§ (2) Where land is sold for small holdings at any time before the first day of April, nineteen hundred and twenty-six, the sale shall only be made subject to the approval of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries.
§ (3) A council may give to the tenant of as mall holding an option to purchase the holding on such terms as may be agreed and be consistent with the provisions of this Section, and on any such sale any increase of the value of the land due to improvements executed by and at the expense of the tenant shall not be taken in to account in estimating the best price obtainable for the land.
§ (4) A council, when selling or letting a smallholding at any time before the expiration two years after the passing of this Act, shall give preference to men who have served in the Forces of the Crown and to women who are certified by the Board to have been engaged in whole-time employment on agricultural work for a period of not less than six months during the present War.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I beg to move, in Sub-section (2), after the word "holdings" ["Where land is sold for small holdings "], to insert the word?or an option to purchase a small holding is given.This and the following two Amendments arts three very small Amendments which were moved in Committee, and. which I promised to consider. They make very little difference, but they are asked for by the county councils.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendments made: After the word "sale" ["the sale shall only be made "], insert the words "or option."
§ After the word "made," insert the words" or given."— [Sir A. Boscawen.]
§ Captain Sir B. STANIER
I beg to move to leave out Sub-section (3), and to insert instead thereof(3) (a) Subject to the approval of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, a tenant of a small holding shall have the option at any time during his tenancy of purchasing his holding from the council, and, if the tenant so desires, the purchase money shall be paid by means of a purchase annuity, which shall be fixed by the Treasury, and the annuity shall be calculated at the lowest rate which will, in the opinion of the Treasury, secare the Treasury against loss.(b) The purchase annuity shall be paid until the whole of the advance" is ascertained, in a manner prescribed by the Treasury, to have 1242 been paid, and the terms of purchase shall also, include such other terms as are not inconsistent with this Section.(c) On any purchase under this Section any increase of the value of the land due to improvements executed by and at the expense of the tenant shall not be taken into account in fixing, the purchase money to be payable by the purchaser.''We want to see better facilities given. to enable the ex-soldier to purchase his holding if he so desires. We believe that in doing this we shall bring up a phrase which was used by the late Mr. Jesse Col-lings when he made his great plea for the ownership of small holdings—"the magic of ownership." We believe the old Act, with its Clause 19, does not give the facilities nor the chances that we want to see the soldiers of the present day get. In Ireland, that favoured country, every thing is thrown to the smallholders to enable them to become owners. In bringing forward this Amendment, we do not ask the Government to put themselves to any loss. That is more than can be said in regard to Ireland, because there the money is advanced at 2¾ per cent. The Amendment provides that the purchase annuity shall be paid until the whole of the advance is ascertained to have been, paid, and the terms of purchase shall also include such other terms as are not inconsistent with the Clause. The whole question was argued in Committee, but those who were not on the Committee wish to bring it forward now with the request that it shall receive the most favourable-consideration.
§ Brigadier-General COLVIN
I beg to second the Amendment.
It is very desirable that we should attract as many soldiers as we possibly can to take up work on the land, and I am sure it will be a very great attraction to them if they think they will soon become owners. I am sure, too, that the more men we can get to own land the greater stability there will be and the less unrest.
§ Mr. CAUTLEY
I desire to support the Amendment with all the power I possess, in the interests of the smallholders themselves in the first instance, and, secondly, in the interest of the State and the community generally. The Bill simply provides that a county council may, if it chooses, give an option to a smallholder to purchase. It does not say on what terms or when or how. The Amendment proposes that to every smallholder there shall be given an option to purchase his- 1243 holding at any time on the terms provided by the Amendment, which are that he shall, if he wishes, be entitled to purchase by an annuity fixed at the lowest possible price that the county council can afford to take without losing money. It is left in that way because the rate of money varies, although it is not likely to diminish in future. It is only by an annuity that the Clause will be of any value at all. Smallholders are men with small means, and they could not pay down any large lump sum, but if they see their way to success and they are put in a position, by the extra 4 per cent., or whatever they have to pay, to provide an annuity repayable in forty, fifty, or sixty years, it will be an enormous attraction to them, and will act as a spur and incentive to them to extend their operations and the State will benefit and the individual will benefit no less. I can see no answer to the reasonableness for the desirability of the Amendment. I warn the Parliamentary Secretary that to everyone who is interested in this question it is very great nonsense to suggest, ns I dare say he may, that the county councils will be hampered in managing their estates. I do not believe they will for a moment. It is suggested that there may be twenty or thirty smallholders together, and there may be one or two purchases being completed. They will not be completed for many years, and the land agents will still be looking after the property, and even if they were completed, if any smallholder had succeeded to such a degree that he was able to pay down for his holding, it is common to every estate in the country that they have other persons' property mixed up with their own, and it will add no trouble of any sort to the management of the estate because there happen to be one or two small holdings belonging to the smallholders them selve3amongst them. This matter has been considered, and the Amendment is really put down by the Rural League, an institution that has done a very considerable amount of work in setting up small industries in village communities. They have a number of persons who are prospective smallholders, and who have become smallholders, and they arc universal in their demand for this facility to become the owners of the holdings they have made or are going to make. For these reasons, I wish particularly to impress on the Parliamentary Secretary that 1244 this is an Amendment that ought to be acceded to. It cannot do any possible harm, and it may hold out a lot of encouragement to these smallholders, and will induce them to put extra work into their holdings, and it ought to lead to a great successful movement, and to my mind it will be a most vital feature of the Bill.
§ Mr. ACLAND
I am not sure whether this can be properly worked into the framework of the Bill. A few minutes ago we were agreed that it was desirable, in order to avoid the present enhanced prices of land, that county councils should be urged not to purchase their land out-and-out but to lease it, and possibly to purchase later on. The hon. Gentleman (Sir A. Boscawen) said ho was going to send instructions advising the county councils to use those powers of leasing land rather than purchase out-and-out. What happens if that is done? A county council has a lot of land on lease and a particular tenant chooses to exercise his option of purchase. You cannot have one small piece of land purchased out of a large area which the county council is only leasing. That is one of the main conditions straight away in which this power to purchase could not really be exercised.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Quite so. But the Amendment would be represented as giving all persons who are settled under this scheme the option of purchase. That is broadly its desire, and yet here is a large class of cases straight away to which we agree at once the option of purchase could not really be given, and on the assumption that the offer of purchase is really attractive to these men, disappointment would be caused. The leasing arrangements, which we agree are very desirable if the Exchequer is to avoid heavy loss on these schemes owing to the present enhanced value of land, will be to that extent discouraged, because under them, of course, the option of purchase cannot be given. I have not yet seen anything in which the settler really gains by having the option of purchase compared with the absolute security of tenure of a public authority, which is about the best tenure a man can have. I believe it is a sentimental point of no great substance and that when, the matter is put fairly to a 1245 man he is perfectly content to be a tenant on the 'security which he possesses, and I have come across very little genuine desire —I know there is a political consideration involved—for purchase and ownership as against tenure on ordinary small-holding terms. If purchase really means anything as distinct from tenure, it means that a man once he has purchased can alienate— that he can sell the land.
§ Mr. ACLAND
Then whit does the man get if he has not the power to alienate, if when he ceases to be a tenant it goes back to the county council to be re-allotted by them to some new tenant, and it is in no sense the actual possession of the man who purchases, so that he can sell to somebody else? What does ownership really mean? It cannot be worth very much if when a man has purchased he is not to have the power to sell to anybody he likes, and if he does sell to anybody else he is defeating the main purpose for which Parliament is passing this Statute. We do not want to go into large schemes and to put down large amounts of public money to obtain land, even for ex-soldiers, if they are to have the power to alienate to somebody else for whose benefit the scheme was not devised at all. If we try to weave into the Bill this principle of purchase we should be slow in departing from the old principle embodied in the Small Holdings Act that 20 per cent. of the purchase money should be put down before you allow a man to embark on a scheme of annuity payment. If we accept a modified form, it seems to me that requiring 20 per cent. of the purchase money is a very sound one, showing that the man at any rate has some pretty active and definite desire and power to take over the land, and I hope that will not be abandoned if any consideration is given to this matter.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I sympathise entirely with the desire expressed by many Members that there should be facilities to smallholders to buy. I have always said so. I believe that possession is a good thing. It tends to induce good cultivation, and we have provided in the Bill, in Clause 10, that there shall be means whereby a smallholder can buy his holding.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
We have made provision whereby smallholders can, under certain circumstances, buy their holding.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
We have made provision for smallholders to buy under certain circumstances. In Committee we amended the Clause so as to make it more favourable. if hon. Members recollect, the form in which the Bill was originally brought in was this, that if a smallholder wished to buy during the seven-year period between now and 1926 he could only buy at cost price. We took that out; and if you look at Subsection (2), there is nothing about his paying cost price, but simply that the purchase can be made subject to the approval of the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. I think lion. Members will see that the Government have been willing to meet, as far as possible, the desire of these people to purchase on fair and reasonable terms. What would this Amendment do if it were accepted It would do two main things. First, it would give to every tenant the right to purchase, subject only to the consent of the Board of Agriculture. I cannot accept the view put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Mr. Cautley) that this Amendment would not upset the managements of estates by county councils. What would happen? The county council has a large estate. It is managing the estate as a whole, and very likely managing it most successfully, but this estate management could be entirely upset by one tenant here and another tenant there exercising the absolute option of purchase. Nobody expressed that argument more strongly than the right hon; Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Pretyman), who, of course, knows a very great deal about estate management. My hon. Friends seek to get over that by giving a veto to the Board of Agriculture. Can you imagine anything more likely to cause friction and trouble between the Board and the county councils than cases where the county council have said, "We cannot, consistently with the proper management of our estate and the. interests of the rest of the tenants, allow A and B to buy their holdings"? Then the Board of Agriculture come along, and says, "You are entirely wrong; you are to allow that."
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
I think the hon. Member knows something about the management of estates. I would quote the opinion of the right hon. Member for Chelmsford, who is universally recognised as knowing a very great deal about the management of estates, and his opinion is that to allow any individual tenant, possibly in the middle of an estate, to buy their holding would upset the management. That is the view which has been represented to the Board over and over again most strongly by the county councils.
§ Sir B. STANIER
Is it not a fact that at this moment the land belonging to the county councils is scattered in small plots all over the county?
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
That may be the case, but I do not think it is an ideal arrangement. We hope the county councils will, as far as possible, buy large tracts of land and buy large estates which they can manage as a whole. That is what we are aiming at, but that would be entirely upset and the work of the county councils would be made far more difficult, while at the same time the interests of other tenants would suffer, if this Amendment were accepted. In any case, I can imagine no worse plan than to allow opportunity to any central authority to interfere with the management of the county councils by reversing decisions which the county council, with its local knowledge and responsibility for management, has come to. For that reason, so far as this Amendment is concerned—though I am not by any means averse; in fact, I am anxious that reasonable facilities should be given to purchase—I cannot accept the Amendment. There is a further point which is also very important, and that is that the purchase price" should be paid entirely by way of annuities. As things stand now, one-fifth of the purchase price has to be paid down in cash, and, having regard to the present uncertainty in the value of money, we could not allow this security to be abandoned. My point is, that this is not the time to do it. It may be possible, by a large and comprehensive measure dealing with land purchase—not merely land purchase of individual small holdings, but land purchase generally— that the time may come—I am not making 1248 a promise—swhen the Government may think it desirable to give the tenants of land generally some more favourable method of purchasing their holdings than exists to-day. I do not think this is the moment to do it, and certainly I do not think we ought to do it in respect of a very limited class. For these reasons,. though I sympathise entirely with the objects which my hon. Friends have in view, it is not possible for the Government to accept this Amendment.
I hope the Government will not shut their ears to the main principle of the Amendment. It may be that in another place opportunity will be presented of. putting the Amendment in a different form. There is a great deal more in the Amendment than seems to be admitted by the hon. Member. There is no doubt that one of the chief competing attractions of settlement in the Dominions as distinguished from settlement in this country is the prospect of ownership. It is perfectly easy to belittle that emotion, for it is an emotion, by talking of it as mere sentiment; but, after all, it is one of the deep feelings in human nature. On this subject there have been three separate Committees. The Departmental Committee presided over by Sir Harry Verney dealt with colonies of smallholders to be run by the State in the main. That Committee, for the purpose of such colonies, advised tenancy, because of the peculiar characteristics in regard to these colonies. Those recommendations have been carried out almost in toto by the State Colonies Small Holdings Act. The next Committee that advised was the Agricultural Policy Sub-committee of the Reconstruction Committee presided over by Lord Selborne— —a very strong Committee—which reported, with one dissentient, strongly in favour of ownership. The last Committee was the Committee over which I had the honour of presiding, which sat last year. On my Committee agricultural labour was very strongly represented. Mr. Dallas, Mr. J. M. Duncan, Mr. Marshall, Mr. Lundon, Mr. Nichols, and, I think, one more representative of agricultural labour, were on the Committee. All sections of opinion were represented — owners, farmers, and labour. I do not think there was any Committee which dealt with this subject that was more representative. I want to read two or three sentences from our Report, which was published last December.
On this point it was unanimous. I cannot remember what Mr. Leonard said in his Minority Report. Paragraph 39, after dealing with the earlier Committees, said:We also feel that in cases where a man who has been fighting in defence of his native land expresses on his return a deliberate desire to possess as his own the holding which may be allotted the him, the Nation cannot fairly resist a claim of this nature, but must rather be prepared to meet such a demand in a generous, though prudent, spirit.Paragraph 40 says:We accordingdy recommend that, so far as practicable, suitable and duty qualified applicants, who possess adequate knowledge and the experience which foreshadows success, shall have, if they desire it, the option of buying their holdings outright from county councils, and we think that in cases where such ownership is desired, the Government should be prepared through the; comity councils to advance to an approved applicant the whole cost of the land, including adaptation and equipment, in consideration of an annual payment for a period of years, providing for sinking; fund and interest. But we are at the same time of opinion that proper safeguards must be taken to ensure that such an ownership holding shall be protected from transfer to other uses, from undue subdivision, and from the possibility of being farmed in an un neighbourly spirit, by means of adequate covenants and also in the last resort by a power of forfeiture on fair compensation.Those are the views which my committee put forward on this subject. The present Amendment enables those views to be put into practice. Under its procedure if a tenant asks for the option to purchase, and is refused by the county council, the county council would refer the matter to the Board of Agriculture with its representations. Take an imaginary case of a county council having two large estates, one of which it proposes to develop as ownership holdings, and the other as tenancy holdings, and suppose that a holder on the tenancy holding estate asks for leave to purchase, the county council would say, "No, our Scheme was that estate B should be the ownership estate and not estate A, and you make a claim on this estate, and the man who wanted to buy ought to have gone to estate B." But suppose that after that system had been adopted at the outset it was found that practically all the tenants on the tenancy estate wanted to buy, why should not they? The Board of Agriculture would give effect to what was obviously the opinion of the majority of the settlers, and if that opinion was expressed, and they wanted to buy, why 1250 should not they? I hope very much that the Board will at least say this to the House to-night, that if they cannot accept this Amendment—though I for one propose to vote for it—they will accept an Amendment which would carry out the very moderate, prudent, and proper recommendations of the committee: whose report I have ventured to read to the House. On those lines everybody will be protected, and if the Government will not accept the Amendment as it stands, they should give an undertaking to the House that an Amendment to that effect will be inserted in another place, and if they do that I shall not press for a Division.
§ Captain FITZROY
I cannot help thinking that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture is making a great mistake in taking up the attitude which he has assumed with regard to this Amendment. He has conjured up difficulties which do not exist. From his remarks it might be imagined that this is a Bill for the benefit of the county councils, and not for the settlement of men on the land. This is a Bill for the settlement on the land more especially of ex-soldiers, and also of others who wish to acquire small holdings. The right hon. Gentleman on the Front Opposition Bench (Mr. Acland) also objected to this Amendment. I rather think he was in favour of it on the Committee stage, and I do not know what has made him since that time raise objections against it. He asked what advantage a smallholder would get by being able to gain possession of his holding. Surely if he has experience of rural life he must know that there is a particular charm which attaches to ownership of the land. The owner gets obvious advantages. He gets the option of leaving his holding to his successors, so that it becomes a family possession. He gets the advantage of being able to sell it if he wants to do so under certain restrictions. He has only got to give notice and get the consent of the local authority to do it, and he gets the advantages that ownership gives. I am often asked, What does an agricultural labourer's life lead up to? Is there any great future before him? This is one of the means by which an agricultural labourer can get advancement in life, and instead of labouring all his days as a paid labourer, we hope that he may look forward to acquiring a bit of land of his own' from which he may make an honest living. The objections which have been raised 1251 against this seem to me to be positively ridiculous. The right hon. Gentleman opposite said that this Amendment did not take into consideration that the county council might be only hiring the land and sub-letting it to a smallholder. A very simple Amendment to this Amendment would make it quite clear that it refers only to land which is the property of the county council. I hope, therefore, that the Government will take up a different attitude towards this Amendment and accept it.
§ Colonel GREIG
I make no apology for intervening in this Debate, because, although I was not on the Committee which dealt with this question and have not therefore had an opportunity of saying a word on it, I am particularly interested in this particular form of holding, because in Scotland we have succeeded in getting a tenure which is extremely like the small holding tenure, which is set up under the existing Acts in England and under this Act. I ask the Government to stand by their Clause. The last speaker said that they are only raising ridiculous objections. I believe that their action is founded on a very sound public policy. The hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. L. Scott) read out an extract from the Report of his own Committee. The purport of that very passage which he read out was that, where there was a possibility of the man obtaining ownership of his land, that ownership should be protected in a certain way so as to make it not only a fee simple ownership, but an ownership which should be protected against alienation. But the last speaker suggested that the very advantage of this Clause was that it will give the man the power of sale. Follow this out for a moment. You are creating, first of all, what I may call a small holding tenure. In the interests of the public you protect in their tenure those whom you get on the land. There is also a possibility under the existing Clause, as it is proposed by the Government, for the man, if he thought fit, to obtain ownership of the land, but only under very guarded circumstances, because there is only an optional power in the county council to do it. It is said that there is a very keen sentiment of ownership. That is perfectly true, but there is one sentimen in human nature which is a little stronger even than ownership. Suppose 1252 you have high prices coming in and a large number of smallholders, instituted to a large extent at public expense, and protected in their holdings under the existing tenure, protected against themselves from alienation, the attraction of a high price comes along, and if the Clause now suggested goes into the Bill there will be a loophole through which every small holding which you have created in the country can go back into the general mass and be absorbed.
Under the existing Act, with which this Act will be read as one, the county council has adequate powers to prevent anything of the kind happening. That cannot be allowed. The county council has the right of pre-emption.
§ Colonel GREIG
My answer to that is this. Leave this machinery, this system with this additional power to grant an option, but do not attempt to create a fresh tenure with none of the protections indicated by the hon. Member's own Committee, and subject to the extreme danger which I have pointed out of the likelihood of these particular holdings being absorbed in a time of high prices. I hope that the Government will stick to this. We have had this question thoroughly thrashed out in Scotland, and from the experience which we have there I ask the Government to retain the existing Clause which will protect the man even against himself, so that you. will not have the small holding disappear.
Sir A. BOSCAWEN
Perhaps I may be allowed to make a statement. Hon. Members will realise that though I sympathise very much with the object of the proposal I am not in a position to accept the Amendment, and I do not think that this particular Amendment would be workable. I am, however, prepared to do this. I recognise the strength of the appeal that there should be more adequate machinery for enabling smallholders to purchase if they wish to do so, and I am prepared to go as far as this. I will consult the President of the Board to-morrow, and I will see whether it is possible that he should put down something in the way of an Amendment in another place, I do not say to carry out these particular proposals, but to give some facilities calculated to carry out the object which is desired. I cannot even promise that it will be possible for him to do so, but we will certainly go very carefully through the whole question, in 1253 the light of the discussion which has taken place to-day, and I hope that it may be possible to have something moved in another place that may meet the views of the House generally.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Sir R. LISTER
I was very much interested in this Debate, and I congratulate the Government on the stand which they have taken. For six years I was chairman of a smallholdings committee in my county, and I purchased some hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of land. That land is now well farmed, the smallholders are, in the main, highly prosperous, and I presume, had it not been for the War, I should still occupy the position of chairman of the committee, and I should have been proud to do so because I felt that I was doing a great deal of good. We put before all the applicants who came before us the case of purchase and the case of leases for eighty years, and in only two cases out of several hundreds did the applicants choose to purchase, and I believe that unless you can get a special class of applicant the purchase system will be a failure arid for this reason. Many applicants have the capital to buy the land or a large portion of it. They do not want to go to the county councils to carry out the matter when they can buy the land in the open market. My great objection to dealing with land by way of purchase without having the money is this: There is a great temptation, directly a man gets into difficulties, to raise money on it, and in nearly every case these men do get into difficulties. An other thing is that we shall have repeated in this country what has happened to a tremendous extent in the Province of Quebec—anyone going up the St. Lawrence will see evidences of it—that at the death of the applicant, unless he leaves only one heir, the small holding is divided, and that goes on until it disappears altogether. The Small Holdings Act of 1908 I consider to be a splendid measure that has worked well where the county councils have administered it with sympathy and with good judgment and have, not laid out a great deal of money on capital expenditure. I look upon the leasing system for eighty years as tantamount to a perpetual tenancy, and the smallholder can enjoy that tenancy without putting down a single penny of money. The applicants that applied to mo in the main possessed 'between £10 and £30, and they needed the whole of that money in order to purchase 1254 seeds and stock, and to carry them over the first year. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. We have in Gloucestershire hundreds of smallholders, and they bought their land, they occupied their land, on terms which are far more profitable and beneficial to them than would be possible in any other way. In the first place the rent charged to them was a sum sufficient to pay the interest on the purchase money of the land and one-half per cent. interest added as a sinking fund, in order to pay for the land over a period of eighty years. That was no hardship whatever on the applicant, because in those- days—unfortunately we shall not have them again—she simply paid 4¼per cent., 4 per cent, in others, which represented rent and sinking fund. He had the credit of the county council behind him in order to help him into his holding. If the holding lasts for eighty years, it can be kept on for another eighty; if the holder does not live for eighty years, his heirs may step into his shoes. There is a primâ facie right to occupy the land for another eighty years, because the Small Holdings Act says that he must show his need for the land and that he has applied for it. By his occupancy for eighty years, he has shown his earnestness. Therefore, it amounts to a perpetual tenancy without a man being encumbered by any capital outlay. Supposing he has been on the farm for twenty years. His wife may die. Probably she was the cheese maker or the butter maker. Then, perhaps, he wants to get away to his sons in Canada, America, or Australia. If he is saddled with a freehold he is tied and cannot go, but under the Small Holdings Act, which is entirely in the interest of the tenant, he can clear away the whole of his stock, sell his hay, give notice to the county council that he is going to give up the land, and he can go his way a free and unfettered man. For those and many other reasons, I say that the Government will be acting in the interests of the State and of the smallholder if they stick to their Clause.
§ Sir B. STANIER
In view of the favourable consideration promised to my proposal, I bog to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendments made:
§ In Sub-section (4), after the word "to" ["give preference to men who have served "], insert the word "suitable."1255
§ After the word "served" [" men who have served in the forces of the Crown "], insert the words "at any time."
§ After the word "to" [" and to women who are certified"], insert the word "suitable."— [Sir A. Boscawen.]