I beg to move, to add the following new Sub-sections:() A tenant of a holding or small farm provided by the Board on land acquired by the board who has been in occupation thereof for a period of not less than six years shall, on notice of his desire to purchase the holding or small farm being given to the Board at any time before the tenant has received notice to quit, be entitled to require the sale to him of the holding or small farm at the expiration of one month from the date of the notice at the then value of the holding or small farm exclusive of any increase of the value thereof due to any improvement executed thereon by and at the expense of the tenant, and thereupon the Board shall sell the holding or small farm to the tenant accordingly unless the Board obtain the consent of the Secretary for Scotland to the requirements of the tenant being refused by the Board.() The value of the holding or small farm shall in default of agreement be determined by an arbiter appointed by the Reference Committee for Scotland.The object is to give ex-Service men in Scotland who will become smallholders the same rights in regard to purchasing their holdings which are given to ex-Service men under the English Act. When this matter was before the Committee upstairs there appeared to be some difficulty as to allowing this right to be exercised by one member of a colony, and I have therefore, in amending the proposal, tried to follow as far as possible the words of the English Act. Hon. Members will see that in the last lines of the Amendment it is laid down that the request. of the smallholder to purchase his holding may he refused by the 326 Board with the consent of the Secretary for Scotland, and I think that that safeguards sufficiently the rights of other members of the colony.
Sir J. HOPE
I beg to second the Amendment. I think the House will agree that Scottish ex-soldiers should be in as good a position as English ex-soldiers as regards settlement on the land. If they desire to purchase their holdings and can find the money to do so, it does not seem too much to ask that they should have the right, subject to the veto of the Secretary for Scotland. Under the Amendment the Secretary for Scotland can refuse tine right if it is suggested that the purchase by one tenant would spoil or interfere with the whole scheme for a large colony of smallholders. If the soldiers are satisfied and are getting on well on their holdings, they would naturally wish to purchase them if possible. If they can, then we shall avoid all questions as to selling them, and as to the persons to whom the small holdings may be assigned or left, which are questions we discussed early in the evening.
§ Mr. R. McLAREN
I have great pleasure in supporting the Amendment. The same principle is adopted in the English Act. It is of the utmost importance that the holder of a small holding should have the power to purchase if he has a mind to do so. If the holder knows that within six years he may purchase for himself, he will take good care to improve it in such a way as to make it of the utmost value. At the same time, he ought to be protected from having anything extra charged against the price in respect of any improvements he may have made during the six years. If the matter is settled on those lines it will be an incentive to him to do the best for the land. With that purpose in view he will become a far better landholder than he would otherwise be. I see no reason why, if he he is able to purchase the land, he should not have the option of doing so. It would be a good thing for himself and a good thing for the country. Seeing that the ex-soldier has that privilege under the English Act., it would not be a bad thing to extend it to Scotland.
§ Mr. MUNRO
I quite recognise that the framers of this Amendment have had in mind in putting it upon the Paper on the Report stage the arguments I ventured to 327 use upstairs against the Amendment as then framed, and have sought to bring it into line with the arguments I then used. It has now been brought into line with the corresponding Section in the English Act, subject to one or two small alterations which I shall point out. In particular, it makes the Secretary for Scotland the final judge in the matter. One of my objections to the Amendment. proposed upstairs was that it gave the right to the smallholder to say to the Board, whether the Board were willing or not, "I must have this holding, I desire to purchase it, and whether you desire that I should purchase it or not, I should have the right to do so." I thought that was an objectionable position in which to place the Board. I also find that hon. Members have placed at the end of this proposal a provision that the Secretary for Scotland shall have the last word in the matter. That gets over the objection to which I have just referred. I would point out to my hon. Friends one or two alterations, subject to which I should be prepared to accept the Amendment. In the first place, the words "or small farm" in the first line of the Amendment would have to disappear. That follows from what the House has now determined as regards small farms. In the second place, the words "or small farm" in the second line would have to disappear. Indeed, the words "or small farm" would have to go out in each instance. I would make another suggestion to my hon. Friends, which I hope they will accept. The last part of the Amendment proposes thatThe value of the holding or small farm shall in default of agreement be determined by an arbiter appointed by the Reference Committee for Scotland.That provision does not fit in with the other provisions we have inserted in this Bill. I would suggest that, instead of the arbiter being appointed by the Reference Committee, the appeal in cases of dispute should be settled by the Land Court. Subject to that alteration, and the deletion of the words "or small farm" where they occur, I should be prepared to accept the Amendment.
I am perfectly willing to substitute the Land Court for the Reference Committee.
Amendments made to proposed Amendment: Leave out the words "or small farm" [in six places]. — Major W. Murray.]
328 Leave out the words "arbiter appointed by the Reference Committee for Scotland," and insert instead thereof the words "the Land Court."—[Mr. Munro.]
Question proposed. "That the proposed words, as amended, be there inserted in the Bill."
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
This a very important Amendment Which has brought into the Bill a fresh principle. As I understand the Acts at present on the Statute Book, the idea of purchase has over and over again been specifically excluded, and here we have for the first time this new change almost in principle. I hope the Board of Agriculture will very carefully exercise the powers which are given to it in this Clause as it at present stands by way of a check on the general policy of the Acts being reversed. There may be specific cases in which it is very desirable that the multiplication of smallholders owning the holdings should be increased. We have an English precedent. Perhaps my right hon. Friend might be able to give us some information whether, so far as he has collated all the experience there is, it is working satisfactorily. I should like an assurance from my right hon. Friend that the general policy which has hitherto underlain all tile Acts dealing with small holdings in Scotland should be very carefully considered when the Board of Agriculture under his direction exercises the powers which are given to it under this Clause.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that the alteration which is now being made alters to some extent the entire character of the Bill and the entire character of action with regard to small holdings in Scotland. I should like to press for some indication as to the policy which is likely to be pursued in regard to this Amendment. It appears to me that on a strict reading of the Clause as proposed it would practically be the duty of the Secretary for Scotland to assent to these sales unless there were some special circumstance in the particular case that rendered it inexpedient to do so. I should like to be, informed whether it is intended to exercise a considerable and a real discretion in this matter, or whether in every case in which you are satisfied as to the financial soundness of the purchase it would be your intention to grant permission to purchase. I have had a good deal of experience in connection with the administration of the 329 9.0 P.M.
Small Holdings Acts in England. This power has been practically useless. I should be very much surprised to learn that 3 per cent. of the smallholders have expressed any desire for purchase. Something like 97 percent. of those who have de- sired small holdings have been content with security of tenure, and have not ex- pressed a desire to become the purchasers of their holdings.
§ Major W. MURRAY
In my own Constituency I have several times received representations strongly in favour of my Amendment.
§ Mr. RAFFAN
I am not making any statement with regard to what opinion may be in the hon. and gallant Gentle-man's constituency. I am stating the experience of the Small Holdings Committee formed by the county councils in England and Wales. I think it is very dangerous to encourage this desire unless with proper safeguards. In ordinary cases the smallholder's capital is much better employed in developing las small holding than it would be in sinking money on the Land In every country where this system obtains the. danger is that the mortgagee simply takes the place of the landlord and after you have set up with great difficulty this system of small holdings, which is intended to give the small man a chance of settling down at a fair rent, which could not otherwise be obtained, and in giving equipment with the assistance of State credit, which could not otherwise be obtained, you may find in the next generation that all your work is undone because these men, having become purchasers, are able to mortgage their holdings and become slaves to the mortgagee perhaps to a greater extent than they have ever been to the landlord. If the right hon. Gentleman can assure us that he will keep this consideration very steadily in his mind and that consent will only be given in really suitable cases where he thinks these evils will not arise, that would to some extent allay my apprehension. But if, as the language of the Clause seems to convey, he intends to exercise a veto, this may become a very dangerous departure.
§ Sir D. MACLEAN
What will be the effect of the purchase of a holding? Will it cease to he a small holding and be open to fall into a large farm and would all 330 the rights and privileges and peculiar characteristics of a small holding disappear at the option of the purchaser?
§ Mr. MUNRO
I think my right. hon. Friend and the hon. Member (Mr. Raffan) have not fully observed that we are here dealing with Part I. and not Part II. of the Bill. They have said that the idea of purchase is foreign to Part II of the Bill which deals with the Small Landholders Act. But we are dealing with the Small Colonies part of the Bill and the House has passed the first words of Clause 6 which confer upon the Board the entire discretion of either selling or letting, at any price or rent which they think proper, any land with which they are furnished. Sale is the domestic atmosphere of the part of the Bill with which we are now dealing. Under the earlier part of Clause 6 the Board has power to say in any case where it thinks proper, land may be let or sold. In the Amendment which is now proposed the matter will be subject to the veto of the Secretary for Scotland for the time being.
§ Mr. MUNRO
No, I do not think that my hon. Friend was present at the earlier stages of the Bill, or he would not have asked that question. The scheme of this part is that we provide a certain amount of money£2,500,000 or £12,750,000. In virtue of that money the Board may either sell to a smallholder or let to a smallholder at its discretion. We have nothing to do with the Small Landholders Act. We are here dealing with a Clause which sets out by saying that the Board at its full discretion may either sell or let the land which it purchases to smallholders. It is the sole judge as to whether the land shall be sold or let, and as to the price or the rent. It seems a very small step to take, if the man to whom the land be let desires after six years to purchase, that he may purchase assuming that he can get the consent of the Secretary for Scotland. There is nothing in this Amendment foreign to the scheme of this part of the Bill. A similar proposal has been sanctioned by Parliament in the recent English Bill, and the corresponding man in England has the same right which it is proposed now to confer on the Scottish smallholder. I am sorry 331 that I cannot tell my right hon. Friend how the particular provision of the English Act is worked—
§ Mr. GARDINER
On reconsideration of the whole subject, instead of opposing I would now approve of the proposal. I do so possibly for a reason which some of my Friends will not altogether appreciate. There is no doubt that security of tenure whether in small holdings or large holdings is the essential, but I do not expect for a single moment that this option will be exercised very often. There will, however, be special circumstances in which it might be advisable that a smallholder should purchase his holding, and therefore I trust that the principle that applies to the smallholder will be extended one day to the large holder, and that we shall all be able to purchase our farms if we so desire.
Question put, and agreed to.