§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
*THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (Earl CADOGAN)
My Lords, I rise to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to a Bill for the provision of Small Agricultural Holdings in Great Britain. My Lords, it has been my duty, on more than one occasion, to present Bills to this House for dealing with the question of tenure of land. Those Bills related entirely to one part of the United Kingdom, namely, to Ireland; but, though I retain a grateful recollection of the generosity and support which I received, from your Lordships on the occasion of the performance of past duties, I cannot but feel anxiety as to the performance of the task which is before me now with regard to the Bill which now lies on your Lordships' Table. My Lords, this Bill has been for some time past before Parliament, and before the country. It was introduced into the other House of Parliament by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture in a speech of singular ability 833 and eloquence, which gave to that Assembly a very complete description of its scope and its general bearing. My Lords, I cannot doubt that every one of your Lordships will have made himself, to a certain extent, at any rate, acquainted with the provisions of this Bill; and I am therefore somewhat in doubt as to what course I should pursue in moving its Second Reading to-night. I remember to have heard that on one occasion, when a Member of your Lordships' House had performed the duty of moving the Second Reading of a Bill in a somewhat perfunctory and incomplete manner, a distinguished Peer rose, and began his speech by saying that "The noble Lord in charge of the Bill appeared to have omitted to do that which he asked the House to do, namely, to read the Bill a second time." My Lords, I am not anxious to incur any such criticism as that; and yet I think I should be wanting in respect to this House, especially in view of the many changes which have been imported into the Bill during its passage through the other House of Parliament, if I failed to go as quickly, and as concisely, and as clearly as I can through the general scheme of the Bill, and asked your Lordships to pass a judgment upon it as a whole. My Lords, as to the necessity which exists for some measure of this sort, and as to the objects which influence us in presenting it to the House, I conceive that all of your Lordships on both sides of the House will probably be agreed. I do not intend on the present occasion to discuss the circumstances under which agriculture has become depressed, or the causes which may have led to that depression. There is, however, one of the many evils which at present affect agriculture to which our attention has been specially directed; I allude to the migration which is taking place, and which increases every day, of the rural population from the rural districts into the towns. My Lords, that migration is perhaps easily understood, and can be easily accounted for. No doubt the spread of education, the increased facilities of communication, and other causes are likely to lead young men in agricultural districts to look to 834 something more lively than the occupations to which they have been brought up, and to induce them to leave the country and to go into the towns. But the worst of this state of things is that the want of sufficient labour, which is the result of this migration, has injurious effects, not only upon the labourers themselves, not only upon the tenants, not only upon the owners of land, but also upon the whole community. Undoubtedly the deficiency of labour which is thus caused must result in a deficiency of yield of produce throughout the country, and such a deficiency must injuriously affect every member of the community. My Lords, we believe that some remedy can be found for this most serious evil, and we believe that it can be found in an increase in the number of occupying owners by the creation of small holdings in the agricultural districts. With regard to the first of these points, it may be satisfactory to those who value consistency in policy and continuity in legislation that I should remind the House that the main object which we put forward in the Land Purchase Bill of last year was the increase which it would bring about in the number of occupying owners. It is interesting to note that the necessity or the advisability of such an increase proceeded in Ireland and in England from two diametrically opposite causes. In Ireland there is that love of the soil which possesses the inhabitants, that "land hunger" as it is called which induces them, above all things, to remain in and cling to that land upon which they have been born. In England, on the contrary, as I have just said, the evil which we have to combat is mainly this: that there is a tendency, on the part of those who are born and bred in the country, to leave the country to the detriment of the agricultural interest. But, however that may be, my Lords, the principle was adopted and was established that it is to the advantage of the country that we should, as much as possible, increase the number of the occupying owners of the soil. We have, therefore, determined to give effect to the recommendations of the Report of the Committee on Small 835 Holdings which sat from 1888 to 1890. Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to read the two paragraphs which refer specially to this point. The Committee say:—On this branch of the subject your Committee are strongly and unanimously of opinion that the extension of a system of small holdings is a matter of national importance. It is desirable in the interests of the rural population, to whom it offers the best incentive to industry and thrift, and it is calculated to add to the security of property by increasing the number of persons directly interested in the soil.And then, in the conclusions to which they came, the following paragraph occurs:—The following is a summary of the conclusions arrived at by the Committee: 1. That the extension of a system of small holdings is a matter of national importance, both in the interests of the rural population and also as adding to the security of property generally. 2. That the intervention of the Legislature is called for by the special circumstances of the case, and is justified by considerations affecting the well-being of the whole community.It is our desire to encourage occupiers to become owners of small holdings, to attach labourers to the soil by the inducements which the future or immediate possession of land may provide, and we desire and we hope to bring back from the towns some of those who have deserted their native villages, and who have endeavoured to earn a living in other branches of industry than that of agriculture. My Lords, a right hon. Gentleman, a colleague of noble Lords opposite, some time ago raised the cry, "The village for the villagers." I think that anyone who reads the Report of this Committee on Small Holdings will come to the conclusion that it will be necessary before long to bring back "the villagers to the village;" and I believe it will be found that the measure which I shall have the honour to lay before your Lordships is one that is calculated to effect that object. We have done something, as your Lordships know, by the provision of allotments. Two measures have been passed in the course of the present Parliament to assist the promotion of allotments which were limited to one acre; but it is our wish to go still further in that direction. It is encouraging to us to know that the small holdings which have been established in the country 836 have proved to a great extent successful. No doubt, as in the case of a well-known district in Lincolnshire where small holdings were formed a long time ago, in some cases such a heavy price had to be given for the land that those who settled in these small holdings were not only unable to live in them but were absolutely ruined in their endeavours to cultivate them. But that is not the case at present; the opportunity seems to be a good one; the price of land is low, and the stimulus which has been provided by allotments for cultivation and for interest in agriculture appears to point to the present as the moment for undertaking some legislation such as that which I venture to propose. Now, my Lords, with regard to the Bill, I will endeavour to make a very rapid survey of its general provisions. It is divided, as your Lordships will see, into three parts. The first is to constitute the provision of small holdings by the County Council; the second, which consists of only one clause, is to provide that loans should be granted by the County Council to the present tenants of small holdings who have agreed with their landlords to purchase; and the third consists of supplementary provisions only with a view of applying the clauses of the Act to the future. Now small holdings are defined in the Bill as plots of land from one acre to fifty acres in extent, or, as an alternative, land valued at £50 a year. For the purpose of providing these small holdings, the Local Authority, the County Council, is empowered to borrow money of the Public Works Loans Commissioners, who are empowered under the Bill to lend at a rate of interest not less than 3⅛ per cent., for the purpose of acquiring land for persons who desire to buy and will themselves cultivate their holdings. This borrowing power is limited so that the charge under it is not to exceed a penny in the pound on the rateable value of the land. And here, my Lords, I wish to mention one objection which has been largely taken by the opponents of this Bill to these provisions—namely, the question of the authority to whom is entrusted the working of this Bill. It has been said that the County Councils are 837 not the authorities who are best qualified to carry on these operations. I believe it was suggested that some authorities like the Board of Guardians, or some authorities which have not even yet been constituted, like those Parish Councils of which we have heard so much lately, should be the proper authority under the Bill. It is I think sufficient in reply to those criticisms to say that as this Bill is only experimental, and as a rate of a penny in the pound in the aggregate is calculated to amount to about ten millions of money, it is advisable that a larger area should be used at first to carry out this experiment. If in a large area and if backed by the resources of the large area, this experiment is carried out, even if it should fail, the loss would not be large; but, if to the small authorities, to which I have alluded, is committed this duty, it is extremely doubtful whether their resources would be sufficient to find the money which would be required under the circumstances. My Lords, I now pass on to the procedure which I may briefly state to the House. Your Lordships will observe that this Bill differs so far from the Allotments Act that the County Council are enabled to take action themselves without any previous petition or action being taken by any of the electors. One or two of the electors may, however, petition the Council, and their petition would be referred to a Committee of Inquiry which is constituted under Clause 5. That Committee is to report to the County Council, and if their report is favourable to the application of the Bill, the land is then to be acquired by the County Council. Now "acquired," as your Lordships will see, means primarily "purchased." There is a clause, to which I shall presently refer, which enables the County Council to let land; but it is obvious that for the proper working of the Bill it is more advantageous that the large number of these small holdings created under this Bill should be created by purchase rather than by hire; because after the County Council purchase they are enabled to sell; and if they are enabled to sell, they carry out our object in increasing the number of occupying owners. It is also, as I think your Lordships 838 will agree, undesirable that Local Authorities should be placed largely in the position of middlemen; and it is undesirable also that we should incur the risk to the ratepayers, which inevitably would occur if the Local Authority became the landlord. The price to be given is to be reasonable, and such as to repay the outlay of the expenses of the sale. And now before I go further I would, with the indulgence of your Lordships, refer to the other great objection which appears to have been taken by our opponents to the Bill—namely, to the question of its operation being permissive and not compulsory. Now, my Lords, I am not prepared to deny, what everybody knows, that compulsion has been and frequently is resorted to for purposes which are calculated to be beneficial to the public welfare. This system of compulsion appears to be on the increase. It is generally the first criticism that you hear from our opponents that any measure that we are introducing is not compulsory in its action; in fact, within the last few days compulsion has been raised to the dignity of a beatitude. But I conceive myself, and I believe your Lordships will agree, that, especially in the matter of contract between man and man, it is advisable, at all events before you resort to compulsion, that you should be able to prove that the necessity for compulsion has arisen. If this Bill assumed a compulsory form, this at least would be the result that you would almost inevitably do away with voluntary sale and purchase of these small holdings, and it would result in a general system of compulsion in their organisation. But there is again another reason against compulsion in the matter of small holdings. We are constantly reminded that in the matter of allotments we have introduced compulsion. We did so, however, for this reason—that if the labourer requires an allotment he requires it in a particular position, he requires it near his own house, he requires it where he can easily and conveniently cultivate it; it is possible that grievances may thus arise, and that it may be found absolutely necessary to introduce compulsion, and accordingly we intro- 839 duced it. But that argument does not apply in the case of small holdings. The necessity that may arise for a small holding does not arise in one particular place; it is the general demand, the general desire for small holdings in any county which sets in motion the authority which is to constitute these small holdings; and it is at all events reasonable to suppose that with the amount of land which is now to be sold throughout the country, and with the absence of all necessity for any particular location of that land when it is desired to establish a small holding, the necessity for compulsion will not arise in the manner in which it arose in regard to allotments. I will not lay any stress on the argument of expense; but that is one also I think that nobody can deny; the expense of compulsion in these matters is always considerable; and I think, if noble Lords opposite consider it, they will see that that is another reason against pressing for that condition. I hope therefore that we shall not hear to-night, as we have heard on platforms and elsewhere, that this is a measure good in its intentions and to a certain extent unobjectionable in its form, but which will be absolutely nugatory because it does not contain a clause rendering compulsory the various conditions of the measure. Now to refer to the proposals of the Bill—the Local Authority having become the owners of the land they are empowered to adopt it for small holdings, to erect buildings upon it, to offer it for sale under conditions which will be found in Clause 6, which I do not think I need read at length to the House. As I said before, with a view to help labourers who have not been able to put by money enough to buy these small holdings, it is provided that holdings of not more than fifteen acres or of the value of £15 per annum may be let in accordance with rules which the County Council are empowered to issue, and which will be found under Clause 7. The small holdings created in the manner described are to be held under conditions described in Clause 9, and it will not occupy more than a minute of your Lordships' time if I may be allowed to read them. First— 840That any periodical payments due in respect of the purchase-money shall be duly made";secondly—That the holding shall, unless let with the consent of the County Council, be cultivated by the owner, and shall not be used for any purpose other than agriculture";thirdly—That the holding shall not be sub-divided or let without the consent of the County Council";fourthly—That not more than one dwelling-house shall be erected on the holding";fifthly—That any dwelling-house erected on the holding shall comply with such requirements as the County Council may impose for securing healthiness, and freedom from overcrowding";and lastly—That no dwelling-house or building on the holding shall be used for the sale of intoxicating liquors.Now, my Lords, the question arose at this stage of the Bill which I think it may be interesting also to your Lordships to discuss: Are these conditions which attach to these holdings to be perpetual, that is to say, are they to last only so long as the holding continues in its present position and until the money is fully paid; or, are they to be perpetual? This matter was discussed in the other House of Parliament, and very opposite views were expressed. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has at all times expressed his very earnest desire that these holdings, if they are established, shall be freed as soon as possible from all vexatious and restrictive conditions; and I must say that in that wish I fully coincide. But the decision arrived at in the other House was that these conditions, shall remain for twenty years, and thereafter so long as the money remains unpaid. Your Lordships will see at once that it is necessary to secure the duration of these conditions in order to prevent what I may call jobbery in land, that is to say, in order to prevent their being purchased by someone for a short period, and, as soon as that period is at an end, being used for other purposes 841 than those of agriculture as intended. There is one more clause in Part I. that I think I ought to mention—that is Clause 17, under which it is provided that the County Council may delegate the adaptation, selling, letting, and management of small holdings to a Committee consisting of five members, three of whom are to be members of the County Council, and the other two representatives of the immediate locality. I draw the particular attention of your Lordships to this provision, because it is an attempt to meet the views of those who would, and perhaps with some reason, wish not only to decentralise the authority, but also to secure that proper local knowledge is utilised in the procedure under this Bill. I referred before to the somewhat vague allusions to Parish Councils to which we have become accustomed of late; but I think under this clause it will be seen that by the delegation of the powers of the County Council, which as I said before have been considered to be too wide and central, we shall arrive at considerable use of the local knowledge which is so desirable, as I admit, in these proceedings. My Lords, there are two clauses, Clauses 8 and 10, referring to registration of title. I think those are not clauses that I need deal with in a speech on the Second Reading of a Bill—they afford a fair and ample battleground for those high authorities on legal procedure in which this House is so rich, and I think it will, perhaps, be better to postpone the consideration of their details until the Committee stage is reached. I now come to two clauses which were added to the Bill in the course of its passage through the House of Commons—they are Clauses 11 and 12. I take Clause 12 first, because it has reference to a subject on which I have already touched—namely, the question of perpetuity of the conditions and restrictive covenants. My Lords, this Clause 12 was designed in part to meet to some extent the views of those who are in favour of making these covenants perpetual. It provides that before the holding be used or sold for purposes other than agricultural—that is to say, going outside the condi- 842 tions of the holding, a right of preemption is to be given first to the County Council, secondly to the owner of the land from which the holding was originally severed, and thirdly to the adjoining owner; and, of course, I may add that if the right of preemption is not availed of then the holder of the small holding can do as he pleases, and can use it free from that covenant that it shall only be used for agricultural purposes. And then I come to Clause 11, of which I will read to your Lordships the actual text—Land comprised in a small holding shall be and shall remain personal property, and shall be dealt with in like manner and be subject to like rules of law as leasehold land. Provided that nothing in this section shall render any such land liable to Probate Duty or Legacy Duty, or exempt it from Succession Duty.Your Lordships will observe that the effect of that clause is twofold. It provides that all small holdings, when created, shall become personalty; and in the proviso you will find that, although it has become personalty, it is to be liable, not to Probate or Legacy Duty, but to Succession Duty—which is the condition usually appertaining to realty. This clause was introduced into the House of Commons by Mr. Cust, and supported by a large number of Members on both sides of the House. The object of it undoubtedly was this. It was felt that under the ordinary intestate succession — because this clause mainly applies to intestacy—to land which would be realty, a serious grievance would arise with reference to the position of the widow and children of the owner; and it was felt desirable that some remedy to that should be found. Now, your Lordships are perfectly well aware that there are already cases of realty held and devolving as personalty, and the Ashbourne Act has already been cited, as also has the Land Transfer Bill of my noble Friend the noble Lord on the Woolsack. But the case of Ireland is not analogous. The leaseholds there were converted into ownerships under the section of the Act of 1887, and the owners nevertheless—perhaps I ought to remind your Lordships that this characteristically occurred in Ireland—continued to believe that these holdings 843 were personalty and continued to treat them as personalty. The law therefore had to be altered to meet this special case. And with regard to the Bill of my noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, that was a general Bill to amend the condition of transfer and devolution of land, and, though no doubt some such change might have been applicable to a Bill such as that which my noble and learned Friend then introduced, it would, I think your Lordships will agree, be extremely undesirable that in a clause contained in a Bill of this nature an entirely new tenure of land should be created, which, under this clause, would be divided into two classes. There are two more reasons connected with the clauses of the Bill which I have now the honour to lay before your Lordships which I think may be taken as arguments against this clause: the one is that there are already two clauses in the Bill providing against sub-division; whereas, if this land is turned into personalty, sub-division must inevitably result in the case of the death of an owner who has not made a will. And another difficulty has been suggested—but that is one also which can better be dealt with by the great judicial authorities in this House—namely, I am informed that there are rights of dower, which would attach to these small holdings under any circumstances, and which, if they were not barred, would remain even if these holdings became personalty. Therefore, with all these difficulties before us—your Lordships will remember that this clause was inserted somewhat late in the passage of the Bill through the House of Commons—and in view of the fact that it would be almost impossible to pass the clause without considerable modifications, we are landed in serious difficulty; because the proviso at any rate of this clause is one which deals with the imposition of a tax, and I am advised that, under no circumstances, would it be within the rights of this House to amend or modify the clause. I shall be glad to hear the opinion of noble Lords opposite and others upon the matter; but I should be very much disposed to recommend to the House that we should throw out the clause, and trust to the other House of Parliament producing an 844 amended and improved clause, when it returns to that Assembly, which we should be enabled to adopt, and thus to meet the wishes of those who proposed the clause as it now stands. My Lords, I think I have now stated to the House the chief enactments which will be found in Part I. Part II. consists of only one clause, but it is a clause of some importance; it applies really to Great Britain the principle which is embodied in the Ashbourne and other Acts relating to Ireland—namely, that, under certain conditions, public money should be advanced to existing tenants for the purchase of their holdings. It will be essential, before any advance is made, that there should be an agreement between landlord and tenant, and the County Council are to be satisfied that the title of the holding is good, that the sale is made in good faith, and that the price is reasonable. Where these conditions exist the Council may advance an amount not exceeding four-fifths, that is 80 per cent., of the purchase money; and this will be repaid by the small holder on the same terms as if the County Council had purchased the land and had themselves created the small holding. As I said before, Part III. consists entirely of supplemental provisions, and there are clauses in it — which may perhaps interest some noble Lords in this House—for adopting the general procedure under the Bill to the different conditions under which land is held in Scotland. My Lords, I feel I ought to apologise to your Lordships for having delayed you so long upon the somewhat dull and dry details of this measure. I think I have gone through all those provisions which would come naturally under our consideration in a Second Reading Debate, and I propose to leave the remainder of the details to the Committee stage. My Lords, as to the result of this Bill it will be difficult for anyone to utter any prophecy, and I shall certainly not myself attempt any prediction. It is, as I have said, an experiment. It is a measure tentative in its character, and it is one of which, until it has been tried, it is impossible to foresee the consequences or the result. But a difficulty has been found, and has been 845 accentuated lately, in the position of a Minister who brings forward any measure of this sort. If he expresses any doubt as to the actual efficacy of the measure—if he expresses any fears that it may not wholly fulfil the objects which it was intended to promote—he is at once told that he is half-hearted in its production, and that he does not thoroughly sympathise with the measure which he is called upon to introduce. My Lords, I am one of those who do not believe in finality in legislation of this sort. We have to provide for difficulties, the creation of which has covered a large number of years; and is impossible to believe that any remedy which we can produce will be immediately successful in completely doing away with the evil which it is our object to avoid. But I do venture to commend this measure to the anxious consideration of your Lordships, as one which is sincerely and honestly designed to improve the condition and to brighten the prospects of the tillers of the soil. My Lords, much has been done during this Parliament for agricultural labourers — their dwellings have been improved; greater interest has been evinced, and progress has been made by legislation, in questions affecting sanitation; the education of their children has been freed; and, as I reminded jour Lordships just now, legislative enactments have been passed for enabling them to obtain allotments. But there is one thing still lacking, and there is one grievance which remains yet unredressed. I think we cannot but feel the hopelessness of the lot of those who have no future to look to in the career to which they have been born; who, if they wish for success, must seek for it far away from the homes in which they have been brought up; who have no prospect, in the pursuit of their avocation, of attaining that position of independence which should be at once the incentive and the reward of their industry. My Lords, it is in the earnest hope that a remedy may be provided for this state of things that the Government have determined to produce and hope to pass this measure. We are standing, as it were, round the death-bed of a Parliament which will 846 be memorable for the improvement which it has wrought in the condition of all classes of the labouring population; and I venture to think that we cannot better employ the closing days of this Session than by assisting to pass a measure which, as we sincerely believe, will materially conduce to the welfare of the agricultural labourer, and do much to revive the drooping fortunes of the greatest and most important of our industries.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Earl Cadogan.)
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
My Lords, I am anxious to say a few words upon the object of this Bill, and to express the views which I entertain about it, which I grieve to say are not of the same character as those of my noble Friend who has just addressed you. And, feeling as I do about the Bill, I am quite prepared to admit that the most logical conclusion I could come to would be to move the rejection of the Bill on the Second Reading. But, my Lords, I am not willing to do that for what seems to me a very sufficient reason, and that is, that I feel certain that if I attempted to do so I should fail in the attempt. My Lords, there is some mysterious agency underlying this whole question, because I find a marvellous and extraordinary consensus of opinion on both sides of the House in the other House of Parliament that this is the time, now, as my noble Friend said, around the death-bed of the Parliament, when it behoves us in the most strenuous and most united manner, as in the other House of Parliament, to provide small holdings for the agricultural labourer. My Lords, I wonder that this has not occurred to both sides of the House before. I think it did. But then the House was of a different mind, and it was not brought so prominently home to them as it appears to have been on this occasion. Now, my Lords, I am far from saying that it is not a good thing that there should be an increase in the number of those who hold land in this country; I am entirely in favour of it; but then I think it should be done by what I call legitimate means, and I am sufficient of a Tory to consider that the best mode of 847 meeting this question is to leave it to the ordinary course of events, and to let those who want to buy and those who want to sell make their own bargains without the intervention of the State and the ratepayer. We have been told by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture that there is an enormous amount of land in this country to be sold; we are also told that there are a great number of persons who are anxious to purchase. If that is so, what is the necessity for an Act of Parliament to enable them to do so? The reason I take to be that they have not got the money to buy, and that you are now coming forward to lend them the money with which they are to purchase this land. My Lords, the views which I entertain are very clearly set out by a most eminent agriculturist who was examined before the Committee on Small Holdings that sat two years ago, a gentleman very well known in the West of England and indeed all over England, Mr. Squarey, a very eminent land agent. The question was put to him—Might it not be desirable that the State should intervene in this way in order to stimulate the creation of these small holdings?and Mr. Squarey said—I have been brought up in the doctrine of laisser faire, and I believe that individuals can do this thing very much better than the State can do it; because if the State once departs in England—which we can deal with without any of the associations connected with Ireland—from the sound political and economical doctrine of letting individuals make their own bargains, and if one section of the State is to be subsidised when others are not to receive the same subsidy in the conduct of their business, as an individual I think it is a wrong departure, and I hesitate to endorse it, much as I should like to see small holdings increase.I believe that is exactly the common-sense view of the case. My Lords, I am very much in favour of allotments; I think they are most excellent and admirable things, and the more they can be increased the better; but to be of use to a labourer the allotment must be near his cottage where he can cultivate it when he has any spare time to devote to it. And, my Lords, I think that the allotments ought not to be too large. If they are made too large they will fail. If this measure is to be a boon to the labouring 848 class, it is no use giving them more land than they can cultivate properly and serve the master for whom they are engaged to work. I differ entirely from my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture when he says that those who have these small holdings will cultivate the holdings themselves, and will also be able to work for the farmers. I look upon it as an impossibility, because the time when the farmer wants the work more particularly than at any other time is just the time when the owner of a small holding will also be busy with his own holding in carrying out the operations which are necessary there. Now, my Lords, with regard to the size of the holdings. I am sorry to quote, but there is a letter written on the subject of these small holdings by one of the most eminent agriculturists in the country, Sir John Lawes, who is very well known for his interest in agriculture, who has devoted a great deal of time and labour and consideration to the subject of allotments; and this is what he says—he is describing some allotments that he set out on his own property at Rothamsted. He says—Many of these allotments are held by agricultural and other labourers, and I believe it is the unanimous opinion that one-eighth of an acre is quite as much as a man depending on weekly wages can properly cultivate. In fact, whilst no demand has been made for larger areas, requests have occasionally been made for smaller ones on account of the smallness of the family or the age of the tenant.That expresses my opinion with regard to allotments, and I have taken some interest in the matter and not to a very small extent. Now, my Lords, the reasons for the Bill, as I gather from my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal, are twofold: one is to re-create the class of yeomen, and the other is with regard to the labourers migrating into the towns. My noble Friend did not go very far into the question of the recreation of yeomen—I will touch upon it presently. I now wish to draw your Lordships' attention to the other reason for the Bill which my noble Friend put forward, namely, that the labourers go into the towns; and I think my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture went even further than my noble Friend 849 did just now, because he spoke of the attractions of town life, the increase of education, the growing dislike to actual labour, the reduction in wages and the increase of allotments which followed the passing of the Allotments Act. My Lords, with regard to the question of the reduction of wages I differ entirely from my right hon. Friend, and I think he can scarcely have forgotten that when we sat for three years, I think, upon the Royal Commission on Agricultural Depression, if there was one thing more than another that was continually brought before us it was that whereas during these very had times of agricultural depression wages had increased, the work which the farmers got for those wages had diminished very considerably. I am sure my right hon. Friend would not deny that that was the evidence which we had before us, and I think my noble Friend opposite must have heard it too.
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
My Lords, I do not agree with my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal when he says that the diminished number of labourers in the country has affected the yield of crops.
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
I understood my noble Friend to say that the want of sufficient labour was bad for the agricultural interest and affected the yield of crops. I do not think that is the fact. I confess that I have never heard yet that there was such a diminution of agricultural labour in this country that the crops of the country had suffered.
§ *EARL CADOGAN
I hope my noble Friend will excuse my explaining that I did not speak in the past; I did not say the crops had suffered from want of agricultural labour; I said that undoubtedly there was a migration going on to an increasing extent in the country, which must result in such a diminution of labour as must eventually tend to a decrease in the yield of the land. I did not say it had occurred.
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
Then my noble Friend rather embarked on that spirit of prophecy which he deprecated just now. I am ready to admit that it is likely that such a migration of labour into the towns, will cause less labour to be available; but I have Sir John Lawes again on the question of the migration of labour into the towns, which I cannot but think has been very much exaggerated. It may be that in some places the labourers have gone into the towns, but not to the extent that my noble Friend would have your Lordships believe. Now Sir John Lawes says—There is little hope that a system of small holdings can ever be carried out in this country to anything like the extent which experience has shown to be practicable in the countries that are so frequently held up to us as models by those unacquainted with the conditions essential to success, or even with practical agriculture at all.And I call my noble Friend's attention to this—Indeed, no one who dismisses from his mind sentiment and the exigencies of party politics, and looks carefully into the facts of the subject which is pre-eminently a very practical one, can entertain any hope that the system of small holdings can be carried out to any such extent as to counteract at all materially the flow of the rising rural populations into the towns.Well, my Lords, we are told that the increase of education and the growing dislike to actual labour are some of the reasons which cause these agricultural labourers to go into the towns. What is there in giving a man a small holding of from one to fifteen acres on lease that will prevent the increase of education from causing him to desire to go into the town? And, moreover, if it is the dislike of actual labour that has been the cause, to give him a holding in which he knows that unless he does work himself, and work very hard, he cannot make it pay, does not seem to meet those two reasons for going into the towns. The giving him a certain amount of small holding will have no effect whatever. But, my Lords, I was very much struck, and I read with very great interest and attention all the speeches — and they were a great number — which my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture addressed, 851 some in the other House of Parliament and some to "conventions," as I think they called them, of labourers—I never heard of them before, but there were two or three conventions; and one of the advantages which my right hon. Friend held out to the labouring population, as one of the benefits of this Bill, was that it wouldfind employment for that vast number of the population which, alas, at present were out of employment.If that is so—if the labourers are in the country and this Bill is to find them a great amount of employment—where is the argument that they are gone into the towns? You cannot have it both ways. If they are gone into the towns, the labour that you find for them in the country will not be of any use to them, because, according to that theory, there is only a small number remaining in the country—not more than enough to carry on the agricultural employment in the various districts. Therefore I say that the statement of the President of the Board of Agriculture, that this Bill is to find employment for a great number of those who are unhappily out of employment, does not quite accord with the idea that they have all gone into the towns. But then the owner of fifty acres is certainly a man who will not employ labour, because, if he does, he will be in the Bankruptcy Court before he is much older; he must work it himself or he will not make a profit out of it. Then, my Lords, I come to another point, and that is the County Councils being the authority. I cannot conceive any worse authority than the County Councils to deal with this matter. I am not prepared to say what authority should be set up—that is not my business—but just fancy the County Councils as the landlords of these leaseholders to whom you are going to grant leases of from one acre up to fifteen, and others up to fifty acres! I cannot imagine what will take place. Who is to sign the lease, to begin with? Is it to be the Chairman of the County Council? Is it to be a vote brought before the County Council that such and such a lease is to be signed by the Chairman? There is nothing in the Bill which says who is to sign the lease. I am sure there are numbers of 852 your Lordships, who have small holders as tenants, who know that it is often very difficult to know what to do with them; they are not the best rent payers in the world, and it requires very often some consideration on the part of the landlord before he takes any serious steps. He may give him time before he either insists upon having his rent paid, or turns a man out of his holding; and that is a matter that requires very great consideration on the part of the landlord. But then who is to be the judge here? I have the honour of presiding over the County Council of West Sussex; we consist of sixty-three Councillors. Is the question of arrears of rent to be brought up and argued before the Council, and a vote taken as to whether one man who holds ten acres is to be proceeded against, or his rent reduced or forgiven altogether? I do not see that there is any provision whatever in the Bill to show how that is to be done; and, if it is to be done by the County Councils, I think myself it is a very serious matter. Then how are you going to carry out this measure? Supposing you require ten holdings of 50 acres each, you must buy a farm of 500 acres to do that. And what will that be in the neighbourhood of some towns? That will be no good to holders in a distant part of the country; you would have to take another 500 acre farm there. It seems to me almost unworkable. Now I will follow my noble Friend through the Bill. I take Clause 1—the County Council are to take land suitable for agriculture. It seems to me that that is a very wide term. What is "suitable for agriculture," and who is to be the judge? Originally—and my noble Friend did not tell us why it was left out in the first part of the Bill—this measure was to apply for the benefit of the labouring population, and they must reside in the county. The labouring population has fallen out of the Bill, and the residence in the county has fallen out of the Bill; so it may be, so far as I understand it, that persons not residing in the county may get the benefit of those who live in the county. Just look what effect that would have. You might have a man living in Kent possessing land in the County of 853 Sussex, which land in the County of Sussex is provided by means of the ratepayers in the County of Sussex. Could there be anything more unjust than that? Then I do not quite understand another term in the Bill, which is that the man must cultivate it himself. I do not understand what cultivating it himself means; because if he must cultivate it himself he cannot be in Kent; but I understand my noble Friend to admit that this is not intended to force him to reside in Sussex, because that was left out of the Bill as it passed through the other House of Parliament. Then, my Lords, there is a very remarkable point in connection with those words "land suitable for agriculture." One would imagine that they were not to take any land that was not suitable for agriculture; but if your Lordships turn to Clause 16 it says that the'County Council shall, if practicable, sell or [...]assmall holdings, and in accordance with this Act, any land required under this Act, but it the Council are of opinion that any such land is not needed for, or is unsuitable for, small holdings" then "they may sell or let the land,which, according to the instructions in the first part of the Bill, they have no business to take because it is not suitable for agriculture. Therefore they may take my land and they may get it for the purpose of agriculture, and, after they have got this land of mine, they may suddenly find out that it is not wanted—that is the extraordinary thing—and then, though they have got it from me for the purpose of agriculture, they may sell or exchange that land, and with the proceeds of it they may buy some land in another part with which I have nothing whatever to do. I think that is a most extraordinary provision, and is certainly one that I do not approve of. My Lords, I am sure my noble Friend will forgive my saying so, but I think the title of the Bill is a wrong one. I do not think it should be called a "Small Agricultural Holdings Bill"; I would rather call it a "Bill to enable County Councils to speculate in land at the expanse of the ratepayers," because that seems to me what it is; if you call things by their right names that would certainly con- 854 vey very much what is in the Bill. Then there is another clause, I think it is Clause 19, that the Council shall fix the rent at such reasonable amount as to guard them against loss. Well now I do not quite see how that can possibly be done. If your Lordships bear with me I will just point out why Supposing you are taking land that is worth 30s. an acre, I conclude that, if you take land at 30s. an acre from a tenant, you are bound to pay him something for disturbance; then that, of course, is added to the 30s. Then, in addition to that, there is the fencing, roads, water, buildings, and the drainage; all that, of course, must be added to the rent. Unless you have bought the land far below its market value, when you let it it must be let at such a rent that the man cannot possibly pay it; or, if you do not charge him that high rent, then it must be paid by one of two people—it must either be paid by the tenant to whom you let it, or by the ratepayers; and in that case a serious addition would be made to the local rates. Then, my Lords, there is an expression that I should very much like my noble Friend to explain, and that is that this land may be cultivated on the co-operative system.
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
It is in Clause 4, at the bottom of the page—A number of persons working on a co-operative system, provided such system be approved by the County Council.What does that mean? I cannot, for the life of me, understand it. And it is to be left to the County Council to say whether it is a co-operative system or not. You are dealing with very small holdings. What do you call a co-operative system? Are there to be half-a-dozen labourers joined together to farm a plot of fifteen acres—because they would not have two acres apiece? And observe, if you have a six acre farm on a co-operative system, what an enormous amount of squabbling and quarrelling there would be; each man would think he knew better than his neighbour how it ought to be cultivated. I should not envy anyone who worked on the co-operative system. 855 Then I think, my Lords, under Clause 6, after the money is all paid, the holding becomes the freehold property of the owner, and he may cut it up into as many little bits as he pleases, as it seems to me. I do not know whether that is wise, but I should rather doubt it. Then under Clause 9 the County Council are to make sanitary rules. But then what becomes of the Sanitary Authority? because you set up two Sanitary Authorities there you have the regular Local Sanitary Authority and you have the Sanitary Authority set up under this Bill. Which is to prevail? One of them must. Perhaps my noble Friend will think that over before the Committee stage; I think he should look to that, and see what can be done. Then, my Lords, I come to Clause 11. My noble Friend says with regard to that clause he is in a serious difficulty. I never like to hear my noble Friend say he is in a serious difficulty, and I am always glad if, by any possibility—particularly as I have been rather criticising his measure—I can relieve him. I think I can relieve him, because I will move the rejection of that clause when we get into Committee; and, from what he said to-night, I am certain that I shall get his support and that of my noble Friends who think with me. I now come to the first reason for the Bill—namely, the re-creation of the yeomen. I am quite ready to admit that they are a most admirable class; I regret that they have ceased to exist really, and my noble Friend in talking of yeomen I think must for get—
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
But the right hon. Gentleman did in introducing the Bill into the House of Commons, and I have a right to take what the Proposer of the Bill intends the Bill to do. He said that there were two objects in the Bill—one was to benefit the labouring population, and the other was to recreate, if he might be allowed to use the expression, the class of yeomen. A yeoman used to be considered a man who owned from one hundred to five hundred acres of land, and 856 to say that you are going to re-create the class of yeomen holding from one hundred to five hundred acres of land, by setting up men who own land from one acre up to fifty acres, is, to say the least of it, as it seems to me, a most extraordinary statement to come from either my noble Friend or my right hon. Friend. My Lords, the yeomen have gradually disappeared, because the present state of things did not suit them—because they preferred to occupy rather than to own; and there are many instances even in which the yeoman has sold his own land and afterwards become the tenant of the man who bought it. I was talking to a friend of mine, a yeoman, not long ago, who owned about two hundred acres of land. I asked him how he got on, and he said very badly indeed, and he added, "For family reasons I do not like to part with the land, but I should be very much better off if I was the tenant and you the landlord, and you were the buffer between me and bad times." That is the very reason. They do not like to be the buffer themselves, but would rather somebody else was. And, to say that you can re-create a class of that kind by having fifty acre holdings is an assertion that I certainly cannot admit. My Lords, I must apologise for being so long. I have just come to the last point, and I told my noble Friend I would not forget it—I am quite sure he would be very sorry if I did — and that is compulsion. My noble Friend I think admitted that these holdings were an extension of the Allotments Act. In the Allotments Act there is compulsion. Then, I ask, if you have compulsion for one acre, what is the difference between one acre and fifteen acres? If you find it necessary in the one you will find it necessary in the other. My Lords, I am of opinion that compulsion will come. I do not mean to say that I like it, but I think it will come, and I cannot help thinking that everybody whom I have the honour of addressing at this moment is of the same opinion too. If such a dreadful calamity were to happen to the country as that my noble Friend the Prime Minister was to find himself in a short time sitting on the other side of the House, we know perfectly well what 857 would happen; because we have been told, by noble Lords in this House and right hon. Gentlemen in the other House of Parliament, that the only mistake in the Bill is that there is no compulsion in it; and therefore I have no doubt if that calamity should happen—I hope to goodness it will not—we shall have compulsion. But I say the logical conclusion is that, if you are bound to have this power of compulsion up to one acre, it is absolutely necessary to have it for more. There are many men who would say, "Take one acre if that is all; I do not care about that; it will make very little difference in the field." But, when you come to take ten or fifteen acres, I do not think you will find it so easy; and, if you find it necessary to have compulsion in order to get one acre, you will find it more necessary when dealing with ten or fifteen acres. I should like very much to quote one of the reasons, and it is so very weak a reason that it alarms me, that was given by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Agriculture. He said—He believed the power of compulsion at the present time to be absolutely unnecessary. On the First Reading of the Bill he stated that the quantity of land in the market for sale was something remarkable, and that the difficulty rather was on the part of owners of land to find a purchaser rather than to induce them to sell. He had in his possession figures supplied by a firm who during the last three years had sold about 67,000 acres of land in England alone out of 375,000 acres which they had at their disposal.I want your Lordships to consider what he says now—If hon. Members multiplied the number of eminent firms who had land at their disposal with the number of acres sold by this firm in proportion, they would find that there was in the market at the present time waiting for purchasers an amount of land which made the idea of compulsion entirely unnecessary if not ridiculous.Now, if it would not be rude, I should have applied that epithet to that last statement. If that is the way you are to arrive at the quantity of land in the country, and if that is the fact which renders it unnecessary to resort to compulsion, all I have to say is that I hope the statistics of the Agricultural Department are not framed on the same principles. My Lords, in this quantity of land which my right hon. Friend has 858 been describing he does not tell us where the land is situated and what sort of land it is. It is no use to tell a labouring man in Sussex that he can have a very good bit of land somewhere in Northamptonshire. It is no good unless you have the land in the immediate neighbourhood where you want it. And as to the quality of the land, unless you know what sort of land it is, you cannot say that it is capable of being turned into these holdings. My Lords, I come now to the injury which this Bill will inflict upon two classes in this country, who are not mentioned in the Bill at all, and who I take to be not the two least important classes in the country—namely, the owner and the occupier of land. I am assuming now that we shall get compulsion, as I am sure we shall. My noble Friend does not like it, but still it will come, and I quite understand his not arguing the question.
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
No, but it will be in the next. Just take the injury that would befall the owner and occupier. Take a farm of two hundred acres, of which the County Council want to take fifty acres. They will not take the worst land; because we know perfectly well that it is difficult enough in these days to make both ends meet if you are dealing with good land; therefore the County Council, if they are going to let it to a man, will take fifty acres of the best land on the farm. Everybody knows that on all farms there is good land as well as bad, and that they see one against the other, and the man pays the rent, taking it all round, which he thinks he can afford to pay. But, if you take fifty acres off a two hundred acre farm, and leave it with 150 acres of the worst land, it is obvious that the occupier cannot pay his rent. Then what happens? He gives his landlord notice to quit, and the landlord is left with a farm of 150 acres with probably more buildings than he wants upon it, which he cannot possibly dispose of at anything like a rental. I say this is one of the fruits of the very great injustice that would be done to every owner and occupier of a farm.
*THE DUKE OF RICHMOND AND GORDON
No, but my noble Friend says the Bill is an experiment; it is a sort of pilot balloon; it goes on, and after a bit when it is found that under this Bill you cannot do what you want to do, you cannot get the land you want to get, just in the same way as you could not get all the allotments you wanted under the old system and were obliged to resort to compulsion, so I say it will be exactly the same thing now, for the compulsion for the Allotments Act was brought in by my friends the Government themselves, and therefore they admit that it is necessary in some cases. My Lords, I am sorry to have detained you so long, but I feel very strongly upon this question, and this is a Bill which contains a great deal that is not at all to my mind. I hope it may be a success. My noble Friend says it is an experiment; I hope it may be a successful one; but, at the same time, I have very great doubts as to whether it will prove that blessing to the agricultural labourers which my noble Friend hopes it will.
§ *EARL SPENCER
My Lords, I hope I shall not trouble your Lordships at any great length, but I feel that I ought to make some remarks on this important measure which has been introduced by my noble Friend the Lord Privy Seal. I shall not follow the exceedingly interesting speech of the noble Duke who has just sat down; he has acted the part of a candid friend to Her Majesty's Government, and it will be for them to answer the criticisms which he has made on their Bill. My remarks, my Lords, will be of a more general character; and, at the outset, I should like to say, with regard to a remark which fell from the Lord Privy Seal that the opponents of the Government have twitted him and those who introduced the measure with being half-hearted about it, that I do not in the slightest degree wish to impute that they are half-hearted in this matter. I am ready to admit that they consider that this Bill will be of advantage to the country. The only thing, I may say, is that they would not have thrown themselves open to the insinuation to which he refers if 860 they had been able to introduce the measure at an earlier stage of their political existence. Now, my Lords, I do not consider it is necessary to argue in favour of the desirability of increasing the number of owners of land in this country. The social and political advantage of this course is admitted on all hands. Nor need I argue in favour of the desirability of enabling the man who earns his daily bread from agricultural labour to mount the ladder of his profession and to rise gradually from the lowest step where he may now stand. Everybody, I believe, admits that to give hope to a man makes him a better worker, and a better citizen. I should like to dwell on two or three points which occur to me in considering this matter; and first of all I would like to refer to what I believe is the case—namely, the diminution of small holdings in this country. The interesting Report of the Committee which sat up to 1890, to which my noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) referred, speaks clearly on this question. It is obvious that that Committee considered that there had been a very considerable diminution in the number of small holdings in the country, notwithstanding the large increase in the amount of land brought into cultivation, and the increase of small holdings near the towns. Now, to what do they attribute this falling off of small holdings? First of all there is the natural waste in small ownership; small owners from ordinary causes are obliged to sell their land, and, when they sell their holdings, other small owners rarely come in to occupy the same holdings. It may be that some small owners who have been successful buy an adjoining holding, and perhaps double their small holding; but more often, from economic causes which I need not go into, large owners of property absorb these small holdings. Then there is another cause which contributes a good deal to the discouragement of small holdings. I allude to what has been done during the last forty years, or perhaps even before that time, in the inclosure of common land. Now, as your Lordships are aware, common lands afforded great opportunities to small owners for 861 the feeding of their stock, and in other ways they derived considerable benefit from common land. I am quite aware that when inclosure took place a considerable number of small holdings were created, but not to any very appreciable extent in comparison with the amount of land which was distributed in larger holdings. I notice from this Report that, out of about 600,000 acres which have been dealt with in this way, only about 2,195 acres were given for garden land or small fields. I, for one, regret the operation of these inclosures, for I believe that more good was perhaps done by many of these than the good which I know those who favoured the Inclosure Act prophesied from their proceedings—namely, the large increase of cultivation in the country. I cannot but think that the diminution of these commons has had an effect in diminishing small holdings. The Committee refer to other causes, and those causes are important. They draw attention to the heavy expense attending the transfer of land; they draw attention to the Laws of Settlement and Entail; they draw attention to the laws with regard to intestacy; and they say that all these Acts of Parliament have tended to diminish the number of holdings in this country. I confess I wish that we could have done something to remedy these general drawbacks to the creation of small holdings. I am quite aware that some years ago that distinguished lawyer, Lord Cairns, introduced an important Act dealing with property; but, unfortunately, that reform was not followed up, for your Lordships threw out a measure not many years ago which was supported greatly on this side of the House, but was actually proposed by Her Majesty's Government. I regret that more has not been done in general legislation to remove restrictions which may hinder the creation of these holdings. If more had been done there would probably have been a safer distribution of land throughout the country, and the advantages which are claimed for this measure would probably, or possibly, have been carried out by the ordinary law of supply and demand. Well, my Lords, I am not going to 862 criticise the Bill in the way that the noble Duke has criticised it. Part of his speech referred, I think, more to allotments than to small holdings; and, though I agree with a great deal of what he said with regard to allotments, I do not think the same arguments apply to this, which is a step higher up in the ladder of the promotion of the labourer. Well, then, I do not understand what was said with regard to the creation of yeomen. I do not for a moment conceive that this Bill is intended to create these large yeomen of whom we were so proud and whom we regret to find in such dwindled numbers now in various parts of the country. I welcome this Bill, however, as an encouragement to the agricultural labourer and those who spring from the same class—namely, small artizans in the villages, to enable them to get the benefit of being the owners of land. Now I, for one, do not anticipate that this measure will have any very large or wide extent. Certainly in the rural districts with which I am most familiar there will not be a great many labourers who will be able to produce the money necessary for coming under the Act; there will be, I fear, very few of them who can, with their heavy responsibilities of families, save a sufficient amount to put down the money necessary for the purchase; but, at the same time, if this measure encourages in every village, or even in every other village, a few men to become owners, it will be a direct encouragement to thrift, and I therefore welcome the measure in that respect. But now I should like to make one or two criticisms on parts of the Bill. The noble Earl, the Lord Privy Seal, alluded to the question of compulsion—he has had a most able argument from the noble Duke behind him on that subject; but I am afraid I cannot altogether pass over this question of compulsion. I agree entirely with the noble Duke in the belief that compulsion is certain to follow the introduction of this measure. I may leave the argument to the noble Duke, for he put it very concisely and very forcibly, particularly that part of it where he said that you are obliged to have compulsion with regard to allotments, and there is no difference in 863 principle between compulsion for allotments and compulsion for a small holding. I should like also to emphasise another part of his argument in which he dealt with the great amount of land which is now said to be in the market. That, to my mind, does not really touch the question of compulsion at all. There are large owners who have whole villages under their complete control, and, if they are opposed to carrying out this Act, it will be no consolation to a man who has saved some money, and is able to take a small holding under the Act, to be told that twenty or thirty or fifty miles off, or perhaps, if he is in Northamptonshire, that in Sussex there is a large quantity of land available. The fact is that the distribution of land available to be sold is not wide, and therefore the fact that a large quantity of land is in the market will not meet the objections which people have who desire compulsion. Now I will take another point. I quite admit that with regard to rent the Government have made some large concessions; but I feel very strongly that, if this measure is to be really useful to the agricultural labourer, more should be done to enable him to rent land than is done now even under the Bill. Why do I say this? As I have told your Lordships before, there are very few agricultural labourers who have been able to save any considerable sum of money; it is a very small sum that they may have saved out of their industry; and this small sum is not more than adequate to provide the stock for the farm; and if, in addition to that, they are obliged to put down a fifth of the purchase-money, it will make it almost impossible for any of these men to avail themselves of the Act. I therefore wish that the Government could have extended this point, and enabled larger holdings to be rented under the provisions of the Bill. Now, my Lords, I come to a further point, and that is with regard to the authority which is to administer the Act. I agree in a great measure with what the noble Duke has said with regard to the immense difficulties that there will be if the County Council is to administer 864 the Act. I believe that the initiative in all these matters ought to have been placed in the hands of a body representing a smaller district. Four years ago the Government introduced a measure which dealt with Local Government in the counties. In that measure they included provisions for creating District Councils. They have never carried out those provisions. Four years have passed, and they have not introduced any measure on that subject. I myself would go even further, and desire to see the erection of Parish Councils. Now to these small bodies I should like to give the initiative in this matter of small holdings. They know the wants of the people; they know the exact land suitable for the purposes of small holdings; and they could admirably initiate all matters connected with this Act. I do not want that they should have unrestricted power with regard to this—I should give either a confirmatory power to the County Council, or that an appeal to them should be made in cases of difficulty. And I desire to say one word with regard to the hardship that might be inflicted under this Bill. I do not myself believe that any hardship would be inflicted, even if the Bill were made compulsory. I do not believe the body administering the Act would do anything to spoil what are called the amenities of property, or to prevent the practical and profitable use of a farm by taking portions of it which would have that effect. I believe it would have a very much better effect in the country if these provisions were added to it. My Lords, I have made these criticisms, not in a hostile spirit; I hope my noble Friend will not think that; for, on the whole, I feel disposed to be friendly towards the Bill. I do not propose to move any Amendment, because your Lordships are well aware that it would be futile, if we wished it, to propose any Amendment from the Bench where I sit. My Lords, I sincerely trust that this measure will have a good influence in the country. If its influence be but small, it will to some extent give hope to the agricultural labourer, and, in that way, I cannot but think that benefit will be conferred on the rural communities in England.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
My Lords, if this Bill referred only to England I should not venture to trouble your Lordships at all; but, as it includes Scotland, I hope the House will allow me to say a few words on the general view that I take of this Bill such as it is natural to take on the Second Reading and before going into the details. My Lords, I am very glad to acknowledge the great fairness and ability and justice of the speech which has just been delivered by my noble Friend the noble Earl behind me. There are many things that he said with which I entirely agree. This is a Bill to satisfy a sentiment, but it is a sentiment widely entertained on both sides in both Houses of Parliament; and, whatever may be said of the electioneering aspect of the Bill to which my noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) not indirectly referred, I am bound to say, and to remind the House—both sides of it—that many years ago the noble Marquess opposite, when he was not in office, expressed in this House an anxious desire to increase the number of occupying owners in England. I remember it well because at the time it was rather a novelty—it has become a very common sentiment now—and I remember particularly taking notice of it. I do not think therefore that my noble Friend at the head of the Government can be accused of having, so far as he is personally concerned, taken this action merely on account of the approaching General Election. But, if any motive of that sort can be brought against my noble Friend opposite, it equally applies to the Party on this side of the House. During their last tenure of office I do not recollect that they took any steps whatever towards this end, and we all know that it is in order to satisfy the general sentiment that they have taken it up as well as the Party which supports the Government— the one is as bad and as good as the other in that matter. Now, my Lords, my own feeling is that this is an experiment which it is worth while to try— that is all. I do not believe that it will operate to a large extent; I do not see how it can possibly do so; and, as to re-instating what is called the old yeomanry class, 866 I think it is a pure delusion to suppose that this or any other Bill can do it. What are the causes which have led to the decrease of small ownerships in England? My noble Friend in charge of this Bill said that one of them was the spread of education. What does that mean? It means that educated men do not find it pay them to have this small property. Are you to stop education, and are you to favour ignorance, in order that ignorant men may think they are better off in the country than they would be in the town? My Lords, the causes are purely economic which have led to the decrease of small owners. What happens is this: A family, who have gone on for generations perhaps in a very humble way, hardly saving anything, living on their own produce and their own funds, get into more expensive habits of life—their sons do, their daughters do, the whole family do — and at last a standard of living is set up which the little property is unable to support—that is a common case—and they find that, instead of getting £100 a year with very hard labour from their small property, it pays them much better to get £3,000 down, either from a neighbouring landlord, or from somebody else, and to migrate into the town. Now is Parliament really going to attempt to make these men think otherwise of their own interests and their own destiny? The thing is absurd; you cannot do it. On the other hand there are causes which are and have been in operation, which the noble Earl behind me alluded to, quoting I suppose from the Report of the Committee; but there are other causes which have perhaps led to the diminution of these small properties, which might have been remedied at an earlier period. My noble Friend referred to the cost of the transfer of land. Now, my Lords, we all remember that two or three years ago the Government produced a Bill for the registration and simplification of title; but a large majority of this House threw it out, and great blame has been attached to your Lordships for its rejection. I took no part in the discussion because it was a Bill that referred to England alone, and I did not think it proper to do so; but I re- 867 member that a number of Peers who voted against the Bill, the noble Marquess of Bath among others, complained and objected chiefly because attached to that Bill there were clauses which referred to a wholly different matter, namely, the division of property upon the decease of the owner. That was one of the grounds, I think the main ground, on which the vote of your Lordships was come to. I do not believe that this House would be disposed to reject any measure which would really facilitate and cheapen the transfer of land; I cannot conceive that they would have any interest in doing so. It is the interest of all of us to have our land as easily saleable as possible, and to increase our own market; and, therefore, I do not believe that if a Bill were reintroduced purely for that purpose—I hope it will be by some Government—there would be opposition in this House. But I am bound to say to my noble Friend behind me (Earl Spencer) that personally I do not believe that that has been a widely operating cause. The transfer of land is not so dear after all. I have had to buy a piece of land recently, and the costs were not so extraordinary. I believe, if there was a real desire to get land of that kind, there would be no difficulty in meeting the expenses of the transfer any more than meeting the expenses of the purchase. It is because there is not a market for these small properties, it is because there is not a class of men existing who think they would be benefited by them, that they are not bought. With regard to entails, I may say that Lord Cairns's Act seems to me to have remedied the evils in that respect. As I understand the law of England now, there is no land which is not saleable; the price may be entailed, but the land itself is saleable; and therefore I do not see that entails, as they now stand in England at all events, have much to do with the question. Then my noble Friend came on the question of compulsion. Now I entirely agree with my noble Friend opposite (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) that compulsion is a very serious matter in this question; but I do not think my noble Friend stated the strongest ground 868 against it. Compulsion, as we all know, is familiar to this House and the other House of Parliament when lands are taken for strictly public purposes; but you can hardly say that it is a strictly public purpose when you merely say that it is desirable that small proprietors should exist. That is not a public purpose in the sense of a railway, a canal, or any other such work. My Lords, it is a question of general policy. If you are to make men sell their land compulsorily, you set up motives and you destroy other motives in a manner that would have a most serious effect upon the employment of the working classes. Just consider what the effect of compulsion would be upon the employment of labour in the country. I suppose most of your Lordships who have large estates are accustomed to spend large sums of money in improvement of the soil. Now with what heart would you undertake this operation if you knew that a County Council, or, still worse, as my noble Friend (Earl Spencer) proposes, a District Council, or even a Parish Council, so far as I understand him—
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
With what heart would any landlord enter upon agricultural improvements if he knew that next week, after his drain was finished, after his enclosures were made, after his buildings were completed, the County Council might come in and say, I demand that that land shall be sold to me that I may cut it up for small proprietors? I have no doubt whatever that that is what people forget in regard to what is called, or miscalled, the science of political economy; they forget the concealed and invisible motives that you set up—that when you adopt an absurd measure of that kind, you put an end to the improvements on the part of landlords. A universal system of compulsion would be the greatest curse that can happen to any industry and would smite the whole agricultural industry of the United Kingdom. My Lords, I cannot conceive a greater mischief than that. You say that the agricultural labourer is migrating to the towns. Why is he migrating to the towns? 869 Because you have adopted free trade, and it does not pay any longer to grow corn, and a large part of the land of England, especially in the North is going into pasture. You are not going to reverse your policy of free trade in order to employ the labourer. Just think what an increased impetus you would give to that want of confidence and want of employment which drives the labourer into the towns! Every landlord would think twice before he made any improvement whatever; he would take care to consider whether the County Council was friendly or not; and all sorts of political and jobbing motives might enter into the action of the District and Parish Councils. And the smaller you make your authority—my noble Friend particularly says he wants the authority to be very small and local—the more local you make your authority, the less responsible it will be to public opinion; and you will smite the agricultural industry of England with utter paralysis from the insecurity of property. Remember this, my Lords, that security for the results of industry, for the investment of capital, is the mainspring of all prosperity in all departments of human life, and, still more than any other, in the question of land; because there you cannot get your results except after a long time. If there were a compulsory Bill passed, enabling everybody to seize everybody else's land because they thought it an important object that small proprietors should be set up, I cannot conceive that any landlord in England or Scotland would think it worth while to improve his land at all, but would live as our ancestors did, from hand to mouth, and give up improvements. You will not see the effect of that, because the motives operating in the minds of men are not visible to the multitude; they act secretly and incidentally; and that is why they are never seen and taken account of. I must say, in answer to my noble Friend the noble Duke, who said that if we try this experiment the logical consequence is that we shall go on to compulsion, that I do not agree with him at all. What the noble Duke meant was that this is an electioneering Bill, and it will not succeed, and that 870 in order to have another electioneering measure more successful we will cap it with compulsion; and no doubt, if that is the object we have in view, if that is the influence under which we are to legislate, then possibly compulsion may be the consequence. But it is not the logical consequence, it is an illogical consequence, a ruinous consequence, a consequence founded upon total ignorance of the first principles of human industry, a consequence which destroys the confidence in all property. My noble Friend behind me (Earl Spencer) alluded again to the Report of the Commissioners upon the enclosure of common lands. Can there be a more vulgar error than this stupid denunciation of the enclosure of common lands? Have your Lordships ever looked into the evidence that was given about 100 years ago as to the condition of farms held on the edges of great commons? They were universally miserably poor; their agriculture was at the lowest ebb; they lived upon poaching and every kind of extra employment they could get; and the first movement and improvement in the agriculture, both of England and Scotland, was the abolition of common lands. I do not say it may not have gone too far where you want recreation lands—that I do not deny; but after all it is easy to buy them back, and they are being bought back by very large sums of money indeed, wherever they are wanted for the large cities; and with regard to the great heaths of Surrey and the South of England, many of them remain commons to this day; they are very barren lands, not likely ever to be enclosed; and I am very glad that Parliament has stopped the excessive advance of enclosures with regard to that particular class of laud. But to denounce the enclosure of common lands, which has been the a. b. c. work of the whole of the agricultural improvements in England, seems to me the stupidest of fallacies and giving in to the vulgarest of all prejudices. With regard to some clauses of this Bill, I think they are very queer, and I am bound to say the observations of my noble Friend (the Duke of Richmond and Gordon) were full of that article which is so rare on all these subjects, and that is good 871 sound common sense; he did not go upon theories; he went upon practical knowledge of agriculture and the state and condition of the people, amongst whom he is, as we all know, an eminently good landlord. Now, my Lords, I agree with much that he said with regard to those clauses. But then observe the difficulty Parliament is in. Parliament wishes to make this experiment of forcing a hot-house growth of small proprietors; but Parliament does not want the County Councils to be mere jobbers of land; and therefore there are all sorts of clauses put in to protect the ratepayer. And I must say I think that a sound principle. You ought not to give to Local Bodies the power of harrying the ratepayer. It is an essential principle of local municipal legislation—it has been from the beginning, through all the Middle Ages—that Parliament has doled out to Municipalities the powers which they are to exercise; but Parliament has kept in its own hand the power of protecting the individual ratepayer and the liberty of individual man, and has not given it to the Municipalities, even the greatest of them; such places as Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, every one of them, are under restrictions from Parliament, and they cannot levy unjust taxation on the ratepayers of the towns which they govern. My Lords, so far as that goes, these clauses are right in principle; they are intended to protect the ratepayers, and to prevent the County Councils from becoming mere jobbers of land; and that is sound so far as it goes. But, my Lords, if compulsion were ever adopted, these clauses would have to be enormously reinforced. They are very good as they are in the case of voluntary purchase, but they would be quite inefficient in the case of compulsion. Therefore, my Lords, we are entering on a most interesting and very dangerous experiment. And I beg your Lordships to recollect, and I hope the public will recollect, that you are dealing with forces and motives which are out of sight, and you may touch, by stupid and foolish legislation, the whole springs of the agricultural industry of this country.
My Lords, from the undue haste with which this measure has been brought forward, I have had no opportunity of putting on the Paper my intention to move that it be read a second time this day six months. I am satisfied, from long acquaintance with elaborate measures of this kind, that it is impossible for any Opposition that wishes to maintain any amendment to do so; and, therefore, my only course is to move the postponement of the measure. My Lords, it is quite contrary to the policy which so long has prevailed in Ireland. In 1836 I passed through a great part of the County of Cork, and I was told that small holdings had been abolished, that tenants had been removed from the old roof-tree, and that in the end they were very thankful for having been prevented from becoming small holders. My Lords, in Scotland every labourer has a good garden to his holding. My Lords, I do not believe that letting men into small holdings, without increasing their power of stocking those holdings, is doing them any service. We find that our labourers are extremely glad of a little garden; but in many instances they would rather not be either tenants or proprietors. My Lords, I happen to have had a good deal of correspondence with Irishmen, and I find that they wish very much to improve their property; but I do not find that everyone wishes to have a larger holding than he now possesses. In the crofter legislation you have made the holdings larger, and I can only say, "O si angulus ille proximus accedat qui nunc denormat agellum." But here you are going to make a few small holdings; and what will be the consequence? We know that cattle will stray. You must have fences that are almost enormous. If any one knows the way in which woodland sheep stray, he will not wish any small holder to be near his place. Large proprietors can afford to lose part of their stock; but in the case of poor men with a small holding if a foal or two or a heifer die, how cam they sustain it? My Lords, you had better let those who have large possessions make the best use of them; and you know that they have much greater power of doing good than those who are 873 only small proprietors. There is an expression in Ireland, that I have met with in one of the books which I have read, of "a half sir"; and you want to make a great many "half sirs." It is a mistake; and, depend upon it, you will find it to be so; and I can only hope that you will not interfere with the property of possessors of land. My father, in his letter to Mr. Merivale, said—You cannot disturb the largest possession of any owner of land without endangering the property of the smallest.… You might have an agrarian row every week and every month.It is necessary for land to be in the same hands. That fixity of tenure which is so much desired proves the desirability of that system being carried out. My Lords, I fear I shall not be able to find even a Teller for this Motion of mine; but at the same time I will watch, and if I see any good Amendments in Committee, I will endeavour on Third Reading to support them. As it is, I feel an uncompromising dislike to this experiment.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out ("now,") and add at the end of the Motion ("this day six months.")—(The Lord Denman.)
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, I should not like to let this Bill be read a second time without making a few observations on the subject in which, like the noble Duke opposite, I take personally great interest. My Lords, like my noble Friend behind me, I regard the Bill in a friendly spirit. I think that what the noble Duke who has left the House (the Duke of Argyll) called the sentiment of the country, which I should call the general feeling of the country in favour of some measure dealing with the subject, is a sufficient justification for us on either side of the House in attempting to legislate on the subject. At the same time I am bound to say that I do not expect any very great results from the Bill, and my reasons are very much those which have been stated by the noble Duke, not so much from the nature of the Bill — though I have some objections to the Bill itself, as from the nature of the subject and the difficulties which surround it. First of all 874 let me say one word as to what we hear so much of, the exodus as it is termed from the rural districts to the towns. The Duke of Argyll in his observations said it was due to free trade. Now my Lords, that is an opinion which I do not share, and my reason is not a theoretical one connected with any economic doctrine, but the simple fact that you find this movement going on in other countries where there is not free trade; but, on the contrary, protection. Anyone who has followed this subject carefully knows that there is practically no civilised country where this movement from the country to the towns is not now going on. It is a very remarkable thing that it even goes on in the United States in the form that the towns increase much faster than the country; it goes on in France where there are protective duties, and where the tenure of land is quite different; and I could mention other countries where the same thing prevails. I do not think there can be a doubt that there is a general tendency, owing to a variety of causes which produces this exodus; and I should say that the greatest cause of all is the facilities of locomotion. In former days the agricultural labourer found it difficult to leave his home; now he can leave his home with the greatest ease, and he naturally takes his labour to wherever he thinks it will produce the largest result. I do not say that so far as regards corn-growing counties there is no migration arising from the low price of corn; it is possible that that may have some effect there; but I do say that it is a general cause operating practically in almost all countries, and cannot have arisen simply from the economic policy of free trade that we have adopted here. I am therefore of opinion that no legislation which we can possibly pass will really, on a large scale, counteract this tendency. At the same time, regretting as I do that there is going on a diminution of our agricultural population, and believing the causes to be so powerful, I find that to be a reason, not why we should not attempt legislation, but rather an additional inducement to do what we can in that direction. Then with regard to the creation of small owners 875 of land, which, for political reasons as well as economic reasons, I believe we all desire, the Bill really has two objects in view as I take it. One is to create what may in some respects resemble the old yeoman. I agree with the noble Duke opposite that the old yeoman was rather a man of more acres than this Bill contemplates; but the Bill contemplates the creation of owners of land to the extent of fifty acres, and this would mean a holding of a fair-sized property in one sense. The other object of the Bill is to enable the agricultural labourer to get small holdings properly so called of four, five, ten, or fifteen acres; and that stands on a different footing. As regards the first object, I wholly disbelieve in the possibility of recreating the yeoman in any form. I have frequently had opportunity both of addressing and communicating with men engaged largely as farmers in the country, and I have always found them agree in this: that if you look at the matter simply in the business point of view—and more and more people do look at these things in a business point of view—it does not answer for a man who wishes to make a profit by agriculture to own his own land. It is obvious that, if a man has a moderate capital, to sink a large portion of it in the freehold of the land itself, and in the buildings which must be put up upon that freehold, cannot be nearly so profitable as to hire the land from another man who is willing, being a kind of sleeping partner, to own the freehold at a low rate of interest and provide all the buildings. It is far better for a man to employ the whole of his capital in cultivating his land, in obtaining the profits that a man expects when he is engaged in any business; and I am sure the noble Duke opposite will agree with me that there are extremely few farmers in this country who have more capital than they want for the cultivation of their land; indeed, there are extremely few who have capital enough for the purpose; and to say to these men: "You shall go and spend a portion of this now insufficient capital in buying a piece of land" is, in point of fact, to tell them to reverse the whole of the economic principles upon which business is conducted. For that reason 876 I say I do not believe for a moment in the creation of large holdings, even of fifty acres, to any appreciable extent; but I think it is possible that we may create advantageously a certain number of really small holdings; and that I think will depend very much upon circumstances in different parts of the country. It is very difficult to generalise from a knowledge of one part of the country only with regard to any other part. In counties that are corn-growing, such as I live in, I doubt very much whether to any extent people could make a living on small holdings of ten or fifteen acres. But, on the other hand, in counties where dairying is profitably carried on, I think it would be possible, and still more in parts of the country where market gardens can be increased with advantage. No doubt it is a small part of the country. Sir John Lawes, in that interesting letter which the noble Duke has quoted from, has pointed out that there are some parts of the country where the growth of early vegetables is exceedingly profitable; and I was very much struck only the other day, in some conversation that I had in Cornwall, by the opinion entertained there that considerable portions of land might be advantageously occupied by small holdings for the purpose of growing early vegetables. For those purposes I think the Bill would be very desirable. One word with regard to compulsion. The noble Duke who last addressed us laid down some admirable general principles upon the subject; but I apprehend that, when we are dealing with a matter of this kind, it is as well not merely to confine ourselves to general principles, but to look at the matter from a common-sense point of view, to look at the matter as it presents itself to us, with a view to the probabilities of what will take place. Now I cannot imagine that anyone deliberately bringing in a Bill of this kind should not foresee that there is almost a certainty, after what has been done, especially with regard to the Allotments Act, that compulsion will be made a portion of this legislation. I do not think it is a mere matter of electioneering or of catching votes; but the moment you introduce 877 a principle of this kind, it will be found that there will arise hard cases, as they will be termed—examples where land cannot be procured where it is the opinion of the County Council, for instance, that it ought to be procured—and pressure will be put upon Parliament and upon both political Parties—I care not which—which will end, I believe, in compulsion being introduced. I agree with the noble Duke opposite; I look upon it as certain as anything can be that this Bill will result in compulsory provisions. I admit that there is a good deal to be said on the subject of compulsory provisions, and that there is something in what the noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) said as to the uncertainty which it will introduce with regard to dealing with land. But there is one reason which has not been mentioned why I think compulsion will be found to be almost unavoidable, and it is a good practical reason. Many of those who have discussed this Bill seem to have forgotten that there are not only landlords but tenants, and it will be found almost certain that the principal opposition to the working of this Bill will come from the tenants and not from the landlords. I put it to any one of your Lordships whether he would consider himself justified, as an honest man, in evicting a tenant who paid his rent regularly and made a living, because that tenant would not consent to give up a portion of the land for the purpose of its being sold under this Bill. But if, on the other hand, there is a power of compulsion at the back, the landlord will say to the tenant: "We had better make the best arrangement we can, because, otherwise, we shall have compulsion applied, which will be most unsatisfactory, and it is better that we should yield in a way that is least inconvenient to ourselves." With regard to allotments, I know it has been extremely convenient and advantageous to be able to say: "These allotments are by Parliament to be given to the labourers; we cannot put aside the Act of Parliament; we must find the allotments." Some tenants are willing, but others are extremely reluctant, and there is thus often difficulty in obtaining land, and then, as 878 was pointed out just now, it is no use telling a man that he can get land in Sussex when he is in Northamptonshire; land must be got close to where the man lives; and for that purpose I think you will find ultimately that you will be obliged to have recourse to compulsion. The noble Duke (the Duke of Argyll) made some remarks upon the suggestion of my noble Friend behind me (Earl Spencer) that the Parish Councils, if there were any, or the District Councils, should have the conduct of this measure. I think the noble Duke a little misunderstood my noble Friend. My noble Friend did not say that these Parish or District Councils were to be the authority to conclude the matter. What he said, and I agree with him in the suggestion, was that they would be the best bodies to initiate the matter, and to bring it before a body like the County Council to decide upon. That is a a very different thing. I agree with my noble Friend behind me that the initiation of the matter would come much better from a Local Body, itself well acquainted with the particular circumstances of the parish or the particular circumstances of those who wish to obtain a small holding. There is not much else upon which I desire at this stage to make any remark. I did not quite understand what the noble Earl intended to do with regard to Clause 11, which deals with the putting of these holdings in the same position as personalty. I am quite in favour of the principle of the clause as it stands; but I did not quite understand the noble Earl's desire. Perhaps the intention was merely to amend the clause as may be found desirable; and I understood him to say that, for the purpose of amending the clause, it was necessary to reject it entirely.
§ EARL CADOGAN
What I stated was that, inasmuch as the proviso at any rate relates to the provision of a tax, it was not within the power of this House to amend the clause; and, if it is found desirable not to pass the clause in its present wording, it might be necessary to reject the clause in order to enable a fresh clause to be provided in another place and sent back.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
Then I did understand the noble Earl rightly; he entirely adheres to the clause, but he thinks that there are some Amendments that may be necessary.
§ EARL CADOGAN
I think I pointed out at the same time various objections which, on consideration, we entertain to the clause as it now stands.
*THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I understand that the noble Earl did not himself intend to propose to reject the clause for the purpose of getting rid of it entirely; but he said it might be necessary, in order to make amendments that are desirable in his opinion, to reject it because we could not amend it here, and then another clause might be substituted in the other House which might meet with his approval. We shall hear from the noble Earl in Committee what is the nature of the objections to the clause, which I suppose do not affect the principle of it. I can only say that I think the clause itself is desirable and I shall greatly regret to see it omitted from the Bill. My Lords, with regard to the matter generally I will only add this, that I hope my prognostics may fail in respect to the small effect of the Bill; I have no desire to see the Bill fail; on the contrary, I shall be very glad to see it succeed; but at the same time I think it would not be honest or right to conceal one's opinion that, after all, no great expectations must be entertained from the working of a Bill of this kind; but in the passing of it those who, like myself, take a friendly view of it, do so rather from the point of view of it as an experiment, and in the hope that it may do something towards improving the condition of the labouring population and something especially towards giving them a step on the ladder; and if the experiment should succeed to some extent, it may be found possible afterwards, by other provisions, after further experience, to extend it so that we may add to the number of holders of land, and increase the contentment of the rural population, which is an object, I am certain, that every noble Lord in this House, wherever he sits, must have at heart.
§ THE EARL OF HARROWBY
I think, my Lords, a false impression might be given with regard to this very important Bill if it were observed that the only independent supporter of Her Majesty's Government on this side of the House, who spoke on the subject, was the noble Duke who spoke strongly against the measure. I, for one, should be extremely sorry that that impression should go abroad. This is a subject that I have studied myself for many years in connection with my own property; and I must say that I think the noble Duke rather undervalued the gravity of the evil with which we have to deal, that is to say the removal of the rural population from our villages. It is not so much the movement of the elder men that is going on now; but, if you look forward a few years, the course that is being taken by the younger people, by what may be called almost the children of the present day, in the villages, is what alarms one with regard to the future. It is impossible not to observe, if you study the question at all, that the feeling of the younger population in the villages is in favour of migration away from the villages. I do not think it is owing so much to a dislike to country life as to the sure and certain effect which the excellent education they now receive must have upon them. They think more, and look forward more, than their fathers did before them; and, although many of them are devoted to country life, they are more strongly aware than their fathers have been hitherto that they have no prospect whatever in the country of rising in what may be called their own profession; that the door of advancement is shut; that there are very few small holdings which they can occupy; and they see nothing but going on plodding, as their fathers have done before, with no prospect of bettering the position of themselves and their families. It is no feeling of despair that drives them away, but they listen to the many invitations made to them on all sides. Think how a country lad is sought for for every kind of occupation; how he is demanded by the railways; how he is sought for in the best workshops; how the Army and the Police, by every possible induce- 881 ment, try to get the country lad; how the Navy does the same; how for our household, our stables, for our positions of trust, wherever we want honesty, straightforwardness, good character, the country lad, now that he has become an educated creature, is largely in demand. I fear, therefore, that the drain on the country villages will go on at a terrific pace in the future; and I venture to think that the noble Duke, in his interesting speech, underrated the perils that we have to face. It is not only the question of the farmers having no labourers, but it is the loss of one of the stout and stable classes of the country, who have done as much for the country as any other class in the past. I have always valued the country labourer immensely. I do not think him the dull, degraded creature that some modern writers put him down to be. He has played his great and noble part in the country. Look at your flocks, your herds, your horses. Whoso are the hands and the cunning spirit that have attended them, but the rural labourer's? And as your battles have been fought, so your households have been manned, by the labourers, by that respectable class of domestic servant. They have been a steady, a reliable, a noble class, who have played their part well; and I believe it would be a tremendous loss to England if we had our villages denuded of that class. I confess, with some regret, that I cannot say I expect very enormous results from this Bill in the way of creating a large occupying proprietary. I am afraid that, so far as the present time is concerned, there cannot be an immediate operation of that part of the Bill. But I cannot help thinking that there are not a few—they are a saving race now—who, when they know that there is a possibility of returning to their native villages, may, after years of labour elsewhere, wish to return; and they will be very valuable occupying freeholders in our villages. Supposing, after all, a village artizan becomes a freeholder, is not that a gain? Or supposing the village carpenter, or the village blacksmith, or the village shopkeeper became a freeholder, I should hold that it would be a distinct gain to the whole social condition of 882 England. Anything which opens the door of hope to an industrious man, so that he may have that hold upon the soil, must elevate him, and tend to elevate the whole class. But, my Lords, I expect a very much greater benefit from this Bill in another quarter. It is a great enunciation of the national feeling in favour, not only of small freeholds, but of small holdings. I hold that the country gentlemen of England—and your Lordships here are some of the largest holders of land—have an enormous opportunity now of furthering this great national policy which has been declared. You have had great difficulties in carrying out the system of small holdings. The large farmer has been against it. The land agent of the past has been against it. It is, no doubt, a costly process. But I venture to hope that now that the national policy is declared by this Bill, which I trust will soon be an Act, your Lordships will be enabled to embark, or to deal more largely with your large estates, upon a graduation of holdings, which is so much needed in every village. What has been the despair of the labourers has been this:—You have had all the farms consolidated in the villages—the small farms swept up into large ones; small holdings have disappeared, owing to economic reasons, and there has been nothing between the labourer and the large farmer; so that the labourer has had no chance of getting a small holding himself. But I see, myself, no reason why we should not do more for the graduation of holdings in the villages. I have done it myself on a considerable scale in the last few years. I have found labourers who had saved and were ready to take a small holding varying from ten acres to forty acres; and I have found those men pay their rents and cultivate their land well. My Lords, I do not believe we want a quantity of small holdings in each village; but I am confident that what we do want is a graduation of holdings; that is to say, we want a cottage garden; we want an allotment; we want a small holding, a grass holding of five acres; then we want a holding of ten acres; and then perhaps a small farm of forty acres, and so on. And my remarks apply principally to grass holdings, and not to arable hold- 883 ings. I doubt small arable holdings bringing a profit; except under very peculiar circumstances of soil, climate, or market I do not believe them to be profitable. But I venture to hope that in this way, by this graduation of holdings, another benefit, which has, I think, been overlooked may accrue, and that we may be gradually creating a fresh farming class to fill up the lapse owing to the failures that the farmers at present have had. I look, myself, with the greatest hope, to a vigorous farming class gradually springing up through the labourers taking these small holdings, and advancing by their own industry to become owners. In this way I think perhaps this Bill, which has such a noble intention, may do a great work in a direction in which its authors have not thought of its operating, by means of its encouraging at once the great landowners of the country in a graduation of small holdings in the future. My Lords, I beg to give my best wishes to this important measure; and I assure Her Majesty's Government that many of their supporters are ardently in favour at any rate of trying the experiment to which the great necessities of the time have evidently led them.
§ *LORD MONTAGU OF BEAULIEU
My Lords, I am emboldened to make a few remarks in consequence of what fell from the noble Duke of Argyll. I heard with great regret his denunciation of common lands; and as I come from a district where common lands are the real means of the success of small holdings on a most important scale, I feel bound to state that there is no part of the country where small holdings are of more value than in the New Forest. There has been lately an inquiry of an important character there; and the Commissioner stated that in consequence of small holdings and common rights there was less poverty in the New Forest than in other places, and that it was extremely small indeed. I feel it is only right and just that I should notice this matter, because the noble Duke went further to say that the characters of the people who lived on commons were not of a very excellent kind. Knowing, as I do, the small holders in the New Forest well, I feel bound to state that the noble 884 Duke's criticisms would not apply to them. A more respectable class of men is not to be found in the whole country. In fact it is my belief that small holdings, apart from purely grass land, can only succeed where there are common rights attached to them, and that the secret of the success of small holdings in the New Forest is due practically to the fact that the holders have the use of their common rights. I will not intrude upon the House further; but after the remarks made by the noble Duke I feel bound to say that I do most heartily believe that certainly, as regards common lands, they are an immense additional help to small holdings, and play a great part in their success.
*THE EARL of CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, at this late hour of the evening I only propose to detain your Lordships for a single moment. I join with their Lordships who have spoken on this side of the House in saying that this Bill is an experiment, and I hope and think it ought to succeed. In my belief this is a Bill which will have much more effect in Scotland than it will in England. I think in England the question of allotments is a matter of much more importance. As the noble Lord (Earl Spencer) said, there are very few working men in England who have saved enough money to enable them either to buy or to hire or to cultivate a property called a holding, but a great many of them are very anxious to take an allotment. On the other hand, in Scotland my experience is—and I think probably the experience of other Scottish landlords is the same—that the labourers care very little about allotments; indeed a great many of them hardly cultivate the gardens which they have. But they do care a great deal about small holdings; and the size of holdings which they are anxious to get is such as can be tilled with one pair of horses, being between fifty and seventy acres of land; and I believe that anything which tends to increase the number of holdings of that sort is certainly likely to prove a great benefit to Scotland. My Lords, one word with regard to compulsion. I think that if there were anything of that nature it would infallibly tend to limit the desire of owners to create 885 holdings of that description. I should greatly regret, at all events for the present, to see anything in the nature of compulsion inserted into the Bill. And, my Lords, I only wish to make one further remark, which is that I hope that, under no circumstances whatever will the district, and still less the parish, be accepted as the area which is to decide on what principle such holdings are to be made. If you allow the parish to decide a matter of this sort you may have, in one county, twenty or thirty different principles for creating small holdings. My Lords, I think the right area has been selected in the county, and to that I hope the Government will firmly adhere. My Lords, I wish to call the attention of the Lord Privy Seal to the constitution of this Committee in Clause 17 of the Bill. It is perhaps a matter more for consideration in Committee, but I should like to direct attention to it. I do not know whether the noble Earl is aware of it, but in Clause 17 he has given a majority to the locality in deciding the manner in which the holdings are to be adapted, managed, sold, and so on. He will see that there is to be one County Councillor who represents the locality; then there are two of the allotment managers in the case of England, and two persons in the case of Scotland—that is in Clause 26—who are to be elected ad hoc. Then, besides those, there are to be two more, and two more only, on the Committee, and those two are to represent the County Council. I wish to point out to the noble Earl that the local interest will be a majority upon that Committee, because, of course, the Councillor who is elected by a particular district will do what his neighbours wish. He depends upon them for his election, and I know it is our experience in Scotland at the present time that the local Councillor is always guided by the wishes of those who reside in his immediate neighbourhood. Then, if besides him, there are two persons who are also taken out of the same parish, and those are three out of a committee of five, the result will be that in different parts of the country you will have these questions decided in a different way. My Lords, I only wish to call the attention of 886 the noble Earl to that, because I think it is a point worthy of his consideration.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived; Bill read 2a (according to order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.