HC Deb 30 November 1926 vol 200 cc1099-105

I beg to move, in page 5, line 9, to leave out from the word "be" to the word "and" in line 11.

Clause 6 deals entirely with land that is purchased and has nothing to do with land let on tenancy. The conditions on which the purchaser holds the land after he has agreed to buy are set out. My Amendment is to strike out one of the conditions, that he shall farm it in accordance with the rules of good husbandry as defined by the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1923. The Bill as origiNally proposed did not include the words I want to leave out. They were accepted by the Minister, with undue haste, on an Amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley). The grounds on which I am moving to strike out these words are that in my opinion they would reduce purchase to an impossibility and practically make the whole of the Bill useless. The House has already, after a full discussion and by a large majority, approved the prin. ciple of purchase, therefore we stand committed to it that State money is to be used to enable small men to purchase small holdings. I regard that as the real live feature of the Bill. The purchaser who is only going to pay one instalment down, and complete the purchase money by subsequent instalments, naturally must he subject to some condition. I agree with all the other conditions, some eight, which are set out in the Clause.

May I point out what would happen if any of the conditions were broken. Under Clause 7, the County Council is to decide when there has been a breach of the conditions and then they can take possession and the estate revests in it. It is true there is to be a valuation and the purchaser is to be charged with all the costs and expenses. Under Clause 8, if the County Council prefer it, they may proceed by sale of the smallholding. The land is then to be sold and again from the purchase money is to be deducted the value of all the outstanding instalments together with all the costs and expenses of valuation. What in fact happens, apart from the Bill, is that as soon as the land is purchased the purchaser becomes the owner. He may not have the money and he raises a mortgage on it. He very often gets two-thirds or three-fourths of the money lent and he holds it on that condition. No one ever heard of such a condition in a mortgage that the owner is to farm according to the rules of good husbandry. No lawyer would ever advise a man to purchase land under these conditions at all. He would say, "Here is a flaw in the title—one of the worst flaws possible. You are to he held responsible for all the money you have paid, you are to he subject to having your holding investigated by the agricultural committee of the County Council, which may be set in motion by someone who has some personal feeling against you, and they are to come then and decide that there has been a breach of the conditions, and these penalties are to come into operation."

May I read some of these conditions which have to be observed under the rules of good husbandry. They include the maintenance of the land in a clean and in a good state of cultivation and fertility and in good condition, the maintenance and clearing of drains, embankments and ditches, the maintenance and proper repair of fences, stone walls, gates and hedges. I agree with them all where the tenant can rightly be required to farm according to these conditions, because he can then be dispossessed of his holding without cost to himslf, and can take another farm. The only reason they were put into the Agricultural Holdings Act was that the landlord up to that time could make such conditions as he pleased in his lease, and could give his tenants a year's notice to quit without paying him any compensation. These words were put into the Act so that a landlord could not at his own will give notice without paying a year's rent, provided the tenant was complying with the strict rules of good farming as laid down in this Act, and as it now stands, a landlord cannot get rid of his tenant at a year's notice to quit without paying him a year's rent provided the tenant complies with that. The landlord has to prove that the tenant has not been farming according to the rules of husbandry before he can be turned out without a year's compensation. None of these conditions have ever been applied to an owner, even if he has the whole of the money on mortgage. A good many people borrow money on mortgage but these are not put in as terms and conditions, and I ask the Minister not to insist on putting in this Clause.

I gather from the proposals made both by the Liberal and the Labour parties that an effort is now being made to say that landowners shall own their land subject to farming it under certain conditions. This is an entire new view. The view hitherto always held, rightly in my opinion, is that the owner of land farms it in such way as he thinks best and shall not be subject to having to farm at the direction of any other body, such as the committee of a county council. There will be no answer if either of these two parties comes into office and tries to insist on this condition for all the freehold land in the country. It will be said to anyone who protests, as I am protesting, that "We have insisted on this condition in respect of smallholders. How can you object to it in respect of large farmers and landowners." It is an impossible condition for any man who has any wisdom at all to purchase land under this Bill so long as this is made a condition under which he is to hold it. He is to be subs jest to the decision of a body over which he has no control and is liable to forfeit nearly all the money he has spent, and he would infinitely prefer tenancy. The hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) said, as soon as it was proposed, "This is a case where those who oppose the purchase Clauses in this Bill are coming into their own." He will agree with every word I have said. I beg of the Minister to reconsider his decision.


This Amendment would put the Bill back into its original form. It is true I accepted it at the instance of the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Riley). It seemed to me reasonable that, where public money had been provided for the creation of these small holdings, anyhow during the period of the repayment of the loan, ownership should be subject to the same obligations as to good husbandry as tenancy. Tenancy holdings have to be subject to this obligation under the existing Acts, and I do not think the hon. Baronet need really fear that this is the thin end of the wedge of the control of freehold land, seeing that it is not a permanent restriction on the use of the land, and that it is only to apply for the period when really the freehold is not fully vested in the purchaser.


Surely in the case of an agreement under Clause 5 to pay off the whole of the purchase money after a term of years, after he has the property entirely in his own possession and is paying rent to no one, he will still adhere to this restriction.

8.0 p.m.


Except in rare cases where the purchasing smallholders are in a position to pay off before 40 years, they would be under several obligations for 40 years, and we feel that that is right, because the smallholders are there by the investment of a large sum of public money, and we feel that it is not unreasonable that in return they should be under the obligation for this period to keep the land in a fit state of cultivation. I think the case which has been raised will not happen very often. The great justification of this change from the Bill as origiNally brought in is that it will enable local authorities to maintain their securities. If they do not get this provision, it may be that sometimes they will be very badly let down. If there is any breach of covenant, and the local authority have to come in and dispose of the land or sell it, a heavy loss may be made by them. I think my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South Leicester (Captain Waterhouse) attaches more importance to this than it really deserves.


In the case of a further amending Bill to the Dairies Act, it is quite possible that, within the next 40 years, one may have to supply extra cubic feet for every cow. How is the smallholder to face that problem? He has no capital, he is just carrying on, and he finds he has to enlarge his buildings to this extent. If he does not enlarge them, he will find that under the good husbandry clause he will be liable for not keeping his buildings in a state necessary for the proper cultivation of the land. The county council could come in and, notwithstanding the fact that the man had paid everything off, they would take the holding back because he was not complying with these conditions.


I must make a mild protest against the suggestion that the county councils are likely to deal unfairly with the smallholder. The county councils have the welfare of smallholders very much at heart. At the same time, it is only right that the county councils should be secured in regard to the property which public money has acquired. Many of us on this side feel that throughout the length and breadth of the country land should be farmed according to the rules of good husbandry, but, if that is not possible, every acre of the land which has been obtained by public funds must be farmed in accordance with that rule.

Amendment negatived.

Captain BOURNE

I beg to move: In page 8, line 12, at the end, to insert the words the amount of snob deficiency to be settled, in default agreement, by an arbitrator to be appointed under the Agricultural Holdings Act. 1923. This is an Amendment to clear up what appears to be a slight defect in the Bill. Clause 7 enables county councils to recover possession of and hold a small holding, and this appears to be a very drastic condition, as it involves that any deficiency on the small holding is to be a. debt upon the smallholder to the county council. Clause 8 deals with county councils, without recovering possession, putting small holdings up to auction. It lays down, also, that the deficiency shall be recovered as a civil debt from the late occupier. What it does not do is to deal with the case where the reserve price has got to be ascertained in order to recover the amount that is due to the county council. This Amendment has been put down to suggest that, where a holding is to be put up for action and is not sold, the same method of ascertaining the value shall be followed as in the case where a county council retains a small holding in their own hands.

Major McLEAN

I beg to second the Amendment.


My hon. and gallant Friend has raised the point as to what happens in cases where it proves impossible to sell a holding under the powers of Clause 8. It is provided that if the county council are unable to sell the holding, they may take possession of the holding in the manner provided by the last foregoing Section. There will be a simple mathematical problem of what is due to the outgoing smallholder under the provisions of Sub-section (2) (b) of Clause 7. It is laid down quite clearly how the calculations are to be arrived it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.