§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of AGRICULTURE (Sir R. Winfrey)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."This is a Bill to increase the amount of land under the Small Holding Colonies Act, 1916. It will be within the recollection of the House that that Act contained provisions under which the Board of Agriculture in England were empowered to secure 6,000 acres of land in England and Wales, and the Board of Agriculture in Scotland were empowered to obtain 2,000 acress in Scotland, for experimental colonies. It will be remembered also that, at the time of the passing of that Act, an attempt was made to extend its scope, but it was felt that it would be sufficiently large in its provisions for a start. The result was that that Act was placed on the Statute Book in August, 1916. The Board of Agriculture has now exhausted its powers under that Act of Parliament. In the first instance, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wilton (Sir C. Bathurst) took charge of the administration of that Act, and he succeeded, after considerable effort and after travelling a good many hundred miles, in securing two colonies under the provisions of that Act from the Crown. These colonies have been leased. The first is at 118 Patrington, in Yorkshire, where we obtained 2,363 acres. We came into possession of that land in April, 1917, so that we have now been in possession of that colony for a year, and we have proceeded as speedily as we possibly could to equip it. We have had considerable difficulties, I need hardly say, with regard to the building of houses, but still the equipment there is proceeding. Then my hon. and gallant Friend succeeded in leasing from the Crown 1,000 acres at Holbeach, in Lincolnshire. We came into possession of that at Michaelmas last, so that we have been in possession there for six months. Since I have had the honour to hold my present position I have had charge of the administration of the Act, and have succeeded in obtaining by purchase a colony at Heath Hill, in Shropshire, where we have secured 1,150 acres that we have purchased from the Duke of Sutherland.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
I will deal with the price a little later. We have obtained altogether in England two colonies by leasing and the colony at Heath Hill by purchase. I believe the price was something like £40 an acre. That makes 4,513 acres for England. We have also secured for Wales a colony at Pembury, in South Wales, of 1,345 acres. We come into possession of that land next Michaelmas. Therefore, altogether, we have obtained in England and Wales 5,858 acres out of the 6,000, which is the whole of the land, less 42 acres. I am told that in Scotland they have already obtained 1,174 acres and are negotiating for a further 700 acres by purchase. During the War we have experienced considerable difficulty in equipping these holdings, but we are getting on slowly, although I hope surely. At Patrington we have built thirty houses, of which twenty are already occupied, and there are plans out for building about twenty more. At Holbeach, in Lincolnshire, we are building 119 sixty houses. Although we only got possession last Michaelmas, that is about six months ago, we have got eight houses completed, and six are already occupied. There we are up against labour trouble, and very great difficulties in regard to the cost of material, and so on. With regard to the Heath Hill estate, in Shropshire, when we purchased I am glad to say we found no less than forty-five houses and five farmhouses upon the estate, so that the cost of the equipment of that estate will be very much less than at Patrington and Holbeach. At Pembury, Wales, there are two good farmhouses and three cottages. There, again, we shall have to spend a considerable sum of money in equipment.
In answer to a question the other day I said we had already received up to date about 267 applications for small holdings. T had not the opportunity, by way of question and answer across the floor of the House, of going into that in detail, but I think the House and those hon. Members who put questions should realise that the men who are being discharged from the Army now are not able-bodied men. They still remain in the Army. The men who are now being discharged are discharged through wounds or some ailment which renders them unfit for further military service. Therefore, the applicants coming before us now are not fair samples of the applicants we shall receive on demoblisation. That accounts for the large percentage that have been rejected. We have been obliged to refuse 100 out of the 260 applicants. For instance, only to-day I am told by the officer of the Board who interviews these men that a discharged soldier came before us wanting a small holding, who said he knew something about dairying, but when we came to ask him questions we found that his experience of dairying consisted in going round with a milk cart in London, that he knew nothing whatever about the land, that he was wounded in the foot, and was suffering from neuresthenia, that a doctor told him that he must get out into the country, and that he thought he could get a small holding. Naturally we have a good many of that class. But we have eighty-eight applicants comprising men who are still serving, whom we believe will make excellent settlers, and we hope that they will come back safe and sound on their discharge from the Army in due course, and will become good 120 settlers. We have fifty-three applicants not yet interviewed whom we propose to interview very shortly. We have actually placed twenty-six men upon the land who are now working either at Patrington or Holbeach.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
It is twenty-six out of 267— that is, one-tenth of the applicants. Our principal work is to get these colonies ready for the discharged soldiers on demobilisation. We do not expect to put upon the land the class of soldier who is being discharged now, because he is discharged through disablement. That is not the class of man very capable of making a success on a small holding. This new Bill increases the quantity of land which may be obtained from 8,000 to 80,000 acres. That will bring the total in England and Wales up from 6,000 to 60,000, and in Scotland from 2,000 to 20,000. It multiplies the existing figures by ten exactly. Of course, it is a purely enabling Bill. It will only enable us to get these colonies if we can succeed in getting the land on lease or on a rent charge. We have no power under this new Bill to purchase for money down. It is not an easy matter to find suitable land. That my hon. and gallant Friend who preceded me in the administration of the Act discovered. It is not easy to find land entirely suitable for these colonies, land which, of course, is in the market and which we can either lease or secure by a rent charge. Still, we hope to find patriotic owners of land who will be prepared to come forward and let us have land in the various agricultural counties of England. If we can succeed in obtaining that land— and we shall take practical and organised steps to get into touch with the land owners of the country in order to secure these 80,000 acres— then we have the consent of the Treasury to find the necessary cost of equipment. It will be seen that this Bill is merely an extension of the pioneer Bill which we passed in 1916. It does not propose to deal with the great national problem. That, in itself, will require a really national scheme, which will involve acquiring probably 1.000,000 acres of land. This is an enabling Bill to enable us to increase the small-holding colonies from 8,000 to 80,000 acres. I hope that, with this explanation, I shall have very little difficulty in securing the Second Reading of the Bill.
One has seen this Bill with some surprise, and one has received with considerable surprise also what has been said from the Government Bench. We are told that it is merely an enabling Bill. So far as I can gather, the point of the Bill is that it gives the Board of Agriculture in England and also the Board of Agriculture in Scotland, taking them together, an absolutely free hand to acquire ten times the amount of land that they were permitted to acquire by the original measure with very few checks at all. We are told that this was a pioneer measure. Before we extend such a measure it is important to be informed how far it has gone. We ought to have some further particulars, and those particulars have not been given us to-day. It is all very well to call this an enabling Bill. It does not empower the purchase of land it is true, but it gives the Department a free hand to do as it likes in acquiring an enormous amount of land, without the House of Commons being really familiar with the lines on which the scheme is developing. Up to the present time the total number who have been settled on these thousands of acres that have been acquired is twenty-six. My hon. Friend the Member for Hanley asked particulars of the price which had been paid for certain land which had been purchased from the Duke of Sutherland. It was probably about £ 40 per acre. I may inform my hon. Friend, who moved the Second Reading of this Bill, that the question of purchase price or the amount of the rent really goes to the root of the whole matter, it shows whether this operation has been carried on anything like a commercial basis. In the Act of 1916 there was specially inserted a Clause that particulars as to price and valuations for rating and so on in respect of all land acquired should be inserted in the annual report of the Board of Agriculture. I would like to ask whether such particulars were given in the last report of the Board, and whether they will appear in the new report which may be expected shortly. It seems to me that the House of Commons having put in a definite Clause providing for the publication of such particulars, when a Department asks for such wide powers of extension it should first supply these particulars.
I, personally, am very suspicious about these extended powers. I know we are not purchasing land, but we are renting 122 it, or obtaining it on a rent charge. There is power, and a very good power it is in some cases, to acquire land for this purpose on a rent charge, but one would like to know how the rent charge compares with the present rent, and how the rent that is to be paid compares with the annual valuation for rating purposes. I take it that if large amounts of land are got even at a rent charge, if that rent charge is too high, then the undertaking is waterlogged from the very beginning from a commercial point of view. If these experiments are to be successful, considerable allowances must be made for experimenting, but we must ultimately have in view a business basis; if not, the experiments will be carried on simply at the expense of the taxpayer, and the more you extend them the more expensive they will become. The people who will really reap the benefit will be those who let the land either for rent or on a rent charge, and they will make the profit and gain the advantage, rather than the gallant men in whose interests the original measure was promoted.
It was suggested by the Parliamentary Secretary just now that the men in process of discharge from the Army were not particularly suitable for these experiments because they are disabled and not able-bodied men, and that the experiment will work much better later on, after the conclusion of the War, when it is possible to get the able-bodied men, many of whom have already applied for land. Yes, but the able-bodied men will not have to face the same difficulties after the conclusion of the War as the disabled men, and my own impression is that when the House gave these powers it had disabled men in mind, and hoped that all that possibly could be done would be done on their behalf. If we are only to provide for able-bodied and efficient men, as the Parliamentary Secretary seemed to indicate, why not enable them to obtain land direct on fair terms without any Treasury finance? These able-bodied men can look after themselves, but if we are to carry on things at the expense of the taxpayer, it surely should be in the interests of the unfortunate men who have been wounded and disabled during the War. I can only offer that comment on the point raised by the Parliamentary Secretary as to disabled men not being very suitable for this work. He told us of the case of a man who said he knew about dairying, but whose only experience 123 it was found had been in the delivery of milk in London. But experience is not altogether so important as some people think. There is probably no land throughout the country which produces so much per acre as that devoted to allotments and small holdings, and this land is to a very great extent cultivated by people who began without any experience of cultivation and who learnt by practice, by reference to books, and by seeking the advice of their neighbours. To-day we have allotments all over the country. I really think the Parliamentary Secretary is inclined to attach too much importance to the question of experience. Experience may be useful, but there is one thing which is far more useful, and that is to enable the men who want the land to get it on fair terms wherever it may be.
We have been told that it is thought that patriotic landlords will come forward with gifts of suitable land. The same thing was said when the Act of 1916 was brought in. May I remind the hon. Gentleman there is no need of this provision in order that patriotic landlords may supply land for cultivation by soldiers or sailors, because there is already another piece of legislation in existence by which we are enabled to take land which is offered in this way. I had hoped that the Parliamentary Secretary would have been able to give us information as to how much land had been offered by patriotic people who hold it. We had precisely the same hopes held out on the last occasion, and it would be useful to know how far they have materialised. I have a very considerable suspicion that very large sums may be spent and improvident purchases may be made, and the result may be not what we are hoping for. I am out for doing everything that can be done on the land for our disabled soldiers and sailors, but I am not out to exploit either them or the taxpayers for the benefit of those who hold this land which by hypothesis is wanted for this purpose, and which at present is not being adequately used. This is a really important question. If we are to give the gallant men who have been fighting in the War small holdings, and if there is land not now being used that is suitable for the purpose, why should not that land be taken straight from the owner on some direct system of finance, instead of bringing in the taxpayer to finance and perhaps to endow the transaction? It may be 124 necessary perhaps to bring in the taxpayer or to use public money to build houses and that sort of thing, but a very strict watch should be kept to see that the rent or rent charge is not too high, and there should be some provision that the rent which the nation is to pay to the landlords should bear some fair proportion to the valuation at which the property is already rated for public purposes. I had hoped, after the discussion on the Act of 1916, that the Parliamentary Secretary would have said something on these points. Perhaps he, or someone else speaking for the Government, will do so at a later stage.
I am not taking up a position of opposition, but I am very doubtful indeed about giving this blank cheque for the acquisition of ten times the amount of land authorised under the original Act, because I see great dangers ahead. Those who have read the recent report of the Committee on Public Accounts know what was said there about the exorbitant prices which Government Departments had been paying in connection with acquiring land. Those who have read the report of the Sub-Committee of the Reconstruction Committee on the valuation and acquisition of land for public purposes know what a disclosure that was of the difficulties in which Government Departments find themselves now. Surely some action should be taken on the reports of these Committees before we are asked to enable a Government Department to obtain more land on a vast scale. Another recent report was that of the Royal Commission on Housing in. Scotland, and one recommendation of that Royal Commission was that where land was acquired by a Government Department for housing purposes power should be given to acquire it on the basis of the Finance Act valuation. If that can be done in the case of buildings, why should you not apply precisely the same principle where the land is wanted for agriculture. I put this point to the Parliamentary Secretary, and I hope that he and his Department will consider it. I sincerely trust, before this Bill goes any further, the House will be given some information on these subjects. There is another point I should like to touch upon. The Small Holdings Colonies Act was regarded as a very important measure. This Bill proposes to increase the amount of land available tenfold. I put it to the Parlia- 125 mentary Secretary that a measure of this kind ought not to be sent to a Standing Committee, but should be dealt with on the Floor of the House, and I hope that before this Debate closes a promise will be given that it shall be so dealt with, so that the question of how far the plan shall be extended and other questions relating to price and so on, which are very important when you are dealing with such an enormously increased amount of land, may be considered on the Floor of this House, as finance goes to the very root of the measure.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
I fully sympathise with my hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. White) in his desire that in financing a scheme of this kind every possible attention should be paid to cost, not so much from the point of view of those abstract principles of which he is so eloquent an exponent in this House, but because of the small holder himself. There is a very grave tendency, and I think it has been exhibited in this experiment, and has certainly attached to some of the county council small-holdings schemes, to pile on the small holder a greater charge than he can reasonably be expected to pay. At the same time, I am not with my hon. and learned Friend in his anxiety about this tenfold increase in the amount of land to be acquired. Two years ago I was one of those who ventured, in season and out of season, to criticise the then Small Holdings Colonies Bill. To be perfectly frank, I regarded it as a meagre Bill, an almost ludicrous Bill, having regard to the object which was supposed to be in view. We were then considering, as we are this evening, some measure of recompense to those men who are fighting or have fought our battles in the various theatres of war, and it seemed to me in the former connection that to provide for these purposes 8,000 acres in the whole of Great Britain was merely to trifle with a profoundly important subject. I am not at all persuaded by what my hon. and learned Friend has said, that the Government is really taking a desperate plunge when it multiplies the acreage tenfold. I want rather in two or three minutes to direct criticism to other aspects of this question. I entirely fail to understand why the Board of Agriculture is so addicted to this principle of colonies as applied to the provision of land for our soldiers and sailors. It is quite true to say that under the colony system you have the advan- 126 tages of supervision and instructions speedily and conveniently applied. That, I think, is the only advantage that can possibly attach to this system, whereas, as far as I can see, there is every other possible kind of disadvantage
I am not at all certain that our discharged soldiers and sailors will desire to be congregated in separate colonies. I am perfectly certain— and I am sure my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will bear me out in this— that applicants for small holdings, as a rule, have not shown a disposition to migrate from their native places to distant counties; so much so that, if I am rightly informed, it has been one of the greatest stumbling-blocks to the success of the Act of 1908 that the applicants insisted on having land in the immediate neighbourhood of their own then homes, and very frequently refused very promising offers of land in parts of the country with which they were not familiar. How much more must that be so in the case of soldiers and sailors who are invited, each and every one of them, it may be, to go right away to another part of the country with which they are not familiar to settle in company with other soldiers and sailors in one of these experimental colonies! And why experimental? It is only because the Board of Agriculture and the corresponding Board for Scotland adhere so pathetically to this principle of the colony that they need regard it as experimental at all. There is nothing what ever experimental about small holdings as such. Everybody knows — the Parliamentary Secretary will bear me out— that the Act of 1908 has been one of the most successful of the smaller Acts passed in this House in recent years. I have not seen the latest Report, I think, but up to the time that I used to read these Reports the ratio of failure in the case of these small holdings was something less than 2 per cent. The allotment and the small holding is almost universally successful, and I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend that it is absurd to pretend that an immense knowledge of agriculture is required in order that an intelligent man may run a small holding. I should be disposed to criticise, if I wished to occupy the time of the House, the Schedule of questions which appear to be sent out by the Board of Agriculture to prospective applicants for small holdings under the Small Holdings Colonies Act. They ask far too many questions and exact far too many conditions. 127 I should be disposed to believe— and I wish it were possible that this Bill could be adjusted so as to meet the circumstances— that a very much better way of dealing with this matter would be to give larger powers, both financial and otherwise, to the county councils. I am not at all averse to the possession of land by the Board of Agriculture or by the corresponding Boards in either of the other countries; not in the least. I welcome it. I should like to see it vastly extended, but for the immediate purpose— and this ought to be regarded as an immediate question— I should like to see the powers of the county councils extended from now. I am told that there is still outstanding a very long list of applicants for small holdings under the scheme of1908. It does not follow, of course, that these people are— in fact, it is very unlikely that they will be— discharged soldiers and sailors for the most part, but I dare say there is a considerable number of people of that class. The Act of 1908 was a very small affair. I wish, and I think a great many Members of this House wish, that it had been possible to pass a far more ambitious measure, but its rate of progress slow as it was, is swift in comparison with the progress that is being made under the Small Holding Colonies Act. It is two years since we passed this Bill, and I gather from a Report recently issued that on the Patrington estate there are few prospective settlers, and that the estate is being worked on a profit-sharing basis. In the case of Holbeach, only two small holdings have been taken up, and here again the estate is being farmed as a whole. Heath Hill estate is, I understand, not yet in the possession of the Board, and the same is true of the estate in Wales. We are dealing with an experiment which is to be applicable and serviceable to men who have fought in the War, but the men who return from the War, even if it were to last a few years longer, will be dispersed all over the world or returned to their avocations long before these experiments by the Board of Agriculture look like reaching anything in the nature of fruition. I will only say, in conclusion, that I welcome this extension, but that I would press on my hon. Friend to exercise the great influence he has with his Department, and with the Government as a whole, to make them regard this question from a very much larger point of view. Even with his 60,000 acres in England and 128 Wales, and his 20,000 in Scotland, he will only have begun to touch the outer fringe of an immense subject. I welcome the addition. I speak in no sense in a hostile spirit to the Bill, but I would press upon my hon. Friend the desirability of tackling a great national problem in something like a national way.
§ Mr. ELLIS DAVIES
My hon. Friend who has just sat down (Mr. Harmsworth) dwelt on the fact that the Small Holdings Act of 1908 had been a great success. I should be very glad to think that was so, but the figures of the Board of Agriculture show for last year and the year before that no less than 5,000 small holdings had disappeared. That is to say, the number of holdings under 50 acres were last year 5,000 less than in the year before, and in 1916 were 5,500 less than in the year before that.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
Does the hon. Gentleman say that there was that reduction in the county council small holdings under that Bill?
§ Mr. DAVIES
No; I said the number of small holdings in the country. Whatever the number of small holdings under the Act of 1908, the number of holdings under 50 acres were last year less by 5,000 than in 1916, and in 1916 were less by 5,500 than in the preceding year. The old explanation by question and answer used to be that the land had been taken for building purposes, but that reason is evidently no longer available, and I suggest that my hon. Friend will find the real reason in this, that small holdings are not economic. My hon. Friend opposite (Mr. D. White) seemed to assume that this Bill was intended to provide for disabled soldiers, the gallant fellows who had been to the War, and I admit that I voted for the previous Bill on that assumption. It was on that assumption that it was recommended to the House, and it was certainly as for the benefit of the wounded soldier that it was advocated to the country. I was, therefore, amazed to read in the Report on the farm colonies the following words:The colonies were not intended to make provision for disabled men as such.Are we to understand that, having failed to make any provision for disabled men with the 4,000 acres and the money which was placed at its disposal two years ago, the Government is now asking us to place at their disposal no fewer than 45,000 acres, 129 representing presumably £1,500,000, for purely experimental purposes? Let me read another sentence:The object of the colonies was not to provide for disabled men as such, but to ascertain by actual experiment how far small holdings grouped on the colony system on the lines recommended by the Committee could be successfully carried out.It is certainly not necessary to hand over to the Board of Agriculture more than 4,000 acres for purely experimental purposes. I am quite willing that the money should be spent, but it should be spent for the soldiers and not for needless and costly experiments on the part of the Board of Agriculture. The Report goes further and gives us some insight as to the capacity of those who are responsible for carrying out the present Act. The first estate acquired by the Board was in the East Riding of Yorkshire. It comprised 2,363 acres, and is rented from the Crown at 28s. or 29s. an acre. That was intended for an experiment in mixed holdings. It was obtained for the purpose, and obtained, I think, at a very high rent. But the Commissioners who obtained it, instead of finding it suitable for an experiment, are now finding that they cannot experiment on it for the holdings they desire. In fact, it is very doubtful whether the land is fit for the purpose for which it was intended, and it would be unwise on our part to hand over to a body of that kind 45,000 acres until they show that they are capable of dealing with 4,000 acres. In any event, even as a business experiment, a body which has failed in dealing with 4,000 acres could not very well come to the House and ask to be entrusted with the control of 45,000 acres for the same purpose. Another thing which must be obvious to anyone is that unless capital is going to be advanced to the applicant he is bound to fail. I have always contended that small holdings do not pay, and one of the main reasons is that the small holder has not the necessary capital to cultivate the land in a proper manner. It is quite true that the rent and the price of the land are generally high, but I am quite sure the main reason why small holdings fail is that the tenant often has not the necessary capital. On the other hand, one would have thought that these men, who have made such sacrifices for the country, would have been met by the Government and would have been placed on holdings of such a nature and under such circumstances that they might succeed. But 130 what the Government is really telling them is, "We will provide holdings; we will provide the necessary buildings; you will have colonies; you will have experiments made beforehand; but we will not provide you with any money." In other words, they are saying, "You have been away from the country for two, three, or possibly four years. In that period you could not have saved any money, and when you return to the country we will decline to help you." The conditions under which the present experiments are carried on and the refusal to help applicants with money have resulted in the fact that so far they have not been able to settle any men on the land which they have already bought, and in particular the admission of the Board of Agriculture that these colonies were not intended to assist soldiers, but were for purely experimental purposes does not justify us in acceding to the demand of the Government.
§ Major HUNT
Although this is a small extension, intended, I suppose, to benefit soldiers and sailors, there is nothing like enough to be of any real use when we remember the enormous number of men who want to come back on the land. I do not think 50,000 acres for England and Wales is anything like enough,and it is very unsatisfactory that the men, as I understand it, will have no chance of owning the land themselves when they have made a success of it. I cannot agree that the Act of 1908 was a success. From all I have heard about it is was not a success, and one of the great reasons for its non-success was that the small holders had to pay not only the rent but a sinking fund, an I when he had paid them for so many years the land did not belong to him but to the county council. That is one of the great blots on the Act. I know the working people about me were of that opinion. They did not see the fun of paying for the land and then having it belong to someone else. I think this is a very poor attempt to solve the land question for soldiers and sailors after the War. Surely, if we are to have 1,000,000 acres they should be provided now. If you do not do it now you will not be in time; if you do not open up the land it seems to me that you are bound to have a large number of men, necessarily unable to help themselves, crowding into the towns, where you will make the conditions worse even than they were before the War, and that will be a very serious thing for this country even if it does not 131 bring about some form of revolution. I think, on so big a question, it is the Government's business to formulate a land policy at once. I have had a certain amount to do with small holdings, and, even under very adverse conditions, they pay if they are under industrious people; but if the Government want really to help the soldiers and sailors they must provide not only the land, but capital where it is needed in some way or other. It is no use putting men on the land if they have no capital, and if you are not going to provide it for them where it is necessary. Therefore, I am afraid the Bill is not really going to do any good at all.
Then, if small holdings are to be made to pay, you must also prevent the. middleman and the rings in the market from robbing both the producer and consumer. I remember asking a member of the Government whether he did not find, in his examination of the question, that in the case of small holders and their produce the middleman robbed both the producer and the consumer, and his answer was that the more he went into it the more he found that was so. Those were not his actual words, but that was the meaning of what he said. If you really want to help the sailors and soldiers you must arrange that that shall not be the case in the future or else the smallholder will not be able to live. I have made inquiries about the matter, and I quite agree that you must, as far as possible, provide land in the different counties. A man likes to go back to his own county. The county feeling is very strong indeed. I suggest that the way to do it is to see what land you can get in each county. Go to the Lord Lieutenant and ask him to call the landlords together and say, "We want so many thousand acres" Then you can see whether they are willing to provide them. My information is that the landlords and the land agents, and I think to a great extent the farmers will help to find the land if the hon. Gentleman will proceed in that friendly way. I think in that way you will get the land at a reasonable price, without compulsion, but you will certainly have to have compulsion behind it in eases where it is necessary. In the great majority of cases you will not require compulsion, but you must have the power to exercise it where it is necessary. We are going to grow an enormous amount more food in this country than we have grown before for a great number of years. 132 There will possibly be another submarine menace, and we cannot tell when it will come again. Moreover, we have learnt in this War the absolute madness of neglecting our agriculture. The hon. Gentleman said that the men coming forward were wounded men not able to take small holdings. I do not think the men would require a good deal of teaching, but I think you ought to have some kind of college in three or four counties where the men could go to learn the way to cultivate small holdings. I have spoken to fanners about it, and some of them who were very much against small holdings hold the opinion that a man with a pension, who may have lost an arm or a leg or an eye, will be able to get along on a small holding, and will be a help to the country and to the farmers at harvest time and other times. I understand the pensions range from 13s. 6d. to 25s. The farmers say that if you can give these men small holdings at reasonable rent they will be able, with the help of their pensions, to do very well.
You will have to provide houses and small holdings for these men who have been injured in this War; but this Bill is not anything like big enough to help them. There is the further objection that you are not providing them with land banks from which they can get capital. Therefore, I am afraid the Bill is of very little use, and I hope the Government will reconsider the question. These men who have fought for us and risked their lives are entitled to go back to the land and to be helped by the Government if they want to go back. To put it plainly, they are entitled to a bit of the country they have fought for, and it would be a gigantic mistake if the Government do not recognise that there is a very strong feeling among the soldiers in France, as well as in this country, that they are entitled to that. If the Government do not face the question now they will have neglected their duty, and the consequence will in all human probability be very serious.
§ Mr. OUTHWAITE
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture comes down here to-day and refers to this as an experiment. We have had many experiments of this kind, differing in method, but all alike in result, and that is utter failure. We have had the Small Holdings Act of 1908. References have been made to the results of two years, showing a reduction in the number of small holdings of over 10,000. Why does not the Board of Agriculture with its new 133 experiment take some of these 10,000 small holdings which have disappeared from use, I presume, as a result of its former endeavours in experimental legislation. Such is the result of the Small Holdings Act for England. If you look at the Small Holdings Act for Scotland, which came into operation in 1911, the last Report shows that in 1916– 17 there were fewer small holdings in Scotland than at the time the Act came into operation. So much for that experiment. This Bill is designed on precisely the same lines. The Board of Agriculture, through its officials, goes round and secures land as best it can from the landowners. They give £40 an acre to the Duke of Sutherland. I notice that the Duke of Sutherland does not give away land in Shropshire. He only gives it away when it is assessed at 3s. an acre for rates in Scotland and is worthless. A high price has to be paid for the land, then buildings have to be put upon it— I was told by a builder recently in Sussex that the cost of building is eight times what it was before the War— and then the rates and taxes have to be paid, so that under the present conditions you can offer no hope to the man who is at present in the Army and who desires Later to go on the land. That is quite clear.
If the experiments of the past, with advantageous condition of lower prices of land and lower prices for materials of all sorts, have failed, how are you going to succeed to-day when the price of agricultural land has gone up by leaps and bounds as the result of the Corn Production Bill. We had the case the other day of the Marquis of Lincolnshire bringing in a Bill in the House of Lords to prevent the sale of lands over the heads of the sitting tenants during the War. That Bill received short shrift in the House of Lords. I mention that to show that the present tendency is for agricultural land to go up by leaps and bounds in price. I suppose it is 50 per cent. higher in price than it was ten years ago. Therefore, what possibility can there be of making success of small holdings such as are proposed in this Bill? That is so clear in any case from the failure of the parent measure that I cannot understand why this land is required. We have only had twenty-six men put upon the land. I would like to know how many acres per men are they to receive? They are men who have been discharged from the Army, and probably are not capable of the most active operations and of very hard work, so that I would con- 134 clude that 10 acres would be quite a sufficient amount to allot to each man. That means that you have taken up 260 acres of the thousands of acres which you have already had the right to secure. Therefore, at the present rate of progress, you can go on for about thirty years without needing to come to this House to get the right to acquire other territory. It seems to me that the purpose of this measure is just to give the public and the soldier the idea that the Board of Agriculture are doing something when they are doing nothing. You will see in the papers to-morrow that the Board of Agriculture are going to secure these thousands of acres and make a new experiment which will go a long way towards securing 1,000,000 acres later on, and people will be fooled again as in the past.
All these arrangements have failed and will fail so long as you have the present land monopoly system in existence. I object very strongly to any further powers being given to the Board of Agriculture. We have heard in this House a remarkable statement in advocacy of a certain measure. We have had Conservative Members urging that measure because they were assured that the old conditions were going to be replaced in a short time by entirely new ones. The hon. and gallant Member for Hull said that the old government by the bourgeoisie was going and predicted the rising of revolutionary parties in this country— revolutionary in their outlook, at any rate. When I speak of revolution, I do not mean necessarily the revolution of the streets, but the revolutionary spirit which even Conservatives can see is coming. That revolutionary spirit will, I think, first of all, be directed to a fundamental reform of our land system and its eventual overthrow. It is by new methods, by such potent methods as the taxation of land, that the position of the landowner will be challenged, and, instead of the Board of Agriculture having to go cap in hand and ask the landlords to permit ex-soldiers to use some of the land, the view will be that the land belongs to the community as a whole, and that what belongs to the community as a whole, the community will take without compensation to anybody calling himself an individual owner of the soil. I am confident that it is only by the root-and-branch destruction of the whole land system of this country that small holdings can possibly be made to be profitable. 135 The hon. Member opposite said that the small holder could not exist, because he had not capital provided by the State. I do not know how the State is going to provide capital for anybody in the future when we have a debt of £10,000,000,000. The State will be concerned chiefly in finding the interest upon the War Debt, and not in doling capital out to small holders, and if they dole it out to small holders it would have to be at such a rate of interest as would sink the small holders further into a poverty-stricken condition. You can have a system of small holders springing up in the country only if you destroy the whole land system and have nothing but small holders on the land. Take Denmark, for instance. There you have a country in which there are very few men except small holders. The result is that they unite together in their co-operative societies and provide for themselves everything which the Board of Agriculture and its officials seek to provide for our unfortunate small holders, but which they are unable to do, because you cannot have a successful system of small holders when you have one small holding here and another many miles away with great estates between them, and the whole economy of the countryside is such as to deprive them of the opportunities which are essential to their prosperity. It is because the whole system will be challenged and will be fundamentally altered that I have no desire to see this further power given to the Board of Agriculture. The results of the experiment so far show that it is not necessary to give such powers. They are not putting the men back on the land. If they were they could come here and say, "We have put so many men on the land. Here are the figures. Here is the price of the land. Here are the outgoings of this small holding. Here is the profit. This is a success." In such a case I would consider the matter. The hon. Gentleman has given us no facts. He has told us that twenty-six men have been put on the land in over eighteen months, but he can show us no results so far to guarantee the success of this experiment, or to show that there was any need for the extension of the powers of the Board of Agriculture. That being so, I can see no reason for extending these powers.
§ Captain Sir C. BATHURST
I find myself in considerable difficulty in 136 approaching a consideration of this Bill. Two years ago, as the House no doubt is aware, I was invited by the then President of the Board of Agriculture to become organiser under the Board of the original land settlement scheme for ex-Service men, and I am bound to say that it was the most unenthusing and most disappointing task to which I ever set my hand. The scheme then, as I took the opportunity of saying in this House, was mean in the extreme— as a national scheme to provide with land in their own country these men who had been so gallantly fighting for our security overseas— and attempts were then being made by appeals to the Treasury and to the Cabinet of the day to embark upon a much wider and more generous scheme approximating more to the much more liberal scheme which were being embarked upon by our various overseas Dominions to provide for the men who had come from overseas to help us in this War. As the result of my experience— and I venture to think that no one in this House has had greater experience, though in connection with a somewhat limited scheme— I find it extremely difficult to commend this extended proposal to the favour of this House. I do welcome the idea that a very much larger area of British soil should be made available for men to settle upon, and I have every reason to believe that there is a considerable number who are not only anxious but are well-fitted, with little or no training, to become land settlers in this country. But I am not at all satisfied that by simply multiplying the existing area by ten you are going to satisfy these prospective or would-be settlers, or that you are going to carry out a scheme that is economically sound.
I have reason to know that with even the limited area which is to be obtained, the difficulty of securing the right kind of land, in the right areas, where proper social facilities can be obtained, where proper equipment will be available, and suitable cottages, will be very considerable. There was a serious outcry from the farmers because they would be unsettled or displaced in order that their farms might be taken over by the Government for the purpose of these small holdings. That was the difficulty two years ago. It is at least three times as difficult now, and I am not at all sure that you are not going to add, by resolving upon this scheme now, to the already considerable embarrassment and causes of unsettlement which are agitating the minds of farmers throughout the country, as the result of what they 137 call the turning of the screw upon them by various Government Departments. If we could achieve the end that most of us desire I should be the last to criticise, and I should say, "Let the country pay handsomely for putting these men on the land." But you are going to put on the land a mere handful of men out of a very large number in the British Army to-day who are ready and anxious to settle on British soil. Even if the land of a quality which can be intensively cultivated, and out of the small area of which a living can be made, I estimate that you are not going to settle more than 1,200 men. Land is going to be exceedingly difficult to get, and extremely expensive, and, when you have obtained that, the men are not going to settle down comfortably if these colonies are some distance from their homes. I, for my part, would infinitely prefer to this Bill that the discretion of the small holdings committees of the county councils should once more be revived, and authority given them to provide men, within the county, on the territorial basis, with small holdings within reach of their homes, with plenty of people taking a burning interest in them and in their future welfare, and with a general supervision on the part of the county authorities.
With regard to my own county— I am on the small holdings committee in Gloucestershire — we are ready and anxious to embark at once upon a scheme for soldiers and sailors, so long as we are allowed to get on with the provision of small holdings. There are considerable numbers of estates and farms coming into the market, and we can buy with greater judgment, with more discretion, and at lower prices than the State will have to pay in order to get areas on which to settle a very much larger number of men, many of them at a considerable distance from their homes. I should not be surprised if in Gloucestershire alone we could not, if we had the power, settle, within two to three years, 200 out of the 1,200 that I estimate this area of land which is to be acquired by the State will provide for. I think the same may be said of every county in England, and we should be able to keep the men on the land on the territorial basis, as comrades in the matter of cultivation as they were comrades in arms. I find it very difficult to support this Bill. I shall be interested to hear what the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Acland), who had a good 138 deal to do with the first land settlement scheme, has to say, and I am prepared to be very largely guided by the action he takes and by the advice he is prepared to give to the House. I do not like the Bill; I think it is going to be a great waste of Government money, and I am quite sure that the localities could carry out the work infinitely better, if given the powers to do it.
§ Major DAVIES
I join in the appeal which has been made to include in the scope of this Bill disabled soldiers. There is a general impression abroad that those men who are discharged from the Army owing to wounds and physical disabilities will not come within the scope of the measure, which is not primarily intended for their benefit. I should be very sorry if that be the case. I hope my hon. Friend will make it perfectly clear that this form of colony is intended not only for men discharged, but also for those men who have been wounded and discharged on account of physical disabilities. I should like to know, further, what precisely are the functions of the Minister of Agriculture as to the men being given pensions in this matter. We know perfectly well that it is open to the right hon. Gentleman to elaborate a scheme for the training of discharged men, and I sincerely hope that the scope of the operations between the activities, on the one hand, of the Board of Agriculture, and, on the other hand, of the Ministry of Pensions, will be extended in order to include those men to whom I refer. I believe the Ministry of Pensions intend to establish training colonies with a view to training discharged men in market gardening, in poultry keeping, and in other kinds of work closely akin to agriculture. I agree that men who have been discharged because of physical disabilities could very usefully be trained in agricultural pursuits. I believe that more and more as time goes on a great many men serving in the Army and who will be discharged will desire to earn their livelihood in agriculture. With regard to the county committees, I agree entirely with the remarks which fell from my hon. Friend sitting below me (Mr. Ellis Davies) who, we know, speaks with authority on this question, and I sincerely hope that the Government will see fit to adopt the suggestion he threw out which will make for the success of any scheme of this kind. Personally I do not believe in bureaucratic methods, and I think that the more 139 devolution we have the more prospect there is of this scheme being successfully carried out. I am glad to find that the Bill contemplates increasing the acreage alloted to Wales, which in the original Bill was only 2,000 acres, but which is now increased to 20,000. I do not agree with my hon. Friend that it necessarily follows the small holdings are not going to be successful. They may not have been so in the past, but agriculture now is, and for a great many years to come, will be a much more profitable occupation than it was in previous years. Therefore, I think the prospects of the smallholders are much brighter than they have ever been before
There is one other point I wanted to mention and that is with regard to finance. If the money is spent as we believe it ought to be spent in providing opportunities for discharged men going on the land, I think it would be much better spent if in the first place we made provision for the suitable training of discharged men rather than embarking upon a big scheme of this kind. I understand, rightly or wrongly, that the Ministry of Pensions finds difficulty in extracting money from the Treasury for carrying on adequately the treatment and training of these men, and I think the discharged disabled men will be better able to serve the State if first of all the State were to see that the treatment and training provided was the very best that could possibly be established. When that has been done by all means go ahead with your small holdings. But the first thing to do is to provide for the treatment and training and to see that there is the closest co-ordination between the Ministry of Pensions and the Board of Agriculture and that having done, it may be possible to provide that these smallholders shall secure the necessary amount of capital to start on their farms. Unless this is forthcoming the whole scheme will be useless. Credit societies ought to be established which will enable the smallholder adequately to stock and equip his farm, and. more than that,the Government ought to make provision for a maximum amount of co-operation between all these smallholders, to assist them in marketing their produce and also in purchasing the equipment and stock which they require for their holdings. When all these things are done, and I sincerely hope that the Board 140 will push forward with their scheme, then we may find that the requirements of the men who are returning from the Army and desire to go in for an agricultural career will be adequately met.
§ Sir J. SPEAR
Every well-wisher of the country has in years past been alarmed at the migration of the population from the rural districts into the towns. In this connection we have all heard that the maintenance of the physique of the people as well as the importance of our food supplies make it extremely desirable that more people should live on the land, and it seems to me that when before long, and the sooner the better, the brave and gallant fellows who have fought for us in war come home again, it is an extremely good opportunity to accomplish this purpose and seek to settle many of these men on the land. Therefore, one cannot but have the greatest possible sympathy with any proposal the Government may present to the House for the purpose of effecting that object. But I am bound to say that I was very suspicious from the beginning that the establishment of these colonies was not the best way to effect it. After what has fallen from the hon. Member for Wilton (Sir Charles Bathurst), who was rather enthusiastic in support of these colonies when he first had charge of them, one becomes a little anxious as to what action one should take on the Bill now under consideration.
I am not prepared to vote against the Bill, as presumably my hon. Friend opposite will, but I believe that it will be necessary in Committee to consider considerable Amendments which will somewhat limit the powers of this Bill before we have clear evidence as to the probability of its success. I venture to believe that it would be far better for us, at least in carrying out the policy of settling returned soldiers on the land, if we endeavoured through the county councils to secure some more holdings throughout the country for these men. It has been said, and I fully agree, that these men who will come back proud of the achievement of the victory which we hope they are going to secure, would much rather settle down in the locality where they were born and bred than migrate some forty or fifty miles to find a small holding in one of these colonies. I ventured last week to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if it was not proposed to take some steps such as were 141 recommended by the Royal Commission, suggesting that advances of money should be made from the Treasury to county councils to help these men to start in the cultivation of the small holdings.
Much has been said about the failure of small holdings. I think it has been some what exaggerated. At first the prices of agricultural produce were so low that it was exceedingly difficult for smallholders to make any headway, and they had to sell hay, straw, and produce which they ought to have consumed in order to keep up the fertility of the soil, but I think with improved prices there is a prospect of small holdings being more successful. The hon. Member below the Gangway delivered a speech we have listened to many times before. He wanted all the land of this country to be small holdings, and I think he took up an illogical position. Because he cannot got that, he is against any small holdings whatever, and is going to oppose the Government Bill. I think we want holdings of all sizes in this country— the small holding for the agricultural labourer to get his lift up, then the bigger holding to which he can advance, and holdings, too, sufficiently large to encourage enterprising men to settle upon them— men who, by the cultivation of the best classes of stock and by the best system of agriculture, do contribute very extensively to certain classes of agriculture produce which are necessary and add to the prosperity of the agricultural districts. We want holdings certainly of all sizes, but especially at present we want to give the returned soldier who is suited to the work a chance to start in the cultivation of the land he has helped to save.
Criticism was levelled at the Parliamentary Secretary just now, because he had to reject so many of the applicants for small holdings, and he explained that many of them had had no previous experience, nor were they, in his judgment, fitted to make them a success. It is a positive cruelty to put a man on a small holding if he has not some adaptability to the work. Whether it be a small holding of 10 acres or one of 20 acres, unless he has sufficient knowledge of the cultivation of the soil, and a somewhat acute knowledge, I am afraid he will make a failure, and therefore it is of first-rate importance to have the right men for this class of occupation in order to meet with success. But to encourage the settlement of returned soldiers here and there through- 142 cut the whole country will have this additional advantage. I do not think, except very near a large town in market gardening, that a man can make a living out of 10 or 20 acres of ground; but if, with his little pension, he settles down comfortably on a holding of that size, any spare time that is over and above that necessary to the cultivation of his holding can be very profitably laid out in assisting his neighbour, perhaps, who has a larger holding. He will thereby increase his income, and be enabled to accumulate money that will by and by help him to procure a larger holding. Therefore, I am in a difficult position. I shall not vote against the Bill, because I recognise that it is an earnest effort on the part of the Board of Agriculture to deal with what we all agree is a very important subject and a difficult subject to deal with. At the same time, I feel strongly that it is better for us to encourage suitable returned soldiers and sailors to settle in small holdings throughout the country than it is to bring them into one large colony.
I would like to say this before I sit down: If those large colonies are procured, it must mean the turning out of many who are at present cultivating large areas. It will dispossess the men who, by the ordinary principles of supply and demand, have become occupiers of that land. It is rather hard on them to be turned out, but if small holdings were established throughout the country, and if you took 20 acres from a farmer here and 20 acres from a farmer there, it would not be nearly so great a hardship as if you took away the whole of his farm. It might be, and probably would be, that he would farm the remnant of his farm, devoting the extra labour and the manure to it, and he might produce just as much food as from the whole acreage. Of course, I know the farmers do not like to part with any of their land, and merchants and others are in pretty much the same position. But I submit that this is a national question. We want to get more people to live in the rural districts in the interests of the physique of the nation, in the interests of increased food supply, but especially, in this case, to find suitable occupation for returned soldiers and sailors, and to give them a chance of a living, and a useful occupation in the district from which they went forth to fight for their country. Under those circumstances, while I cannot vote against the Bill, I do wish the Board would rather induce the Treasury to 143 carry out the recommendation of the Royal Commission and help county councils to advance capital to those men on loan, in order that they may start on small holdings. Then I think we should accomplish the purpose we all have in view more readily than we shall in the direction the Government propose in reference to the establishment of these colonies. But the work has been begun, and up to a limited extent I cannot bring myself to take any action in opposition to giving a fair trial to this experiment, although I do not think this is the best way of seeking to settle these men in life.
§ Mr. ANDERSON
When this matter was brought before the House on a previous Bill there was a general consensus of opinion that the Government proposal was altogether inadequate, and, as one previous hon. Member said, it was really a. mean scheme. I should have imagined that when the representatives of the Board of Agriculture proposed the present extension they would at least have justified wholly what they have already done, that they would have proved that the previous scheme was on the right lines, that it had been a great and assured success, and that therefore they could in all confidence ask the House to agree to an extension of the principle they had previously adopted. Has the Parliamentary representative of the Board of Agriculture made any such convincing statement? How many disabled men have been placed upon the land, or have been granted small holdings under previous arrangements? Have any disabled men been placed upon the land under previous Bills? I gather that twenty-six men in all have been found small holdings. How many of those were disabled men, and what was the average cost to the nation of the placing of each of those men? At what average cost to the nation was each man found a small holding? These are points which ought to be much more clearly brought out than they have been up to the present. It is quite clear that there has been great difficulty even in finding 6,000 acres of suitable land for the experiment on the previous lines. Indeed, I make bold to say, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that the Board of Agriculture, after taking the land, has found in certain cases that it was not very suitable at all for small holdings. I myself have letters of complaint from discharged soldiers who have gone down to these colonies under the promise that when they had under- 144 gone a period of training a small holding would be found for them, and, after undergoing that period of training, they at last have come to the conclusion that they were going to be no more than just paid land labourers working upon these colonies. I have raised that matter in this House by means of questions. I, therefore, would like to ask how far is the present colony land suitable for the purposes of small holdings? How far are the men who are trained being guaranteed that they are going to get small holdings at the end of their training, and is this the best way of going forward? If there has been all this difficulty in regard to the 6,000 acres of land already acquired, is the Board of Agriculture convinced that it is not going to encounter even greater difficulties in regard to securing suitable land under this new proposal?
Personally, I am convinced that there is a good deal of force in the argument that it is far better that the soldiers who desire land should, to the largest possible extent, be allowed to settle down in their own counties. The less bureaucracy you have in this matter, the better. The more it is taken in hand by local associations that know the land and who know the men, the better. To that extent the success of it will be very much greater. It is no good believing that any man can become a good land-worker. Many men who have been soldiers might desire to work upon the land, but their suitability would certainly have to be inquired into. We should not be doing very much for the soldiers if we placed entirely unsuitable men on the land, men who will never really learn land-work, because they arc far too old to learn the technicalities of it. We want, in regard to these schemes, to have far wider local powers, to have very far-reaching powers of co-operation, and we want to have very drastic powers in regard to the acquirement of land when land can be found under suitable and good conditions. It is very important that these men should not be burdened with debt o fall sorts, should not begin the experiment with a load of debt round their neck which, in many cases, they will never be able to shake off. Consequently means must be found, either by special co-operative, or credit banks, and in other ways, to raise the necessary capital under the very best conditions. I do not know how far the landowners will be willing to co-operate in any scheme of this kind. I am quite certain that in any case full powers of 145 compulsion ought, where necessary, to be vested, and that these powers ought to be fully used.
I desire to say this: That it will be an excellent thing if large numbers of soldiers who can do land work, and who have knowledge and experience of land work— many of whom were farm labourers before the outbreak of the War— it will, I say, be an excellent thing if they can go back to the land under new conditions of independence and greater freedom. I am sure it would be a good thing if we could colonise England to a far greater extent than is at present the case. I am certain that the whole experience of the last few years has been to the effect that this country should grow far more food than it has done in the past. From every point of view, this country ought to grow more food inside its own shores than in the past. Among other things, I do believe that if what is suggested is to be done, there will have to be a real alteration of the present system of land tenure. You will have to get down to the root causes. You will not be able to solve the problem by the rather doubtful, and not too successful, experiments which the Government is now tinkering with. Old systems have gone. That applies as much to the land system as any other. In the rebuilding which will come very fundamental changes will have to take place. I am satisfied that the men who will come back from the battlefield will not be content to go back to old conditions of life. They will demand something better and higher than the old conditions. I am also assured of this, that they will not be content with the kind of schemes the Government are now bringing forward. Something much more drastic, and going much deeper to the root of things, will have to be adopted if the future of these men and the welfare of the country is to be correctly considered.
§ Mr. T. DAVIES
In the memory of hon. Members here, I think it will be allowed that when the original Bill was brought before the House there was an endeavour to increase the land which had to be taken for the purposes of the Bill by tenfold, or by even hundredfold. At that time we could not get any more than the quantity of land set down in the Bill. The reason given then was that this land, or these colonies, was simply for experimental and training purposes. I do not know whether it is intended that this addi- 146 tional land should be treated in exactly the same way as the land under the original Act. After hearing the speeches of such experienced agriculturists as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wilton and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tavistock, I am not quite sure whether, without some considerable alteration when the Bill comes before the Committee, I can support it with such a good heart as I thought I should be able to do. I was rather surprised also in reading the Report on the original Act to note that it is rather disclaimed that the land was intended entirely for disabled men— they say nothing about discharged men. I thought at the time of the passing of the Bill that the land was intended for those who had fought in the War for us, and that it was intended entirely for discharged soldiers.
§ Mr. DAVIES
Well, the paragraph in the Report I have in my hand does not quite support that view. The colonies were not intended to make provision for disabled men as such, but to ascertain by actual experiment how far small holdings on the colony system, upon the lines recommended by the Departmental Committee, can be successfully organised. I hope that by getting this much larger quantity of land the disabled soldiers will not be debarred, because many of them with a pension, by getting from 10 to 20 acres, will be able to make a good living. I think, instead of having these great colonies, it might be better to have smaller quantities in different counties than to have a large piece of land in one or two places. We all agree that if a farmer has to give up land he would rather give up about 20 acres than give up the whole of his farm. It would be easier to get small holdings in this way than to have large colonies. If the experiment which this 6,500 acres is intended for proves a success, I hope the Government, if they get this Bill, will not rush into getting the whole of this land exactly on the same pattern until they have found out that the experiment in the first 6,500 acres has been the success that they anticipated.
Most of the soldiers I have in mind will not require much training. When the last Bill was before the House dealing with this subject I stated that I could find in my own county more men than 147 would be required to take every acre provided for in the Bill, and they would be men who would not want any training. The men who have fought for us and have been prepared to lay down their lives and have been disabled should not be prevented from taking a portion of land on that account. There are many men now at the front who after the War will be invaluable as small holders, but they probably will not have any cash, and I think some suitable means should be devised to get money for those men, and to encourage them to take small holdings. It is far better to take men who understand the land and provide them with money than to get men who do not understand agriculture, even if they have money, because the latter are more likely to make a failure of it. If the Government will listen to some Amendments in this direction in Committee, I shall feel inclined to support this Bill.
§ Mr. ACLAND
As the hon. Member who has just spoken has been so kind as to ask me to express my view of this Bill, and the hon. and gallant Member for Wilton (Sir C. Bathurst) has done the same, I feel overwhelmed with their kindness and consideration, and I am only sorry that what I have to say will not be very clear guidance one way or the other. I am really puzzled about the Bill for this obvious reason, that one would expect after eighteen months' time given to an experiment it would have been possible to have said definitely that the experiment had either been a success or a failure, and if a failure we should not have had any more proposals, and if a success we should have had something a good deal bigger than the lines of this Bill. I do not see why it is necessary to make another effort still more or less on an experimental scale. I believe it was right to begin on as mall scale. We tried to put these smallholders together in colonies. There was much to be said in favour of doing that, and I hold it was justifiable only to propose a modest beginning. If it has been on the whole a success one would have expected that the next time the Government came forward they would have had some thorough scheme of making land available for settlements after the War, and that they would have been able by that time to tell the House what powers 148 they proposed to take with regard, for instance, to simplifying and cheapening the acquisition of land.
It is one thing to try to get hold of 6,000 acres without having done anything to simplify the acquisition of land by public authority, but it is quite a different thing to acquire 60,000 acres. If the Government were going to ask for a much larger scheme I should have thought they would have been able to tell us what their policy was, and what was the scheme sanctioned by the Government, if any, with regard to the reclamation of land. We might have heard what they were going to do with regard to getting rid of the undoubted evils of several big farms being in the hands of one farmer, who would be better if confined to a smaller area, and whether that was the main lines on which they were going to operate by getting several holdings out of the hands of one man. I have been trying to think what this limited extension does mean, and I can only account for it by supposing that it is put forward to make use of the superabundant and overflowing energies of my hon. Friend opposite and the Under-Secretary without too much chance of getting too much done.
I know how the Treasury regard any scheme of this kind for the general amelioration of the British nation, and I feel sure that they have been impelled by the President of the Board of Agriculture to do something, but they have been able to arrange not to do too much at one time. When I think about the general condition of our home politics I am not so much surprised that so little is being proposed, and that in eighteen months we have got no further towards a general scheme of settlement, and I am surprised, in view of the general position, that it is possible to propose anything at all now. This is the first proposal really savouring of anything in the nature of reconstruction of our land system after the War which has come before the House, and I am surprised that even that has got through, because when one knows the position the more we know it and the more we realise the absolute impossibility of getting any domestic scheme of reconstruction through under our system of government. A year ago my right hon. Friend asked me to work on a Committee of which the Parliamentary Secretary was the chairman, in order to try and work out a real scheme for getting a large amount of land on which to settle ex-Service men, 149 I think we did our work under his chairmanship quickly and efficiently. We did it a year ago and nothing else whatever has happened from that time to this, because the War Cabinet are utterly unable to consider schemes of that kind.
Several times, as we all know, different Governments have successively asked for the removal of the embargo on the action of county councils in order to get the small holding scheme started again and make some sort of preparation for settling soldiers on the land. That has been turned down over and over again, because it is quite impossible to ask the War Cabinet to give their minds to the necessity of the case and to remove the obstruction. So it is with other things and must be so long as the present system goes on. I myself, as Chairman of one of these Reconstruction Committees, did a tiny piece of work with regard to afforestation. I was vain enough to think that it was a matter of importance, and I was very impatient to get the Report out by Easter. We got it out by May, and I hoped that would be in time to enable the Government to take some action before the autumn. That Report went in more than a year ago, but nothing whatever has been done, except that there have been some conversations between Government Departments, most of it, I am sorry to say, of an obstructive character. It has been twice on the agenda of the War Cabinet, but, of course, the Cabinet have to consider such enormously important matters that it has never been reached and never will be reached so long as the War Cabinet is the bottle neck through which all our schemes for reconstruction and development have to pass. In the light of these events one is rather disposed to re-shape one's ideas about a Bill of this kind, particularly seeing that the instances I have given arc by no means the only ones. In the work that we tried to do with regard to afforestation we came across the problem which the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Anderson) and others have mentioned, namely, land acquisition. It became apparent, unless we had an easier and cheaper system of land acquisition by the State and by public authorities, that it would really not be right to go under the old clog of the Land Clauses Consolidation Acts, and so on. Progress, however, has been made after long delay. A report has been presented to Parliament, but there again no simpler powers of land acquisition for these reconstruction purposes have been taken. 150 In the light of these events, when we do get a thing through we ought not to look at it too carefully, but we ought to be thankful for small mercies. The War Cabinet cannot consider these things. Over and over again they have been requested to set up a small domestic cabinet to deal with and to settle these domestic affairs. The War Cabinet, of course, never can do more, as the War becomes more difficult and critical. Therefore, when we have something which has got through this frightful constipation— I am sorry to use the word, but it is really the only one to describe the position— of our domestic affairs we ought not to look too closely at it, especially when we are perfectly certain that, whatever powers are given to the President and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, they will be administered with extreme care and watchfulness. This Bill, which I in common with other Members find it so difficult to understand, may be allowed to have its Second Reading, so that, at any rate, if the War goes on long enough, some land may be ready for the men when demobilisation takes place. It is only because of my thorough and profound trust in the administration of the Board of Agriculture at the present time that I think we ought to give them this Bill for which they ask. The general position with regard to the larger schemes which we all expected is extraordinarily unsatisfactory, and I wish it were not the case of having to be grateful for such a small measure as is presented to us this evening.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
The right hon. Gentleman opposite has dealt with the difficulties which face this Department and all other Departments at the present time in getting on with works of reconstruction. They are real difficulties, and I am sure that the House realises how serious they are. I am quite confident myself that these experimental or, as I prefer to call them, these pioneer colonies are going to be made a success. I admit that it has been a slow progress. We have only got possession of half the land at present. There are two colonies of which we have not got possession at all. Still we are coming to the end of our powers to obtain land, and we want the House to give us the power to go on and continue the work. It is the determination of the Department not to have such large colonies, but to have smaller colonies, and to get them in a 151 greater number of counties than we have them at the present time. That means that if we can get 60,000 acres we may be able to have a small colony in every agricultural county in England. I should like to say, in reply to a question, that the estate in Shropshire of 1,150 acres, which we purchased from the Duke of Sutherland, cost us £35 an acre. We have upon that estate no less than forty-five excellent houses and five farm-houses and buildings. If that land had gone into the open market it would have made more than that. The same thing applies to the Pembury estate. We have given £ 30,000 for 1,345 acres, which works out at £ 22 per acre. It is good land, and I believe it is a great bargain for the State. We propose to put these small holding colonies on business and commercial lines, and we are doing so. I may take the ease of Holland, which I know best, because Lincolnshire is my own native county, and I was born within five miles of the district. There we have splendid land, and we propose to build a house and to put one man on every 10 acres. It is land which will grow potatoes and catch crops of every sort. We are spending £ 300 on the man's house, we propose to spend from £ 150 to £ 200 on his buildings, and to give him 10 acres of land. We propose to let the house, buildings, and land at an inclusive rental of £ 40 per year. We have already got twenty-six men down there.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
Yes. I was down there the other day and I saw one man with an artificial hand ploughing. He had got a hook attached to his arm, and he was ploughing. That is the type of man that we are prepared to take and want to take. We cannot take men suffering from neurasthenia and nervous breakdown. We have one man with one arm. He has come along and started cow-keeping, and he is going to make a tremendous success of his holding. I am quite certain, if you give us time, that we are going to make the thing a success.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
All these men that we have put on the holdings to start with are men who have either been put through a term of probation or have a little capital 152 of their own. When they have no capital we ask them to go through a term of probation.
§ Mr. E. DAVIES
Would it not be better to allow the men to borrow rather than go through a term of probation?
§ Sir R. WINFREY
We have to confine it to men who have a small amount of capital and to men who are prepared to work on probation and who are able to save sufficient money to take a small holding.
§ Sir R. WINFREY
We pay them a very good wage. In the case of Patrington estate we propose there should be a division of profits. It is to be a profit-sharing business. Therefore, if any man has no capital, he can come to Patrington and can share in the profits. These are the main principles of the Bill. As the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Acland) had said, it is not a big thing. It is intended to go on with this pioneer policy until such time as the Government can introduce a much larger and more national scheme.
§ Sir CROYDON MARKS
I find no word in the original Act which is now sought to be amended or in this Bill which gives me any encouragement to believe that this Bill is intended for use or is to be used exclusively for men who are returned from the fighting line. On the contrary, I find it stated to be a huge experiment— an experiment, not for the purpose of the dealing with the land by men who understand the land, but for placing on the land, not as units but as aggregate masses, men who are to be congregated together as colonists. Perchance, before they can be so congregated, you must have displaced men who are actually engaged upon the land at the very time. In the original Bill it was proposed that if the farmer or the tenant was to be displaced he was to be compensated, and the labourer was to have his railway expenses paid to another place. I cannot understand what reason there is for displacing one body of labour which is used to the land for the purpose of placing on the land a number of 153 experimental novices, possibly, who have never yet been on it, not finding them in money, but giving them a period of probation and, as we have heard from the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, they are to have profit-sharing if there is any profit, although until the profit arises I see nothing in the Bill which is going to provide for their wages. You cannot have a profit until you have gone through a certain amount of work. You cannot reap until you have had a sufficient amount of sowing of seed, of corn, and so on, which has to be purchased. Where is all this to come from? There is nothing in the Bill to say that the man must already have been connected with the industry. You are banding together a number of people, when you know that it is the opinion of every agricultural district, not that you should break up the land, but that you should assist men who are on the land, and who can make best use of it with the power of the State behind them, whereas it is now proposed to give that assistance to men not used to the land before.
Some people imagine that anybody can be a farmer, that anybody can deal with land, and that if a man has failed in everything else and has been in a town, he wants to return to the land. If he returns he will grow a great many more thistles than anything else, because he has not had experience. If men from the front are to be helped, there are plenty of them who have come from agricultural districts who could be returned and helped in their own native places, where they know something about the land, rather than that they should be massed in other places where they know nothing about the particular land and have had no experience, It is suggested that there is to be a probationary period. That implies that you are going to make an experiment with the men. If you are going to make an experiment with the men, how long is it assumed to be necessary before a man can become a good agriculturist? Is it six months, or a year, or longer? At the very time we are discussing putting men on probation in order to make an experiment in connection with land we have an Education Bill before this House under which we are providing that the boys in the agricultural districts are themselves to be trained in agriculture. County councils are to have the power in such matters in their own districts, which means, as in my own county, matters touching agriculture. If 154 it is necessary for boys and young people to be taught agriculture through a period of years, what chance is there going to be for a successful result from an experiment which is going to take men returned from some other occupation and put them through a short period of training at an industry at which they have never worked before. I consider the experiment of taking the number of acres of land which is now proposed— it was 12,500 acres originally, now it is to be 125.000 acres—
§ Sir C. MARKS
We have heard to-night that only twenty-six men have been placed upon the land which has been purchased. These men apparently had capital to start with. If they had not had it, they could not have been put on the land. I consider that the experiment now about to be developed is being developed on wrong lines. You are developing it on lines to help men who have a little money, who probably could help themselves equally well without your assistance if they could only get hold of land. The difficulty is to get the land. If you make it easy for people with money to get the land, you can then apply your help in other and better directions than this, where men may possibly be needing your help to find the land and work in the counties from which they come. I suggest that if this Bill is not drafted widely enough to permit the Government to lend the money to men to acquire the land in their own districts, and to acquire that which is necessary to work it, it ought to be amended in Committee in order that the land in the country shall be worked by men accustomed to it rather than that a number of colonies should be' formed of men who admittedly have not had experience with it, and who would not 155 be easily trained. You cannot train an agricultural labourer in six months or twelve months. It takes a number of years to train a good agricultural labourer. Those who know the agricultural districts of England know full well that there are labourers who can till and who can produce from some districts what no other labourers can. That is why in making exemptions care is being taken that men shall not be drawn from the district who are essential to any particular crafts connected with agriculture. Now the Board of Agriculture, having made all that provision to keep men from the Army for the essential crafts in connection with agriculture, are proposing a huge experiment of trying a number of men who have not had the experience of the land which is not to be their own. The opportunity for getting land of their own is wanting in the provisions of this Bill. I suggest that the Bill will want radically altering if it is to obtain the support of the Members of this House who have the interests of agriculture at heart
§ Mr. RAFFAN
This Bill has received no welcome from any quarter of the House. I have listened in vain to hear one hon. Member give it support. The Bill has been commended to us in a speech from the hon. Member in charge, which is lacking in enthusiasm and which showed a conviction that it might not attain the end in view. And while there has been this consensus of criticism from so many quarters, it cannot be attributed to any disinclination to support the objects to attain which the Bill was introduced. On the contrary, there is, I think, in every part of the House, and throughout the country as well, an almost passionate desire that an opportunity should be given to the men who are fighting so gallantly for the country to settle down on the land when they come back. It is absolutely certain that if the only opportunity which is given to these men to come back and work again as agriculturists means giving them an improved wage, you will not secure an addition to the number of agricultural workers before the War. You will not find that the men who were employed as agricultural labourers prior to the outbreak will be willing to come back and settle down as mere wage earners with no prospect, that ultimately they will be able to secure a piece of land which they themselves can cultivate. In nearly all our Colonies, in most of them, at any rate, 156 great efforts are being made to offer inducements not only to soldiers who have come from those Colonies, but to soldiers from the Mother Country to go and settle there, and we may be quite sure that unless a real opportunity is given to commonise the land of Great Britain this magnetic attraction of settling down in one's own home will be so great that it will be impossible to secure land workers in this country in any large number. I was one of those who, when the original Bill was introduced, predicted that only failure could accrue from the experiment which it was then proposed to make. The experience of the past eighteen months or two years has fully realised that prediction. We have been told several times in the course of this Debate that as a result of the efforts of eighteen months or two years only twenty-six men have been settled on the land. I gather that all these men are in one colony in Lincolnshire.
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
At any rate, they are in not more than two colonies, and therefore, so far as this proposal of commonising the land is concerned, we are not in a position to say that the scheme has been brought into operation to a sufficient extent to say it will prove a success. Even if the provision for 200 men were taken advantage of, that would not meet the great demand that is bound to arise at the close of the War. What is the scheme, then, except a mere mockery of the hopes which have been raised amongst Service men that they will get an opportunity of settling on the land? So far as I can judge, even if the promises of this Bill were realised, even if all the men anticipated were settled on the land, it would not make up for the number of men who have been withdrawn from the small holdings of the county councils during the last year or two; and if the county councils continue their embargo the only result of this proposal will be to put us in exactly the same position as we were before, and not to produce for us any addition to the number of small holders. It seemed to me that this experiment was bound to fail, because it was based on the fundamental fallacy that it was impossible to secure a great system of land settlement which would do justice to our soldiers without fundamentally altering the land system of this country. My right hon. Friend, in a moment of enthusiasm, indicated that a number of landowners would probably 157 come forward with offers of land for the purpose. I think his hope was based on the generosity of one man only, and they certainly have not been realised, for the example of the one pioneer who came forward with an offer of land has been followed by no others, and it has been found impossible to secure a sufficient number of landowners willing to let their land on reasonable terms. Indeed, it has been necessary to take Crown lands for the purposes of this experiment, because private owners could not be found in sufficient numbers to make land available at reasonable prices. If that has been our experience so far, what is the use of going on in the old blundering fashion? I should have thought that the lessons of this War with regard to our land system were clear enough. What has been one of the greatest successes in the matter of food production since the outbreak of war? It has been the development of the allotment system, under which hundreds of thousands of working men, many of whom had had little or, no previous experience, settled down for the purpose of growing potatoes and vegetables, and the result has been that the potato famine which threatened us a year or more ago has entirely disappeared, and whatever may be our apprehensions as to the supply of wheat and other foods, there need be no further alarm with regard to the supply of potatoes. How was it possible for these men to settle down and take up this work with such great enthusiasm? It was unnecessary to introduce any Bill to tempt them to take up this work, and there was no promise of any subsidy from the National Exchequer. They required to be provided with no capital from the State coffers, but what was done in their case was that you did take steps to see that the landowner was not allowed to prevent access to the soil, and that where the land was paying no rates then it could be compulsorily acquired by the local authority and no rent paid, while if it was paying rates it was paid for at the rateable value.
If the Board of Agriculture would proceed along those lines and side by side with that alter the present method of rating, which presses so hardly on the smallholder because his equipment is necessarily so much greater a proportion of the value of the holding than in the case of the farmer, then, indeed, there might be some hope of action being taken 158 that would have the effect of settling smallholders in the country. Along the lines on which this Bill proceeds, however, there appears to be no hope whatever, and although I am reluctant to divide against the Second Reading I do suggest that the Bill will not only be useless, but positively mischievous, because it will give the impression to those who do not follow the proceedings closely that some real effort is being made for the purpose of dealing with the problem, and will discourage those who would otherwise press for the real solution. I listened to my hon. Friend for some explanation as to why, if you are to proceed along the lines of settlement in each county, small holdings near the men's homes, he should propose to proceed with a Bill of this sort, instead of permitting the county councils, who already have experience in the matter, who have their small holdings committee, who have the local knowledge and have acquired a considerable amount of experience, to do the work. That point was put by the hon. Member for Wilton (Sir C. Bathurst), by the hon. and gallant Member for Shropshire (Major Hunt), and others, and there has been no answer to that at all. In the meantime, while they propose to encourage land settlement by this Bill, they are not only discouraging the county councils, but are putting a positive embargo on the action of the county councils. Why that should be so we have had no explanation of any sort. Several hon. Members have expressed the hope that the Bill will be satisfactorily amended in Committee. While, as I have said, I am reluctant to challenge the Second Reading I look forward with no hope to making the Bill a satisfactory Bill in Committee. There is not the framework here on which you can build in Committee or on the subsequent stages of this Bill. I do appeal to the Ministers who are in charge of this Bill to endeavour to realise that this is a problem of great magnitude. It is necessary for them to find a solution which is in accordance with the magnitude of the problem, and it is a mere mockery to provide a measure of these dimensions, and on that to hold out some hope that there is a real desire to settle soldiers on the land.
§ Mr. HINDS
The object that the Government had in introducing this Bill is one which appeals to me very much for the simple reason that when the Bill 159 was brought in the first time there was a chorus all round the House that it was of too small a nature. I think it has a two-fold object, to get the man who has been used to agriculture back on the land once more, and another tiling is that these men, when they have been fighting in the War, will not go back to swell the town populations in the various parts of the country. With regard to the experiments which have already taken place on the land acquired, and contemplated for that of which possession has not yet been obtained, I think there were three different objects in view. One kind of farm was to be a mixed farm, another was to be a poultry farm, and another was to be for market gardening. I believe the one acquired in my own county was intended for a market garden, and I think the land which was acquired at a very low rate, and was a very good bargain for the Government, is well adapted for market gardening. It is very near to a large population, and can take a large number of men, who can make it pay. I thought it was to be on a co-operative principle, that there would be a central farm that would buy all the stuff from the men, and sell for them all the stuff produced. According to what we have heard to-night, the Board of Agriculture are going to alter their tactics to some extent, and to put these small holdings in various counties all over the country. I quite see, with regard to that, the criticism that if they are going to do that they had better put it in the hands of the county councils and give power to them to advance money to these men.
I agree with the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear) that in future farming is going to pay better than in the past. The reason that small holdings have not paid is because the men have not had the money to put into the farms; they will not pay unless you provide the money. You could take power under this Bill that men coming back from the front should have advanced to them the money necessary to make the farm pay in the first place. There will not be an inducement to the man to go on with the farming unless he is lent a sum of money by the Government which he can repay by easy stages. He will not be encouraged unless you trust him. You want the man back from the War to be put on the land, you want to give him a holding of his own, and some inducement to 160 make agriculture pay. But, without giving him some amount of money to stock his farm, I do not see how the man is going to have the inducement to make it pay. The other Bill was far too small. I was on the Committee that looked for land in the Principality, and we found we could not disturb sitting tenants. What is the use of disturbing one sort of man to put another in his place? It was very difficult to get 2,000 acres altogether. Five-sixths of all the holdings in Wales are small holdings, because they are under fifty acres. With regard to these holdings in Lincolnshire, it seemed to me that £40 was a lot of money. I know they are going to pay £200 or £300 for the houses, and £100 for the cost of the buildings, but £4 an acre is a very high price It must be good land, and it depends a good deal on the quality of the land. While I welcome the Bill very much, care should be taken to give all encouragement to the men when they go into these holdings at a price at which they can make them pay, so as to give them an inducement to work as well as they can.
§ Mr. BOOTH
When my hon. and gallant Friend (Major Davies) rose I expected he would plead for a class which I wish to bring before the attention of the House. He told me afterwards it was an oversight on his part. I want to put before the Board of Agriculture the case of the tuberculous person, and it has a very important bearing now because the sanatorium committees formed under the Insurance Act are overburdened with returned soldiers. I am not suggesting that a man in an advanced stage should be taken and given a small holding. I refer to the man who is discharged cured from these institutions. Probably in the first instance I should plead for the discharged insured soldier. The trouble is that many of these men who have had in their younger days an acquaintance with agriculture have gone into the towns and town life has injured their physique. Then they have gone through hard military training and developed tuberculosis. They have not all gone to France. The majority have broken down in this country and have come back under the Insurance Act, because the Pensions Minister has made an agreement with the National Health Insurance Commissioners. They come on to sanatorium benefit in very large numbers and when they are cured they are faced with the problem how to make a living. Some of them are men of 161 quite substantial means and if they could have a holding on which to take wife and family, the problem of their health would be solved. But they go back into the workshop, tempted by the high wages as compared with the poor wage they say the farmer offers to the agricultural labourer. They say they cannot keep their wives and families on it. They go back to the old situations in the munitions works, and it is very painful, indeed, to find that cases discharged as cured, provided the men were working in the open air, develop in the course of a month or six weeks, and they begin to spit blood and exhibit symptoms which show that it is only a question of time before they descend to the grave. It seems to me, therefore, that the fact that there is no particular provision in this or the previous Bill limiting it to wounded soldiers is rather an advantage, because it would enable us to put on the tuberculous soldier. In most cases the man has never been to the trenches, because he developed tuberculous symptoms whilst training in this country. I urge this because at present some of the more enlightened insurance committees are determined to experiment and, if possible, to solve this terrible problem.
I do not know if hon. Members know how vastly this problem is growing, but it is growing by leaps and bounds, doubling and trebling. And it is not merely the discharged soldier who is coming back, but even with the civilian population, owing to the strain of longer hours, it is increasing. I think it is gone up over 50per cent. among the civilian population here. It is a very serious matter, and there seems to be no permanent cure for these cases unless they are taken in hand at some of these agricultural colonies. The idea of the Board of Agriculture in this Bill should be encouraged. I am delighted to gather that there is now one case of a tuberculous soldier. That information will be received with a great deal of joy and satisfaction throughout the ranks of the insurance workers in this country. I hope he is the forerunner of many. I suggest that there should be a colony of those tuberculous people. They would not live so near to each other as to be a danger, living right out in the country. They would probably be an encouragement to each other, and it would probably be a check upon them. Fortunately, from one standpoint, but unfortunately from another, the men take a very sanguine view of their 162 condition. They are convinced that they are cured. Most of them think that they have never had consumption, and it was a mistaken diagnosis. That is a happy feature in one sense, but it also contains a very great element of danger. If there were a colony for these people, it would be easier for the visiting doctor to review their cases and caution them not to act prematurely. I hope that there will be sufficient room in these 60,000 or 80,000 acres for something of this sort. It is difficult to get insurance committees to embark upon this, because it is to a certain extent in the experimental stage, but if the Board of Agriculture would give us a helping hand it would be an excellent example. I am not asking them to convert their experiment into an experiment to kill tuberculosis, but if in one of the corners of their scheme they will bear the suggestion in mind, and if so, and it proves successful, then probably the insurance committees and societies throughout the country will develop a large scheme, and so help this nation to kill what is at the present time one of its most terrible foes— namely, tuberculosis.
§ Mr. WATT
This measure applies to Scotland, but very little has been said on the Scottish aspect of the case. I am pleased to see the Secretary for Scotland. I have on two or three occasions referred to the fact that he has been absent when Scottish measures were before the House. I regret to learn that he was ill on those occasions, and I take this, the earliest opportunity, of expressing my regret that in these circumstances I complained of his absence. With reference to this measure in its bearing on Scotland. I may say that under the Act of 1016, which it amends and extends, Scotland was permitted to purchase 2,000 acres for colonies for soldiers and sailors. We have been told to-night by the Parliamentary Secretary to the English Board of Agriculture that in Scotland 1,160 acres of that 2,000 have been purchased. We were not told how many of these 1,160 acres were colonised already. That is a very small proportion of what was permitted by the Act of 1916, only a little more than half. I do not know why the Board of Agriculture for Scotland has been so much behind England in purchasing the necessary land and placing soldiers and sailors on it. I hope the Secretary for Scotland will give us some indication of the facts connected with 163 these 1,160 acres. Will he tell us the price that has been paid for this land, and how many men have been put on the land?
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Shropshire (Major Hunt) in what he said about the necessity of financing these soldiers and sailors that are put on the land. Unless this is done with these men they cannot possibly be a success. No doubt they will have a little capital of their own when they are put on the land, and if they are not financed in some way by the Government that little capital will be lost to them. I understand that the Board of Agriculture in England has made an arrangement with the banks for financing farmers and agriculturists generally. I have asked my right hon. Friend why the same arrangement has not been made for Scotland, and he has told me that the subject was under consideration. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend realises how often the Board of Agriculture in Scotland has things under consideration. It seems to me to be a stock reply which it has in that Department, which is just read out to the House. Why should the Board of Agriculture in Scotland in this matter be behind the Board of Agriculture in England? I do not know whether the two Departments are not equally well staffed Certainly our Scottish Board will be none the worse for a little combing out and gingering. My right hon. Friend will no doubt endeavour to explain satisfactorily why his Department is behind in this respect. I would ask him to take the earliest opportunity of getting the banks in Scotland to arrange to finance agriculturists in the same way as the Board of Agriculture in England has done in the case of England.
§ The SECRETARY for SCOTLAND (Mr. Munro)
I am obliged to my hon. and learned Friend for his courtesy in withdrawing the somewhat acrimonious comments which he made upon me the other night. If it had been in my power to be present I would have been here. The difficulties in Scotland with regard to this particular scheme are considerably greater than in England. In the first place, there is the difficulty resulting from the condition in the Act of 1916 that one-third of the land secured should be arable. Apart from that, there is this consideration that in Scotland we have a system of long leases, while on this side of the Border it is 164 much more easy to get land, as the leases, I understand, are very often annual leases. But, in spite of the difficulty, I quite recognise that the demand in Scotland is not likely to be less comparatively than in England. In fact, I believe that the Scottish soldier is more attached to the soil from which he has sprung than is the case in England, and whereas the soil may be ungrateful, nevertheless he is more desirous and more determined to settle upon it rather than emigrate to a foreign land. In spite of the difficulties to which I have referred, the Scottish Board of Agriculture have succeeded in obtaining a considerable quantity of land during these recent months. We have secured a farm in Eastern Boss of 644 acres, and farms in Dumfries extending to 266 and 264 acres respectively. The total obtained up to-date is 1,174 acres, of which 1,036 are arable. In addition to that, the Board is in treaty for the purchase of land in Fifeshire amounting to TOO acres, so that I hope before long the powers given to the Board in Scotland under the Act of 1916 will be exhausted. I, for one, welcome the proposals of this Bill, which will, I hope, enable us to get more land than we have been able to obtain up to the present time.
§ Mr. MUNRO
They are somewhat small so far as we have gone, but we have got the very greatest amount of land we could possibly secure. I was recently approached by a deputation of my Scottish colleagues representing the three parties in the House, Conservative, Liberal, and Labour, and they asked me if I could by conference with the interests concerned arrange a solution of this question. I had a most helpful conference with the landowners in Scotland, and I hope next week to meet representatives of the farmers and small holders. All of them are equally anxious to attain the object we all have at heart, namely, to secure that every soldier who desires it shall be settled on 165 the land at home, and shall not be huddled into great cities, or hustled across the water into the Colonies. I can only say that all the measures it was possible to take have been taken up to the present moment, and I welcome the proposals made by the English Board, with which I associate myself, for the purpose of extending the ambit of the area which is to be secured. I am not without hope that at an early stage it will be possible to secure it.
§ Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.