HC Deb 16 July 1926 vol 198 cc857-60

Considered in Committeeunder Standing Order 71A.

[Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR in the Chair. ]

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to authorise the payment, out of moneys provided by Parliament, of contributions towards losses incurred by councils of counties and county boroughs in providing small holdings, and of councils of counties in providing cottage holdings, in pursuance of any Act of the present Session to amend the Small Holdings and Allotments Acts, 1908 to 1919." —(King's Recommendations signified,—[Mr. Guinness.]


I desire to ask the Minister of Agriculture one question. This is, of course, the Financial Resolution covering his Bill, and I think the right hon. Gentleman should tell us whether it is absolutely impossible to avoid proceeding on a non-economic basis. To that part of our argument he has not replied.


It will be practically impossible, especially in view of the experience of the last few years, for county councils to supply these small holdings on an economic basis at the present time. Most of the land which is cultivated returns 3 per cent. to its tenants. If they buy the land and pay 5 per cent. for the money, clearly the difference has to be met in some way, and at the present time, until money rates fall, and the cost of building is reduced, we are satisfied that no appreciable advance can be made in small holdings unless some public assistance is given.


It is right, when questions concerning agriculture are the subject of discussion, that urban Members should give place to those who understand agriculture. This is not an agricultural topic. We are discussing a fresh subsidy, we are asking industrial constituencies to put their hands into their pockets in order to provide a new subsidy. That may or may not be a good thing, but it deserves the attention of the Committee. I can imagine that the Minister of Agriculture will have a great deal more to say before the end of these discussions as to the real burden that is going to be laid upon the taxpayer. As a purely urban Member knowing nothing about agriculture I desire to ask the Minister one or two questions about this new burden he proposes to put on the Exchequer. I have heard both his speeches this afternoon and 1 have yet no clear idea as to what this burden is to be. At the beginning he spoke optimistically about the future of the smallholdings movement and the great promise it held out. I am not qualified to say whether that optimism is well founded or not, but in his second speech he explained that it would be necessary to offer some inducement if county councils were to be persuaded to take up this Bill. Obviously if the county council were not willing even to work a .scheme which had to be based on an economic footing, they would be still less willing to work a scheme which imposes 25 per cent. as a surcharge on the rates for which they are responsible. I wish to know clearly what the Minister has estimated the cost to be. We have a very full Memorandum on the Financial Resolution. It has now become a practice to issue a Memorandum whenever a Money Resolution is involved in a Bill. That is a very important advance in our procedure. I find that the Memorandum provides on page 4 a sort of estimate of what the charge may be. The Memorandum says: In the period 1008–14 about 2,000 holdings per annum were provided. In the period 1010–26 an average of about 0,000 holdings were provided each year. Assuming that under the Bill, 8,000 holdings are provided during the first four years, at the end of that period the total annual loss may be estimated to be 8,000 x £25 = £200,000 per annum, of which up to 75 per cent., or £150,000, may have to ho paid by the Exchequer. In addition to that, there are loan charges for the purpose of purchasing the land. As I understand the financial scheme, the Government enters into a firm promise to pay, even though the holdings may be established on an economic basis. The Memorandum says: In the first place the Minister will not approve proposals unless he considers that they are based on reasonable and moderate estimates.


That is Clause 2. Self-supporting schemes come under Clause 1.

Captain BENN

That is not the point. As I understand the Memorandum an estimate is made of the probable deficit, and the Government then makes a firm promise to cover that.


I appeal to the hon. and gallant Member, in view of the arrangements made with hon. Members opposite, that if we had a full discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill, we should have the Financial Resolution at four o'clock. I hope he will let us carry out that arrangement.

Captain BENN

I would gladly yield to any appeal so gracefully made by a Minister, but there is such a thing as the duty of an Opposition. It is the duty of someone, however imperfectly, to fill the role of critic of the Government. I dissent from the idea that the Committee stage of a Money Resolution is to be merely a formal stage. The fact is that ' we are saddling ourselves now with a new subsidy. There was £23,000,000 last year for coal, and there is the sugar-beet sub- sidy for the benefit of agriculture. There are many others, and now we are to have a new subsidy of £200,000 a year on account of this new scheme. I do not think the Minister in his enthusiasm for small holdings, quite realises how the ordinary taxpayer feels about this growing burden of subsidies—

It being Four of the Clock, the Chairman left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress, to sit again upon Monday next (19th July).

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

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

Adjourned at Two Minutes after Four o'Clock until Monday next (1901 July).