HC Deb 30 November 1926 vol 200 cc1127-48
Captain BOURNE

I beg to move, in page 15, line 7, at the end, to insert the words Section 41— In Sub-section (2) the words "and also avoid taking any land the taking of which will render the remainder of the land untaken not reasonably capable of being cultivated as a separate holding or will adversely affect production, and for these purposes," shall be substituted for the words "and for that purpose. This Amendment raises raises a question which has often been discussed in this House. I do not say that the person whose farm is taken is not compensated, or not compensated quite reasonably for the inconvenience to which he is put, but you may take out of the estate the good land which enables the bad land to contribute its share towards producing the food supplies of the nation. You take the good land and the other land is left stranded. I do hope the Minister will consider the point, because I feel what is really desired is that you should take the whole estate, if possible, for small holdings, and that you should put your small holdings on the good land where they are together and where they will be easily managed and easily supervised by the county council. We should not pick several good fields out of A's farm or out of B's farm, making it very expensive to administer, and create a great deal of damage.

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

I beg to second the Amendment.


My hon. and gallant Friend is proposing an Amendment to a very carefully drafted Section of the Small Holdings Act, 1918, in which certain desiderations are enjoined upon a council which makes and the Board of Agriculture which confirms a compulsory Order. I will not read the Section, but it has very full instructions as to considering the convenience of other preperty and so forth. I do not think that we should add very much to this carefully balanced Section by accepting the further words which are proposed. My hon. and gallant Friend has told us that he does not complain of the general administration of compensation. In the Amendment the hon. and gallant Member draws attention to the fact that severance in the acquisition of land will render the remainder of the land untaken not reasonably capable of being cultivated as a separate holding, or will adversely affect production. I would like to point out that there are special safeguards dealing with severance in the Acquisition of Land Act and the Small Holdings Act, and its view of these safeguards I do not think we need to strengthen up what is already the practice in deciding these cases.

There is a new element introduced into these considerations by the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Member that we should consider whether any Order will adversely affect production. I do not see how we could decide such a point. If the land of a man growing potatoes were to be taken and devoted to small holdings for stock raising, it very difficult to get any proper comparison of productivity. Even if we inserted the provision which is contained in this Amendment, I do not think the county council or the. Ministry of Agriculture would know how to apply it, and in these circumstances I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will not press this Amendment.


I wish to draw the attention of the House to the action of the hon. and gallant Member for the City of Oxford (Captain Bourne) in putting down this Amendment. I would remind hon. Members that he moved the same Amendment during the Committee stage and after obtaining the reply of the Minister he withdrew it. Therefore, I fail to see why the hon. and gallant Member, who had not the courage during the Committee stage to press his Amendment, should now waste time by pressing it at this stage.

Amendment negatived.

Captain BOURNE

I beg to move in page 15, line 7, at the end, to insert the words

Section 41— At the end of Sub-section (2) insert the words "and where a cottage is to be taken for the purpose of a cottage holding shall have regard as to whether such cottage is reasonably required for the maintenance and upkeep of the estate of the owner of such cottage, or for the proper cultivation of any farm in the occupation of ouch owner or of any of his tenants, This is an Amendment which I withdrew in Committee because the Minister promised to consider my suggestion, and that is why I take the liberty of moving it again. The whole point is that where a cottage is taken the point must be considered whether such cottage is reasonably required for the maintenance and upkeep of the estate of the owner. Although the Minister of Agriculture has stated that Section 41 was carefully thought out at the time of the 1908 Act, I submit to him that the cottage holdings in this Measure were not contemplated when the 1908 Act was introduced. There is no doubt that there is a good deal of apprehension in the country about the effect of Clause 12 of this Bill, and I attempt in this Amendment to put in what I believe to be the ordinary practice of the Ministry when they receive an application to hold an inquiry for the granting of a compulsory order. To take cottages away from a farm which may be absolutely essential to the proper working of the farm is not likely to benefit agriculture. It is absolutely necessary that you must have accommodation for those labourers who look after livestock, and they must have accommodation within a reasonable distance of where the livestock is kept. Often these men have to be up all night, and it is impossible to carry on their work if they are obliged to live several miles from the farm. Therefore there is nothing more important than that these men should be housed within a reasonable distance of their work. It is for these reasons that I am anxious that the owners should be protected against the compulsory acquisition of cottages under these circumstances. These men are entitled to be provided with cottages to live in within a reasonable distance of their work. For these reasons I hope the Minister will accept my proposal.


I beg to second the Amendment.


I am afraid my answer to this Amendment must be the same as it was to the last, namely, that I am not prepared to reopen the carefully drafted arrangements contained in Section 41 of the Act of 1908. As a matter of fact, Sub-section (2) of that Section does enjoin the council, when making or applying for an Order, as far as practicable to avoid displacing any considerable number of agricultural labourers employed on or about the farm. I can assure the hon. and gallant Gentleman that the considerations which he has urged are exactly such considerations as would be borne in mind by any council or by the Minister. In addition to that, if an Order is made, the arbitrator fixes the price which secures, to the owner the replacement value of the cottages which may be removed. I know these grievances are present in certain people's minds as to the effect of this Act, but I believe these Amendments are founded on bogeys, and it is impossible to lay bogeys by legislation.


I wish to draw the attention of the House to the action of the hon. and gallant Member for the City of Oxford (Captain Bourne) in putting down this Amendment. He moved the same Amendment during the Committee stage and then withdrew it, and he failed to show that he had sufficient courage to induce him to press it. The hon. and gallant Member is an expert on agriculture, and that is why he has been returned by the burgesses of Oxford, which is a great agricultural centre in this country. I should like to draw attention to the fact that the City of Oxford has the reputation of -being the home of lost causes. It is certainly very difficult to understand why an hon. and gallant Gentleman representing the City of Oxford, and who takes such a keen personal interest in agriculture, should put down Amendments in this way, causing considerable expense, to which I as a taxpayer object.


With reference to the two speeches which have just been delivered by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Mardy Jones), may I say how entirely the. House agrees with the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne) in the action he has taken? I think it is much wiser for him to have placed these Amendments before the whole House, because he is very likely to meet with a larger and broader treat- ment here than he received from the inferior intelligence in the Committee.


On a point of Order. Is it in order for an hon. and, especially, for a learned Member of this House, to point to another hon. Member?


I have known it done.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted in the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 22; Noes, 184.

Division No. 516.] AYES. [9.46 p.m.
Attlee, Clement Richard Mayday, Arthur Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Batey, Joseph Hirst, G. H. Robinson, W. C. (Yorks, W. R.,Elland)
Clowes, S. John, William (Rhondda, West) Sutton, J. E.
Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester) Lawson, John James Walsh, Rt. Hon Stephen
Day, Colonel Harry Lowth, T.
Greenall, T. Lunn, William TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Grundy, T. W. MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon) Captain Bourne and Sir George
Hall, F. (York, W.R., Normanton) March, S. Courthope.
Haslam, Henry C. Potts, John S.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Finburgh, S. Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn
Agg-Gardntr, Rt. Hon. Sir James T. Ford, Sir P. J. Margesson, Captain D.
Ainsworth, Major Charles Foresner-Walker, Sir L. Marriott, Sir J. A. R.
Albery, Irving James Forrest, W. Merriman, F. B.
Alexander, E. E. (Leyton) Frece, Sir Walter de Meyer, Sir Frank
Applin, Colonel R. V. K. Ganzoni, Sir John Mitchell. W. Foot (Saffron Walden)
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.
Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W. Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)
Atholl, Duchess of Goff, Sir Park Moore, Sir Newton J.
Salfour, George (Hampstead) Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Moreing, Captain A. H.
Balniel, Lord Greene, W. P. Crawford Murchison, C. K.
Barclay-Harvey, C. M. Grotrian, H. Brent Neville, R. J.
Barnett, Major Sir Richard Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Gunston, Captain D. W. Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W. Hacking, Captain Douglas H. Nuttall, Ellis
Bennett, A. J. Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Betterton, Henry B. Hammersley, S. S. Perkins, Colonel E. K.
Birchall, Major J. Dearman Hanbury, C. Perring, Sir William George
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Harris, Percy A. Peto, G. (Somerset, Frome)
Bowyer, Capt. G. E. W. Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington) Pownall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton
Braithwaite, A. N. Hawke, John Anthony Preston, William
Brass, Captain W. Headlam, Lieut.-Colonel C. M. Price, Major C. W. M.
Briscoe, Richard George Henderson, Capt. R.R.(Oxf'd,Henley) Raine, W.
Brittain, Sir Harry Henderson Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle) Rees, Sir Beddoe
Brocklebank, C. E. R. Heneage, Lieut.-Col. Arthur P. Rhys, Hon. C. A. U.
Bromfield, William Hennessy, Major J. R. G. Rice, Sir Frederick
Bromley, J. Herbert, Dennis (Hertford, Watford) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'tt'y)
Burton, Colonel H. W. Hilis, Major John Walter Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.
Butler, Sir Geoffrey Hilton, Cecil Rye, F. G.
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Holbrook, Sir Arthur Richard Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Cassels, J. D. Hopkinson, Sir A. (Eng. Universities) Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)
Chamberlain, Rt. Hon. N. (Ladywood) Hopkinson, A. (Lancaster, Mossley) Sandeman, A. Stewart
Christie, J. A. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney,N.) Savery, S. S.
Churchman, Sir Arthur C. Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n) Shepperson, E. W.
Clayton, G. C. Huntingfield, Lord Slaney, Major P. Kenyon
Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D. Hurst, Gerald B. Smith, R.W.(Aberd'n & Kinc'dine, C.)
Cockerill, Brig.-General Sir G. K. Hutchlson, G. A. Clark (Midl'n & P'bl's) Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Cope, Major William Jones, G. W. H. (Stoke Newington) Stamford, T. W.
Courtauld, Major J. S. Jones, Henry Haydn (Merioneth) Stanley. Col. Hon. G.F.(W1ll'sden, E.)
Cowan, Sir Wm. Henry (Islingtn, N.) King, Captain Henry Douglas Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe) Knox, Sir Alfred Steel, Major Samuel Strang
Cralk, Rt. Hon. Sir Henry Lee, F. Streatfield, Captain S. R.
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset,Yeovil) Looker, Herbert William Sueter, Rear-Admiral Murray Fraser
Davies, Dr. Vernon Lougher, L. Sugden, Sir Wilfrid
Dawson, Sir Philip Lowe, Sir Francis William Thorn, Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton)
Dean, Arthur Wellesley Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere Thomas. Sir Robert John (Anglesey)
Drewe, C. Luce, Major-Gen. Sir Richard Harman Thomson, Rt. Hon. Sir W. Mitchell-
Duckworth, John MacAndrew, Major Charles Glen Thorne, G. R. (Wolverhampton, E.)
Eden, Captain Anthony MacIntyre, Ian Tinker, John Joseph
Edmondson, Major A. J. McLean, Major A. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Edwards, J. Hugh (Accrington) Macmillan, Captain H. Townend, A. E.
Elveden, Viscount McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John Varley, Frank B.
England, Colonel A. Macquisten, F. A. Waddington, R.
Everard, W. Lindsay Mac Robert Alexander M. Wallace, Captain D. E.
Fanshawe, Commander G. D. Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel- Ward, Lt.-Co(. A.L.(Kingston-on-Hull)
Fenby, T. D. Makins, Brigadier-General E. Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.
Flalden, E. B. Malone, Major P. B. Warrender, Sir Victor
Waterhouse, Captain Charles Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.
Wells, S. R. Wise, Sir Fredric
Wiggins, William Martin Womersley, W. J. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Williams, C. p. (Denbigh, Wrexham) Wood, B. C. (Somerset, Bridgwater) Mr. F. C. Thomson and Captain
Williams, David (Swansea, East) Wood, E. (Chest'r, Stalyb'ge & Hyde) Viscount Curzon.
Williams, Herbert G. (Reading) Wood, Sir H. K. (Woolwich, West)

Question put, and agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time.'

Brigadier-General CLIFTON BROWN

I am surprised at the Socialist party taking the line they did about county councils. It is even more astonishing that the Liberal party, who were once in favour of democracy, have joined the Socialists in their distrust of county councils. After all, in any democratically constituted body even, if you have nationalisation you have to use the county councils as your agents. It is quite unfair to saddle them with suspicion, because everyone who has been on agricultural county committees or has discussed this question of smallholders, ex-service men or whatever it is, will agree that the interest of this appeals to men of all parties alike and politics does not come into it. The councils also have had a very great deal more experience in these last five or six years than they ever had before and whether small holdings are to be a success or a failure depends ninety-nine times out of a hundred on whether they are run by men of experience or not. It is impossible to lay down rules as to the rent or anything else of a small holding. It must be left to those on the spot, who are the best judges. The difficulty we have, both in farmers and in smallholders, is the difficulty you always have in agricultural enterprises, the difference between first, second and third class land. Farms, allotments and small holdings will always be successful on good land. The difficulty before all of us lies in making them successful on second and third class land, of which so much of our country consists.

10.0 P.M.

People who are suspicious of county agricultural committees might also remember the agricultural system of the country. We have, after all, the Agricultural Council of England, who are the advisers of the Minister and who include representatives not only of the farmers but of smallholders, allotment holders and women, and any grievances that arise from time to time can be, and are, represented there. Not only the Minister of Agriculture is always present, but also the late Minister in the Labour party, and I am certain the advice they get from the Agricultural Council of England is more representative of agricultural England than any other body we have. I am glad to see that the Government is putting into practice what this Council recommended in their agricultural policy two years ago, especially in the matter of these cottage holdings. The Agricultural Council recommended them very strongly, and I think all sides of the House will agree that that is perhaps the best part of the Bill. I am interested in small holdings in more ways than one, as I am a. member of the Small Holdings County Committee. The crux of the problem is not private ownership or State ownership. It is simply a matter of cost and price, and the policy of the Government in this Hill comes nearer to solving that problem than that of any other party. I should like to ask the Minister if he could find sonic means of consolidating into one set of Regulations all these various Acts—1908, 1919, and so forth—affecting small holdings, allotments and cottage holdings. It is impossible even for hon. and learned Gentlemen really to get at. the truth of what many of these items mean and it would he for the good of the whole country if we could get them clarified and have the Regulations altogether in one Act.


My friends and I, who are keenly desirous of seeing an extension of small holdings, are bitterly disappointed that the Bill is not one which is likely to make rapid progress or to be a thoroughly efficient instrument for the purpose. Indeed when you consider that the, perhaps, 200,000 smallholders in the country are a diminishing quantity in spite of what has been done by statutory machinery, in spite of the 30,000 smallholders the Minister has told us of, you have to stem the leakage that is going on and it is a very small contribution, with all the expense involved, that the Bill will contribute. Indeed if you regard the fall in small holdings and the failure to make progress in that respect as amounting to a very serious trouble, and almost a conflagration which has to be put out, the Bill is not doing much more than trying to put out a fire with a syringe. We really want to see a fair and economic opportunity for small holdings, and if we had the opportunity we should enable the councils, or whatever land authority was in control of the land, without extra expense to the taxpayer to re-distribute land in small holdings exactly as a great landowner or as the Crown does at present. There are two main blemishes, it seems to me, on this Bill. There is the question of efficiency and there is the rather unpleasant complexion which it wears to me of excessive partisanship. I hope a great many hon. Members opposite can put their hands on their hearts and declare that they see no attraction in the Bill beyond pure public interest and the promotion of successful agriculture. It is only human nature if certain other attractions are seen in a great increase in the number of smallholders of land, and if no one is very conscious of excessive partisan motive in a Bill of this kind, motives in this world are inextricably mixed and their position reminds me of those lines of Matthew Arnold about those who, with half-open eyes, tread the borderland betwixt vice and virtue.

It is a sound psychofogical calculation that the possession of land and property has a certain effect upon the political views of a great many men. It is a probability that the economic position afforded to a large new set of men by the artificial and extensive action of the State will modify the views of those men. There is a curious parallel between such a psychofogical effect and the doctrines of Karl Marx. I do not know whether the Minister is much of a student of Karl Marx, but it is clearly set out in his economic interpretation of history that a man's character and views are found to be due to the economic surroundings in which he finds himself. The bias which is shown in this Bill appears in one respect which has not been very fully cleared up. It appears in the somewhat peculiar method by which a man becomes an owner through the continuance of payment of rent for a certain period and taking over the cost of arrears. I have never heard an adequate explanation from the Minister on the grounds on which this peculiar method is based. I suppose the calculation is that the present value of the rent after 60 years is equivalent to the present value of saving the expenses of repairs for that period. But is that not an extraordinarily rough and ready way of arriving at it? The cost of repairs is such a varying percentage on different kinds of land. I remember a property, with which I had something to do, where the cost. of repairs was cut down to 4 per cent. If an owner of that property had been asked to part with the holding on the basis proposed by the Bill, he would have jibbed; he would not have been receiving, in the saving of such a small cost of repairs, anything equivalent to the loss of the rent at the end of 60 years. I do hope the Minister will, as a matter of information, tell the House a little more of the way in which this method has been arrived at. It is not an obvious one which would have appeared to anyone to arrive at in calculating of the value.

The practical objection to the Bill is that it is cumbrous and that it is not efficient. You weight it with this tremendous cost, so great that. the Minister estimates it will cost £250 for every holding. There is mention in the financial Memorandum of;£25 a year, and perhaps the Minister will make it a little clearer what is the term over which that loss is expected to continue. If you were to sell the land on the basis we have indicated this evening, which is in point of fairness one of high public integrity, you would not incur this loss at all, and you would be able to pursue your policy on a vaster scale. As to the machinery of the Bill, if you had the land in the position in which Crown lands are now, you would not be wanting any Small Holdings Bill at all. It does not require a Bill to produce small holdings on Crown lands. The House cannot be too familiar with the extraordinary development which has taken place on Crown lands since 1907, without any increase Of subsidy whatsoever. A report which has been issued shows the great increase which has taken place, and that there has been a minimum amount of friction with tenants. The land has been taken by arrangement with tenants who have almost invariably been ready to meet the reasonable demand to give up a portion of their holding. This is a very interesting report. You ought not to require special machinery to take land for the particular purpose of creating small holdings, which adds enormously to the cost of the proceeding. What is the moral that occurs to us? The moral is that we should extend the land which is in the possession of the Crown to the widest possible degree. It seems to me to be a great pity that an opportunity of creating small holdings on a rapid scale and on a great scale is not being taken. It is half a loaf, and half a loaf is always better than no bread. I hope in this Bill that you are not setting back the clock, but it looks to me as if there might be a great slump as a result of removing these stimulating elements which have existed in the Act of 1908. Though we trust there will result a great increase of small holdings, a great opportunity has been lost for a really effective Bill.


The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has again raised the question which we have debated at considerable length to-day, that of ownership versus tenancy. He seemed to impute to us on this side of the House some kind of unworthy motive behind what we say in favour of ownership. We believe in ownership, and I fail to see what there is unworthy about it. Why should it be unworthy to believe in ownership, and only worthy to believe in tenancy. Surely hon. Members of the Opposition are a little unreasonable in this matter. Member after Member on the other side stated this afternoon that small cultivators do not desire ownership. But the Bill does not compel small cultivators to be owners; it gives them the opportunity of being so. If there is no desire on their part to be owners the Bill in that respect will be of no effect.

There has also been another criticism put forward, but not so much this afternoon, and that is that small holdings are not economic. That is a very much harder criticism to meet, and it is a criticism which seems to be much more in line with the general principles of hon. Members opposite than the previous one in favour of tenancy. If there were no other considerations, perhaps it would be very difficult to meet that criticism, but there are other con- siderations. The land is the nursery of the race, and we who represent county districts believe that unless we can maintain a healthy and hardy population on the land of this country we shall be unable to maintain the great position which we have won. That is the justification for the expenditure of public money with the object of attaching men to the land.


Somebody else's land.


Their own land. There have been other criticisms, although I am glad to think there has been no real opposition. The right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken seemed to desire that the Bill should create smallholders on a very much larger scale. In that he seemed to agree with the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) who, I believe, on other occasions has pointed to the hundreds of thousands of agricultural labourers who are pining to become independent cultivators, and who under this particular Bill may not attain that opportunity. In that regard, perhaps both right hon. Gentlemen do not pay sufficient regard to the facilities under which men can now get allotments. The fact that this Bill proceeds in a slow and steady manner is one that particularly recommends it to my mind. He is no true friend of small holdings who wishes to introduce indiscriminately large numbers of small cultivators, many of whom would be untried and unsuitable, to the land. Surely, our experience in 1919 showed us that.

I believe that under this Bill, under the county councils, we can see that a suitable type of man is put upon the land and that, therefore, we are building on a sound foundation. The present land system of this country offers no inconsiderable opportunities for men to rise. A very large proportion of the present farmers have risen from the ranks. Opportunities differ in different districts, but in very many districts there is no difficulty whatever in acquiring land in large or small lots, and men are doing it and rising every day. It is in the belief that this Bill will facilitate that process, that it will create openings in those districts where openings, perhaps, are not so plentiful as they might be, and that it will in that way tend to keep alive interest in agriculture and keep men on the land, that I support the Third Reading of the Bill.


I had hoped to be able heartily to congratulate the Minister of Agriculture in the interval between his Second Reading speech and the speech he made on the Third Reading of the Bill, on the fact that the puny infant which he introduced on Second Reading would have grown into something strong and healthy. But persuasion, persistence and argument have been absolutely wasted upon the right hon. Gentleman. Instead of doing anything to stimulate the growth of his young child, he seems to have taken every opportunity to dwarf it so that it might be less healthy on the Third Reading than it was on the Second Reading. An hon. and gallant Member opposite said that the Liberal party in this House had been very critical of the county councils. He should particularise that criticism. What the Liberal party have said, and they have been joined in this by the Labour party, is that there are some county authorities which have done their level best to carry out the terms of the Acts of 1908 and 1919, but that there arc certain backward authorities which need a spur. No hon. Member opposite dare say that there does not exist backward county authorities in regard to the provision of small holdings. If any evidence of that is required may I refresh the memory of the Minister of Agriculture. In July last he said that there were nearly 15,000 unsatisfied applicants for small holdings.

That is not the whole story. If you had 15.000 persons who have applied, and are still unsatisfied, how many applicants are there who have been so disgusted with the lack of success of people who have applied that their demand is not vocal at the present? They need a more sympathetic Government and a more progressive Minister. They need a Minister who takes a larger view of his duties, and the magnitude of the problem with which be is faced. The hon. Member who spoke last said something about the facilities that people had for obtaining allotments, but will he believe me that according to the Minister of Agriculture there are still 13,500 unsatisfied applicants for allotments? It is evident, therefore, that the Minister has neglected a great opportunity, and also a very real duty, in leaving this Bill in the very feeble condition it is at the moment. What I complain of is this, that knowing, as he does, the unsatisfied demand of 15,000 applicants for small holdings, and be- tween 13,000 and 14,000 unsatisfied applicants for allotments, he is saying to the county authorities: "We will leave this problem to you: we have done what we can. We will give you a piece of machinery, and you must do the best you can." Everybody, even a county council, and very often a Cabinet Minister himself, is much. better for being looked after and spurred on.

This Bill marks downward step in the ease of those men who are desirous of earning their living upon the land. For the first time since 1908 there will be an absence of machinery, after this Bill is passed, for ascertaining what is the real demand for small holdings in this country. The Government in this Bill hand it over completely to the county councils, and there will not remain any urge on the part of the Department on county councils. There will be no machinery by which to find out what demand does exist for small holdings; and it is a demand which is growing. An hon. Member opposite said something about our criticising county councils in this democratic age; that we on this side of the House wanted to interfere with local authorities. That observation comes rather peculiarly from a supporter of a Government that took so many millions from the Road Fund; it does not come particularly well from the supporter of a Government which, by a special Act, interferes with the jurisdiction of boards of guardians. A very long catalogue could be compiled—


On a point of Order. What has the Road Fund to do with the Bill under discussion?


The hon. Member was dealing with the question of over-riding the local authorities.


I want to impress upon the Minister the magnitude of the opportunity that he is allowing to go by. Someone has said that small holdings are not an economic proposition, and if that criticism be true, which I do not admit, the Minister has dune nothing whatever to meet it by this Bill. I appealed to him in Committee, after seeing that he had proposed, under the head of a definition of a small holding, to increase the amount for the calculation for Income Tax purposes from £50 to £100—I appealed to him to go a little further for a special reason. There are certain sparsely populated areas in the rural parts of the country where 50 acres are of no use at all. You want to get nearer 75 acres. The Minister refused to put in a definition so far as acreage is concerned. He said "We have gone as far as we can by increasing the annual value which is calculated for Income Tax purposes from £50 to £100." What does that mean? How much is it extending a small holding in area? An increase from £50 to £100 might be all right if you were dealing with pre-War figures and values, but everybody knows that the difficulty of the authority that wants to set up small holdings to-day is the cost of buildings and equipment. That is the bugbear. The increase from £50 to 1100 will not increase the acreage by more than 10 acres, which is the only contribution which the Minister has made to the extension of small holdings, as far as acreage is concerned. Any county authority could get over that problem if the right hon. Gentleman had left the provisions in the Bill as it was. You may let 50 acres to a man. There is nothing in the Acts to say that you shall not let any land to a woman. There may be nothing to say that you shall do so, but if the man has 50 acres there is no objection whatever, and the Minister could not raise objection to a woman having 10 acres. There has been a great opportunity of rendering a service to the small holdings movement in this country, and the Minister has let it go by absolutely.

We have had a good deal of lip service and White Paper service rendered to the great industry of agriculture I have read again and again that an important member of the Government is to make an important pronouncement on agriculture on a certain date at a certain place. I have waited breathlessly to know what the gigantic programme of the Government was to be for this ancient and important industry. Then I got a White Paper, and I did not know what we were to have. Then the Minister conies down with the puny attempt of this Bill to deal with the pressing problem of helping those who have the least chance of helping themselves. He says, "You must be satisfied with this." An hon. and gallant Member opposite referred to the best part of the Bill as that which deals with cottage holdings. Had he been in his place I could have given him the cheering information that what he calls the best part of the Bill will never become operative in any sensible area in this country. The hon. and learned Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley), while very anxious about the principle of occupying ownership or peasant proprietorship, put down an Amendment because he was convinced, as I am convinced, that the Minister has so hedged round the purchase Clauses of this Bill as to prevent them from being made operative by the county authorities. While he renders lip service to these provisions, he does everything by letter and spirit to prevent them operating, and there is going to be very little encouragement or practical help for the people who want cottage holdings.

The greatest count against the Minister is this. Everyone who studies the rural problem and the position in the densely-populated areas is anxious to keep people in the country, to give them some method of earning a decent livelihood in the country and to give them decent houses so that they may not continue to move info the cities and become competitors with the town dwellers for both employment and housing. We also want the man in the city to have the opportunity to go to the country if he so desires. Yet the Minister declares that he cannot give awry terms more generous than these in relation to cottage holdings. He says, in effect, "We cannot do with people coming out of the towns and cities into the country to take advantage of a scheme of this kind." Did anybody ever hear such a complete nullification of a Government's intention? I can only describe the Government's intentions in this matter as merely pious intentions. They are not endeavouring to deal with the rural problem as it ought to be dealt with by a Government which has a very heavy responsibility placed upon it in that connection. They have the power behind them. Surely, they have sufficient acumen and initiative to produce a scheme which is worthy of a Government in their position instead of this small contribution towards the solution of a pressing problem. What I have to say further is not so contentious. As a member of a county authority, disappointed as I am with the Minister and with this Bill—his child—yet in any small point where this Bill will improve the lot of any man or further the small holdings movement, I am prepared to do what I can in a sincere endeavour to get what little good there is out of it. I am afraid I shall be disappointed, but if there is any merit in the Bill, I as a member of a county authority, will do my best to see that it is applied.


I desire to express my whole-hearted support of the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to give an opportunity to the agricultural worker to attain what has always been his ambition, that is to acquire a small holding and to become, himself, a farmer. The Bill is to be administered by the county councils and I admit that a great responsibility is being placed on the county councils. On one side of the House it is feared that the county councils will fail to administer the Bill satisfactorily. On the other hand, it is feared by some that the county councils, in administering the Bill, will disturb the sitting tenants of land to their prejudice. I want to submit that if the applicant for a small holding will use patience, and if the county council will use discretion, both these fears are groundless. In the county from which I come there are the largest number of smallholders in proportion to area of any county in the country. These small holdings have been obtained without the representation on the county council of any agricultural worker, and without the inVoluntary disturbance of any single occupier of land in that area, and how has that been done? In the natural course of events land becomes vacant in every county, and in practically every parish, owing to death or to other disturbance of a tenant, and when this land becomes vacant, there is the opportunity for a county council to acquire that vacant land and, having acquired it, to satisfy the demand for small holdings in that area.

As I said before, this Bill makes it possible for the agricultural worker to realise his ambition. It is a reward that we can give to the agricultural worker throughout the country districts for the exercise of diligence, ability, and energy in his work, and, as far as I am concerned, I will welcome any Measure of whatever kind that helps to promote the attainment of a reward for the exercise by any man of energy and ability; whether that man be a representative of the Capitalist class or of the Labour party. This Bill has been brought forward in the interests of the agricultural worker by a Conservative Government. It is assumed by a great many that we, on this side, are the representatives of the Capitalist class, and that as such we have no desire to bring forward any legislation whatever to help the other classes in the community. I submit that that opinion of us is absolutely wrong. We, on this side, recognise no class representation whatever, and we have no intention at any time of bringing forward any class legislation. This Bill is brought forward in the interests of the working men of the country, and not for other classes, and I want to submit to the House that the agricultural workers throughout the country, when this Bill becomes law, as it will, will realise that a Conservative Government is not only desirous but capable of bringing forward a. Bill in their interests, as well as in the interests of every and any other class of the community. For these reasons, I whole-heartedly support this Bill.


We have had a long debate, and I think the House will only want to hear a very little from me in answer to the points that have been raised on Third healing. The right hon. Member for Northern Norfolk (Mr. Buxton) asked how we arrived at our basis of annual payments for the man who would take a small holding on ownership terms. The obligation to do, not only tenant's repairs hut also landlord's repairs, was considered a fair equivalent for the remission of any Sinking Fund, and we believe that under that system a fair bargain will be made between the local authority and the owner of the freehold of the small holding. The advantage of a uniform system of this kind is that the smallholder will know what arrangements he can rely upon. There wilt not be a great variety between one county and another in bargains which they strike on the public funds which have been supplied to them, and we also believe that the smallholder will do the repairs more cheaply, and get a better value, than if they were left to the county council, and if the smallholder had to pay the equivalent in cash by means of a sinking fund The right hon. Gentleman asked how long the loss of £25 which is estimated on each small holding will continue. This loss, this subvention, will run as long as the loans are outstanding, and the right hon. 'Member will remember that loans for small holdings run for different periods, up to 60 years for buildings, and up to 80 years for land. It is only possible to form rather a rough estimate, but we believe, at any rate, that during the first years until the shortest terms run off, £25 is a fair figure. The right hon. Gentleman told us that this Bill was an attempt to put out a fire with a syringe. I think he must recognise that we cannot set up small holdings on a whofsale scale without very serious and disastrous disturbance to the existing cultivators of land. The best land, which is the kind of land the smallholder must have, is very generally occupied at the present time, and unless we are to inflict hardship and decrease our agricultural production, we must go gradually in this matter of the provision of further small holdings.

The number of those who need State help is a little exaggerated. The small holdings which have been set up by the State are only a very small fraction of the total number of small holdings, and there is no need for us to spoon-feed those of the small-holding class who are able to make their way without State help. Besides that, there is a very definite limit to the number of workers who are either desirous or qualified to take small holdings. There could be nothing more disastrous to the industry than to put people on small holdings unless they have the capacity to make them a success. We have based our financial estimates on the average number settled on small holdings in the years between the passage of the Small Holdings Act, 1908, and the outbreak of the War. In those days, the task was comparatively easy, because the provision of these small holdings cost nothing to the State. Now, however, the position is very different, and it involves a heavy charge.

I think it comes with peculiar ill-grace from the Liberal party to say that our Bill will achieve nothing say the creation of small holdings threw no burden on the State, When they were in a position to go on at whatever pace they chose, they were content with the same rate of provision we are aiming at under this Bill. The hon. Member for East Bradford (Mr. Fenby) told us the cottage holdings part of the Bill was going to be quite inoperative, that, with his experience of local government, he was sure no cottage holdings would be provided. Then he went on to criticise us for having limited those who are to be eligible for these cottage holdings to agricultural workers. He said we ought to throw them open to the people in the towns. He accused me of being a reactionary because I wanted to keep the people in the country and did not want to bring hack from the towns the large population who could live on these cottage holdings. Really, I did not understand that point, seeing he had already told us these cottage holdings would not he provided. I am not ashamed of saying that I think the first problem to be solved is that of keeping people in the country who are skilled in agriculture, and who sometimes find it difficult to get openings. I put in the second place, though also an important place, the getting of people back from the towns when we can provide them with an opportunity of finding a livelihood on the land.


Not under this Bill.


We are providing for them under this Bill by the creation of further small holdings. I would remind the hon. Member that besides these proposals for cottage holdings, for which he has no use, we are providing for all alike, town population as well as country population, the opportunity of taking allotments up to five acres and small holdings, either bare—without buildings—from 1 to 50 acres in the normal case or, with buildings, from 3 acres to 50. So we are not shutting out the town worker so very much. In our desire to encourage the smallholder, we certainly have no wish to suggest that that system should be applied universally. We have no possible antagonism to farming on a large scale. We believe that, with our variations in climate and the conditions of agriculture, both small holdings and large farms can with advantage exist side by side. Agriculture is not an industry which can he built up on uniform standards; in it the mass production of the modern factory finds no place. I believe it to be to the benefit of British agriculture that we should have a variation in the size and character of holdings, and, therefore, without lessening our desire to help the ordinary farmer, we are justified in promoting the extension of small holdings, both on grounds of social justice and as a contribution to the welfare of the community.


Reference has been made to the part that local authorities are to play in the administration of this Bill. A doubt has been expressed as to what the attitude of the county councils may be. This Bill has received the anxious and careful consideration of the County Councils' Association, who feel that in it they are provided with an instrument which should make for the satisfactory solution of this difficult problem. I believe that under Clause 2 of the Bill, with the generous provision which this House is making to assist the small holdings movement, we shall find that real and substantial progress will be made. It must always be borne in mind that in settling men on the land certain conditions must be carefully observed. In the first place, the land must be suitable, and, in the second place, men must be chosen who understand agriculture and the industry of working the land. There are too many people about who believe that one has only to tickle the face of the soil to make it smile pleasantly, while in sober fact it is a hard and difficult occupation. I hope that, in putting this Bill into operation, care will be taken not to dispossess and evict men who may be cultivating the land satisfactorily, but rather that land may be chosen which comes into the market every year in most counties in large quantities and which could be acquired without eviction and disturbance and all the difficulties which arise out of eviction and disturbance. I join in wishing this Bill well, and I believe that with the hearty co-operation of the county councils it can be made a successful Measure.


I have been very interested to listen to the Debate on this Bill. I do not think Members on the other side will go into the Lobby against it. They and the Liberal party, who have now disappeared in fact, are afraid to strike. One of the things that struck me is the extraordinary demand there is for small holdings among working men in the country districts, and even in the towns. The reason for that is the very reason for which a Clause of purchase has been put into this Bill. The purchase Clause is bitterly opposed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They want them all to be leaseholders, and in leading strings, the subject of control, and perhaps, of despotism, on the part of a Labour county council. The reason why so many men want small holdings is that so many want to get away from the industrial tyranny to which they are subjected. Men and women have many a time said to me could they not get away to some more independent atmosphere? Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not sympathise with the smallholders because, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said, "Six o'clock in the morning! It is a horrible idea that any man should get up and work so hard." That is why there is this position to-day, and this desire to prevent a man becoming an owner. The old Elizabethan theory was sound that you should have as many owners of property as possible. I would go as far as the Irish Land Act went, because I believe the soundest view is that a man should own the land he cultivates. With as many independent citizens working for themselves and as few for employers as possible is the soundest possible foundation. That does not recommend itself to hon. Gentlemen opposite. If that came about they would he the only people leg on the Unemployment Bureau.

Bill react the Third time, and passed.