§ The power of acquiring land conferred on the Board by this Act or the Development or Road Improvement Funds Act, 1909, shall include power by agreement to take land on lease or acquire an option of purchasing land or taking land on lease.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Major WEDGWOOD
I have an Amendment of mine to this Clause. It is to move the omission of the power to take 1815 land on lease, or to acquire any option. It seems to me that particularly in the question of giving the Board the power to take an option on land the Board is taking to itself powers which we have never had in any previous Act, and which are entirely alien to the whole history of small holdings legislation. We have had several Bills on small holdings before this House, and never before have either the county councils, the parish councils, or the Board been given powers on acquire an option on land. At the present time—
§ Mr. ASHLEY
I have not the slightest idea exactly what words the hon. and gallant Gentleman moves to leave out.
So far as I have been able to gather, the hon. and gallant Gentleman's argument is directed to the Clause as a whole, and not to any particular Amendment. I think that if he looks at the Clause, he will see, if I may say so, that this is what he means—that the Clause shall not stand part.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
I move the omission of this Clause, because it introduces an entirely new principle into small holdings legislation. Hitherto we have given powers to local authorities, and to the Board, to acquire land by purchase, or lease. But we have never given before powers to acquire an option over land. It is a new principle entirely in British legislation, and it seems to me an extremely undesirable principle to introduce, particularly at the present time. It is well known to all of us that there is very little check on the Executive in this country at the present moment. Under ordinary conditions there are hundreds of Members with lynx eyes fixed on the Board to see that no injudicious action is taken by them, watching the Board, or the local county councils, when they are dealing with questions such as these. It is when public criticism is silent, as it is at the present time, that the Board of Agriculture attempts to grasp these powers which it may wield absolutely safe from public criticism.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
This Act, I presume, will be the parent of a whole system of public extravagance directed towards benefiting the landlords at the expense of the community. I speak as the representative of public economy, and if the hon. Gentleman thinks that this is only dealing with three colonies, or three cases, he has very much mistaken the powers, or the motives, of the people behind this Act. We know perfectly well what is aimed at in this Act. Under cover of the advantage to the British soldier, they are seeking to establish a colony or school for the training of agricultural labourers at 18s. a week. This is held up as being to the advantage of the British soldier in France. I, for one, am absolutely opposed to the idea of giving to the Board of Agriculture the power to acquire options over land. What do options mean? I have seen plenty of option work out in South Africa. There the prospector goes round and acquires an option over land, and pays a certain yearly rent for the privilege of being able to buy it at a certain price up to a certain number of years. That is pure speculation, and very bad speculation. If the land rises in value, he realises his option, but if it depreciates in value he ceases to pay his rent. Is that the sort of business into which we want the Board of Agriculture to go, in a time of War, when every penny is of value, and speculation is rightly regarded as being a wrong thing for the British Government to go into. I have no patience with any part of this Bill, but Clause 3 seems to be the worst thing in it. I cannot understand how my right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works can bring himself to sanction a thing like this, knowing, as I do, that he is one of the strongest watchdogs of the Treasury. This Clause is contrary to all the traditions of this House and to all the traditions of the Board of Agriculture. If I can get any support I shall certainly go into the Lobby against it.
§ Mr. ACLAND
My hon. and gallant Friend has made it quite clear that he speaks as an enemy of the whole of the Bill; therefore it is quite natural from that point of view that he should try to destroy it peacemeal. But from the point of view of one who wants the State to have a little more power to conduct experiments and 1817 undertake reforms with regard to land questions, there can be no doubt whatever that this Clause is a useful one, particularly in the interests of economy, for which my hon. and gallant Friend pretended to speak.
§ Mr. ACLAND
For which he claimed to speak. I withdraw anything to which he objects. There can be no doubt whatever that it is particularly difficult to raise capital sums at the present time. There- fore any procedure which enables us to take land on a perpetual lease or which will avoid our having to raise a large capital sum at a high rate of interest, or enables us to take land on lease for so many years and pay for it when money can be obtained cheaper later on after the War—anything of that kind facilitates—
§ Mr. ACLAND
The hon. Baronet shakes his head. He is an opponent of the Bill, and does not want us to do more than can be possibly helped under the Bill. His point of view is perfectly natural.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Then I hope the right hon. Baronet will agree with the Committee that the Clause is a good one, in that it facilitates operations of this kind at a time when it is extremely advisable to avoid raising any national capital that can possibly be prevented. With regard to options, what not infrequently happens is that someone says, "I am willing to sell; I want to sell land which is, perhaps, extremely suitable for afforestation or reclamation, or, it may be, for the purposes of these colonies." We lose all chance of getting that land because we cannot—it may be at some quite small expense—acquire an option to purchase it at a later date. To secure options of purchase at a later date for the purposes which come under the purview of the Development Commissioners is surely a useful thing, which business men who wish to be able to conduct their operations in the best possible way, would naturally use. Except from the point of view of an opponent of any operations of this kind by the State, or a person who does not want the State to go in for afforestation or reclamation, or land development after the War, I really do not see why the power should be opposed. I hope the 1818 majority of the Committee will be in favour of our keeping a power which will materially help this sort of development without a large capital expenditure at the present time. Therefore I hope the Committee will approve of the Clause standing part of the Bill.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
I think the right hon. Gentleman does not quite understand what an option is. An option, as usually spoken of, is the privilege of paying an annual sum in order to purchase land at some future date. He assumed that when we speak of an option we mean an option with user, but that by no means is the ordinary acceptation of the term. If you are going to pay the landlord an annual rent of, say, £50 a year in order to have the privilege at some future time of buying the land at £100 an acre, that is an option. The right hon. Gentleman assumed that when he was buying the land he was going to have the privilege of user of that land. If that is what he intends, it should be clearly stated in the Bill. As it stands, what he is asking by this Clause is to give power to the Board of Agriculture to pay an annual rent in order that at some future date they may buy the land whether in the meantime they use it or not. That, it seems to me, is a power which we ought not to give to the Board of Agriculture. It is a speculative proposition. It is an opportunity of making payments of money over which this House has no check. How are you going to allow officials to buy options? Such powers have never been given to any Government office before, and it is quite unnecessary that we should do it now. After all, you have power to purchase or to lease. Why do you want powers to open up options on the land of this country?
§ Major WEDGWOOD
What I object to is the power of acquiring an option. There is also great objection to the leasing principle, because if you lease land and spend a great deal of money on improving it, putting up buildings and making roads, you are raising the value of the land, and if you lease it the value all goes back to the landlord at the conclusion of the term. If there is a twenty-one years' lease and you are spending £200 an acre in putting up farm buildings it is very bad business for the State. When the last Small Holdings Bill was on we opposed the idea that the landlord should recover the land and 1819 buildings at the end of the period very strenuously indeed, and it was only got through after considerable opposition. We have the proposal brought forward now simply because the House is empty—half the Members are away and there is no possibility of checking the executive authority of the Government at present. It does not alter my position in the least that you have got here powers which the Board may exercise admirably or, on the other hand, may exercise extremely badly.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is right and that the Clause does not do what the right hon. Gentleman wishes it to do. What I gather he wishes to do is to rent land for five years at £100 a year with an option of buying it at any time during that five years for, say, £1,000. I see no objection to that, but I certainly see an objection to this, because as I read it now the power given to the Board of Agriculture is either to take land on lease or to acquire an option to purchase or take the land on lease. That means, if the words mean anything, that he shall pay down a certain sum for the right to acquire during a certain period either the lease or the purchase of that land. That is to say, you pay down now £500 in order to acquire an option in five years' time of taking a given piece of land on lease or of acquiring it. That is certainly indulging in speculation in land which would not be of any use for small holders, and which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman can have intended. It is quite a common custom to lease property with the option of purchasing that property when you want it. That is a reasonable proposal, and that is what I thought the right hon. Gentleman meant to do. The Clause could be easily amended in that way on Report, by leaving out the words after "take laud on lease." I think that is quite sufficient. I suggest that if the right hon. Gentleman agrees we should defer this discussion until the Report stage, in order that he may draw up an Amendment.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
I am very glad to see my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Wedgwood) here taking up his old role in opposition to rotten legislation. I found some little difficulty in supporting his proposal to object to the Clause, but I have less doubts in my mind after the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir F. Banbury). If this option which we are asked 1820 to sanction carries with it an extension of the principle of land purchase, and if it means an increase of the powers of the Board to indulge in land speculation, I would most certainly oppose it. I am sorry that such a proposal as this is mixed up with the proposal to give the Board the right to lease land. It is very much better and more advantageous to give the Government the right to lease land than to give them the right to purchase land, because I look forward to the time, not very far ahead, when, owing to the enormous increase of taxation which will fall upon this country, a great deal of taxation will fall upon land. Therefore I should like to see the State on behalf of the small holders in actual possession of as little land as possible. If you are leasing land the person upon whom the taxation will fall will be the landlord and not the small colonist or peasant. For that reason I regret that the Government have mixed up the two proposals, one for the leasing of land and the other for the extension of the Board's power to purchase land, especially in a speculative manner. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will fall in with the suggestion made by the right hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and take out the power to purchase by way of option.
§ Mr. DILLON
I think there is a great deal of force in what has been said by the hon. and gallant Member (Major Wedgwood). I, in common with other hon. Members, rejoice to welcome him home after his many gallant adventures by sea and land, and I am glad to see that, as in old times, he is faithful to some of his Liberal or Radical principles and prepared to take the field again in his old fighting form. According to the interpretation of the words, "to take land on lease or acquire an option," it is open to the Board to pay down money in the way that has been pointed out. The operation of acquiring an option is differentiated from the taking of land on lease. That must mean paying money to a landlord for the option of taking land on lease or for purchase. That is a most extraordinary proposal. The proposal is that the Board of Agriculture should be empowered to pay down a lump sum for the right at some future time to acquire a lease of land or to purchase land. That is a proposal to which I am absolutely opposed. Though I would not for one moment think of taking much part in reference to a Bill like this, which 1821 applies altogether to England and Scotland, I am rather glad that this experiment is on a small scale, because I have great doubts as to whether you will get soldiers who return from the War, particularly wounded soldiers, to settle down as small holders. The experience of soldiers does not induce them to settle down to the life of a small holder, which is extremely laborious and rather monotonous. My own opinion is that soldiers coming home from the War—and I hope that there will be a great many of them—will seek a life with more adventure and more prospect. It is quite right to make the experiment in a small, modest way, but I agree with the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme that this is a novel proposal and should be struck out.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I do not want to do anything against the wishes of the Committee, but I think that this would be a useful power to have. I would be glad if the Committee would accept this Clause, so that we might get on to-night to the next Clause as the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Jesse Collings) has been here two nights in order to move his Amendments to the next Clause, and I would suggest that we should leave out the last line—"or acquire an option of purchasing land or taking land on lease"—unless I am unable to show the House on Report that the power is more essential than is thought.
The Question is, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill." The proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has suggested can be put down on Report, but not at this stage.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
We should have some explanation as to what Amendments the Government are prepared to accept on Report. Very serious objections have been made to speculation in land, and we are justified, before we vote to accept the Clause, in asking to be told what alterations the Government propose to make. It is a usual thing in Committee, after hearing the arguments that have been advanced, to say what alterations they are prepared to make on Report, and I think that, as a matter of courtesy, this should be done now.
§ Mr. ASHLEY
Personally, I am entirely opposed to giving the Board of Agriculture power to pay down sums of money in order that they may purchase land at some future date, and I think that we should have some explanation as to exactly what 1822 the Government do want. I understand that what they want is power to be able to put down a certain sum of money in order to have the option of purchasing land.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I might move on Report to leave out the last line of the Clause, "or acquire an option of purchasing land or taking land on lease."
§ Mr. G. LAMBERT
I would suggest that the right hon. Gentlman should omit the Clause now, and bring up a new Clause embodying what is wanted.
§ Mr. LAMBERT
I quite agree, but if the right hon. Gentleman omitted the Clause now, he could bring up a new Clause which would embody the principle which is now being advocated. I merely make the suggestion in view of the progress of the Bill.
I think it would be unreasonable to ask my right hon. Friend to omit the Clause. He has assured the House that he is prepared, if it can be done, to strike out the last line, and it would really be ungenerous to ask him to omit the whole Clause. My right hon. Friend has given a very frank pledge that he will endeavour to meet the point on Report, and I hope the House will add the Clause to the Bill.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I would point out to hon. Members that the Board of Agriculture and the Treasury would not be quite so foolish as to take land on a short lease if it were to revert to somebody else after a short period of years, especially if there were any question of improving the value of the property in the meantime. We have only to consider the question of a perpetual lease. No Government would dream of acquiring a lease and improving the land if it were going to revert to someone else.
§ Mr. ACLAND
We may acquire land for small holdings on short lease on terms which are of value to the tenants of the land, but obviously the Government cannot acquire land which, after it has been improved, is to revert to the landowner or some other person, after a very short period.
§ Major WEDGWOOD
In the Small Holdings Act there are provisions intended to secure that the value of the improvements on the reversion of the lease should revert to the county council or the parish council, as the case may be; while in this Bill there are no provisions of any sort whatsoever to that effect. Here you take, for the first time, powers to lease land without specifying the period of the lease or that the interest of the reversion goes to the State. The Bill has been drafted in a hurry, as we know, but they might have modelled the provisions on those of the Small Holdings Act, which went into this matter very closely. I suppose the Board of Agriculture has forgotten about that Act, which is now more than ten years old, and the excellent provisions which it contains, enabling the central authority to recover the value of the improvements. It seems to me that this Clause ought to be withdrawn and that the Government
§ should introduce a Clause properly thought out, with correct provisions for dealing with a reversionary value. You have got much too wide powers in this Clause as it stands at present, whether it be the power I of taking an option, or a seven years' lease without getting any reversion value except what can be arranged with the landlord. Whichever side you look you see in this Clause a jejune attempt recklessly and frivolously made, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw it and lot us get on to Clause 4. He can reintroduce it later in proper form, carefully safeguarded against extravagance. We are paying Income Tax of 5s. in the £, and we do not want to have to pay anything more.
§ Question put, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ The Committee divided: Ayes, 92; Noes, 27.1823
|Division No. 43]||AYES.||[10.50 p.m.|
|Acland, Rt. Hon. Francis Dyke||Galbraith, Samuel||Pryce-Jones, Colonel E.|
|Adamson, William||Gelder, Sir W. A.||Radford, Sir George Heynes|
|Agg-Gardner, Sir James Tynte||Goldstone, Frank||Rea, Walter Russell (Scarborough)|
|Agnew, Sir George William||Greenwood, Sir G. G. (Peterborough)||Rees, G. C. (Carnarvonshire, Arfon)|
|Ainsworth, John Stirling||Gretton, John||Rendall, Athelstan|
|Anderson, W. C.||Harcourt, Rt. Hon. Lewis (Rossendale)||Roberts, Charles H. (Lincoln)|
|Baird, John Lawrence||Harris, Percy A. (Leicester, S.)||Roberts, George H. (Norwich)|
|Barlow, Montague (Salford, South)||Henry, Sir Charles||Robertson, Rt. Hon. J. M. (Tyneside)|
|Beck, Arthur Cecil||Hill, James||Robinson, Sidney|
|Benn, Arthur Shirley (Plymouth)||Hinds, John||Roe, Sir Thomas|
|Bliss, Joseph||Hodge, John||Rowlands, James|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Holt, Richard Durning||Rowntree, Arnold|
|Brace, William||Hope, James Fitzalan (Sheffield)||Samuel, Rt. Hon. H. L. (Cleveland)|
|Bridgeman, William Clive||Howard, Hon. Geoffrey||Scott, A. MacCallum (Glas., Bridgeton)|
|Byles, Sir William Pollard||John, Edward Thomas||Strauss, Edward A. (Southwark, West)|
|Carew, C. R. S.||Jones, Edgar (Merthyr Tydvil)||Sutton, John E.|
|Cave, Rt. Hon. Sir George||Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth)||Sykes, Col. Alan John (Ches., Knutsf'd)|
|Chaloner, Colonel R. G. W.||Lambert, Richard (Wilts, Cricklade)||Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton)|
|Coats, Sir Stuart A. (Wimbledon)||Larmor, Sir J.||Tickler, T. G.|
|Cochrane, Cecil Algernon||Layland-Barrett, Sir F.||Toulmin, Sir George|
|Collings, Rt. Hon. J (Birmingham)||Lloyd, George Butler (Shrewsbury)||Valentia, Viscount|
|Collins, Sir Stephen (Lambeth)||Mackinder, Halford J.||Watt, Henry A.|
|Coote, William||McNeill, Ronald (Kent, St. Augustine's)||Whiteley, Herbert James|
|Craig, Ernest (Creshire, Crewe)||Manfield, Harry||Williams, Aneurin (Durham, N.W.)|
|Craig, Col. James (Down, E.)||Middlebrook, Sir William||Williams, Col. Sir Robert (Dorset, W.)|
|Davies, Timothy (Lincs., Louth)||Millar, James Duncan||Wilson, Rt. Hon. J. W. (Worcs., N.)|
|Davies, Sir W. Howell (Bristol, S.)||Morton, Alpheus Cleophas||Wilson, W. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Duncan, C. (Barrow-in-Furness)||Pennefather, De Fonblanque||Wing, Thomas Edward|
|Elverston, Sir Harold||Perkins, Walter F.|
|Fell, Arthur||Peto, Basil Edward||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—Mr.|
|Ferens, Rt. Hon. Thomas Robinson||Pollock, Ernest Murray||Gulland and Lord Edmund Talbot|
|Finney, Samuel||Pretyman, Ernest George|
|Ashley, Wilfrid W.||Kilbride, Denis||O'Neill, Dr. Charles (Armagh, S.)|
|Banbury. Rt. Hon. Sir Frederick G.||Lardner, James C. R.||Outhwaite, R. L.|
|Clancy, John Joseph||Lundon, Thomas||Reddy, Michael|
|Dalziel, Rt. Hon. Sir J. H. (Kirkcaldy)||MacNeill, J. G. Swift (Donegal, South)||Roch, Walter F. (Pembroke)|
|Dillon, John||MacVeagh, Jeremiah||Walker, Colonel William Hall|
|Ffrench, Peter||Meehan, Francis E. (Leitrim, N.)||White, Patrick (Meath, North)|
|Field, William||Meehan, Patrick J. (Queen's Co., Leix)||Whitty, Patrick Joseph|
|Hazleton, Richard||Meysey-Thompson, Major E. C.|
|Jowett, Frederick William||Morrell, Philip||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Joyce, Michael||O'Brien, Patrick (Kilkenny)||Major Wedgwood and Mr. McGhee.|