§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Skelton.]
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Major Sir ARCHIBALD SINCLAIR
If this Bill stood alone, its reception would not be by any means unfriendly. It has been commended to the House by the Secretary of State for Scotland as a small experiment in a new form of land settlement, and, although the advance which the Government contemplates in these favourable circumstances when prices and interest rates are low is small as compared with that which was made in much less favourable circumstances when prices and interest rates were high after the War, it is not negligible as compared with what has been possible in recent years. The whole House is, I think, glad that the Government are taking, at any rate, experimental steps towards closer settlement of the land of Scotland. We, therefore, gladly recognise the interest which the Secretary of State has shown in the problem and only regret that he is not going faster. I expressed these regrets on the Second Reading, and the Secretary of State replied that it did not lie in my mouth to make such complaints as I was a Free Trader. That seemed to me an irrelevant argument. It is useless to retort upon us that it is only Protection 130 that makes a land settlement policy possible. The truth is that the Protectionist policy of the Government has not merely failed to help, but has, in fact, greatly aggravated the difficulties of agriculture. It was the partial withdrawal of Britain from the markets of the world in 1932 which gave the final downward spin to the spiral of world prices. I am afraid that the increase which was secured by Protection in home prices as compared with world prices afforded but meagre compensation to the British farmer. Again, the effect of Ottawa was to destroy the equilibrium——
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Captain Bourne)
I must remind the right hon. Gentleman that we are now on the Third Reading of the Bill and can only discuss what is in it.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I submit respectfully to your Ruling, and I agree that I was getting a little beyond the limits of discussion, in the Third Reading stage of a Bill. I am in this difficulty. This is an argument which at successive stages has been thrown in my teeth, and it is one which I can easily smash. It is very difficult, as I have always had it thrown at me after I have spoken, to get an opportunity of answering it, but I have to bow to your Ruling, and as this is not the occasion, I must seek some other. This, at any rate, I can say. I can meet the right hon. Gentleman on his own ground. I complain that the money provided in this Bill is insufficient for the task which confronts the right hon. Gentleman. Indeed, he tells us that, with certain exceptions, it can only be applied to the new experiments. He tells us, for example, that in the Highlands of Scotland, and in the non-crofting counties, in districts far from the great cities, we cannot anticipate that acceleration of land settlement under this Measure which is necessary to meet the long-standing demands of ex-service men and those who have been seeking vainly for land for many years past. I would therefore say that I am prepared to meet the right hon. Gentleman on his own ground. Recognising that we are now, as he says, a Protectionist country, I say that the Government, if they have such confidence in the blessings which their economic policy is capable, as they believe, of conferring upon agriculture, and if they think that 131 the tenants under their scheme will be able not only to earn a livelihood, but to make a return of 3 per cent. on the capital value of their equipment to the State as their landlords, ought to be creating holdings not at the rate of 1,000 in three years, but of 1,000 a year. It is not for them to call upon me to show confidence in their policy. It is for them to show it, and to advance resolutely on this line of land settlement.
The opposition to this Bill has developed mainly against the proposals which are contained in the White Paper which accompanied it, or, in other words, mainly against the methods which the Government propose to adopt to spend the money which we shall be granting them if we pass this Bill. The proposals involve withholding from future tenants outside the Highlands of Scotland the benefit of landholders' tenure, security of tenure, power of bequest, freedom of improvement, compensation for improvements, freedom from rent and rating upon improvements, and fair rents fixed by the Land Court. These are the rights secured to the tenants under the Land Acts and the rights which will be withheld from the new tenants. Under the new proposals of the Government how do these things stand? We are informed that if we vote this money and authorise the Government to make this investment of public money, it will make to us a return of 3 per cent., but, on the other hand, the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when we express some doubts as to whether they will not be hard upon the tenants, and say that that return of 3 per cent. is far more than any private landlord is now exacting from his tenants in Scotland, attempts to quiet our fears by saying that that is a mere estimate, that there would be no effort to exact it from tenants if they found it difficult to pay, and that the sole criterion of the rent would be what was thought reasonable for a tenant to pay. But of what value are those assurances?
This is no new principle. The Department has been engaged for years past in fixing reasonable rents for its tenants, on the one hand, and in satisfying the Treasury on the other. Every scheme has had to satisfy the Treasury before it has been launched. The Depart- 132 ment has always been torn between its anxiety to be fair to its tenants and to make a scheme a success, and to present the Treasury with estimates of rent which would satisfy them. In fact, we know that every rent which has been fixed by the Department of Agriculture has been lowered when it has been reviewed by the Land Court; if there is any exception to that I should be very interested to hear particulars of it.
Now the Secretary of State is forcing an additional burden upon the Department. Not merely has he got to satisfy the Treasury on the lines on which the procedure has recently run, but there is also this undertaking, or, at any rate, statement of intention by the Secretary of State for Scotland at the time when these plans were agreed upon with the Treasury, contained in the White Paper presented to this House, and which accompanies this Bill, that, in fact, 3 per cent. will be obtained on this investment. The Treasury are bound to insist, as far as they can, upon the fulfilment of this undertaking. The Under-Secretary told us in Committee that there was no pledge to the Treasury and no guarantee. We do not allege that, but we shall indeed be interested if any denial is forthcoming—and we shall welcome it—of the statement that this scheme has received Treasury approval on the basis that a 3 per cent. return will be received on the capital outlay. If that be the case that consideration must be dominant in the relations between the Treasury and the Department of Agriculture in this land settlement scheme. Therefore not only do we denounce this scheme to screw 3 per cent. out of tenants, but we say that they ought to have free access to the Land Court for fixing rent, not on the basis of agricultural holdings——
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
The right hon. Gentleman now appears to be trying to argue an Amendment which he was not entitled to move on the Report stage.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I am arguing about the investment of the money which we are granting. We are invited under the Bill to invest some £250,000 a year, and we are told that if that sum is invested in land settlement it will return an income to the Treasury of 3 per cent. I am arguing that that cannot be done m justice to the tenant, or that if any such 133 effort is to be made, the tenant ought to have the security of an appeal to the Land Court to prevent extortion.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
It is exactly that point which the right hon. Gentleman cannot argue. He is entitled to argue that the amount asked by the Treasury is too high under the Bill, but he must not argue an Amendment he was not permitted to move on the Report stage.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I bow to your Ruling, and I am grateful to you for allowing me as much latitude as you have done. It is very difficult to discuss the Bill in some ways and at certain stages, and I am very grateful for the latitude you have allowed me and which has enabled me to make the point sufficiently clear. I was hoping that I might have been able to go further and to make clear to the House how serious is the deprivation of the rights of landholder's tenure which the new tenants will not enjoy, but I will refrain from pursuing that line of argument further, in obedience to your Ruling.
Perhaps it would not be out of order if I said, generally, that when we are making an investment of public money of this magnitude in a scheme of land settlement it is only right that this House should be careful to ensure, on the one hand, that all that is fair and reasonable is paid by the tenant and that he makes a fair return upon the capital which this House will be supplying to him if we pass this Bill, and on the other hand that no harsh demands are made upon the tenant. It has been suggested that we ought to be satisfied to trust the Department of Agriculture. It has been said from the Conservative benches that private landlords are sometimes harsh, and that there was a case for liberal land legislation to deal with the exceptional landlords, but that the Department of Agriculture was never harsh and that we could always trust it. I say frankly that that is not our practical experience in the Highlands of Scotland. On the contrary, the rents fixed by the landlord have generally been lower than those originally fixed by the Department.
Under the Department the tenants experience the difficulty of not being able to deal with a man who can give them a decision on any point which they wish to raise. This is no criticism of the Depart- 134 ment, which I have always maintained is as sympathetically administered as any Government Department can possibly be, but it is inherent in dealing with a Government Department that the ordinary tenant in a remote county of Scotland cannot get into touch with a responsible man who can give him a decision. There is nobody in the position of a landlord or with the powers of an ordinary factor with whom he can get into touch, to talk things over, to discuss whether or not a drain shall be put in here, or a fence shall be replaced there, or an improvement made to the house. There is no one who has not to report back to some higher official, who in his turn has to report to the Department, which in its turn has to discuss the matter with the Secretary of State, and he in his turn has to get the leave of the Treasury to the proposal. It is not the case that the Department is an easy landlord for the tenant to deal with. Moreover, the man representing the Department represents the public. He feels himself on strong moral ground in dealing with the tenant, certainly on stronger ground than the private landlords. He represents the interests of the public, and he feels it his duty to drive a hard bargain in the interests of the public.
In the Second Reading Debate I quoted the case of a farm in Caithness where only the other day the sitting tenant had not given the notice required in order to make an improvement under the Agricultural Holdings Act. It was a case, so I am informed on absolutely impartial authority, in which any private landlord would have made a concession, but the Department officials thought it necessary to stand on their statutory rights in the interests of the public, and the result was that this man did not get that measure of compensation that he would have got from almost any private landlord. It is a great mistake on the part of hon. and right hon. Members opposite, and hon. Members who sit on the benches above the Gangway on this side, to foster this implicit faith in Government Departments as always being generous, expansive and sympathetic in their attitude towards tenants. It is not true, and if hon. Members think about it they must realise that it cannot be true in the nature of the circumstances in which these very able and very sympathetic officials work, because they are responsible not to one man but to a whole 135 hierarchy of officials, who in the last resort are controlled by the Treasury in the interests of the taxpayers as a whole.
The rights which the tenants are receiving under this Measure, or under the White Paper proposals, are no substitute for those which they will lose under the Land Acts. I realise that if I pursued the subject further I should be trespassing upon the indulgence of the House and that I might come into conflict with the Chair on points of order. I would therefore only say, in conclusion, that the Department under the Acts that have been previously passed and under this Act will have power to deprive smallholders in the future of those rights that have been won for them after many years of struggle. They are rights which the Farmers' Union of Scotland are anxious not merely to keep for those who have now got them, but they want to get them for a larger number of farmers who have never had them. It is deplorable that they should be withheld in the future from a class similar to those which now enjoy them.
The happy results of the Land Acts in the past, to which the Nairne Committee paid glowing tribute, have been largely due to the emancipation and the initiative of the tenants themselves. They knew that when they spent money on an improvement they would not be rated upon it, that they would not be rented upon it, and that they would be sure of getting compensation upon it. That is what has changed the face of things in the Highlands in the last 20 or 30 years. You are now bringing them back under a landlord who is harsher, necessarily harsher, than most private landlords. We deeply regret that. We think that, rather than that you should trust to the Department planning the lives of these men, planning all their improvements under this new scheme, you should have trusted to their freedom, initiative and enterprise and should have given them compensation for all they do to improve their holdings. We object to this Bill because it is a departure from that principle of freedom which has made the Land Acts so successful and has transformed the face of the Highlands of Scotland.
We recognise that the grant of money proposed under the Bill represents an 136 advance on what was possible in recent years, and we shall watch with interest the development of the Government's experiments. Having expressed our views and having voted in Committee against the deprivation of these rights, which is not inherent in the Bill but which is inherent in the White Paper which accompanies it, we do not propose to offer further opposition to the Bill at this stage, but we shall watch with sympathetic interest the results of this experiment.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
This Bill, to which we are asked to give the Third Reading this evening, has provoked an amount of discussion which would seem at first sight to be out of proportion to its size and apparent simplicity. It is, however, never a bad rule to suspect innocence, and I need not probe beneath the surface here to see that, although the proposal is a straightforward one, namely, to accelerate and extend land settlement in Scotland, the method and the practice which will be adopted under this Bill involve, as my right hon. Friend has said, material and fundamental differences. It is a State enterprise; in every case the State will be the landlord. The nature of the holdings is closely defined: they will be for intensive cultivation. The localities are defined; they will be concentrated near the large consuming centres, and the market will be—at any rate so long as the present Government's policy holds—protected. That association of conditions is not mere chance; it is deliberate policy. It is clear that when the Secretary of State devised this new design of land settlement he must have had at the back of his mind the conception of a Scotland in which large areas have become over-industrialised and in which certain industries have become, as far as we can see, permanently overstaffed. He has been impressed—and has acted on the impression—with the necessity of bringing to the rescue of Scotland any new favourable conditions which may exist in order to redress the unequal balance which has resulted from our reliance upon those heavier industries of steel, coal and shipbuilding upon which we have had to depend very largely in Scotland.
Although there may be criticism of the Bill as not being a spectacular effort to 137 set some thousands of men on the land in one year; though the Bill may be criticised as modest, and though it may be said that the cash is limited, yet the fact remains that the Secretary of State has made this experiment. It is the first effort of its kind that has been made on an organised and appreciable scale to bring the land as a real factor to the relief of the distress of Scotland as we see it at the present time, and we must not lose sight of that background when we are discussing this Bill.
A happy domestic turn has been given to our debate by the obvious parental pride which the Liberal bench opposite have shown in the policy of land settlement. Since for some years now there has been a progressive decline in the birth rate of Liberal ideas, perhaps it would be ungenerous of the House if it did not congratulate the right hon. Gentleman and his friends on this apparently healthy survival. I hope that I shall not be detracting from those congratulations in any way if I say that their attitude to their offspring is somewhat reminiscent of the parents who, having been so clever as to produce a child, dump it on somebody's doorstep, and only when it has been nourished and protected and has come into a fortune which no one could have foreseen, do they come along and say how clever they were to produce it.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
The right hon. Gentleman comes along and says how keen he is on land development and how he wishes it to be extended, but he loses no opportunity of going round Scotland and condemning the only policy that will improve conditions in Scotland.
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER
I ruled that the right hon. Member for Caithness (Sir A. Sinclair) would not be in order in discussing the general policy of the Government on this occasion, and I cannot allow the Noble Lord to pursue this line of argument.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
Perhaps I was pursuing the right hon. Gentleman opposite a little too closely. That he has been through Scotland lately I have no doubt. He has seen the extension of tomato- and raspberry-growing, and if he 138 was a smallholder I am sure he would rather operate within a regular and protected market than in one subject to free imports——
§ Lord DUNGLASS
I must not pursue it any further. The right hon. Gentleman—and I think this will be in order—has brought up in his speech the question of tenure. That question, if this policy is to succeed, is as nothing in importance to the continuity of the Government's policy as it stands at present. There I must leave the matter; both his and my ideas on security of tenure, fair rent and compensation must, I am afraid, go into cold storage for another Debate. My hon. Friend opposite, the Member for Banffshire (Sir M. Wood), has used in this connection an argument against which I feel I must warn him. On the Committee stage he twitted the Under-Secretary, saying that the Farmers' Union of Scotland have asked for this kind of tenure and asking who should know better than the tenant what is best for him. I should warn him that in a very few weeks now he will have the tenant farmer of Scotland coming and asking for a complete prohibition of meat imports.
§ Lord DUNGLASS
When the time comes, the hon. Gentleman will be found on the side of the farmers. One word on the method which the Secretary of State has adopted, and the way in which he is going to dispose of this money that Parliament has voted. He is right not to make a spectacular effort at this moment to set some thousands of unemployed people on the land. The country as a whole is not satisfied at the present time that land settlement is an economic proposition, and it is essential that when you are embarking on a scheme of this kind you should have the highest possible percentage of successes and the lowest possible percentage of failures. I, therefore, think that the Secretary of State is absolutely right to begin with those men whom he considers to have sufficient experience and sufficient capital. He is beginning with the good risks, and I think that he will not have a high percentage of failures. I would, however, 139 ask him to consider whether in 3 per cent. or 2 per cent. of the cases he might not risk a little more, and whether he would not deliberately—I emphasise the word "deliberately"—experiment with a few of the men who obviously have sufficient experience and who equally obviously have not sufficient capital, or as much capital as the other applicants. If he does this, whether they fail or succeed, I believe that the value of his experiment will be definitely enhanced.
There is another point which I hope he will look into, and that is whether part of the money might not be spent in acquiring land which could be cultivated in conjunction with the houses in which people are living already. The Department would in that way save money on houses and there would be more available for the acquisition of land. That is a point which I think should be explored. Now that this experiment is definitely on its way I hope that hon. Members in this House and people in Scotland will do their best to further it, because it may well be the seed out of much greater things may grow.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Mr. HENDERSON STEWART
The Noble Lord has twitted the right hon. and gallant Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) on his attitude towards this Bill but he scarcely used the correct metaphor. The complaint of the right hon. and gallant Member is that his child is not being properly brought up, indeed, is being led in the wrong direction——
§ Mr. H. STEWART
I will not go that far. At any rate, is not being trained in the right way. That is a view which I have already expressed. I do not believe that the old agricultural tenure can be improved by this new method, but since our representations have not succeeded the greater duty, therefore, rests on the shoulders of the Scottish Office to see that this new form of tenure is applied in a way which will give the smallholder the greatest possible measure of freedom to use his holding as he desires, give the fullest possible rights of security and the highest rates of compensation. We can only trust the Scottish Office to carry out 140 this Measure in a way most beneficial to smallholders. In regard to the question of houses which I raised during the Committee stage, I received an assurance that the present type of house was not to be stereotyped, that, in fact, new houses were being considered. I take it that improved houses will be erected in the future. Let me make one suggestion in this connection. On holdings considerably greater than six, seven or eight acres, holdings of 50 acres, which are intermixed with the smaller holdings, you really need a larger house. Very often you have a larger family, there is more to do, more comings and goings, you have a bigger holding to work, and from the practical point of view a larger dwelling is needed. In some of the new houses some of the rooms do not have a fireplace. That may be a small point, but to the housewife it is important. In the older type of houses there was a fireplace in each room, and I hope this will obtain in the future.
In passing the Third Reading of this Bill, may I make a suggestion to the Secretary of State. We are intensely interested in this new scheme, this new endeavour. In the old days we used to concentrate on the larger type of holding. This is a new kind of holding and is intended to meet a new need. I think the Secretary of State was right when he suggested that there should be some method of bringing the house to the holding. I would sugegst that there ought to be some means of making these holdings part-time holdings. That is of vital importance close to industrial areas. In view of the novelty of this proposal, would it not be worth while making a special report to Parliament, in about one year's time, on the working of the scheme, as to how it is going on, whether the special culture of tomatoes and fruit is progressing, whether the men are prosperous, whether egg production is paying, whether the holdings are too small or too large. That would be of real value to the House. I congratulate the Secretary of State upon this piece of work. It may not be acceptable in all its details to all of us, but I think that hon. Members opposite really in their hearts welcome any Measure which seeks to place greater numbers on the land and which seeks to join the two great forces of the unemployed industrial man and the vacant spaces of our country.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Lord SCONE
In the course of its passage this Bill has met with considerable criticism, but I think that everyone, with the possible exception of the remnants of the Liberal party, will agree that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State have managed to make a very good case for the Measure. It is difficult at this stage to make any definite criticism in view of the narrow limits of a Third Reading Debate, and especially of this Debate, but I should like to refer for one moment to a question which must now be regarded with abhorrence by the Secretary of State—the 3 per cent. return. I have made certain investigations into the position of smallholders in my part of the country, and I think that in a number of instances 3 per cent. will not be unreasonable and that in a few cases even more may be obtained. I do not think the Government are unreasonable in seeking, in the first place, to get 3 per cent., but at the same time I think there may be a great many cases in which they will not be able to get it without inflicting hardship on the tenant. However, the assurance given by the Under-Secretary in the course of the Committee stage, and also on the Floor of the House, ought to satisfy anyone that full consideration will be given to those tenants who can really show that a 3 per cent. basis would inflict undue hardship upon them. The point has been made that land settlement is the offspring entirely of the Liberal party. If that be so, then if the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) had remained for any length of time as Secretary of State for Scotland the child would undoubtedly have died of starvation. As far as I can make out the main grumble of the right hon. Gentleman is that his successor has endeavoured to carry out what he himself made no effort to carry out during his own tenure of office.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
That statement is so absoutely contrary to the fact that I must intervene. At a time of great financial stringency, as the Noble Lord is aware, I did manage to provide that the existing rate of land settlement should go on unhampered. So far from having made no effort, I made every conceivable effort to maintain settlement at the highest possible rate.
§ Lord SCONE
Naturally, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. I 142 would merely add that to most Members of the House the enthusiasm he showed at that time for land settlement was nothing to the enthusiasm that he shows now for carping at the Government policy of land settlement as adumbrated in this Measure. There are one or two other small points to which I would refer. I trust that in setting up the holdings very careful attention will be given to their position in order to ensure that a market may be found for the produce within a reasonable distance. Undoubtedly a number of smallholders to-day are able, and even during the worst period of depression were able, not merely to make both ends meet, but to make a very comfortable livelihood, and that was almost entirely due to the fact that they had at their door a good market to which they could take their products very cheaply. Even if the new holdings are to be set up in industrialised areas, unless the market is fairly accessible the cost of transport of what is perishable produce will be such that a great deal of the profit which might otherwise accrue will be lost.
As my Noble Friend has said, it is absolutely essential that as many as possible of those who take part in this new experiment should be successful. Otherwise, the progress of land settlement is likely to be imperilled. I see no reason why, provided sufficient care is taken in picking tenants, the vast majority should not be successful. Failures there must be, and the scheme must be watched very carefully as it proceeds. But most of the criticisms raised against the Bill in its passage through the House have been proved to have very little substance. I cannot follow most of the points that have been raised by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, for I should certainly be out of order in doing so, but I think I can assure the House that in Committee the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary were able to persuade the Committee that hardly any of the criticisms of the Bill had any real substance in fact. I think the Bill will be welcomed by the vast majority of those engaged in agriculture in Scotland, although a good many of them may still feel a certain amount of doubt as to its ultimate success. In conclusion I would like to stress upon my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that no scheme like this can hope to be really successful 143 unless it is accompanied in future by that control of imports which is so abhorrent to the right hon. Member for Caithness.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. NEIL MACLEAN
The Bill contains some matters of which we do not approve; there are certain qualifications which we would rather see omitted; but the Scottish Standing Committee has practically settled the shape in which the Bill is now submitted to the House to be passed, and we must accept what has been decided by that Committee. I would suggest to the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary that they might give some consideration to the point made by the Noble Lord who represents Lanark (Lord Dunglass), as to those who apply for these holdings having a certain amount of capital, and that an experiment might be made by selecting certain people with experience and giving them an opportunity, even though they might have no capital, or a very limited amount of capital, and certainly not so much capital as it is evidently the intention of the Government to require as a qualification for selection for a smallholding. I think that was a very good suggestion, and I hope that the Scottish Office will consider it very carefully and make the widest possible experiment in that direction. I am certain that very large numbers of people who are now in industrial constituencies and suffering from unemployment have originally had experience of land cultivation, and that they would welcome any opportunity to' go back to the land and to make a fresh start.
The other matter I want to refer to was raised by the right hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair). He suggested that Members on the Labour benches had unbounded faith in the Scottish Department. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he himself was at one time at the head of the Scottish Office. I do not think he would suggest that we had unbounded faith in his operations there. We at least consider that if he had land settlement so much at heart as he has been making it appear during the various stages of the Bill—on Second Reading he spoke for about an hour on the subject, and in the Standing Committee he delivered a variation of that hour's oration on several occasions, and to-night he has delivered another variation of the 144 same speech—if he had shown as much zeal for land settlement when he was Secretary of State, we should have had as much faith in him as he thinks we have in the present occupants of the Scottish Office. We have faith in everyone who comes to this House and outlines a Government Measure—faith that he is sincere in his desire to improve the lot of those for whom a particular Measure is proposed. We think that we are quite well qualified to judge as to the conscientiousness of the occupants of the Scottish Office.
I am reminded of a picture I saw exhibited in the Glasgow People's Palace, in which Faith was indicated by an individual going across a river, but with a stick always tapping the space in front of him to find out the stepping-stones. While we have faith, we believe in reaching out to find whether the stepping-stones are still there, so that we shall not be swept away by an overflowing stream. That is the attitude we take up. While we have faith in the conscientiousness of those who are endeavouring to explain Measures from the Government Front Bench, at the same time we seek to secure safeguards that would ensure that the ideals put forward are in a Measure; but if we cannot secure that effect, all we can do, with the voice of the House against us, is to wish a Minister the best possible success in accomplishing the ends in view.
We wish this Bill to have the best possible effect, and although we do not agree with all its provisions we think it ought to have its chance of being operated. We hope that in the light of this experiment we shall be enabled to judge of subsequent Measures dealing with the same question. Hon. Members on these benches have not been behind hon. Members who sit below the Gangway in their efforts to get various Measures concerning land settlement extended and improved. We have brought up this subject by means of questions and Debate in this House, and we have endeavoured to get more people back on the land. We know the history of Scotland in this respect and we know that there are large tracts of land now given over to pleasure and to game which might be made paying propositions under a land settlement scheme, and not only that but propositions which would be beneficial to the health of the people. I hope that if this experiment 145 proves successful it will be extended, and that every effort will be made to put more people on to the land of Scotland. I hope also that an experiment will be made on the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Lanark (Lord Dunglass), and that where those desirous of going upon the land have no capital or only very little, they shall be assisted by the Government in the same way as people going abroad have been assisted in the past.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Sir MURDOCH McKENZIE WOOD
All I would say about the speech to which we have just listened is that it and the speeches of other Members of the hon. Gentleman's party will be read with great amazement by hundreds and thousands of smallholders throughout Scotland. I cannot understand the attitude of the Labour party on this Bill.
§ Mr. MACLEAN
My attitude on this Bill is the same as the attitude of Liberal Members. I am not dividing against it. If they have any objection to it why do they not divide against it?
§ Sir M. WOOD
The hon. Gentleman said he had criticised it. I fail to remember any point of criticism which he or his colleagues brought forward with regard to it. However I do not suppose it is worth while going further into that question to-night. In my opinion the importance of the Bill lies not so much in what it contains, as in the fact that the Government have used it as a means of announcing what is tantamount to a new land policy, which if developed can have only one result, namely, the scrapping of the policy represented by the Act dealing with landholders' tenure in Scotland. That Act was passed to meet a demand from the crofters in Scotland and afterwards from smallholders throughout the rest of the country. It was passed as a Measure of great advantage to them. If it has not been a good thing for them I would expect some evidence to be forthcoming from them that they are dissatisfied. The hon. Gentleman himself must have been one of those who voted for that Measure when it was passed. It was one of the first Measures passed with the assistance of the Parliament Act and it was supposed to be a great achievement at the time. I am bound to say that I regret that the hon. Gentleman should be associated with this new policy 146 which I believe must eventually mean the defeat of the policy with which he was associated when he first entered Parliament.
I do not know how far we can go on this occasion in discussing the system of tenure which it is proposed to set up under the Bill. During the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman told us he would give us a copy of the proposed lease and he has distributed a paper showing the conditions of let. It is not quite a lease and I should like to know from the Under-Secretary whether there is to be a lease in these cases or whether this document represents all to which the smallholders will be asked to commit themselves. My own impression of these conditions of let is that they are undoubtedly harsh. On reading them I am more than ever persuaded of the necessity for these smallholders having the full protection of the Land Court. Paragraph 13 of the conditions is as follows:In the event of tenants failing, in the opinion of the Department, to implement their obligations with regard to maintenance, under these general conditions of let, the Department in their discretion shall have full power and liberty upon giving one month's notice of their intention to do so, to carry out the necessary work and recover the cost from the tenants concerned.Surely that is putting the tenants far too much in the power of the Department. If the Secretary of State re-reads this condition I think he must agree that it places the tenant in an unfair position. I should have thought that a difference of opinion such as is indicated in that paragraph is one that might well be submitted to the Land Court. The Department has not the experience which enables them to determine matters of that kind. They are not factors. They are not land agents. Special experience is required to decide questions of this kind. Yet the right hon. Gentleman is going to place the tenants under the necessity of agreeing to allow the Department to decide these matters without any real right of appeal or protest. I say that it is a harsh condition, and we know that the tenants cannot make any effective protest against it. He wants a home and he wants a holding, and if you have a man without a home, he will sign almost anything. There are other criticisms of the same kind that one might make with regard to other parts of the conditions of let. I will give another, No. 21: 147In the event of breach of any of these general conditions of let by tenants or of their having an award of sequestration announced affecting their estates … then, in the option of the Department, the tenancies of such tenants shall ipso facto come to an end.Is it right that the Department should have the power to bring a tenancy to an end merely if in their opinion the conditions of let have been broken? Why put the Department into such a position as that? There again I think a clause of that kind is bound to operate harshly against a tenant. If anyone reads through all these conditions, I think he is bound to come to the conclusion that they are really too harsh for the tenants, which makes it more than ever necessary that they should have, like other smallholders in Scotland, the full protection of the Land Court, which has done so much to help smallholders in that country.
§ 10.7 p.m.
§ Mr. MACQUISTEN
This is again an attempt to get more people on the land. It does not repeal the old system at all, and whichever is the better system will survive. This is getting people more into the idea, not so much of farming in the sense of running a big farm. It is a mistake to have a smallholder on a small holding imitating the big farmer. He cannot do it. You want to have a neighbouring market, so that the man can sell direct to the consumer. Look at what it has meant for small holders for hundreds of miles round London that they can come and stand at the roadside and sell to the motorist fresh asparagus, strawberries, and so on, and get shop prices for their stuff. It enables a man to carry on with a very small area of cultivation. I hope that what the Noble Lord has said with regard to these men without capital will be kept in mind, because, after all, a man of character, capacity and knowledge is far better in all walks of life than a man with mere money. He will always get on better. I remember that Pierpont Morgan said he never asked for security, but he asked what a man was. He was a banker, and the bankers used to bank on character, not on capital. The modern banker, of course, has become a bond broker. The man under this Bill will be a man of character.
Another point is this, that one of the methods of settlement should be to get a 148 man who is also engaged in industry, so that he will have a bit of land as well. I knew one man, a coal pit winder, who started in a small holding. I knew him very well, and he carried on his pit winding and used to cycle a good many miles while developing his small property as well. That is how to get the capital to go on with. I hope that hours of labour in future will be shortened, and that people will have more leisure. You want men to have a bit of land and leisure to do something of their own. They cannot go to the pictures or to the greyhound races every night of the week, and the proper use to make of their leisure is to have small holdings on the land in addition to their daily industry. Under such circumstances the question of family allowances, old age pensions and so on would be settled. If a man has a large family, he simply plants more potatoes and has a pig or two more.
If you go back to Elizabethan times, you will find that no farmer was allowed to hire a man to work on his land unless he gave him at least an acre for himself. If you go to our sugar cane colonies, in the West Indies, you will find that you are not allowed to hire a native unless you give him a grant for a cow so that he can support himself. In all our agriculture in this country every farmer's man should have some bit of land of his own that he can cultivate alongside his cottage. He should be a smallholder in his own right to some extent, as well as a farm worker. That used to be the case some 70 or 80 years ago. I have been told that by olders farmers. What we really want in this community of ours is to have more men working for themselves, and who have something of their own. Wage-earning is no good. We want some form of distribution, something that a man will have that he can look at and say, "This is my own, not only my native land, but my own land," something that he can work on; and that is what this Bill will lead to. It is a small beginning, but it contains the germ of a great development. I congratulate the Scottish Office that it should be in their time, when they have a mixture of a Conservative and a Liberal in charge who have not grown mouldy—that it is these two who have brought this into existence, and I think it heralds a great future.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for SCOTLAND (Mr. Skelton)
A Debate which ends with kindly references to the present Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary can hardly be otherwise than pleasing to the Government, but I think the House will agree with me that the Debate, though it has not been a long one, has been from first to last extremely interesting. Although there have been criticisms of various sorts and from various angles directed at the provisions of the Bill, there has been a strong undercurrent of support of the principle of the settlement of a larger number of people in suitable conditions on the land of Scotland. On the Third Reading, I would not wish to go into great detail in answer to such criticisms as have been made, but I would like to assure my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir A. Sinclair) and his friends that in adopting the ordinary agricultural tenure, which, the House will recollect, is not a statutory innovation, but which has been a possibility since the 1919 Act was passed, we are adopting it because we believe, as my right hon. Friend and myself have attempted to say on the various stages of the Bill, that it is more suited for the holders and the type of holding and the locality of the holding that we propose to erect under this Bill.
In doing that we are undertaking no unjustified sailing into uncharted seas. Not only do the provisions of the 1919 Act allow that, but the Nairne Committee, which dealt with land settlement in Scotland, specially recommended, at all events so far as the Lowlands are concerned, that the ordinary agricultural tenure should be adopted. My own experience as a Member for a good many years of a constituency largely Lowland, in which land settlement had been conducted on the small landholders principle, emphatically brought to my mind the conclusion that, so far as the Lowlands are concerned, this system of a dual ownership and all that it implies was not understood and - appreciated and was the cause of misunderstanding, misapprehension and friction between the Department and landlord, and the tenant and small landholder.
There is another point which is germane. We are satisfied that the compensation rights under the agricultural 150 tenure system are at least as good as they are under the landholders system. Under the agricultural holding tenure all that the tenant has to do is either to get the consent of or to notify the landlord, where that action is necessary, and he is then sure of getting such compensation as the Land Court will award him; whereas, under the landholders system, the compensation must be for improvements which are suitable for the holding, and no prior agreement on the part of the Department can take away from the Land Court the unfettered power to decide for themselves whether a particular improvement is or is not suitable for the holding. Up till the moment of the decision by the Land Court the smallholder is, in fact, in doubt whether he will get any compensation at all. My right hon. Friend seems to regard that as a joke. Men who have suffered from that provision will not agree with him.
It has been suggested, though only tentatively in this Debate, that the protection which the revision by the Land Court of rents arranged for under draft leases will under our system be less effective than had the Land Court been operating under the landholders system. I will not go into the theoretical arguments on that point, because the Land Court in its 1932 Report elaborated the principle upon which it proceeded in reconsidering the rents under the agricultural holdings tenure, a duty which had been imposed on them by the legislation of the previous year. I will venture to quote from their Report, because it is important that it should be on record in this Debate. On page 11 of the 1932 Report, the Land Court state in categorical terms the principle on which they proceeded in reviewing rents under the 1931 Act. I think that when I have read it my right hon. Friend in particular will, if he is not familiar with it, feel that it satisfies all the possible requirements that he desiderates. They say:In applying our judgment to these questions, in order to arrive at what would be a reasonable rent under present agricultural conditions fair both to landlord and tenant, we made estimates of the capital value of the tenants' interests in the farms, as well as estimates of the probable annual income and expenditure. We found that the resulting net income available to meet 151 a minimum allowance in respect of interest on capital, as well as rent and taxes, could no more than cover these items, but over and above that we had to keep in view that the tenant had a home and remained employed in his true vocation. At present prices of farm produce there was no margin at all, but the possibility of improvement could not be left out of account, and such an improvement would, of course, automatically enhance present low capital values. In fixing the rents we kept these considerations in view.That is to say, they kept in view that the tenant should get interest on his capital and a fair return for his labour. I would ask my hon. Friends who have properly interested themselves in this question not to ask me to reread that quotation, but to read it for themselves on page 11 of the 1932 Report.
§ Sir M. WOOD
Is not that the Land Court's method of of dealing with it, and is it not the case that the hon. Gentleman is not going to allow them to do it?
§ Mr. SKELTON
I have attempted to explain, but I fear the question makes it necessary to do it in extenso, that the Land Court, since 1931, apart from its old function under the Landholders Act, had the function of being an arbitrator if there was disagreement on the question of rent under the ordinary agricultural tenure. Under this system we give the tenant the option of going to the Land Court without waiting for possible agreement or disagreement. The quotation which I have read states categorically the principles upon which the Land Court proceeds when it has the duty of revising rents under the conditions which will exist in our smallholdings. I hope I have made that clear.
Let me turn to some of the other speeches. My right hon. Friend and myself appreciate very much what was said by my Noble Friend on the subject of the possibility of allowing some of these holdings to be occupied by men of small capital. That suggestion was warmly supported by my hon. Friend opposite. We have great sympathy with that suggestion, and in general it may be said that it is possible and desirable to strike a balance between the two factors of a man's skill and his capital. The greater a man's skill perhaps the less his capital can be; but on that topic I would add this further word. The 152 House is aware that in the last year and a-half we have been developing a system of one or half-acre plots for unemployed miners. It has not been possible, as all concerned know, to promise the men who take them that the plots are a half-way house towards smallholdings, but this experience has already been gained, and I think it is relevant to my Noble Friend's suggestion: it is very remarkable to note the rapidity with which energetic men working these plots collect an appreciable amount of farm stock. When it comes to a question of putting men into holdings the stock which they have got together on the plots will, of course, count as capital. I already know of one or two plot holders whose plots provide very appreciable capital towards stocking a larger holding, and although we cannot give a promise that the possession of a plot is a necessary step towards a holding it is already clear that it may be a bridge towards it, inasmuch as it enables the plot holder to build up a stock of produce.
Another point of importance that was mentioned concerns part-time holdings. There, again, I venture to refer the House to our experimental plots. They were always given to unemployed men, but it has happened that some of the men have got back to employment, or have been back in employment from time to time, and we have found that where the man has either got a wife who is keen upon animals and cultivation or young sons who are keen, that even if the man himself gets back to employment it is not impossible to carry on the cultivation of these half-acre plots. So, again, in an experimental, tentative and provisional way we have, I claim, gained experience towards the solution of problems which, in my judgment at least, as well as those of some of my hon. Friends, are problems of the distant or even of the near future. With regard to the nature of the houses, a question was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. H. Stewart). His recollection of what occurred in Committee is correct. The number of fireplaces in a house is under review. I am not sure that we have decided that every room is to have a fireplace, but we are quite clear 153 that there ought to be a larger number than was provided for in the original plans. I have dealt now, I think, with the main questions which have been raised. I do not agree that the Department of Agriculture deserves, as landlord, the harsh strictures which have been applied to it by my right hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
Not the Department. What I said was that they are as sympathetic as officials can possibly be, but I blamed the system of Departmental administration as opposed to that of the private landlord.
§ Mr. SKELTON
My right hon. Friend is a private landlord and I am not, and I am perhaps not able to judge accurately in the matter. I am satisfied from my own knowledge of the Department that the officials are as conscious of their duty to their tenants as any landlord can be, and I would not be doing right to those who are exercising that duty, and who are doing most valuable work in Scotland, if I allowed to pass unchallenged a contrast which, I think, is utterly unjustified, and which should not have been made by one who has had insight into the working of the Department. I do not think it is right that an observation which can be so easily misunderstood should have been passed.
§ Sir A. SINCLAIR
I do not deserve the strictures which the hon. Gentleman has endeavoured to pass. I have made it absolutely clear in my speech, as he will see if he will be good enough to look at it in the morning in the OFFICIAL REPORT, that the officials over whom I had the honour to preside for some time were as sympathetic, as keen on doing justice to the tenants and of making a success of the land settlement schemes as any officials can possibly be. I made that abundantly clear. I am amply entitled to say that the system of State ownership of holdings is not in itself a guarantee of fairness to tenants, and that an independent Land Court is necessary to safeguard the interests of the tenants, whether they are under State ownership or otherwise.
§ Mr. SKELTON
There is no Member in the House whom I would less Tike to misrepresent than the right hon. Gentleman, but I took down the words that he used, and I think he gave the House to infer that there was a standard of severity in the Department as landlord from which the private landlord was free. I do not propose to go further into details.
I think the Bill passes with the general good will of the House. It is an effort, and an important and a regulated effort, to develop land settlement in Scotland along lines upon which the investigation of the committee and the experience of administration have seemed to show the way. I am sure that the House and the country will be only too glad if its success is in great and full measure. I agree entirely with what my Noble Friend said that in Scotland, where our industrial enterprises, partly through geological and partly from historical causes, are built upon the heavy industries, we must make a special effort to secure that the welfare of the country counterbalances the distress of the urban districts. So far as this Bill will do that, we shall be right in saying that we, in our day, have done something for our native land.