap credit and to enable them to borrow from the Public Works Loans Commissioners up to eight-ninths of the necessary capital. That measure unfortunately lapsed, as it was considered there was no necessity for it. I would ask, Is the Government ready to renew that Act and to give facilities to public utility societies? A Central Society has already been formed and is 98 of a very representative character—the Agricultural Organisation Society, the Fisheries Organisation Society, the Central Land Association, and also the Statutory Committee. That association is willing and only too eager to acquire land and to parcel it out not only among discharged soldiers, but also among disabled soldiers. That society and others like it ought to have the right, if they are willing to undertake this work, to be liberally and generously treated by the Government. I do consider, from the point of view of the gratitude of this country to our soldiers and sailors, that this Bill is an inadequate measure. It is due to their hardihood, bravery, and self-sacrifice that we owe the fact that the land of this country is ours at all, and the least we can do is to give to those who want it as many opportunities as we can of living an independent life on the land.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I am very glad that the Government have made this a small measure, because though we are spending very large sums of money at present and though it may not matter very much whether we waste another million or two still I think it is advisable that we should know what we are doing and what prospect we have of success before we begin to spend large sums of money on what I think would prove to be a disastrous failure. I listened with very great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Oxford University (Mr. Prothero), which was, if I may venture to say so, was damning the Bill with faint praise. He said-that no doubt small holdings were possible and even successful if you produced fruit, vegetables and flowers, but he also pointed out, which to my mind is unanswerable, that there is only a limited market for those articles, and that if you produce a very large supply you depress the price by having a glut, and you will not be able to make the small holding successful. My experience for what it is worth, and I can only speak of my own district, is that small holdings are not a success. In 1908 there was a considerable demand for land in my district for small holdings, but I never hear of such a thing now. Though I cannot state what the condition of small-holdings is in other parts of the country, in my own part they are certainly not very satisfactory. The holder leads a most arduous life, and has to work far and away harder than any 99 agricultural labourer. To say that what he produces from the land is anything like as good as the produce of the large farmer, or anything like the same proportion to the acre, is perfectly ludicrous, for it is nothing of the sort. The good crops and the great centage per acre are grown by the large farmer, and not by the small farmer, who finds it very difficult to cultivate or till. I remember about seven or eight years ago we used to have articles every day in the "Daily Mail"describing a small holding which they had set up and which was started with the plea that it was going to be a great success. I used to read with interest how the small holder started with a heavy horse and ploughed a quarter of an acre, and how his son went to the market with a light horse and milk cart, and all sorts of beautiful phraseology, written in that wonderful way which the "Daily Mail ' always uses when it writes articles, and which filled everybody who read those and did not know anything about the country with an eager desire to have a small holding. We never saw any accounts, and finally the whole thing disappeared, and we have never heard from that day to this what happened to that small holding. It would be very interesting if at some time when there is not a very entrancing subject before the public the "Daily Mail"would give us an account of this farm, and I make this suggestion to my hon. Friend so that he may use his influence with the "Daily Mail"to publish an accurate account.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
I hope the hon. Baronet does not refer to me. It might be possible for him to get it done; I am sure he has far more influence there than I have.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
It would be extremely interesting to see what happened to that small holding, whether it is still in existence and whether it issues a balance sheet.
§ Colonel C. BATHURST
Perhaps I may be forgiven for interposing, but I happen to know the "Daily Mail"holding very well. It is probably the most successful in England.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That does not answer my question. It is quite likely the most successful in England, but that is a very cryptic way of putting it. Perhaps all the others are absolute failures, and 100 that this is not such a great failure as the others. What I want to see is a balance sheet.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Will my hon. Friend produce it and inform us whether the farm is in operation at the present moment and whether it is successful?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is a very easy thing to do. The right hon. Gentleman who sits opposite me said this was very largely a question of finance. I think he is perfectly correct. At the present moment the Government have to pay 5 per cent. for money, speaking in round figures. I find in the Report that it is stated that there was in view the buying of 1,000 acres at £40 an acre. That comes to £40,000. Then £40,000 will have to be spent upon buildings. That comes to £80,000. If the Government had to borrow that money at 5 per cent, it means an interest of £4,000 a year to be found. I do not say there is not some land in England worth £40 an acre, but as far as we know there are few of the grasping landlords in England who are getting anything like £40 an acre for their land. Under this scheme the Board of Agriculture will start at the rentals of £4 a year. Then there is tithe to be paid, unless the land happens to be tithe free, and there are, I suppose, expenses of management and a variety of other charges. I do not know whether the rates would be paid by the small holder or by the Board of Agriculture, but the rates are founded upon the rental of the land, and if the land is going to be rated at £4 an acre the rates will be very heavy, and that, added to the £4,000 a year, will put such a charge upon the land that I do not believe it is possible for anybody, whoever he is, to make any profit out of it. When you could borrow money at 3 per cent, it was a, different thing. In that case the interest alone would be £2,400 a year, or a little over £2 an acre, which would have made a very considerable difference indeed. The rate of interest has increased so much that it does make an enormous difference to the State-aided enterprises which are now apparently to be approved by our present guiders. I did not say leaders—I said guiders, purposely—because I really do nob know who are our leaders.
101 The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) said that he was going to place men on the land who were mostly untrained. Well, it seems to me to be rather a handicap to start with an enormous rental and to put upon the land men who are mostly untrained. I must say that the more I hear of this measure the greater joy I feel that it is only a small one, because it seems to me if it was a large one we might find ourselves involved in an enormous loss of public money at a time when we ought to husband all our resources and not fritter them away upon experiments. After all, nobody has a greater admiration for our soldiers and sailors than I have, but I do not quite know why we have to put them on the land. Why should we not start them as butchers or bakers, or in other trades?
§ Sir F. BANBURY
My hon. Friend says there is room for them on the land. There is plenty of room for them as labourers on the land, but there is also room for them in all kinds of businesses. We shall require people to work at other businesses besides cultivating the land, and if they are all to be started in business, I do not myself see why land should be particularly chosen for them, especially if you are going to put untrained men upon the land. It seems to me this scheme is absolutely doomed to failure. I myself do a little work on the land sometimes. I use a scythe and try to do a little hoeing, and it is very hard work. It is all very well to say, "We will put these untrained men on the land; they are sure to like it."I am not at all sure they will like it when they come to try it and see what it is. If they had to try and get their hay in under the conditions which obtain at the present moment they would find that there are none of the joys and glory of working a small holding which they had been led to expect; their enthusiasm might fade very quickly when they came to understand what the hard details of an agricultural life are and the dangers to which it is subjected from our very fickle weather. I think they would find their ideas very much changed and that they would have preferred to have gone into a comfortable shop and sold something over a counter rather than indulge in the doubtful pleasure of farming a small holding. It is not really worth while endeavouring to oppose the Bill, because it is such a very little one and because we 102 do waste so much money now. If we do waste a little more on this and have proper accounts shown to us, I think it will do something to destroy illusion, which is deep rooted in people who have not to get a living from the land.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
In introducing the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) referred to provisions made for Scotland and England, but I am sorry to say that so far as I heard he made no reference to any provisions for Wales, notwithstanding the representations that have been made to him on the subject. I hope, in the course of the discussion, we shall be told that one of the colonies is to be established in Wales. Failing that, the right hon. Gentleman will have in Committee to meet a request that one should be established in Wales. I am not quite sure as to the objects of this Bill. I have read both of these Reports on the subject in which I take some considerable interest; and I have also listened to all the speeches that have been made, but I cannot quite make up my mind for what object the Bill is brought in and for what purpose the land is to be acquired. Is it so that we can have experience of small holdings in this country? Is it for the purpose of training men who are later to be put on holdings of their own? Or is it to provide employment for soldiers when they come back from the War? The newspapers have apparently suggested the latter. I can find no provision in the Bill which is to provide employment for any but a very small number indeed of those who come back. One might imagine from what has been said that the only object was to establish colonies with a view to obtaining experience of small holdings under the most favourable conditions. I would like to call attention to the fact that we already have small holdings in this country. Two-thirds of the farms in this country are of less than fifty acres in extent, and if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) would only go down to the county I have the honour to represent he will find that nearly 80 per cent. of the holdings are under fifty acres. If he, or any Member of this House, desires to have knowledge of the economical position of the small holder he has only to make inquiry into the condition of the small holder in Wales. The latter is hardworking, thrifty and industrious—I know no one who is more industrious or thrifty—and yet he is a notoriously poor man with it all. If the object was to obtain 103 information as to the working of small holdings that could have been got from the experience in Belgium there before the War. The small holders there enjoyed the advantages of co-operation, transit facilities, instruction, in fact, upon all the points upon which information could be required it might have been got from the experience of Belgium. What is the position? There is no doubt the small holding both in Denmark and Belgium and also in Wales as well as in some parts of England has increased the capital value of the food produced. I may say I agree with the hon. Member for Oxford University that from the social standpoint as well as the financial small holdings have been a success, but when it is suggested that small holdings are to be the means by which later on the men who have been fighting are to earn their living, I think the House might well pause to ask what the position of the small holder is? There is a book on Belgium edited by Mr. Rown-tree, who says:There are advantages of cheap and rapid transit, a good system of agricultural education, co-operative societies for all kinds of purposes, including the provision of capital and the insurance of stock. What is the result? A closer acquaintance with the small holder shows us that although he seldom, perhaps never, suffers from want he generally lives roughly, and, except in winter, works unreasonably long hours for low pay.If it is thought that it is due to the fact that the holder is a tenant, I would point out that Mr. Rowntree further on states that owners work extremely hard to make a living, and that the improvement is not nearly so great as might have been expected from the extraordinary developments in the organisation and science of agriculture during recent years. If the Government want to know what the small holdings are under the most favourable conditions, they have that information already available in the case of Belgium. I can only conclude that there must be some other object in bringing forward this proposal than to gain experience. Is it going to be a question of training men to become small holders? If that is to be the object, all I can say is that it seems to me that the Government's proposals are exceedingly ungenerous. One hon. Gentleman who preceded me pointed out what the soldiers are doing for the protection of the country, and for the protection of our food. Let us see what the Committee proposes. If these soldiers are to be taken to colonies for periods of training, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it 104 is intended to supply them with small holdings later on, and whether the Government is prepared to advance them the necessary money to take possession of a holding and stock it, and more particularly to enable them to live for the first year of their tenancy? What is the proposal of the Committee? Here is what they say:We anticipate, further, that among the applicants there will be a substantial number who have been able to save a certain amount of money during their service or who possess some capital.These are the only people to whom this Committee recommend the provision of small holdings! The man who has lost a limb, the man who has been maimed, the man who comes back to this colony, as he thinks, for training, is to get no assistance from the State; no capital is to be advanced for purposes of stock or otherwise. These are the men who are given to understand that if they are to be trained the Government in their Bill, and the Committee in their Report, hold out no hope of any financial assistance. Will these men even become tenants, let alone, as the right hon. Gentleman suggests, owners of the holdings which they desire? What is the alternative? It seems to me that the alternative is that this Bill must be either amended or withdrawn. If we are going to deal with this question it must be done on very much broader and much more general lines, and we must realise that the question of success in small farming is a question of economics. It is not merely a question of hard work and thrift. We have any number of men who are hard working and thrifty and still remain very poor notwithstanding the fact that they have got holdings. I do appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to consider between now and the Committee stage of this Bill whether he cannot draft on this Bill the proposal of Mr. Hall for the reclamation of waste land, and whether he cannot appeal to the Treasury to make the necessary advances to county councils to enable them, having a knowledge and experience of small holdings and of their working, who know what are the present demands, and whether or not land is obtainable and where, to obtain the necessary land and adapt it for the purpose of small holdings by the time the soldiers return. Over and above this, may I emphasise another point to the Government? That is that underlying the whole question is the question of capital. It is utterly useless to put a tenant in possession of 4, 10, or 20 acres of 105 land unless he has the necessary capital to make it a success. I appeal to the Government to discard the Report of the Committee which suggests that these holdings should be an economic success, and, on the other hand, to feel that we have a moral, nay, a legal obligation to give whatever assistance may be required to these men on their return to civil life, both by way of capital and by stocking their farms, so that they may carry their business to a successful issue.
§ Mr. AINSWORTH
Doubtless the Second Reading of this Bill will be got, whilst the right hon. Gentleman in charge of it will get all the assistance he requires afterwards, though I should hope he will be compelled to make the Bill a good deal larger than it is at the present time. The Bill at present only applies to an acreage of 2,000 in Scotland. Many of those who know Scotland, who go there for shooting and other purposes, know that there are a great many farms of that acreage in Scotland, and more flexibility is needed in dealing with this question of acreage. J hope, however, in the discussion on this Bill we shall not discuss, except where absolutely necessary, questions of purchase or rent. We may all agree, I think, that whatever other things are needed, it is most desirable that we should obtain an ever-increasing food production in this country, and other means to enable the people to return to occupation on the land. I hope, also, that we shall not hear of those comparisons between large farms and small farms that we have had on previous occasions. In the United Kingdom are both large and small farms at present. I hope we shall continue to have them in all varieties and shapes unto the end of the chapter. All who know anything about land know that some of the largest farmers of the present day began on very small farms. In the end they become occupants of the largest farms in the county. Let us, therefore, by all means approve and assist in the acquisition of farms of all sizes for those who need them, and give every opportunity for agricultural pursuits in any way that we can do it. We are most obliged to the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham, who, if he will allow me to say so, brought the Debate to a higher level altogether. We have to deal, as the Noble Lord has told us, with two very big questions. One is increasing the food supply of the country, and the other increasing the population of the country. We require 106 more soldiers and sailors. We require more population. That seems to me to be at the bottom of the whole question, and I sincerely trust my right hon. Friend will join in making this Bill an immensely larger Bill. The Government propose in this Bill to deal with two great needs of the country—more food and more men. I should like to refer to one thing which I think has not hitherto been referred to. I should like to quote one of the poets, who said:Wherever I see the smoke of a cottage I know there is room for all the virtues of domestic lifeI should like to see an ideal of that kind before us. I should like it to sink into the hearts of every Member of this House. We shall be able to increase the population of our country by increasing and improving the cottages and the houses of the country. The War may in every way improve the moral forces of civilisation, the courage of the country, and the health of the country. If one by the wave of a fairy's wand could make every cottage and farmhouse in this country 10 per cent, more sanitary, and better, and healthier than it is to-day, such an one would be doing an enormous benefit to the country at large. I hope hon. Members will rise to this appeal. Although the Bill before us now is apparently small, I would like just to make it into a thoroughly good Bill—into such a Bill as will develop the productivity, the health, and the morality of the country. In some little way by so doing we shall be strengthening the country and also the Empire. We are surely strengthening the Empire by sending out good, healthy, well brought up and well educated young men and young women.
It must not be forgotten that some look forward to what the British Empire is going to be. We talk about the end of the War. There is one thing certain to happen. After the War is happily over the British Empire is going to be bigger in every sense—commercially, in productivity, and in strength of population, conjoined with certain large ideals and certain objects. The British Empire is going to be larger than it has ever been before. People who are able to remember, as I can, the British Empire fifty years ago will remember its size, and the general feeling concerning it. I am always inclined in this connection to tell a story. It is told that when one of Lord Palmerston's ministries was being formed and the question came of the fitness or otherwise of a certain man 107 to take the post of the representative of the Colonies, that the man to whom the offer was made declined it on the ground that he knew nothing about the Colonies. One of those who had been discussing the matter said, when the meeting was separating, "Come up to my room and I will show you on a map where these damned places are, and then you will know."Things are different to-day, and what we want to do is to see that we have men and women properly brought up and well-educated who are able, to take possession of the land and know what is to be done with it.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Mr. L. SCOTT
As a member of the Committee whose Report is a basis of the present Bill I wish, if I may, to say a word or two upon the point of view from which the Committee have approached the subject. We were all of the opinion on the Committee that the demobilisation of our forces at the end of the War would confer a great opportunity which the nation had never had before, and which it will never have again, to develop our agricultural population, increae its numbers, add to its prosperity and happiness, and to increase the home-grown food supplies. The place of this little Bill in that vast programme is necessarily a very small one; but its relation to the whole programme is, in my humble judgment, important in order that one may form a just opinion as to the right way to treat this Bill. It is quite obvious that at the outset of the inquiry the questions must be: How many men will have left agriculture during the War, how many of those have failed to come back to it from death, emigration, or other reasons, and what, also, will the gap be in the old agricultural world? The second question must necessarily be: How many of those who were in urban occupations before the War is it likely will want to live on the land? According to the answer to that question must be our answer to the inquiry, What can we do with the opportunity that demobilisation will offer us? The opinion was formed that about 320,000 rural workers out of some 750,000 had left the land and joined the forces during the War period. We argued that at the end of the War there would be a gap of not less than 80,000 that would have to be filled. That gap could only be filledex-hypothesifrom men whose lives before the War had not been upon the countryside, but in towns. It was necessary to attract them to the 108 land. The same answer applied to the other, additional men, that it is hoped to attract to the ranks of agriculture over and above the number that were employed in agriculture before the War. Logically the next question to ask is, what offer will attract those men who were in urban occupations before the War? What offer will be sufficient to bring back to the land as many as possible of those who have left it? The first and obvious thing is that our armies of to-day will not look at the conditions of the rural worker's life as they were before the War, and if any hon. Member of this House got up to say that they ought to put up with it Le would be howled down. If there is one thing that this country has made up its mind to, it is that our soldiers shall be treated rightly and generously after this War. I am glad that that should be so, because I am certain that if the nation did not do it we should have to face something in the nature of a revolution, so profoundly and justly angry would our returning armies be. It is quite obvious, I think, that settlement in the sense of having men on the land in holdings of their own, whether as tenants or proprietors, is a process which cannot be applied immediately after the War to a very large number of men. It is clear that demobilisation is a process that cannot take long. The troops must be discharged rapidly as regards the great bulk of them. How many then will have to be discharged at the end of the War, of course, one cannot say exactly. Conditions at the end of the War, armies of occupation and so on may affect it greatly. But I imagine something in the neighbourhood of 4,000,000 men will be discharged from the Army and Navy within, say, twelve months after peace is declared. That is a very large number. Of that total number I, for one, believe that some substantial percentage will say, "We will have an open-air life." Others will say, "We will go back to our old urban life," but, after getting back, they will find the stifling atmosphere intolerable, and will say, "We cannot stand it," and will go out. Others will find their places filled. Dilution of labour and better organisation of labour are processes which once carried through will never be undone. Many will find less room for them in their old occupations than there was before the War.
For all those reasons, I believe there will be a really substantial number of 109 men who were in urban occupations before the War who will insist on an open-air life, either in this country or in the Dominions. I, for one, hold that the conditions of agricultural life in this country ought to be made good enough for all those men who want an open-air life to stay in the Old Country if they prefer it. Many of the more adventurous will go undoubtedly to the Dominions, and we shall gladly see them go in that sense. We want to help the Dominions, but equally the Dominions want us to increase our agricultural population, in order that year by year we may be able to supply them with a steady stream of suitable immigrants. Does one really think that there will be less than 5 or 10 per cent, of the 4,000,000? Ten per cent. is 400,000. I believe an inquiry has been made of the forces recently which goes to show that that estimate is by no means above the mark. If you get a number, I will assume for the moment, of 300,000 or 400,000 men, who were in urban occupations before the War, after the War wanting an open-air life, then it is patent that settlement in small holdings as proposed by this Bill can only be provided for a comparatively small proportion of those. Let us have that clearly in mind, as it seems to me it is a cardinal factor in the situation. The conditions of agricultural life generally will have to be dealt with as a whole, in order to make room for the great additional numbers of men. For that purpose, for reasons which are explained certainly in the Minority Report of Part II., which has been recently published, of the Departmental Committee, it is clear that certain very drastic big measures will have to be taken with regard to agriculture as a whole. You must have wide reclamation of waste land, you must have afforestation, and you must break up the large portion of the poorer land which has been put down to grass in the last forty years. Four million acres have gone to grass in this country during the last forty years. Every 100 acres of grass employs, say, one man; every 100 acres of arable employs, say, four to five men, and in some cases six men. There you get the means of employing more. Every 100 acres of arable produces the same quantity of beef or milk as the same land in grass, and, in addition, its arable crops produce twice the value and about five times the food value of human nourishment. That is a great reform.
If those things are to be done, it is perfectly plain. I submit, that agriculture 110 must be made a proposition in a business sense that can be regarded as a safe investment of adequate working capital. Unless you give security to the industry as a whole, you cannot get the big reforms that are necessary to raise the wages to improve the houses, to give the social life that the men will insist upon when they come back from this War if they go upon the land. What is the place in that scheme of agricultural economy which is properly taken by small holdings? My own view is that the small-holding system of the country should be, what the hon. Member for Oxford University said, an essential step in the ladder of advancing from dependence to independence, and, if possible, affluence, which every labourer starting at the bottom knows that there is a chance of his reaching by industry, thrift, and intelligent learning of his business. That is the place for small holdings. That is the place that we intended on our Committee should be filled by the colonies we advised. Now why do we advise colonies? Not, as said the Member for the City of London, whose very temporary absence I regret, because small holdings in this country have not been a success He had the hardihood to say the small holdings near him had been a failure, and he did not know anything about any other small holdings in England. The Committee, of which I had the honour of being a member, went right round the small holdings of the country last summer, and small holdings in this country are an established success. Go to the Vale of Evesham when land is on offer. I saw land that was rushed at 60s. an acre. Take the land just north of Cambridge, or the southern end of Lincolnshire, or the north-western end of Norfolk, hundreds and hundreds of small holders are succeeding and making a good living. One man to whom I talked near Cambridge had 1 acre of land, and I said to him, "Which would you rather have? If I could offer you permanent employment week in and week out all through the year at £1 a week, would you rather have it or your holding of 1 acre?" in which he was growing small fruit and vegetables. He thought for a moment, and said, "I think I would rather keep my acre, Sir." That is the spirit.
The reason why we propose our colony system is that the success of small holdings in this country has been, not in con-sequence of the system we have introduced 111 in this House, but in spite of it. It is the only country where small holders are left to shift for themselves on the individual principle. In every other country it is recognised that small holdings can only be made the success of which they are capable if small holders are combined together, and this for about five different reasons. You combine them together in order that they may buy collectively at a cheaper rate; in order that they may have a common stock of agricultural machinery and horses which they can hire out, instead of buying the machinery or the horses, which they want only a few days in the year; in order that they may carry the produce to market on an economical system of transport, either by motor or large loads on the railways, where they get the cheapest rates; and in order that their produce may be offered to the best market, upon which an enormous lot depends. Any big grower of small fruit every morning in the fruit season will ring up London, Liverpool, Manchester, Yorkshire towns and Bristol, and find out which of those markets is offering the best price that day. His orders go accordingly. In order to do that you must be able to bulk your produce. It is the essence of it.
Then take the fundamental thing in our proposal. We said not less than a hundred families and a central farm for three purposes-in order that the man who runs it may be sure to give direction and expert guidance to every one of the holders both in the methods of growing things and in the methods of business marking, and so on; secondly, in order that he may run demonstration farms, plots, or holdings of precisely the same type of cultivation as the tenants themselves are cultivating; and, thirdly, that he may be sure to keep a hand on the whole settlement from start to finish. That central farm ought to be, and I am perfectly certain will be, run at a substantial profit. There is no earthly reason why it should not. With good management and good choice of men there is no reason why that central farm should not make a handsome profit. Then that central farm will be able to supply certain things to the small holders that they want. Another advantage of having a hundred families together is that a number of small trades grow up, and they become a little market of their own. All those conditions are essential. Take 112 another thing. Agricultural credit, a central bank—all the advantages of State credit can be given to a colony of that kind to every one of the holders. It simplifies matters. Co-operation with all its true spirit can gradually be learned through the collective buying and selling done through the manager as an agent for them all. All these advantages will be present, and, in fact, have been present in Denmark, where, during the period of the great tragedy of English agriculture, Danish agriculture increased in prosperity year by year.
Why is this Bill called an experimental Bill? I think there is no justification at all for calling it an experimental Bill, except the single one which the hon. Member for Oxford University pointed out, that, in regard to what we know as large farming, ordinary wheat growing, for instance, and large stock-raising farms, there has never been an experiment in this country of that being successful by small holders in combination. I concede at once if that is the experiment which is to be tried it is wise to call it an experiment, but as regards vegetable and fruit growing and the cultivation of small or mixed farms, I repudiate the view altogether that there is any ground for saying that that is in the experimental stage. One speaker pointed out that if yon grow vegetables or fruit too largely you will make a glut, but tell us something we do not know. Everybody knows that. We know there is a limit to the possible production of fruit and vegetables, and if you are going to have a very large number of small holders, some of them must be employed in producing other kinds of farm produce. The Committee reported that they thought it might be possible by colonies of this type to settle upon them something like 5,000 men. The Government proposes to deal with only 300 men. If the small-holding system of the country is to be something which every soldier who takes up an agricultural life in this country in the first instance as a labourer, knows that he can look forward to reaching later on, I say strongly to the Government you must have a bigger proposition than the present one in active operation at the end of the War.
We pointed out in the Report that if steps were taken this spring, it would not be possible to get vacant possession until Michaelmas, 1917, or a year later, if you do not pay compensation. If you paid 113 compensation for disturbance to the sitting tenant, you add of course to the cost of the scheme. I agree that the present conditions do make a difference to the finance of the scheme in regard to the cost of buildings and interest on money. Personally, I am inclined to take the view that the nation ought to put its hand into its own pocket and not debit our soldiers, whom we invite upon the land at the end of the War, with the cost of buildings, or the cost of money at a higher rate than what you regard as the normal cost. I do not think they ought to be asked to bear what you may call a war burden in perpetuity. I put that consideration before the Government as consistent entirely with the view we submitted in our Report, that these colonies ought to be run on an economical and not upon a philanthropic or charitable basis. That is only doing justice if the small holder holdings are to take their place in our agricultural economy, and if we are therefore, through having them as a working system, to be in a position to say to the soldiers on demobilisation or before: "Come on the land as a labourer; you will have good wages, good houses, and we will see to it that you have a decent village life worth having, and you can look forward to a small holding later on." If that is the position we must put ourselves in—and I believe we must or we shall fail—then I say to the Government, you have to get a very much longer way towards your small holdings than these three colonies.
I very humbly and respectfully ask hon. Members to read rather carefully the Committee's Report, because we did take a great deal of trouble over it. We pointed out that, with some amendments of the existing Small Holdings Acts, the county councils might be put in a position themselves to do the same sort of thing as the State is proposing by this Bill. This Bill is to start colonies, employ directors, and give expert guidance and so on. That would be a great advantage from the point of view of the regimental units which are local in character. I think many regiments might be glad to have their county councils, and develop settlements of men from the same regiments, who would have theesprit de corpsof local sentiment to combine them together. There is nothing in this Bill of that type, and I respectfully suggest that that should either be added by amendment or else incorporated in 114 another Bill at the earliest possible moment. If that is done there is no reason why the Government should not accommodate 5,000 men, and the county councils another 5,000 men. As regards the time to do it, I recognise at once that it would not be possible to get ready for as many as 10,000 by the time this Bill comes into operation, but if this Bill is on its way, I do not think the men would mind waiting a year or two working as labourers, if they knew that there would be a chance of getting a holding-within a reasonable time, if they should prove suitable for the work. Although I urge strongly a very great increase of the number provided by this Bill, both directly for State settlement and county council settlement, I do recognise that the suggestion of the Committee of 10,000. may not be possible before the end of the War.
In that connection I very much desire to emphasise the criticism that has fallen from the hon. Member for Oxford University to-day and in other places at considerably greater length on the proposal to take existing cultivated land. There is no doubt that the expense of taking existing cultivated land is great, even if it is leased at a cheap rent, because you would have to deal with the sitting tenants, the sitting farmers, and the sitting labourers, and it is a great drawback to have to turn out either farmers or labourers, whereas, if you adopt the suggestion of Mr. A. D. Hall and the hon. Member for Oxford University of reclaiming waste land, you can get land suitable for small holdings where there is not a man on the soil at the present time. There is a great area of such land on the shores of the Wash, on the East Coast, and in North Wales, and there is also a large area of inland waste land of gorse and heather in the Southern counties, where, by the expenditure of a small amount on artificial manure you could bring the land rapidly into profitable cultivation. I urge that that proposal should be taken in hand at once, and that German prisoners, conscientious objectors, and other gentlemen who are not doing other war work might be very satisfactorily utilised for reclaiming that land, That could be done now, and when peace comes, you could make a settlement at once there. I apologise to the House for taking up so much time. I very much welcome this Bill, but I hope it will be largely extended in its operation.
§ Mr. HARRY HOPE
This Bill is one-which deserves more than the sympathetic .attention of this House. It is because of that that I welcome the introduction of this measure. Perhaps it is possible to expect too much from this Bill, but I have no doubt that when soldiers know that if after working upon the land there is a chance and a prospect of them becoming small holders themselves, I think they will have more incentive to take up country work again. I think the Government are wise in adopting the colony system, because by this procedure the produce can be marketed upon the best possible terms. By this means you are able to give instruction in technical subjects which is so essential to success. I think there is nothing of greater importance than giving small holders technical instruction in the various kinds of work which they are going to undertake. When you come to the subject which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Jesse Collings) touched upon as to what conditions of tenure those men should be placed upon, I think there should be something of a flexible procedure adopted. Certainly I shall support money being advanced, not upon the high war rate of interest at the present time, but rather than the present high price I think the money should be got at peace rates. Some men might choose to do this work as tenants on that system, and some might prefer to be occupying owners, and if money was provided it could be advanced on the same conditions paying a small percentage towards a sinking fund, and then all the incentive of ownership would be applied to them. When you study small holdings, you see that it is by ownership that small holdings have been such a success in Denmark where 90 per cent, of them own their own land. When that is the fact, is it not right that an opportunity should be given to these men who have done so much for their country to get a chance of being occupying owners? A good deal has been said about small holdings not being a success. Some hon. Members ridiculed the idea of creating small holdings, while others have held up small holdings as being the salvation of the agriculture of this country. I think a middle course is the wisest. There is room both for the small holder and the large farmer. Some parts of the country are better adapted for small holders than others, and undoubtedly more produce can be raised by farming on a large scale, where machinery can be 116 utilised to the greatest extent and where science can be adopted, than by having small holdings, but then we have to consider the social welfare of the community, and we are thus led to see how valuable small holdings can be.
We know that if small holdings are available men may be encouraged to stay on a farm knowing that by the exercise of a little thrift they may become farmers themselves and so have an opportunity of rising in the scale of life. I know in Scotland that many men place a very great regard indeed upon the opportunity of small holdings being available. I therefore support this Bill, not because I think it is anything like a comprehensive measure of land reform—it merely touches the very fringe of land reform—but because I think, by giving an incentive to men to remain in country districts in the hope of becoming their own masters, it will do good work. It is not well, however, that we should be carried away by thinking that if we create any number of small holdings we are going to bring about a new state of affairs. The matter of housing has not been touched upon. No subject of greater importance could be brought forward. Men are discouraged because many of our houses are bad, and they are driven away from country districts. That is very bad indeed, because there are too few of them. If we had a housing scheme brought forward, added to a comprehensive measure of land reform, we should be doing something. We recognise, of course, that this Bill is not that, but because it moves in the right direction of doing something for our brave men who have done so much for us this House can wisely support its Second Reading, and I can only hope that some of the Amendments suggested by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bordesley Division (Mr. Collings) will be made to give an opportunity to men who wish to become occupying owners of their land.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
I desire to say a few words about this Bill, because it has been my good fortune to represent in succession two agricultural constituencies which are conspicuous for their devotion to small holdings. I am very familiar with the famous group of small holdings referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Collings). I shall not go into the very 117 vexed and contentious question of purchase and tenancy, because I have an absolutely open mind on the subject, but I would like to remind my right hon. Friend that in the immedate neighbourhood of the famous colony at Catshill is another colony at Belbroughton, where the conditions are those of tenancy, and where the prosperity is at least as great, if not greater. I am afraid I must say with regard to this Bill that there are only two features in it that attract me. One is that for the first time it confers upon the Board of Agriculture the power to acquire agricultural land, and the second is that the destinies of these experimental colonies are to be presided over by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Wilton Division (Captain Bathurst). If they can be made a success, and I am bound to say that I feel very doubtful about it, my hon. and gallant Friend is the man to make them successful. Anybody who has read the Report of the Verney Committee and the Minority Report of the same Committee, second part, must have perused this Bill with a sense of the keenest disappointment, unless this is intended as one of a series of Bills. Th hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott) dwelt on the larger aspects of this question, and for a moment I had some hope that he was in possession of private information and that we were to regard this Bill as only one and perhaps the smallest of a series of Bills dealing with this very important matter. If my right hon. Friend makes any speech in reply, I should be very glad if he could give me an answer to that question.
What was the problem confronted by the Departmental Committee I It was the largest and one of the most urgent problems that we have to deal with or shall have to deal with in the immediate future. It was nothing less than the putting on the land of a large number of our demobilised soldiers and sailors. The Verney Committee went into those other great problems of the national physique, of the development of our agriculture, and perhaps the most urgently important of all of the increase of our home-grown food supply. In return for those Reports—and unless we have assurances from my right hon. Friend, the sole return—we get a Bill which proposes to establish 300 families on the land in England and Scotland. Many of those who have addressed the House to-day have spoken of the tremendous debt 118 of gratitude we owe to our soldiers and sailors. Most of us are aware that in the self-governing Colonies very large arrangements are being made for the settlement of our discharged soldiers and sailors. I would not suggest for a moment that our opportunities here are equal to those to be found in some of the self-governing Colonies, but I venture to suggest with great respect that we might do better than in the whole of Great Britain devote 8,000 acres, and that merely for experimental purposes.
It seems to be supposed that only people who have had experience of large farming are capable of considering a small holding. There is a very large fringe of population about our towns that, with a little instruction, might well be entrusted with a small intensive holding. I need not dwell on the very great importance of increasing our supply of home-grown food. I dare say it is a matter which, perhaps, we ought not to discuss very much in public, but it is known to every Member of this House, and it is realised by every one of us now that our dependence on foreign supplies is the weakest feature in the whole of our national position. A very distinguished witness who appeared before the Verney Committee very aptly described our dependence on foreign-grown food as the Achilles' heel on the British national position. This problem was discussed at great length, and with great wisdom, by the Verney Committee, but no effort is made in this Bill on anything but an infinitesimal scale to deal with a question that may become the most important question of all immediately after the War. We are to devote these 8,000 acres to experiments. Why experiments? A dozen speakers this afternoon have pointed out that small holdings in this country are many years beyond the experimental stage. With all respect to my right hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), I have never yet seen an unsuccessful group of small holdings. I am familiar, as I say, with small holdings in two counties. In connection with the Departmental Committee two or three years ago I visited a great number of them, and I really would be obliged to my right hon. Friend if he would put the House in some way or-another in possession of the financial details of these unsuccessful small holdings with which he is acquainted.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
My right hon. Friend might give some of us an opportunity of visiting one or other of these unsuccessful groups, because it is well known to every Member of the House that the percentage of failures among the county council small holdings, which now run to an aggregate of 200,000 acres, is less than 1 per cent.—a smaller ratio of unsuccess than in any other industry in the Kingdom. These colonies are to be experimental. Why experimental? Everything that is to be known about small holdings under our present very uneconomic method of conducting them is known. We have not tried co-operation, but we can try that with the existing colonies belonging to the county councils. What is to happen to our soldiers and sailors while we are attending on the result of this experiment—an experiment which in an agricultural matter must take at least two or three years before it can be proved to be good or bad? I shall reluctantly, very reluctantly, support the Second Reading of this Bill. Unless my right hon. Friend has something further to tell us about it, I scarcely think it a Bill worth supporting. It will not even approach the remotest fringe of the enormous problems that confront us now and will confront us after the War.
The House will not fail to observe that there is a certain danger in passing a limited Bill, because it comes to be regarded as the measure that occupies the ground. We shall be in danger, if this Bill passes in its present limited condition, of being told by the Government afterwards that after all there is a great experiment taking place, and we must wait for the results before we can hope for any further legislation. I must say, and I say it with great regret, that after the hopes held out to us, first of all by the appointment of the Verney Committee and then by the immensely able Report of that Committee dealing with the broad, national issues that this question involves, I am bitterly disappointed at the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman has introduced into the House to-day.
Mr. DUNDAS WHITE
In supporting the Second Reading of this Bill I sympathise very much with what has just been said by the hon. Gentleman opposite.
120 The Bill admittedly is in the nature of an experiment, but the House will realise that the experiment does not go very far. We have been told that we have something like 5,000,000 men under arms just now. The vast bulk of these will be disbanded when they come home, and this Bill proposes to make an experiment in providing for about 300 of them and their-families. In other words, if you put down the number that will be disbanded as 3,000,000, and that is much lower than it will be, you find that the Bill proposes to make provision for about one in 10,000. In these circumstances, I think that if the thing comes to a practical issue the country will see that the House of Commons has not gone very far in that direction. It may be necessary to be very careful in these experiments at first on account of their nature and the amount of expenditure involved. I am glad that in some ways that expenditure may not be as great as it might otherwise have-been, because of the way in which several landowners who have the interest of the country at heart are freely offering their help. I need hardly mention the name of Lord Lucas and several others, and I am sure this House appreciates what they are doing in this respect. At the same time we must remember that the amount of the land which is being gifted will probably be very small in proportion; to the total of land used, and that the great proportion of that land will have-to be purchased. Certain provisions are made for purchase, and I venture to suggest to my right hon. Friend that the question of the price or the rent to be paid is the most important element. In the-case of the holdings that have been: started in various parts of the country under the Small Holdings Acts, and other measures, the price that has been paid has been too high, and the rent has been too high, and when I say too high I do not mean absolutely, but as compared with the price charged for the same land to the occupiers of those farms. It has been too high, and the result has been, in a large number of cases, that these small holdings have been waterlogged at the outset by excessive rents. That is a very important fact. If the-price is moderate and fair, then the surplus produce is over in the hands of the small holder; he can use it as capital for next year's produce, and so on; but if the rent is too high it absorbs far more than it should, and the man has not what might 121 be called the natural capital to work with. He has to borrow money, and whether you have land banks or anything else I believe in the adage that "borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry." Whatever it may be in the hands of large cultivators used to finance and the ways of finance, I feel certain that many of the inducements and temptations to the poor man to borrow will only land him in trouble. I do not say that there is no need for agricultural banks. There is a great deal to be said for them, but before they can be put in their right place the rent and price of the land ought to be reduced to its natural level. On that point I would remind the House that some months before the beginning of the War, in answer to a question by myself, in which a good many of my colleagues were interested, the Prime Minister gave a promise that wherever land was purchased or assisted to be purchased by moneys provided by Parliament, a record would be kept of its approximate acreage, its valuation as taken for rating purposes at that time, and various other particulars. It is very important that we should have that, and it is very important that in the land that is thus taken the authorities who take the land should make a note of what its valuation for rating and other purposes is at the time they get it. I would appeal to my right hon. Friend to see that in the reports that are to be annually issued under this Bill there may be in each case a record of the price and the rent paid for the land, and also a record of what its valuation for rating was at the time it was purchased or leased.
In looking through the measure I see that the Lands Clauses Acts are brought in, not on the point of compulsory purchase, because there are no compulsory powers in this Bill, but on certain other points. One would not say that these Acts should not apply, but I would remind the House that we were considering, only the other day, these Acts in relation to the Defence of the Realm (Acquisition of Land) Bill. They have been modified in the Schedule to that Bill in various ways. I know that some of these modifications refer to the case of compulsory purchase, but I do suggest that all the modifications adopted for the purposes of the Acquisition of Land Bill, in so far as they apply to matters in the Lands Clauses Acts which apply to this Bill, ought to be adopted in this Bill as well. The Lands Clauses Acts are a very unsatisfactory kind of legisla- 122 tion. They have not been fair to the people. These modifications, we all agreed, were necessary in the Acquisition of Land Bill, and I suggest, as I have said, that they should also be made applicable to this Bill so far as the matters referred to are within the scope of this Bill. I have spoken about the necessity of not paying excessive prices for the land, and not water-logging 'an undertaking from the outset. There was another point I should like to mention, because it goes to the root also of these small holdings, and it has been one of the defects of Scottish and English development. We have tried in many cases to support small holdings on land which was poor, or remote from markets, and have found that it is very difficult to make anything of the land. Indeed, we have been tied on poor land instead of on better land. Every farmer, and everyone who works on the land, knows how important it is to get fairly good land on which to start, and I venture to hope that my right hon. Friend will see that we do not merely try to get the land that is not being used on the margin of cultivation, but that we try to get at a fair rate the very best land we can. There has been far too much holding out of hopes that you can settle people on land that is intrinsically incapable of supporting it. I know it may be said that that may mean higher rents. It ought not to mean higher rents, and it will not do so if we go about this problem in the right way. I may say that this danger cropped up in several speeches we have heard where recommendations have been made as to the reclamation of land. As those who have had anything to do with reclaiming land know, reclamation is experimental, and the experiment in reclamation, even as regards the Wash, which was one of the districts mentioned, have in many cases absorbed a great deal of money and have yielded a comparatively small result.
§ 8.0 P.M.
I agree that some has been successful, but my point is that there are a good many where it has not been successful, and the point to which I want to lead up is this: That we should not try to reclaim land or to take what is merely available on the margin of cultivation, but that we ought to begin with better land instead of with poorer. There is 123 to-day a vast rumour of good land in the country, in great parks, in private possession, and which is used not for economic production at all, but a great deal of which might be used and ought to be used. That is the land to which we should give the preference. I know we may have to pay too much rent, or might have to do so under existing circumstances, but I quote an observation my right hon. Friend made in introducing the Bill. He spoke of the landowners holding the land in trust for the people. I hope that he in his responsible position in this House will remember that that is not merely a metaphor, but that he will try to turn that metaphor into a fact. Those associated with me have always held that land should be considered as a trust for the people, that the people have the right to the land, and we have proposed that, the more because under the conditions of this War there is the great need of raising money and the greater need still of promoting production. We have urged that those who hold the natural resources of the country ought to be called upon to pay for its defence. If we were to do that, and to call on those who hold the land to pay according to its market value if it were taken, whether they use it or do not use it, a great deal of that land would be brought into the market, and we should have plenty of good land on which to settle our men and to start them at a fair rate, instead of thinking of bad land, and reclamation and all that. I do not say you ought not to cultivate bad land or to reclaim land. Those are two questions in the economic development of the country, but I do say that you ought to begin small holdings, and their extension and cultivation, on that land which will yield the best results. We shall never be able to do that until we fundamentally recognise the right of the people to the land. I speak of Scotland because I know the conditions better, but I know it is the case in England that attempts have been made to settle people on doubtful land where nature has put plenty of good land which is not being used for production, but would be so used if you could get it at a fair rent or fair price. Everyone knows that its rent or price, like that of any other commodity, depends upon the available supply in relation to the effective demand. At present the supply is kept back unduly. Look at our 124 towns. Look round any one of them, and you see on every side a vast amount of land that might be used for market gardening and other purposes. You see land that might be built upon, but if you try to build upon it or to take it on terms that would make it worth while, you find that you have to pay a far higher price than the agricultural rate at which it is being, rated and let. It ought to be taxed at its-market value, and then around our towns-land would be available for market gardens. Then the resources of the country would be more open. We should improve conditions, and instead of trying to set up here and there an artificial scheme-and making some artificial experiment and wondering whether it will work, we should improve conditions, and things would go-forward naturally without artificial experiments and Government support. There may be a case for Government support, but what I would urge upon the House is the necessity of increasing the fundamental conditions. There is another matter with regard to the fundamental conditions which I should like to impress upon the House. Everyone who is acquainted with farming, particularly with intensive cultivation for market gardening, which is one of the most paying purposes to which land can be put just now, knows that for that purpose it is necessary to develop land by building houses, by putting up farm buildings and by putting up glass houses. Look at what our system does for farming. No sooner do you put up houses for labourers, or a farm-steading—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think that any discussion of the old Land Values question would be relevant to this Bill. The hon. Member must reserve that until another occasion.
I bow, of course, to your ruling, Sir, but I want, in speaking of the fundamental conditions to suggest to my right hon. Friend that if these holdings or any other holdings are to be a success, it might be well to have some provision inserted in this Bill by which the public money, which to a great extent is to be used, and which is put into the development of the land by way of glass houses and other things, ought at least to be relieved from the burden of rating—I do not want to put it higher than that, but I hope I may be allowed to put it as high as that—also for the reason that the House will remember that in the Scottish Small Landholders Act, which was passed 125 some time back, a special provision was inserted which had the effect of relieving from rating those improvements which were necessary to the character of a small holding. I know it may be said that works an injustice, because it is unjust that the small landholder should have his improvement free, and that the large landowner should not. But the proof of development lies in extending the benefit to all. There is another point to which I would call the attention of the House on this Bill. Although my right hon. Friend passed it over very lightly, he himself, I am sure, realises its significance. In Clause 6 of the Bill special provision is made for perpetual leases, the provision being that where a person has power to sell land he should also have power to let it on long lease and on a perpetual lease. That is a most desirable development and one which I particularly value. What the small holder wants is secure possession. The best term upon which he can get secure possession is that he should pay an annual rent with secure possession. A good deal has been said about capital purchase by my right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. G. Lambert). As regards capital purchase the verdict of the small holders has been final. Only a few months ago I asked a question in this House, and my right hon. Friend gave me the answer that less than 2 per cent, of the small holders who had obtained land had asked for purchase. That is a final verdict on that point. What the small landholder wants is not ownership of the land but the use of the land. He is a small man, he has very little money and he has no money to purchase an ownership. Even if he had, he would find himself in a bad position, because after he had the ownership, if he wanted to dispose of it, how many other small holders are there who could buy it of him? What he wants is possession of the land with absolute security. That is what a perpetual lease gives him. One of the greatest of English agriculturists—Arthur Young—in a well-known passage, said:Give a man the secure possession of a bleak rock and he will turn it into a garden; give him nine years' lease of a garden and he will convert it into a desert.We want to give him that secure possession, and this Bill by introducing the possibility of perpetual tenancy brings in that in the best way possible. It raises rather an important point, because-my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong—since the Statute ofQuia Emptores, passed in 1290, it has been impossible in 126 this country to let land on perpetual tenancy. I know very well that the Conveyancing Act, 1881, made certain provisions for securing rent charges on land, and that was still further developed by the Small Holdings Act, 1908, which allowed a quarter of the purchase money, when a holding was purchased from the county council, to remain as a perpetual' rent charge. This Bill goes further and enables land to be let on perpetual terms and, still more, provides that where land is let on perpetual terms the right of reentry on the non-payment of that rent may be exercised—a most important feature, which makes the whole system practicable. I should like to say how much I welcome this development. I regard it as; a great and important development, and would like to see it applied not only to agricultural land, but to other land as well, for round our towns and in our towns I know there is no better system than the system of perpetual lease, for it fixes rent—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
What has this to do with labour colonies? The hon. Gentleman is getting rather far from the subject.
I feel sure these are the best conditions upon which these labour colonies can hold the land. In these various respects the Bill makes a very important development. It lays tae foundation of certain further action. I know it is small; I know it is merely experimental; but I venture to commend it, and at the same time to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the various points I have raised in connection with it.
§ Captain C. BATHURST
I hesitate to take part in this Debate after the perfectly admirable and exhaustive speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Leslie Scott), with every word of which I most cordially agree. The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated, on the whole, upon the tenour of the speeches which have been made in this House in respect of his proposals, a somewhat different tone to that which greeted the Bill from rather unexpected sources in another place. In passing, may I say we must all feel gratitude to Lord Lucas for the generous offer he made some months ago of a portion of his estate in Bedfordshire for the purposes of one of these colonies, and also for an offer made recently by the hon. and gallant Member for Montgomeryshire (Colonel Pryce-Jones), which was an 127 offer of a very generous kind. I should like to express regret that it has been found impossible to accept either of those offers, because in certain respects, upon which I need not dilate, each property is not fully suited to the purposes of this Bill. The main criticism in this House of this Bill is that it is not sufficiently heroic. I entirely endorse that criticism. I should like to see a very much more heroic measure than this Bill is; in fact, I go further and say that, as far as my present duties are concerned, I should feel much greater satisfaction were I put in charge of a far more extended and far more generous scheme than that for which this Bill provides.
Some hon. Members have suggested that no experiment is necessary, in view of past experience in connection with small holdings since the passing of the Small Holdings Act, 1908. I submit that experiment is eminently desirable and an experiment along certain lines which have not hitherto been attempted under the existing Small Holdings Acts. In the first place, we set up here, for the first time, small holders on a colony system. In the second place, we provide the assistance of co-operative machinery in every possible direction, in the way of the purchase of requisites and the sale and distribution of produce. Also, we have not hitherto tried the effect of the previous instruction and the subsequent supervision of those we have placed or desired to place upon our Statutory small holdings. Last, but not least, we have not sufficiently provided, as a condition precedent to the occupancy of a small holder, for the competency of his wife or his other women kind to assist in the processes which will be carried on upon that holding. These are of importance in respect of an experiment. I think a very useful experiment will be made under this Bill. For my part, I have not expressed very much sympathy either inside or outside this House with previous Small Holdings Acts, largely because these provisions have not been made, and also because, at any rate, when Statutory small holdings were first attempted, there was not sufficient protection provided against an injustice being done to sitting tenants. The eyes have been taken out of a farm, rendering it an uneconomic unit in certain cases, and insufficient protection has been provided for the labourers employed on those farms. These possible injustices under the original Acts are provided for 128 in this Bill, therefore there is not likely to be any serious criticism on those grounds. There are hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House who speak with considerable authority on agricultural matters. One of them is certainly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the South Molton Division (Mr. G. Lambert). He rather surprised me by saying, as an argument against this Bill, that you cannot get profit from land where fruit is produced in under three years, regardless of the fact that in every one of the fruit-growing colonies there are bound to be market garden and other crops cultivated between the fruit, providing, of course, a very much earlier return than fruit would do if the small holder subsisted wholly upon the produce of such fruit. He went on to say that no market garden colony could possibly succeed, because a man cannot grow fruit with only one year's experience. I think he failed to remember that not only would there be one year's useful training by an expert, but after he had settled in his holding there would be the direction and the guidance of that expert in his future operations.
The hon. Member (Mr. Prothero), to whom we always listen with great respect on any agricultural question in this House, I think went a little wrong when he suggested that a small holder is limited in his activities to vegetables, fruit, and flowers. I should be very sorry if that was the case. When looking for land suitable for small holdings I always take the opportunity of inquiring how the small holders in the locality are succeeding with their holdings, and in connection with an estate which I have every reason to believe is likely to be taken for this purpose in the north of England I found a small holder on a contiguous plot of ground of no more than thirty-eight acres carrying on farming on ordinary extensive lines, growing quite abnormal crops of wheat, oats, clover hay, mangolds and potatoes, and I found in his little yard no less than £300 worth of pigs. It was perfectly evident to me that it is not necessary on land such as that and with markets which were available to such a man as that, and with energy which such a man is prepared to put into his holding to confine yourself to vegetables, fruit, and flowers. There are other small products in the absence of these somewhat exceptional conditions which can perfectly well be grown at a profit on small holdings, such as eggs, poultry, milk, butter, 129 cheese, honey and last, but not least—and I fancy we shall see a good deal of it in after war days—sugar beet, for I feel confident that we are not going to allow ourselves to depend in the future, as we have in the past, for over 50 per cent. of the sugar that we require for our domestic consumption upon the products of Germany.
The hon. Member (Mr. Prothero) also said that if there is an increase of food as the result of the establishment of such holdings it will involve a competition which will drive down the prices. My answer to that would be, in the first place, that we already import a very large quantity of food, and particularly the sort of food which can well be grown upon a small holding, from foreign countries, and if it is found that there is a glut of any particular product it is perfectly easy for the small holder, guided by the wise direction which we propose to provide, to turn to some other product of which there is not the same glut. He rather surprised me, with all his great knowledge and experience, by saying that you cannot afford to cut up much more land without reducing the output of beef and bread. My hon. and learned Friend gave a very good answer to that by reminding the House of what is going on in Denmark, Belgium, and other countries where the produce in considerably greater per cultivated acre than it is in this country, and where it has not been thought necessary to maintain a large area of grass land in order to keep up the output of milk and of meat. The average output in bushels per acre of wheat in Denmark has been raised from 34.6 in 1888 to 42 in 1912, compared with a difference in England of 29.4 in 1888 and 31.6 in 1912.
§ Captain BATHURST
Yes, but at present I am inclined to think the average of bushels of wheat per acre in England would be rather larger than that, mainly owing to the fact that we employ wheats of much greater productive capacity than those that we were using about ten or twenty years ago. My further reply to my hon. Friend (Mr. Prothero) would be that if it is possible to obtain an average food output of £20 per acre in Belgium from agricultural land, £4 is too small a return to obtain from land in Great Britain. I know I am right in saying that, whereas our return per acre is only £4, there is a much higher figure obtain- 130 able in Belgium, in Denmark, in Germany, and also in France. That shows that our English land is capable of producing a larger output of food for its population than it does at present, if we go the right way about it. The truth, of course, is that there is not merely a large amount of land in this country which requires reclamation and improvement, but there is a large amount—one is sorry to have to confess it—of under-cultivated land, and there is a very large amount of under-capitalised land. There is not the least doubt that there are some large farmers to be found in this country who are trying to farm a far larger area of land than their capital will enable them to farm either with profit to themselves^ or with advantage to the nation. Germany has 60 per cent, more under cultivation than there is in this country, and produces three times as much food. Moreover, Germany has no fewer than 22,000,000 persons dependent upon agricultural land. We at the outside have no more than about 4,000,000 all told, while France has 18,000,000. Whichever way you look at it, if the Government of this country goes the right way about it, supported, as I believe it will be, by public opinion, it is possible to grow more on British soil, it is possible to put a much larger population on to British soil, and it is possible to a much greater extent to feed our population than we do at present.
Of all the speeches which have been made this afternoon, that of the hon. Member (Mr. Ellis Davies) has surprised me the most. I am not quite sure whether he intended to commend the Bill or to condemn it, but coming from such a keen Welsh Nationalist as himself, I was surprised to hear the criticisms, on principle, of small holdings as compared with other kinds of farming, because I should have thought if there was one thing that the Welshman is keen about more than another it is the occupation and, if possible, the ownership of a small holding in the Principality. He quoted Belgium in favour of his view. With all respect to Mr. Rowntree's excellent book, there is probably no book on any agricultural matter that has been more severely criticised. I, myself, have visited Belgium, and although I am quite prepared to agree with the sentence which the hon. Member quoted from that book, that the Belgian small holder lives a rough life and works very long hours, a happier lot of people engaged in agricultural employment I 131 have never found in any country than those I found in Belgium, and although their hours are long, and although they live a rough life, they certainly do derive a very much greater profit out of the holdings that they cultivate than anyone in this country or, as I believe, in any other country in the world can claim to obtain, and although they live a more simple life—and I am not sure they are not all the better for that—than many of our country folk do at present, I believe their life is a happy one, and certainly on the whole it is a prosperous one. I found, for instance, when I was in Belgium studying this very subject only three years ago, it was no uncommon case to see a small holder, with the advantageous assistance of his wife, obtaining on his little agricultural capital no less than from 25 per cent, to 35 per cent, a year.
I want to state what I believe is the real difficulty in this scheme. The difficulty, I believe, is not agricultural. It is financial. I sympathise with all those speeches which have been made asking the Treasury to approach this scheme in a generous frame of mind. After all it is an experiment, and if we are going to obtain its full value as an experiment surely it must be started under natural and not under artificial conditions. The monetary conditions, and the conditions of the labour market and of the cost of materials, are very abnormal at present, and if the Treasury is going to charge us interest based on conditions which may be transient, and charge it, not for the next two or three years but for sixty years to come, it seems to me that they will be placing upon this scheme a burden which it ought not to have to bear. I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, and through him to the Treasury, that it will not be a true experiment if either the land or the necessary structures are purchased at an abnormally enhanced price. It may be said, whenever one asks for anything in the nature of a financial concession, "you are rendering this scheme a philanthropic and not an economic scheme." I think the economic aspect was somewhat overstated in the House of Lords. Are you going to direct a sort of meticulous investigation as to whether the State has returned to it every single penny that it expends in these interesting experiments and, as I believe, in this great effort to repopulate the countryside, and to do what is bare justice to those whose self-sacrifice has enabled us to 132 carry on our agricultural and other operations in this country? Surely it is only due to these men that, without calling it philanthropic, at any rate a measure of ordinary justice in the matter of finance shall be introduced into this scheme rather than burden them, as a result of these high rates for money, with an additional onus which may in the long run prove their economic undoing.
I suggest that, as the cost of providing equipment has risen by at least one-third, during the War—some put it higher than that figure—that that consideration should be taken into account, and also the fact that money that is lent at 5 per cent., apart from sinking fund or depreciation, is too high a rate to add to the small holder's rent, if you are going to have a fair experiment based upon normal conditions. I did hope that it might be possible to avoid a large outlay for stone or brick structures by obtaining some of those very commodious and well-constructed hutments that are to be found in our various military camps. I understand, however, that there may be some difficulty about that, because those huts, not only will not be available until the War is over, but very likely may not be available after the War is over, owing to the long time demobilisation may take and the necessity for finding accommodation for our soldiers in process of demobilisation before they are absorbed into the various industries of the country. I think I am right in saying that when cottages had to be provided for munition workers at Coventry and Dudley, on the initiative of the Ministry of Munitions, a 25 per cent, abatement was allowed in respect of their cost, or rather 25 per cent, was deducted from the actual amount upon which future interest would have to be paid. I think the same thing was done on the initiative of the Office of Works in the case of similar cottages constructed for the workers in the Arsenal at Woolwich. Surely these are precedents which might be followed with advantage in the case of this scheme. Possibly also the Treasury might help to initiate a system of agricultural co-operative credit, which is also by way of experiment, and which it may be difficult to establish without some help from the Government.
It is too late to enter into the old controversies as between ownership and tenancy, but I would like to suggest that there is a possible compromise in this matter of ownership versus tenancy, 133 with which probably no hon. Member will find any serious fault-the hon. Member for the Tradeston Division of Glasgow (Mr. Dundas White) incidentally referred to it—and that is that the ordinary requirements of the small holder who wants absolute security of tenure for the cultivation of what he may regard as his own land can well be provided for by very long leases, for something like 999 years. The possible advantage of having a lease is that you are able by the insertion of covenants to secure to some extent good husbandry, and also to prevent these small holdings being merged, as they very often have been in the past, in larger holdings and so defeating the object that you originally had in view. There is also the advantage that you do maintain some sort of control in the event of the small holder desiring to encumber his holding. A good deal has been said about reclamation. For my own part I would not take the responsibility of suggesting to the Board of Agriculture that any ex-service small holder shall be turned on to reclaim land and then be asked to cultivate it at a profit to himself. Nor would I suggest that he be put on newly reclaimed land and asked to make a living out of it. So far from settling him on land of that character I have been asking the Board of Agriculture to provide the best land that can be found in the country for these prospective settlers, and I hope and believe that we shall find land of this character and of sufficient extent. Reference has been made to the Boxted Salvation Army Settlement as a dangerous precedent. My observations about that settlement, which I have very carefully investigated quite recently, is that neither the land nor the settlers were of the right kind, and both of them militated against its economic success. We are going to find not merely the best land, but by careful selection we hope to be able to find some of the best men as settlers that have yet been put on British soil. One very important matter to which reference has not been made to any extent in this House, but which the Board certainly has in mind, is the provision, wherever possible, of subsidiary industries to which either the holder or his wife or other member of his family can turn their hands at times when they are not actually busy upon the cultivation of the holding itself. A number of these industries are referred to in the Departmental Committee 134 Report—such as afforestation, basket making and jam making. I had expected to hear certain Members professing to speak on behalf of more extensive farms, and referring to the very interesting portion of a book by Mr. Hall, to which allusion has been made in this Debate, in favour of the greater industrialisation of our farms as opposed to putting small holders in increasing numbers upon the land. In case the criticism is made, all I will say is that the greater industrialisation of farming may be sound economically, but that politically and socially it is most unsound, and indeed pernicious, and in the long run would promote such a feeling of unrest and condemnation of farming methods among the community generally that it would be ultimately destructive of those very methods which these gentlemen may be inclined to advocate.
I believe that what the agricultural community require more than anything else is greater security, and I cannot believe that you will get any large measure of greater security unless and until there is a far larger number of men, preferably small men, both occupying and owning British agricultural land-until, in fact, the political power of agriculture is far greater then it is to-day, and a far larger proportion of the whole population has some well-instructed interest in the prosperity of our oldest and greatest industry. The country will be governed, as I believe, after the War, by those who reflect the opinion of the men now in the trenches, and those who criticise this Bill as being legislation along unfortunate and uneconomic lines should, I think, bear in mind what is likely to be the view of those who will speak for the English public of after-war days, and I am inclined to think, whatever may be the constitution of this House when this War is over, that it will not be possible, in this place at any rate, to level against this Bill the sort of criticism that was levelled against it in another place without those who so criticised it being regarded as unpatriotic and unjust to those who are so gallantly fighting our battles overseas for the protection of that very land upon which we seek to establish a comparatively small proportion of that great force. Reference has been made to Sir Douglas Haig's inquiry. I am not at liberty to state what the result is, but I can repeat what Lord Selborne said in another place, that inquiry among soldiers now serving at 135 the front has demonstrated a desire on the part of a far larger proportion of our overseas soldiers to take to agricultural pursuits, preferably in their own homeland, than those of us who have previously discussed the matter had contemplated or anticipated, and when those men come back and ask as the reward for their services to be given an opportunity to cultivate a small portion of British soil are we going to refuse them that benefit? Surely, on the other hand, we ought to approach them in the most generous possible spirit, and by a recognition of their services and in gratitude for their great self-sacrifice we ought to be able to meet their views at least as well as other countries are doing, and, so far as the area permits, at least as well as our patriotic Dominions overseas.
§ Mr. PETO
I agree very largely with the speech which the hon. Member for Wilton has just delivered. I quite agree with him that it is perfectly idle, as has been done in some of the speeches, to say to the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House that it is not a hopeful thing to introduce legislation with regard to small holdings because small holdings have not been proved to be a success. Even if that were true, which I do not admit, there are things in this Bill which render the experiment, if it is to be termed an experiment, one which is on quite different lines altogether from the small-holdings efforts which we have made in the past. Like my hon. Friend I have condemned small holdings, as they are carried out at present, on one or two main grounds, and the principal one is that I have always thought it a foolish proposition to scatter small holders broadcast all over the country, by counties, and without any instruction or any co-operation among them, I never could understand how they could be expected really to succeed in those conditions, but there is another factor to be taken into consideration. The cultivation of the country is not going to be the same after the War as before it. We are certainly going to introduce industry into our countryside particularly in connection with beet sugar, to which the hon. Member referred, which demands immense labour, and which it is practically impossible to carry out successfully unless we also have a system of some kind of planting a very much larger population in our agricultural districts. Therefore I 136 look to that as being a subsidiary employment which will be immensely helped by the development of the system that is now proposed under this Bill.
But I do think that this is an extraordinarily modest attempt. We are only going to deal with 6,000 acres. I hope that it may be enlarged. In one direction I think it must be enlarged. The maximum area of one colony for fruit growing and market gardening is taken to be a thousand acres. I do not want to set up my opinion against the opinion come to by the Committee, but I do ask, would it not be wiser to make that a minimum and not a maximum, and to make an arrangement that you do not take any area of a thousand acres where there are grave difficulties of enlarging it, but mat you should take as an area, say, 5,000 acres, 1,000 acres of which the Government would buy, say, for cash down, with the option of taking up further plots of 1,000 acres adjoining when the experiment had got a little beyond its first experimental stage? I believe if you buy land for the accommodation of 100 families, and you get going the cooperative side of the experiment, which would be increasingly profitable and useful, more room might be found in the same area round the instruction farm and in the neighbourhood of the small industries, and all the rest of it, for another 100 or 200 families, and so on. I feel quite sure that if the experiment were worked on the right lines it would have assured success; but I do look with a little apprehension at one remark which I find in the second Report, on page 145, where it says:—Doubtless a large number of these men will prefer to emigrate, and while it is true that the Mother Country cannot in some respects make the ex-service man as good an offer as the Dominions, or as foreign countries, like the United States of America and the Argentina, we think a great deal might be done.Why cannot we make as good an offer to the men here to cultivate our own land? Investigation has shown that the bulk of them would prefer to remain in this country if they can; and what is the main difference between the offer of the Dominions and the offer made in this Bill? The answer is in one word—ownership. I would like to support what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Bordesley Division (Mr. J. Collings) said, and I consider his words were most pertinent. I rather regret that the Member for Wilton (Captain Bathurst) is toying with this substitution of 137 long or perpetual leases for ownership, which never can possibly replace the security and the interest the man takes in the piece of land which is actually his own. I was very glad to hear the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in reply to a question I asked him, state that either tenancy or ownership can be adopted. I am very glad that is so. It seems to me, both in Clause 2 and in Clause 4, it would be very easy to introduce an Amendment which would, at any rate, make it permissive that the Board of Agriculture, in this experiment, either through the medium of the co-operative societies, which are going to set up under Clause 2, to finance the purchase of an individual holding, or, under Clause 4, which has reference to powers of management of the land acquired, to have a Sub-section which permits the Department, at any rate, to transfer by actual sale any portion of the holding. As I read Sub-section (c) I thought it referred to sales to outside buyers. If you bought 1,000 acres, and it was desired to get rid of it because it was not suitable land, it means that you have power to sell, and I think it would be better to take power to sell to the tenants themselves, then my main fear with regard to the success of the experiment would be removed. I do not in the least believe in the argument about under 2 per cent, of the small holders being desirous to purchase. It proves nothing at all.
In my own neighbourhood there is a case which I should like to give to the House. I have a man living near me who was a sergeant-major in the Boer War. He had a year and a half's instruction under his brother-in-law, a farmer, and he then purchased a holding of a little over thirteen acres of land. He has done so well out of that land, that he came to me the other day to ask my advice with regard to one of those rare opportunities where parcels of land were being offered in lots of ten or eleven acres. He said he wanted to buy one lot of eight acres, or rather let me know that he was anxious to buy eight acres if it did not make any difference to me, and if I would stand aside. I assured him that I had not the slightest desire to own eight acres, and I hoped that be would be successful. He bought the eight acres at the auction at a little over £250, which was the amount I told him that I thought the land was worth. He had farmed his thir- 138 teen acres to such good effect that he was able to purchase an additional eight acres in order to leave a portion to his daughter, who might marry some farmer in the neighbourhood. That is the way people who save any money are ready to invest in these small holdings where they can. They do not go to the Small Holdings Commissioners at all; they buy land whenever the opportunity offers. Everybody knows that wherever there are small parcels of decent land to be bought there are always purchasers. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Wilton agrees with that; at any rate, that has been my experience. I do not think, in regard to an experiment of this kind, which is intended to put our soldiers and our sailors on the land, that we ought to act on the assumption that our Dominions can offer better terms to them than we can ourselves. I think we should give them here the same security as they will get anywhere else, and just as fair a prospect of making a good living here at home as they could in the Colonies, as far as we possibly can. Therefore, if the right hon. Gentleman will tell me that he is prepared to make possible the transfer of the freehold to the colonists, or whatever we may call them, and that it is possible to arrange for the necessary finance, I, at any rate, give this Bill not only my best wishes, but I am confident that it will be followed by other and very much more extensive measures.
§ Sir W. BEALE
The hon. Member for Devizes and other hon. Members opposite, I think, have laid too much stress upon the difference between freehold tenure and leasehold tenure. Leasehold tenure may be for a very considerable number of years. We know that it is very common to have leases of 999 years, and perhaps that is, for all purposes, the ownership which is wanted. I would point out that when you are dealing with a colony, the fact of demising it for a very long time enables you to enforce your covenants in the manner you intend that they should be observed, having regard to the interests of other colonists round about. If you sell the land out and out, you would have very great difficulties abroad in seeing that the covenants were properly fulfilled; but if the man holds it for a number of years, you have complete power over him to see that he fulfils the covenants. The landlord in this case should be the Government, and the Government must have the 139 power to say to the tenant, "You must behave in the way and according to the objects with which the land was leased to you." But if the man were a freeholder you would, in order to see that all the conditions were observed, have the trouble of getting an injunction to prevent him from doing things that were not in accordance with the covenants. I think in many cases that would be found impracticable. I do not say that there should be no cases where a man should get the freehold, but I think the object is, where you have a colony, to see not only in the interests of the man you put upon the land, but remember the interests of his fellow colonists, and I think it will be found that there is not so much to be said in favour of freehold as against leasehold tenure as my hon. Friends seem to think.
§ Mr. ACLAND
In view of the fact that all the Members who have really been in attendance during the Debate and who desire to speak have spoken, perhaps I may be allowed to make a brief reply, and to appeal to the House to pass the Second Reading now. The Debate has been very valuable, and I desire to thank those who have taken part in it for many very valuable suggestions. I was particularly pleased in common with everybody else present, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member' for the Bordesley Division (Mr. Jesse Col-lings) was able to take part in it. He was the first to take the point which has more or less run through all the speeches that have been made, namely, that they would like to see the Bill very considerably extended. The lot of a Radical land reformer, who happens to be for the moment the Minister in this House responsible for agriculture in a Coalition Government, is not a very easy one. It would do no good if I were to say, personally, what I should like to do, or how personally I should like to design the Bill. I have to speak for the Government and I have to say, unfortunately-though perhaps that is betraying my own opinions I have to say fortunately or unfortunately that this Bill does to some extent represent a compromise of opinion. There are probably much the same opinions amongst members of the Cabinet as those we have heard uttered to-day by Members of the House. The decision, first of all, to take some action on the Report of the Committee, and secondly, to try these small holdings under what I hope will be 140 really good conditions and hopeful conditions for their success, but thirdly, not to go further than these three pioneer colonies, or, at any rate, whether three or four, amounting to 6,000 acres in England and Wales, that as I understand it is the perfectly definite decision of the Government, and I am sorry that I am not authorised to hold out any hope that the Bill can be preserved if the House in its wisdom thinks it right to enlarge its scope in the way in which some hon. Members have suggested to-day.
The Debate has taken the form which one expected, in that several Members have thought that the Bill was too small and others have thought that it was too large, and in a way the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. R. Lambert) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the City (Sir F. Banbury) were interesting, if not very useful, antidotes to the Member for South-West Norfolk (Sir R. Winfrey) and for the Attercliffe Division (Mr. Anderson) and the Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) and others who wished us to go a good deal further. I was particularly charmed, as I am sure the House was, at the idea of the right hon. Baronet the Member for the City mowing his own meadow of hay. I imagined him, coat off, straps round his knees, mowing the meadow with a scythe, because he would be far too old fashioned to allow anything so modern as machinery; and I only wish I had a photograph of him doing so, for if I had I should value it extremely. Some Members who addressed the House, I think, had gained the impression-which I am bound to say I did my best to disturb in advance-that this Bill represented all that the Government could or would do as to land arising out of the War. I am not in a position to announce any further policy, because no further policy has been decided upon; but it is clear that this Bill arises only out of the limited considerations dealt with in the Report of Part I of the Committee. Since the Bill was introduced several things have happened, and amongst others the presentation to Parliament of the second part of that Report. I think everyone will agree who wishes the Bill well at all that it was right to proceed with our plan and to introduce, and I hope to pass, the Bill without waiting for the consideration of the most difficult and very, very large questions which arise out 141 of that Report and out of the whole question of the future action arising out of that Report. I hope a good many proposals will be made on all sorts of questions which must arise with regard to agriculture in the War, but I do not think it could have been supposed that we should have been able already to consider the second part of the Report of that Committee, with all the tremendous questions of guaranteed minimum prices for certain foodstuffs, of wages boards, and of housing, to name only three of those questions. We surely could not have got legislation on those matters included in this Bill, and it was right on the other hand to try to push this Bill forward, dealing in a small way with one question, rather than to hold this back for big questions which will be dealt with, as I hope, in due time after they have been considered as they ought to be. There is I make no secret of it at all-pretty active work on many of those questions going on. I believe it has been announced to the House that the Cabinet itself is working on these matters, and I very much hope its deliberations may result in causing further Bills at a later stage. I do not pretend that we have in any sort of way covered the ground in the modest proposal now before the House. The Noble Lord (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) made an interesting suggestion, which I will do my best to carry further, if I have anything to do with the matter, and that is with regard to the utilisation of public utility societies. I think it wants a bit more working out than he could give it in the course of debate, but I hope it may be found prudent. The hon. Member for the Eifion Division (Mr. E. Davies), I must say, astonished me, as he astonished the hon. Gentleman opposite. His point was that there was already very great knowledge about small holdings in Wales, and very wide experience of small holdings in Wales, and, in fact, that a very great part of Wales is already a country of small holdings. I hope I did not misunderstand what he said. That is why it is so difficult to find suitable land for a colony out of which you have got to clear your existing tenants to settle the men under this Bill. It is precisely because the land is so sub-divided and small holdings are so successful there that so many of the suggestions which have been made to us by Members representing the Principality have had to be turned down.
§ Mr. E. DAVIES
Is it not the fact that there have been made to the Government two offers which would disturb practically nobody?
§ Mr. ACLAND
That is not true. That is a Welshman's idea of disturbing practically nobody. When you really go into it you find a tenant to about every 80 acres-in most of the cases that have been reported to me, at any rate. You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a country covered already with small holdings and a country in which at the same time you can quite easily find ample land for settlement. But my hon. Friends, who have been so keen on this matter, may rest assured that if a suitable area can be found in Wales, the mind of those who are in charge will remain open on the question of accepting it and making it one of the holdings. Above all things what is necessary is that the best and most suitable land should be got, and the land which will involve the least possible displacement of existing farmers and workmen.
§ Mr. ACLAND
If it were suitable land, yes, of course; but as the hon. Member knows perfectly well, it would be impossible to find land of the quality which we want for these men used as a deer park or for any such purpose at the present time. I challenge him or anybody else to find land of a 1,000 or 2,000 acres used as a deer forest or anything of that kind which would be anything like good enough for the purpose we have in view.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
was understood to ask whether the right hon. Gentleman had inquired with regard to a certain estate.
§ Mr. ACLAND
If the hon. Member knew the quality of the land I think it would be some of the last land that he would mention in this connection. There is a great difference between land which may be successfully farmed as a farm of 200 or 300 acres, and land which can be successfully farmed as we want it to be by small men in a community of holdings. Another point in the speech of the hon. Member, which rather amused me, was where he spoke of the conditions of this scheme. If he is so extremely afraid as to its success, I wondered why Wales was so desperately keen to get one of these colonies, and why that demand should have been so carefully organised as it has 143 been! It seemed to me that Wales saw well enough that this scheme was going to be a success; it was because she saw it was a good thing that she wanted to have a share in it. The most interesting speech, I think the House will agree, was that made by the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott). It was full of suggestions, and I am glad that one of its suggestions was echoed by the speech, which also was full of interest, by the hon. Member for the Wilton Division (Colonel C. Bathurst), namely, that it will not be a really fair experiment, or one which will really test and prove what you want tested and proved, if it is started under the artificial expensive and difficult conditions prevailing in a time of war. I think the suggestion that it would be right for some action to be taken which would result in the scheme being started as it would have been started if it had been begun, say, five years ago, or as we hope it would be started if it were started five years hence, was an extremely valuable suggestion, and of course I will see that we do the best we can with it.
I was also obliged to the hon. Member for talking about the work which lies before the county councils in helping to provide settlements of small holders. He said, quite truly, that the Report of the Committee contained many suggestions as to improvements of the existing Small Holdings Act. Having put those suggestions into legal language and practically made a draft Bill of them, I think we are at present consulting the county councils as to their views about amending the Act in the way suggested by the Committee. Certainly the question of having a separate Bill to amend the Small Holdings Act in order to make it easier for the county councils to carry out their work, and work of this kind, which I quite agree they ought to do after the War, has been under very definite consideration and has made considerable progress. A further suggestion which also ought to be fruitful was that while reclamation ought to be considered as quite a separate question, as indeed it must if we are to make any progress with it, yet it is not too early to consider whether we could not set to work young prisoners or people of that kind on large works of reclamation in certain suitable parts of the country. I do not believe that that sort of land can at all quickly be made suitable for small holdings. I believe it is a question certainly of years 144 before such land can, first of all, be reclaimed and got into a condition for agriculture at all, and, secondly, be so worked as to make it possible to ask small holders to take it. It is only after being worked as a big concern, by big men with plenty of capital to put into it, and treated in a big way, not being split up into small areas, that land not yet reclaimed can ultimately be made available for settlement by small men. But that that is an urgent question which ought, if possible, to be tackled soon I entirely agree. My hon. Friend behind me (Mr. Dundas White) referred to the Lands Clauses Acts. The Clauses of the Lands Clauses Acts that we intend to apply are not restrictive, and they do not contain anything of which he need be afraid. For instance, they help owners to make a title when the title is in a sense defective, when if the Clauses of the Lands Clauses Act were not used it would be much more expensive and take much longer to establish a title under which anyone would buy.
I did not take exception to the Lands Clauses Acts being brought in for this purpose. What I suggested was that in so far as they were brought in the modifications of them proposed in the Acquisition of Land Bill should apply to this Bill as well.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I think those modifications apply not to the part that we are adopting, but to the part that we are not adopting at all. I also very fully agree with him that nothing but the best land is any good for this purpose. I agree so-fully and completely that I will not expand that point. There was the question raised by the hon. Member who spoke last as to-whether I think this is really his point it should not be made optional for settlers to purchase as well as to lease the land when the time comes for them to take up holdings of their own. I have no objection to sale as such. I think, however, the condition of these colonies make it necessary that very stringent conditions should be attached to sales; that the security you get under sale should be extremely difficult to distinguish from the' security you get under tenancy, under the State, or it may be, the county council. After all, if land were to be sold outright, it would, I think, have to be coupled with the condition that if the land were in any way neglected the tenant would be capable of being turned out bag and baggage, whether or not the owner of it. It would 145 not simply do that in a holding of this kind the man who, say, neglected properly to spray for disease, or who in other ways endangered the whole of the adjoining land, should be allowed to do so. Therefore, you must keep that kind of option. You cannot under this system give absolute ownership in the sense of the old phrase of "allowing a man to do what he likes with his own." There will have to be the condition, that he will have to take care of the land, and would not have to mortgage or resell his land, except on conditions that might be decided to be perfectly suitable.
§ Sir W. BEALE
I do not know whether you can attach freehold land, but you can attach land that is leasehold; but that is in favour of the right hon. Gentleman's argument.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I was only going to say this: that these sort of conditions are essential, whether you call it tenure or security of tenure. Whether you can and do sell, so long as these sort of conditions are preserved, I do not mind; but it is essential to have conditions of that kind.
§ Mr. SCOTT
The right hon. Gentleman should remember these conditions are attached to holdings which are sold under the Small Holders Act of 1908.
§ Mr. ACLAND
It may be for that reason that ownership under those conditions is so very little distinguishable from tenancy under security that so very few of the county council tenants have expressed any desire to become owners. It is clear enough, at any rate, that the Bill, whatever else it does, does not do anything to exclude the possibility of ownership, so long as conditions which are essential to the life of the community-conditions which would prevent any single person doing harm to the rest-are adequately preserved. That is, of course, an absolutely essential part of the idea. If any attempt were made by those responsible to alienate the land in any way that would enable harm to be done by a careless owner or anything of that kind, I am afraid I could not hold out any hope of being able to accept Amendments to help that. I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not want anything of that kind. 146 I hope now the House will allow us to have the Second Reading of the Bill. I thank hon. Members very much for the most informing and interesting Debate that we have had.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
If the object of this Bill be to settle some 300 men upon the land it would not be worth discussing; but when we hear explained that this is an experiment likely to lead to a solution of the problem which will exist after the War, of increasing the occupancy of the land, and of the production in this country, we have a right, I think, to consider it from that point of view. We have to-consider what are the conditions likely to-arise so as to be able best to understand whether this Bill offers any hope whatsoever. On the declaration of peace, whenever it comes, there will be millions of men discharged from the munitions works-and from the Army. You will have trade very largely disrupted. There will be art enormous increase of taxation; and it is-very necessary for this country that there should be a greatly increased production. In the general scheme of things, we ought to see if we can meet the changed conditions by an increase of our production by the further utilisation of soil. My criticism of this Bill is that it takes no regard for such conditions as will exist after the War. It follows the old conventional lines. It goes, in the first place, by the way of land purchase, and recognises to the full the right of the owner to the possession of the soil. I myself am confident that this War is going to work a revolution in the minds of men in this particular regard. The Member for Wiltshire Division spoke quite pathetically and in accents of generosity about what we must do for these-men when they return-these men who-have so gallantly fought to defend the soil. We have heard this kind of talk. I do not think that the issue will be decided so much from that point of view. It will not be decided from the aspect of generosity on the part of the landowner. These millions, of men will themselves have something to say on the question. They have been told that they have fought to defend British soil, have saved it from invasion, and from ownership by another nation, and I think they will regard this land as their land. In any question of any method of dealing with the land, and in discovering the solution of this problem, it is, I think, from that aspect these men will regard it. This is the aspect from which I regard it 147 This Bill makes a start on certain lines. It is an experiment. I hold that if that experiment is a success on the present lines, it will in itself check further development, because the more the State comes into the market to acquire land, the more certainly will the price of land rise according to the increased demand. That is the rock. It is on the rock of mrestricted land monopolies and sacrosanct ideas of property that this scheme will fail. On this rock all schemes of the kind have failed in this and in other countries. The hon. Member for Devizes said he did not see why this country—"our land;' he called it-could not provide as good an opportunity, or a better, than is being offered by, or will be offered by, the Dominions. I quite agree with him that it is here on the soil of England that men should have the best opportunity of providing for themselves and their families. It has always seemed to be absurd that men should be driven out of this country to the uttermost ends of the earth, to Australia, say, which is 14,000 miles away, there to cultivate products which have to be sent back across the ocean thousands of miles, to be sold here in the markets of England-that they should have to cultivate territories abroad when they might have utilised the land here. Why cannot we provide as good an opportunity as these Dominions provide? These Dominions I am speaking particularly for the moment of Australia-have striven to provide opportunities for men to settle upon the land upon just such proposals as we have now before us, and Australia is strewn from end to end with the wreckages of such schemes as this one. I would not expect, at any rate, some Members on the other side of the House to accept my view on this question as regards Australia, but I am going to quote an authority with whom they will all be satisfied, an authority who has been proclaimed as having almost divine inspiration in this country during the last few months. I refer to the Prime Minister of Australia the Prime Minister of a Labour party. Mr. Hughes happens to be Prime Minister of Australia because the first time in 1910 the Labour party went to the country on a programme of Land Reform-an outright attack upon land monopoly, and for the purpose of that election they issued a manifesto. From its somewhat flamboyant style I have no doubt it was drawn up by Mr. Hughes himself, but, at any 148 rate, he led the van of the electoral activities of that time. I want to read some extracts from that manifesto. It says:Land monopoly is the curse of Australia. With immense areas of fertile land within reasonable distance of great centres of population, blessed with a regular rainfall, sufficient to support fifty millions, a population of less than five millions cannot obtain land for its own limited requirements. The foundation of all national greatness and prosperity must rest on some form of agriculture or pastoral pursuits. In the Commonwealth 80 per cent, live in the towns, and over (60 per cent, are congregated in the six capital cities of the State. Much conditions are unnatural If we do not destroy land monopoly, it will surely destroy us.He goes on to say:Land monopoly, then, bars the way to a successful policy of immigration, imperils our national safety, restrains our development, threatens our very existence. Land monoply is a upas tree; its deadly roots are firmly imbedded in the earth … During the last few years it has overshadowed everything. We have only dallied and tampered with the matter.—as we have dallied with it.Schemes have never been developed.Those schemes are all on the lines of this scheme we have been discussing. He goes on to say:Larger estates are growing to-day faster than settlement schemes are cutting them up. It is like attempting to bale the ocean with a sieve. Something more drastic must be resorted to. There is but one practical step … and that is a graduated tax on land values.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I think that is going rather beyond the scope of the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
With all due deference, I was just pointing out that this scheme goes upon the lines of other schemes which have proved to be failures. Take another case—the Dominion of South Africa, where, after the War there, they had tremendous land settlement schemes brought into operation, and we know what an utter failure they were. There was an eminent gentleman, whose name I sometimes see on the Notice Paper, and I expect he is the same gentleman I met in Johannesburg who was interested in this question. He is now a Brigadier-General. I may be mistaken, but I think it is highly probable he is the same gentleman. He pointed out the initiation of those schemes. He said that "Lord Milner went about buying land with a brass band," and the result was that, as these schemes came into operation, the price of land was raised, and, I believe, every land settlement scheme was a hopeless failure for that reason. I remember talking to a very intelligent old Boer, and he said to me, " At the start, we Boers determined not to sell our land, but afterwards we 149 thought we will sell it to the settlement scheme, get a high price, they will all fail, and then we will buy back our land at a much lower cost. "That is precisely what they did. When schemes are based on land purchase, as the demand increases, if at all successful, the price rises, and the man put upon the land then becomes merely a slave of the soil.
Reference has been made to Denmark several times during this Debate. I myself am interested in the question of the development of small holdings in Denmark. I have been over the holdings there, and I was fortunate in seeing some of the leaders of the Economic Reform Movement of Denmark who knew the whole case, and they told me that, in the early days of the cutting up of the land there, land had been acquired at a reasonable price, and, I believe, because there was a heavy Land Tax operating at that time, but it was afterwards removed and the price of land rose. In the early days they got land cheaply, we will say for the sake of argument, and the peasants so established were successful, but when I was there five or six years ago they told me the development had been wholly checked because of the rise in the price of land, and those tenants who had acquired property of recent years had become, as I say, slaves to the soil. To such a point had the conditions come that a great movement was initiated in Denmark, and has been a comparative success, for the system of taxation of land values to break down land monopoly and make land cheap, and legislation has been carried for that purpose. I just desire to give those illustrations of what must be an obvious truth, that, as you set out to acquire land, as demand on the part of the State on behalf of individuals increases, so does the price of land rise, and the whole scheme comes to an-inevitable failure. The point of my argument really is this, that, as I have said, I believe the men, when they return from the War, will come back with different conceptions in their mind from that underlying this Bill. It seems to me that it would be grotesque to tell these men, after fighting for their country and undergoing the horrors of the trenches in order to save this land from invasion, and then turn round and say to them, "This land of England belongs to a few hundred thousand persons in the main, and before you can have a foothold on the soil of this country you must pay a high price for it."
150 I understand that when land is to be acquired some £40 an acre is to be paid for it, and that for the small holdings the cost of the buildings and capitalisation something like £1,000 is required. When you put men on the land upon these conditions, paying such a high price for the land and adding the cost of improvements, and on the top of that the heavy rates assessed upon small holdings, the profit will not go into the pockets of the workers, and you will have to find some better way and some more fundamental method of reform. I do not think it can be applied unless you recognise some direct principle that the land is a national possession intended for the benefit of all, and that its monopoly is a flagrant wrong. Until you do as they have done in the Dominions, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, that is, provide an opportunity for the people on the land, realising that land monopoly must be destroyed, you will never solve such a problem as this. The very conditions that will arise after the War in the region of finance will inevitably compel that method to be applied, so vast will be the debt, so gigantic will be the increase of taxation that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will have to tax heavily all national assets such as land, and by that process of taxation you will get the only solution of this problem and you will compel everybody who owns land either to use it or let it go to those who will use it.
§ Mr. MORTON
Undoubtedly Scotland is very much affected by the land question, and perhaps more so than any other part of the United Kingdom. It is much to be regretted that the Government should have brought in such a poor Bill as this, and I hope they will be ashamed of it before we have done with it in Committee. It is still further to be regretted that the Government of this country can never be induced to do anything until we have to face the effects of a dreadful war. I should like to see a reform of the land question carried out without a war driving us to it. In 1905, at the Albert Hall, the late Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman promised that we should colonise our own country, and that is what should be done, but up to the present nothing practical has been done in that direction. We are told that Scotland is to have 2,000 acres under this Bill, but what are the facts with regard to the country which I humbly represent? There we have nearly 400,000 acres that we want and which have been mapped, scheduled, 151 and marked off by Royal Commissions as being fit for small holdings and to increase the present holdings, and yet only 2,000 acres is to be offered to the whole of Scotland. What has been done in the last few years with regard to Scotland on this question? In 1908 we got a Land Bill and £175,000 was voted, but instead of going forward on this question the Government have put the clock back, and each year without any excuse the question of land reform has been stopped.
In 1895 we got a report from the Crofting counties that there were over 2,000,000 acres of land there fit to increase holdings, and I should really like to see the Government do something in this matter. We want something done, and we do not want the question played with as it is played with by the present Bill. I dare say we shall have an opportunity in Committee of emphasising our opinion with regard to this Bill, and I shall try to induce the Government to do something more. The right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill seems to think that the Government can do as they like in the matter. He told us that the Government would not do any more, but no one has a right to say the Government will not do this or that, and it is for the House of Commons to determine what shall be done, and then the Government must obey. I dare say it is exceedingly difficult now to get Labour Members on the Treasury Bench to understand that they are the servants of the people and must do what the House of Commons tells them should be done. I hope we shall deal with the land question in a proper way and give the people all the land they want at fair rents with security of tenure. The land is God's gift to the people, and the people ought to have it at fair rents.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.[Mr. Acland.]