§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE (Mr. Guinness)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
The object of this Bill is to re-start the provision for small holdings, in view of the fact that the old machinery is now, under post-war conditions, at a standstill. The land settlement scheme which was introduced under the Act of 1919 for ex-service men is now closed, and we are occupied in winding up its finance. The Act of 1908 is still in force, but owing to the rate of interest and cost of equipping holdings and providing the necessary buildings, it is impossible for any local authorities now to do this work on an economic basis. Perhaps that is too sweeping a statement, and I will say that it is generally impossible to do' this work on an economic basis, and county councils can hardly be expected to bear the whole of this burden unaided. British agriculture is a complex of many varied industries, and while certain operations, such as corn growing, are, and must be. large scale enterprises, there are others where, given suitable conditions, suitable soil, access to markets, and the special qualities of a small holder, the small holding has proved its usefulness and productivity.
Its value has, I think, been generally recognised on all sides of the House for keeping a large population on the land under satisfactory and attractive conditions. It certainly has led to a considerable increase of the rural population in the districts where it has been applied. I could give many instances, but in the case of the Ministry's farm settlements, which were acquired between 1917 and 1921, before the land was taken over it supported 580 persons, while on the 1st of April of last year it supported 1,247 persons. In another case, a county took over two farms of 600 acres which had previously been worked as one holding. The employment given when it was 780 one holding was 13 men, and there are now 41 holdings, each supporting a family, besides a certain number of hired men.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I will look it up afterwards, but I have so many of these cases that 1 am not quite sure which county it was. There are many cases of the same kind. We have got very remarkable figures which have been collected in Scotland. The inquiries which have been made there show that in the case of eight arable farms which had supported 265 persons before they were acquired for small holdings, they afterwards provided a livelihood for 781 persons, and in the case of six pasture farms, 29 families were originally supported, and after the conversion a livelihood was found for 243. The small holding movement has a further advantage in providing the necessary recruiting ground for the larger farmers who are undoubtedly necessary to bear the chief part in production in our British agriculture. I am informed that in the East Riding of Yorkshire the large majority of farmers started their enterprises as small holdings. Professor Ashby made inquiries in Wales, and examined something over 800 typical cases throughout Wales. He found that 32 per cent of the farmers had started either as hired farm workers, manual workers, or artisans, and over 60 per cent. were farmers' sons and, of course, in Wales the holdings are so small that really most of the rest were cultivating what, in effect, from the point of view of size, can be classed as small holdings.
It is difficult to dogmatise about productivity, but undoubtedly great success has been obtained in stock-farming, probably owing to the amount of individual attention which the smallholder is able to give. Last year, in the Lindsey Division of Lincolnshire, they had a small holdings prize competition, and the report of the judges stated. inter alia:On visiting the small holdings, nearly 50 in number, it was very pleasant to find that, with the exception of one or two, they are farmed in such a manner that the tenants cannot help but be successful.This report from the Lindsey Division gives various cases of special efficiency. 781 A 50-acre holder had sold fat pigs to the value of £300 in the previous winter, and another had won the breed championship prize for curly coated pigs at Smithfield Show for six years in succession. We get similar results from the inspection of statutory small holdings in a great number of counties. In Shropshire one of the judges, who was a large farmer, stated that when he began to judge he did not believe in the small holdings movement in the very slightest, and he had always taken every opportunity of criticising it, but now he found himself converted entirely and stated publicly that the small holdings movement amply justified itself. I could give various cases as to the increased head of stock which is carried by the land after conversion into small holdings; but I do not think it can be dealt with really fairly just from that point of view, because we must admit that very often this heavier stock is accompanied by a smaller production of crops and larger purchases of feeding-stuffs. Therefore, I do not think we can really go further than the generalisation that the smallholder has proved peculiarly efficient in the production of livestock. We have in this country considerable contrasts in the size of our farms in comparison with our neighbours. In England, we have 66 per cent. of our farms under 50 acres—these figures are from the Report of the Agricultural Tribunal—in France and Holland, 90 per cent.; in Germany, 92 per cent.; and in Denmark and Belgium, 95 per cent., and some of those countries esteem so highly the advantage of small holdings that they have been at special pains by their legislation to encourage their provision.
Small holdings cannot be provided, generally speaking, under present conditions, without State help. It is a process which can only be done gradually and carefully, because in a civilised country, where the suitable land is already in agricultural occupation, you cannot set up small holdings on a wholesale scale without dispossessing the present occupiers. In deciding on the new methods adopted in this Bill, we have discarded those methods which were chosen in 1919. That scheme was, necessarily, on a costly basis, because it was in discharge of a promise to ex-service men to settle them on the land. Delay under those conditions had to be avoided.
782 The advantage of these small holdings would have been much less if the ex-service man had been kept waiting for years before he could obtain one, and, for those reasons, the buildings had to be provided in a period of the greatest inflation, when costs were extremely high. Loans had to be contracted at 6 per cent., on the average, as compared with the pre-War rate of 31 per cent. The working of the scheme has, I think, suggested that to throw the full financial responsibility on the State, while the schemes are executed by local authorities, who have no direct incentive to economy, is not a satisfactory method for normal conditions, although justified for settling ex-service men on the land. It is, undoubtedly, not the way to get economy for one body to pay, and for another to administer.
We have therefore adopted what is in small holding legislation a new principle of sharing the burden between the Exchequer and the local authority. We think it reasonable that the local authorities should make some contribution, seeing that they settle their sons on the land, they maintain their population, and thereby increase the general prosperity of their county and add to the rateable value. We have set out in the White Paper, which is available in the Vote Office, the financial provisions in some detail. Clause 1 applies to our new conditions the provisions of the 1908 Act, under which it is the duty of the councils to provide holdings, where no financial loss is incurred, for suitable applicants. We leave the council with a free hand in these cases, which, I fear, are, under present conditions, very rare, and we propose to exercise no particular Government supervision, except in cases of compulsory acquisition, where the consent of the Minister of Agriculture is still necessary. Under Clause 2, we provide that, where these holdings cannot be set up without a loss, the Exchequer will find 75 per cent. of the loss shown by the approved estimate. They will pay this 75 per cent. as an annual contribution throughout the loan period, whatever may be the arrangements made by the local authority.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
It is all in the White Paper. We estimate that Councils will have to raise £6,000,000 in the first four years in providing 8,000 holdings, at an average of £750. If my hon. Friend will look at the White Paper, he will find all the data set out. The advantage of this method is that it fixes the Government's contribution in advance. It ensures that the State's liability should be definite and limited, and it leads to economy in administration by lessening the need for close Government supervision. There is, further, an inducement to the Councils to economise, because they will derive the advantage of subsequent savings, and they will lessen the 25 per cent. charge which normally, is to fall upon them. The Chaplin Act of 1892 showed that the Conservative Party at that time were already convinced of the truth of the old maxim, " The magic of ownership turns sand into gold ", and this Bill seeks to encourage small holdings on a freehold basis by new methods. Recent legislation on this subject has been chiefly directed to the provision of holdings for letting. Later Acts than the Chaplin Act, such as, the 1908 Act have re-enacted the provision which that Act of 1892 contained in regard to purchase. The purchaser had to advance one-fifth of the purchase money on completion, and he might, with the consent of the local authority, leave one-fourth as a perpetual rent charge, and the residue be paid off in 50 years, which was extended in the Act of 1919 to 60 years. Little advantage was taken, especially in recent years, of these opportunities, chiefly because the cost of money was so great, that when holdings had to be bought at the market value, and the smallholder had to pay 6 or 7 per cent. for his money, naturally he would be in a much worse position than a man who was on a pre-War holding, and paid something like 3 per cent. on the value of the holding.
We have based this Bill on the principle of ownership schemes, which are quite as valuable to the nation as tenancy schemes, and should, we think, receive at least as much assistance from public funds.
Clause 5 (Regulations as to purchase money and sale) provides that the purchase money shall be paid by way of terminable annuities over a period of 60 years, or, if the purchaser desires, over a 784 shorter period with an equivalent increase in the annuity. The first instalment has always to be paid on completion. The Council may postpone the subsequent instalments up to five years if the purchaser incurs capital expenditure which increases the value of the holding, but in no case is there to be an increase of loan by the State because of this postponement. The small holder, will, therefore get, complete protection against the very unsatisfactory position in which he has found himself in times gone by owing to the higher interest rates that have been charged. In view of the very great benefit that the small holders will get through the expenditure of public money we are providing that for 40 years the holding must, be cultivated as a small holding, or if the annuity is not then paid off, until it has been paid. There is no power to convert the holding for other purposes until at least 40 years or until the loans have been paid off whichever is the longer period.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman who will bear the cost of the repairs to the buildings during this time?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The repairs to the buildings and the drains are borne by the small holder, who also insures them. That is our reason for providing that there shall be no sinking fund, because we believe it will work out about the same in the financial result to the local authority whether the small holder becomes a free holder and carries the cost of repairs, insurance, and administration or whether on a rental basis local authority has to bear the burden. We believe that the conditions laid down will be entirely fair as between the parties.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
I am not quite clear on that point. I notice that Sub-section (6) of Clause 2 statesFor the purposes of this part of the Act the expression full, fair rent ' in relation to a small holding means the rent which a tenant might reasonably be expected to pay for the holding if let as such and the landlord undertook to bear the cost of the repairs.Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that in addition to paying full fair rent on the basis of the landlord doing re- 785 pairs, the small holder will have to take over the responsibility to repair if he decides to purchase?
§ Mr. GUINNESS
Yes, but as the landlord is not going to do repairs the State will not pay for them. I think that is fair. Then we provide a further inducement to ownership holdings in Clause 12 where the Councils may advance the money to anyone who has agreed with the owner to purchase a small holding for his own occupation. This arrangement may be made under the Chaplin Act of 1892. So far it has been limited to the tenant in actual occupation. Now it may be taken advantage of by anyone with the requisite knowledge and skill and the proportion of the value which may be advanced may be extended from four-fifths to nine-tenths.
The definition of a small holding used to be 50 acres or the annual value, for income-tax purposes, of £50. It is now put at 50 acres or an annual value of £100. The object of this is to bring in holdings in agricultural areas where the soil is indifferent and where a 50 acre holding has been found to be too small a unit. Previously the demand has been anything from one to 50 acres for a small holding. Now, however, the demand of an agricultural worker is to get a bit of land attached to his cottage to cultivate in his spare time. Many men have gat an initial start in life by taking advantage of such an opportunity. We desire to make these opportunities more widely available. A pig, a few poultry, a garden where potatoes may be grown, may often be the means of the keen worker getting the first bit of capital which means so much to him. So we have provided, in Clause 11, that the County Council may sell cottage holdings of from 40 perches to three acres on the same basis of the full fair rent for 60 years. We are making this proposal which we hope will insure shutting out the week-ender who really is not a very earnest agricultural worker, and should not come under that category. The benefit will be restricted to bond fide agricultural workers or those engaged in. village industries who have the requisite knowledge or cultivation.
In asking the House to-day to give us a Second Reading of this Bill, I should hope that all parties will be found in 786 agreement on the general principle. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberavon (Mr. Ramsay Macdonald) have both frequently spoken in encouragement of small holdings. The Conservative party passed the first Act in 1892, and the party have never wavered in their allegiance to the principle that, side by side with larger reforms, we must, in our agricultural policy, make provision for the small holder. This Bill attempts to provide facilities for small holdings on as wide a basis as we feel it possible to do in view of the limitations necessarily imposed by our present financial situation. It gives effect to our belief in ownership and private enterprise. It seeks to encourage the small occupying owner side by side with the tenant. It is inspired by the thought that it is mainly from the counties of England and from the sons of the yeoman and the peasant that that creative energy has been drawn which has established the race throughout the world and built up our Dominions and Colonies. There have been great changes in rural life, but the success of movements like the Rural Community Councils and Women's Institutes have shown that our villages still possess a great fund of self-help and leadership. We hope that these proposals will exercise a strong influence in helping that vigorous spirit of enterprise, and keeping it rooted in our own country-side.
§ Mr. NOEL BUXTON
The spectacle of a Conservative Minister of Agriculture begging us to be keen about small holdings marks an epoch in my experience. I was one of those who took part in founding the Small Holdings Society about the year 1901, and when I heard the Minister say the Tory Party had " never wavered " those were his words —in their enthusiasm for small holdings, I must say 1 think they did waver a little about that time. I cannot remember that any enthusiasm on those benches lent much aid in urging that Conservative Government, which had a free hand for ten years, to take action to provide small holdings—anyone, that is, except the noble Lord the Member for Nottingham (Lord Henry Cavendish-Bentinck), who, 787 perhaps, is an exception too well known to be regarded as typical of the Conservative Party.
§ Mr. BUXTON
He had then passed from activity. Perhaps the departure of Mr. Jesse Collings was responsible for the wavering that then took place. We may feel flattered and delighted that we are all agreed now. We have made converts. I think the Conservatives of today are rather like the converted poacher, who, as we all know, makes the best gamekeeper; and it is, of course, the fact that if the Conservative Government will devote themselves to reform of this kind, they can do so with much greater ease than any other party, and let us wish them every possible success. The Labour party are in favour of small holdings wherever they are suitable. Some people may say, " How, then, can you be a Collectivist party? " I reply that I am a Collectivist where individualism fails, and not otherwise; but individualism, in my opinion, has not failed in the matter of small culture where this is suitable to the nature of the cultivation, as, for instance, in the Fens, and other special districts. It is interesting to see that among the strongest elements supporting Socialist parties on the Continent are peasant communities, who find in their position nothing that is inconsistent with their socialism. I always envy foreigners their peasant population; and I wish to goodness we had a larger population of small cultivators in this country. No-one can go even to Belgium without feeling that there is a great deal to arouse envy among that hard-working and highly-skilled population, which lives on extremely small areas of land, and is responsible for the highest productivity of any known country. But the Belgian standard of life is not one we ought to emulate, it is much too low for us to have any hope of Belgianising our countryside. Nevertheless, even with our standards, and without any lowering of them there is a great deal more to be done with small holdings.
I agree with the Minister that this experiment really did not follow from the Act of 1892. The Act of 1908 was a 788 success, 'but it was very much' handicapped, I think, by the modifications that were made in the Bill while it was passing through Committee. If it had been a thoroughgoing Bill, and not been watered down as it was, it would have led to far greater results, and in some aspects it is a tragedy that these 18 years have not been used to do full justice to the value of small holdings. But even as it is, what it has shown is that Governmental interference in order to bring about a different allocation of land is absolutely sound and to have a consensus of opinion to that effect among Members opposite is, to me, very valuable indeed. I would urge, in passing, that this is a microcosm of the value of general control on a much wider scale, showing the need for a legislative allocation of land which could not take place without State action.
The Minister gave us interesting examples of the success of small holdings. He did no more than justice to their success, and the situation deserves the public attention which should follow from a debate like this, quite apart from the merits of the Bill. If I may add to the Minister's illustrations, it seems to me small holdings have been a success, especially in enabling forms of cultivation suited to certain areas to develop which would not have developed without State intervention. Take the fruit industry in the Fens, and in other districts: it has really come about because of the Small Holdings Act. Everyone will admit that there has been a real economic development, leading not only to a larger population, and a prosperous population, on the land, but to an increase of our national resources, and to the replacing of foreign imports of fruit which otherwise would still further have spoiled our trade balance. That is a marked proof of the value of the movement.
Then there are settlements which are on a different footing from the purely individualistic holdings an example of a settlement organised as one unit, and assisted by co-operation, being found in the case of Boxstead Colony in Essex. It was taken over by the Ministry during the War, and is now a county colony. In that sort of case you would not have the success that you have in the Fens without co-operation. But it is extraordinary to find that there has been in other cases success even 789 without co-operation. It is a common thing to say that you cannot succeed with small holdings unless you co-operate, but that is not true. I think the most amazing proof of the value of the movement is the success achieved on land which is not specially suited, which is not good land, and is not part of a colony, by people who are very keen about the working of the land themselves. On very bad land indeed, where large farming was not a success at all, there has been case after case of small holdings becoming a success merely through the human factor. It is very important to see that we are not dependent on specially suitable land or specially suitable marketing facilities. The human factor is at least as important as any other.
In my own county of Norfolk we have taken the lead in regard to utilising small holdings Ads, and you have cases of both kinds on a very large scale which are all to the credit of legislation. It is often said by those who want to depreciate the movement that we have already got 260,000 holdings classed as small holdings The Minister gave the figures the other day arid they show a fall in 1910 from 288,000 to 264,000 in 1925, The Minister very rightly added that this was counterbalanced to seine extent by the changes in the opposite direction because of the uncertainty as to what is exactly an agricultural holding or a residential holding, but still the fact that there is a fall only emphasises the need for legislation to maintain the holding because there are artificial reasons for the diminution. You have got in many cases holdings amalgamated where really the motive is not purely economic, because it is very much easier to manage the property if the holdings are not too numerous. There is always operating the pressure of the agent in favour of unification and therefore you get an artificial diminution which needs to be counterbalanced by statutory action. Then you may say that statutory holdings are only a fraction of the holdings numbering only about 30,000 out of 260,000. I think that also demonstrates the extreme importance of proceeding with statutory holdings.
There has been a certain doubt perhaps in many minds because of the gigantic loss in connection with 790 ex-service holdings, but I do not think we ought to be discouraged by that because it was a war emergency, and it had to be done in a very uneconomic way. In a sense, the loss which may be £8,000,000, is partly a matter of bookkeeping and is not a real economic loss. The holdings in the main have been self-supporting and valuable holdings, and it has not really been a loss to that extent to the taxpayer. But when you take the pre-war holdings they were admittedly an extraordinary success, because they not only supported themselves but they provided in a vast number of cases sinking fund besides which was in the way to bring land into the ownership of public bodies. You have an enormous number of applicants who have waited far too long and it is perfectly right that they should be given a chance. I believe 16,900 is the figure which the Minister gave the other day. It is time there was an advance.
If you approach the thing afresh, and consider what is needed to deal with the whole business of small holdings, you want to re-open the chance for the civilian, and that could largely be done by administration and encouragement from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Treasury renewing the. openings for raising money. Secondly, you do not need to amend the Act where it is defective. I should like to point to some defects which I think the Bill does not deal with. What are those defects? The Councils are unable to do justice to the openings because, in the first place, they pay too much for the land. I think it is undeniable that the prices paid for land by the Councils both during the War and before the War were very excessive, and they had to charge more than was really fair to the tenant of the holding. We know also that a vast number of Councils were not keen about the business and were unwilling, and would not do more than they felt was essential. You cannot expect farmers to be keen about a re-allocation of the land in small quantities, and the farmers' influence is extremely great on most of our County Councils. In order to meet those defects and handicaps you need some better means of acquisition and some method of gingering up backward Councils.
I do not think the Bill provides much in that direction, and I do not find any particular provision for dealing with hold- 791 ings with assistance by way of cooperative stores either for buying or selling. It is not very clear to me how the Bill is intended to encourage the letting of bare land. I think a great handicap lies in the natural pride which Councillors and County Councillors feel in owning the land and in showing that their purchases were sound propositions. There seems to be a bias in favour of County equipment and owning whereas to my mind there are many economic openings which might be utilised in the letting of bare land. I am all in favour, and the Labour party are in favour, of the general principle of State ownership and equipment, but I think there are a vast number of cases where bare land would be very advantageously let to men who would like to equip it in their own particular way. I know many men who would much rather equip their own land than have it equipped in an extravagant way by County Councils, and I think there ought to be an option for action of that kind.
If you read Clause 2, Sub-section (2), I am not quite sure whether that provision is adequate, and perhaps the Minister will explain it. If you agree with me that these are things which are needed, the next thing to ask is does this Bill carry them out. It seems to me that there is no provision for gingering up the backward County Councils, and I think there ought to be some power to supersede them on the lines laid down in regard to housing. Take acquisition. There you come to a very crucial thing which presents difficulties again and again in regard to the market value of a farm. The market value includes the value of a great many items and amenities of various kinds which ought not really to be charged in the form of rent to the tenant. I think that, where you have amenity values largely based on the desire of somebody to keep the land unbuilt on for the surroundings of his house, or where you have, even in the depths of the country, a certain vague monopoly value due to a large number of men, some of them highly-skilled in farming, unable to get a farm, thus running up the price to a figure at which the sitting tenant cannot possibly take it, you are compelling the smallholder to pay a rent 792 which he ought not to be asked to pay, and the practical effect is that the Council does not buy because it would not be a paying proposition. We think that it is not fair to charge the smallholder, or to compel the County Council to give more, in such a case than the real agricultural value of the land as it is assessed for rates or for Schedule A. That, to my mind, is an absolutely sound principle, because, if you are going to saddle the small holding movement with amenity values, you are really blocking the way to further progress; and, if land is to be withheld from its natural economic purpose, there is something anti-social about that holding up which is not really entitled to consideration, when you are compensating, as genuine agricultural values are entitled.
I hope that the Minister will see his way to make some further provision for group settlement unless he can perhaps indicate that it is intended to carry on the work of the Land Settlement Act for civilian purposes—or is this Bill to take the place of that Act altogether?
§ Mr. BUXTON
The Bill provides for contributions on a large scale. My right hon. Friend, I hope, will deal with that a little later on, but I should like to call the attention of the House to the fact that Parliament is spending a very large amount on Empire settlement, and I think, if that is going to be done, there is just as much claim for home settlement as for Empire settlement. Instead of a Bill providing for really genuine powers of acquisition and for superseding the recalcitrant council, you give us a Bill which seems to have a marked bias in a certain direction. I think it neglects these essentials in its passion for creating owners. It is argued that people will not work the land unless they own it. There are countries where that is true, but in England it is not true. Nobody can assert that those who have applied for 793 small holdings under the Acts have to any great extent aaked for freehold. The curious thing about the English would-be smallholder is that he does not want to be an owner, and it is very fortunate for us that we have that class of people, because they can keep their capital for farming. You surely would not bring about a passion for owning, so that they were, as so often happens abroad, starved for capital for working the land.
In your extreme desire to create owners, you seem to me to make something in the nature of a free gift of the land. Compared with the terms which you offer to the tenant, the terms offered to the purchaser are extremely favourable. The Minister says that we are entitled to give as much assistance to the purchaser as to the tenant. Certainly, but why give a very great deal more? I hope he will tell us exactly what is the extra payments or sacrifices that the purchaser has to make in order to become the owner. The scales appear to me to be heavily weighted in favour of selling. That is an object from a certain point of view, but what good is it to agriculture? Can you say that it is a contribution to the better development of our resources? It certainly is not a very attractive thing to the taxpayers of the country artificially to create a system for the purchase of small holdings, and, when I read the title of Clause 5, "Regulations as to purchase money aJid sales," I may be excused if it suggests to my mind the title " fabrication of purchase and sale." Clause 12, under which nine-tenths of the money is to be lent, seems to me to be rather in danger of playing with a class of men who may be tempted to expand in point of purchase as farmers are so widely tempted to expand, and who really may be very easily landed in a thing which they will regret. The public will be landed in losis, and the land in those cases will be under-capitalised.
It does appear to me that the bias is carried to the extreme and that the cat is rather far out of the bag when you look at the Bill. I hope the Minister and the supporters of the Bill will search their consciences and make it clear whether it is really in the interests of agriculture, or of a larger population on 794 the land, or of greater resources to have the Bill framed in this way. Anyhow, he will have to explain what this very strong weighting of the scales is for. I would say to him: Do not arouse suspicion that there is any other motive than a purely agricultural motive. Therefore, we shall be bound to move Amendments—and they will be drastic Amendments—but on the general principle of the encouragement of small holdings we are with him, and 1 would only urge him to make the Bill worthy of the cause of agriculture, which is a great one.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Minister of Agriculture opened his remarks, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, with a glowing panegyric upon the success of small holdings. That was rather unexpected, after a speech that I heard from him a very few days ago upon the agricultural position, but still it was very gratifying. He gave figures in order to show how very successful small holdings had been in increasing production, in increasing employment, and generally producing contentment and prosperity in the areas where the experiment has been tried. Had he been introducing a Bill, instead of moving a 'Second Reading, I should have expected a very bold experiment as the result of those few preliminary observations, but I had read the Bill, and had seen how inadequate, how ineffective, and in some respects how utterly futile its provisions are to deal with the problem, as I shall show before T sit down. The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have visualised his problem at all. What is it? I have stated it before, and I am going on to state it until, at any rate, I, in common with others, will bo able to produce some impression upon public opinion. It is that this is the only civilised country in the world where the vast majority of the peasantry is landless.
In Germany, 67 per cent, of the people who are engaged in the cultivation of the land have land of their own some of them only just enough to enable them to supplement their wages, and that is right, because it provides surplus labour for the farmers for emergencies, and some of them are able to give the whole of thfiir time to earning wages, while their families are looking after the small holding, and they themselves devote their leisure to it. Others, on the other hand, 795 have holdings to which they are able to devote the whole of their time. That is the- case in Germany. In France the percentage is very much higher; the percentage of those who depend upon wages without having any land of their own is low, and in Belgium it is still lower. In Denmark and Holland the same thing applies, and, of course, also in Italy, but that is not a case which is relevant, because of the different climatic conditions. Taking countries with the same climatic conditions, there is nothing comparable with what we have in this country, where the peasant has no land of his own. There are about 900,000 labourers in this country,, and, putting it at the very best, there are 700,000 of them who have no land of their own. That is the problem. How does the right hon. Gentleman meet it?
He brings in a Bill that is to cost a lot of money. He anticipates a loss to the State—a fairly heavy loss—and he anticipates that three-fourths of it will fall upon the taxpayer and one-fourth upon the ratepayer; and, looking at his White Paper—which I have only just seen—all that he contemplates is that he will be able to establish 2,000 small holdings per annum. He ended with an appeal, and a partisan appeal, not only as a Minister, but also as a Conservative leader. Naturally, he had to encourage his supporters to believe that he had something for them that would enable them to go down to the rural areas and say, " In 1892 we began this, and this is the crowning episode in that great crusade which we inaugurated in 1892 " —2,000 small holdings a year. They are to go down to the rural areas and say to the sons of the agricultural labourers who arc starting for the towns, "Do not go; there is a new Minister of Agriculture, and he has brought in a Bill so clever that nobody can understand it; there are so many provisions in it that nobody can explain it." The right hon. Gentleman himself, in reply to the first question put to him, said, "I had not thought of that, but will let you know later on." They will be able to go on to say to these people, "If you only stay here for 400 years you will probably have a small holding," because that is the time it will take to provide land for our landless peasantry at the rate of 796 2,000 holdings a year. It is not merely a farce, it is an insult to these people when the right hon. Gentleman, after all he has said about the importance of small holdings, about the importance of the labourer to the community and to the nation, brings in a Bill at great public expense which may establish them at the rate of 2,000 a year.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The Act of 1892—it was almost before the right hon. Gentleman was born, or, at any rate, long before he arrived at years of discretion, if he has done so yet—the Act of 1892 was the beginning. 1 am not criticising the Government of the day. It was a new idea; it was a beginning. The Act of 1908 was an advance, and the Act of 1919 was a still further advance; but, if we are not going to gain any experience from the failures of the past, what is the use of being anything except a Conservative 1 That is the very essence of Conservatism. What has been done by all these Acts 1 The right hon. Gentleman does not seem to have studied them and seen where they have failed and where they have only comparatively succeeded. There has been a measure of success, as my right hon. Friend the Member for North Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) has pointed out, from the Act of 1908. The Act of 1892 was a failure. 1 am not criticising those who introduced it, because it was a new experiment. They discovered where the failure came from, and the Act of 1908 was a comparative success, but too slow. Under the Act of 1908, about 15,000 smallholdings have been created, and under the Act of 1919, in spite of all the difficulties, another 18,000 have been created; but that is quite unequal to the real need. Why have they failed? I want to point out to the right hon. Gentleman that he has not dealt with the reasons why no progress has been made. He has brought in a Bill which is absolutely irrelevant to the conditions. He is simply legislating without any regard to the failures or successes of the past or the needs of the present. The first reason why the Act's of 1908 and 1919 failed was because of the unsympathetic character of the local bodies that had the administration. That is one reason. It is no use pretending; the county councils have not 797 been sympathetic. Some of us conducted an inquiry a short time ago—[Horn. MEMBERS " Hear, hear l"]—and it would be a good thing if hon. Gentlemen would do the same thing. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
The hon. Gentleman has a sheaf of notes and is bursting to have them out. Let him wait. In that inquiry, one of the methods was to go down to the districts to investigate the facts and see what the views were of those on the spot—landlords, farmers and agricultural labourers; and may I say that they all were very ready to contribute their views. One of the things discovered in that investigation was that there was perfect unanimity on one point, namely, that the agricultural labourer did not trust the county council. He was against the county council, and it may be for a very good reason, that they are largely under the domination of the landlords and the farmers. The agricultural labourers are badly organised. In no constituency do they represent 25 per cent. of the electorate, even in the rural areas. Therefore, they are pretty helpless, because, amongst other things, they are so badly organised. Moreover, even in agricultural areas in this country, industrialism has been allowed to get so completely dominant that there is hardly an agricultural area where the industrial element is not predominant, even in the most agricultural counties in England. Therefore, the vast majority of members of the county councils are elected by people who are not associated with agriculture. That means that there must be some method of pressure, at any rate, unless you are going to have a different body.
My view, and that of my friends, is that you ought to have a more sympathetic body. But supposing you do not. Supposing you stand by the county councils. You must have some pressure. This Bill goes back to 1908 and, as far as I can see, it gets rid of the powers of the Commissioners, who had the right to initiate and take steps to survey, to investigate, to initiate, to inaugurate and to press. Those powers have gone and the initiative is passed on to authorities which have shown themselves regrettably slow, regrettably reluctant to put the Act into operation. That is retrogression. It is 798 not advance. Take any great experiment. Take national education. If national education had been left entirely to the initiative of local authorities you would not have a scheme of national education in this country to-day. It is because you have had the initiative, the power of pressure, from the centre and the local authorities were used as agents for the purpose of carrying through the national policy that you have been able to establish a national system of education. The right hon. Gentleman ought to visualise this problem not as a county problem, not even as a rural problem, but as a national problem, and once it is a national problem you must have national initiative, national pressure and national organisation working through the local authorities. I will give an illustration of the difference between a sympathetic county council and those that are not. Take the whole of England and Wales. I think you have about 465,000 acres of small holdings after all the Acts of Parliament which have been passed from 1892 to 1919. You have 33,000 smallholders out of a possible 900,000 of agricultural labourers. That is all you have got.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
If the right hon. Gentleman takes those that are not statutory, the actual number of smallholders has gone down during those 30 years in spite of the addition of that 33,000.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
That is not so, because the figures include a good many parcels of accommodation land near towns which are encroached upon.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I have got the figures of the Board of Agriculture. They are not figures I have collected. They are figures produced by the Department and upon those figures published from year to year, during the whole of those years the actual number of small holdings has gone down during the period you have had these Acts of Parliament. I am only giving that as an answer to the right hon. Gentleman's interruption. That is one of the difficulties. Let me come to the case I had in my mind, the ease of Cambridgeshire. In Cambridgeshire you had a sympathetic council. At any rate you had one or two fairly strong men there who took 799 an interest. They led their county council, and on the whole you had a county council there which has been anxious to do its duty. It is a purely agricultural county. What is the result? If you had had the same number of small holders established in every county in England and Wales that you have in Cambridgeshire in proportion to the agricultural land, instead of having 465,000 acres you would have had now 1,200,000 acres of small holdings. Instead of having 33,000 smallholders, as you have now, you would have had 120,000 smallholders. That is inadequate, but it is three or four times better than it is at present. One of the obstacles is the reactionary attitude of the county council. There ought to be some method of increasing the pressure on the county council. The right hon. Gentleman has taken away the pressure there was in the Act of 1908, and that he calls helping small-holding.
When you come to the question of the demand for small holdings, what has the right hon. Gentleman done there? There does not seem to me to be any machinery for ascertaining the demand. There is some machinery in the Act of 1908. There must be a demand. That is exactly what the agricultural labourer will not do, and especially the better type of agricultural labourer, to send in an application to a county council knowing that throughout the whole of England only 2,000 of those applications are going to be answered favourably, when he may have to wait one, two, three, five, 10 years before he gets his turn,, his name appearing on the register of applicants, his employer knowing perfectly well that he is applying for a small holding. He will not do it. It is not that the employer would resent it, but there is always the knowledge that his agricultural labourer is anxious to get away from him to get a small holding of his own, and the agricultural labourer, with all the memories of the past burned into his mind, is not going to put himself in the position of signing application notes and demands and requests, and he is not doing it. There ought to be some means of ascertaining what the demand is. When I spoke a few days ago, I pressed the right hon. Gentleman to have a survey, and this 800 ought to be included in his survey, to ascertain whether there is a desire for small holdings, whether it is a suitable place for the experiment, and whether there is land available. That survey must be conducted by the central authority, and it ought to be done in typical counties in order to see what is likely to ensue. Instead of that, this Bill, if it becomes an Act of Parliament, is going back upon the whole of that position by putting the initiative into the hands of reluctant and unsympathetic authorities.
I come to the other difficulty, and probably the right hon. Gentleman will think this is the greatest of all, and that is cost. The smallholder, when he gets the land, finds that, for one reason or another, he is paying twice or three times as much for it as his predecessor did. What is the reason? The right hon. Gentleman has a provision with regard to what used to be known as allotments. He calls them cottage holdings—I think a very much better name.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
There is a distinction between allotments and cottage holdings. A cottage holding in all cases has a. cottage.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I will say one word of praise. I like the idea. I like the name. There is something after all in a name. It is a very attractive name and it is a very attractive proposition and 1 like it very much. The same thing applies as to allotments. I see allotments may be purchased from a quarter of an acre up to three acres. Our proposition was half an acre. I would not expect the right hon. Gentleman to be as advanced as I am and if he gets as far as I have got, he will do very well. He says a quarter of an acre.
What is the difficulty in regard to allotments? Everywere, the allotment holder has to pay, two, three, four, and sometimes five times more for his land than the farmer paid for it before it was converted into allotments. There are cases where they are paying £9 an acre, another where they are paying £12 an acre, and a Conservative farmer wrote to me saying that the prices were running there to about £4 an acre. For these reasons there are no demands for them. I am not sure who pays the rates in regard to allotments. I think the 801 rates will be paid by someone else. These prices are prohibitive, they skim the milk. There is not the necessary inducement given to people to go in for allotments. We must make it worth their while.
The same thing applies to smallholdings. What is the reason? There is the cost of building. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman is going to meet whatever loss there is in that respect, even to the extent of 75 per cent., from the State. When you come to the cost of building, there is something which is productive, something which is essential to making the farm a working business proposition. You get something out of it. When you come to the cost of land, if you pay more for it than the agricultural value, that means something which is sterile, which is purely a burden, and which must be a loss either to the State or to the smallholder. I agree with every word that was said by the right hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) when he said that it is essential that the price paid in these cases should be the agricultural value and no other. That is vital.
May I work it out in figures? All these things work themselves into figures quite naturally. The smallholder has to work it out in figures. The Treasury work it in figures. The county council will work it out in figures, and the landlord will work it out in figures. Take a rent of £100. It is easy to take that figure, because it is a figure which is in the Bill, and is therefore relevant as a figure for consideration. If the county council buy, what will they pay? The average number of years purchase for agricultural land in the last few years—I believe it was much higher immediately after the War, for many reasons—has been 22½ years. I believe that is somewhere about the average in recent years for land put up for sale by auction. That includes the good and the bad land. There is a good deal of land in that figure which is not suitable for cultivation. If we take the land that is fit for agricultural purposes, we shall probably find that in regard to the land bought by the county councils they will pay 25 years purchase for it. I have not the exact figures, but perhaps my right hon. Friend may have them at his command. It would be worth while 802 finding out what the county councils pay. Taking my own part of the country, it would be about 25 years purchase on the average, but some would be much higher.
Let us work it out. The man pays £100 rent, but in that rent is the cost of management, the cost of repairs and the tithe. The landlord who gets between £50 and £60 for his own pocket may be counted as fortunate. Very few good landlords would get more than that. Landlords have told me that they would be very glad to close at less than that. A big landlord said to me the other day, " If you offer me £40, I should be very glad to close at that." Take the net figure of between £50 and £60, after paying tithe, repairs and all expenses. If you pay £2,500, by the time you have paid the legal expenses—the lawyers must get their share; they have to live as well as the landlords—there is £2,600 to pay, roughly. At 5 per cent. that represents £130 a year. That is the gross figure. In addition to that, you have to pay the tithe, you have to pay for the repairs and you have to pay management, so that your rent runs up to £170 a year before you know it. When you talk about 25 years purchase it is really 40 or 50 years purchase upon the net rent. The annual rent the landlord really receives is 40 to 50 years purchase. When the County Council comes to buy, it has to add 70 per cent. to the rent in order to meet the capital expenses.
You axe not paying for agricultural value there. You are paying for the monopoly price, and you are paying for the fact that that is the only bit of property which is in the market at the time and, therefore, there is large competition for it. The real agricultural value is the value which the landlord puts upon it to his tenant. Sometimes it is lower and sometimes it is higher, but, on the whole, let 116 accept the view that the rents in England represent a fair agricultural value to the landlord. There is not much justice in a system by which so long as the landlord sticks to his property, does his duty and discharges his trusteeship, he will only get £50 or £60 a year. The land of England is a trusteeship. There is no lawyer who has read his books who does not know that in the greatest of them, Williams' " Law of Property," which is the basis of all our Statutes referring to property, 803 land is treated not as a freehold but as a trust, and something which is held as a tenancy under the Crown. If the landlord is doing his duty holding his land, spending money upon repairs, upon building and drainage, he will get £50 or £60, but as soon as he abandons his duty, as soon as he parts with his trusteeship, as soon as he discharges no duty to the State or the community, he gets double. That is a bad system.
We shall never settle the agricultural problem until we get rid of the payment of amenity and monopoly value, which is not based upon justice, which the vast majority of landlords in England at the present time are not exacting and which is only extorted by those who are abandoning their position and selling to the county councils. Then the right hon. Gentleman brings in this Bill. There will always be a loss so long as that system remains, and of that loss, according to the right hon. Gentleman, 75 per cent. is to fall upon the taxpayer and 2.5 per cent. upon the ratepayer. The Treasury say, " We cannot spend more than £150,000 a year at the end of four years. Therefore you can only provide 2,000 allotments and small holdings a year." It means that you are stopping a development which is essential to the prosperity of the countryside and to the strength and security of the nation, because you are maintaining a system and a value which has no basis in justice at all. That is the first thing the right hon. Gentleman has to face, and if he does so he will have done something to solve this problem.
The right hon. Gentleman is all for purchase, that is the way to convert sand into gold—make the tenant of the county council the owner. There are few tenants of the county council who desire that. Everyone who has investigated this question knows that there is nothing a tenant of a good landlord wants less than to become an owner. [An HON. MEMBER: " You have attacked the landlords! "] I beg your pardon, I never did. I have never attacked the good landlord in the country. I have attacked the landlord in the town, and I am going to continue to do so. But a good landlord in the country, a good estate, is in my opinion the model upon which these small holdings ought to be founded by county councils, and I will tell you what I mean by that. On a good estate 804 you have security of tenure, you do not turn the tenants out. The holding is passed on to their descendants, if they are good cultivators. You do not raise a man's rent on his improvements on a good estate, nor should the county council. On a good estate the landlord will spend money on repairs and drainage, so ought the county council. That is what I mean when I say that the model is not ownership, but a tenancy on a good estate. But you have to go beyond that, the needs of to-clay are greater, and a landlord, after all, can only organise in respect of his own property. Organisation now must be on a greater scale, and what I am saying is not a criticism of the good landlord. A new demand which the exigencies of to-day is creating is a greater organisation for marketing. In every country that has made small holdings a success the State has taken the initiative in organising the markets. You may call it co-operation if you like. But. you must do more than that; you must supply them with credit. The State has also done that in every country where small holdings are a success. You must also see that the smallholder gets fair conditions from the railway companies. The whole of the railway system in this country is organised to give facilities for marketing stuff that comes from abroad. It comes easily and cheaply, the organisation is perfect, but there is no organisation or fair facilities for cheap fares for the purpose of assisting the smallholder in this country.
These are the things the right hon. Gentleman should do if he wants to give some assistance to the smallholder, but none of them are in this Bill. The right hon. Gentleman is going to make him an owner. He says that very few of these smallholders have asked for ownership since 1919 because money is prohibitive. As a matter of fact more have applied since 1919 than applied before., when money was cheap. Before 1914 only 136 applied for ownership out of 15,000, although money was cheap at that time. Since 1919 346 have applied for ownership out of 34,000. What does that mean I It means that they do not want ownership. They want security on their holdings, the use of their own capital for the purpose of developing their holdings, that the county council shall look after the capital expenditure. As an inducement you are 805 saying, " Pay us the same rent, but repair yourself." You add £20 or £30 a year to their expenditure for repairs and you convert sand into gold. The fact of the matter is the Bill has not surveyed the needs in the least. It has taken no cognisance of them, and you will not advance small holdings by one single yard in the course of the next few years.
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
As a landowner who has not sold his property, I gratefully acknowledge the bouquets which the right hon. Gentleman has thrown with such profusion to members of my class. The right hon. Gentleman is to be pitied somewhat, because he is either about 10 years behind or 20 years in front of the times. During the greater part of his speech, he was at least 10 years behind, but when ho was quoting from the Green Book, he went perhaps a little further ahead, too far for his own followers, if he has any. 1 should like to say a word on behalf of county councils. The right hon. Gentleman talks about reactionary county councils and the means which his previous party, or his present party—I am not sure which—had to adopt in 1908 in order to stir up these alleged reactionary bodies. It seems to me to be almost unnecessary to point out that 1908 is not 1926. The right hon. Gentleman himself pointed out that the 1892 Act was a failure owing to the inaction of county councils, and even in 1908 there may have been a need for stirring up some county councils. But the only injustices that were committed under the Act of 1908 were committed by the Small Holdings Commissioners, who were set up by the right hon. Gentleman, or rather by the Liberal Government of that day. I do not know of any serious case of injustice where the county councils looked after, the matter themselves, but I do know cases of serious injustice where the Small Holdings Commissioners came in and, on the basis that something must be done, proceeded to clear out men who were cultivating the land in a perfectly satisfactory manner in order to create small holdings.
There is no need for spurring on county councils to-day. The majority of them are sympathetic to small holdings, and I think this Bill will give them the material they need for making some advance. The right hon. Gentleman laid great stress on the action of the county authority in Cam- 806 bridgeshire, which he described as a sympathetic authority. I do not think it is fair to deduce from the case of Cambridgeshire figures which you apply to the whole of the rest of England. I am not very well acquainted with the Eastern counties, but I believe that parts of Cambridgeshire are peculiarly adapted to small holdings. But even if we admit that some councils are more sympathetic than others, I think the fact remains that the greater number of county councils are sympathetic to small holdings, and that they will take advantage of the opportunities given by this Bill.
It was a pleasure to listen to the speech of the right hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton), with its fair and sympathetic comments on the Bill. He was bound, of course, to put up a sham fight against the proposal of ownership, but I are sure that the House recognised that he did it in a very inoffensive manner that must have given satisfaction to his followers without seriously injuring us. I agree with what he said about the letting of bare land, but I do not think there is anything in this Bill to prevent it. The right hon. Gentleman did not quite appreciate the reason why few people had applied for ownership holdings in the past. I think there is a general tendency towards ownership, or a more general demand for ownership, on account of the fact that so many owner occupiers are on the larger farms. The real reason why there have been comparatively few applications for ownership holdings in the past, has been that the people have not thought in terms of ownership because they were accustomed to see nothing but tenants on the larger farms. Now that more farmers own their own land you will find a corresponding increase among the labourers and others who desire small holdings to own some land of their own. After all, it is a human desire to own something rather than to hire it from someone else. That desire has been rather obscured in England because of the almost universal custom of tenancy. I think that all parties in the House will be glad to come to a Bill like this after the kind of legislation that we have been considering. It is the kind of Bill that really carries us on to a constructive programme, and a Bill that is peculiarly the kind of Bill that the Conservative party ought to bring in.
807 [HoN. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear! "] I am glad to welcome the plaudits of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but I have solid reasons for saying that it is the kind of Bill that the Conservative party ought to bring in, quite apart from the cheers of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The reason why I say so is that the mission of the Conservative party is largely to help people to help themselves, to help them to secure a more definite status than, unfortunately, so many of our fellow citizens possess at the present time.
I believe that those who pin all their faith on palliating the material needs of the most unfortunate are rather working towards a dead end, and that real constructive legislation is in the direction not only of assisting those who might otherwise fall by the wayside, but also of enabling others to obtain a more secure status in the general economy of the country. The Conservative party has taken a very definite step in this direction in the Housing Act of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. Under that Act very large numbers of people have been assisted to own their own houses, and the effect of that Act is seen, not only in the actual amount of money advanced under the Act, but in the great stimulus that it gave to the building societies, which have advanced to their clients more than three times as much as was advanced under the Housing Act. We want to apply the principle not only to the houses but to the land. I would call attention to Clause 12 of the Bill. It enables the prospective smallholder to purchase from the private owner and enables the County Council to finance him. I believe that very great progress will take place under this Clause, not perhaps all in a minute or in a year, but that as it becomes more widely known more advantage will be taken of it. At this point I would like to reply to one other thing that the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs said. He said that there was no machinery provided under the Bill to enlighten the prospective smallholder as to what his rights were or to—
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
I am sorry if I misquoted the right hon. Gentleman. But I 808 would remind him again that 1926 is not 1908. Now we have in almost every village either a village club or a Women's Institute or a branch of a Friendly Society co-ordinated with other friendly societies, or a Rural Community Council. There is no need for the State to provide the machinery which private enterprise in that sense has provided in all parts of England. Fourteen counties have Rural Community Councils. I am this afternoon attending a conference of rural Friendly Societies with 200,000 members, nearly all of them agricultural labourers. Those 200,000 members represent between 3,000 and 4,000 branches, and each branch Secretary is instructed to be an information bureau on matters of interest to the agricultural worker in connection with small holdings and pensions and so forth. Therefore, there is no longer any need to provide machinery for ascertaining the wishes of agricultural workers, because they have their own machinery in nearly every part of England. That is as true as that it is unnecessary to provide machinery to poke up County Councils.
One other thing I welcome especially, and that is the provision which fixes the same amount to be paid as the full fair rent for the man who is going to be a tenant as the amount of each instalment of purchase money for the owner. I understand that members of the Liberal party dislike this provision and even find difficulty in understanding it, as did the hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair). It bears out the point that has very often been made on behalf of the rural landlord and has been so often denied by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs until to-day, namely, that every two generations the amount that a landlord spends on his property is just about equal to the selling value of it. When you sell land really you are selling only the improvements, and nothing is paid for the value of the land itself.
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
The hon. Member is well known to be a fanatical adherent of a theory which no one has been able to understand, not even himself. Whether what I have said is true or not, this Bill entirely justifies the statement that has so often been made, that in fact the sell 809 ing price of land is the price of the improvements on the land itself.
There is one point that I would like to bring to the notice of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture—the protection of sitting tenants. In our enthusiasm for putting more people on the land, we should not overlook those who are already there, and I think they are a little apt to be overlooked by small-holding enthusiasts. Probably the protection afforded to the sitting tenant, under the Act of 1908, is quite adequate. I have never heard of any serious complaint under it, but in order to bring the farmer in line with the rest of those who are supporting the Bill, it is necessary to call his attention to the fact that he is protected against unfair treatment. There is nothing in the Bill itself which suggests that the rights of the sitting tenant are recognised and protected, and before the Committee stage the Minister ought to issue a White Paper setting out the provisions of the 1908 Act which are relevant, and also a number of other Acts to which this Bill refers. It is one of the disadvantages of the present Bill that there is already so much legislation on the Statute Book that you cannot introduce any more without bringing in a large number of Statutes by reference. That makes it difficult for the layman to understand, modern legislation and the fanner is not famed for his literary researches. I suggest, therefore, that a White Paper should be issued in which these various matters referred to in the Bill could be set out plainly for all to read, and, in particular, it should be made clear that the sitting tenant possesses the same protection now as he was given under the 1908 Act. Then we can consider whether that is sufficient protection or not.
I turn to the question of the possible future results of a small holdings policy, properly carried out. Hon. Members received a short time ago a report from the Commissioner who was sent out to inspect land settlement schemes in Western Australia. Those who have read the report must have been horrified at the enormously high percentage of failures. The failures among native Australians amounted to 45 per cent. and, among settlers from this country, the lowest percentage of failures 810 was 35. These seem to be very discouraging figures. I contrast them with our own small holdings efforts, imperfect though they may have been, which have resulted in a failure of only about 10 per cent. taken all over despite the slump years.
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
Yes, 10 per cent. post-War. I do not, myself, believe we shall ever get satisfactory migration on a large scale until we have a large small holdings population, with sons and daughters brought up on the land, who will probably be more willing and more capable, as settlers overseas, even than those who have gone through some period of training under the various training schemes. I do not believe that any training can take the place of the fact of being born and bred on the land and of having the atmosphere and the feeling of the land in one's blood. If we had a larger population of this sort, we would have less difficulty in getting the right type of settler for overseas. I congratulate the Minister on having brought in this Bill, which seems to be a very important advance on any small-holding legislation we have yet had.
I will forbear to argue with the hon. Gentleman as to whether or not the land of England has any value apart from the improvements upon it. It opens up a very wide field of discussion. The Bill before us is of quite a different character. On the Bill, or, at least, on the merits and intentions of the Bill, there can only be one opinion in this House. We all want more small holdings. In the old days there was a certain reluctance—expressed by the last speaker—on the part of the farmer class at the idea of small holdings, but since those days the farmer has found in the small holdings a natural training ground for his own sons, and if there is any criticism which I would offer against the small holdings which have been springing up in this country through the machinery of the county councils, it is that they have been too largely reserved for the sons of farmers, and have not been sufficiently open to the agricultural labourers. Their size is too large. While we are all anxious to get more small holdings, I do 811 not think we are unanimously in favour of this Bill.
The Minister in his opening remarks indicated the principal arguments that are always used for small holdings. He pointed cut that the number of people employed on the land increased enormously when the big farms were broken up into small holdings. I hope we will have, by question and answer in the House of Commons at some later date. the exact cases referred to by the Minister, and that he will be able to add to the increase in the population employed upon the land, the increase that has taken place in the rent per acre of that land, and the increase that has also taken place in the contributions of that land per acre to local government. One of the principal difficulties with which we are faced in the small holdings movement is that the smaller the man and the smaller the holding, the greater the burden of rent raised from it, and the greater the burden of the rates per acre raised from it. In the cases given by the right hon. Gentleman you have case after case where the number of people working on the land has gone up by 400 per cent. In some of those cases which he gave the increase was 1,000 per cent., and the average is about 400 per cent. We may assume that increase in the number of people working on the land means a corresponding increase in the produce from that land. We all want more small holdings, more production and more men working, yet the Government allow a system to continue under which every man who makes two or four blades of grass grow where one grew before, pays four times as much as others for the privilege of doing so. in rent and rates.
The right hon. Gentleman would have done much more useful service for the expansion of the small holdings system in this country, if, instead of increasing the heavy burden upon the backs of the taxpayers in order to find money for the small holdings movement, he had removed the burden of rates from those small holders who, unlike the big farmers, have got very little benefit indeed from the recent alterations in the local system of rating. I want the House to realise that we on these benches are advocates of small holdings not merely because it means additional employment and pro 812 duction. We favour small holdings because we know that a man who is working for himself, instead of for a master, is a better citizen and a happier man; he is a free and independent man such as we want to see in this country. The more people we can get, in agriculture or in any other industry, who are working for themselves, the better work we shall have done. The moral advantage both of small holdings and of allotments is far greater even than the great economic advantage, and the little detail of whether these new free men are to own their own land or to rent their land seems to me to matter not one jot in comparison with the advantage of working for yourself. No man minds working hard when he is working for those whom he loves; what he objects to is working hard for somebody whom he does not love.
These then are the reasons why all Members on this side support the idea, of the extension of peasant production. [Interruption.] There are some exceptions. There are some people who prefer to know what their job is and do as . they are told, instead of working for themselves. That is the natural result of this perpetual development of the servile mentality that is taught by the master-class system of economics. Let us see how far this Bill really helps the matter at all. The provision of small holdings comes from two directions; either private landlords breaking up their land for small holdings or through the State. Unfortunately, the figures, in spite of what the Minister has said, have during the last few years shown unmistakably that the development of small holdings by landlords breaking up farms and by farms being sold in small portions is decreasing in number, and that the large majority of small holdings which are fresh made to-day have come through State action. That applies to the last 20 years at least, but must we despair ever of small holdings coming automatically, through it being discovered to be the most economical method of using the land? Must we for ever rely upon State action, upon county councils, upon grants from the Exchequer, upon a subsidy indeed to this particular form of production?
Why are not farms broken up? Why cannot the smallholder go into the market and either rent or buy a small piece of 813 land? Surely the reason is that the difficulty of acquiring land and the heavy charges levied upon that particular form of production under our present rating system naturally discourage what ought to be taking place automatically. Here we see that four times as many people are employed, and four times as much produce is obtained from the land under petty culture, yet it does not come about. There must be some economic reason for that, and I submit that the root difficulty in the way is, first of all, the difficulty of a small man acquiring land, either for renting or for purchasing—in fact, a small man can very rarely buy land outright—Sand then the fact that the smallholders, after they have got their land, have .-their rates and their rents fixed se enormously higher per acre than has the large farmer. This artificial obstruction in the way of the development of small holdings has also the effect of making the smallholder feel all the time that he is suffering from an injustice. As a matter of fact, people writhe much more under injustice than they do under either high rents or high rates. It is the feeling that they are riot having a square deal, as compared with the large farmers alongside, that takes the heart out of the smallholders. I submit that we should concede, if possible, that small holdings can develop automatically, without State action, that we should take such measures to make it easier for people to get land, to make those who have got land at present more ready to hand it over, and that we should see that we do not merely impose local taxation upon these new holders in proportion to their production, but that we levy it instead according to land value, whether it is used for intensive cultivation or left idle.
This Bill is very largely meeting with. approval opposite because it starts people becoming owners, and we were told by the hon. Member for the Ormskirk Division (Mr. Blundell) that this was a typical Tory Bill. I would ask hon. Members, when they are blessing it for its typical Toryism, to read the Bill. I am quite indifferent as to whether a smallholder owns or rents his land, but I think it is rather impertinent that, when a man has paid for his small holding, for 40 years thereafter he should not be allowed to subdivide it, to sublet it, to use it for any purpose, other than agriculture—not 814 even for blacksmith's work or basketmaking—to put more than one dwelling-house on the land; and so it goes on through paragraphs (e), (f), (g), and (h) —all little bureaucratic interferences with the right of a man to make the best use of his property.
For 40 years after he has taken on the job of paying, after he has paid his instalment, and surely, if he has started paying his instalments, and improves the property by putting another house on it, the Government ought to be pleased at getting a better security.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
But surely the right hon. Gentleman would not like to use public money to enable a man to have a small holding for less than market value, and then that that advantage should return to the man's own profit in selling it for building purposes, or that he should turn the State's money into his own private advantage?
I have a firm objection to subsidising anybody, but if you are going to subsidise people, for goodness sake leave them a free hand to use the subsidy as they choose. It is typical Toryism to give a man assistance from the State, and then to say: " As we have given him this assistance, we must inspect him every half hour to see that he is carrying out a Kate Greenaway picture of an ideal small holding." If you are going to allow a man to have the advantage of a subsidy, let him have a. free hand as to how he shall employ his time and his property. The Minister has told us that the finance of this scheme is admirably sound and has been passed by the Treasury. I hope we shall have a few words from my right hon. Friend who was Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the last Administration, and I could wish we had on the Treasury Bench to-day a representative of that Department., because it appears to me that the true essence of this Bill is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has allowed the Minister of Agriculture certain funds, and that, based upon the gift of those funds, the Minister of Agriculture has prepared this Bill. That being so, I 815 would point out that the object of this Bill is to provide money which, in its expenditure, will enable those who want to buy land to pay more for it; that it will stimulate the price of land, as it stimulates the demand for land; that the principal benefit of this grant of public money will go into the private pockets of the landlords, and that, in the long run, it will be not easier, but as difficult as ever, for the competing people who desire land to find the money. Just as the housing subsidy of £100 found its way into the pockets of the landlord and the builder, so this subsidy likewise will find its way filtering down to the pockets of the landed interest opposite, who may well support this Bill.
It is well known that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke last looks with suspicion upon the landed interest, and for any Bill which may be introduced by this party he suspects some ulterior motive. I can assure him in this case the majority at ally rate, have no ulterior motive in supporting the Bill. We welcome the Bill—at least I do, because I think it is going to be the first step towards building up in this country a peasantry. The late Minister of Agriculture pointed out how much that peasantry had done, and what a valuable part it had played in agriculture. It is sometimes forgotten in this country, that for good or ill, owing to our economic development, the peasant has disappeared from this country for nearly 200 years. Personally, I think his disappearance has been a great misfortune to the country, but we have to take facts to-day as they are. It is no use lamenting the Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth century, but we must try to deal with their consequences, and one of the most essential things, if we are to have successful small holdings, is to breed up a class of peasant who will make a success of the very arduous task of cultivating the land under, at the best, somewhat lonely conditions. It is no use putting on the land a man who has not the land mind. The most valuable Clause in this Bill, to my mind, is the one which sets up the cottage holding, because I believe by giving the land worker a bit of land, in addition to his house, we shall not only get him to take the attitude of the man who will make a successful smallholder himself, 816 but his family will be brought up to love the land, and to understand the many things necessary if you are to cultivate the land successfully. I believe from those children of the agricultural labourer who will, under this Bill, get a real holding of his own, we shall bring up a population which may go far to solve the land problem of this country in the future.
The land system in this country is slowly altering under the pressure of economic events. We may regret it, or we may not regret it, but the fact remains, I am certain, if we are to make full use of the land in future, we must first breed up a population which will live on the land, and endure its discomforts, the solitude and the many drawbacks which life on the land entails, because I believe few town-bred men will put up with the solitude of the country villages in winter. Few people will tolerate the life, from which you can never get away, which means seven days a week work, and no amusements in the winter evenings. We shall only get people to tolerate that if we get them to love the land from their childhood. I believe this proposal will give the agricultural labourer a hope, and, even more important, it will give to these rural children the hope, if they remain in the country, of owning their own land, or of becoming a blacksmith, wheelwright or some other person who is necessary in. rural economy. By that means we shall get a much healthier and much happier population.
Because of that Clause alone, I would welcome this Bill. But I welcome it also for other reasons. In the first place, it is the introduction of what, for want of a better term, I would call the hire-purchase system in land. The great difficulty in the way of people who have hitherto wished to purchase land has been to put up the necessary capital. The right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) to-day said he did not find many tenants of the county councils who desired to become owners, but I have met many county council tenants who have grumbled very severely about having to pay for the land, and that then the county council should own it. It. is true they have paid for their land out of their rent on the hire-purchase system, but they object very strongly that, having paid for it, it is not theirs. I welcome this Bill 817 because it will enable people who wish to acquire the land, to acquire it on the only terms they can get it. It is a very excellent provision, for which I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend. Lastly, it will enable a county council to assist a man to buy a small holding where an estate is being sold. To-day, under pressure of taxation, more and more estates, or portions of estates, must come into the market, and I do think a provision to enable a man to obtain a piece of that land will do a great deal to keep people in the country, to increase the numbers of those who live in the rural districts, and to make for prosperity all round.
§ Mr. FENBY
I think this Bill marks another stage in the financial relationship of the State and its outlook in regard to small holdings. Under the Act of 1908—a financially watertight Act —it was laid down specifically that no scheme would be approved by the Ministry unless it could be shown that there was to be no financial loss whatsoever upon any particular scheme. When we came to the Act of 1919, the Land Settlement (Facilities) Act, there we had a change again in the financial arrangements, to the effect that no loss was to fall upon the county authority, but the whole loss was to fall upon the State. In the financial arrangements of the Bill we are now considering, this loss, if any, is to be shared between the Ministry and the local authority.
I should like to say that, as a small step further in the development of the small holding movement, I very heartily welcome the Bill. I am afraid that it will not do a great deal to put the agricultural labourer who is merely an agricultural labourer upon a small holding, because there is no suggestion at all in the Bill to give the agricultural labourer any kind of financial assistance in the way of credit to put him upon these small holdings. The man whom this Bill will assist will be that individual in agriculture who, by being a hind, or a man a little higher up than the agricultural labourer, has been able, through his own exertions and the exertions of his wife and family, to save a little money. At any rate, in my opinion, the Bill is a step in right direction.
As to the size of the holdings, I think the Acts of 1908 and 1919 left a good deal 818 to be desired. The Bill we are now considering does not, in my opinion, do anything near what it ought to do in regard to size of the holding. The Bill provides that a £100 annual value, or its Income Tax equivalent, is to be the maximum rather than £50. That is all right if you are getting land of a very low value, but no one knows better than the Minister himself that poor quality land—and it is poor quality land that you get at- a small price—is of no use whatever to the smallholder. He wants the best possible land that can be provided, and the best land costs money. My suggestion to the Minister is—and I hope he will consider it between now and later stages of the Bill—that this should not he restricted merely to the alteration made, but there should be another alternative. I do want a provision in this Bill which will help the purely agricultural areas such as the one in which I am interested. Under the Acts of 1908 and 1919, the county committee have endeavoured to fix their small holdings around urban areas and as near the fringe as possible, for very good reasons. In the first place, you have a near market, and, in the second place, alternative employment. In purely agricultural areas there are scattered portions, some of which are very good working land, but perhaps 12 miles from a station. You cannot, under the 50 acres description, or the extension of 50 to 100 acres, touch the particular problem that I have in mind. I should like, however, my right hon. Friend to consider the suggestion that as far as the maximum acreage is concerned the committees should be given discretion, with a controlling power by the Ministry of Agriculture, if necessary. Large farms should be utilised that are suitable in quality for the purpose of small holdings. You could not expect men to settle down always under the present or proposed conditions, but they might settle down on an acreage of 75 to 100, and here the committees should have elastic powers and discretion to be able to give 50, 75 or 100 acres.
Let me give a case in point of a 100-acre farm of good corn-growing, arable land in my own Riding. It might not be financially possible to settle a man on 50 acres, but you might settle a dozen men on a somewhat larger acreage, say 100; it would be financially possible and 819 without any great financial loss, to settle one man on a certain acreage, and the right hon. Gentleman would then have 12 first-class holdings, which would meet the difficulties of scattered areas, and you would also be able to settle men who had families big enough to work the 100 acres. I shoud like the Minister to consider this alternative. A good many people suggest that small holdings cannot be made remuneratve. I myself have often been impressed by the fact that a great majority of Cue best farmers in the East Riding of Yorkshire were the sons or the grandsons of men who themselves were either agricultural labourers, shepherds, hinds or foremen. The small holdings movement has provided a ladder, but it is too steep. It needs to be inclined a little. There is a suggestion in the Bill that the authorities should have power to sell holdings to the smallholders. I think those Clauses are very ironical, if 1 may say so with all respect, but I am not going to abuse the proposal, or say that they are eyewash. What, however, I do notice is this: That if the Minister and his Department had wanted to make the purchase Clauses of this Bill inoperative, he could not have gone about it in a better way than he has done. In my opinion the purchase Clauses of the Bill will be absolutely inoperative from two points of view. I quite agree it would have been right for the Minister to say that. here there should be no purchase. But the power to purchase w as given under the Act of 1908 and the Act of 1919, and you cannot take away a statutory right already given.
Speaking on behalf of the committee in my own Riding, I can say that my own county authority did not advise, and will not push, but will do what they can to prevent the encouragement of the purchase of small holdings by the occupier. For this reason—I think the Minister has stated the truth—it is only possible for a small holdings committee to buy an estate for the purpose of sale for small holdings. It will be possible to sell that estate to would-be purchasers. That is all right. I would do everything I could to assist, if it was financially possible. No county authority will buy a single acre for a holding. If the authorities are wise they will buy a thousand acres, and have a colony. You 820 cannot expect that the whole of that 1,000 acres will be of uniform good quality. There will be better land, and there will be land a little less good. The man who wanted to purchase would want the best, and I commend him for it. The man who had the least valuable land would not want to buy. What would happen'? The " eye " of that particular estate would be taken out, and the county authority would be left to hold the part that was not so attractive; and that is an absolute injustice to ratepayers who have to put up 25 per cent. if there is a loss on the scheme. I assure the Minister that the county authority with which I am concerned, and others I know of, think the purchase Clause will not be operative at all.
I would like to see the allotment and small holding legislation that we have passed, comprising the Acts of 1892, 1908 and 1919, consolidated. There is too much legislation by reference about it. When the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman was putting his Allotments Bill through Committee last Session I made an appeal to him to consolidate allotment legislation and he promised that he would. He has now gone abroad to take up another appointment, but I hope the present Minister will do something to fulfil the promise that was then given. Something has been said about county authorities being the wrong people to administer the. Small Holdings Acts. 1 am not so sure that I entirely agree. They are not all they might be, they might be improved, but I am not so sure that we should have greater efficiency or a speeding up of the work if there were a separate ad hoc authority. The remarkable thing in the speech of the Minister this morning was his statement that the Conservative Government, who introduced the first Small Holdings Bill in 1898, had held fast to that policy, and, though he did not say it, I understood him to mean, that they had improved upon it.
I am glad to find that farmers are beginning to realise the value of small holdings. In my own county the most enthusiastic men in the administration of Small Holdings Acts are the large farmers. They see the value of the small holdings' movement, and they are against purchase, not only because they know that a landlord has to do his own repairs. 821 but in the best interest of the tenants in other directions, and 1 take the same view as the farmer. I do not want a smallholder to stay upon a small holding for the rest of his life. As I have indicated earlier, a small holding ought to be a stepping stone. I remember a case in 1912 in which a man with 12 children was about to emigrate to Canada because he could not remain on the four or five acres he had. We got him a 50-acre holding. He took possession of it in April, 1913, and left it in 1919. It is true there had been a war, but when he left it in 1919 he bought a 190-acre farm, and all were very glad to see him moving on in this way. The man who took that farm of 50 acres in 1919 has also left it, and has taken a farm of 176 acres in the West Riding. That has happened in the case of a lot of men. I hope the Minister will take serious notice of what I have said about increasing the acreage, and that he will allow small holdings to be increased in certain circumstances from 50 to 75 or perhaps 100 acres; and even then we do not want the small holder to stop there for ever, but to move on and to make room for somebody else.
In rural areas the demand now is not so much for spare-time land. Although I have every sympathy with the cottage holdings movement, the difficulty there is, unless a heavy loss is to fall upon the Exchequer or the county authority, the burden will be far too heavy upon the individual who takes the cottage holding. There is a far greater demand for whole-time land. One reason why I appeal to the Minister to increase the acreage of holdings to more than 50 acres is that if a holding' is only 50 acres then, unless there is intensive cultivation, it provides full-time occupation for only a man and a boy, and not for two men, and work for a horse and a pony but not work for two full-sized horses.
Let me put another case to the Minister and I will conclude. A man who is going in for making a living—not a fortune—upon a small holding must not overlook the opportunities for milk supply in his area, and I want the Minister and others interested in agriculture to encourage the provision of clean milk by smallholders. May I give a case in my own area which, has come under my notice during the last week? A man 822 there has a small holding of 50 acres. He has only 9 acres of grass land and 41 acres of arable land, but he has 14 cows. Two years ago he undertook the provision of clean milk in a test this season carried out by the scientific side of the University of Leeds he was placed equal with another competitor as best in the whole of Yorkshire for the grade and the quality of his clean milk. I hope the Government will do everything they can to interest the smallholders in regard to the production and distribution of clean milk. I hope the policy adopted will be to do everything possible in order to make provision whereby the acreage can be increased from 50 to 75 or 100 acres.
§ Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted; and 40 Members being present—
§ Major McLEAN
I think the Debate to-day has shown that there is a very large measure of support in the House fog this Bill, although it is quite natural that hon. Members opposite would like to have seen the Bill go a good deal further than it does. I welcome particularly the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton), and I find myself in a large measure of agreement with him, although there were portions of his speech with which I do not entirely agree. This Bill is welcome from the point of view of the increase of population which is likely to be the result in our rural districts. The figures which have been given were very striking indeed. I welcome it very much from the point of view of prospective smallholders and cottage holders.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) dealt with this question of smallholders and cottage holders, and he expressed some difficulty in ascertaining how far there was a demand in this direction. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman is one who supports farming from Whitehall, and consequently he might find some difficulty in ascertaining whether there was any such demand. At any rate, amongst those who live in the country districts no such difficulty arises in deciding whether there is such a demand or riot. I was pleased to hear the testimony of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Car- 823 narvon Boroughs in regard to good landlords in our country districts, because in his speeches in the past we have not always found the great respect paid to our good landlords which he has shown to-day, and for that reason we welcome it all the more.
The first 10 Clauses of this Bill deal with a new scheme for securing small holdings. Clause 1 provides that where a county council are satisfied that there is a demand among suitable persons, and if they are satisfied they can provide them without incurring a loss, they have the power to provide those small holdings. I would like to have seen a wider discretion left to the county council because I can conceive of cases in which it would be possible to provide small holdings, and yet do so at the cost of our agricultural interests. Take, for example, the case of bad times in farming. You might find farmers willing to sell portions of their farm at prices that make it possible for the county council to get smallholders, and yet you might at the same time be forcing those farmers to sell in that way and leave the balance of the farm with buildings and equipment suitable for a large farm, but which in the long run would be an increased burden on the residue of the farm. That is a point which ougnt to be more fully discussed in Committee with a view to giving a greater discretion to the county councils.
Now as to repairs. I gather that in the case of the purchaser of a small holding, the cost of the repairs falls on him. When we come to Clause 6, we find that it is very largely the re-enactment of Section 12 of the Act of 1908 with certain improvements. I notice there is a new Sub-Clause dealing with the question of insurance. I am not sure whether it would not be wise to provide there for an obligation on the holder to keep his holding in repair so long as the instalments were not paid to the satisfaction of the county council.I desire also to refer to Clause 11, which to my mind is a most interesting portion of this Bill. The object of that Clause is to provide a holder who has got some other occupation, and who can devote a portion of his time with the assistance of members of his family to cultivating that holding. That problem has had to be faced by the 824 Forestry Commissioners who are creating forest holdings. The position of those holdings is that the man is guaranteed 150 days' work per year, and, therefore, he has a considerable amount of spare time left. When those forest holdings were first created, there was a great deal of difficulty in getting the people to take them up, but a very short experience showed that they were advantageous to the holders, and there is now a great demand for them. The Report of the Forestry Commissioners for last year suggests 10 acres for a man who has a considerable measure of other employment.
I cannot help thinking that in limiting these cottage small holdings to three acres we are not quite covering the case of men with other occupations. In many cases where the land is good, probably three acres is quite sufficient for a cottage holding, but I cannot help feeling that in the case of poorer land, such as you have in those forest areas, it would be wiser to make a definition of a cottage holding rather similar to the definition you have of a small holding, namely, from one acre to 50 acres, or, if it exceeds 50 acres, not exceeding £100 in annual value. I think that an extension of a similar definition to cottage holdings would be useful, especially where those cottage holdings are going to be made on comparatively poor land. Clause 11 provides for cottage holdings for agricultural labourers and for those concerned in village industries. I would like to see those industries increased, so as to bring in people like foresters, saw-mill workers, and others whose business keeps them in our country districts, and whose pursuits are very similar to those of agricultural' labourers, saddlers, wheelwrights, and so on. In conclusion, I want once more to say that, both from the point of view of this movement for cottage holdings, and from the point of view of the conditions and opportunities of ownership which it holds out, I think this Bill is a great improvement on our existing legislation, and I desire to congratulate the Minister upon introducing it to the House.
§ Mr. T. KENNEDY
This Bill has one great virtue; it does not apply to Scotland. I hope, as a Scottish Member, I may be allowed to say just a few words about it, even if those words are regarded by some as discordant in the chorus of 825 approval that the principle of small holdings has received in to-day's Debate. It has been stated that we all want to see an extension of the policy and principle of small holdings. That may be true in a certain sense, but, so far as I am personally concerned, I could only accept that extension with very serious reservations. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) is, of course, an individualist. I am not. He believes in the principle of free, unrestricted, and unlimited competition apparently in all industries. I do not, and, because I do not, I am utterly unable to apply any general principle in this respect to agriculture which I do not apply to all other industrial operations. In this matter of agricultural development, I am afraid that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme and others have yet to grasp the idea of agriculture as a social service, instead of as a, field of free competition and a field for exploitation in the interests of private enterprise, and I rise mainly in order to say one or two things in that direction, in addition to saying just a very few words in regard to the circumstances under which this Bill has been introduced.
I think that this Bill will be very largely inoperative. I do not think that it is a serious contribution to the solution of our agricultural difficulties, or that its authors believe that it will be a contribution to the solution of our agricultural difficulties. In my opinion, it is very largely a window-dressing Bill, and it comes to us to-day, because, at this stage in the life of this Parliament, I fancy that the Government realise the necessity of removing very strong impressions, with very serious electoral implications that have been created by the legislation of the last few years. That is why I say this is a window-dressing Bill and a Bill intended to cultivate the good-will and the votes of our agricultural electors. But it is a mere pretence if it is intended as a Measure that will meet what is generally regarded as a very serious national problem. What is that problem'? It is the problem of the conflict that has gone on for several generations of economic and political interests between town and country, between factory and farm, a conflict, as I regard 826 it, between home production and the conquest of foreign markets.
I was very much interested to hear the leader of one of the Liberal parties (Mr. Lloyd George) to-day deplore the fact that this country stood in a unique position in that we had a smaller peasant population than any other country in Europe. Might I ask what political party in the past has done more to produce that state of affairs than the Liberal party? The Liberal party has always worshipped at the altar of free trade, of foreign markets and of cheapness as the great end of our national existence. I have never subscribed to that free trade idea, because I have realised, since I understood it, that it means naturally and inevitably the destruction of our home production, and especially the destruction and bankruptcy of our national agricultural system. If agriculture to-day is in a depressed condition, it is largely because the main impetus in our national life for several generations has been away from the country and towards the congested and industrial areas. Everybody to-day recognises that has produced nearly all our social difficulties and problems. This Bill will do nothing, and I do not think the Government will pretend that it will do anything, to deal with that general problem.
I should like the Minister to tell us upon what grounds he believes this Bill will do anything, setting up as it does a multitude of small producers in the place of relatively large producers, to enable the small producer to fight his competitors in the open markets of this country so far as prices are concerned. What earthly chance has a small producer, either in the matter of foodstuffs, or fruit, or stock to meet the competition and dominating influence of the great trustified industries that control the world's markets and prices to-day. In my opinion, it is a perfectly hopeless proposition in agriculture or any other industry to say that, at this time of day, you can split up the industry into a multitude of small competing units and expect that that is going to give you any relief from your present difficulties. I am convinced that this Bill will be very largely a dead letter, and that in the near future, recognising the paralysing influence of private land ownership on 827 national production of foodstuffs, we shall have to set our minds to develop the agencies, county and national, under which our agricultural system can be made a really national service.
I agree, of course, that in certain circumstances and in certain localities the small holding can be made a paying proposition, that within easy reach of a, good market the smallholder or the allotment holder can make his holding a paying proposition; but, as a general matter of national policy, I think that, before small holdings can receive anything like a blessing on business grounds, we shall have to do very much more than this Bill suggests. We shall have to make provision for radical readjustment in the matter of railway rates and in regard to the general matter of the transport of agricultural products from the country to our city and town areas. We shall have to take steps to see that some method is developed and some tuition given to those who are concerned in the matter of the grading and packing of general agricultural produce. In the disposal, also, of local and temporary surpluses of produce there is a very great deal to be done, and, above all things, I think that, as a matter of national concern, we shall have to do something in order to secure the producer in the matter of the market price that he is getting for his products.
If the small producer is to be left in the general competitive market, his greatest problem will be in connection with the stabilisation of prices. Large concerns are able to survive the fluctuations of the market, but the small producer is unable to do so, and I think the House will see that this is really a national question, which is not to be solved by the mere creation of such machinery as this Bill provides. The tremendous margin to-day between the producer's prices and consumer's prices needs to be bridged, and that means, in my opinion, the creation of co-operative machinery. That really cuts entirely athwart the whole idea of competitive agriculture owned or carried on by a small number of private individuals, who are interested in agriculture, of course, purely from the competitive point of view. We have to get away, I suggest, from the idea of cheapness of production in this matter, and, getting away from 828 that idea, we have to put forward the interests of the producer in the agricultural industry as our first consideration. Cheapness, as I have already said, is not an end in itself. Cheapness in agricultural products means cheap labour, and, if you are to protect the British agricultural industry, one of the first things you have to do is to see that the home producer is not placed at the hopeless disadvantage at which he is to-day in the field of foreign competition against the great trusts.
Those are the general grounds upon which I criticise this Bill. I do not criticise it to the extent that I should be prepared to divide on the question, but I do offer these few words of criticism of the Bill, believing, as I do, that it will very largely be inoperative, and that the reason why small holdings have not become popular in the sense of being taken up and becoming an important part of our national policy, is not so much because county councils are conservative and reactionary—though that is perfectly true; it is not so much because landlords do not want to sell their land, because I believe that one of the greatest vices of this Bill is that under it county councils will be converted into mere selling agencies for the benefit of the landlord class. These are not the reasons why small holdings have not developed to the extent that the exponents of the small holdings idea would have liked. The real reason is that the small holding, like the small unit in general industrial production, is entirely out of tune with the necessities of the situation. It is an uneconomic proposition, and, therefore, it is bound to fail. This Bill will probably pass into law, but, as I have already said, it will not be a contribution to the solution of our agricultural difficulties, and nothing will be until we set ourselves to get rid of the incubus of private landlordism—which serves no useful purpose, productive or otherwise, in our national economy to-day—vest the freehold of the land in the State, and develop our agricultural production as a national service. That will give relief, and, in my opinion, nothing else will.
§ Major G. DAVIES
I have listened with a great deal of interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy) He has raised a very wide range of considerations which, after all. 829 are not dealt with in the Bill that we are discussing to-day. This Bill does not set out to be a solution of the whole agricultural problem. I quite agree with the hon. Member that the real crux of the agricultural problem is the price that the farmer gets for the products of his farm. I differ very strongly from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), who airily stated that, if the population on the arable land were quadrupled, the output of that arable land would be quadrupled. I think that that is an entire misstatement. The advantages of dividing up into smaller ownership, from the point of view of the prosperity of agriculture, are indirect and not direct. I have had a wide experience of these matters in other parts of the world, and there is no question in my mind that, under those particular conditions of agriculture, large-scale operation is profitable; but there are many equally if not more important considerations, which are being definitely dealt with by this Bill.
The important one, to my mind, is the question of an agricultural population, and its relationship to the whole industrial conditions of our country, and that is where the marriage between urban interests and rural interests finds itself consummated. One of the things from which we suffer here, because we have not had that large peasant population that has been referred to by previous speakers, is that we do not create in the countryside conditions which keep the rising generation of children working in an agricultural atmosphere, but rather bring them, even in the country, into an urban atmosphere. For example, the children of the agricultural labourer to-day go to the village school. Their father is at work in purely rural, agricultural pursuits, in which, however, the children, when they come home, have no share whatever, and they might just as well be at school in a town, as far as practical experience is concerned in what has been the life job of their father, and what, in the interests of continuing agricultural policy, should be the life career of the children. The result is that their thoughts are so directed that they go to swell the river that flows from the country to the town, instead of vice versa.
830 It appears to me that by this provision of small holdings, and also of larger holdings, which I welcome heartily, we are going to help to deal with that matter. It will give that stabilising feeling which we all know ownership does give. Regardless of the theoretical considerations of many hon. Members opposite, this feeling of ownership does give an urge that does not come from any other source of human activity. That is one of the things that will counterbalance the economic loss due to dividing up large-scale operations into those of smaller scale. The individual concerned will work harder and longer. If he is working on his own farm, he will not be controlled by cast-iron trade unionism riveted by himself round his own neck, but will be able to consider his best interests from an individual point of view, and that will ultimately work in the best interests of the community as a whole. That additional incentive and that additional work will make up for the general loss of output from the dividing up of large areas into small.
In addition to that, if you have an increased population on the land, if you want to get the greatest result out of the land that is possible, you have to apply all that agricultural science can teach us to-day. One of the directions in agricultural development which all parties have taken part in in recent years is the development of scientific research. If you have a large population on the land, with large numbers of small holdings in close geographical connection with one another, it is easier to bring the definite benefits which have been discovered on our agricultural experimental stations and others to a large number of people than is the case to-day with large and scattered farms and farmers, because that indeed is one of the difficulties in making the completest use of our scientific development. The experimental station can carry out these scientific experiments, but the difficulty is to get in touch with the farmer, who is not sufficiently interested himself to go and see what is going on. I think by this development of small holdings we shall get a greater opportunity of demonstrating to a larger number the definite advantages and results which have been achieved by our scientific experimental stations. With regard to the question 831 of cottage holdings and small holdings, there is one matter that is closely interrelated with this Bill and that is the housing difficulty, because if you are going to take a large area and divide it into small holdings you multiply the need of buildings. I see in Clause 9 the county council are allowed to have urban and borough councils to act for them, but there is no provision for rural district councils, and I would ask the Minister to give that matter his consideration. We have now in the rural districts municipal housing schemes and so forth which have been conducted by rural district councils, and it seems to me in the same way they must be brought into the Measure with regard to the question of cottage holdings.
I welcome this step forward. I do not believe this is going to be a solution of our agricultural difficulties. I do not think we are going to see in the course of two or three years the whole countryside divided up into little lots, but it is a step forward in providing on reasonable terms something for the demand for small holdings that we know there is in the country. But I say, as a caution we have to realise that agriculture to-day is not economic under present conditions, and we must face the fact that putting people on small holdings is not in itself an economic proposition and, whether it is the ratepayer paying 25 per cent. and the Exchequer bearing 75 per cent. or the reverse, 1 am prepared to face that expenditure in view of the advantage that will be gained, but we must not lose sight of the fact, whichever way we look at it, that this is a Government or a State subsidy, which we regard as well spent and worth while because of the advantages which will be achieved. Therefore, unlike the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, if we are going to subsidise in order to produce this result, surely until such time as the potential smallholder has a complete title to his land the State, which is providing the subsidy, is entitled to make certain regulations which he must not depart from. I congratulate the Minister and hope we shall get on to the Statute Book a Measure which will realise some of the aspirations which many of us on this side of the House have nursed for very many years.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
Before I advance any comments on the Bill one ought to get into one's mind the real circumstances in which we find ourselves debating it. I dare say most hon. Members on this side are in entire agreement with me when I say we look upon the private ownership of land as nothing short of immoral. It is indeed a crime against the moral law for any human being to claim as private property that which was the common gift of God to the whole of mankind. We start off with that. We make it our guiding principle, and it influences us in all our reviews of Bills such as this when they come before Parliament. I think such a principle as this should be adumbrated in the House because it seems to be forgotten. What do we find in the country at large? We had the other day the miners' Report saying that by the closing down of certain uneconomic pits we must perforce discharge some hundreds odd thousands of miners. Another Report tells you there are no opportunities for miners in tie Dominions, but there are many possibilities if they will go there as agricultural workers. You are transporting from this country by emigration schemes thousands of the best men and women from Scotland and England to the further ends of the earth. You are denuding your country of your best and most enterprising families. Denmark, on the other hand, is becoming the commissariat of Europe. She has small holdings, she has the co-operative system, she is setting you an example of the possibilities of using land which is much inferior to that in this country, land which she has had to win from the sea by arduous toil, which is constantly under the blasts of fierce winds, as compared with many of our valleys lying derelict which might be producing food. All over the country we have a housing condition which is a disgrace to mankind. You have on top of that your annual charge for health consequent on your bad housing and congestion. This congestion and unemployment is the only result of the methods you have adopted in the use of the land.
We were reminded to-day that this is not 1908 but 1926. In 1926, having these problems facing us, unemployment, strikes, lock-outs and depression in wages and industry now under the threat of bankruptcy, we are told it will necessitate the discharge of thousands of men with no possible opportunities for them to find 833 employment, except that they might go off to the further ends of the earth. Here is surely an opportunity for some bold action on the part of a Government that really means business on this question. Of course hon. Members opposite look upon me and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) as men with kinks in our minds. Even the right hon. Gentleman who led off the Debate for us says, " Hear, hear! "
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I am rather glorying in the fact that we are, because here in 1926, with problems threatening society at large, we find the Government coming forward with a Small Holdings Bill of this kind. I am not blaming them. Far be it for inn to throw the entire blame on A new Minister. New Ministers should be treated like new brides, with caution and admiration. It is only when we have known them for some time that we know how to handle them. I am not blaming the right hon. Gentleman. I am criticising the Conservative attitude towards this question. I do not know whether we should blame the Conservative attitude of mind because it is of opinion that land can be private property and that land can be bought and sold and bartered. The morality of such procedure has not yet dawned upon them. When they come to Parliament and say, " We are going to allow you to get back this land of yours and to use it, on condition that you go through these various forms of procedure, and throw the ultimate cost for the buying of the land upon the local authorities, and 75 per cent. of the cost upon the taxpayer," one wonders whether it was any use teaching history in the schools. When the landlords wanted England, they did not proceed by a Smallholders Bill asking local authorities to buy it and to put a surcharge of 75 per cent, upon the taxpayer. They took it by force and by Enclosure Acts. These Enclosure Acts are now going to be redressed at the expense of the ratepayers and taxpayers of the country, in order that they may get some of the land back. I would be the last person to cede an inch of ground in favour of compensation to any landlord in this country.
834 The moment the Government enters the market to buy land, what happens When we in this House took away the Corn Production Act, the Government issued two White Papers, in which it was openly confessed that no sooner did the Government enter the market as a purchaser of land for ex-soldiers, than the price went up all over the country. The Corn Production Act, by virtue of the fact that the Government were giving virtual subsidies by guaranteed prices of corn, had the same effect of sending up the price of land. This Bill, if it becomes operative—thank God it will not —would have the same effect. It would increase the value of land wherever there is a demand for small holdings, more especially when it is known that the Government is behind the price that is to be paid. I challenge the Minister, in. the most genial form, to deny that that is so. When it is known that the Government are going to pay the money, the price will go up. The Minister will say, " We are circumscribed in our expenditure; there will not be under the terms of the Act any possibility of wild prodigality in the use of public money for buying out the landlords." My answer is, let us look at the situation with which we are faced when we go to get land for the smallholders. I suppose that if we want land for the smallholders, we shall require convenient land. We are spending £40,000,000 this year in making new roads, much to the glorification of the quarry owners. Add to that the millions we have spent since 1919 in improving the country generally and in public work in order to find jobs for the unemployed. Millions of pounds have been spent since the War in public works, paid for out of public funds, and all that expenditure has increased the value of land in this country. When we require. land for small holdings we shall require land which is convenient., and it is an undeniable fact that this enormous expenditure of money during the past few years has had the effect of increasing enormously the value of the land which will be convenient to small holdings. The price that we shall be asked will be exorbitant, and the amount of machinery that will be required in passing from one committee to another and making appeals here and appeals there will not facilitate the speed with which the unemployed 835 man can get back to the land, in order to become an independent man and not a loafer in society.
I hope the point with which I am about to deal will have a salutary effect upon my colleague the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy), who says that we do not want small holdings, but that we want a form of protection. I notice that hon. Members opposite cheered him, and rightly so. What we want, according to my hon. Friend, is less Free Trade and fewer small holdings; none of this competition for small holdings up and down the country. During the Debate on unemployment in this House one night, reference was made to the enormous cost of unemployment and the great amount we had to meet in connection with the National Debt. On that occasion one hon. Member who sat on this side, but who has since gone to the other side, reminded the House that France had a national debt but that France had no unemployment, that Belgium had a national debt and no unemployment, and that in England we had a national debt which some people seemed to think was the cause of our great amount of unemployment. [Interruption.] Whether there was inflation or deflation, if we had the men using the land it would not matter very much. [An HON. MEMBER: " There is private ownership in France! "] The question for the moment is not whether it is private or public ownership My point is that France would have had unemployment as we have if she had not used the land as she is doing. My point is that the cost of unemployment in this country ought to weigh with hon. Members when they are dealing with the question of small holdings, or opening up opportunities for men in the land of their birth so that they may make their own living rather than become demoralised by taking doles from the State.
Is this Bill the most efficacious way of 'doing that? It is not. It is a method of inflating the price of land; the most slow and antiquated procedure possible towards gaining the object in view. If the Government really wishes to deal with the problem, they must come back to the proposition which always creates a smile on the opposite side of the House. When my right hon. and gallant Friend 836 the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme mentioned it to-day, I noticed the bland smile that crossed the faces of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I would rather our critics would treat the matter seriously, than laugh at it. Perhaps the smile might change if a really serious effort was made to meet the point. We maintain that the reason why it is difficult to get land in this country is because the moment a man attempts to use the land. the rating machinery of this country is such that it penalises the smallholder more than th2 farmer. The whole tendency under our present canons of taxation is to encourage landowners to hold land out of use because they pay little or no taxation upon it, and to discourage the opening up of land, because the moment you do so heavy rates and taxes fall upon it. I have a case in point which I have given before to the House, and it is opportune to give it again this afternoon. The Blankney Hunt appealed to the local assessment committee to have their assessment reduced. Fox coverts are, no doubt, important. They give employment to people, produce food, and reduce the necessity for doles! At any rate, the owners of the fox coverts applied to the local assessment committee for a reduction. They were assessed at g1 per acre, and it was reduced to 5s. per acre. The Cambridgeshire County Council acquired a farm of 660 acres and leased it in portions to 22 smallholders. The land was assessed for rates at £150 gross. but now that the smallholders have improved it, it is assessed at £580. Fox coverts reduced; small holdings increased! And that will operate under the present Bill. If this Bill becomes operative with any measure of success, and brings men on to the land, the local assessor at once comes along and forthwith levies a penalty on behalf of the rates.
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
On a point of Order. This Bill does not deal with rating, and is the hon. Member in order?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I think this is rather general, but I suppose it applies to small holdings in general.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
I thank you, Mr. Speaker, and am sorry the hon. Member should think I was diverging from the subject. I was only taking a liberty which I notice other hon. Members have taken. Let me take another point. Sir Richard Winfrey, who was at one time a Member of this House, gave evidence before an expert Committee on the question of the Burgh Fens site. In his evidence he said that the Peterborough Council purchased land in the Burghs Fens site, and the assessment was increased from £3,600 in 1919 to £5,500 in 1921–1922; immediately the land was put into active use by smallholders. The same authority bought another site and the assessment of the land, on being opened up for small holdings was increased from £6,450 in 1913–14 to £10,000 in 1921–22. You penalise the land which is being used. That is the secret of the paralysed condition in which land development is to-day. An hon. Member opposite said that those who spoke in this way do not understand what they are talking about. [HON. MEMBERS: " Hear, hear! "] I do not wish to be too personal, but the hon. Member opposite is asociated with a certain form of thought outside which taught him that God made the land for the people.
§ Mr. BLUNDELL
The catechism to which the hon. Member refers says God made the land, but it does not say for whom.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
As long as He did not make it for the landowners, your case falls to the ground. This little theological discussion will help us to get along to the point.
§ Mr. MacLAREN
What the landowners will receive as the result of this Bill, as in the case of other similar Bills, is nothing more than a payment of interest on the capital they spend on the land. This is a case which came to my notice the other day. A piece of land was let for 25s. an acre. A friend of mine wanted it for a small holding and the landowner 838 charged £500 per acre. Then the corporation constructed a new roadway through this land, and the same landowner is now asking £1,200 an acre for the land on both sides of the road. He has done nothing to the land, he has spent nothing upon it, and yet he is receiving that sum to-day. That is in Newport, and the owner is Lord Tredegar. One can multiply these cases in which the owner of land is gaining by the public expenditure, and the value rising against the user. This Bill, like other smallholdings Measures, will harden the monopoly against the user of the land and will add to the burden of local authorities who will have to incur additional expenditure in opening up the land. That is what no sane Government should ask them to do.
I am sorry if 1 have diverged from the point. It is difficult to correlate the fundamental law with political expediency. Hon. Members opposite go on with these kinds of Bills: tell us it is difficult to get the land which God gave us, pay high prices to land monopolists, produce Bills the principle of which is that what is wanted in this country is not peasant leaseholders, peasant tenants, but peasant owners. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear !"] I expected that cheer. Hon. Members know that, after the French Revolution, the creation of the revolutionaries into peasant proprietors converted them into a nation of corrupt Tories. Hon. Members believe it, it has been said this afternoon, that it is far better to give, a man a stake in the land because he is more likely to be conservative in his outlook and prepared to back Conservative parties. That. is what is behind this Bill. They do not want security of tenure, what they want is to make the smallholder spend all the money he can acquire in order to buy a stake in the land and then they have him for the rest of his life as a reactionary Conservative.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I must appeal to hon. Members that, when they indicate they are going to speak for 10 minutes only, they will not occupy 25 minutes.
There has been a general chorus of approval this afternoon because the Bill creates a large number of peasant proprietors—probably the most practical step towards reconsti- 839 tuting peasant proprietorship in England that we have seen since the time of Queen Elizabeth. I want to refer to one point which has been omitted from the speeches of both sides. The only criticism of the Bill has been in regard to the creation of peasant holdings. Which is it better to have, tenants or owners? It is not a case of politics; it is purely a case of practical business argument. In the United States there was an inquiry, which many hon. Members do not seem to remember, as to which was the better type to have as the small landowner, the tenant type or the proprietor type. After an immense amount of research the inquiry showed that in the case of a holding over 100 acres it was better to hire an equipped farm, but that for an area under 30 acres it was better to have an owner. Therefore, under the Bill the Minister is following what has been found to be the most practical and economical expedient. Where you have men working land that is below a certain acreage it is more economical and practical for them to be owners rather than hirers of equipped land. The equipping of small portions of land entails overhead charges which completely swamp any possible profits that may accrue. On that point alone the question whether it is good to have small owners or small county council tenants completely disappears. To confirm this view we have had clinching proof in the speech of the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) who has just spoken. He has pointed out that Denmark has become the commissariat of Europe. Denmark is a country of small owners, and the results have been such as to show how satisfactory the system is. I endorse the view that this Bill will be a practical step towards the recreation of that small yeoman class which the War and its general disruption had almost annihilated.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I must correct the impression of the last speaker that our only point of criticism of this Bill deals with the creation of the small owners. That is very far from being the case. The first thing that struck me, on examining the Bill, was that, whereas I believe that in small holdings we have one of the principal means of putting agriculture on a sounder basis, I find that the Minister has deprived himself of a 840 portion of the means which he now has under the 1908 Act of stimulating the creation of small holdings throughout the country. Under the 1908 Act he could, through his Small Holdings Commissioners, do something to stimulate recalcitrant and stubborn authorities. I agree with the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Blundell) that not all the local authorities deserve these epithets. Probably the majority of the local authorities do not deserve them. But there is a minority either timid or obstructive. Under the 1908 Act, working through the Small Holdings Commissioners, the right hon. Gentleman could do something to deal with that situation. The right hon. Gentleman's speech was an appeal for a spur. All that he gets by this Bill is a brake. That is the first criticism I have to make of the Bill. There are no fewer than 14,847 unsatisfied applicants for land at the present time. They have been waiting for years. Under this Bill, even if there were no yearly increase in the applications—as there will be—it will take seven years to work off the existing applications.
In the last Session we had the Ministry of Agriculture. Estimates before the Estimates Committee, and one of the permanent officials stated that if the people in the country districts knew that land was available, there would be a tremendous increase in the demand which would be made. People did not like putting down their names unless the land was available. Once they knew that a small-holding scheme was to be constituted in a district, there would be a. tremendous increase in the applications. The right hon. Gentleman interjected in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) a statement that the figure given by him as to the number of small holdings was unreliable. Those figures, which we had obtained from him or from his predecessor, were the official figures of the Ministry of Agriculture, and they tended to show that small holdings arc being absorbed faster than they are being created. Yet the right hon. Gentleman says that the figures are unreliable. That is another instance of the great value which a national survey would have. We ought to know the facts on vital points of that kind, instead of the Minister who is responsible for the figures coming down 841 and saying that his own figures are unreliable. The Minister said that, with increasing urbanisation, accommodation laud on the borders of towns was being brought into the towns. The reverse is the fact. The increase of urbanisation, as a matter of fact, has a tendency to increase rather than to decrease the number of holdings. The perimeter of the area of population expands, and you get this accommodation land—what we call grass parks in Scotland—and small holdings are formed on the larger perimeter. Therefore, the increase in the size of cities will tend to increase the, number of small holdings, allotments, accommodation lands and so forth round the cities.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
They are absorbing a certain number of small holdings and accommodation lands on the outskirts, but as the perimeter expands there is created around that an even larger number of small holdings, accommodation lands, and so forth. The hon. Member for Ormskirk referred to the suitability of certain counties for small holdings and mentioned Cambridgeshire and the Eastern Counties as particularly suitable. I do not traverse his statement, but I wish to point out that this is another argument in favour of a survey. We should know what counties are the most suitable and what counties are the least suitable in order that our energies may be concentrated to the best advantage. On the question of purchase the hon. Member for Ormskirk charged me with not being able to understand the Bill. The measure of my difficulty in understanding it was the difficulty which the Minister of Agriculture found in explaining it, but, I think, I appreciate now what the Minister has said on the methods of purchase which are proposed. I am not sure, however, that the hon. Member for Ormskirk or the hon. and learned Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) quite appreciate the bearing of the method of purchase now proposed. These provisions are based upon the principle that " the magic of ownership turns sand into gold." How untrue that is in our recent experience ! Only a, few years ago we were passing Bills in order to help men who had, since the War, bought land at high prices, who found themselves overloaded with debt and whose land was actually going back.
842 Obviously, recent experience disproves the theory that ownership makes it easier for a man to make good in farming than the old tenancy system. If you put this maxim, about the magic of ownership turning sand into gold, by itself, it is as unmeaning a piece of rhetoric as you will find mentioned by the Prime Minister in his essay on rhetoric. Let us imagine a man of 30 who sits as the tenant of a county council paying the full fair rent—that is to say on the basis that the landlord pays for the upkeep of the buildings. He is seized by the desire to turn sand into gold, and the procedure he adopts is to take over the responsibility for the buildings, while paying exactly the same rent, and, finally, at the age of 90 he finds he has reaped the reward of his efforts. If he had for the 60 years left the upkeep of the buildings in the responsibility of the county council, and put his money into the improvement of the land, he would have got far more gold out of the holding than he could get under the provisions of the Bill. I put it to the hon. and learned Member for Perth, who interrupted me with such hilarity, is it possible to compare the position under this Bill with the position which we know obtains in Scotland, where the land holder has the ownership of the buildings and the responsibility for the upkeep, but has the rent proportionately reduced and only pays the fair rent for the land, and not the rates on the houses? That is a different position, and I invite the hon. and learned Member to go to Perth or to Caithness and Sutherland and suggest to the Scottish smallholder that he should give up the Liberal small holding legislation of 1911 in order to accept this Conservative Bill or a Bill of the same kind.
§ Mr. SKELT0N
I hope the hon. Baronet does not regard a smile as an interruption. If it is to be described as an interruption, I do not know how to describe some of the things which sometimes happen in this House. I was not consciously saying anything to the hon. Baronet.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I beg the hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon, but my challenge to him stands. I do not believe for one moment be would suggest that the smallholders of Scotland should give up their Liberal 1911 Act and accept legislation on the basis of this Bill.
§ Mr. SKELTON
As I have not spoken, I think it is rather absurd for the hon. Baronet to challenge me. I should have many things to say in answer to his point but I shall not have an opportunity of doing so. For example, to assume that this is only an ownership Bill is in itself incorrect and to compare it with a Measure which applies only to Scotland where the rating system is entirely different from the English system is also incorrect. In any case, I do not see why the hon. Baronet should challenge me since there is no opportunity for a reply.
§ 3.0 P.M
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
The hon. and learned Member will no doubt have another opportunity, because, I understand, the Scottish Estimates will be coming up. I ask hon. Members opposite if they really believe that the magic of ownership will turn sand into gold. The same hon. Member who cheered my right hon. Friend the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs when he said the position of the tenant on a good estate was far better than the position of an occupying owner, also cheered the Minister of Agriculture when he referred to the magic of ownership. If they believe in the magic of ownership why do they not come forward with a bold policy to overturn the present landlord and tenant system and substitute a peasant proprietorship? I do not believe it myself, and I am not sure that hon. Members have not at the back of their minds certain reservations on this point. It seems to me before we can tackle this question of the agricultural revival, the first thing is to get at the facts and I put it to the right hon. Gentleman, again, that to get the facts it is necessary to have a national survey. Undoubtedly there are some things which are clear enough now. One is that cooperation in marketing arrangements is vital if these holdings are to be a success and another is the need to have the county authorities armed with sufficient powers to see that a small holdings policy is actively carried out. This Bill is a harmless inoffensive Bill. It arouses no hostility and no enthusiasm, and I join in the chorus of faint praise with which it has been received.
§ Mr. RILEY
On the desirability of small holdings there has been, with the possible exception of one hon. Member, 844 universal agreement in this Debate, but as a convinced supporter of small holdings I am disappointed at the nature of the Bill. According to the Financial Resolution the Minister has visualised that in the next four years there may be possibly 8,000 new holdings established at a cost of £6,000,000. I submit, in view of the nature of the problem, the scheme of the Bill is inadequate. I do not want to use an offensive word, but in view of the desirability of substantially increasing the population on the land, the Bill, from that point of view, is of a very piffling character. What are the facts of the situation Under two Acts of Parliament, one passed in 1908 and the other passed in 1918, we have in a matter of close on 20 years settled about 29,00d smallholders in this country. But at the present moment, and for the last two years, as a matter of fact, an equal number of applicants are, and have been, waiting to be settled; that is to say, that in England and Wales, according to the Minister's figures, which are generally regarded as being under-estimates, because they have not been brought up to date in the last two years. there are roughly 18,000 applicants for small holdings, and in Scotland, according to the latest returns, there are 10,000 applicants, still unsatisfied. Thus, in England, Scotland, and Wales there are about 28,000 applicants now waiting and who have been waiting for the last two or three years, and all that the Financial Pesolution envisages is that in four years' time, at a cost. of £6,000,000, you may have 8,000 new holders. I submit that that is entirely inadequate to meet the situation, and it is all the more inadequate because of the tragic position which has obtained during the last two or three years.
There is mention in the White Paper of an average number of 2,000 new holdings per annum, but I do not know whether hon. Members are aware that the Minister, in reply to a question which I submitted to him last week stated that from the 1st January, 1925, to the 21st March, 1926, only 57 new holdings were established by the county councils in this country. Therefore, it is quite misleading to imagine that there is a. regular yearly increase of 2.000. That is not the ease, and, therefore, it is all the more necessary to have a full, bold policy to meet the problem and get small holdings 845 going at something like an adequate rate. The question that hon. Members ought to ask themselves is whether or not this Bill is calculated to carry forward substantially this desirable policy of extending small holdings.
I will call attention to three aspects of the Bill which I regard as fundamental weaknesses in it, and the first is the provision that a very substantial part, if not the whole, of the financial assistance which may be provided by the State may go to the purchasing of land by county councils and also by tenants, as against having such machinery as would have concerned itself rather with the acquirement of land rented for occupying tenants. I listened very carefully to-day to the Minister's speech, and he said that the main purpose of the Bill was to promote occupying tenancies.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The purpose of the Bill is to create small holdings and to give an equally fair chance for the ownership of the holdings as for the tenancy of them.
§ Mr. RILEY
The Clause says:Where a county council are satisfied that there is a demand for small holdings in their county by persons who desire to buy or lease.I am going to submit to the Minister that, on all the facts of experience which he has at his disposal, the evidence is that the method of purchase has been a failure, and has not brought any substantial increase in small holdings. May I give his own figures? Attention was called to these figures by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) earlier in the discussion. What are the facts? With regard to occupying tenants, the facts are that, under the 1908 Act and the 1919 Act, the county councils and the councils of county boroughs in England and Wales have acquired, approximately, 440,000 acres, or, as near as may be, half a million acres. That is land acquired by county councils which they have let out to tenants. In addition, 4,090 acres have been sold to about 4:40 smallholders. In other words, the total acreage which has 846 been acquired under these two Acts of Parliament is in the proportion of 4,000 acres acquired for purchase, as against 440,000 acres acquired for tenancies. Obviously, if it had been easy for the person desiring a small holding to become the owner of the holding, these figures would have presented a very different aspect. The experience of the Small Holding Acts is that the only chance of success is an opportunity of tenancy on easy terms.
I want to go a step further. I think the principle of encouraging county councils to embark upon the purchase of land, and offer that land to applicants for small holdings to become their own property, is not only an unwise policy, but a dangerous one. As has already been said, there is not a shadow of doubt whatever that instantly this Small Holdings Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, it will appreciate land values in every county in this country. It will substantially increase the price of land for agricultural purposes in every county. If there are doubts about that we have experience in the matter. Let me call attention to what took place under the Land Settlement Act, 1919. Under that Act, the county councils were empowered to purchase land for small holdings. Some reference has been made to-day by a previous speaker to Sir Richard Winfrey, who sat for many years in this House as Member for South West Norfolk.
§ Mr. RILEY
That is a most extraordinary statement to make of a man whose agricultural knowledge was second to none in this House. I recall with perfect clearness, in the Session of 1923, Sir Richard Winfrey sitting below the Gangway, and, speaking upon agriculture, he made a statement to this effect: That, as a result of the Act of 1919, empowering the county councils to purchase land for small holdings that in his district farm after farm had changed hands: farms that cost £40 per acre had been sold for £70 and per acre. In other words, the county councils were competing in the market for the purchase land for small holdings. I submit that it will follow as a matter of course that this will happen. For do not let us forget—I am casting no stone at the council 847 —that on the county councils you have men representing very large landed interests who know perfectly well what is going to occur. They see coming forward the question of the public need, and the acquiring of land for the extension of small holdings to the public. There are land agents, and men of that sort, and they know about prices. I know perfectly well that any scheme of the sort will be submitted to the Minister. That is perfectly true, but if the land has to be obtained there is the pressure of people interested who know it has to be obtained, and the value of land is bound to rise. The buying of this land will unquestionably place a burden upon the new smallholder which will make it almost impossible for him to make his way.
There is one question I should like to ask the Minister. Will he make it clear —for I cannot find it from the Bill—the position of the county councils. We are told that the county councils will have power to enter into arrangements whereby the smallholder may become the owner of his holding by annual instalments extending over 60 years. Do those annual payments cover all the charges for repairs, etc.? Will the tenant purchasing his holding have to pay much more than the ordinary argricultural rent? What will be the rent to be paid by the tenant who is not purchasing, but is simply an occupying tenant? Will he get his rent fixed at a much less annual charge than the smallholder who is purchasing his holding by a terminable annuity? My last point, for the time is short, is this: I regret very much to say it, but this Bill is a retrograde step in that the Ministry itself apparently has taken no power whatever to deal with the county councils which are lethargic, negligent, and opposed to the spirit of the Bill. The Bill says that the county councils " may " do so-and-so. If they do not do these things there is apparently nothing in the Bill which will enable the Minister to step in over the heads of the councils and provide the small holdings. Whether the Minister is to take over that duty I do not know, but in the Act of 1908 his Commissioners have power in the case of the default of county councils to enter the field, and make the necessary provision. This is 848 a weakness in the Bill. I cannot myself see that it is likely to do anything substantial to meet the problem which is urgent and vital to the whole of the country.
§ Mr. WILLIAM GRAHAM
Many of us, I am afraid, have no qualificaton at all for addressing the House on the subject of agriculture, and what I propose to do is to ask the Minister one or two questions regarding the finance of this scheme, because I think the House will agree, whatever view we take of small holdings, that it would be singularly unfortunate if we embarked upon this enterprise and found later that it broke down in practice, with all the personal suffering that would be involved, on the financial side. It is of vital importance that the Minister should justify that part of his Bill and of his White Paper which draws a comparison between the pre-War conditions in the establishment of small holdings, the conditions of the land settlement scheme following 1919, and the conditions now proposed. As regards the state of affairs pre-War, the method then was to place these holdings upon an economic or self-supporting basis, and beyond all question that is the desirable basis for any enterprise of this character. Then there came the period immediately following the War, and it is in that period that we find some of the substantial dangers that may affect the present Bill, because in the Laud Settlement Act, 1919, these holdings were established at a very heavy capital cost and in a time of high prices. It has been necessary for various Committees of this House and in particular the Public Accounts Committee, to review the finance of that scheme, and the Government have been driven to revalue the holdings in England and Wales and Scotland and to write off a very substantial loss to the State, at the same time revising rents, in order to bring things, as near as may be, to an economic basis. No one disputes that that has involved very great public loss, but as that settlement scheme was largely in the interests of ex-service men, and was, by the very nature of the legislation, never intended to be economic in character, a loss of that kind had to be ultimately faced.
The fact remains, however, that on the personal side, that system of finance, and 849 high charges exposed many men to a great deal of anxiety, and to some personal hardship and suffering into the bargain; the necessarily bad finance of that scheme has prejudiced a great mass of opinion in this country against small holdings as such, has led to the argument that it is no use to engage in agricultural enterprise on these lines, and that if there is to be success something will have to be done on a large scale. The House is, therefore, in possession of the two stages of our experience—the pre-War experience, when things were on an economic foundation; and the experience since 1919, involving the revaluation of holdings and the reduction of rents until a comparatively economic position was secured. Most hon. Members would imagine that this would make a very deep impression upon any Government, whatever its faith, and I think the Minister, as one who has held the hardest office in any Government, that of Financial Secretary to the Treasury, will agree that the lesson has not been lost on the Treasury. Here we. have a Bill and a White Paper accompanying it which quite plainly sets out in contemplation of a loss over a long period on the holdings that are to be established. It is argued in the White Paper that- under the 1919 settlement scheme the charge was £900 per head per holder settled, and because of the reduced capital charges and the lower rate of interest the Minister now takes the view that you will be able to do that at something less than £750 per head. Before the House commits itself to the finance of this scheme, which is estimated at an aggregate of £6,000,000, I think we are entitled to know on what basis the Minister has arrived at this figure of £750, and if that is in reality the lowest figure. There must be a greater margin between the scheme of 1919 and the present conditions, having regard to the change in prices, than the margin between £900 and £750. The figure of £750 has been taken, and the Minister then proceeds to tell us that while there was a loss of £50 per head under the 1919 scheme that loss is now to be approximately £25 per head.
If we multiply that by 2,000 holdings we arrive at about 2200,000 of which £150,000 will be the annual liability of the Exchequer. May I say in passing that this is an important departure in the 850 finance of this scheme, because you propose to place some part of the burden on the local authorities, and if you are really heart and soul in regard to the establishment of small holdings I am afraid that will be an obstacle in the way of the success of any scheme of the kind. In the agricultural districts and the rest of the country there is the strongest opposition to passing on to the local authorities any additional burden, and yet here is part of a scheme which will encourage far more opposition than the actual money involved because of the dangerous financial principle which is at stake. That, in my view, will kill much of the scheme before it is born and you will also get a good deal of prejudice on that account. The main issue is the question of subsidy. Observe to what we are committed in this proposal. If this scheme succeeds and we go on to establish 8,000 holdings the county councils and the local authorities will require to raise about £6,000,000 and it will be all in the nature of a debt over the prolonged period which this proposal has in view. It is pointed out by the Minister of Agriculture that while all that will be available if necessary under the Public Works Loan Act part of it will be raised in the open market.
I am inclined to think it will be difficult in the open market to obtain money for a purpose of this kind on anything like, easy terms, and certainly you will not get the money at less than 5 per cent. from the Public Works Loans Board. At any rate, the tendency would be in an upward direction, and to that extent you would increase the, burden publicly carried, since you quite definitely limit the. liabilities of the State in meeting the loss to 75 per cent., and the local authorities to 25 per cent. That seems to me to be a very serious state of affairs, and we should fail in our duty if we did not make it plain that nothing could be worse than to have another scheme of small holdings killed in this country because the finance is unsound. It is quite on the cards that in the near future you will get exactly what you have under the 1919 scheme, and that these men, finding it hard to continue, will plead for a revaluation and a reconsideration, and that the State may be driven once again either to increase the subsidy or to ask the local authorities to do more. But in any event, the 851 Bill has some thoroughly unsatisfactory features, and I ask the Minister of Agriculture this afternoon whether it is necessary to proceed once again on a non-economic basis for these holdings? Before the War you had an economic foundation. After 1919, you had a basis in finance which nobody defended, because, quite frankly, it involved, it may be quite necessarily and inevitably, a very large amount of philanthropy. But are the Government correct in taking the view that they cannot go back to an economic foundation, and that the best they can do is to modify the non-economic element in the 1919 scheme, because that, quite clearly, is their attitude this afternoon.
Is there any other method we can adopt? I said at the commencement that I could make no claim to speak on agriculture at all, and I think it is always well that an hon. Member having no knowledge should make that fact perfectly plain but in what I have been able to read I have been very much impressed by arguments in favour of co-operation, and of bringing to the service of these smallholders the advantages which the larger holders enjoy so far as that can be done, and, generally, of doing everything in your power by research and other devices to give these men an economic start. It is true that the £1,000,000 a year at present set aside is supposed to encourage the purchase of Empire products within this country, but it must be remembered that it is a fundamental part of that scheme to give first place to the home producer, so that he is going to stand in, the smallholder included, to get some advantage from that scheme. Then there are other schemes affecting agriculture and agricultural development. Is it not. wise to try to give these men an economic chance, and not start them again on the basis of a subsidy, which, for all I know, may bring this scheme into substantially the same state of affairs as the 1919 scheme, and, instead of helping small holdings, may give another blow, and it may be on this occasion a fatal blow, to a movement which the great majority of the Members of this House are prepared to support.
There is only one point that I want to raise. It has not been raised in the Debate so far to-day, and 852 I therefore ask to be excused for introducing it. Of course, I support the Bill, not because it is a bold Bill, but because it does revive interest in agriculture. It seems to me to lack courage and vision. The problems that present themselves to the country to-day can be assisted by every Department. The great problem of unemployment presents itself to the Minister of Agriculture as prominently as to any other Minister of the Crown, and I think the right hon. Gentleman has lost a great chance of making in this Bill an attempt to grapple with that problem on far bigger lines. If he could have in some measure linked up home settlement with oversea settlement—as it is quite impossible to separate the two problems one from the other —he might have gone some distance towards meeting the problem of unemployment and developing the Empire as a whole.
The county councils are bound to be very limited in their view. The State, on the other hand, has a national and even an Imperial outlook. Therefore, although, perhaps, I may run some little risk of being considered a supporter of the nationalisation of land, I would go so far as to say that I think the State should have more land in its own hands in this country. There is land that no one else will buy—great waste lands in England which are beyond the capacity of private individuals to develop or even to reclaim. They are not of sufficient interest to the county councils, but there is an immense amount of land that in the hands of the Minister of Agriculture, with the national funds of which he has control, might be profitably reclaimed, with profit to the State, and an enormous number of people could be given useful and happy occupation upon it. I only raise these two points because I think every opportunity should be taken by Members of this House to keep on reminding the Government that we are still faced with a great army of unemployed, which, with the coal industry pressing upon it also, is getting rapidly larger every day.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
We have had a Debate in which there have been astonishing contradictions of the usual attitude of the parties opposite. We have had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) 853 giving a diploma to the landowner. The right hon. Gentleman has even persuaded himself that he has devoted his life to his praise. We have had the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) making a speech in which he said that he wanted to see more people working for themselves, and that people did not like working hard for those whom they did not love, among whom, presumably, he included the State. That was a very valuable change of front on the part of the right hon. Gentleman, who is generally classed as a Socialist. Then we had the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Mr. T. Kennedy), in an interesting contribution to the Debate, saying that we must get away from cheapness in agricultural production. I never heard a more eloquent plea for Protection, even among the most die-hard Tories.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
I have not time to deal in further detail with all these contradictions, but I want, in the very few moments during which I shall trespass on the attention of the House, rather to answer some of the few points on which Opposition speakers seem to be in agreement. The point which was made both by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. N. Buxton) and by other speakers, was that the prices for land would tend to increase, and that the landowner is going to make a large profit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs, with his usual aptitude for picturesque though not necessarily well-founded figures, told us that at the present time agricultural land changed hands at 40 to 50 times the net rent. He said that the usual practice was to take from 22½ to 25 years' purchase of the gross rent, and to base a figure thereon. I have never heard of such a case. I understand that the usual practice of valuers is, not to take the gross rent as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, but to take the net rent, deducting repairs, insurance, and all the other expenditure for which the landlord is liable, and, having reached that figure to take about 22½ years' purchase. That, of course, gives a very different sum from the figure, twice as large, which was put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) told us that this Bill was 854 going to inflate the prices of land, but he seemed to have forgotten that it was laid down in the Acquisition of Land Act, 1919, that land in these cases is to be acquired at the price which would be accepted by a willing seller, and that there should be no compensation for compulsory disturbance.
The hon. Member told us several times that God made the land, but he did not tell us that the land was made without drains and without houses, and that those necessities have for the most part been added by the landlord. I cannot see any justification for confiscating, as the hon. Member, and indeed the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs seemed to suggest, this fair price to the landlord for the actual expenditure he has put into the land.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
The right hon. Gentleman indulged in another example of his peculiar use of figures. He laid stress on our landless peasantry. He said there were 900,000 land workers who had no stake in the land. The number of regular male land workers of 21 years and upwards shown in the last agricultural return was 442,000, rather less than half, the right hon. Gentleman's figure, and he neglected to mention that there are 310,000 allotments in rural parishes available for those 442,000 workers.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
They are the, returns published by the English Department of Agriculture, and they do not include Scotland. Those allotments amount to 90,000 acres, and two-thirds of them have been provided by private owners. Therefore when you see this problem in its true proportions, and do not multiply your figures by two, it is evident that the contribution this Bill will make to providing an outlet for the ambitions of the rural worker to set up on his own will be considerable.
Another point of agreement on the Opposition side was in the attack on county councils. No doubt in the experi- 855 mental stages of the small holdings movement there was some doubt on the part of these local authorities as to whether a large expenditure in this direction was justifiable. There is much less need for pressure upon them to-day. It was easy under the 1908 Act to justify pressure by the central Government because at that time these schemes could only be imposed upon local authorities if they could be carried out without loss. Now we are in the position that the scheme we are discussing will for the most part involve contributions from public funds, and it is obviously far more difficult to justify sending down Inspectors and Small Holding Commissioners to coerce local authorities where that coercion now, for the first time, would mean a compulsory increase of the burden of rates for which those local authorities are exclusively responsible to the ratepayers. When it was possible to coerce these local authorities, without interfering with the rates, in only one case, even in the early stages, were those powers used. In view of that experience, and the very different position which exists to-day, we should not be justified in attempting to interfere with the local authority in the control of their local finances.
The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Fenby) made an extremely interesting contribution to the Debate, and expressed the view that the purchase provisions would be inoperative. None of us can form any confident opinion as to how far there will be a demand for purchase, or whether it will be possible to do so without an altogether disproportionate financial burden as compared with the position of the men who occupy the holding on a tenancy basis. It may be that there have been so many attacks on the ownership of land by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs and others, that there will be no great demand for purchase. Anyhow, we feel it is right to make this offer. In answer to the hon. Member's point as to cottage holdings and the burden on local authorities, I can reassure him, because we have worked the matter out and we find that under these figures it ought not to cost the local authorities any more to provide these cottage holdings than 856 it costs them now to earn the subsidy for a cottage without a holding.
§ Mr. GUINNESS
We think they give fair terms as between the parties. The right hon. Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) was apparently alarmed lest a revaluation may at some future time become necessary which would possibly involve heavier burdens on the Exchequer and might prejudicially affect the tenants of these holdings. I think there is no danger to apprehend a repetition of the heavy losses which took place under the Act of 1919. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the present valuation under that Act as a revaluation. That is not an accurate description, because the position under that scheme was that the local authorities acted first and thought afterwards. There was no valuation necessary by the State before the schemes were instituted. Now, we are setting up a valuation once and for all, and as soon as that valuation has been accepted, the scheme will be finally laid down and no alteration in contributions can possibly take place. The right hon. Gentleman thinks that our estimate of £750 per holding is too high. I hope he is right. We have arrived at it on the basis of a 5 per cent. payment to the Public Works Loan Commissioners as against 6½ per cent. under the 1919 scheme. These figures admittedly are only an estimate, and they may well prove to be an over-estimate. The Bill has had a friendly reception, and I hope the House will now be able to give it a Second Reading.
Question, " That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.