HC Deb 15 August 1919 vol 119 cc1823-35

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

Lieut.-Colonel A. MURRAY

I feel sure the House will join in congratulating the Secretary for Scotland in being able to be in his place to-day. He is a very valuable asset in our Scottish national life, and we all hope that he will be thoroughly restored to health during the coming Vacation. I made a suggestion that, after his speech to-day, the Second Reading might have been adjourned. I still think that that would have been the much more satisfactory process. As the right hon. Member for Peebles has said, it has been impossible for us adequately to study this Bill in the short time at our disposal. It might have been postponed until after the Recess, and until we had been in contact with our constituents and we could then have given the right hon. Gentleman: on Second Reading some indication of the Amendments that were necessary and desirable. As it has been decided to take the Second Reading to-day, I offer no further opposition to it. The right hon. Gentleman rightly alluded to the urgency of the problem with which this Bill is destined to deal, and he said particularly that one of the most important provisions of the Bill was that under which the procedure of the Small Landholders Act, 1911, would be hastened. With that I heartily concur. One of the chief defects of the Small Landholders Act is that its operation has been very dilatory and, in many cases, most expensive. In so far as this Bill remedies those defects, it will be welcomed by the rural population of Scotland.

The hon. Baronet (Sir G. Younger) referred to what, in his opinion, was the main change made by this Bill in the Scottish Small Landholders Act of 1911, and very rightly referred to himself as one of the villains of the piece in the controversy of 1909–10. If there are in this measure any points which might in some sense revive those controversies, I think we should all feel it is our duty to smooth over difficulties and try to come to some arrangement which will be for the benefit of agriculture and smallholders in Scotland. The hon. Baronet will agree that some alteration is necessary. He indicated that in his speech, and we all feel that to be the case. The hon. Baronet would perhaps not go so far as some of us in that respect but feeling as we do that some alteration is necessary I hope we shall be able to agree, more or less, with the provisions put into the Bill by the Secretary for Scotland. I join heartily with what was said by the hon. Baronet with respect to rural housing. That is one of the roots of the whole problem. It is an evil which has existed one might almost say from time immemorial. It is an evil which is certainly not entirely remedied under the Scottish Housing Bill, and I do hope it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman after due consideration, either in this Bill or some other measure, to introduce some method of hastening the development of rural housing in Scotland. I was more than glad to read Clause 12, which deals with advances to land banks. The right hon. Gentleman said that that would be of particular interest to me. He knows that that is so, and I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman not only for the great interest he has shown in the Scottish Central Land Bank in the past and the great assistance he has given to it, but for having included in this Bill such provisions as will enable that bank to continue to prosper and at the same time materially to assist financially small landholders in Scotland.

A question has been raised by the right hon. Member for Peebles regarding the application of the Land Acquisition Act to the measure now under discussion. I agree that that Act, which was a bad Bill before it went to the other place, is now much worse, for it has been practically disembowelled, and it will totally fail to realise its objects. That is unquestionably the opinion of many people throughout Scotland, and that opinion will be more prevalent when the people see the Act in operation.


In what respect was it disembowelled?

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY

Words were taken out which had only been put in after a long Debate in this House, when the Government accepted the Amendment moved by the right lion. Gentleman the Member for Peebles (Sir D. Maclean), which said that in assessing the compensation regard should be had to the basis of rating and taxation. We on this side of the House who were pressing that Amendment made a very valuable and surprising recruit in the right hon. Gentle-man the Member for Duncairn (Sir E. Carson), and, following upon the intervention of that right hon. Gentleman, many other hon. Members associated with him took the same line. In another place the words "Regard shall be had to" were taken out of the Bill, and instead the words "The undertaker shall be entitled to consider" were inserted. Besides that, the words "Capital value" were inserted instead of "assessment," and those two facts, in my judgment, disembowelled the Bill as it left this House. I have been drawn away from my argument by the interruption of the hon. Baronet opposite, but I am more than glad to have had the opportunity of saying those few words, and I am sure when the Act comes into operation the hon. Baronet opposite will be among the first to receive from his constituents complaints regarding the basis under which compensation is to be assessed.

I understood the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Peebles to say that it might be advisable to have a conference in Glasgow or Edinburgh to discuss the various aspects of this Bill. I am not quite sure that I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. There will, of course, be many different opinions held about this Bill, and if such a conference is to take place it must necessarily be a very large one, in order that all interests should be represented. It might well be that those interests could give to the Secretary for Scotland certain of their views, but as to any really live discussion in a conference of that kind, I am somewhat doubtful that it could take place. After the Second Reading of this Bill has been obtained we shall all be in contact with our constituencies during the recess, and then we shall be able to give the right hon. Gentleman not only our own views after studying and considering this Bill, but the views of the majority of our constituents, and we can then indicate to the Secretary for Scotland in what manner we would desire to see the Bill altered or to see other Amendments incorporated in it.


The only regret one can have in connection with the Second Reading of this Bill is that it is quite obvious from these empty benches that most of the representatives of Scotland of the Liberal and Labour persuasion are at present away on their grouse moors, and only a few hard-working Unionists like the hon. Baronet (Sir G. Younger) are left to still adorn the field of legislative Labour.

Lieut.-Colonel MURRAY

That is quite wrong.


We give a warm welcome to the principle of this Bill, and on the whole we quite agree that the proper course is to take the Second Reading now, and leave it to the Recess in order that we may meanwhile get into touch with our constituencies and gather the general Amendments that no doubt will be required to this measure. As representing a burgh constituency, the part of this Bill in which I am particularly interested is that which deals with allotments. We all know how very much interested the citizens of great cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow are in the new allotment movement which sprang up as a result of the late war. The extraordinary fascination of the soil and the tilling of it has proved of great interest to townsmen, and they are now much interested in rearing such interesting things as onions and carrots and various vegetables, and this I think it will be generally agreed is extremely healthy and beneficial to the country.

The Secretary for Scotland was placed by the allotment-holders as leader of their movement, and made their president, and in this respect the people of Scotland have shown their confidence in the right hon. Gentleman. We have not been disappointed, because the Secretary for Scotland has taken the very greatest pains to find out what their wishes and needs are, and he has done all he could to meet their requirements. Accordingly my main and pleasant duty to-day is to express the gratitude of the allotment-holders of Scotland for everything he has given them by the present Bill.

The allotment-holder in Scotland ex hypothesi is not so much interested in that part of the Bill that deals with acquiring allotments as in keeping his old allotment, and, accordingly, I put it very strongly to my right hon. Friend the Secretary for Scotland whether he cannot sec his way to insert in this Bill some sort of provision for security of tenure. I never was a great and strong advocate of the general adoption of the principle of security of tenure in regard for the very large farmers of Scotland, but they have a certain amount of security of tenure, whereas the allotment-holder, who needs it, has not any. It will be readily seen that to make an allotment a success means a tremendous amount of intensive cultivation, and therefore demands security of tenure more than any other form of holding. The allotment, first of all, has to be cleaned of weeds and stones, and then it has to be treated with manure and tilled very intensively until, at the end of the process, it is a very different thing and a very much more valuable asset than it was when the allotment-holder took it over and before he had worked on it. Accordingly, the allotment-holder who is deprived of his allotment is a very great loser, and suffers a good lot of injustice. I am sure that the Secretary for Scotland only needs to have such considerations laid before him to do his very best to meet this necessity of the allotment-holder, and, with that qualification, I wish, on behalf of the general allotment-holders of Scotland, to express the gratitude which they feel to the Secretary for Scotland for the pains which he has taken to meet them in this matter.


I cannot possibly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Edinburgh (Mr. Jameson) when he suggests that the Scottish Labour Members are absent because of their work on the grouse moors in Scotland at the present time. The majority of them are busily engaged on large and important industrial questions, and they have left behind them, I am afraid, a rather unsatisfactory representative to state their case. While, in common with other Scottish Members, we suffer from not having had an opportunity adequately to consider the measure, we welcome it, and the urgency for it will not be disputed. It may be true that in certain agricultural areas north of the Tweed there are men, and perhaps comparatively large numbers of women, who would not be there but for war conditions, and to that extent we have started the solution of our own rural problem. On the other hand, congestion in the large centres, and particularly the city centres, is more pronounced than ever. From these points of view, I most cordially welcome the Bill. We on these benches, however, do not for a single moment believe that it will solve the land problem of Scotland. I express my own view, and I think the view of the great majority of my colleagues, when I say that we do not anticipate any final or lasting solution of the laud problem as long as land remains private property. Probably it will be irrelevant this afternoon, to develop the case for the public ownership of land, but most hon. Members will agree, however much they may be opposed to us in principle, that land is fundamentally different from all other commodities and all the other needs of human life. With that very important reservation, our aim will be to try and improve this measure. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for West Edinburgh that Scottish allotment-holders urgently require the largest possible measure of security of tenure, and the same is true elsewhere. We have had numerous repre- sentations from the Scottish National Association of Allotment Holders, that the existing allotments are not developed and used to the extent to which they might be developed and used, and that many people are hindered from taking up allotments because they feel that the necessary hard work for the cultivation of the soil will be largely wasted by their being turned out after the lapse of one or two years, or perhaps even a shorter period. They have no desire, particularly in the urban centres in Scotland, to stand in the way of housing schemes, and they have made it perfectly plain in their Memorandum that all housing schemes are to have preference, but as regards other soil, much of which will not be used in the immediate future for housing purposes, they strongly suggest that an increased measure of security of tenure should be given. I do not think that point is adequately provided for in the present Bill, although I agree that our reading of it has been cursory at the best.

The second improvement which is desired by Scottish allotment-holders will make for uniformity of conditions as regards not only tenure but rent and other considerations. Under the terms of the Act of 1892 the expenditure of any local authority on allotments must be taken into account over a certain term of years, and the rents of the allotments fixed accordingly. In some cases, even within one community, we have secured exceptionally favourable terms from proprietors or holders of land, and these allotments started with natural and other advantages, but, on the other hand, there are many cases in the large centres of Scotland and elsewhere where a considerable chemical expenditure was necessary before the allotments could be used. That has resulted in a comparative high rent for such allotments, and in a lack of uniformity of conditions even within quite small areas, and this has led to widespread unrest and dissatisfaction among allotment-holders. Probably there is no remedy for that lack of uniformity under the Act of 1892. I should, therefore, like to see the present Bill amended so as to make it possible to take into account the capital expenditure in the area generally, and thus obtain uniformity as regards rent and other conditions so as to enable allotment-holders to start their work on substantially the same terms.

These are the two leading difficulties of the allotment-holders in Scotland at the present time. Beyond that it is our duty to welcome this measure in so far as it makes for the permanent establishment of this form of public enterprise. From the point of view of labour, we welcome the allotments movement, not so much for what it may produce in the way of commodities required for the people of the country, as for the opportunity which it affords of a different occupation or employment from that in which the great majority of the workers spend the bulk of their time. One of the best features of Continental industrial development in pre-war times—I regret to say that we lagged shamefully behind—was the variety of occupation afforded to great sections of the people. They spent so many hours per day in the factory or workshop, but, largely owing to easier conditions of land occupation and tenure, they were able to devote the remainder of their time, often a quite substantial portion of each day, to outdoor occupations, and they are not therefore tied to the narrow grind of one calling, with more or less demoralising results. I therefore most cordially welcome any Bill which will build up this allotment movement and provide a subsidiary, and it may be even a profitable occupation for people, because I regard that as a not unimportant factor in the solution of much of the industrial and social unrest in large centres in Scotland. Labour agrees with advanced Liberalism and Radicalism in Scotland, that the success of previous Small Holdings Acts has been seriously undermined by the excessive terms of compensation. I want, however, to be perfectly just to these Acts, and, while in my view compensation plays a large and important part in undermining their success, I hope I am the last to suggest that it is the one and only cause of their failure. I gather from the remarks of the hon. Baronet the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir G. Younger) that compensation is likely to be as difficult a problem under this Bill as it is under previous Acts.


I did not say that.

2.0 P.M.


I welcome the correction. I had understood the hon. Baronet, to indicate that the problem would be at least as difficult. Apart from that, I think we are very far indeed from having solved the difficulty of compensation, but I am willing to leave that very intricate and abstruse problem for the Committee stage of this Bill. I think I express the view of the Labour movement when I say that in the establishment of these small holdings we should strip compensation of all elements which can reasonably be regarded as due to the effort or enterprise of the community, and only give such compensation as is reasonable and fair, having regard to what the owner or his predecessors have put into the soil by way of capital expenditure, or what has been done by his agency to improve it. The other considerations which very largely undermined the success of the small land holdings' movement in Scotland were really economic rather than social or political; and the chief of these economic causes were the practical absence of agricultural organisation, as it is commonly described, in Scotland, and also the absence of the development of any scheme of rural credit north of the Tweed.

Dealing first of all with agricultural organisation, the central weakness of the smallholder was his failure to obtain readily and cheaply, for the purposes of his small holding, the benefits and advantages of large-scale production. I have never been able to agree that there is any abiding antagonism between large-scale production, when we are thinking of a large land holding or a large farm, and the small holdings which we are now discussing. It has often been argued, in this House and outside, that under any circumstances of land tenure, range of prices, and so on, at the present time, small holdings were bound to fail because you could not bring to them the benefits and advantages of large-scale working. I entirely differ from that. I believe that a cursory reading of the history of agricultural organisation, in Ireland, even and in certain parts of the Continent and throughout the world generally, will lead to the conclusion that in agricultural organisation we have the bridge which can cover that gulf between large-scale production and the operations of the small-holder. In other words, it provides for the co-operative use of the best and latest machinery, it provides for the co-operative buying and selling of ingredients which are necessary for the cultivation of the stubborn Scottish soil, and it brings within the reach of the smallholder the advantages of the research of scientific experts in agriculture and in other spheres. I am willing to admit that agricultural organisation in this country is probably in its infancy, and has a very great deal to learn; but that does not rid us of the duty of incorporating in this measure some provisions which would seek to get the benefit of all that is best in what it is learning and what it is teaching at the present time.

The other consideration is, as I have said, the almost entire absence of the provision of rural credit. Many men could have obtained the land, as was stated by the right hon. Gentleman in his introductory speech. They had the experience and the skill in rural conditions. Some of them even had machinery, quite up-to-date machinery, at their disposal. But they had not the necessary capital, and they could not obtain it on terms sufficiently reasonable to enable them to start with any hope of certainty of success. I am perhaps the last to suggest that we should draw lessons unduly from our late enemies, but at all events it will be conceded that they had a much better appreciation in pre-war times of the advantages of rural credit than we had in this country. Hon. Members of this House are familiar with the growth and development of the Raiffeisen scheme of rural banking which had its origin in Southern Germany. Broadly its principle and method was the establishment of a central bank, with a large number of banks distributed throughout the country, reaching right down to the unit in the village—a little village organisation or committee which was responsible for reporting on the character and experience of the applicant for rural credit, which so far supervised him in the use of the money which he obtained for rural progress and development and which built up broadly and generally throughout the country a system which made it possible for the smallest man to get on reasonable and easy terms a supply of money for the cultivation of the little plot of soil he had in charge. Substantially the same system was adopted or extended in other parts of the world—India, Egypt, even Ireland, and many other instances could be quoted. It had two advantages—first, of giving him that ready and immediate supply of money; and, secondly, of putting him beyond the power and the reach of the moneylender, who, in a large number of cases, fastened upon the very vitals of rural progress. Is it impossible in this time of bedrock reconstruction to provide in this measure for some scheme of rural credit of that kind? I welcome the Clause in the Bill which seems to hold the promise or hope for land banks, and which makes it possible for money to be advanced to smallholders, I sincerely trust it may be possible in Committee to add to the provisions of the Bill in order to get the advantage of what is best in that Continental experience I have just outlined.

The last point I desire to make turns on the establishment of discharged, disabled, and demobilised men generally upon the soil of Scotland. Let me say at once, that our experience in disablement-scheme work has been, on the whole, not too encouraging in that respect. I am willing to admit that a number of landowners have placed land more or less readily at our disposal, but there has been a singular disinclination on the part of quite considerable numbers of demobilised and discharged men, who desire and prefer an open-air life, to take advantage of the holdings which might be established. That has been due partly to the difficulty of finding the necessary capital, which I hope will be surmounted under this Bill, but it has also been due to at least two other causes as well. First, there is the absence in the rural districts of Scotland of anything resembling a social life. It meant placing these men very often in lonely parishes where they were divorced from all the intercourse and association of other days. That disposition and point of view are extremely hard to break down. Accordingly, I hope that in any system of land settlement in Scotland we are going to adopt, so far as we possibly can, one of the best recommendations of the Royal Commission on Housing in our country, that as far as possible we should build these houses in the rural areas in village communities. I do not say that is always possible where upland shepherds and others are concerned, but, so far as we can do it, let us build these houses in small communities in order that the advantages of associated life may be forthcoming, and that we shall do what we can to meet this admitted difficulty on the part of the discharged and demobilised men. The other point is the difficulty of training discharged and demobilised men in rural callings. I should like to see a widespread development of what we might call the lighter and easier forms of agriculture. Many of the men are suffering from physical disease as apart altogether from amputation or disablement of that kind; they are really not fit for the arduous toil on even a comparatively small allotment of land. When I use that phrase I mean more particularly ploughing and the heavier operations on the land. These men, however, are fit for other occupations on the soil, such as light fruit farming or progress on the land of that kind, which do not to the same extreme extent make a demand upon their impaired physique. Our difficulty in disablement-scheme work has been to find adequate facilities for such training on the soil. I believe that is one of the most hopeful features of progress in the light of the Bill we are now discussing. These and other proposals we shall probably try to embody in useful Amendments as the Bill passes through Committee. "I cannot sit down without expressing, while we are conscious of all its shortcomings, our general approval of the measure and saying that we shall do all that is within our limited power to assist its progress in the solution of one of our gravest national problems north of the Tweed.


I would not have intervened in the Debate except that one point in regard to allotments has not been touched upon. There has been a good deal of discussion on the question of fixity of tenure, and the difficulty of allotment-holders in cultivating their allotments with a reasonable hope that in future years they will reap the reward of what they have put on the soil. Power to acquire land for allotments was first given to the county councils and now it is extended to the parish councils. The parish councils are far more in touch with the people, who especially have developed allotments, than are the county councils. The town councils have not previously had power to acquire land for allotments. In 1916, in two towns in my Constituency, there was a great outcry for land for allotments. The town councils of both towns exercised all the powers they had of acquiring any land that was not on the valuation roll and giving it to the allotment-holders, but the allotment-holders were always under the fear of either the land being required for building purposes or for some other purpose, and that they would lose their allotment. I consider that with the provision in this Bill giving power to parish councils and town councils to ac-quire land either by purchase or by lease for allotment-holders, the town councils and parish councils can give security of tenure of the allotment-holders. If that is not done by the town council or the parish council, the allotment-holders will have the remedy in their own hands. They are in touch with the town council or the parish council, and can bring pressure to bear upon it to acquire that land. From my experience in Scotland I should say that no pressure will be required, that the town councils and parish councils will welcome this provision in the Act, and that they will either secure the land which is provided for them, under cultivation if possible, or if not possible acquire land in some other portion of their territory to give to the allotment-holders. The hon. Member (Mr. Graham) said there were different prices given for the land and the result very often was that the allotment-holders in one district of the same town had to pay a very much larger sum than in other portions of the town. I am happy to say that in the towns with which I am connected the allotment-holders' association acquired all the land for allotments, for some of which they paid a fairly high sum, but the others they got for nothing by taking land which was not in use, and they balanced up and charged a flat rent for all the allotments, so that everyone participated in the value of the small price and had not to pay a large price. That is a solution that allotment-holders have in their own hands, that by joining together and in co-operation they are able to make a flat rate for the allotments.

I also welcome the power given to local authorities to acquire fertilisers and fruit trees and seed. Without this power at all in 1916, 1917 and 1918 the town council over which I presided bought a large stock of fertilising material and gave it out to the allotment-holders. They also procured the best specimens of potatoes and gave out the potato seed to the allotment-holders at a very small price. With these powers which have now been given to the town councils and parish councils the allotment-holders' position will be very much better than in the past.

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