HC Deb 11 April 1919 vol 114 cc2439-66

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a second time. I do so with more confidence because this Bill is in the exact form in which it left the Scottish Grand Committee prior to the outbreak of war. This Bill had got a Second Reading in the House of Commons and had been to the Scottish Grand Committee and had been amended by the common knowledge of the Scottish Mem- bers, and reported to the House, two months, I think it was, before war broke out. Possibly with a little luck which sometimes sometimes falls to private Members on Fridays it would have had its Report stage and possibly have left the House. Of course, I may be anticipating a little too much, but when the Bill was killed by the outbreak of war it was in the position of being on the threshold of its Report stage. Therefore, purposely, I have made no alteration in the Bill as it left the Scottish Grand Committee, so that no objection can be raised to the Bill in this form and no argument can be used about the introduction of fresh matter. There is another reason for the hope that this Bill may receive a Second Reading, because on looking at the Division List on the previous occasion I find that no fewer than sixteen members of the present Government, including the Prime Minister himself, the Attorney-General, the Secretary of State for the Home Office, the Minister at the India Office and at the Irish Office and the Scottish Office, with ten other Ministers, voted in favour of the Second Reading of this Bill before it was amended in the Scottish Grand Committee. I venture to think that with so large support on that occasion from the members of the present Government than on the present occasion, whatever may be its ultimate fate, the Bill will be sent to Scottish Grand Committee. I do not intend to take up very much time in arguing the case in favour of the Second Reading. As a matter of fact Scottish Members in particular do know that owing to the War the operations of the Scottish Land Court, which is the operating machine so far as Scottish small holdings are concerned, has been suspended, and that a great many Scotsmen have been unable on account of that to get the small holdings which they so very much desire. I think the Members who are conversant with the Land Court Report issued by the Scottish Office have been struck, and indeed must have been, by the arguments used by the Land Court in favour of doing something to get Scotsmen on to the land. There is a quotation in this matter from the last Report of the Land Court which is better than one could make in the course of a speech, and puts the matter quite briefly. They say, in talking about the services of the smallholder class in Scotland to the nation: We need not dwell on the services which the smallholders have rendered to the country and the Empire both in peace and war. They are known, and, in words at least, universally recognised. They have by their industry brought into cultivation and produced food from lands which large farmers would have used only for pasture. They have brought up large families, contributed sons and daughters to almost every profession and industry, and have powerfully aided in the development of our Colonies and Dominions. No class has more promptly or in such proportion or at the cost of greater sacrifices answered the call of honour and of patriotism. In Lewis alone, for example, about one-fifth of the whole population is engaged in naval or military or auxiliary service. No class has deserved better of their country and none is more essential to its well-being. The exhortation is even more important because they go on to say: There is every reason to fear that, unless the Acts intended to preserve and extend small holdings are effectively reformed, at least to the extent of urgent necessary amendments, and as soon as practicable, and unless the system of law and policy which places the preservation of deer and other game above the production of food, and which permits or encourages the depopulation of the country for the pleasure of the wealthy of this and foreign nations, is completely reversed, this decline in population will rapidly accelerate. The younger men will, in increasing numbers, emigrate to the Colonies which offer land on just and generous conditions rather than continue to bear the evils and abuses which the beneficent intentions of the Legislature have mitigated, but as yet have failed to suppress, or they will, as happened before the Crofters Act passed, refuse to obey land and game laws which they feel to be unjust, and often cruel, and which are clearly inconsistent with the spirit of modern legislation and the national interest. My hon. Friend (Sir G. Younger) asked me if that was a quotation from the Land Court. I am sure it was a quotation from the time when Lord Kennedy was Chairman of the Land Court which my hon. Friend expected, and which he previously criticised, but instead it is from a Land Court more akin to my hon. Friend's own views. Putting all that kind of thing aside, I think that every Scottish Member, at any rate, will agree that however it has got to be achieved, and putting aside the method of achievement, it would be an excellent thing for Scotland if we resuscitated its rural population, and that they would do very much better than they do now in crowded cities. Everyone of us agrees about that. We may differ about the method, but I think there will be an unanimous assent to the statement that, so far as Scotsmen are concerned, we want to do it. One of the great troubles in connection with the Scottish Small Holders Act prior to the War—as since it has been to a certain extent in a state of suspended animation—has been the conflict between the decisions of the Land Court and the Court of Session. There is a remarkable phrase in the Land Court Report, to which I invite the attention of the Secretary for Scotland. The Land Court has submitted to Parliament this extraordinary dilemma: If we obey Parliament, which created us to carry out the Act of 1911 (The Crofters' Act), our orders will be over-ruled by the Second Division. If we follow the opinion of the Second Division we disobey Parliament and cripple the Acts and are made the instruments of great injustice to the small tenants. On the legal argument I am not competent to speak, but what the average Scotsman does not understand is how it is that when power is given in legislation approved by this House that legislation is continually thwarted by legal decision. The conclusion to which the Land Court comes is rather a remarkable one: It is with great regret that we have to report that the compulsory provisions of the Small Landholders Acts have been rendered practically unworkable by the judicial interpretation of the Clause in Section 7, Sub-section (11), which deals with compensation to the landlord. I need not say to my colleagues in this House that, as a matter of fact, that represents the situation. However much we may differ in our views, there is this stone wall against which the operation of the Act has come. The result is that Scotsmen who desires to get access to the land for the purpose of small holdings are prevented by the operation of these decisions in the Second Division of the Court of Session which make it impossible really for anyone to have that access. With regard to my Bill, may I say that the experience of the working of the Act in the year prior to the War was that there were 8,000 applications made by Scotsmen for land, and in that year only 300 managed to get small holdings in Scotland. It is therefore obvious that if you have a demand which amounts to 10,000 applications, and you are only able to deal with 300 of them, it is time we looked into the operation of the Act to see whether we can expedite it. Of course, the Act has been to a large extent suspended during the War. The causes of the delay are, I think, two—namely, the provisions which are in the Act with regard to acquiring land, and defective machinery. Among the provisions of which I complain is that which imposes on the Board of Agriculture the duty for negotiation, and a great deal of the settlement of men on the land was held back by the fact that unless there were agreements there could not be compensation. I suggested in my own Bill an Amendment by which it would be possible to undertake negotiations, and even when land was taken under negotiations to give the compensation that was necessary in getting rid of the landlord for that portion of the land which he was having taken from him for small holdings. I made it perfectly clear that while we wished to give to the Board of Agriculture the power to negotiate, we had no desire to deprive the landlord of the compensation to which he was entitled. The original Act allowed that when the amount of compensation exceeded £300 resort could be had to arbitration, and that amount of money made it inevitable in most cases that the negotiations were prolonged.


I think that 20 per cent. of them appealed to arbitration.


I think that is quite right, but the amount of the compensation did put a further obstacle in the way of getting people on the land. In regard to defective machinery, we have always considered that the machinery was not adequate. We suggested various alterations, by increasing the members who were on the Land Court, and decreasing the size of the quorum, and also putting it within the power of one of the members of the Land Court to do the work with or without assessors that was usually given to the whole Court. The provisions of this Bill as it stands now are these: In Clause 1, Sub-section (3), the Board of Agriculture is entitled to call for particulars of expiring leases, and the Land Court is given power to compel the landowner to produce those cases, so that if there is the opportunity in such a case provision may be made for smallholders getting upon that land. Sub-section (5) makes it no longer the duty of the Board of Agriculture to negotiate, but leaves it to their discretion, and that I think is a widening of the power which would do a tremendous amount of good in Scotland. Subsection (7) gives power to the Board to go to the Land Court, either before or after negotiations, for power to prepare a scheme, and that again is a very useful provision. In those cases the landlord is not allowed to let that land pending the decision of the Land Court; while we re- fuse him permission to let, we do not deprive him of the compensation to which he would be entitled if the land were taken. Sub-section (12) provides that where an agreement is reached, the Board of Agriculture will be bound to pay compensation. That gives the landlord an additional security, that we are not trying in any sense to filch his land. Then there are various provisions set out with regard to compensation. As to improvements in machinery, I have just referred to them. I suggest that the Land Court should be increased from five to six members and the quorum reduced from three to two, and that powers may be delegated to single members, with or without assessors, a provision which will enable them to work much more speedily. Similarly with the Board of Agriculture, the maximum number is increased from three to five, and the Secretary for Scotland is given power to delegate and distribute the duties of the Board according to the administrative needs of the situation. We give to the Secretary for Scotland a greater liberty of action inside his own office, in using his material, than ever he had before. Power is given to the statutory small tenant to secure the enlargement of his holding, and enlargements can be made from more than one landlord, a point we discussed at great length in Grand Committee. There are also provisions in regard to water supply, pastures, grazing, and land within burghs. That, briefly, is the scope of the Bill, and the alterations that are made.

I do not want to say more, because I am hoping that we may agree to have this Bill sent up again to the Scottish Grand Committee. I know the Government have certain proposals in the future, and I hope the near future, for dealing with land settlement in Scotland, but I do not imagine my right hon. Friend can tell us this afternoon what those proposals are, and I know in conversation with other hon. Members that some of them think it might be well to wait till we saw those proposals of the Government. If those proposals of the Government cover the operative amending machinery of this Bill, nobody will be more glad to withdraw my Bill than I, but my right hon. Friend will be in this position this afternoon, that he will not be able to tell us, as representing the Government, what their provisions are, and being a Scotsman and cautious, I think a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and therefore this Bill in Grand Committee is much more secure than in any other position in the House. I assure my right hon. Friend that there would be no difficulty in meeting the Government at all if their proposals do cover these, but I should like to be assured that the proposals of the Government do cover the machinery of the Scottish Smallholders Act. It might be very well worth the while of Scottish Members in this House, especially in view of the promises and pledges which we have given to serving men who have come home, with regard to taking up land all over Scotland, that they should be in a position to make at any rate what machinery is in existence as effective as possible for those men. It is because of that, because I feel perfectly certain that we have in Scotland, perhaps, a finer opportunity for the development of small holdings, a larger class of the community who are accustomed to work on the land, and make work on the land productive, that, I venture to suggest, if my right hon. Friend will agree to the Second Reading this afternoon, and will send the Bill to Grand Committee, together we can consider how to fashion out an instrument for the benefit of our fellow-countrymen.


I rise with great pleasure to second the Motion of my hon. Friend. He has, he says, an interest in this Bill in that he introduced an almost similar measure on a former occasion, and got it through Grand Committee. I also have an interest in this measure, as it was my good fortune in 1911 to have the opportunity to introduce the Bill which became an Act, and I think one of the earliest speeches in that Debate, and certainly one of the most forcible was by my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland in support of that Bill. He knows, as I know, what bright hopes we had when that Bill went on the Statute Book—how the agricultural workers in Scotland and the smallholders thought that at last their day of deliverance was at hand. Now we realise the sad fact that, notwithstanding the immense amount of public goodwill which was behind that, and notwithstanding the devoted efforts of the officials of the Board of Agriculture, we have to confess that if the Act has not been a complete failure, it has fallen so far short of the hopes that were raised with regard to it, that to make it anything like an effective instrument requires the most drastic amendment. What were the main reasons for that, and how far does this Bill seek to remedy the defects? One of the main reasons was the expense. Owing to the decision in the famous Lindean case, the amount that was placed at the disposal of the Board of Agriculture for the creation of new holdings became quite ridiculous. It was hopeless to expect that with that amount, or even double that amount, anything really effective could be done. The result of the decision in that case was that the amount of money paid for the part of the estate taken for small holdings was as much as the value of the whole estate. [HON. MEMBEKS: "No!"] Whatever the figures were, it was a perfectly ludicrous contrast between the value of the whole estate and the amount of money compelled by the decision to be given for the small holdings. At once the cry was raised all over the country, "Here is your idea of economic small holdings. Look at the vast sum you have to pay out for these, and you cannot get an economic rent from the smallholder. Therefore the whole thing is a failure." What lies at the root of that lies at the root of all land reform, and that is the power of the landlord, in some way or other, to get an undue share of the public moneys for creating public improvements. To that has been very largely due the torpedoing of the Act. To some extent this Bill meets that.

There are many other points on which this Bill, in some measure, seeks to improve the present administration. Take such a case as this. At present, if a man has a post office or a blacksmith's shop he cannot, owing to the decisions, take advantage of this Act. When a man carries on an ancillary trade, for instance, which is not really divorced from the needs of the district, or from the occupation of the land, what earthly reason can there be, simply because the man has an ancillary trade, which is improving the amenities of the district, why he should be shut out from the benefits of the Act? Surely that is a matter which should be speedily put right. Then there is the question of the injury done by game. Here we have again one of the old troubles constantly cropping up. It ought to be made perfectly clear by Statute that the tenant should have the complete right to protect his holding against any form of game, where it is necessary that he should have that power. The principle, at all events, is a perfectly sound one that he should have the un- doubted right to destroy any game which, in any substantial form, affects the holding. Wherever you look through the existing legislation, you find the necessity for some such Bill as this, and even a much greater measure of reform.

We should very much like to know what my right hon. Friend proposes to do, because suggestions of legislation being brought forward are no excuse whatever for asking leave to withdraw this Bill, and I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that, in any event, this Bill ought to have a Second Reading and go to Grand Committee. There is no need to press for it to be dealt with at once. We do not mind the Bill being put back to enable other Scottish measures to take their turn. When that Bill is put back from Grand Committee it will give my right hon. Friend a reasonable opportunity of laying before the House in concrete form his proposals for dealing with these grievances. I am sure my hon. Friend would gladly agree to such a course. That just shows the reasonable attitude which he has taken up with regard to this matter. The appeal he has made, which I most strongly reinforce, that this Bill should be allowed to go to Grand Committee, is a very fair one. After all, we should have something, so to speak, to bargain with in the event of the proposals not being definite and sufficient. We should have the opportunity, on the part of the Scottish Members, to hammer this measure into such a reasonable shape that, at any rate, it would be a substantial instalment of a reform now long overdue.


I cordially agree with what the hon. Member for East Edinburgh said in regard to the desirability increasing small holdings in Scotland, and more especially in providing, as quickly as possible, more land settlements for ex-soldiers both in Scotland and in England. I cannot, however, quite agree that this Bill will in any way facilitate or promote these objects. I am more inclined to agree with what has fallen from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Midlothian when he said that this Bill was a little bit out of date. I should be inclined to say that it was hopelessly out of date at the present moment. As regards practicable politics, it is now only an interesting relic of prewar policy. The Debate this afternoon, dealing with land settlement, has been most useful and coming as it does before the Government proposals in respect of land settlement are introduced. On this ground I think the discussion will be most useful. I think the manner in which the Ministry of Health Bill passed into law gives a most excellent example of what can be done by Scottish Members. Before that Bill was introduced the Secretary for Scotland had discussions with local authorities and others concerned, and with his Scottish colleagues, and after he introduced it it was fully debated in Scottish Grand Committee with a good spirit. It only took a few sittings practically, as it came downstairs as an agreed measure, and was passed with the consent of all the Scottish Members. I think that the Scottish Health Bill example may be well followed in dealing with the urgent problem of land settlement in Scotland. Equally here, with a little good will and the spirit of concession amongst Scottish Members of all shades of opinions, we can equally well hammer out a satisfactory measure dealing with land settlement in Scotland.

There are large questions of devolution and Home Rule which are agitating the people of Scotland, and which, for various reasons, cannot be dealt with immediately, but we shall go a long way to meet the demands and wishes of the Scottish people if we continue to deal with the details of Scottish Bills in Grand Committee after the principle has been approved by English, Welsh, and Irish Members. When Scottish Bills have been thoroughly discussed and agreement come to over details, English, Irish, and Welsh Members may simply pronounce "Aye" or "No" to the measure downstairs. These are the lines on which I think Scottish legislation can proceed in future and satisfactorily, provided we continue to have that general agreement and general wish to push forward useful legislation in the best interest of the Scottish people. On these lines I do not think it is desirable or that it will promote land settlement in Scotland that this particular Bill should occupy the time of Scottish Grand Committee. The right hon. Gentleman, who introduced the Bill stated that there was no desire to press this Bill in Scottish Grand Committee for the reasons he gave. What then is the need to occupy time with it beyond the general principles which we are now discussing?


What I said on behalf of my hon. Friend and myself was this: We did not desire to press this Bill on Grand Committee until we had had an opportunity of hearing from the Secretary for Scotland what were his land proposals, which might make this Bill unnecessary?


I see! What the right hon. Gentleman desires is to hold a pistol at the head of the Government to enable them to do their duty?




I think that the Scottish Members, the Secretary for Scotland, and the Government, supported by the large majority of Scottish Members, are quite well-qualified to do their duty without this particular Bill held at their heads by other hon. Members. In respect of this Bill, Scottish Members are aware that a Bill has already been debated. We know very well that many of the points in this Bill are identical with that which left the Scottish Grand Committee in 1914. It has already been pointed out that that Bill occupied nine or ten long sittings in Grand Committees. It was then reported, and passed—without discussion, I admit. On the other hand, there were various Clauses which are still contentious and will involve pretty long discussion. I should have thought it was better, under the circumstances, not to awaken the old discussions, but to start with a clean slate on the Government proposals. There was a great difference of opinion as to bringing forward this Bill. With the best intentions it is very difficult to avoid raking up old quotations and talking about Lindean, landlords, and so on, which we want to forget, and to try and start again. We want to get on with the job, to get on with Scottish legislation. I would point out that last night this House had before it a measure, one Clause of which absolutely deals with compensation and arbitration in Scotland; and, in effect, practically the Scottish Small Holders Bill which the hon. Member for East Midlothian considers a more important Bill than his own Bill before the House. So that we shall have two Bills before Parliament, both actually dealing with the same particular matter. Does the hon. Gentleman consider himself in opposition to the Scottish Clause of the Bill, which was read a second time last night? That is not all. Until the Land Settlement Bill has been printed, and we know more or less the Government proposals, it will be well to wait. I think the right hon. Member is under the impression that the English Land Settlement Bill offers very much better terms for smallholders, soldiers in particular, than anything he is offering under his Bill. We do not know what the Scottish Secretary is going to introduce in his Land Settlement Bill, but we are entitled to hope it will not be a worse Bill for Scottish smallholders and for ex-soldiers than the English Bill will be for English smallholders and English soldiers! I think we can trust that that will be introduced shortly. Surely the hon. Member for East Edinburgh does not propose to set his own Bill up in opposition to that of the Government?

The hon. Member knows that the English Land Settlement Bill proposes to amend the English Agricultural Holdings Act, and it is not too much to expect that the Scottish Land Settlement Bill will also radically amend the Smallholders Bill of 1911. Therefore, we have a Bill with the very point raised in this Bill, and there is another to be introduced in a very short time. I know the hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) is a great advocate of the rights and interests of soldiers, and I have frequently acknowledged what he has done in this respect, but I think both Scotsmen and Englishmen are anxious to promote land settlement, and they think that ex-soldiers should have the first opportunity of being placed on the land. Does this Bill in any way facilitate that object? I can see nothing in it in that direction. The English Bill provides for erecting houses and the cost of the houses and the interest on the capital is to be included in the rent under the English Bill, and eventually the whole of the cost over and above the fair rent is to be written off in seven years. This Bill provides nothing of that kind. Under this measure the Scottish landlord has to pay for the erection of the houses, and the wretched smallholder has to pay interest on the money, in addition to his rent. I know the hon. Member hopes for something better, but there is nothing better in his Bill.

3.0 P.M.

Again, the British Bill provided for loans in order to stock the farms. Under the present Smallholders Bill money may be advanced for stocking small holdings, but under the Bill now before the House there are no such powers. I submit that in the past the delay in creating small holdings has largely been, owing to the expense of providing the building, and also the difficulty of intending smallholders providing capital for stock. That has been one of the hindrances to the development of small holdings. The English Bill provides for gardens and allotments with houses and small holdings of one acre. That is a very satisfactory proposal in the interests of soldiers, and I am confident that the Secretary for Scotland will in his measure offer the same facilities as are being applied to England. I am only trying to show that the Government are offering something very much better than anything the hon. Member for East Edinburgh proposes. I think, with a little patience, we shall get very much more. The hon. Member's Bill is really a pistol at the head of the Government, and in that policy I do not feel inclined to assist him, because the Government are just as anxious as the hon. Member to assist smallholders and ex-soldiers, and Scottish Members can exert pressure without the absolute pressure of a Bill being held over the heads of the Government. The Selborne Report states that the Scottish Board of Agriculture is working quite satisfactorily except for the great cost of its procedure, and they say that they can pronounce no opinion as to how far this is due to the excessive rates of compensation allowed by the Act. They recommend that the whole question should be made the subject of an impartial inquiry by independent experts before any Amendment of the Act is attempted, and they state that they believe that the Act should provide for free sale to the tenant as a natural corollary of fixity of tenure with some chance of becoming owners of their holdings. We think both these systems should be tried, and that smallholders should be given the opportunity both of becoming tenants and proprietors of their holdings. The hon. Member has made no offer to give smallholders the opportunity to become proprietors.

There was a pamphlet issued by the Minister of Reconstruction dealing with the problems of settlement, and it is very interesting reading. It gives us the result of considerable investigation by the Reconstruction Committee. This was published in 1919. The hon. Member has made no alteration in his Bill at all. I know he says that it can be amended in Committee; but what is the good of that? The measure is hopelessly out of date, and I submit we shall not serve any useful purpose by giving it a Second Reading. We may continue this discussion, and it will be very helpful, but I think the best course would be for the Debate to be adjourned, and if when the Government Bill is before the Scottish Grand Committee the hon. Gentleman is not satisfied with anything in the Government Bill, and if there is anything in his Bill which could be usefully introduced into the Government measure it would be open to the hon. Member to move new Clauses, and I hope, as I have said, that with mutual goodwill among the Scottish Members we shall support the Government in carrying into law a really useful measure to provide for land settlement in Scotland for soldiers and others.


As one of those—


I beg to call your attention to the fact that there are not forty Members present.

Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir E. Cornwall)

We have only recently had a count of the House.


Was not that over two hours ago, on another Bill?


The Noble Lord's recollection is not quite correct.


As one of those whose name is on the back of this Bill, I should like to say a few words especially with regard to the suggestion just made that the Debate should be adjourned. I hope that the House will not listen to that suggestion. We must consider the times in which we are now living. We have been waiting in Scotland for a long period for an extension in the number of small holdings. The position is accentuated by the fact that there are a number of soldiers returning who are desirous of getting small holdings so that they may settle in their own country instead of having to look for their future careers abroad. If this House were to refuse a Second Reading to this Bill to-day the impression would go abroad that we were not serious in desiring to provide small holdings for these soldiers. The Government has introduced a Bill for England, and they propose to introduce one for Scotland. It may be that it will be a better Bill than this one, because nothing in the world is perfect, and I do not for a moment say that this is perfect, but this Bill is directed chiefly to removing an obstacle which prevented a previous Bill from achieving an object which we Liberal Members have at heart and making it possible to greatly extend the number of small holdings in Scotland. We thought that we should be able to greatly increase the number of smallholdings, but the Bill did not operate as we expected it to operate, and the number of small holdings has been very little, if at all, increased.

It is hardly necessary to point to individual experience, but in my own Constituency I have had the experience of a large number of people who want small holdings and who have been unable to get them. I have had the experience of a town council and the people in the neighbourhood clamouring for a farm which fell vacant to be made into small holdings and allotments, partly for the burghers who live in the town, and partly for the people who want small holdings outside. I found, owing to the condition of the law and one thing or another, that we were unable to provide small holdings, although that very suitable farm fell vacant.

When I see cases like that, I am not prepared to let any opportunity go by which may improve matters, and, while this Bill may not be perfect, if the House passes it to-day it will give the impression outside that we are serious in our desire to extend the number of small holdings, arid it will, I think, hurry on the Government Bill, which perhaps will be the most practical result. The Government Bill must then be hurried on, and we shall have the opportunity of passing it into law, whereas but for to-day's discussion it might be put on one side in favour of other measures of a more pressing nature. I do not want to enter into the merits of this measure at all, because I view it from a much broader standpoint. I say it is a matter of importance that we should pass the Second Reading of this Bill, because by doing so we may get a move on and get the Government's Bill introduced, hurried through, and passed into law.


I rise mainly to support, with any small weight that I have, the excellent argument put forward by my right hon. Friend. It would be ex- tremely damaging if we were to allow this Bill to fail or to lapse this afternoon and were not to give it a Second Reading. Public opinion on this matter has advanced very markedly in Scotland during the past five years. It is notorious that in almost every part of Scotland there is a clamourous demand for small holdings which cannot at the moment be met, and legislation is urgently needed for hastening their establishment. I quite agree that this is not a perfect Bill, but it is intended to remedy the defects of the Small Landholders Act, which, if I may say so without disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman, is designed by lawyers apparently for the benefit of lawyers, and which, so far as Scotland is concerned, has been a disastrous failure. I do not see any reason why, if need be, we should hesitate to hold a pistol at the head of the Government. We all know that there is very great pressure on the time of the House of Commons. We hope that the proposed Government measure for the establishment of small landholders and for dealing with other aspects of the land settlement question will be a thoroughly comprehensive measure, but it is just as well for us to have a private Member's measure on the stocks so that if the official Bill does not come up to expectations we may have a weapon, whether a pistol or otherwise, which we can level at the Government and use the weight of the Scottish representation to endeavour to get passed into law. I do not propose to examine the Bill in detail. In many respects it is not a perfect Bill, and in some respects it is almost an incomprehensible Bill—we want something simpler—but it is a good Bill inasmuch as it proposes to improve the Small Landholders Act, and it is a very necessary Bill, having regard to the present lack of small holdings and the great demand for them. I do feel, in view of the experience that Scotland has gained from the Small Landholders Act, that we ought not to allow this measure to go by default, but that we ought to give it a Second Reading. We all know that within these walls there is a certain amount of manœuvring for position, which is not apparent in the constituencies, and, if it goes abroad that this Bill was either talked out or refused a Second Reading, the impression undoubtedly will be widespread that notwithstanding all that Scotland has done in the War and notwithstanding the very serious sacrifices which it has made in the loss of its best manhood, when it comes to a question of doing something for ex-Service men who wish to settle on the land, the measure is refused a Second Reading. All of us who more or less try to represent Scottish interests will find ourselves in very ill odour in our constituencies, whether we represent town or country. In view of the importance of this Bill, I do urge as strongly as I can that it should be given a Second Reading.


I do not think that the hon. Member who last spoke need have any fears if the Bill is refused a Second Reading, because there is nobody who is not agreed, on any side of the House, that the Landholders Act requires amendment in many respects. That is quite recognized. The machinery at present is defective and the difficulties which are placed in the way of smallholders are very great. One of the greatest blots on the present system is the provision that where a landlord makes a voluntary agreement he does not get compensation and is in a worse position than a man who receives compensation. Anything more ridiculous than a Clause of that kind I cannot conceive. I have spoken upon that point at various times in this House. Therefore the law requires to be amended not only on one side but also on the other—in the interests of the tenant, the smallholder, and the landowner. No doubt this Bill has been debated at very great length in the Scottish Committee, and to that extent it has some claim to consideration in this Parliament which it would not otherwise have. But if it comes to be read a second time the idea, we are told, is that it shall be postponed and sent to the Committee upstairs. That, I understand, is now agreed. But suppose you take this Bill to the Grand Committee. You may expect that the Land Bill to be introduced by the Government will be a measure of far-reaching importance and that it will enable you to move almost any Amendment you like. I do not think there is a single Clause in this Bill that could not be moved in the Grand Committee on a Government Bill either as a new Clause or as an Amendment. When that is done the pistol will no longer exist; it will have been fired off, because the Committee to which it has been taken in that form would have dealt with most of the points. I do not see any point that could not be dealt with in that way. If you postpone this Bill until the Committee stage of the Land Settlement Bill which the Secretary for Scoland will introduce, I do not suppose we shall hear any more about it. I do not care, therefore, whether this Bill is read a second time or not. An opportunity will be given of moving any Amendment they want, and that being so, we shall have the whole thing discussed. But it is a pity to confuse the thing by carrying it in this fashion. The Government has a land policy. We have not yet seen all the elements of it, but we know enough to say that the measure which will be introduced for Scotland will be a far-reaching measure, and will provide a good deal for the Scottish smallholders. It is absurd to think that the Government measure will not amend Clause 7 of the Act of 1911 in one direction, and we have the other measure which can also be amended. But with regard to this Bill a different system of arbitration is suggested. In one case, the Bill provides for a different system of arbitration. Another measure provides for arbitration. The thing is ridiculous, and I quote it as an example of the confusion that arises.


How does the hon. Baronet know that? Apparently he knows what nobody else knows with regard to these proposals. There are no proposals made by the Government.


The hon. Member, with his Parliamentary experience and study of these Bills, ought to know that there is a Bill for the acquisition of land which has been read a second time, and Sub-section (11) of the Small Holdings Act, 1911, is referred to. It says: The provisions of this Act other than the provisions of the Section thereof relating to rules for the assessment of compensation shall apply to the determination of any question which under Sub-section (11) of Section 7 or Section 17 of the Small Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1911, is referred to arbitration. There is a Bill which has passed its Second Reading, and which has already amended the Arbitration Clauses. The hon. Member wants a measure to stop arbitration and send it to a Land Court. It is perfectly ridiculous, and, though it may be a small point, I quote it to show the confusion which may arise when somebody else steps in with regard to this great land question which ought to be dealt with on the responsibility of the Government. It is too big a question for a private Member to deal with on a Friday afternoon, particularly in the present situation where the Government is pledged to a wide measure of land reform. I really do not care whether you read this Bill a second time or not, because if it is read a second time and then postponed for discussion in Committee, there will be every opportunity for discussing all such proposals.

Captain W. BENN

We must dissociate the hon. Baronet who has just spoken from the hon. Member for North Midlothian (Colonel Sir J. Hope). The latter appeared to be opposed to the Bill.


I only said that the Bill was quite inadequate, but I did not oppose it.

Captain BENN

The hon. Member says he does not want the present Bill, but he took a considerable share in the formation and discussion of the Bill and debated it in Committee, and now he says it is either superfluous or harmless. For instance, he suggested it did not increase the facilities for returned soldiers.


Quite so.

Captain BENN

It certainly will make it easier for the people to acquire land, and therefore soldiers, who will have exactly the same facilities, will share in that. The soldiers already have certain facilities which other people have not, such as those under the Civil Emergencies Fund and they have other facilities. If the hon. Baronet's only objection, or main objection, or one of his objections is that it does not do enough for soldiers, let him in Committee put in new Clauses for the soldiers and I am sure all will agree to put them in the Bill. The hon. Member for Ayr (Sir George Younger) takes a different view. We know he is a power behind the Throne. I understand from the news that has come that the writ has ceased to run in certain parts of the country. His argument suggests a complete negation of private Members' efforts in this House. The Government met the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of this party with great reasonableness early in the Session, and these proposals have been greatly expedited by the Committee system. All agree in that. We are pressing this measure at the present moment to be sent to the Scottish Committee because the Scottish Committee has now no business before it, and although it is a private Member's Bill it is one which has been fully debated by the Scottish Committee, and we hope it will now be given a Second Reading.


The hon. Member is aware that the hon. Gentleman is perfectly willing to postpone it, and I based my speech upon that understanding.

Captain BENN

We want to get this Bill because we want the advantage of the opinion of the Members of the House upon it, and because we think it is a needed measure. The only reason the right hon. Baronet urges against it is that the Government is about to produce certain measures of its own. Some people call this Bill a bird in the hand, others cal it a pistol, but, whatever you call it, it is of tremendous advantage to have something of the kind. There was a Land Bill passed last night to which some of us took exception. Now, if we had a Bill framed on the lines on which we approved, does not everybody think that those who opposed the Bill would be in a very much stronger position later on to secure well-thought-out and matured Amendments to the present proposals?

Sir J. D. REES

There is a portion of the British Empire in which a candidate for employment sometimes justifies his application by stating that he is a failed B.A. May I claim as a failed Scottish Member the privilege of speaking for a moment on this Scottish Bill, not that I would venture to ask the House to listen to me on a matter connected with Scottish law. In point of fact the affairs of Scotland are not parochial or local; they are of Imperial and world-wide interest. There is only one reason which I have for intervening, and that is in connection with the Clause relating to deer forests. It is-provided in Clause 1 (11) that Where the Land Court are of opinion that damage or injury will be done to any landlord or to any other person or persons in consequence of and directly attributable to the constitution of a new holding or holdings under the scheme, they shall require the Board in the event of such scheme being proceeded with to make payment of compensation of such amount as the Land Court may determine in respect of such damage or injury. It goes on to say: In determining the amount of compensation under any provision of this Act, no additional allowance shall be made on account of the constitution of any new holding or holdings being compulsory, nor shall any allowance be made in respect of any damage or injury done to the letting value of any deer forest as a sporting; subject by the constitution of one or more hold- ings on any part or parts thereof, but such allowance may be made in respect only of any damage or injury thereby done to the letting of such deer forest as an agricultural or pastoral subject. I will not say anything about the grammar of this Clause. I should have thought that the term "sporting subject" could hardly be applied to a forest, but it is quite clear what is meant is a sporting proposition. It means that no allowance is to be made on account of the value of the forest qua forest, which is the chief if not only value of immense tracts in Scotland. There are large areas there which are absolutely useless for any conceivable purpose except that of a deer forest. In many counties in Scotland the rent of these forests, particularly in North Perthshire, and still more so in Ross-shire, provides the bulk of the county income for carrying on the county business. I submit that this proposition really proceeds from an unreasonable prejudice against a sport which brings an enormous amount of money to Scotland, and which indeed is one of the glories of that country. Anybody who knows Scotland—and there are many of us who spend a great deal of our time there—I myself do—is aware that there he meets millionaires from America who spend enormous sums in maintaining gillies, keepers, and all the expensive paraphernalia of a deer forest. Is that no advantage to the barren, uncultivated tracts concerned? Why is this passed sub silentio in this House, no one saying a word on this exceedingly important subject?

I would compare the Clause which I ventured to read to the House with the corresponding Section of the Act of 1911, and I find there none of the predatory purpose of this Bill. No statement of the objects and reasons accompanies this measure. I am sorry for it. I should have thought it would have been a good thing to have stated those objects and reasons. In point of fact, this Bill places it in the power of persons hostile to sport to practically destroy the value of the deer forest which we know constitutes the main return from many Highland estates. If these forests were possible or potential agricultural propositions no one would have a word to say on the subject, but almost invariably they are not. Many hon. Members are familiar with immense tracts in Scotland where nothing can be done to cultivate them, and whose only value is a sporting one. Apart from their sporting value, which is expressly exempted under this Bill, the areas in question have no value, and not only will this provision prevent the owner from enjoying the rent of his own property, but it will very much damage the revenue of the local bodies and the general prosperity of the districts by keeping away from them those who now are almost the only persons who expend money in these otherwise desolate and deserted areas. Looking at a Debate when this Bill was before the House on a former occasion, I see that an hon. Member—and a very able Member, and one who is well known to have made a close study of this question (Lord Tullibardine)—took objectors to sporting rights from Glasgow and other great towns and showed them, and, I believe, convinced them, that in the case of his own parish, with a rental of £23,000, £16,000 of that sum was derived from the deer forests.

If it were a case of decultivating areas in order to turn them into deer forests, nobody could possibly at this time of day provide any possible excuse for such action, but that is not the proposition at all. The proposition is that the owner should be deprived of that which is and has been his property for generations, of a value upon the basis of which the property has frequently changed hands, and that he should be reduced possibly from a position of affluence to one of penury in due course of law. That is not a proposition which ought to pass this House without serious consideration. Hon. Members have spoken from the point of view, let us say, of Glasgow. Even so, I do not think they express the opinion of Glasgow as a whole. In point of fact, the immense prosperity of that great city—the second city in the British Empire—is due to the physical and intellectual strength of its able merchants, which is notoriously maintained by the use and enjoyment of these very forests it is now proposed, so far as possible, to destroy by course of law. The connection between these great urban areas, say, between Glasgow and northern Perthshire, is quite as close as the connection between Rob Roy and Baillie Nichol Jarvie when Scott wrote his well-known novel. I submit that the point of view I have laid before the House is one that should be laid before it. I sincerely hope that when my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland speaks he will be able to say that this should lie over for the Government Bill, as it is a subject more suitable for a Government to deal with. Whether or not he says that, I hope he will make reference to the subject to which I have referred, because he, as a Member for one of the far northern constituencies, must be aware that there is a great deal of truth in what I have said, although perhaps it is a little difficult to say it, because in this House it seems to be decided that anyhing connected with sport and sporting matters must be anathema maranatha.


I should like, first of all, to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) upon his almost unvarying and enviable success in the ballot. It has enabled him to initiate to-day a discussion which has been both interesting and useful. The history of the Bill, of which he has moved the Second Reading, has been quite correctly given by him. It is a Bill which passed through the Scottish Grand Committee some years ago, and it has been reintroduced by him precisely in the form in which it passed through that Committee. It brings back to some of us echoes of a time which now seems to be very remote indeed. My attitude upon that Bill at that time is on record and is well known, and I want to add that my views have not in the least altered since the time when this Bill was being considered by the Scottish Grand Committee. Indeed, I think I may add, with the assent of the whole House, that there are two propositions upon which they are agreed. The first is that it is desirable at the earliest possible moment to settle upon small holdings in Scotland, in so far as they desire it, particularly ex-Service men; and, secondly, that in order to do so effectively and properly, the existing Act urgently requires amendment. On the first of these questions I was interested to hear my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Springburn Division (Mr. Macquisten) say in a Debate which took place a few weeks ago, after congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray) upon a speech which he had made— I want to assure him, and also the Secretary for Scotland, that there is no step which the right hon. Gentleman can take to ameliorate the condition of affairs— that is with regard to land settlement— that will not have the most hearty and cordial support from every Unionist Member who has the interests of Scotland at heart. I ask the Secretary for Scotland to take his courage in both hands, and deal in a most drastic way with the Islands and Highlands of Scotland in regard to the question of land which has been depopulated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1919, col. 1045, Vol. 113.] That was said in the course of a Debate in this House on the 10th of last month. I ventured to say, in response to that appeal: In that direction I welcome very sincerely the help which has been promised by my hon. Friend the Member for Springburn (Mr. Macquisten) on behalf of those for whom he speaks, and I think it is a good augury of what we may be able to accomplish when Unionists and Liberals, if one may use those words—which have almost a far-away ring about them nowadays—combine in pressing upon me the necessity of developing the system of small-holdings in Scotland and of setting people on the land."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th March, 1919, col. 1048, Vol. 113.] My hon. Friend the Member for Springburn, in a subsequent speech in Scotland, reiterated those opinions with even more emphasis. Accordingly, having regard to that speech, and to the speeches delivered to-day by those who share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Spring-burn, I think I am correct in saying, with the assent of the whole House, irrespective of party, that it is the desire, not only of the Government, but of private Members of the House, to secure the settlement of ex-Service men upon holdings in Scotland, if they desire it, at the earliest time and in the most effective manner. I would venture to add that in order to do so effectively the Smallholders Act, 1911, requires to be amended. Its machinery has turned out to be both cumbrous and costly. With reference to what the hon. Member for East Edinburgh has said with regard to the decisions of the Court of Session, I think he would do well to complain not so much of the interpretation of the law laid down by the Court of Session and by the House of Lords, as with regard to the provisions of the Act which they were called upon to interpret. It is in that view that I suggest that amendment of the Act is urgently to be desired. The question of the best way to amend that Act is a matter for consideration. One has to bear in mind that this Bill which we are now considering was passed through the Scottish Grand Committee under conditions which were widely different from those which obtain today. It was a pre-war measure, passed under the auspices of another Government, and it was frankly a party measure. There is no doubt at all about that. That is the first thing one has to remember about the Bill we are considering. Furthermore, I agree with some of the criticisms offered that this is a Bill as drawn which is narrow and limited in its scope. It does not purport to deal with a number of important questions relating to land with which I hope it may be possible to deal at an early date. Moreover, the Bill was framed and necessarily framed without any reference at all to the comprehensive land policy which the Government has announced, and which the Government is now in the course of carrying out. Those are considerations which should be borne in mind when we are considering this Bill. For example we have now the Acquisition of Land Bill, which was read a second time yesterday, under which a different system is introduced into the Small Landholders Act for the assessing of compensation. Under that Act in certain circumstances compensation is to be assessed by arbitration. The provision in the Acquisition of Land Bill is that instead of that compensation being assessed by an arbitrator it should be assessed by the valuers who are to be set up in virtue of its provisions. Now my hon. Friends suggest another solution, namely, assessment by the Land Court. One has thus to bear in mind the complications which have been introduced by the fact that a new and comprehensive land policy is now being carried out, and that this Bill was framed at a time when that policy was not in contemplation at all. Then we have the English Land Settlement Bill which is also before the House. And what is perhaps more to the point, we have in active preparation a Land Settlement Bill for Scotland. It was described by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir D. Maclean) as shadowy. I can assure him he will find it of substance and not of shadow.


We have only the shadow of it here.


The substance will be very soon here and my right hon. Friend will be one of the first to agree that it is not shadowy but substantial. The suggestion was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn that it is necessary to hurry up the Government in the production of its Bill. But no such compulsion or pressure is in the least degree necessary. The Bill will be introduced at the earliest possible moment. Of course, it is not possible for me to-day to enumerate or even to foreshadow in detail the provisions of the Bill, but it will most certainly include Amendments of the Small Landholders Act. I welcome the opportunity of ascertaining to-day the views of the House with regard to points which are now under consideration in connection with that matter, and my hon. Friend has performed a valuable service in initiating this discussion. I wish he had found it possible to rest content with that. My own feeling—and I think it will be shared by many inside and outside the House—is that proposals for amending the Small Landholders Act, being an integral part of the land policy of the Government, would be more appropriately brought forward upon Government responsibility than upon the responsibility of a private Member. I think the country expects it. My hon. Friend would have the fullest opportunity afforded him in Committee, if he were not satisfied with the Government proposals for the amendment of the Scottish Landholders Act, to move Amendments to it and to incorporate into it when it is produced the Amendments he thinks necessary to strengthen it. But he and my right hon. Friend (Sir D. Maclean) are not contented with that proposal, and they have made an offer which I should be prepared to accept if I correctly interpret it. I understand the proposal to be that this Bill should be given a Second Reading on the footing that it should be postponed in Grand Committee to the Government Land Settlement Bill for Scotland, and that it should be withdrawn if the proposals of the Government are found to be satisfactory. On that definite footing, the Bill might be read a second time.


The hon. Gentleman (Sir J. D. Rees) said no doubt there was a good deal of truth in what he said about deer forests, but there is a good deal that was wrong in what he said about deer forests. I understood him to imagine that deer forests are composed of land which is unsuited for any other purpose than that of sport. Is he aware that the Deer Commission reported over twenty years ago that there were then something like 1,750,000 acres of land under deer which were suitable for cultivation, and that area has been very greatly increased since that time. I can take him to one valley in the part of the world that I represent where there were no fewer than seventy crofters' holdings where there is only one now. The very estate he quoted had at one time, I believe, hundreds of crofters on land which is now occupied by deer.


Does the hon. Member think Caithness is really a representative Scottish county?


Regarded as a deer forest, very largely it is so. I have represented that county for nearly twenty years and I happen to know something about it. When the Secretary for Scotland introduces his Bill I hope he will incorporate the main part of this Bill. There are many most excellent suggestions in it which I think he should adopt. Further, I hope he will introduce his Bill with as little delay as possible. There is a state of feeling in the Highlands about this delay in carrying out the promises to establish ex-soldiers on the land which is becoming dangerous. I have had evidence and statements that unless the soldiers get the land very speedily they propose to take steps to take it themselves.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at Eight minutes before Four o'clock.