§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 69.
§ [Sir DENNIS HERBERT in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed.
That it is expedient for the furtherance of land settlement in Scotland to authorise the payment out of moneys provided by
Parliament of a sum not exceeding two hundred and seventy-five thousand pounds as a grant-in-aid of the Agriculture (Scotland) Fund during the year commencing on the first day of April, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, and a like sum during each of the two succeeding years, in lieu of the sums specified as Deing available for the annual replenishment of the said fund in Section five of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911, and in the Sixth Schedule to the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929."—(King's Recommendation signified)—[Sir G. Collins.]
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
This Resolution is explained in Command Paper No. 4476, which was presented to Parliament last December. The Committee will expect me to review briefly the reasons for the proposed acceleration of land settlement in Scotland. Under successive Governments during the last 20 years Parliament has always recognised that, as regards land settlement, Scotland stands on a different footing from other parts of the United Kingdom. In Scotland there has always been what I might describe as a land hunger. As far back as 1912 over 5,000 applications were received for land when the first attempt was made to deal with smallholdings. Much has been done since then, but the demand for holdings is still very widespread. When I assumed office I was frankly doubtful of the wisdom of expensive schemes of land settlement, in view of their cost to the State, but before coming to a final decision I resolved to make a thorough investigation of the whole problem. A year ago I made a comprehensive inspection of Scottish land settlement schemes, in the course of which my advisers and myself interviewed a very large number of smallholders. The Committee might be interested to know some particulars of those interviews. Although I am choosing particular cases they are representative cases. The first man I interviewed, as I sat in his small house, had a four-acre holding.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
It was near a large town on a line drawn south of Glasgow and Edinburgh. This man kindly showed me the figures of his income and expenditure for each month in the years 1931 and 1932. I found, after having added up his figures and deducted his expenditure for rent, rates, feeding-stuffs 1127 and all costs incidental to running a four-acre holding, that the average income during those years was £2 10s. a week, apart from the produce taken from the holding for consumption by himself and his family. That first interview encouraged me to continue my inquiries. Another man happened to have been at one time a tradesman in a large city. When asked how he came to get his holding he stated that he spent his holidays with a smallholder two years before, and was taken with the idea of possessing a holding himself and he applied for one. In the meantime he went to live with a smallholder in order to learn the business. With pride he showed me that his outbuildings had been fitted with electric light, made from his own plant. He was rearing chickens and had upwards of 800 birds. He said he hoped to have 1,000 next year. I chaffingly said to him: "I suppose you will have 1,200 the following year?" He replied: "Oh, no, 1,000 is all I can conveniently manage." He was selling his produce to a shop at retail prices, less a certain discount. The next case was that of a collier. He had erected a glass-house which cost him £275, and was growing tomatoes and other fruits. In the course of conversation he appeared not to be dissatisfied with the price he was receiving. He sent his produce by motor to a neighbouring town and appeared to be satisfied with his success.
After having visited numerous settlements and having had numerous talks with smallholders, I analysed the situation from information supplied to me by my advisers, and I came to the conclusion that these men were prosperous in their degree at a time of very low prices. Here I would say this: If any hon. Members desire to visit any settlement and see the results for themselves, I shall be happy to do anything I can to facilitate their visits. I am convinced that anyone investigating these schemes will be impressed not only with the pride that these men take in their holdings, but with the undoubted fact, speaking broadly, that they are working with success. Hon. Members may be sceptical of this policy to start with, but they will be convinced by personal investigation of the value of these schemes to the State. The cases I have mentioned are in no way excep- 1128 tional. Investigations amongst smallholders generally showed clearly that the majority of these men were prosperous and contented, especially—this is a point I emphasise—where their holdings were of small size and situated in the vicinity of populous places which offered good markets for poultry, eggs, fruit, market garden and glasshouse produce—in short, commodities which are most valuable in a fresh state and are produced at their best under the personal attention of men and women who are directly interested in placing their goods on the market in the best possible way.
Not only is that their experience, but, as hon. Members know and can visualise, the vast network of motor omnibuses, swiftly moving to-day along modern roads, brings the countryside within easy and cheap access of the town, and gives to the housewife living within, say, 10 or 15 miles access to a town where she can sell her produce at reasonable prices, and, if she desires to do so, can visit the shops and cinemas and see her friends. The situation to-day is very different from what it was many years ago, in view of this vast development of motor transport, especially in Scotland. Notwithstanding this background, however, it appeared to me that an enlarged policy of land settlement could not be justified as a business proposition unless our costs were materially reduced. Many months were spent scrutinising costs, examining plans, securing the expert advice of builders, and analysing the cost of roads and other works; and, by dint of this careful scrutiny, aided by the fall in the rate of interest, which permits of lower quotations by contractors, and by securing expedition and economy through equipping holdings in advance of the selection of applicants, the cost of holdings of this type has been materially reduced. A number of settlements, comprising over 100 holdings, have already been created on the new basis.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The average is under nine acres. They vary according to the lie of the land—the contour of the land. In the light of these facts—the prosperity of these small landholders near industrial areas and the reduction in costs—the Government have felt justified in asking Parliament to accelerate the policy of land settlement. In the Estimates for 1129 the past year the sum of £100,000 was provided. This Resolution makes provision for £750,000, spread equally over the next three years; and I am sure it is unnecessary for me to say, to any hon. Member who knows this problem, that to carry out a policy of land settlement economically a continuous programme, spread over a number of years, is essential. No business proposition—and land settlement is purely a business proposition—can be carried through successfully unless plans are made well in advance.
The aim under this Resolution is to complete 1,000 holdings within three years without undue loss to the State. If this experiment succeeds, and if our expectations are realised, the next Parliament should be in a position to press forward confidently with a more comprehensive scheme. What the next Parliament may do must rest entirely with them, but it seems to me that Great Britain, faced to-day with the extreme economic nationalism that exists in the world, and with the resulting difficulties which hinder the flow of international trade, may well require the combined efforts, not only of the farming community but of smallholders as well, to play an ever-increasing part in the internal economy of this country. In that case the towns will inevitably look to the countryside for an increasing supply of foodstuffs, which would enable the towns to exchange their products for food produced in Great Britain. These, very briefly, are the reasons which have prompted the Government at this time to come to the House of Commons and ask for this extended provision. We admit that in the past the cost to the State has been heavy, but, if our costs, as they have done during the last 12 months, and as we hope they will continue to do in the future, remain fairly constant at the present figures, and if we are enabled to secure the necessary land that we require, we believe that we can find in Scotland large numbers of people who are willing to throw their hearts and lives into this work. Because we feel that there is that land-hunger to be satisfied to some degree in Scotland, I beg to move this Resolution.
§ 8.21 p.m.
§ Mr. LEONARD
I should like to say, first of all, what I think will be the opinion of every Member of the Com- 1130 mittee, namely, that the action which the Government have taken is indeed a laudable one; but I also remember that the right hon. Gentleman dealt with the same subject on a previous occasion, I think a little over a year ago, and at that time I endeavoured to put before him the possibility of certain restraints being applied in the selection of persons for the occupancy of these holdings. The fear in my mind at that time was that the selection might be confined to unemployed people, or others who were not unemployed, but who in the main were from country districts. I hope that, when the scheme receives this further support, the Government will not lose sight of the possibility of quite suitable material in the form of men existing in our cities and towns, and that that point will receive especial consideration. That is the only point on which I have risen to speak.
If my recollection is right, the right hon. Gentleman, when he was putting the details before us on the previous occasion, dealt with the renunciation of holdings that had taken place. I have not the actual records by me, but I remember specifically that he referred to the fact that 133 holdings had been surrendered. It does not matter much from my point of view whether it was in one, two or three years; it is the fact that they were surrendered that I want to touch upon. I want to put before the right hon. Gentleman the possibility of ensuring greater success by the introduction of an experiment which has not yet been undertaken. It is that the holdings should be put out on a co-operative basis, with the strict understanding that the persons concerned within a given area should co-operate for certain well defined needs of their farms, and that the Government help which would be given them in the form of equipment might be conditional upon the acceptance by them of this co-operative basis. I have in mind a farm in Perthshire, of, I think, 690 acres. Previous to its acquisition by the Government, there were working on it 12 fully employed men and five who were partly employed; but after the Government took charge of it for holdings, it was able to sustain, and as far as I know it may be sustaining to-day, 50 men all the time, with additions at certain busy periods of the year. 1131 I do not know if there is any other area of a like description which might be at the disposal of the Government for the further extension of this work.
§ 8.25 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will realise that any criticisms that I have to make of the scheme are due not to any desire to see it fail, but rather to my very great anxiety that it should prove a success. No one would seek for a moment to deny that it is a most laudable scheme, but, at the same time, there are certain aspects of it which cause me a very considerable amount of anxiety, which I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to dispel. First, I should like to ask who are to be the occupants of the new holdings. If they are to be, as the last speaker suggested, persons drawn from the cities, that is all right provided they are originally of country origin, but if it is to be suggested that the present time, when skilled agriculturists are finding it very difficult indeed to make both ends meet, is a suitable time to take raw material from the town totally unskilled in agriculture and expect them to make a living on the land, I can only enter a most emphatic dissent. Then there is the question of the tenure of the new holdings and of the rents to be paid. I have not gathered what is to be the position in regard to the acquisition of the land. Is it to be bought by the Government?
§ Lord SCONE
I am glad to have that assurance. Now we have the question of rent. Paragraph 8 of the memorandum accompanying the actual Resolution states:It is estimated that initial expenditure on the holdings will vary from £650 to £800 per holding according to its type, size and situation, and that the rents obtainable will approximate to a return of 3 per cent. on the initial capital expended.Three per cent. on £650 to £800 works out at from £18 10s. to £24, and I submit that rents which will run to something like £5 per acre are very severe indeed to expect the new landholders to pay. Certainly those of us who own agricultural land are not getting anything like that amount of rent, and I cannot see that any land is likely to be charged such a very high price unless it is market garden land in the near vicinity of a large 1132 town already in a high state of cultivation and probably provided with glasshouses. The land to be made available for these new holders, I imagine, is very likely rough pasture land of a value of somewhere between 1s. and 10s. per acre. I hope very much that I have got hold of the wrong end of the stick in regard to these figures, because otherwise it seems to me that to expect a man farming from five to nine acres to pay a rent of anything up to £25 is a condition of affairs which does not exist in ordinary agriculture to-day and one which will throw an enormous strain upon the new landholders. As regards the initial expenditure of from £650 to £800, I do not think the right hon. Gentleman said anything about the houses to be occupied by these landholders. Are we to understand that the £650 includes the cost of putting up a house?
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Yes, from £650 to £800 is the total cost of the house, steading, roads and water supply necessary to create the holding. It is to vary according to the amount of land and the original price paid. The figures mentioned in the White Paper are the total cost based on the experience of the last 12 months.
§ Lord SCONE
I am rather afraid that it is a very small amount to provide an adequate holding with house, steading and whatever else it is necessary to put up. It is useless to produce any kind of agricultural produce unless you can sell it at a profit. It is true that the Memorandum says that the intention is to set up these holdings in the vicinity of urban markets. If they are to be in the vicinity of urban markets of any size, that is going to cut out a very great deal of Scotland, including these areas in the North, where we should be particularly glad to see an extension of this kind of holding, because many of the small Northern townships are already pretty adequately provided, and to set up fresh holdings in their vicinity would not mean that a ready market would be found, but rather that the new holdings would come into fierce competition with those already in existence, and that, I imagine, is one of the things which the Government must be very anxious indeed to avoid.
There is also this point to be considered. Have the Government thought what is a desirable minimum for a family 1133 to make on its holding if it is to have a reasonable standard of living. I do not think anyone would consider less than £2 per week at ail adequate. Of course, we should all like to see it a great deal higher than that, but to expect a holding of from five to nine acres to produce another £100 a year, in addition to the rent that I have mentioned, seems to me also to be slightly on the optimistic side. My main anxiety is that the setting up of these holdings should not mean the creation of a class of crofter who would have to put up with the standard of living that was prevalent in the Highlands 100 or 150 years ago. I have a certain number of smallholdings in my constituency. Some of them are reasonably prosperous, but others have the greatest difficulty in making both ends meet. It is not the slightest use putting people on the land unless you are reasonably certain that they are going to have a standard of living at least equal to that of the agricultural labourer to-day, and his standard is at the moment lamentably low. I hope tine Under-Secretary will give me an assurance on the points that I have mentioned, because we are all very anxious to see many people at work on the land.
The last few years have seen a considerable drain of agricultural workers, and an enormous amount of land go out of cultivation. No country can hope to be prosperous if they have a peasantry which is gradually declining, although the town populations are all the better for the recruitment of blood from the country, which up to the present they have been getting year by year. Some of us feel that to attempt to establish a large number of new holdings at the moment, although those who are already cultivating the land are doing it so successfully, is an experiment of a slightly hazardous nature, and, while we wish it well, we cannot help but watch it with a considerable amount of anxiety, in view of the various considerations which I have endeavoured to put forward to-night.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Sir I. MACPHERSON
This is a great day for Scotland. In the earlier part of the afternoon we had before us a Measure which, I hope, is going to benefit the sea-going population, and to-night we have the prelude to a Measure which, I hope, will be of enormous benefit to our 1134 rural population. I was extremely interested to hear what my right hon. Friend had to say when he introduced this Money Resolution. He deserves the thanks of his colleagues in this House for the manner in which he has tackled the problem. It is clear that he has put his whole heart and soul into the matter and that he is attempting, in the Measure which has been foreshadowed, to give the people of Scotland a great advantage. I can well realise that when he started upon his investigations on this problem he was frightened for more reasons than one. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Rollox (Mr. Leonard) drew attention to the fact that no fewer than 133 holdings were renounced. They were renounced for one reason only, and that was the extraordinary cost and difficulty financially to maintain them. The reason in many cases was that they were entered upon at a time when costs were exceedingly high. Immediately after the War, agricultural costs were higher than at any other period in the history of this country, and young ex-service men and others entered those holdings only to meet with difficulties which were almost unsurmountable. Although the Land Court has in many cases revised the rentals, the fact remains that in a great many instances even to this day a great struggle is taking place among those smallholders in order to maintain the holdings which they occupy.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland had a great many interviews which showed that he really had an ardent desire to get at the bottom of the whole situation. I asked him in the course of his statement where those interviews took place. I am naturally very much interested in the northern part of Scotland, like a good many of my colleagues, and I understand the interviews were with men who were more situated south of the Forth and near large market towns and who had been in occupation of holdings for some time. They could give my right hon. Friend information as to how they were able to make ends meet or otherwise, and the information which he received satisfied him that it was worth while attempting this great new movement to bring the population back to the land once again. I think that he is right in making this attempt. He lays down the condition 1135 that the holdings should be small in size, from five to nine acres, and that they should be as near as possible to market towns. From that I gather that it is not a question of a holding for sheep or cattle or anything of that kind, but rather one in the nature of a glorified market gardening scheme. One knows from one's personal experience that schemes of that kind have been successful in England, and I cannot see, given good conditions, why the same schemes should not be successful in Scotland. The question of cost has made me a bit anxious, and as we are dealing with the whole of this problem on the spur of the moment, and as I had not heard the details before, I have to feel my feet. I gather from my right hon. Friend that the Government, who will be the landlords, do not expect to make any money out of this proposal.
§ Sir I. MACPHERSON
I understood from my right hon. Friend that the Government did not expect to make both ends meet out of this undertaking. They are prepared, as I understand it, to submit a Supplementary Estimate to meet it.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
It is a very important point. I am going by the White Paper. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is correct when he says that the Secretary of State for Scotland rather indicated that they would not make ends meet, yet there is paragraph 8 of the White Paper which says thatthe rents obtainable will approximate to a return of 3 per cent. on the initial capital expended.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Perhaps I may help to explain the point to the right hon. Gentleman. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, there is what is called in Scotland a Land Settlement Fund. Into that fund, if this Measure becomes law, will be paid for three years a sum not exceeding £250,000 for land settlement purposes. There will be no Supplementary Estimate, but instead of the £100,000 going into the fund this year to be used for buying land and for erecting the necessary houses and steadings and creating the holdings, there will be a sum of £250,000 in the next three years. That, I think, explains the situation, and now I come to the point about the 3 per cent. The rents which we propose to charge—and I regard this as very important, and 1136 it is the point which was raised by the, Noble Lord—on the average represent a return of about 3 per cent. on the total cost of each holding. In some cases there may be 40 holdings in a settlement and in each of these holdings there will be a slight difference in rent according to the lie of the land and the size of the house, etc., but it is our intention to fix rents which we believe can be paid. Whether they can be paid over a period of years or not, only time can show; but the rents we are proposing to charge will be about 3 per cent. on the capital cost of each holding.
§ Sir I. MACPHERSON
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his explanation. He made some reference to the funds which are at present available for land settlement. I understand that no funds which are now available under any of the existing Acts will be interfered with.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Instead of the £100,000 which is now available for the purposes of land settlement throughout the whole of Scotland, the fund will be one not exceeding £250,000, and we propose to use the increase mainly for the constitution of holdings as specified in paragraph 4 of the White Paper.
§ Sir I. MACPHERSON
That makes the position rather difficult for those who represent small landholders in the North of Scotland. As I understand the situation is this. In the last Estimates £100,000 was allocated for smallholdings, it was earmarked for land settlements as we know it under the 1911 Act. Now I understand that a new situation will arise.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
I do not want to be misunderstood, and I am anxious to give the Committee all the information I can. This year there was £100,000, and it was utilised for land settlement all over Scotland in the Lowlands as well as the Highlands, mainly in the Lowlands. It is our intention to continue land settlement in the Highlands, but the larger provision of money provided by this Estimate is frankly for the type of holding indicated in paragraph 4.
§ Sir I. MACPHERSON
Are we to understand that the major part of the £250,000, which is to be allocated for three consecutive years, is to be devoted to the purposes of this new scheme? In that case the amount which will be avail- 1137 able for the whole of smallholding schemes under the Act of 1911 and the Act of 1919 may not be enough. I am putting it at the worst, and it is a point well worthy of consideration. I must put the point of view which affects land holdings in the northern part of Scotland, though, indeed, it affects the southern part as well. I hope that the scheme will be successful, and that some Government in the future will be able to devote much more than £250,000 a year towards a much bigger and larger scheme. It is clear that the landholders who will be created by this Bill will be the tenants of the Government. I want to know what system of tenure they are to be under; whether they are going to have security of tenure, fair rents, and compensation for improvements? Are we going to have a retrogressive step in land legislation in Scotland or a step in advance? It is a new situation to have the Government as landowners in such a wide and far reaching scheme. Is the new tenant of the Government to hold as a crofter with security of tenure and pay rent, or is he to hold as a statutory leasehold tenant? These are points of great importance, which affect my mind deeply and which will affect the mind of every man who is interested in land settlement in Scotland.
I agree with the Noble Lord the Member for Perth (Lord Scone) who has a great knowledge about these problems. He is frightened lest the holding of five acres at a rent of £18 or £19 may not be a profitable investment. We shall have to face the proposition. The Government, I understand, are facing it. I understand that my right hon. Friend has analysed and scrutinised it, and that he and his advisers have come to the conclusion that that is a fair and reasonable rent. I believe it is possible to make five acres of land pay provided you get the conditions, provided it is well equipped for market gardening, is good land and that you are careful where you fix your settlement. I understand these are to be settlements of 40 or 50 tenants, clustered together in places like Rutherglen and Hamilton, and that there may be a differentiation in rent according to the nature of the conditions. The rent is never to be less than a 3 per cent. return, it may be more, but in a settlement of 40 or 50 settlers you are bound to have a great deal of differentiation because of the nature of the land, the nature of the 1138 roads and the water supply; all conflicting elements when you are fixing rent in these various holdings. There is going to be difficulty there. I understand that the holdings are to be equipped before they are entered, an important matter, and that no one will be asked to go into a holding until it is equipped. That is satisfactory. A great deal of the difficulty in regard to land settlement in the past has been that the man to be settled on the land never saw a house for months after he had taken the land.
There is a great deal to be said for this proposal from a business point of view. If you get the right type of man suitable for these settlements, hard working, strong and, if possible, bred upon the land, I think that a holding of five acres, utilised as market gardens, will be successful, but, on the other hand, there may be difficulties. Much depends on the man. What is more, much depends on his wife, and much also depends upon the equipment of the holding and the nature and quality of the land. These are all-important considerations. Another point was mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Rollox. I think I am right in surmising that what he meant to say was that he hoped there would be some sort of co-operative basis for these schemes. Supposing there is a settlement of 40 or 50 settlers outside a town, it is very important, if they are all dealing with eggs or poultry or anything of that kind, that there should be some co-operation between them so that they can market their commodities to the best advantage and so that they may not be "done" by either wholesalers or retailers in the big cities.
These are important points in connection with schemes of this kind. As I say, I heard of these various proposals for the first time to-night. I have endeavoured casually and without giving much thought to the details, to indicate some of the problems which suggest themselves to me. I hope I have dealt with a good many of the points which are likely to affect my colleagues in this Committee in their consideration of the schemes. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has broken out again to-day into a new attempt to regenerate and re-colonise Scotland. I heartily wish him all success. I hope that if the conditions which I have en- 1139 deavoured to emphasise are carefully considered, this bold attempt to stop depopulation and create a happy and contented rural Scotland will have results which will redound to his credit.
§ 8.58 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I, too, am glad that the Government are taking this first step towards a scheme of land settlement in Scotland but, frankly, I can hardly agree with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) that it is likely to stop depopulation or regenerate Scotland. In fact this proposal only means an increase from £175,000 to £250,000 in the amount normally available for land settlement in Scotland but certainly it is a step in the right direction. I listened with pleasure when the Secretary of State described with engaging frankness his conversion to the policy of land settlement, a conversion which appeared to me to be more reasonably inspired than some of the other sudden economic conversions which have enlivened our political life in recent years. I share strongly the misgivings which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty has expressed about certain features of the schemes and I also have some questions to put to the Secretary of State.
First, we should all like to know what is to be the nature of the schemes and who are to be the holders. The Noble Lord the Member for Perth and Kinross (Lord Scone) wondered if they were all to be people without experience. I hope not, but I would support the right hon. Gentleman in drawing to a certain extent upon men who have had no actual experience on the land. Many men of that class have done extraordinarily well up to the present. There are instances of which I think he knows in his own Department, of cabinet makers, tailors and people in all kinds of urban occupations, who have done exceedingly well in smallholdings, particularly those well situated in the vicinity of towns. A large class of holders without previous agricultural experience who have done very well since the War are the poultry farmers at whom everybody laughed at first—people like ex-officers who came out of the Army and 1140 went in for poultry farming. As a matter of fact these men applied fresh minds to the problems of poultry farming and they quickly outstripped the old orthodox ideas and the old-fashioned methods. Therefore I welcome the fact that an opportunity is to be given to a certain number of men without previous agricultural experience to get holdings in the vicinity of towns.
At the same time I join with the Noble Lord in saying that we expect the first chance to be given to the thousands of well-qualified applicants who are, as yet, unsatisfied. The experience of the men is a very important factor to be taken into account. The right hon. Gentleman said that schemes for the settlement in the vicinity of towns of men who had been employed in other industries had been successful in England. They have also been successful on a considerable scale in Scotland. The settlements which the right hon. Gentleman has been visiting near Edinburgh and Glasgow have been in operation for a number of years and have been very successful. They have been of practical help in dealing with the problem of unemployment. But the 5,000 unsatisfied applicants in the rural areas of Scotland must be satisfied. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that there will be from all quarters of the House of Commons the strongest protest if these men are not given a fair chance of getting holdings under this scheme. Particularly strong is the land hunger in the Highlands, and the right hon. Gentleman must not lose sight of the need which exists to provide for enlargements and new holdings in the Highlands. It is seldom that a good opportunity arises for getting a suitable farm for land settlement without having to pay enormous compensation. Very often sheep farms are held under long leases, and when a lease is coming to an end the Department must be ready to act. The Department must reserve sufficient funds to enable them to take advantage of any opportunities which may arise of acquiring farms for land settlement in the Highlands and other rural areas.
We are told in the White Paper that these holdings are to range from five to nine acres. I have no knowledge other than such knowledge as is available to all Members, of the plans of the right hon. Gentleman, but rumours have reached me 1141 —and other Members have spoken to me about them—to the effect that a great many of these holdings are to be devoted to poultry. That some should be so devoted is a reasonable proposition, but I cannot help entering a caveat against giving too rapid a stimulus to poultry production. These holdings will be created out of farms which have recently been carrying crops and stocks. Buildings will have to be erected, and if there is a rapid expansion of the poultry industry and the price of eggs falls quickly and suddenly what is going to happen to these holdings? If they are too small for anything but poultry they will be thrown back on the State. Poultry fanning is on the increase in Scotland. It is important in Orkney and Shetland, it is spreading to Caithness, and I have no doubt to Ross and Cromarty and to other parts of the country, and many a farmer in Scotland expects to buy his groceries out of the sale of the eggs laid by the hens which pick up the scraps round the steading. Do not let all this be smashed by a sudden and hasty stimulus given to an industry which, important as it is, is none too broadly based.
I come to another important point in considering this scheme, and that is the cost. The right hon. Gentleman gave figures to show that the costs had been gradually reduced in recent years. I have been putting questions to the right hon. Gentleman on this point and I have been disappointed, having regard to the fall in prices and interest rates, that the costs have not fallen more. No doubt we shall have further opportunities of pursuing that subject. I have not brought those questions with me, but I will have them with me on another occasion when we can go into the subject in greater detail. I have been disappointed that the costs have not been more reduced. Some remarkable figures were given in the Nairne Committee's Report and there are some questions which I hope the right hon. Gentleman will be able to answer when we are discussing this question on some future occasion. Why does the equipment of a holding of 111 acres in the crofting counties cost £153 while a holding of half the size in another county costs actually £468? Why is it that between 1922 and 1927 a crofting holding of 144 acres cost £431 while a holding in another county of only 20 acres costs £636. These are some of the questions 1142 which it will be very important for us to go into on the Committee stage of the Bill. We must thrash out this question of costs and ascertain why they are generally enormously higher outside the crofting counties than inside.
Meanwhile, I am particularly interested in paragraph 5 of the White Paper in which it is said that in conformity with the recommendation of the Committee on Land Settlement in Scotland, 1927—which I presume means the Nairne Committee, which reported in 1928—it is proposed to let such holdings on leases governed by the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts. I am sorry that the Government have accepted the Report of the Nairne Committee on that point for it was the only large recommendation of that Committee which was not unanimous. There were four members of that Committee. One was a distinguished banker. Another was a distinguished large farmer whose services to scientific farming have been numerous and valuable. The third was the extraordinarily able Secretary of the Scottish Farm Servants' Union, Mr. Joseph Duncan. The fourth was Mr. Norman Reid. Mr. Reid has spent his whole life in farming and practised farming on a great scale; and he has spent years of his life in this work of land settlement on the Land Court. It was he, with all that experience behind him, specific experience on the question which this Committee was examining which was greater than that of any other member of the Committee, who dissented from this finding of the Committee which the Government have adopted.
I would venture to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) to this point because it was one he raised in his speech, and I agree with him that it is very important. He with his great experience in these matters knows how important it is. Under this scheme the tenants will come under the Agricultural Holdings Act for compensation and not under the Land Acts. They will have, therefore, much less incentive to improve their holdings than they would have under the Land Acts. The improvement of holdings will be thrown back on the State. Surely the majority of the House want to encourage a man to do his best to improve his holding and, 1143 having done that, to get full compensation for all the work, energy and brains which he has put into the development of his holding. Therefore, I say that the Land Court ought not merely to be left with their supervision over these schemes of land settlement which they have at the present time, not only ought they to be left to settle questions of compensation, but, in addition, they ought to be brought in to value the holdings at the beginning of the tenancy. That ought not to be left as it is at present to the Department of Agriculture.
Every hon. Member who has knowledge of land settlement in Scotland knows that great difficulties have been experienced because of the high price at which these improvements have been valued to the men when they go in, and, particularly at this time of falling prices, the small value which is put upon these holdings when they leave. The Department of Agriculture has, I am glad to say, recognised that fact in recent years. Even now I know their officials are in Caithness on one of the schemes they have recently inaugurated attending to that very point and bringing down the valuation which the new holder will be asked to accept for the holding and bringing it down to a figure below the cost of the equipment and fairer to the holder. That ought not to be done by the official of the Department. It ought to be done by an independent authority, in short, by the Land Court. This provision seems to be particularly ominous in the light of paragraph 8 of the White Paper, in which we are told that the rents are to show a return to the State of 3 per cent.
I submit to my right hon. Friend that in the face of the facts which the Committee described this is a retrogressive step. We are withdrawing these new holders from the jurisdiction of the Land Court and placing them directly under the Department of Agriculture, and then asking them to show a return not on their own investment—they have got to get that in addition—but to show a return to the landlord on the capital equipment of 3 per cent. It is an absolutely new idea in land settlement in Scotland that the tenant should be asked to return an economic rent. This is an all-in rent. They have to pay for 1144 the house and the land, for the equipment and for management, and 3 per cent. to the Treasury. A good many landlords in Scotland would be glad to get anything like 3 per cent. from their holdings. What landlords are now drawing 3 per cent. on an investment in agricultural property in Scotland? It is contrary to the whole conception of the Land Acts and at variance with the facts of agriculture as we know them at the present time.
Above all, what is going to happen in the Highlands? Is this system to be applied to the Highlands? Is the right hon. Gentleman going to embark on land settlement in the Highlands, and intending to get 3 per cent.? I cannot believe it possible. I hope he will give me a reply which will indicate, firstly, that he is determined to let no opportunity slip of meeting the land hunger which exists in the Highlands by getting good farms for land settlement there, and, secondly, that there will be no attempt to put the Highland holders on the basis of an economic rent. I am not yet convinced about the soundness of this scheme. There may well be a rush on the part of a great many people to take advantage of it, a rush out of the slums and out of unemployment, with the egg market looking fairly good at the moment as compared with other branches of agriculture. I am sure that the men will never be able to pay economic rents, and then either the new holders will be let down or the Government will come again to the House to ask for another subsidy, as in the case of the milk scheme, in order to "redd up the mess."
Men attach importance to their rights under the Land Acts. The Department of Agriculture has eight holdings in Caithness which will fall vacant at Whit-sun. In the advertisement in the local papers it states, "Rents to be fixed by the Scottish Land Court." We ought not to take advantage of these new and inexperienced holders. We, too, ought to say "rents to be fixed by the Land Court." Does the acceptance of the Nairne Report also mean the abandonment of scheduling under the Acts of 1911 and 1919? The right hon. Gentleman seemed to indicate, I thought, in answer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty that scheduling was no 1145 longer resorted to, but that it was all to be done by purchase, that we are to have no more scheduling of land in private occupation in order to make small holdings. I am not at all unfriendly to purchase. I see opposite the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart). He and I have fought battles over the system of purchase, but, at the same time, he will agree with me that there are great advantages in certain cases, and especially in the Highlands, in the maintenance of scheduling. For one thing, the great advantage of scheduling over land purchase is that it is much cheaper, you can do more with your money.
Let me give this Committee some facts and figures from the Nairne Committee's Report, on which the Government are acting. Between 1918 and 1922 the average cost of a holding of 237 acres owned by the Department in a crofting county was £519, but the average cost of a holding of 106 acres not owned by the. Department was only £150. The average cost of a holding of 34 acres owned by the Department in a non-crofting county was £1,105, but the average cost of a holding of 24 acres not owned by the Department was only £48. In the years 1922 to 1927 the average cost of a holding of 144 acres owned by the Department in a crofting county, that is on land purchased by the Department, was £431, but the average cost of a holding of 141 acres in a crofting county on land not owned by the Department, that is to say, land which had been scheduled for land settlement on a private estate, was only £198. Therefore, I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, "Do not abandon this strong weapon; if you do it will put a burden of extra expense on the holders, and to expect them to earn not only a livelihood for themselves but a profit of 3 per cent. on the Government's investment would be quite out of the question."
These are the warnings and the criticisms which I feel bound to offer, and the questions which I feel bound to ask, but I will preserve a hopeful and open mind while waiting for the right hon. Gentleman's reply. This is a beginning, but it is nothing like enough, as the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty said. I would beg the right hon. Gentleman not to leave this question of land settlement to the next Parliament. There 1146 is need to advance now, on the basis of smaller holdings but holdings mainly larger than the ones the right hon. Gentleman has in mind. The family farm is going to be the keystone of the agricultural structure in future years. It is on those lines only that we can get the economic structure of agriculture down to economic rock bottom. We shall need a big, bold programme in order to satisfy the land hunger of the Highlands, the need of increasing the rural population, and restoring the population of the Highlands.
Meanwhile, we are to-night offered £250,000. That is, it is true, only £75,000 more than the normal. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman said, we are far below normal now. When the Government came into office in 1931 we found a standstill order by the Treasury stopping all land settlement, and though we got going a bit in the following year there was a lag on that account. Actually the sum voted last year was only £100,000, £25,000 less than we got in the height of the crisis, but still the normal Vote is £175,000, and the present sum is only £75,000 more than the Vote in a normal year, though I quite agree that there is a great advantage in having that sum stabilised for three years in the interests of the efficiency and economy of land settlement.
I have two other questions to put to the right hon. Gentleman. How many holdings does he estimate will be formed? I estimate about 300. I would like to know what he thinks will be the yearly output of holdings under this scheme. Further, will the £25,000 which under the late scheme was earmarked out of the Agriculture Fund for housing for the land holders and cotters, be still available for this purpose in the future? We now have £250,000 offered and I for one am not going to refuse it, and if anyone challenges the Vote I shall go into the Lobby in support of it.
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
When the Scottish Office Vote was discussed on Report in July last I ventured to express the hope that before very long the Secretary of State would be able to present us with a programme of land settlement considerably larger than that which was provided for in that Estimate, and, while the proposal now before us 1147 does not seem likely to be quite so extensive as some of us might have wished, I welcome it as a very substantial advance in the right direction. The first criticism which has been brought forward to-night is concerned with the rents which are likely to be charged. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) has pointed out that rents of £5 an acre on a five-acre holding, even if that holding is intensively cultivated, is a very high rent per acre, and my Noble Friend the Member for Perth (Lord Scone) also spoke in the same sense. I think perhaps the Committee ought to be reminded that this rent includes the rent for the house. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend has inspected the models in the Scottish Office of those houses which are being provided under this scheme of land settlement. If he has done so, I think he will agree that those dwellings are of such a type that if they had been provided in any urban housing scheme they would have been worth 15s. a week, and certainly not less than 10s. a week, so that the remainder which is applicable to the land alone would represent, according to the strictest computation, a very small proportion of the annual produce of the soil.
The right hon. Baronet the Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) spoke as if the Scottish Office were going to act as Shylocks in extracting their 3 per cent., and no less, from the unfortunate holder. That is not as I interpret this estimate. I think that it is merely an estimate of what is likely to be obtained. As the right hon. Baronet is aware, although the initial rent is fixed when the tenant enters into his holding, it can be reviewed, and must be reviewed, at the and of the lease, and the arbiter in that [...]t will be the Land Court, as he desires. At the end of the seven years' lease, if the tenant desires an alteration to be made in the rent, he may appeal—
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That is a very important point. The hon. Member may have information which is not at my disposal. I am going only by paragraph 5 of the White Paper.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
If the right hon. Baronet will read Section 34 of the Small Landholders and Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act of 1931 he will see that it reads: 1148Any question of difference between the landlord and the tenant of a holding which, under the principal Act or this Act, or under the lease is referred to arbitration may, if the landlord and the tenant so agree, in lieu of being determined in pursuance of Sub-section (1) of Section 15 of the principal Act, be determined by the Land Court, and the Land Court shall on the joint application of the landlord and the tenant determine such question or difference accordingly.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
There is a great difference between a tenant having the right to go to the Land Court and his having an assurance from the hon. Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) that it is the intention of the Board of Agriculture to accord that right to him.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
The Land Court may be used under existing legislation, and I take it the right hon. Baronet's point is that if they were given a different sort of tenure they would in any case appeal to the Land Court and that the Land Court would be more likely to be more favourable to them. If that is the point, the question is one of fact, whether it is the intention of the Board to use the method of appeal to the Land Court for adjudging rents in future. The other point brought forward by the right hon. Baronet, which he concentrated on mostly, was that of compensation, and I think it would be fair to say that his principal criticism was that under this scheme ordinary agricultural tenure would be preferred to landholder's tenure. I hope very much that the Secretary of State will adhere to his present practice of preferring agricultural tenure. It has been mentioned in this Debate how much more economical it is to have a holding already equipped before the tenant goes in, and under the system of landholder's tenure I do not think he would be able to do this, because you would have to have the consent of the holder. If you can have, let us say, 20 or 30 steadings, all of the same type, all built at the same time, and by a single contractor, that is obviously far more economical than a system under which 1149 each building would have to be separately designed and separately erected.
We come to the point of compensation. With great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I submit to the Committee that the position of the smallholder under agricultural tenure will be decidedly more advantageous in respect of compensation than his position under the landholder's tenure which the right hon. Baronet favours. I think that the original definition of the rights of compensation under landholder's tenure are to be found in the Act of 1886, a provision that has been Continued in the Acts of 1910, 1919, 1931 and so on. That provides that:If any crofter"—and the word "crofter" is now applied to the landholder—If any crofter renounces his tenancy or is removed from his holding, he shall be entitled to compensation for any permanent improvements provided the improvements are suitable to the holding.It is provided under Section 10 that:Improvements shall be valued under this Act at such sum as fairly represents the value of the improvements to the incoming tenant.In order to get compensation he has to prove that the improvements are suitable to the holding, and he has to show that they represent a certain value to the incoming tenant. Now under agricultural tenure the consent of the landlord—that is, in this case, the Board of Agriculture—has to be obtained. Under landholder's tenure, the tenant makes improvements and does not know whether they will be ultimately adjudged by the Land Court to be suitable to the holding or to be of any value to the incoming tenant. Under agricultural tenure he knows exactly where he is, since the Board, as owner, is bound to pay full value for the improvements to which it has consented. The right hon. Baronet referred to the report of the Committee on Land Settlement in Scotland, and I should like to refer him to one paragraph of that report. It is on page 33, paragraph 58:Another condition of landholder's tenure which puzzles and annoys many of the holders is that the entire obligation for the maintenance in good repair of the buildings is placed on their shoulders instead of being shared, as in ordinary tenancies, with the landlord. There is also uncertainty as to the amount to which the holder might be found to be entitled at outgo in respect of the value of the buildings, etc., on the holding. This amount, 1150 as stated above, is to be fixed, failing agreement between holder and landlord, by the Land Court, at such sum as represents their value to an incoming tenant. It is quite possible that buildings erected and paid for by the holder with borrowed money at a cost of, say, £500, might be valued on these conditions at his outgo at £400, the difference between these two amounts representing loss to the holder, and possibly to the Board if they are not able to recover any balance of loan still due to them by the holder.The hon. Baronet is, of course, aware that this report emphasises all through the defects and the unfamiliarity caused by the system of landholder's tenure, which may not seem unsuitable to the caterans of Caithness, but which is not so indigenous to the Lowlands of Scotland. The policy of land settlement commends itself to many hon. Members in this House, but it is regarded in many parts of the Lowlands of Scotland with some suspicion and distrust, largely by reason of the exceedingly expensive experiments immediately following the 1919 Act. Some of those experiments were very costly indeed to the taxpayers without producing any very obvious benefits to the agricultural community as a whole. If we are to hope, as I certainly do, for a large extension of this policy in the future we must enable the Board of Agriculture to present us with accounts which will not involve an undue and excessive burden upon the taxpayer.
We must give the board freedom to select that type of tenure which will be most economical and most popular among the inhabitants of those industrial districts whom we desire to settle upon the land. While inclined to regret that this grant from the Treasury is restricted to its present amount for a period of three years, I am satisfied that the present methods of the Secretary of State for Scotland in administering this modest expenditure, of which we are now asked to approve, will justify its augmentation before that period has come to an end.
§ 9.37 p.m.
The House has discussed at fairly great length the pros and cons of the new scheme which has been set on foot since last October. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) alternated between moods of optimism and pessimism, and I found it difficult to follow him in those moods or to make up my 1151 mind upon which of those moods he seemed to rest. He says that it was pessimism. I am glad to say that I cannot agree with him in that mood. This question of land settlement entered an entirely new phase when the Secretary of State for Scotland took the departure which he did last October. There is no one in this country who, in theory, is not in favour of putting as many decent citizens as possible in touch with the land. We all regret that the circumstances of our time and generation have divorced too many of our countrymen from their native soil, and from all those influences which the soil can bring, let alone the health and sanity which it can confer upon man's mind and body.
I welcome this scheme for two main reasons. The first is that it completes the picture of our system of putting men back again into touch with the land. There are the small allotments which a man can work in his spare time for an hour or two, and then the scheme, which the right hon. Gentleman has been pursuing in Scotland for some time, of larger plots of about one and a-half acres or two acres, on which men are mainly employed, but which is of a temporary character. The land is held under lease of, say, five years, which period is capable of being increased. It is not intended for men with any capital resources at their disposal. I am happy to feel that the scheme will be a real benefit for those for whom it is devised.
The third aspect of the case will, I think, complete the picture; that is the question of how you are to put in touch with the land the man who has a little capital and a little qualification. I understand that it is a mixture of the two which will be taken into account by the body which will decide upon his eligibility. That man is unable to start on his own, because he is not big enough; he falls between two stools, but he is to be enabled to start on better terms than any man in that position has been able to start before. That brings me to the second reason why I support this scheme. I do not think that anyone, after looking into the circumstances of the scheme, can fail to come to the conclusion that, on the whole, men will be decidedly better off under it than they were under the old system of landholder's tenure.
1152 If the House will bear with me, I will give one or two main reasons, and the fundamental facts, why a man will be better off. The question of rent has been discussed. The rent under landholder's tenure was frequently that a man paid rent for the land, and, having had to borrow money to put up buildings, he paid another sum annually for them. He was in the irritating position of having two sums outgoing each year, and that can be regarded as a system of two rents, one for the buildings and the other for the land. There is a risk of putting up buildings that might not be very suitable, and time is wasted in putting them up. The tenure of land could be revised in periods of seven years. Provided that the land did not deteriorate or that it did not fall too seriously into arrear, you were sure of your tenure.
Under the new system, a man will be equally sure of his tenure if he fulfils the conditions. He will have the advantage of viewing the property to start with, and of being able to make up his mind whether the rent which he is to be asked to pay will be satisfactory, considering all the things which he will get for it. One of my hon. Friends made the point that in many urban districts such a rent for the house alone would be considered fairly cheap, and the Noble Lord who spoke said that that affected the town dweller, who had his rent assured to him. I think that the Noble Lord is unduly anxious if he thinks that a man with all the advantages in using the land, with its possibility for cultivation, will not be able to make a return on his money. I prefer to trust the judgment of the Secretary of State for Scotland, and of those who advise him, when the right hon. Gentleman told us that we may reasonably expect something in the nature of 3 per cent. I am prepared to take the gamble.
Another primary consideration is compensation. My hon. Friend has dealt with that and I should like to strengthen what he said. As far as I can understand the scheme, I believe that a man under it is in a very much better position as regards compensation, because he is able in the first place to have the assistance of the Department's surveyors in planning any buildings that may be necessary, over and above those that he receives. He is to receive many of the buildings which under the old system he 1153 would not have received, and which he would have to have put up himself, and if he should find it necessary to put up additional buildings he will get the advice of the Department's surveyors. If the Department's surveyors have passed the works it is certain that the Department will accept them at a reason able valuation. Therefore, he has, in the first place, advice, and in the second place he is certain of getting his money back. I submit that no Scotsman, however liberally minded, would easily forgo such a very solid cash consideration.
The third essential that a man wants to know when he is going into a land venture of this kind is security. Here, again, I say that the security of tenure under this scheme is greater than the security under the old scheme, and for this reason: the terms of the rent and the period of the rent, seven years, are the same, but there is this essential difference that the landlord in this case is the State, which at great expense is putting the man on the land, whereas in the old case it may have been that the landlord was very anxious to get rid of the man. You do not mean to tell me that the State which goes to great expense in putting a man on the land is going to put him off the land. Satan divided against himself cannot stand, and we cannot accuse the right hon. Gentleman of being even more Machiavellian than he.
Will the hon. and gallant Member finance any scheme and then, because he has had a bad dream, turn round and throw his money into the ditch?
If the State have paid to put a tenant in and that tenant is suitable and working his land well, does the hon. and gallant Member mean to suggest that the State is going to pay that man compensation for putting him out and putting another man in? I do not believe it. I am prepared to leave it at that. If the man is a suitable tenant he has better security under this scheme than he had before, because the 1154 man who has put him in and financed him is not going to be the same man to put him out. If he is an unsuitable tenant it will be much easier and much less expensive to everybody concerned to get rid of him, and a good job too. In the old days when you had a man who was a round peg in a square hole, there was a great deal of trouble in getting rid of him. The land was the worse and his neighbours were the worse for his presence, and nearly everybody was landed in expense in getting rid of him. Under this scheme we shall get rid of such a person much more cheaply. If there should be border line cases there is the right of appeal to the Land Court, which remains as the ultimate court of appeal. Therefore, on the three fundamental points, the good tenants are going to be better off and the unsuitable tenants are going to be got rid of.
I should like to make one suggestion to my right hon. Friend, and I hope he will not regard it as detracting from the warmth of my praise and admiration for his courage in making this new departure. I should like him if it were possible to carry some future scheme one step further. I should like to see the man who has made good and stayed on his land for some time in the position to come to the Department and say: "I am prepared to pay you an increased rent, which shall represent a hire purchase rent, and by the time I have paid the rent for 10 or 15 years I shall become the owner of the place, lock, stock and barrel." I understand that the extra instalment would have to include the proportionate cost of roads, water and light and, of course, he would have to undertake the whole cost of his own fencing. That cost could not be transferred to the community. I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair), that my right hon. Friend has made too small a beginning. I think this matter is being pursued as prudently and as cautiously as the circumstances and the information at our disposal permits. I am sure that there are people all over Scotland who will congratulate the right hon. Gentleman when they read his speech, and that there are people in England who will probably want to follow suit before very long.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I welcome the Bill just as I would welcome the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. A deputation came from my constituency to the Secretary of State for Scotland pleading with him to get something like this done. I have a great number of men in my constituency who have plots, and they are very anxious that the Secretary of State for Scotland should give them smallholdings. Whether 20 or 30 men from my constituency will be among the number that will be fortunate enough from their point of view but not from mine in getting these smallholdings, I do not know, but I know what it is to work a smallholding. I am in favour of smallholdings if properly organised, but unless they are properly organised, co-operatively organised, they will be a failure. No one can run them successfully unless they have been born and bred on the soil. A great many things have to be taken into consideration.
Some 133 smallholdings in Scotland have been given up. Why were they given up? The right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Sir I. Macpherson) had some difficulty in explaining why they were given up. There were two reasons why they were given up. The principal reason was because the tenants could not make a living on them. The other reason was that in taking men from our big industrial centres and placing them in the country it was a revolution in their lives. It is no use telling me what the pioneers did when they went to Canada and Australia. They were exceptional men who succeeded. When you take men from the industrial centres you do not take them away entirely, but they are just near enough so that in a year or so they begin to wish to be back. They feel that they are wallowing in the mire, and I want the Government to face the facts. These miners or artisans who come from the industrial centres and go on farms have been used to an entirely different kind of life; they have been used to stopping work at five or six o'clock in the evening, and starting at seven or eight in the morning, doing a regular day's work and stopping at a regular hour, not working all the hours that God sends. You can hear from a dozen parts of the House that it is not only the man who is expected to work these small- 1156 holdings but his wife, and it must not be forgotten it was said here by the Secretary of State for Scotland that they would get the huge salary of £2 10s. a week. You can take it from me that clay workers will want more than £2 10s. a week.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The hon. Member should bear in mind that they have their rent, rates, and taxes paid, and receive £2 10s. a week plus the produce from the soil.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I understand that, but it is £2 10s. a week for the wife's work as well, and remember that the most successful cases in and around Glasgow are not cases of man and wife, but man, wife and family, and that is the amount to be given. We have got to face here a new issue; the like never happened before. We are discussing at the moment doing away with all overtime on the Clyde, we are talking in all sincerity about a 40-hour week, and getting employers of labour even to discuss the possibility of accepting a 40-hour week without any reduction in wages. Yet here you have the suggestion of a 70-and 80-hour week on this miserable pittance. We have got to face facts, and these are the facts. To those who like that kind of work, I agree readily there cannot be a better occupation. It is a healthy occupation and a natural one. The vast majority of my fellows are employed at unnatural occupations. Men and women who have been brought up in the country, or are only one generation removed from the soil, may find this all right, but I want to assure them that it means plenty of hard work, plenty of anxiety and working in many instances night and day, Sunday and Saturday. You are dealing here with livestock. Innumerable things can happen. One of the things held out as an inducement to the artisans to leave the town and go to this kind of life is that they will be freed from the boss, free "o' the gaffer." They will not have anybody superintending them. They can take it from me that they will have the most critical and the most exacting boss demanding attention from them—livestock. If they do not attend to them regularly, every day and every hour, they will soon let them know. They will be surprised. Under a proper dispensation this would be all right, if 1157 it were attacked in a proper manner, as this Government could attack it.
We have it on the authority of no less a personage than the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair), the last Secretary of State for Scotland, who calculated the amount of money which it is now proposed to spend, that there are going to be 300 farms. Here we have hundreds and thousands of unemployed, and it will not touch the fringe of our problem. From the point of view of helping the unemployed situation, it is futile. If it is with a view to supplying ourselves with foodstuffs produced in our native land, how futile are 300 farms. We have thousands of acres of the finest land in the world if properly cultivated, and it is not cultivated at all. The right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness talked about the sheep farms,My Hieland hame mid nature's finest grandeur.All very fine to visit, but a very different thing to wring a living from the bare soil that is there. There is plenty of soil in, Scotland, plenty of beautiful estates that belong to Members of this House that have lain fallow all my lifetime, beautiful fields that would produce the finest stock that man requires. But they always suggest that we take some place where man will have great difficulty in wringing a bare existence from the soil.
That is not the way Russia has done the job, and that is not the way this country will have to do it. If this Government does not do it, some other Government will, unless we are going to allow "a bold peasantry" to be destroyed, for it is as true to-day as when the lines were penned that that peasantryWhen once destroyed, can never be supplied.We have up to now never made any serious attempt to prevent the depopulation of the rural districts of our country. There was an opportunity here, when the Secretary of State put this idea before the Cabinet. But it is a paltry attempt that has been made. Three hundred farms. Then, again, the rent. It cannot be done. They cannot wring that out of it. Eighteen pounds a year or up to £24 a year for rent. We tried it. Enthusiasts worked all the hours under all the trying conditions, climatic and otherwise, and had all the best ad- 1158 vice that the agricultural colleges of Scotland and the Scottish Office could give, and they could not wring £3 a week out of it after spending about £600. That was not away in the wilds of the Highlands. They could not pay a rent of £24 a year and get £2 10s. a week out of it. It was tried with all the will a man could show. It cannot be done under present conditions and under the system of private enterprise and all that that involves. I believe it could be done under a co-operative method of procedure, as in Denmark, not as it is done in Orkney and Shetland where co-operatively they dispose of their produce, but as in Denmark where the Government supplies the stock, which ensures that the individual farmer is supplied with the very best material. Not only that, but the feeding stuffs are also bought by the Government wholesale.
See the position that the small farmer is in at the moment. He has to buy his feeding stuffs and everything else connected with his farm at retail prices, and he has to sell his produce wholesale. That is what the small market farmer is up against to-day. The right hon. Member for Caithness made an awful mistake. He said that the egg market is good at the moment. He could not have been speaking for Caithness nor Aberdeenshire nor for any part of Scotland, because the egg market was never so bad. Prices are lower than they were before the War. Fresh eggs in Dumfriesshire and Aberdeenshire fetch 7d. a dozen. Eight-pence is quite a common price for fresh eggs. The small farmer cannot make a living on those prices. If the Government had been in earnest about this business they would have gone around the country and would have seen where the most suitale land was for market gardening, poultry farming, the growing of vegetables, tomatoes, etc. They would have gone round to see where the best place was, and they should have taken that land. They should have done the same as was done during the War. We took the land in Glasgow and afterwards we discussed the price that we would pay for it. It was an easy matter for us to settle the business once we had taken possession of the land.
We shall not get round this problem until we do that again, until we push self-interest to one side. Again I say that if the present Government do not do it, 1159 if we are to win through some other Government must do it. It must consider the interest of all the people in the country as against the interest of the few. We have always considered the interests of the few up to now. All those who are anxious—there are many anxious to-day—to try to ease the peculiar situation in which statesmen find the country, find that they get up against selfish interests, which up to now have been too strong for them to remove. That is what the Government have found in this case; they have simply touched the fringe of the business.
There is a question that I want to ask, although it has also been asked by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland. It is whether it will be the Scottish Land Courts that will deal with any improvements chat may take place on these smallholdings. That is very important. The advice that I have received from the legal point of view on this question informs me that there is no provision here for that procedure, but these people are going to be denied the rights that were given to the crofters in the Highlands of Scotland. We view that possibility with alarm, because, if that is what is going to take place here, it will eventually take place with the crofters also, and therefore, in self-preservation, the crofters in Scotland are inquiring about this matter. It is very serious to think that such a thing may happen after you have been years in a place, have put your whole self into it, have improved it, and probably have erected buildings such as I have seen erected by men who were not trained tradesmen, but which were very creditable and served their purpose.
The hon. and gallant Member for Peebles (Captain A. Ramsay) tried to explain away this idea. He said that these smallholders were going to have the advantage of the advice of technical experts in the Scottish Office. I am all for technical advice, and for all the advice that the Scottish Office can give in cases such as these, but I have visited crofts all over the Highlands of Scotland, and have seen the buildings which the crofters, with their neighbours, have put up. It is true that they were not artistic, but they served their purpose. There is no doubt that it is only the 1160 type of men and women who can adapt themselves in this way that will be suitable. It will not be everybody that will succeed in this life into which these men are to be transplanted; it will be men and women of grit, and it is that type that we should encourage. From the other side of the House no encouragement is going to be given, but exactly the opposite, because the concessions which have been granted to the crofters are to be denied to these men. I hope that the Secretary of State for Scot-land, or the Under-Secretary, or whoever is going to reply on behalf of the Government, will reply to these points which I have tried to make as clearly as I possibly could, because I do not want to oppose this scheme.
It is, however, a moot point which is the best procedure here. The big bonanza farm is the idea of to-day. Mass production is undoubtedly the order of the day in everything else but agriculture. Everyone is in favour of the most up-to-date machinery and labour-saving except for agriculture. Here you come along, and you want to put as many on the land as you can, and at the same time we are advocating taking as many men out of the workshops as we possibly can by better organisation, better equipment and more up-to-date machinery, but in agriculture we are going to adopt another method of procedure. We are going to put as many back on to the land as we possibly can. That is all wrong. They will have to compete with the great bonanza farms, for instance, with Mr. Ewing in Edinburgh with his quarter of a million hens and his 12 miles of roads—that is in our own country—to say nothing of the great bonanza farms that you have scattered up and down the length and breadth of Britain. So that it is no easy matter. I hope when the Government were considering it they had all these things before them and were prepared to give these men and their wives and families who will be going into those smallholdings every possible encouragement so that, instead of it being a success, the whole thing does not turn out to be a failure.
§ 10.23 p.m.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
When we have a scheme of land settlement for Scotland, it is bound to attract very great attention from anyone who is interested in the 1161 future of our country. This scheme attracts more than usual attention, because there are various points of difference from schemes to which we have been accustomed in the past. In the first place, I should like to say how glad I am to see that the stream is running again in the direction of land settlement. It has almost dried up in the last year or two. I wish it was a little wider and deeper still, because surely this is a time such as there never was for furthering schemes of land settlement. Money is cheaper than has ever been known in the history of the country and, unfortunately, there are more men than ever waiting for the opportunity to get on the land. I hope the Government do not intend to limit themselves to a scheme of this nature with £250,000 a year, and possibly the settlement of some 300 holdings. The hon. Member who spoke last very rightly said that 300 holdings is not a thing to be proud of at all. One would like to see 3,000, and then we should be a long way below the mark of what ought to be done.
In the course of the discussion, as far as it has gone, there are three points which have come out markedly. The first is as to what the allocation of the money is going to be between the settlement of the family farm that we have known in the past and the new, what we might call, glorified allotments. It is an entirely different scheme from anything that we have been accustomed to, at any rate in the North of Scotland. My right hon. Friend raised a point on which we ought to have a fairly definite answer. The Secretary of State said that the money would be allocated mainly for the new scheme. Mainly is rather a vague expression, and we ought to know more correctly how much money is to go to the one scheme and how much to the other. It is most imporatnt that those men who have been waiting for many years to get a holding under the old scheme should be given an opportunity to come in and take a smallholding. Those men who have had their names before the Department, and about whom all is known in the Department, and who have been passed as suitable for a holding, should not be left in the lurch because an opening is being made for another class of person in another class of holding.
1162 The next point which stands out, and upon which we desire a good deal more information, is the question of cost. The Secretary of State is very optimistic when he thinks that he will be able to spend this large sum in setting up smallholdings and get 3 per cent. on his money. Frankly, I think it would be better to face what is much more likely to be the effect, namely, that he will mot get anything like that return. It is a great pity to hold out the idea that you can get land settlement with an immediate return of 2, 3, or 4 per cent., or whatever it may be, when we know from the history of land settlement it is not so, but that it is a costly scheme. We look for returns in other ways, in the advantages which land settlement brings to the structure of the nation as a whole, and we do not look to it in the light of a return of 3 or 4 per cent., or whatever it may be. I know that the Secretary of State is a great man for economy and that he would be the last person to hold out false hopes. Therefore, I am looking very keenly to see the grounds on which the statement is based that he definitely hopes to settle these people and to get a return of 3 per cent. on the capital cost. That capital cost, I take it, is to include the cost of purchasing land in the neighbourhood of large towns, which is not a very cheap commodity.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) pointed out the very great difference in cost between the scheduling of land and the buying of land. I regret that the Department have not extended the system of scheduling more than they have done. I know that they do not like it, and I know the reason why they do not like it. It costs them a very much larger sum in order to deal with it. When we come to buying land in the neighbourhood of these large towns it will be a serious item in the cost of the whole settlement. I have not seen the plans of the houses it is proposed to put up, but I take it that they will be only in the nature of living houses. There cannot be much required in the nature of steadings on four acres, or, if a man is going to keep bees, he will not want much in the way of a large house, so that the cost there will be limited to the actual living house with some little addition. We should like to know what the intention of the Department is 1163 ultimately going to be. If you are to put up a family farm in the Highlands the cost of the house and the steadings will be a very important matter. When you put a man upon a three- or four-acre holding for poultry or bees, the question of building is a very different one.
The last point which is one of the most important, is the question of tenure. For the first time in the last 50 years there is to be a change in the tenure of small holdings. What is the reason for this change? Has the old tenure failed? Have not the reports of the Department year after year borne witness to the great success of settlements under the old tenure? Have we not seen the whole of the north of Scotland regenerated and rejuvenated by the security of tenure which the Land Holdings Acts have given? The old system of tenure in Scotland brings out the best in the individual. He knows that he has a security of tenure, and will get compensation for improvements. Why are we giving all that up? Is there a public demand for it? Where does the demand come from? When these holdings are equipped the State will be the landlord, and they will deal with the tenancy as an ordinary agricultural holding. It may be a simple matter from the point of view of the Department. That is a bureaucratic point of view, but it is not the point of view upon which land holdings in Scotland have been based.
We are entitled to an answer as to why this change is to be brought about. I was astonished to hear hon. Members opposite say that they would like to be tenants of the Department under this proposal. They sang paeans of praise in its favour, and said that they were prepared to give up their rights under the one system in order to become tenants under the other. If it was put to the ordinary man in Scotland asking for a holding which tenancy he would rather have, one which gave him security of tenure, a land court to revise his rent every seven years, and a right to pay compensation when he went, or a tenancy under which a landlord can tell him to go out, can put up his farm to competitive rent, and where he has no right to compensation, I do not think that he would have much difficulty in making his choice. The forms of the two tenancies are not comparable.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR-WEDDERBURN
According to the Nairne Report a large number of landholders expressed the greatest dissatisfaction with the system of land tenure in Scotland.
§ Sir R. HAMILTON
The Nairne Committee recommended that the tenant should have access to the Land Court for rent and compensation; that was the unanimous report of the Committee. I cannot understand why the Government have accepted one part of the report and rejected the other. If there are going to be tenants under this new tenure they must not forget the recommendation that the tenant should have access to the Land Court for rent and compensation. These are points upon which we desire a great deal more information than we have at present. I am glad to see any method, however small, in the direction of increasing settlement on the land. I am glad that the Secretary of State has made a start, and we all hope that he will go on and not rest content with this proposal. The scheme is to continue for three years. Is this all that we are going to get for the next three years? If the Secretary of State remains in his present office for the next three years, or for a longer time, I hope that the success which will attend this scheme, which he has so much at heart, will encourage him to go on to something very much larger.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
I rise to put another Liberal point of view. I start from precisely the same basis as my hon. Friends opposite but I wish to put another aspect of the case. I took part in preparing the Scottish Liberal land policy and I can perhaps claim to know the basis of that policy as well as hon. Members opposite themselves. The only difference that I can see between us is that, as I look upon the matter, there has been a definite change in the conditions in the country and in the possibilities and character of land settlement during the last two or three years. Five years ago or more we were all agreed that the right thing was the family farm of from 40 to 60 acres, whether sheep farm, stock farm or arable farm. I have always wanted that but I confess that I have been immensely impressed by the argument of the Minister of Agriculture in the last year that while agriculture is so 1165 depressed, and while prices are so low as is the case at present, there is no appreciable percentage of these 5,000 applicants who would take a family farm of that character if it were offered to them. That is the position to-day and I am sorry to find it. I have asked farm servants whose names are on the list and they have told me they would not take such a farm in the present conditions.
That is the new position and, in view of it, is the Secretary of State not right, is he not acting as a realist in turning in the direction of another form of land settlement, that is to say, in the same direction which, as my hon. Friends and I discovered, has been followed in Germany, Belgium, Holland and other countries? In Belgium and Germany they are not creating 50 acre farms. Round about Brussels and Berlin there is a network of small farms such as those which my right hon. Friend is seeking to create. These little farms are not necessarily self-supporting units. There are hundreds, nay thousands of them round Berlin and Brussels from which industrial workers come every morning and to which they return every night. They are of the kind which we used to call "pendicles," part-time holdings which a man can work in his spare time with the help possibly of his wife or his sons. Many of them have glass-houses and facilities for vegetable culture. I suggest that there is a practical line of development at the present moment.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I think that to say there is any difference between us on that point is a complete mistake. On the contrary, I have been responsible for that kind of thing while at the Scottish Office and we are all agreed as to it. What we are concerned about is the tenure and the rights of compensation of these people. We believe that there is room both for this kind of settlement and for the development of family farms.
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
I know what is taking place around Brussels and Berlin and to some extent round London, but I want to know whether the hon. Member is advocating a system under which workers who have been engaged in industrial work all day have got to work these holdings—
§ Mr. KIRKWOOD
Is he advocating that when they are tired out working all day they should spend their leisure time working on a farm?
§ Mr. STEWART
My hon. Friend completely fails to understand the psychology of a man who will accept a farm of that kind. No one would force my hon. Friend to do that kind of thing any more than the Government forced him to do certain things during the War. I have not misunderstood my right hon. Friend. I understood him to complain that this was a provision of only 300 allotments when we wanted a bigger land settlement. My proposition is that it would not be wise to advance a scheme for larger family settlements at this time. I wish this scheme had been for 3,000 holdings instead of 300, but I am prepared to accept 300 as an experiment. It has been a successful experiment in other countries, and I feel, having had for 10 years a close knowledge of this subject both here and abroad, that along those lines the Secretary of State may look for some measure of success.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Mr. DUNCAN GRAHAM
There is a scheme operating in distressed areas, particularly for the miners, for allotments up to one acre, and I should like to know what effect the scheme under this Bill will have upon that scheme. Will it make the position more difficult? I want to support the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Sir R. Hamilton) that the applications that have already been made—and there has been a large number in my area—should be considered first when the scheme for smallholdings is put into operation.
§ 10.43 p.m.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
Let me assure my hon. Friend at once that this scheme will not interfere in any shape or form with the scheme for plots which has been closely associated with him. The difficulty we are experiencing is in securing the necessary land. That is the only difficulty we have met, because we have a large number of applicants for the land if it can be secured. It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I deal with the main points raised in the Debate this evening. If I do not touch on all the subjects which have been raised, I would 1167 remind hon. Members that there will be another opportunity on the Second Beading of the Bill when all the matters which have been discussed this evening can be raised again.
The major points which have been raised by hon. Members are the questions of tenure, rent, co-operation and the class of tenants proposed to be settled on these holdings. As to tenure, I much appreciated the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for West Renfrew (Mr. Scrymgeour-Wedderburn) and of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Peebles (Captain A. Ramsay) on this subject. They spoke with practical knowledge of these matters, and they analysed the objection which had been raised to the proposals in some quarters that under this scheme these holdings will be under the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts. We do not propose to alter in any shape or form the character of the tenure so far as the Highlands are concerned. As to the Lowlands, the Committee which sat in 1927 went very fully into that question, and my advisers have considered their recommendations, and if I explain to hon. Members the character of those tenures I hope it may remove any doubts they may have as to the advisability of the course I am pursuing. In the first instance, after the estates are cut up and houses are erected the holdings are offered to different individuals. Every individual who in future takes a holding will know the type of house and the size of holding which he is to get. The rents in the first case will be settled by the Department of Agriculture, and the Minister responsible for the expenditure of the money will be responsible to this House. After seven years the leaseholder will have the right to ask for his rent to be revised by the Land Court or by an arbiter. This will be incorporated in the conditions of the lease.
Now as to improvements. The leaseholder, under the protection of the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Acts, can make all but major improvements either without reference to the landlord or by giving simple notice to the landlord, and at his outgoing he is entitled to compensation for those improvements at their full value to an incoming tenant. The question arises, Who is to determine the 1168 compensation? Either the Land Court or the arbiter, at the express wish of the tenant. It rests with him to decide the character of the tribunal which will decide the value of the improvements. That, I think, answers the main part of the questions on the point of tenure; if there are any others, I will go into them at greater length on Second Reading.
My Noble Friend expressed a doubt, and I quite understand the fears that exist in the minds of hon. Members, as to the rents we propose to charge and as to the ability of the tenants to pay. I can only give the Committee the experience we have gained during the last 12 months with similar holdings in the Lowland districts. We have offered these particular holdings of five to nine acres to potential tenants. There has been no lack of demand; rather, we have been blamed for not being able to supply more holdings at the present prices. I do not wish any hon. Member to think the rent is competitive. I myself, as the Minister of the Crown responsible for the expenditure of this money, have definitely fixed the rents of every one of these holdings, and if hon. Members challenge these rents, as I have no doubt they will during the next year or two, I will try to justify my conduct to this House. While doing that on the one hand, I must at all times remember the interests of the taxpayer when spending public money. I have not only to safeguard the due rights of the tenant, but I have the larger issue of seeing that the Department entrusted with this public money are proper stewards of it. It would be easy for me to fix low rents, and thereby secure the good will of the incoming tenants of these holdings, but I should be lacking in my duty to the House if I did not state clearly at the beginning of this experiment what our intentions are; and although I may be pressed from time to time to lower rents I must remember that I am responsible for the expenditure of this money, and I hope to hold the balance fairly.
I was asked one or two questions about co-operation. It seems to be peculiarly difficult to get men on the land to co-operate. There has been a co-operative movement in Scotland for some years pressing forward the demands and the advisability of co-operation in the interests of all concerned. It has met with some success by good will and voluntary 1169 effort. I was asked by my Noble Friend and one or two other Members what class of produce would be obtained on these holdings. There, again, that is a matter entirely at the discretion of the tenant himself. It is for the tenant himself to decide the class of produce he will grow, and how he will make use of the small holding which he has taken. But while I am speaking on that point I am very anxious to make clear to the Committee that we have no intention of setting up small farms. We have no desire in this matter to enter into competition with the man who cultivates a farm. That is not our desire in any way. I hope I have given a very definite statement on that matter. I know many hon. Members are anxious that the State should not embark at this time upon the spending of money to create more farms while the cultivators of large farms are in a position of great difficulty. With that assurance, which I willingly and fully give here, I hope they will realise that the policy we are pursuing in this scheme is not in competition with the large farmer.
I was also asked as to the class of tenants and the selection. We are anxious to get the best tenants we can for these holdings. Nothing but the best will be chosen by my advisers. They tell me that they spend much time in choosing the tenants, and they attach importance that either the husband or the wife should have been closely associated with the land. They put great stress upon that. They also tell me that they go to the applicant's home and try to judge whether the couple will permanently stay on the holding. It is easy to complain, as hon. Members have complained—and I am not taking exception to it—that the numbers we are providing are few. We want to build well. We want to choose the right people for this scheme. No land settlement scheme in any part of the world has ever been rushed through on a large scale successfully. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have studied that problem very carefully. It is quite easy to make a splash and to put thousands of people on the land and to have that land a failure in future years, and a great loss to the State. Land settlement is a long, laborious and difficult process. It is a business proposition. In my opening remarks, when there were not many hon. Members present, I threw out a sugges- 1170 tion that if any hon. Member, no matter of what party or to which county he might belong, was anxious to see land settlement in existence and to meet the tenants and discuss with them their livelihood, I would be only too happy to make arrangements for hon. Members to visit any settlement they desire.
This scheme is linked with our plots of land for unemployed persons. I am convinced that there is a deep desire in the minds of the people of Scotland to make more use of our land. There is a scheme which we started some 18 months ago. Before the year is out I hope to have some 1,000 plots for those people, a much larger number than we have today. I do not know what the future may hold for the scheme which I am putting before the Committee to-night; it will be for future Parliaments, or for future Sessions of this Parliament, to decide. I ask my Scottish hon. Friends to regard land settlement as a business proposition, quite apart from party politics. We are anxious to secure the assent of all parties in this House. If it is to be successful, land settlement must not undergo constant changes. I hope that nothing that I have said will stop or will hinder any hon. Member in any part of the House from giving unanimous consent to this Financial Resolution.
§ 10.57 p.m.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
There were two specific questions which I put to the right hon. Gentleman and perhaps he will be able to answer them. One was to give roughly the number of holdings per year which this scheme will yield, and the other was whether the £25,000 set aside for housing every year will still be available when this scheme is in operation.
§ Sir G. COLLINS
The sum for housing will be the same in the future as it has been in the past. I have been asked as to the number of holdings. The number of holdings created in the great effort after the War was about 275 per year. From 1927 to 1933 the actual number of new holdings created was 99 per year. Under this scheme, if we can secure the land which we desire and the tenants which we aim at getting, we hope to create 333 holdings each year, or 1,000 altogether.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.