HC Deb 24 July 1931 vol 255 cc1887-98

Lords Amendment: In page 11, line 6, at the end, insert: Provided that no holding shall be provided under this section unless the council of the county report to the Minister in writing in respect of each holding that a person possessing in the opinion of the Minister the qualifications mentioned in paragraph (c) of this sub-section may reasonably be expected to earn a livelihood on that holding.


I beg to move, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

If this Amendment were inserted, it would in effect set up an absolute right of veto in the hands of every county council in the country against the Minister taking action. This matter was debated at considerable length upstairs—and also, I think, on the Report stage—and it was there pointed out that, while some county councils had done excellent work, others had entirely neglected their work in this respect; and it is impossible to thrust an absolute veto into the hands of the county councils. Further, it would make administration extraordinarily difficult, because it would mean that the work done by the Ministry of Agriculture would have to be done over again by the county councils.

2.0 p.m.


I am very sorry that the hon. Gentleman is rejecting this Amendment of the Lords. It appears to me essential, if the new powers are to be wisely exercised, that the Department should have the advantage of the local authorities' experience. There is no foundation whatever for the suggestion made by the Postmaster-General that local authorities would be likely to turn down the proposals of the Ministry. It is quite true that under the Act that we passed in 1926 certain counties have not found it possible to take action, not from any hostility to smallholdings, but because under that Act 75 per cent. of the expense is paid by the State, but the remaining 25 per cent. has to be found by the local authority, and under present financial conditions they have not felt justified in putting these burdens on the ratepayers. If they can get smallholdings provided entirely without expenditure themselves, from all my experience I feel satisfied that they will welcome the opportunity, and I am very much disturbed to find the feeling of jealousy and suspicion on the part of the Ministry of the powers of the local authorities.

There is no question of the local authorities having to examine the individuals proposed to be settled on the land. It is merely that, with their special local knowledge, with all the facilities that they alone possess, through their county land agents and through the great and efficient organisation which in many cases they have built up, to administer smallholdings, they should put that valuable information, advice, and experience at the disposal of the Ministry. I think it very unfortunate that the right hon. Gentleman has not seen fit to accept this Amendment, and I should imagine that as, in another place, they attached great importance to this matter when it was discussed previously, they will very likely find it necessary to stand by it. It is not because of any doubt about the efficiency of the officials of the Ministry. We know that they have done their work admirably, but in this matter of the provision of smallholdings local experience and knowledge count more than anything else; and it is a great pity that the hon. Gentleman has approached this matter in the spirit, as it were, of jealousy to the local autho- rities, and does not recognise in this Amendment an effort to secure the utmost co-operation.


I must say that I think the attitude which the Minister has taken up in this matter throughout the whole of these debates has been quite unforgivable, if I may say so. After all, these local authorities do know their districts and their demands. The Minister gave a long account of some local authority in Hampshire, and made a venomous attack on my right hon. Friend, showing tremendous ignorance of the locality. Because the Minister has taken this absurd line throughout, why should not the House retain this most reasonable Amendment? It lays down that these holdings shall not be set up unless the local authority approves. The only argument the Minister has produced on this subject—and if he is muttering about the word "argument," I will say the only attempt at an argument—is that you may get recalcitrant local authorities I believe that the Minister simply picked out one authority where not much had been done, according to his light. The figure of applicants has nothing to do with it. You have to balance the applicants by the suitability of the locality, and you have to consider how many smallholdings of this type are already there. It is no good setting up in one locality hundreds of thousands of smallholdings and absolutely swamping the market with the stuff they produce. And who can tell better than the local authority itself the number required?

Unless you have under this Bill the closest consultation between the local authority and the Government, you are not going to do something which is of real permanent value to the country. I hold that in all these matters the fact that the locality has to find its percentage is a great check on administrative extravagance. If you are giving local authorities money to spend in this way, you want to give them the responsibility of having to find some of the money; otherwise they will say, "Let us see how much we can get," and they will have no regard to the taxpayers as a whole, which is the most important thing of all. There is a further point, which I do not think has been touched upon, in respect to the words may reasonably be expected to earn a livelihood on that holding. That is the real thing to which the Minister objects in this case. He does not mind setting up these people, and saying "I have done all this for the unemployed," and make a long story about it. We want to see that before these men are put on the land, they shall have a reasonable chance, under modern conditions, of earning a livelihood. It is the most cruelly deceptive thing you can do to take men from towns and other districts and set them on smallholdings where they have no possible chance of earning a livelihood. I think that this is the most valuable part of the Amendment. The whole of the Amendment is one which any sensible Minister could accept. I see the Secretary of State for Scotland sitting there beaming, as he always does when I am speaking. Surely he will say that I am bringing forward a lot of Scottish common sense, and that he will accept it. He is not one who irritates the House. He has the gift of making things easy. Therefore, why does he not, in the absence of the Minister of Agriculture, accept this Amendment, which would improve the Bill, and add enormously to his own personal credit. It will not hurt the Minister; he would be quite pleased in the end that this sensible addition had been made to the Bill.

Colonel ASHLEY

This question of the provision of smallholdings is one which we ought to approach from a nonparty point of view, and we ought to try to visualise the Amendments entirely from the standpoint of whether they will facilitate the work or not. The Minister of Agriculture and his colleagues are always saying to us—they said it in Committee and on Report—"Trust the Minister"; you must imagine that the Minister is a sensible person; you must not assume that he will do foolish things; you must assume that he is actuated by the best of motives. If we are to agree to that appeal, and we largely do, surely the Minister should regard the county councils as reasonable people who would give an unbiased opinion under this particular Amendment, and would not do anything to spoil the Minister's scheme. Whether it is argued that this Amendment should be inserted from a national point of view or not, at any rate, if this Amendment were put in, the county councils would do all they could to facilitate the work of the Minister, because they would have in mind that when they provided smallholdings 25 per cent. of the total cost had to come out of the pockets of the ratepayers.

Many counties with very heavy burdens constantly put upon them are not disinclined to find smallholdings, but are unable to do so because of the cost. Under this, they would say to themselves "We do not know whether this is good from a national point of view, but, at any rate, from the local government point of view, if we pass as many as we can of these plots of land which are being acquired for smallholdings, we shall provide for the local unemployed a means of livelihood and a means of tiding over bad times at no cost to our local ratepayers, but entirely at the cost of the taxpayers." This Amendment must help the Minister in his scheme, and therefore, before we go to a Division on this Question—and I hope that my hon. Friends will go to a Division—I feel very strongly that we ought to have something more from the Chancellor of the Duchy than we have had up to the present. He courteously said that the Amendment could not be accepted, but he gave no reasons, and I think, with the leave of the House, he might give us some reasons why the Amendment should not be accepted. In my opinion, the Amendment would be helpful to the scheme and the Bill, and not be harmful.

As we have now the advantage of the presence of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture, may I put this one point to him, that really from his point of view this Amendment would do good, because now there is every inducement to the local authority to pass as much land as possible. They will say, "If we pass as much land as possible, we have a Minister simply bursting with money who will provide smallholdings for our unemployed all at the cost of the Exchequer and of the Ministry of Agriculture, and not as to 25 per cent. from the rates." Therefore, perhaps the Minister can deal with the point, which seems to me all in favour of the Bill. I cannot help thinking that the reason why the Minister will not have this Amendment, even though it is obviously to his advantage, is that he cannot disabuse his mind of mistrust of the local authorities. He cannot visualise the local authorities playing the game. I think that they will, apart from their self-interest, for after all, a county council is composed of ordinary human beings, and they are not antagonistic to the Ministry of Agriculture qua the Ministry of Agriculture; they are full of distrust of Whitehall and things being directed from Whitehall. If they are handled in the right way, they are amenable to suggestions, and if the local authorities and the Minister can combine in this matter so that these smallholdings can be provided for the unemployed, it is better than expressing distrust of local authorities which this Motion does, because they will simply say that as they are not trusted by the Minister, they will not provide any more smallholdings under the old Acts, but will leave it to the Ministry, which will be a thousand pities.


The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has misinterpreted our objection to the Amendment. The reason is not any distrust of the local authorities at all, and there is no suggestion that we are hostile to them. The point is that if Parliament decides to do this, it is not reasonable to put in the Bill something which will give people outside the power to veto what this House does. The Bill provides abundantly for co-operation with the local authorities, and I have not the slightest doubt that we shall co-operate. We are on happy terms with them, and they understand the situation. I will give one or two instances to support our disagreement with the Amendment. There is a county which has provided seven holdings in the last five years, and has 57 approved applicants waiting. Another county which has provided one smallholding in the last five years has 215 waiting approved applicants. A third county has not provided a single holding in the last five years, and they have 63 applicants waiting who have been approved by the council. It is too much to ask me to say that the whole of this should be subject to the approval of a council which clearly objects to the whole thing and does not want smallholdings. This is vital to the Bill, and I would not accept the Amendment under any circumstances whatever.


The answer to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is to be found in the experience of the county councils themselves. I am sure that the Minister will be prepared to trust some county councils with their records, but anyone who has followed this movement for many years is aware of the fact that the experience of those who seek smallholdings and land settlement in various counties differs profoundly. When I was taking an interest in this subject first, they used to talk about a land hunger, and there was a hunger. It was not a question of hundreds of applicants in an area, but of thousands in some counties. That land hunger has dwindled until it has become just a trickle. If we are to make an experiment to get men on the land, it must be made with the full assurance that there will not be these differences between one area and another according to the outlook of the county councils. My hon. Friend the Member for Torquay (Mr. C. Williams) said that there was nothing more cruel than to place a man on a holding if you are not sure that he can pay his way. There is something more cruel than that, which is to drive a man out of his native village, when he desires to live on the land, because he cannot rise from the status of a land worker. I am sure that the Minister is right in resisting the Amendment.


There is a great deal in what the Minister said in regard to those counties which have not done their duty, but in many cases they have not been able to do their duty because of financial restrictions. What I am afraid of is that we are losing contact with the county councils. The Minister said there were other plans in the Bill where there was to be close contact with the county councils. The only two cases Which I can find are Clause 10, in which the Minister takes power where the county councils have done nothing, and Clause 13, where he gives the county councils power to create further smallholdings. I would like the right hon. Gentleman to point out where there is in the Bill any satisfactory opportunity of the close cooperation which is so necessary if the objects of the Bill are to be achieved.


If the hon. Member looks at Clause 12, he will see— Any smallholdings or allotments provided by the Minister and any land acquired by him … may by arrangement between him and the local authority be either controlled and managed by the authority as agents for the Minister etc. It gives complete power in all cases to make arrangements with the county councils to act as our agents.


That is after the creation of the smallholdings.


How can you ask a county council to manage smallholdings before you create them?


I was referring to the necessity of close contact in the creation of the holdings. This deals with the holdings after they have been created. I am afraid that the Minister will call in the county councils after he has made blunders, and not before, when there will be no opportunity of taking advantage of their advice and local knowledge which is so essential in the creation of smallholdings.

Lieut.-Colonel ACLAND-TROYTE

The county council is in a better position than the Minister or any official in Whitehall to know what is required in the way of smallholdings and what land is suitable for that purpose. The Minister says that he does not distrust the county councils, but points out that some of them have not done their duty. It may be true that some have not done this work, but that has been due to the great expense in many cases. The Minister says that the Ministry is on happy terms with the county councils, but if he refuses to accept the Amendment, the terms will not remain so good because the county councils will see that he does not trust them. If he trusts them, he will leave this to them. He is one of the most bureaucratic Ministers we have; he wishes to make the Ministry the most bureaucratic Ministry, and to rule the whole thing as much as he can from Whitehall. I strongly object to this bureaucratic control of county councils. If the Minister will reconsider the matter and accept the Amendment, I am sure that it will improve the Bill, and he will have the good will of the county councils.

Question put, "That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

The House divided: Ayes, 192; Noes, 119.

Division No. 456.] AYES. [2.24 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Han. W. (Fife, West) Hall, Capt. W. G. (Portsmouth, C.) Palin, John Henry
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Hardie, David (Rutherglen) Paling, Wilfrid
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Hardie, G. D. (Springburn) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Cralgie M. Harris, Percy A. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Alpass, J. H. Hastings, Dr. Somerville Potts, John S.
Ammon, Charles George Hayday, Arthur Quibell, D. J. K.
Angell, Sir Norman Hayes, John Henry Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Arnott, John Henderson, Right Hon. A. (Burnley) Richards, R.
Aske, Sir Robert Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Attlee, Clement Richard Herriotts, J. Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Hicks, Ernest George Ritson, J.
Barnes, Alfred John Hoffman, P. C. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)
Bann, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Hopkin, Daniel Romeril, H. G.
Bennett, Sir E. N. (Cardiff, Central) Horrabin, J. F. Rosbotham, D. S. T.
Bennett, William (Battersea, South) Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Rowson, Guy
Benson, G. Isaacs, George Salter, Dr. Alfred
Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret John, William (Rhondda, West) Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Broad, Francis Alfred Jones, Rt. Hon. Lelf (Camborne) Sanders, W. S.
Brooke, W. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sawyer, G. F.
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts., Mansfield) Kelly, W. T. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Brown, Ernest (Leith) Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Buchanan, G. Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Sherwood, G. H.
Burgess, F. G. Lang, Gordon Shield, George William
Burgin, Dr. E. L. Lansbury, Rt. Hon George Shiels, Dr. Drummond
Buxton, C. R. (Yorks, W. R. Elland) Law, Albert (Bolton) Shillaker, J. F.
Calne, Hall-, Derwent Law, A. (Rossendale) Shinwell, E.
Cameron, A. G. Lawrence, Susan Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Lawson, John James Simmons, C. J.
Chater, Daniel Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Sitch, Charles H.
Church, Major A. G. Leach, W. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Clarke, J. S. Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Cluse, W. S. Lees, J. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Leonard, W. Smith, W. H. (Norwich)
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Lloyd, C. Ellis Sorensen, R.
Daggar, George Longbottom, A. W. Stamford, Thomas W.
Dalton, Hugh Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Strauss, G. R.
Davies, E. C. (Montgomery) Lunn, William Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)
Davies, D. L. (Pontypridd) Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Thurtle, Ernest
Denman, Hon. R. D. MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) TilIett, Ben
Devlin, Joseph McElwee, A. Tinker, John Joseph
Dudgeon, Major C. R. MacLaren, Andrew Toole, Joseph
Duncan, Charles McShane, John James Townend, A. E.
Ede, James Chuter Mansfield, W. Vaughan, David
Edmunds, J. E. Marcus, M. Viant, S. P.
Egan, W. H. Marley, J. Walker, J.
Evans, Major Herbert (Gateshead) Mathers, George Wallace, H. W
Freeman, Peter Matters, L. W. Watkins, F. C.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Maxton, James Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.) Messer, Fred Wellock, Wilfred
George, Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd (Car'vn) Millar, J. D. Welsh, James (Paisley)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Mills, J. E. West, F. R.
Gibbins, Joseph Milner, Major J. Westwood, Joseph
Gillett, George M. Montague, Frederick Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Glassey, A. E. Morley, Ralph Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Gossling, A. G. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Gould, F. Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Mort, D. L. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Granville, E. Muggeridge, H. T. Wilson, C H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Gray, Milner Murnin, Hugh Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Naylor, T. E. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter) Winterton, G. E (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Groves, Thomas E. Noel-Buxton, Baroness (Norfolk, N.) Wood, Major McKenzie (Banff)
Grundy, Thomas W. Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Owen, Major G. (Carnarvon) TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hall, J. H (Whitechapel) Owen, H. F. (Harefard) Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Charleton.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Betterton, Sir Henry B. Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W.
Albery, Irving James Birchall, Major Sir John Dearman Briscoe, Richard George
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Bird, Ernest Roy Broadbent, Colonel J.
Balniel, Lord Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Buchan, John
Bellairs, Commander Cariyon Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Buchan-Hepburn, P. G. T.
Butlar, R. A. Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Remer, John R.
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Grittan, W. G. Howard Rentoul, Sir Gervais S.
Campbell, E. T. Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Reynolds, Col. Sir James
Carver, Major W. H. Gunston, Captain D. W. Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch't'sy)
Cattle Stewart, Earl of Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City) Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Ruggles-Brise, Colonel E.
Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton Haslam, Henry C. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth)
Christie, J. A. Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley) Salmon, Major I.
Cobb, Sir Cyril Heneage, Lieut. Colonel Arthur P. Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Cohen, Major J. Brunei Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Colman, N. C. D. Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hackney, N.) Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome
Cranborne, Viscount Hurd, Percy A. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Crichton-Stuart, Lord C. Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Smithers, Waldron
Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)
Crookshank, Capt. H. C. Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton) Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Dalrymple-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) Leighton, Major B. E. P. Stewart, W. J. (Belfast, South)
Davies, Dr. Vernon Lewis, Oswald (Colchester) Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.
Dawson, Sir Philip Llewellin, Major J. J. Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F. Lockwood, Captain J. H. Thompson, Luke
Dugdale, Capt. T. L. Long, Major Hon. Eric Thomson, Mitchell-, Rt. Hon. Sir W.
Eden, Captain Anthony Macquisten, F. A. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-S. M.) Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham) Todd, Capt. A. J.
Everard, W. Lindsay Makins, Brigadier-Genaral E. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Ferguson, Sir John Marjoribanks, Edward Warrender, Sir Victor
Fieldan E. B. Milne, Wardlaw-, J. S. Wells, Sydney R.
Ford, Sir P. J. Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Forestler-Walker, Sir L. Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester) Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Galbraith, J. F. W. Nall-Cain, A. R. N. Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
Ganzoni, Sir John Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Gault, Lieut.-Col. A. Hamilton Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings) Womersley, W. J.
Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John Perkins, W. R. D. Wright, Brig.-Gen. W. D. (Tavist'k)
Gower, Sir Robert Power, Sir John Cecil
Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.) Pownall, Sir Assheton TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Ramsbotham, H. Sir Frederick Thomson and Sir George Penny.
Greene, W. P. Crawford Reid, David D. (County Down)

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment," put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: In page 11, leave out lines 7 to 12.


I must point out that this Amendment raises a question of Privilege.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

In this case I am advising the House to waive the question of Privilege. The words which it is proposed to leave out by this Amendment come in later in the Bill.


A special entry will be made.

Lords Amendment: In page 12, line 20, at the end, insert: (4) Upon making or guaranteeing or undertaking to make or guarantee under the powers conferred by this section a grant by way of a loan to any person, or upon supplying to any person any stock, feeding stuffs, fruit trees, seeds, fertilisers, or implements whereof the purchase price is deemed under this section to be a loan so made to him, the Minister shall notify to the Land Registrar particulars showing the name and address of that person and the fact that he is indebted to the Minister in respect of such a loan, and the Land Registrar shall cause a copy of the said particulars to be entered on the register of agricultural charges kept under section nine of the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928, and to remain so entered until he receives from the Minister notice that the loan has been repaid, and any charge on any of the farming stock or other agricultural assets belonging to that person created (whether under that Act or otherwise) while such particulars as aforesaid remain entered in the said register shall be void unless created with the written consent of the Minister. For the purposes of this section, 'farming stock' and 'other agricultural assets' have the same meaning as in the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928, and the provisions of section ten of that Act shall apply with respect to entries made under this subsection as they apply to entries relating to agricultural land charges."


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This is a provision which I had agreed to insert before the Bill left this House. It provides that a record should be kept of loan advances to smallholders. It is only a business proceeding.

Subsequent Lords Amendment to page 12, line 31, agreed to.