§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. William Adamson)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a Measure to amend the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts, 1886 to 1919, and the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1923. The Bill is drafted in two parts. Part I deals with the amendment of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Acts and Part II deals with the Amendment of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts. No fundamental change is made in the structure of the law, but in general the Amendments are designed either to improve the conditions on which land is held for the purposes of agriculture or to remove difficulties which have arisen in the administration of the Agricultural Acts.
The objects of Part II of this Bill are to afford increased encouragement to tenants to carry out permanent improvements which will enhance the productivity of the holdings for which compensation will be payable at outgo, and to amend the law with regard to agricultural arbitrations. Legislation affecting small holdings in Scotland dates back to 1886, when the Crofters Commission was constituted as the guardian of the highland crofters rights to fair rent, fixity of tenure and compensation for improvements. Power to grant enlargements of holdings was given to the Commission, but was hampered owing to the absence of powers and funds to pay compensation to the landlord and tenant of lands proposed to be used for enlargement. This was the first legislative incursion into the field of land settlement. A growing demand for small holdings and enlargements accompanied the labours of the Crofters Commission and the Congested Districts Board, and the agitation extended to the Lowlands. Other legislation has followed step by step. The land settlement operations of the Crofters Commission and the Congested 1386 Districts Board—now the Department of Agriculture for Scotland—can be summed up as follows: The Crofters Commission between 1886 and 1912 was instrumental in providing 4,306 enlargements occupying an area of 72,341 acres. The Congested Districts Board acquired six estates with an area of 84,500 acres on which 388 holdings and 397 enlargements were provided. They also assisted the formation of 252 new holdings and 741 enlargements, occupying an area of 48,500 acres on private property. Since 1912 the Department of Agriculture for Scotland have constituted on private property 1,515 holdings and 1,419 enlargements on an area aggregating 321,254 acres, and 97 estates have been acquired aggregating 330,624 acres on which provision has been made for 1,806 new holdings and 367 enlargements. Since 1886 the State has acquired or made available from private estates an area of 857,219 acres, and has made provision for the constitution of 3,961 new holdings, and 7,230 enlargements of holdings. In other words, 11,191 holdings have been created or improved during that period.
Apart from the agricultural aspect of land settlement, there are other considerations to be taken into account it the whole story is to be told. We ought, therefore, to consider the contribution of the Department to the solution of the housing problem in the rural areas, which sometimes attracts less attention than it deserves, and less consideration than housing in congested centres of population. The constitution of holdings on a scheme of land settlement necessitates the provision of new houses or the sub-division of existing farm houses into sometimes two or three separate dwellings, involving adaptation and frequently considerable repairs. Steadings have also to be provided, either by the sub-division of existing farm steadings or by the erection of new buildings, varying from the store accommodation that is suitable for a market gardener to the various accommodation of a stock-raising subject.
The total numbers of houses and steadings which the Department has erected or improved since 1912 in this way are 3,828 and 1,788, respectively, and the numbers in course of erection or adaptation, or not yet begun but to 1387 whose provision the Department is committed, are 1,007 houses, and 446 steadings, making grand totals of 4,835 houses and 2,234 steadings which the Department will have erected, adapted, and improved on the completion of their committed programme. The total estimated initial cost of this housing provision is about £1,500,000. The provision of all this housing has engaged tradesmen in useful work, contributing generally to their welfare as well as to the permanent benefit of the smallholders in the country. The statistics which I have given regarding the houses that have been built are exclusive of the new buildings and improvements which were effected by the Congested Districts Board prior to 1912 at a cost of something like £21,000.
It may interest the House to know how small is the proportion of the holders who have failed in the cultivation of their holdings. Out of a total of 1,906, only 5.3 per cent. have failed, and this percentage has been steadily decreasing in recent years. These are remarkable figures, and show the great possibilities of land settlement, if our agricultural resources are to be fully developed and work provided for our people. At any rate, I as an individual am satisfied that these improvements in social conditions are very valuable, and ought to be extended to the fullest of our powers and to the full limit of the money available. I am satisfied, too, that the smallholder generally, by the compulsion he is under to specialise and intensify his methods of production, is an agent in the increase of home-grown consumable produce available for food.
This remarkable development would, in my opinion, have been of far greater value to the smallholder and to the State if two things had been attended to. The first of these are proper transport facilities by road, rail and sea for our people living in those remote parts of the Highlands and Islands. Within the last two Years a considerable amount of work has been done by way of improving the transport facilities, but, much as has been done, much more remains to be done before we shall have provided the transport facilities necessary to assure the economic development of that part of our country. In the second place, we have failed to organise our smallholders on 1388 the same co-operative lines on which the smallholders have been organised in Denmark, with the result that they have become an easy prey to the middleman and the profiteer, and thus have secured a smaller proportion of the fruit of their labours than would have been the case if the proper line had been taken. The present Government, however, are taking steps to remedy this through the Marketing Bill, which will be under consideration very shortly. As the House is aware, the Bill of which I am moving the Second Reading to-night, is only a small part of the agricultural programme which the Government intend' to carry through in the course of this Session.
The value of co-operation has been demonstrated in a remarkable degree in the case of Denmark, as the following figures will show. These figures deal only with similar products to those produced by the smallholders whose conditions will be improved by the operation of this Bill. They consist of meat, dairy produce, poultry and eggs, which in the main are the things that our smallholders produce. In 1928, Denmark sent to this country meat to the value of £25,602,000, dairy produce to the value of £19,389,000, and poultry and eggs to the value of £4,385,000, or a total, for these three articles, of no less than £49,376,000. These imports from Denmark, of these three classes of articles, were, in relation to our home production, no less than 27 per cent., in relation to our total imports no less than 23 per cent., and in relation to our total consumption no less than 13 per cent.
What is the value of these results? In the Highlands and Islands congestion has been removed—not everywhere, but yet to the real improvement of the conditions in many places. For instance, at Talisker, in Skye, a community of 68 families taken from Harris is now living under conditions which Harris could not afford them. Throughout the Highlands, the security offered by the fundamental Act of 1886, and the sub sequent operations under succeeding Acts, have resulted, not only in giving a larger amount of land to the holder, but in the building of improved houses all over the countryside—houses of a character which was exceptional prior to 1886. In the Lowlands, access to the land has been provided for 1,369 applicants who, without the assistance of the Department 1389 of Agriculture for Scotland, could hardly have hoped to attain the standard of independence which a small holding occupied under conditions of security provides for its holder. With very few exceptions, houses—either existing farm houses reconstructed and adapted, or new houses of a. type regrettably uncommon in rural Scotland—have been provided for these holders.
For these reasons I am anxious that this Bill should be passed. It proposes no revolution in the existing law, but provides improvements which experience has shown to be necessary or desirable for the greater effect of the intentions of the Act. Hon. Members are aware that I have concerned myself intimately with these matters for many years. In my previous term of office, in 1924, I introduced a Measure which it was found impossible to carry through all its stages, a Measure which largely consisted of what is now contained in this Bill, and 1 intend to press to the utmost of my capacity the Bill which I now submit to the House. I hope that it will find a speedy passage to the Statute Book, and that it will secure to the smallholder and the State the benefits of State expenditure in the provision of smallholdings, that it will provide additional safeguards against the dispossession of the genuine smallholder, and that it will still further encourage the provision of decent housing accommodation for a deserving and hard-working section of the community. I will not deal with the Clauses one by one. I leave that to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary later on. There may be parts of the Bill on which my Scottish colleagues may differ, but these can be discussed in Committee. I believe my colleagues in the Government, like myself, want to see the best possible use made of our agricultural resources. I believe they, like myself, believe that it. is as true to-day as when Goldsmith wrote these words:Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,Where wealth accumulates, and men decay;Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;A breath can make them, as a breath has made;But a bold peasantry, their country's pride,When once destroyed, can never be supplied.1390 I hope the Bill will be carried without a Division.
§ Sir JOHN GILMOUR
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues will not disagree with him when he says that we are all intensely interested in the betterment of smallholders, and indeed of agriculture in Scotland as a whole, but I have listened with the greatest attention to some of the very interesting figures he has given us about the development of small holdings, and I find myself completely at a loss to understand many of the fundamental pressing reasons and arguments with which he introduces the Bill to the House. He has told us that the Under-Secretary is going to deal with this in detail, and he invites us to refrain from intensive criticism until we arrive at the Committee stage. Everyone who has felt it his duty to study the Measure will agree that, whatever other reform may be required in order that individuals may form their opinions with clarity, one thing is really essential, and that is that there should be some codification of the existing law. The Bill, with all its multifarious references to Acts going back over a long period of years, entails an amount of labour and makes it extraordinarily difficult really to grasp what is sought in the Measure. My friends and I will not on this occasion challenge a Division, but we reserve completely our right of criticism, both in Committee and on the further stages of the Bill. Many of the Clauses are recommendations of the Nairne Committee and many, no doubt, are the result of discussions, and, in some measure, of the drafting of our late colleague, Mr. MacRobert, who was Lord Advocate. In so far as they meet the point of view which the Nairne Committee has reported and which we discussed, we do not quarrel with the Bill.
The second part of the Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman dismissed at the outset of his remarks, deals with very important matters for the larger agricultural community. I want to ask a few questions as to what exactly some of these Clauses imply. I notice that there is a complete alteration of the Schedule under the Act of 1923. Many things are taken out of what was the First Schedule in that Act and are placed in the Second Schedule. The right hon. Gentleman says he wishes to encourage 1391 the holders of land to improve the conditions of their farms and of the machinery under which they work. But it is a formidable list in Part II, and, while drainage was formerly included in this—and to that one did not take objection—there are some undertakings here which only require notice to the landlord. These undertakings may of themselves in some cases be entirely beneficial, but they are of such a nature that they may in a great many cases entail very considerable expenditure of capital and will in the end bring upon the landlord claims for compensation. I only say at this stage that we shall be quite ready to discuss the problems of this Schedule. It may be that we may think it desirable that some restriction of the total amount ought to be imposed or, at any rate, that there should he some method of appeal in dealing with these matters.
In this second part of the Bill, there is an alteration in the method of selecting the arbiters. As I understand it, in the past a panel of arbiters to deal with problems in dispute has been established by the President of the Court of Session and, so far as I know, that panel has been widened and extended from time to time in order to meet the necessary calls upon its personnel. I should like to ask on what grounds the change is now made that that panel shall cease to be nominated by the President of the Court of Session and shall be nominated by the Department of Agriculture. Obviously, it is putting into the hands of the Department a power of appointing a panel whose members in a good many cases may find themselves actually implicated in arbitrations affecting the Department, and, while one would hesitate to suggest that there would he improper appointments made, I still feel that, unless there are grounds of great moment which lead to this change, the House ought to be very certain that it is doing a wise thing; nay, that the Department itself is doing a wise thing in asking for this change.
Turning back to the first part of the Bill, I want to ask a question. The right hon. Gentleman made a good deal of the desirability of increasing the assistance that should be given for the development of these smallholdings. I do not observe that there is any proposal to take fresh 1392 money, and, if there is to be an extension, as there is, of the powers of expenditure upon building, I assume that no fresh money is being taken for that but only already voted sums under Parliamentary sanction. If that be so, may I ask what exactly is meant by Subsections (3) and (4) of Clause 1. It seems to me that Sub-section (3) is establishing something that is new, and I am not quite certain why it should be desired. I can see that Sub-section (4) may be necessary in order to deal with arrangements made in the past as to loans, but I am a little doubtful as to the exact meaning of Sub-section (3), and I should be glad to have some explanation of it. With regard to Clause 2, I make no objection to the acquisition of knowledge from the proprietors as to leases, but I take some exception both as to the time that is given and as to the necessity of making the question practically a criminal one if it is not given within that period of time.
I pass on to what, in my judgment, is one of the most important Clauses, Clause 8—"Amendment of provisions as to resumption of holdings." This matter has been raised from time to time and has been considerably discussed. I am also clear in my own mind that the number of cases of hardship arising under this point are comparatively few and that they are not increasing. It is a direct alteration of the rights of property holding, and, if I am right in that, there must be some very strong justification for altering the rights of property holding. I think such cases of hardship as may have arisen could very well have been dealt with less by this direct and wholesale method than by reverting to what was the practice under the 1886 Act. Such justification as there might be for claims of hardship imposed upon certain individuals could have been adjudicated upon by the land court where all the circumstances of the case could have been considered, but that we should here and now assent to the proposition put forward is, in my judgment, wrong. What is going to be the position of property which may have to be sold? It would practically be impossible for the property to be divided or single parts to be sold, because a man would not be able to obtain possession if he bought it. If you take the case of an estate where 1393 there is a mortgage which may be called up, it is clear that the position of the bondholder is going to be very much worsened under this proposition. If they were confined to small cases of complete hardship and if these cases of hardship had to be taken before the land court, the matter would be settled. As far as I am personally concerned, I should be prepared to meet the Government on that footing, but I must tell the right hon. Gentleman at once that both my friends and I are very strongly opposed to the proposal in its present form.
There is another Clause about which I should like to have some further information. It is Clause 14. It deals, as I understand it, with the problem of the fencing of smallholdings. I am aware that in the Nairne Committee Report reference is made to this problem. Clearly some of the schemes where very extensive fencing has had to be erected have imposed very heavy burdens upon the Government Department in carrying them out, and if some method of lessening the heavy burden can properly be achieved I shall be bound to consider it. As at present drafted, the Clause is open to some criticism, since it may lead to holdings being established, and the interpretation of the termas the usual and reasonable practice of agriculture and estate management may require in the conditionsis a little wide and vague. One knows that it is open to a variety of interpretations. If the terms on an estate between the individuals concerned Pare good and satisfactory little difficulty arises, but, if they are not, then great difficulties may arise. The Clause is one which will have to be looked at most carefully. I will not delay the House longer than to say that we approach this Measure with a measure of good will in so far as assisting the improvement of machinery is concerned. We are at one with the Government in accepting many of the recommendations made by the Nairne Committee, and, with the exceptions I have mentioned, I hope that we may find that in Committee we shall be able to come to a moderate state of agreement.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
Since last we discussed Scottish affairs in this House a 1394 kindly and lovable personality has gone from our midst. I refer to our late right hon. and learned Friend and colleague, Mr. MacRobert. I think it is safe to say that in the discussion of this Bill his intervention would have been frequent, but each intervention would have shown care and conspicuous ability. We may not have agreed with him, but he will live in the memory of this House as a man who left it without an enemy. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Pollok (Sir J. Gilmour) I was rather astonished at the speech which was delivered by the Secretary of State for Scotland. At the same time, my colleagues and I were pleased, because it was a recital, and a somewhat long one, of the good deeds which Liberal Governments had done in the past.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am paying my right hon. Friend a compliment. I think I am speaking on behalf of all my colleagues when I say that, when we are contesting seats in Scotland in the future and we desire to explain to a new elector what Liberalism has done in connection with land settlement in Scotland, we shall produce, and with pleasure, the entire speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland. The most remarkable thing about our discussion today is the fact that there was not a word of mention of this great Bill in the King's Speech. We know how Bills are introduced into the House of Commons. 'If they are not mentioned in the King's Speech, we private Members come surreptitiously by the side of your Chair, Mr. Speaker, and hand in a dummy document. Instead of having a far-reaching and an all-embracing Bill which was going to do wonders, as we were promised last Session, in the matter of land settlement in Scotland, where a crisis exists just as much as in England, the Secretary of State for Scotland surreptitiously passed your Chair and handed in a document. When it was handed in I am told that it was a dummy document. It has been handed in many days, and it is now printed, but it is still a dummy document. Therefore, it must be, I understand, a minor Measure, and what I regret is that, if the Government find themselves pressed for time, they will 1395 not have the opportunity which we would willingly accord to them of introducing a far-reaching and an all-embracing Measure of real, genuine land settlement in Scotland. The time will be occupied by this miserable, anemic thing which we are discussing to-day, and we shall be told when we press them for the promised Measure of land reform in Scotland that there is no time, as the time available has already been devoted to a discussion of this small and minor Measure.
This Bill, as the Secretary of State pointed out in the one sentence which he devoted to the explanation of the Bill, is merely a collection of grievances which have been pigeon-holed for years in the Department of Agriculture. Is there a single Clause in the Bill which is going to put a single new man on to the land in Scotland? [Interruption.] We are dealing with Scottish affairs just now. I am asking the question of the Under-Secretary of State in the hope that he will reply. Is there in this Bill a single Clause which is going to put another man on to the land in Scotland? Not one. I hold that the Bill is nothing but a pill to cure an earthquake. The Government have missed a great opportunity in not pressing for a substantial Bill. Instead of putting a man upon the land, or encouraging him to go on the land, this Bill will frighten him. It is full, as the right hon. Member for Pollok said, of new restrictions and changes, and, instead of having a simplified and codified Measure, we have a Measure fobbed off on us at the beginning of the Session which is to do good to nobody. It will only alleviate the troubles of the Department of Agriculture.
I should have thought that it would have been far better if last Session the Government had taken courage in both hands and supported the Bill which was introduced by my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott). That Bill was a real Bill and had something in it which would have helped the whole situation in Scotland. Instead we had very little support from the Government. They could easily have helped us to get the Bill through. In the past a, private Member's Bill has been adopted by the Government. The Government with their majority could have passed the Bill easily. It had been 1396 thoroughly discussed in Committee upstairs. And yet, in order to be allowed to produce a trumpery Bill of this kind, they sacrifice the support of the party to which I belong, and, indeed, they sacrifice the support of the whole country in asking the country to accept a Bill which will do no good to man or beast.
There is only one proposal of first-class importance in the Bill. Whatever I may have to say on the Committee stage about the remarks which have been made by my right hon. Friend the late Secretary of State for Scotland and his suggested opposition to it, if not in its entirety in certain of its parts, there is this to be remembered, that while the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland was standing at the Box giving us his essay he took pride that in 1924 he was going to do wonderful things in the direction of the resumption of smallholdings. What happened? It was the Liberal party and the Liberal party alone who fought against the abuse of the principle of the resumption of holdings. They took the initiative. It was their Bill which was introduced, and after the House, by a unanimous motion, had approved of the Measure, the Secretary of State for Scotland came forward and adopted it as his own.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Johnston) indicated dissent.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am within the recollection of the House. I say that he introduced another Bill, but the main principle was there.
§ 7.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I should like to see the difference. There may have been a difference of words, but the principle was the same; that is undoubted. It was not generous, to say the least of it, of the right hon. Gentleman to stand up this afternoon and pride himself and his party upon producing that Bill when he knew that exactly the opposite was the case, and that it was the Liberal party that really initiated the Bill and supported it through thick and thin. Why is it that the Liberal party have taken such a strong objection to the abuses of the resumption of holdings? The reason is not far to seek. If there 1397 was one thing that the Act of 1886 did, supported in a way by the Act of 1911, it was to give security of tenure to the holder. If the holder having been allotted a certain amount of land paid a specified amount of rent and continued to pay that rent, there was no power, so far as we understood in the Highlands, to turn him out. The result has been that conditions in the holding districts in Scotland have improved enormously, simply and solely because of the sanctity of the doctrine of security of tenure. The man felt that if he did put anything into the land (which he was occupying it did not go directly into the landlord's pocket, but, in the course of time, when he died it would go to his family, or if he lived it would go to him in the form of compensation if and when he left the holding. When the man found that he was working for himself and that the fruit of his labour went to him or his family, he put everything that he knew into the land. Hence the brilliant essay which we have had to-day upon Liberal administration and Liberal legislation by the Secretary of State for Scotland.
Under the Act of 1886, Section 2, reference was made to the power of resumption of a holding. That reference was not one to be cavilled at; it was a fair and generous Section, because the resumption referred to in the first Act of 1886 was an impersonal resumption of the holding. It enabled the landlord to take over a holding at, a certain time and in certain conditions, if, for instance, in the public interest a church was to be built, or a school was to be built or a road was to be made for the benefit of the whole community. This it seemed to me and it seemed to those who introduced that provision, gave quite a fair right of resumption by the landlord, but if that right were exercised there was an obligation upon the landlord at that time to give adequate compensation to the man from whom the holding was taken. That adequate compensation took various forms. It might have been compensation in money or compensation in the reduction of rent because of the decreased value of the holding in consequence of the part which had been taken from it, but, what is more important, and this was the general way in which it was done, the man was 1398 compensated by the landlord by the grant of other land equivalent in value in that locality. None of us could object to that. It was reasonable and fair.
When Section 19 of the Act of 1911 was introduced, the real trouble began. We all remember what happened before and after the War. There was a tremendous amount of sale and transfer of land at low prices in the Highlands, and the resumption of holdings was applied for to the Court for all sorts of reasons. There arose a general abuse of the whole principle, and not only abuse but anomalies arose, and, to make matters worse, there was no obligation under the new Act upon the landlord who was going to resume his holding, as being his only estate, to provide land in substitution in that locality for the man from whom the holding was taken. There was no compensation given to him of any sort of kind except the compensation to which he would be entitled at common law or under the Agricultural Holdings Act.
When an appeal was made to the Court of Session for the resumption of a holding—there were all sorts of cases which I have taken the trouble to look up—the extraordinary thing was, and I would like the late Secretary of State for Scotland to remember this, that there was no option or discretion on the part of the Court. The moment a resumption was applied for, upon all sorts of pretexts, the Court felt itself bound to authorise the resumption. Was not that a blow at the doctrine of security of tenure? Did not that make all those who had been hitherto holding their land in the belief that whatever happened they were safe there so long as they paid a fair rent, lose their confidence? Did not that shake their faith in the doctrine of the sanctity of security of tenure? Consequently, the Liberal party from that day have been insistent upon an alteration, and I welcome the wisdom of the present Government in coming forward and adopting the proposal made by Liberal Members in the past. I shall welcome the discussion upon this particular Clause in Committee and I shall give all the assistance that I can, and I speak for my colleagues, to the Government when they remedy what is undoubtedly a great grievance among the land holding class in Scotland.
1399 Notwithstanding the admirable debate that we had upstairs in Committee on the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine, when the Government were defeated on the point of extending the holdings, there is no appearance of that proposal in this Bill. That surely ought to have been an instruction to any intelligent Government that they should include such a provision in this Bill. Some of their own colleagues voted against them on the point, my hon. Friends above the Gangway voted against them and the Liberal party voted against them, yet six months afterwards, when they know the general feeling of the House in regard to this matter, there is not a sign in this Bill of any proposal to extend the size of the holdings from 50 acres to 100 acres or to make the rental £100 instead. of £50. Anyone with any experience of holdings must know that there is a general desire on the part of those who are permanently fixed on holdings that the holdings should be extended. It is almost impossible when the holding is small to make a living out of it, and nowadays when co-operation and other things are in the air it is surely an appropriate time to accede to the general wish of the holding community in Scotland and increase the size of the holdings and to give security of tenure to the holdings thus increased, but instead Of that the Government have turned a deaf ear to what was the majority opinion of hon. Members representing the whole of Scotland. I would ask the Under-Secretary of State why this provision is not included in the Bill. He will probably be able to explain it, but I have not yet met anybody who is cognisant of the situation in the rural districts of Scotland who was not in favour of it. It cannot be that the principle of security of tenure is wrong. It cannot be that he is going to say that it would be wrong to give security of tenure to 100 acres when you give it [...] 50 acres. There must be some other reason and I should like to hear from the Under-Secretary what is the reason. I fail to apprehend it at the moment.
We made a fight upstairs to embody in the Bill the principle that the statutory small tenant should become the landholder. There is a vast difference between the status of a landholder and the 1400 status of a statutory small tenant. The landholder has privileges which the statutory small tenant has not. I remember when the statutory small tenant was created. He was, as I have said before, a creature of compromise. I believe that the late Secretary of State for Scotland was responsible for him, along with Mr. Younger as he then was. He was simply created in order to cover difficulties in negotiations which were then going on between various parties in the House. The result is that the statutory small tenant, qua statutory small tenant, has not been a success, because he has not the same privileges as the landholder, and when there is a desire on the part of the landholding community to have, in any case, the option, if not to make it compulsory, to become landholders, I cannot see why a Labour Government should resist an appeal of that kind. We were told by the Secretary of State for Scotland that the Department of Agriculture had supplied him with certain grievances. I am not surprised that the Department of Agriculture did not supply him with another grievance, and that is a grievance against them by the landholding community. There is a body in Scotland called the Land Court. Whatever people may say about the Department of Agriculture there has been no doubt in the minds of people in Scotland, in recent years particularly, when all party bias is gone, that the Land Court is an admirable body and that its main interest is to look after, in fairness, the equitable problem of settlement upon the land. What do they say in their report for the year 1928, on page 12?A new development in the practice followed by the Board of Agriculture in dealing with the method under which we are asked to fix rents on properties of which they are proprietors has rendered it necessary for us to add a new table to those hitherto appended to our Reports. This new practice signalises a departure from the normal conception of a landholder, which has been embodied in the Statutes, as being a tenant who has acquired a pecuniary interest in the permanent improvements on the holdings on which he is not rented, and for which he is entitled to claim compensation at outgo. On the outgo of a landholder who has entered under the above conditions, the new practice abolishes the distinctive characteristics which have previously marked the holding as a landholder's holding, and substitutes for the tenant, clothed with the normal rights of a landholder, a tenant who has few of his attributes except the name.1401 They go on, as strongly as they dare do, to tell the Department of Agriculture that they are acting ultra vires in taking possession of money to which they are not entitled. What happens? A landholder may be upon the land. He gets money from the Board of Agriculture, either by grant or by loan. With that money he builds his tenements, his outhouses, his roads, and his fences and makes various improvements. If he goes on paying to the end of the period of 50 or 60 years until the loan is repaid all these improvements are then his. But, supposing that at the end of the 17th or 18th year, he dies or chooses to leave that croft, what happens? There is no compensation in reality, while the incoming tenant—and this is what is so iniquitous—has got to take over all those holdings and steadings at valuation, and has to pay the full amount. Supposing he and his family pay year after year, those holdings will never become theirs. Upon what ground does the Department of Agriculture justify that? The money has been granted by the State in order to make improvements, which, in time, might become the permanent possession of the man, but, as in the case I have just quoted, the man who goes in is practically a tenant of those buildings, while the money paid by the late tenant has been seized by the Department of Agriculture without any sanction from the State or anyone else. No wonder that a sane, judicial body like the Land Court comes forward and, as strongly as it dares in a Government document, denounces this practice. I have put question after question to the Secretary of State about it and I was promised consideration — whether favourable, active or careful I forget—hut here was an opportunity for them to remedy this in their Bill; yet, instead of that, simply because it is an attack upon the Department of Agriculture who supply the pabulum for this Bill, it is not included. The thing is iniquitous, and I have no doubt that every Member from Scotland will, when the discussion arises in Committee, press for a remedy in this direction.
I know there are a great many of my colleagues and other Members who wish to speak on this Bill, so I shall not refer 1402 to various other Clauses which I am glad to see have been introduced, such as the clauses with regard to common grazing and police burghs. Having read this Bill with the greatest possible care, and having listened to the speech delivered in defence of it, I have come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the fanfare of trumpets in Scotland as to what this Government was going to do to create a new heaven and a new earth in the countryside in Scotland, we have only this miserable contribution. I should like to hear its justification from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. He knows that the justification of the Secretary of State for Scotland was not a justification. The Secretary of State seemed to me to be hiding the Bill and to have made a speech covering up his tracks, so that none of us would draw attention to the Bill.
I have never seen at the beginning of a Session a Government so powerful, with the active assistance that would be given to it by allies so interested in agriculture and its difficulties, and at a time of such great crisis in England and Scotland, produce such a miserable mouse. What happened was that the Department of Agriculture said, "We have here half a dozen things that have been lying in our pigeon-holes for years, and we shall put them together in a Bill Clause by Clause for you. It will do nobody any good, and it will do nobody any harm." Nobody can stand up in this House and say this Measure is going to put a single soul upon the land. It is a miserable Bill, an anaemic Bill and a Bill not worthy of the attention of the House of Commons because of its sins of omission. We were told we were going to have a great agricultural policy. If that is the agricultural policy of the present Labour Government as far as Scotland is concerned, it is high time the Government gave place to better men.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I do not propose to follow the right hon. Gentleman in his passionate diatribes against this Bill. I propose to take it in the way it was offered to the House, namely, as a Measure of practical administrative improvements. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the point that there is one administrative change in the interests of smallholders which has been 1403 omitted, and which I hope will be put in in some form or another in the Committee stage. I refer to the point about compensation on the question of equipment and the change in status of the second holder as compared with the first, and the apparent and, I believe, real seizure by the Department of Agriculture of the instalments paid on the buildings by the first holder. That is a matter very relevant to the improvement of administration in Scotland, which I hope will be remedied before the Bill proceeds to Third Reading. I have no desire to blame the Government for not having included in this departmental and administrative Measure a, large number of controversial Clauses cutting deep into such controversial and unpractical questions as alterations in tenure. I do complain a little of, though I really enjoyed, the speech of the right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill. I was very much at one with him in his description of the growth of land settlement, which was of great value as a statement of the total achievements with regard to new holdings. I welcomed his action in placing the figures before the House in this way, but, in introducing this Bill, it would have been wise and of assistance if the meaning of some of the Clauses had been more definitely explained. I am in more than a little doubt as to the practical value of Clause 1. I may not have fully grasped it, but I hope that the Under-Secretary will make it clear to the House, and, if possible, to me, what its importance is, and what its value is to the smallholder.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Gentleman has frequently pressed us to see that compensation was paid as we have provided here under Clause 1.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I thank the hon. Gentleman. It was not very clear to my mind on reading the Clause, and I mentioned it because I wished the Under-Secretary of State to summarise the intentions and results of the Clause. As to Clause 8, I do not intend to go into a lengthy discussion on small holdings, but I do commend to the Government the suggestion of my right hon. Friend that this is a matter which should be dealt with by the Land Court. Opinion is that the present situation is unsatisfactory 1404 and also that the automatic exclusion of the question of resumption from the purview of the Land Court is simply swinging the pendulum from one extreme to another. It looks very much as if in a highly controversial Measure we might find a considerable measure of agreement, namely, that the actual case of proposed resumption should be made a matter of discussion before the Land Court and not be excluded from its purview. If that be so, we on this side will be satisfied, and it would be a proper solution of a difficult matter.
There is one other matter, which is perhaps almost too trifling to discuss on Second Reading, but I do not like—to use a homely phrase—the smell of Clause 7. I do not see why, when there is a question of the enlargement of holdings and an application for enlargement is made, the name of the applicant should not be given. Why should it be done in a hole-and-corner way?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman on that point. It is because of the fact that if there should be any change—if a man dies, for instance—when the scheme is maturing, it means that we have to begin all over again, and this is in order to avoid that unnecessary delay.
§ Mr. SKELTON
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend, and it shows the danger of harbouring suspicions on a topic where suspicions are unnecessary. I can see that Clause must be of very considerable administrative value, and is well worthy of a place in this Bill. On the whole matter, we on this side of the House and we in Scotland as a whole will welcome any additions or improvements in the machinery of land settlement. I regret, although it is clear that this Bill is framed with a somewhat narrow scope, that even here there has not been an effort made to alter the system whereby men settled on the land have to pay for a long period of years instalments on their buildings, many of them buildings which will have ceased to be humanly habitable long before the instalments are finished. In my own constituency, the most admirable and successful scheme of land settlement is to a large extent vitiated from a health point of view by the fact that the settlers are lodged in ex-Army huts. If I remember rightly, they have got to pay 1405 for these Army huts, which they are in process of making their own, instalments for 48 years. Nobody supposes that these huts will be useful for anything but kindling wood long before the expiry of 48 years. It is a gross abuse that such a system in such a case should be allowed to continue. Welcoming as I do the improvements that this Bill brings, I feel that there are still many practical improvements to be made in the administration of land settlement in Scotland. It is the continued existence of such grievances as I have mentioned, the payment for 50 years for huts which will have disappeared long before the end of that period, which gives a false impression of the value of land settlement, alienates settlers from the Board of Agriculture and brings the Department itself into a disrepute which it does not deserve. Leaving these grievances open spreads throughout the country a feeling that land settlement is not conducted with sufficient elasticity and on practical lines. I hope during the Committee stage that we may add further practical improvements to the administrative machine which will definitely and distinctly clear away what I think are perfectly impractical problems of land tenure and what is called land reform, which has so vitiated the whole policy of the Liberal party in Scotland.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I have seen it stated in the Press on more than one occasion that the Bill which we are now discussing is the joint production of the Labour party and the Liberal party. I should like to say for myself that until the Bill was printed I had never seen it, and knew nothing whatever about it, and I am perfectly certain that the Liberal party were not consulted in regard to this Bill. The speech of the Secretary of State for Scotland, although very interesting, was entirely irrelevant. This Bill will not cause a thrill of satisfaction in the mind of any smallholder in Scotland, and, what is even more suspicious, it does not raise any terror on the Tory benches. That is the most suspicious thing in connection with this Measure. The Conservative party are not going to divide against it because it raises no fundamental principle. It is not in the slightest degree a land settlement Measure; it does not hurt a single landowner in Scotland.
§ Mr. SCOTT
If the Labour Government meant business they might have to hurt somebody. Something must be said as to the way in which the Bill has been introduced. It appeared on the Order Paper on the first day of this Session. I wondered at this extraordinary haste; but it must be remembered that last Session the Liberal party in this House introduced a Bill which was debated for 11 separate days in the Scottish Standing Committee, and then came to the House and received some three hours discussion on Report stage. It then remained at the door of the Government—they alone could give the time necessary for the further stages—from May until August when the House adjourned, and although we pressed the Government to give facilities for the completion of the further stages they failed to do so. I regret that exceedingly; not because it was a Measure which was initiated from the Liberal ranks but because it would really have conferred some benefits on smallholders. We are, I hope, above taking a purely tactical point of view with regard to this question. We want to be honest and straight-. forward in dealing with this subject, and I regret that the opportunity was not taken last Session to pass that Bill.
Now we have this Bill introduced by the Government. It was put down on the Order Paper for the first day of this Session, obviously with the idea, that if in the Ballot any Liberal Member were lucky enough to find an early place and attempted to bring in a Bill similar to the one of last Session, we should be prevented by the obstacle which this Bill would present. However that may be, we are not going to oppose this Bill for the sake of Clause 8. If hon. Members will consider the contents of this Bill they will see that there are only four Clauses which are not of the nature of departmental reforms, or reforms in matters of procedure. There are four Clauses dealing with matters referred to in the Bill of last Session—Clauses 6, 9, 16 and 17. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to have intervened earlier in the debate and explained the Bill, because the House is proceeding with its discussion without the benefit of a single word of elucidation as to the 1407 Bill itself. Clause- 6 provides for an amendment of the law as to vacant holdings, and Clause 9 will slightly widen the meaning of "predecessors in the same family." Clause 16 deals with land within burghs and Clause 17 limits the renunciation of tenancy to stated times. I am not quite certain that that Clause is not in direct contradiction to a recent judgment of the Land Court, but the matter will be able to be considered in Committee.
I am more concerned at the moment with the omissions from the Bill; and there are one or two flagrant omissions. The Bill of last Session contained two Clauses to which the Liberal party attached great importance. One dealt with statutory small tenancies, the optional abolition of statutory small tenants, and the other with the extension of the Code of Acts to a wider range, to holdings of 100 acres or £100 rental. I should like to know why that the first proposal has been dropped. In deference to the demand made by the Government in Committee on the Bill last Session the Liberal party conceded a point and made that Clause optional, so that any statutory small tenant, if he wished, might give notice to the landlord that he wanted to become a landowner. Why is it that even in that attenuated form the Government has dropped that particular Clause? Then with regard to the extension of the Code of Acts, to which we attach great importance. We say that a holding of 100 acres is a smallholding, and that you ought to etxend to them all the benefits of fair rents, security of tenure and compensation for improvements, which the smallholder at present enjoys. Sooner or later all the tenant farmers of Scotland will demand and will require security of tenure for their holdings. They demand it now, and it is in the forefront of the Parliamentary programme of the National Farmers' Union. It is not that we do not agree with the demand of the National Farmers' Union, but because we thought that we should take reform by stages.
The objections which were raised to this Clause in Committee were extremely interesting. They seemed to me to be quite invalid, and the Under-Secretary 1408 of State will remember that I asked him to explain how much it cost the Treasury per annum in loans to smallholders who came for the first time within the purview of the 1911 Act. He said that the amounts varied. In some years only a few hundreds of pounds were required, and in other years it might vary from £3,000 to £5,000. These sums are trifling to the contribution the Treasury might be called upon to make if the Code of Acts was extended to holdings of 100 acres or £100 rental.
There is also an important omission with regard to compensation. I wish I could burn into the minds and understanding of the Government the demand that smallholders and farmers are making for full compensation for improvements. In spite of the education which I had hoped the discussion on the Bill of last year would have given to the present Government they have not yet appreciated the extent to which smallholders and farmers generally in Scotland are losing the value of improvements which they and their predecessors have made on their holdings; otherwise, there would have been a Clause in this Bill dealing with the matter, or the extent to which these values are being absorbed by landowners who are not paying fair compensation or, indeed, any consideration at all for improvements. That is really what lies at the hack of our demand that all statutory small tenancies ought to be abolished and that all holdings ought to he land holdings. It only means that every penny expended by a tenant upon a holding will return to him in his claim for compensation. It will not rob the landowners of a single penny they have contributed; and it will operate with exact justice. I trust that before the Committee Stage of the Bill the Government will consider the advisability of introducing a Clause dealing with these important matters.
Another omission is that there is no Clause dealing with game damages. I wonder whether hon. Members appreciate the extent to which during the last month the smallholders of Scotland, especially in the hilly districts, have suffered from game damage. If the Government appreciated the burden which the smallholders are suffering in this respect they would have found room for a Clause—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The Secretary of State, in answer to a question, has said that he has only just received the report from the Joint Committee which has been considering this question and that he is at present considering the possibility of separate legislation.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
On the Second Reading of a Bill it is always permissible to express regret that other things are not in the Bill, but I think we ought sometimes to talk of the Bill that is before the House.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I did not intend to detain the House further with regard to game damage. What I said was really in answer to a point which had previously been made. Another matter which is omitted from the Bill is one to which the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) referred, that of equipped rents. I was extremely interested to find from the speech of the hon. Member for Perth and Kinross (Mr. Skelton) that we who have agitated on this matter in this House more than once may expect to receive from the Conservative Members support in urging the Government to deal with the question. The Government are appropriating for the Treasury moneys which were intended by Parliament to be expended for the purchase of land for landholders, the buildings ultimately to become the absolute property of the landholders. According to the policy of the Department of Agriculture they are retaining the ownership of the permanent improvements which they are putting on the holdings, and letting at equipped rents to the landholders at amounts which really correspond to the present payments for bonds and land rents, but with the unfortunate consequence that the landholders will never become the owners of these buildings.
I wonder whether the Government cares twopence about the tenure of landholders or their claims for compensation? If their ultimate object is the nationalisation of all the land of Scotland, I can quite understand that they are less interested in questions of compensation, because they may intend that one day all 1410 the smallholders and all the tenant farmers in Scotland will be tenants of the State and will have to take only such crumbs in the way of compensation as may fall from the table of the State; they will have to take only such rights as the State may give them. At the present time the smallholders of Scotland enjoy rights which cannot be filched from them, and it is those rights that we on these benches intend to do the utmost we can to retain for them.
With regard to the second part of the Bill, I have little to say. The Bill ought to have been two separate Bills. There is a distinct code of smallholdings Acts and a separate code of agricultural Acts. This Bill deals with both of those codes. I ask the Secretary of State to explain what is the urge behind the second part of the Bill. Has he received representations from the National Farmers' Union, for example, on all the matters that are dealt with in the second part? The first two Clauses of Part II relate to improvements for which notice must be given to the landowner or for which the landowner's consent must be got. The guiding principle ought surely to be to give the tenant farmer the utmost freedom of cropping, and he ought also to be assured of reasonable compensation for all improvements which are of the nature of permanent improvements. Within those two canons I think the Schedule ought to be considered, and it may be that still further laxity may be given to the tenant farmer than is at present contained in the Bill.
I pass to the Clause dealing with arbitration. I think it was an absurd arrangement, introduced by the Conservative party, that of all people the President of the Court of Session of Scotland should be asked to make up a list of farmers from whom arbiters could be drawn for arbitrations. It may be unwise, as has been said, to leave entirely to the Department of Agriculture the framing of a list of such farmers. I suggest that there is another body in Scotland to whom, with the consent of all parties, the matter could be referred, and that is the Land Court. It might itself conduct the arbitrations, but if that is not thought advisable at least it might be entrusted to draw up a panel of arbiters. Being in touch with farmers from day to day, it could lie well trusted 1411 to deal with the matter. There is another thing which one would have liked to have seen in the second part of the Bill, and that is the granting of security of tenure to all farmers.
§ Mr. SCOTT
I did not intend to do more than mention it. I hope that when the Bill goes into Committee the Government will welcome criticism and Amendments from both parties, and especially from the Liberal party, so that this Measure, which is a rather wan and pettifogging one, may be converted into a real Measure of land reform.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
I listened with great interest to the speech of the Secretary of State. He gave a long résumé of what had been done by the Department. It is true that my hon. Friend who has just spoken claimed that it was all inspired by the Liberal party. All I can say is that When the amount of work that had to be done is compared with the amount that has been done, even though the latter may seem considerable, it is only a very small fraction of what is needed. Clause 8 of the Bill requires more consideration. It is a question of the balance of hardship practically every time. I cannot understand anything harder than the case of a man who, with his family, has cultivated a little property for a long long period and has had it bought over his head, and is excluded by the purchaser on the ground that the purchaser wanted the property for his own occupation. On the other hand there may be great hardship in excluding the new owner. He may have even greater claims than the actual tenant. After all, if matters are equally balanced in this topsy-turvy world the owner should be the man with the first claim. Suppose that I were to lend some article of my personal apparel, such as my top coat, or my umbrella, to the hon. Member for Kincardine (Mr. Scott). It would be hard if he came to me and said: "I have kept your umbrella for a number of years, and I am now going to stick to it." There is sometimes something to be said for the owner of property enjoying it. The Clause might be amended so as to read: 1412The occupation by a landlord, for the purpose of personally residing thereon, of a holding, being his only landed estate, may be but shall not necessarily be deemed to be a reasonable purpose, etc.Something of that kind would ensure that individual cases would be dealt with on the balance of hardship. Some reference has been made to the question whether the Lord President should appoint arbitrators or whether the Land Court should do it. Either proposal would be more satisfactory than leaving the matter to the Department of Agriculture. The Department has never been too popular in the Highlands. If anything has been learned from nationalisation it is that the State has always been the harshest landlord. Any of the London tenants will tell you that. I am not going to comment on what is missing from the Bill. The real difficulty about land settlement, the crofter's difficulty, is that he has been deprived by modern development of what used to be a portion of his main source of livelihood, the harvest of the sea. In the days of King Charles II no English fishing boat could come within 28 miles of the coast of Scotland. Now English trawlers come up and destroy the livelihood of the crofters. If they had protection in that respect land settlement would come about, because a man's croft, supplemented by the fishing, would be sufficient to keep him alive. Until that problem is dealt with no other Measure will provide a solution. The fish came back to the coast during the War, and the crofters were more or less in comfortable circumstances, but now in time of peace the seas have been swept again. There is plenty of deep sea fish for the trawlers. Little countries like Iceland and Denmark can protect their nationals. I do not see why we should not do so.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
This Bill is an objectionable example of legislation by reference. It was printed only a short time ago. Consequently there is difficulty in understanding what the Clauses mean. When the Bill came on I was in the Library, and I immediately hurried into the Chamber to hear the description of the Bill, but I have to confess that when the Secretary of State sat down I knew no more about the Bill than when I left the Library. It seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman's remarks dealt 1413 with points which were not touched by the Bill at all. If this Bill contains all that the Government can suggest for the improvement of the agricultural industry at the present time, it seems to me to be a very small thing. I am aware that on the Second Reading it is not customary to go through all the Clauses of a Bill, but unfortunately we do not yet know exactly what this Bill means. We have had one or two explanations from the Under-Secretary of State as to the meaning of particular Clauses, but I wish to put questions on several other points. I first refer to Clause 2, the sub-title of which isDepartment to be entitled to require information.That information must be wanted for some specific purpose. We all know that the Government are interested in the question of smallholdings and, I presume, this Clause is designed to facilitate the provision of small holdings in some way. It provides that, with a view to ascertaining whether land is suitable or available for smallholdings, the landlord is to be compelled to give information as to the occupiers and the terms of their tenancies. I could understand that that information might be useful, in some way as regards the question of whether land is available or not, but how on earth is such information going to help the Department to decide whether the land is suitable or not? The Clause seems to contain a very unnecessary provision and I do not see what benefit will be gained by it. I agree also with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Pollok division of Glasgow (Sir J. Gilmour) that a fortnight's notice, which it is proposed to give to the landlord under this Clause is very short, and that the penalty proposed is rather high. I would also like some further information in regard to Clause 3 which provides that in certain cases:Where a landholder, whose rights to compensation for permanent improvements have been transferred to the Department, abandons his holding or breaks any statutory condition, it shall be lawful for the Land Court, on the application of the Department, and after consideration of any objections stated by the landlord, to make an order for the removal of the landholder.At the present time if a landholder defaults as regards any loan from the Department, the Department can then apply to the Land Court and have the 1414 landholder removed. As I read this Clause, if the landholder breaks any statutory condition the Department is to have the right to step in and remove that landholder whether the landlord wishes it or not. I should like to know whether that is a correct reading of the Clause or not. There has been a very good spirit in many cases between landlord and tenant and small landholders have been on very good terms with their landlords. A tenant may have broken some statutory condition and the landlord in consequence may have been entitled to apply to the Land Court for his removal, but in many cases the landlord has preferred to allow that tenant to remain in the holding. Is that power now to be taken away from the landlord? If the ordinary right of agreement between landlord and tenant is to be taken away and if the Department is to be allowed to step in and apply to the Land Court for the removal of the tenant, I think it is a very unsatisfactory provision.
I was rather interested in the reply which was given by the Under-Secretary to the point raised, I think, by the hon. Member for Perth (Mr. Skelton) with regard to the meaning of Clause 7. The Under-Secretary said that the reason why it was not thought necessary to include the name of a landholder applying for enlargement of a holding, was that the landholder might die, and then the notice or the application might be vitiated. But there is another point in regard to this matter. The Clause provides that it shall not be necessary to include the names "or the areas or rents of their existing holdings." Although the names of the landholders need not necessarily be included, it seems to me that the holding which is to be enlarged should be indicated, but, that, of course, is a point which might be brought up in Committee. I do not propose to say much about the question of the resumption of holdings, but I trust that it will be possible for the Land Court to take into consideration cases where the holding is the only landed estate of a person making an application.
In reference to Clause 14 which amends Section 10 of the Act of 1919, in regard to the erection of fences, it seems to me that the present law, laid down in the Act of 1919 is quite fair and reasonable 1415 in one sense. It lays down that if land is taken for smallholdings the Department must be satisfied that it is properly fenced so that the stock of the smallholder can be kept from straying on to adjacent land. Clause 18 repeals Section 14 of the Act of 1886 which makes provision for deductions from rent in certain cases. I understand that it deals with cases where a tenant—a shooting tenant as far as I can understand—has part of the land which he rents taken for the purpose of enlarging holdings. At the present time it is possible in such cases for his rent to be reduced, but apparently under Clause 18 that right is to be taken away from him and although he may suffer damage, he is not to have any reduction in the rent which is payable by him. I should be grateful for some reply on the point as to whether that is the actual effect of this clause or not.
I now come to Part II of the Bill, in regard to which the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Scott) said there were not any tremors among those who sit on these benches. I must say that I rather tremble at what seems to underlie Part II of the Bill. It seeks to amend the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1923. Now I am one of those who believe that the landlord and tenant system which we have, is one of the best systems of land-holding which we could have in this country, and it seems to me that the proposals in Part II of the Bill cut right across the system of landlord and tenant. The old idea was that the landlord provided the capital and the permanent equipment of the farm, and, for that, the tenant paid a rent, and it was therefore considered the duty of the landlord to keep up the permanent expenditure on the farm. What do we find in this Bill? Under the Act of 1923 there was only one improvement which could be carried out by the tenant without giving notice and getting the consent of the landlord. He had to give notice and get consent in all other cases, if he was to receive compensation. Now a large number of items are put into the category of improvements in respect of which only notice to the landlord is required and practically all these are capital expenditure items.
1416 If hon. Members refer to the First Schedule, they will find, for instance, that under Part I improvements to which the consent of the landlord is required include the erection, alteration or enlargement of buildings. But under Part II of the Schedule the improvements in respect of which only notice to the landlord is required, include the making or improvement of roads or bridges, the formation of silos, the making or removal of permanent fences, embankments and sluices against floods and so forth. These are all improvements in respect of which the tenant only requires to give notice in order to get compensation and many of them, as I have pointed out, are items of capital expenditure. To that extent the Bill is altering the law in what is, I suggest, a very serious matter. The Government, as I see it, are going to create a system of dual ownership and spread it over our land. That system proved an absolute disadvantage in other countries of which we have known, and cost this country a good deal of money. Therefore I regard it as very serious that the Government should seek to introduce this system now, but that appears to be the effect of substituting the First Schedule of this Bill for the First Schedule to the Act of 1923.
Clause 22, Sub-section (2), provides that where a landlord to whom notice has been given by the tenant of intention to execute an improvement, gives notice within one month that he objects to the improvement or the manner in which the tenant proposes to do the intended work, the matter may be referred to the Department who shall determine the same. I do not like the idea of the Department coming in as this Clause proposes, because the Department's point of view is quite clear. It considers that there should be more capital expenditure by the farmer. That is the Government point of view, and. with that point of view, I submit that the Department will not be really unbiased judges and that we ought to have some other body to decide whether the proposed alterations are. really for the benefit of agriculture or not. I was rather interested in the suggestion of the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine that the panel of arbiters should be left to the Land Court instead of to the Lord President of the Court of Session, because just about five minutes previously the hon. Member had been 1417 saying that Part II of the Bill should be a separate Bill. I would remind him that the Land Court was set up to deal with smallholdings and not to deal with agriculture altogether, and therefore I do not think it a good suggestion that the Land Court should decide on the panel of arbiters. In my opinion it would be much better if that matter were left to the Lord President of the Court of Session. We want to have as arbiters men who are judges of these questions. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some enlightenment on these points. As has been said we do not propose to divide against the Second Reading, but the Bill appears to propose a very drastic alteration of the land system in Scotland, especially by the amendment of the 1923 Act. It is a move for dual ownership, a system which in the past has proved so bad elsewhere, and this and other provisions will require very careful and close examination.
§ 8.0 p.m.
I have long been deeply interested in all questions affecting agriculture and I welcome this Bill as one contribution among others towards the solution of the unemployment problem in Scotland. I share the views of the last speaker regarding the necessity for a further explanation in order to enable us to comprehend what is contained in the Bill. I also would welcome a much fuller exposition of the Bill by the Secretary of State. Among other reasons, I support this Bill because there are something like 300,000 men and women unemployed in Scotland, and in my judgment the land must be cultivated much more thoroughly and extensively if we are ever to provide even a partial solution of our unemployment problem.
I have hesitated to take part in this debate because the Secretary of State told us that the Under-Secretary of State would offer some exposition of the Clauses of the Bill, and I think the House has been at some disadvantage up to this stage with regard to these matters. Reference was made to the amount of food imported into this country from Denmark from 1928 onwards, and it seems to me that the soil and the people of Scotland are as competent to produce food for the people of Scotland as the people are in Denmark to produce it there and export it to Scotland. There is very con- 1418 siderable alarm as to this continued and increasing problem of unemployment, and I had hoped that when the present Government introduced a Bill dealing with the land problem, they would introduce one having some big, fundamental changes.
I know there are difficulties confronting the Government in that regard, but one of the defects of the Bill was, I thought, expressed by the Secretary of State when he said that it provided no revolution in the existing law. One of the things that we require is a big and drastic revolution in the existing law with regard to the land of Scotland, but I should not be in order to discuss that new. I should like the Under-Secretary of State to explain what provision for training is to be given to men and women who are perfectly willing and able to work on the land, but many of whom have had no previous experience and are, therefore, very much at a disadvantage in dealing with this problem.
Some of the things which are mentioned in the Schedule are extremely important, such as land reclamation, silos, the application of electricity to agriculture, and sundry other improvements which have been extensively introduced into agriculture in some other parts of the land, but, so far as I know, not to any appreciable extent in Scotland. I believe there is a great future for a drastic land reform Bill for Scotland, and I should very much welcome it.
Yes, that is true, but if we had had a fuller exposition of the Bill in its introduction, we should have been able to learn something of what has been done in other places and of the enormous water power which is running to waste in Scotland and which might be turned to account in the application of electricity to agriculture, which would be of enormous advantage to the people of Scotland. I welcome the Bill for what it contains, but I should like to see a very much more drastic and comprehensive Bill introduced into this House. I believe it would be supported by all parties from the point of view of our common desire to find some big remedy for the great evils. of unemployment from which we are suffering, particularly in our own county of Lanarkshire.
§ Sir FREDERICK THOMSON
I should like to ask one or two questions with regard to this Bill. With regard to Clause 2, reference has already been made to the Department being entitled to require information. I think that is reasonable, but the Under-Secretary of State will probably remember that he accepted an Amendment in Committee on the previous Bill that any expense incurred should be borne by the Department. The Department might never go on with a scheme, and I hope he will consider an Amendment dealing with that point, because that would seem to be obvious justice.
I should like to join my hon. Friends in deprecating the last sentence of that Clause. It seems unnecessary that if there should be failure to comply, it should be made a criminal offence. The Lord Advocate drew a distinction on the previous Bill between a statutory offence and a crime, but a person is haled into the criminal Courts merely for failure within 14 days to give the information required. The Lord Advocate said he would consider whether we might not put in some simple form of civil process instead, but the Clause appears in exactly the same form now as in the former Bill, and I would ask the Under-Secretary of State to consider very carefully whether this penalty is necessary. After all, he has the power under the Statute to get the information, and if the person fails to give it and is brought into Court, he must pay the expense. It is likely, therefore, that he will be careful to give the information, and there would seem to be no necessity for the multiplication of offences in such a matter and taking people into the criminal Courts and fining them. In any event, I would join my right hon. Friend in front of me in urging that 14 days is much too short a period and that the hon. Gentleman should make it 28 days, and I think the amount of the fine is a bit excessive for the case in question.
With regard to Clauses 4 and 5, which are recommendations of the Nairne Committee, I take no objection to them. Clause 6, as I understand, proposes to treat a holding that falls vacant as if it were a new holding for the purposes of rent fixing and compensation. I notice that the rent is to be such as the Department may fix. Again, I would ask my 1420 hon. Friend to consider a point which we raised in Committee, Where there was general interest in the matter, as to whether the fixing of this rent should not be in the hands of the Land Court. There may be objection that the same procedure is followed about the new holdings, but I would point out that this Clause makes the Department judge in its own cause. If it fixes a high rent, it gets off with less compensation, and there is injustice to the landholder for the time being, but, of course, he has his remedy. After seven years he can come forward and have his rent reduced, and then the hardship is on the landlord, who gets the reduced rent, but who, at an earlier stage, when compensation was fixed, got a lower figure of compensation because of the higher rent. I would ask my hon. Friend to consider that question with the greatest care, because I think it is wrong in principle that the Department should decide this question. It may be true, as the Nairne Committee say, that there have not been many complaints about too high a figure being fixed, but none the less it is wrong in principle that the Department should be judge in its own cause, and I think the Land Court would be the more appropriate body.
The next Clause with which I wish to deal is one on which there has been some discussion already, namely, Clause 8, dealing with the question of resumption. My right hon. Friend pointed out that we take no objection to the second part of the Clause. We raise no objection to the Amendment of the Act of 1911, because under Section 19 of that Act the Land Court is given no discretion, but is told outright that the occupation of a holding by a landlord for the purpose of personally residing thereon, it being his only landed estate, shall be deemed a reasonable purpose. They have no discretion in the matter, and we think it reasonable that there should be an Amendment of the law so far as that goes and that we should get back to Section 2 of the Act of 1886.
I would press this on the attention of my hon. Friend opposite with a view to the further progress of this Bill. I do not think we seem to be very far from the right hon. and learned Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who spoke of the procedure under the Act of 1886, under which the question 1421 of resumption was left entirely to the Land Court, which, on being satisfied that the landlord desired to resume possession of the holding for a reasonable purpose, having relation to the good of the holding or of the estate, might grant resumption. That is what we wish to get back to, and I think the Liberal party should support us in this, because in the memorandum which described the purposes of the Bill of last year it was stated that the purpose of the Clause dealing with resumption was to restore security of tenure to the smallholder and to bring him back to the position which he occupied before 1911 A similar statement was made in the memorandum attached to the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), and that is what we are agreeing to, namely, to get back to the law as it stood from the introduction of the crofters' tenure in 1886 until 1911, when the change was made and the Land Court was given no option.
Of course, my hon. Friend opposite notices the point which was made upstairs in Committee on the last Bill, that we are left with a rather curious anomaly, in that it is only a man who has only one landed estate who is dealt with in this way. If a man has an estate elsewhere, the Land Court is not instructed to rule him out, and the matter would still fall to be considered by the Land Court under Section 2 of the Act of 1886. There is, therefore, this anomaly under Clause 8, that it is only the person with one estate who is to be told outright, without inquiry of any sort, that he cannot get resumption, whereas if a man has an estate elsewhere, the Land Court can go into the whole matter and, if they think it is for the good of the holding or of the estate, they can grant resumption.
I should like to emphasise that this is not really a point of immense practical importance at present. There have only been 151 cases of resumption on the ground of personal occupation since the Act of 1911 was passed, and that is some 18 years ago. There were 26 cases in the year 1923, but they have gone down since then, and in the last three years, as my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench pointed out, the figures have been trifling—six in 1927, eight in 1928, and three in the whole of Scotland for the year 1929. 1422 Under the state of the law in which the landlord is given no discretion he is told outright that he has to give possession to a man if he comes forward—
§ Sir F. THOMSON
The numbers that did come before the Court are a pretty fair indication of any feeling that there might be, and show whether the matter was regarded as of great importance. My hon. and gallant Friend must regard the Land Court figures as of great importance, and he cannot get round the question by such a statement. I agree with the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty that the position under the Act of 1886 was a reasonable one. My right hon. Friend on the Front Bench pointed out how hard this might be if there were an impoverished estate, and somebody had died and money for the Estate Duty cannot be raised unless there is a sale. Let the Land Court go into the whole question as they did under the Act of 1886, and they, being skilled people, can come to a decision as to whether resumption should be granted or not. That is, I think, a fair position to take up. The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty came rather close to our point of view, and I would point out to the Under-Secretary that we will be perfectly willing to facilitate the passage of this Clause if he gets back to the Act of 1886. If he attempts to go the whole hog and gives the Land Court no sort of discretion in the matter, we shall strongly oppose the Clause. Clause 13 proposes when a smallholdings scheme is being drawn up, to extend the period during which a landlord is prevented from letting his land from six months to 12. I would ask the Under-Secretary to consider that carefully. The Department, being human, will be rather apt to take whatever time is given, and he should remember that it does not matter to a. landlord because he gets compensation, but the compensation is running against the State all that time, and it seems an unnecessarily long time to put an embargo on the letting of land and to run the State into the paying of compensation during a protracted period.
The only other thing I have to say is with regard to what fell from the hon. 1423 Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Scott) as to extending smallholdings from 50 acres to 100 acres and from £50 to £100 in value. He said he hoped the Government would be prepared to consider favourably suggestions that were made in Committee with regard to the amendment of the Bill on those lines. While we support the Second Reading of this Bill, and think that it contains a number of admirable administrative improvements, and while we are in favour of the alterations suggested in the second part of Clause 8, we shall oppose most strongly, as indeed the Under-Secretary did in Committee, the proposal to extend the limit to 100 acres or £100 value. To do so would be flying in the face of the recommendations of the Nairne Committee, which said:We are of opinion that the experiment initiated by the Act of 1911 of extending crofting tenure to the Lowlands has not been a success. From the point of view both of landlords and of tenants the system of settlement has proved, when applied to Lowland conditions, to contain defects, the result of which become more apparent as time goes on.They point out various reasons why that has been so. They therefore suggested that the creation by the State of smallholdings on privately-owned estates should be discontinued in the Lowlands and in other districts of Scotland where conditions are akin to those of the Lowlands. In the face of all that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Kincardine solemnly proposes to increase the amount from 50 acres to 100 and from £50 to £100 in value. The Under-Secretary pointed out that the money available for small landholdings in Scotland would be used very largely in helping people who were brought in under the Act by loans for the improvement of their buildings and that the Department would supply funds to do what is now being done by private landlords. That would be a retrograde step. There is also this to be considered, that if you extended the small landholders' system in this vast way you would use up many smallish farms which are just the farms which a man starting farming would wish to occupy, a man who had not the capital to take over permanent buildings under a land holding tenure. He would like to get a small farm in which the 1424 landlord keeps up the buildings, and have all his rights under the Agricultural Holdings Act.
For a variety of reasons, we strongly oppose this retrograde step to make much wider in Scotland the system of dual ownership. I am aware that historical conditions made it necessary to pass the Crofters Act of 1886 in order to give the crofter in the Highlands who built his house on a. bit of land, security of tenure, but we must admit that the system of dual ownership has never 'been a success, and to extend it in this wide way in Scotland would be a. very retrograde idea. It would not be in the interests of Scotland. We are all anxious to improve Scottish agriculture, and have as many people settled on the land as possible, but this system would snake that more difficult and expensive than it is. My hon. Friend also said that he was disappointed that the Clause in regard to statutory small tenants did not find its way into this Bill. I am glad that the Government did not include that Clause. We should certainly have felt it our duty, as we did before, to oppose such a Clause in the belief that it is not in the interests, of Scotland that it should be passed.
There has been no demand among statutory small tenants for it. The small man is freer to move from one farm to another if he has not to purchase the buildings, and we cannot forget that the statutory small tenant cannot be turned out of his holding unless his landlord is able to show to the Land Court that there is reasonable cause for doing it. The statutory small tenant can go to the Land Court and get an equitable rent fixed, but there has been no rush for that. There were only nine cases last year in which application was made the first time to fix an equitable rent, and seven cases in which the application was made on a second or later occasion for fixing an equitable rent. So as regards the statutory small tenant, there seems to be no great rush to go to the Land Court, and get an equitable rent fixed. If the landlord does not keep the buildings up, and they deteriorate, the statutory small tenant can go to the Land Court, and if he satisfies the Court that the landlord has not kept the buildings up he can get 1425 himself declared a small landholder. The statutory small tenants have all these safeguards and there is not the smallest need to extend this system or even to give them the option of becoming landholders, as was finally suggested when the Bill left Committee. Therefore, while we regard the Bill as containing a number of valuable administrative reforms, based largely on the very valuable Nairne report, and we welcome it, we. shall feel it our duty, in the interests of Scottish agriculture, strenuously to oppose any suggestions to bring into the Measure the Clauses which were so fully discussed in Committee last year.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I am afraid that some hon. Gentlemen have rather misunderstood the very minor part which this Bill is intended to play in the Government's land and agricultural proposals. It does not in any way pretend to increase the number of smallholders already upon the soil of Scotland. That is reserved for a Measure which, I understand, is to be introduced on Thursday, and the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson), who delivered himself of a long oration on the subject, might have kept his remarks for the proper time. The Bill we are discussing this afternoon is one merely to remove the grievances of existing smallholders and small tenants, and provides no new money. it gives statutory form, where administrative reform was impossible, to over half of the recommendations of the Nairne Committee. Two main difficulties have been raised by hon. Members on the Liberal benches, relating not to what is in the Bill but to what it does not include. Their first grievance is that there is no reference to the abolition of the statutory small tenant as such and his conversion into a small landholder. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine (Mr. Scott), whose Bill occupied us for so long in Committee last Session, will remember that in his Measure he proposed to abolish the statutory small tenant, but that the Government felt themselves unable to agree, for the reasons which they gave to the Committee. They agreed, however, to give the statutory small tenant the option of choosing to become a landholder.
1426 The chief reason why we had difficulty in agreeing to compel the statutory small tenant to become a landholder was that we had received petitions—I have one of them now—from tenants on the Department's own estates against the proposals made in the Committee. I am not going to argue here what is right and what is wrong. I am not even going to discuss whether it is possible to reconcile the divergent opinions. it is perfectly well known that the late Secretary of State for Scotland and his friends are completely opposed to the abrogation of the statutory small tenant, and it is equally well known that hon. Members of the Liberal party are anxious to abolish the statutory small tenant. Whether it is possible to reconcile those two views is a matter of opinion, but I am sure there is no doubt whatever that it was precisely that divergence which caused the hon. Member for Kincardine to lose his Bill. It is because that Bill was fought so bitterly and so strenuously that, though it contained other beneficent Clauses—as I think they were—we could not carry it into law. I differ with the historical resume of the situation at the end of last Session which was given by the hon. Member for Kincardine and the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty. So far from the Government being responsible for killing the Bill, I say we did everything to assist it, to amend it, and to get it carried into law. I myself went to great lengths in that direction. I never missed a moment of the Committee stage. I did everything I could to assist the hon. Gentleman, and so did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. SCOTT
Probably I ought to have acknowledged in my speech—I intended to do so—the helpful manner in which the Government dealt with the Bill in the Committee stage. The only criticism which I made was that they allowed it to lie on the Floor of this House between May and August without finding time for it to pass its final stages.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
We have got something any way—that during the Committee stage we were helpful, though one would never have gathered that from the oration of the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty this afternoon. We had assisted in the Committee stage, but in May, towards the end of the Session, 1427 we found ourselves with a Measure which we could not possibly get any chance to attend to in this House. The hon. Member for Kincardine takes a very strong view, backed by a long personal knowledge of the subject to which I, for one, would pay considerable attention, but he knows that there are other hon. Members in the House who have very strong opinions in the opposite direction, and when the Government have representations made to them from tenants on their own estates it is a very difficult matter indeed for them to become arbiters and to impose compulsorily upon people a system of tenure which they themselves do not desire. But, as I say, that is a Committee point. If the hon. Member and his Friends can succeed in convincing the majority of the Members of the Committee that his point of view is right, then my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made his position perfectly clear. In the Committee stages of the Bill of the hon. Member, his attitude was that he would leave a free option to the statutory small tenant.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
The hon. Member accepted it at the end of a very long and stormy struggle. If he had accepted the good advice at the beginning of his Bill which he took at the end, the Measure might have been on the Statute Book by this time. However, I will not pursue "might-have-beens." There is another difficulty raised by hon. Gentlemen on the Liberal Benches, again concerning something that is not in the Bill. The question is whether we should extend the operations of these Acts to holders with rents of £100 and holdings of 100 acres. Here, again, there are difficulties. They were explained at considerable length in Committee upstairs. It is true that these restrictions do not apply everywhere. It is equally true that the Nairne Committee recommended extensions, and it is equally true that the National Farmers' Union of Scotland also recommended the extensions. What is the objection? It was stated by the right hon. Member for South Aberdeen (Sir F. Thomson), who spoke a moment ago, when he said that if we extend the limits we shall automatically, whether we like it or not, increase the demands upon the finances of our agricultural fund. 1428 Is it not a fact that if we extend the holdings to £100 rent and 100 acres that we shall organise a large number of men whose holdings are at present maintained by the landowner I We shall automatically, by arrangement between landlord and tenant, have these men coming to the Department and legitimately applying for financial assistance so that the work of maintaining the buildings on those estates hitherto maintained by the landlord class in Scotland will be transferred to some extent to the Department of Agriculture. I am not so sure that that is a very wise thing to do. I would far rather see the State spending all the money it has to spare for facilitating the development of smallholdings in the creation of new holdings. I cannot discuss that point now, but that subject will he dealt with when the Agricultural Land (Utilisation) Bill is before the House. The State has only a limited amount of money to spend, and it is better that we should spend that money on the creation of new holdings, putting more men on the soil rather than spend it in transferring the burden which the landlords of Scotland are at present carrying to the Agriculture Scotland Fund.
May I make one or two comments upon what has been said in this debate? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty made a most surprising oration, and I had difficulty in believing that he had read the Bill. On the 6th of November the right hon. Gentleman asked when the Government were likely to bring forward the Scottish Landholders Bill, and said that the Prime Minister had said it was to be taken on Monday, and he added "We have not got it yet," but he was unaware at the time he made that statement that it had been deposited in the Vote Office a week previously.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I went to the Vote Office immediately after that announcement, and I have been studying the Bill ever since.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I hope that between now and Thursday we shall have the advantage of the right hon. Gentleman's skilled criticism. The right hon. Gentleman said that this Bill would do no good to any human being, and I think he added the word "animal"—[Interruption.] 1429 The Bill is intended to secure for small tenants compensation for improvement which, in some cases, is now withheld by law. After Clause 1 is passed the small tenants will get that compensation. The Bill is designed to facilitate changes of tenancies, to encourage house building by smallholders, and there are provisions to ensure the smooth working of these Acts. This afternoon the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty boasted about what Liberalism had done for the smallholders and, when the Government bring in a measure to ensure that poor men shall have the full benefit of this kind of legislation, which includes clauses similar to those proposed in the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty says:This Bill is no use either to man or beast.With regard to the improvements created by smallholders, I understand that the cost of putting a building on a smallholding may be one figure at the time of its erection, but that the value of that building may be much smaller. Value and cost are two different things. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty omitted to inform the House that the Scottish Department, when granting loans, granted them at 1¼ per cent. interest.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
When I spoke on this question I was merely referring to page 12 of the Scottish land report, where it was stated that the Land Court make observations on this point, and practically they tell the Department of Agriculture that its action in appropriating these funds is dishonest.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
They did not say that at all. The right hon. Gentleman said that they practically said it, but as a matter of fact they did not say it. I strenuously deny that the Department has confiscated any compensation due to the tenant. Where holdings are let at equipped rents, that is done in consequence of the decision of the Court of Session, and the landholder is charred a fair equipped rent which is fixed by the Land Court; so that a great deal of the indignation voiced by the right hon. Gentleman this afternoon has no justification whatever.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
We will deal with these details in Committee, but I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that on every major point that he has raised this afternoon he has been wrong. The right hon. Gentleman the late Secretary of State for Scotland raised several questions, some of which, as he will agree, would be better discussed in Committee, but one point which he put directly was whether or not there should be an appeal available to the landlord in case of a dispute about compensation under one of the Schedules. -If the right hon. Gentleman will turn to Sub-section (2) of Clause 22 of the Bill, he will find that we do give there an appeal to the Department. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman and his friends would prefer that the Department should not be the arbiter, but, at any rate, we have made provision in the Bill for some court of arbitration or some court of appeal against what might otherwise be a very arbitrary decision.
Underlying most of the discussion this afternoon there is the big, broad question whether or not a tenant should be a State tenant—whether he should be a tenant on State soil, as we think, or whether he should be a tenant on privately owned land. I have repeatedly heard the statement that it is cheaper to create holdings on privately-owned land, and that the State is not justified in spending money in acquiring the ownership of the soil and then putting these smallholders upon it. I see that the hon. Member for Kincardine assents to that, and that is a point of view which I should like to meet.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I say that it is the underlying difference which has been discussed this afternoon. In the Select Committee on Public Accounts, in May, 1928, the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) raised this very question, and asked that it should be threshed out. It has been threshed out. Papers have been laid before the Public Accounts Committee, and, so far as I know, the figures are not disputed. What do they show? They show that, when we take account of the cost of com- 1431 pulsory acquisition, when we take account of all the legal costs involved, we find that there is an even balance as to the cost of putting down a smallholding, and that at the end of the day, under our system, we are the owners of the soil. Let me give the hon. Member for Kincardine some figures. On page 532 of the report of the Select Committee on Public Accounts he will find contrasted the cost of land settlement under State ownership and of land settlement under private ownership. He will find, for example, that in Argyllshire, under public ownership, it cost £507, and under private ownership £467; in Inverness, under public ownership, £225, and under private ownership £210. The difference is very small indeed, and at the end of the day the State is the owner of the soil. The suggestion has been made, and it seems to me to have been made of all Governments, Coalition, Unionist and ourselves—
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
There has been no Liberal Government for many years, and, if they go on as they are going on, they have no prospects. Be that as it may, the general purpose for which this Bill is introduced is perfectly clear. There has been very little detailed criticism of any Clause except Clause 8, though there has been criticism of what is not in the Bill; there has been criticism of what will not be in the Bill until next Thursday. On Clause 8 of the Bill, however, the late Secretary of State for Scotland has expressed apprehension about the provision as to resumption. We think we can argue that out in detail. We take a very strong view on this point. There have been gross cases of hardship—serious hardship—arising out of the present state of the law, under which a man may purchase land ostensibly for his own personal occupancy, and the holder may find himself dispossessed after having put all his life's savings and energy into the holding. This Clause is designed to stop that.
Clause 1, as I have said, gives the holder a title; it gives him security in so far as he may henceforth sell or dispose of his compensation rights to a newcomer, and the newcomer may purchase those compensation rights and acquire 1432 them. Clause 1 is designed to remedy a defect in the existing law. A Court of Session decision discovered that the Department had no power to transfer from one holder to another. Clause I is designed to meet that difficulty, and, as I understand it, there is general agreement in all parts of the House that it is necessary that we should meet it. Clause 2, which was referred to by the hon. Member for Central Aberdeen (Mr. R. W. Smith), entitles the Department to compel an owner to give the Department information regarding tenancies on his land. We have had remarkable cases where, owing to difficulties in getting particulars, the State has been landed in very considerable sums of money. Letting has taken place, and the Department, not knowing that leases were falling in, were unable at the right time to make their request for purchase, and, having to purchase after a new lease had been granted, were consequently obliged to pay compensation. The question has been asked, why should the landowner be made to pay the cost of getting that information? We do not make him pay the cost, but we say that he must allow copies to be made of any leases on his land. That means that the Department is at the expense of getting the copies made; it does not mean that the landowner is put to a penny of expenditure.
Mr. R. W. SMITH
It says that the landlord is required to give such information as may be specified, and, surely, he will be put to expense there?
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
If the landlord would prefer that the Department's lawyers should not see the leases, he may himself supply the information, and I should be delighted if he would. But if he prefers not to supply it, all we can compel him to do is to exhibit his leases to the Department's lawyers and enable the Department's lawyers to take cognisance of them. Surely there is no injustice in that? Clause 3 is designed to meet the difficulty that arises when a man abandons his holding. There is a flaw in the 1911 Act. It provides for all other cases of desertion of holdings, and failure to cultivate, but we have no power to deal with the case where a man abandons his holding. There may not be many of these cases, but where there are such cases the Department asks for power to deal with them. Clause 4 deals 1433 with cases where holders have failed to occupy. It is a most distressing state of affairs. There are instances, particularly in the West Highlands and in the Lewis, where holdings have been allocated at some considerable expense, and where indeed other people are kept out of the holdings, because certain men have them, and have failed to work them. They may let them out as grazings to a butcher and actually make a profit, and the Department is asking power to deal with such cases as that. I am sure everyone will agree that we ought to have that power.
Clause 5 deals with loans for buildings. We can give loans for replacement now, but we desire power to give loans on old created holdings for new buildings. In Clause 6 we ask power to have a vacant holding treated by the Department as if it were a new holding. In Clause 7, we take power to ensure that the names of the holders need not necessarily be supplied at the time of the promulgation, and the reason for that is simply that if you start a scheme, as we have to do now, and give all the names of the holders, and then find that one man has died before the scheme is completed, you have to begin all over again, a sheer waste of public money and time, and we only ask that we shall not be compelled to supply the names of all the intending occupants in the scheme. I understand that there are no objections to Clauses 9 to 13. Clause 14 deals with what might be difficulties about deer forests. We have had occasional difficulties, though not many, in dealing with smallholdings in the neighbourhood of deer forests. We are compelled under the existing Acts to put up very high fences. We are asking for power to substitute the usual and reasonable practice of agriculture and estate management—whatever may be the custom in the district—so that we need not be asked to put up impossible fences. Clause 18 repeals an obsolete section of the 1886 Act.
Part II of the Bill deals with amendments of the agricultural Holdings Acts generally. We have not been able to agree fully with the proposals of the National Farmers' Union of Scotland but we have met them to a very considerable extent. The schedules now transfer more and more of the operations as a 1434 whole to Part II where only notice is required to be given to the landlord, or to Part III where consent or notice is not required, and while we have been unable to meet the demands in every possible respect, Part II, we believe, meets, as far as is reasonably possible to get through the existing Houses of Parliament, the demand of the agricultural community for compensation for improvements that can be made upon the land. We have, of course, not been able to put in buildings. Many of the points I have discussed ought, more properly, to have been discussed in Committee. It is exceedingly difficult to work up any enthusiasm for many of the dry-as-dust points of these old and obsolete Acts. Nevertheless, I trust, as a result of the discussion, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Macpherson) may have had his ideas somewhat clarified, and it may be that he will now appreciate the fact that the Bill is only one for removing difficulties, that it deals only with the recommendations of the Nairne Committee and deals in substance with all the major grievances except two of the hon. Member for Aberdeen and Kincardine.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I said the major grievances—I do not think all the tin-pot grievances the hon. Member has referred to are worthy of putting into an Act at all—major grievances which experience has taught the Government and everyone interested in agriculture must be remedied. This Bill is only one step on. the ladder, one part of the framework of the agricultural policy of the Government. It is absurd to ask why it does not deal with marketing.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
He did not say anything of the sort. If the right hon. Gentleman had not written his speech before he came down to the House, he would have grasped the idea that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained so clearly, namely, that there were three primary Bills. One Bill was to facilitate the work of the Small Landholders and Agricultural Holdings Bill, which is this Bill.
§ Mr. JOHNSTON
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will pay more attention to the next speech. The second Bill, which will deal with the creation of more holdings, is now in the Vote Office and can be read by any hon. or right hon. Gentleman, as I trust that it will be, between now and Thursday. The third Bill will deal with marketing. These three Bills, taken as a whole, embody the agricultural policy of the Government, a policy which, we trust, will remove the hardships, grievances and difficulties which beset the primary producers on the soil of our country. With these observations, I trust that on the Committee stage we shall find the right hon. Gentleman and his friends in a better frame of mind, and more inclined to discuss matters on their merits. I commend this Measure to the House.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.