§ EARL CARRINGTON
My Lords, rise to call attention to the subject of land tenure in Wales and Monmouthshire, and to ask whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to initiate any legislation on the subject. I think my first duty is to remind your Lordships that in 1892 the Welsh landlords asked for a Royal Commission to inquire into the subject which I have the honour to bring before your Lordships, but this Commission was refused by the noble Marquess at the head of the Government. In 1893 a Liberal Government came into power, and one of the first things which Mr. Gladstone's Government did was to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the conditions and circumstances under which the land in Wales and Monmouthshire was held, occupied, and cultivated. It was generally considered to be a very fair Commission. Lord Kenyon and Sir John Llewellyn, two of the best land-lands in Wales, represented the landlords' interests. Mr. Griffiths, of Pembrokeshire, and Mr. Richard Jones, of Montgomeryshire, two of the most respected farmers in Wales, represented the tenant farmers. The remaining members were Mr. Brynmor Jones, Q.C., M.P., a Welshman and a county court judge, well acquainted with Welsh life generally; Mr. Groves, chairman of the Monmouthshire County Council; Principal Rhys, of Jesus College, Oxford; Mr. Seebohm, the well-known writer. I was appointed Chairman, and we all took our coats off to the work we had in hand. The Commissioners were occupied in their labours for three years, during the whole of which time we worked very harmoniously and very hard. We sat 80 times in Wales and 19 times in London for the purpose of hearing evidence, and on 23 occasions the number of witnesses who were anxious to appear before us was so large that we had to sit in two Courts. On several occasions we sat from 10 o'clock in the morning until 9 o'clock at night.—In London we sat in private 45 times, and we examined in all 1,100 witnesses. Two landlords' protection societies, to watch the landlords' side of the case, were instituted under the management of Mr. Vincent, a barrister, a writer for The Times, and a gentleman supposed to have great influence on that 375 journal. No tenants' organisation for the whole of Wales was formed, but local committees of tenant farmers were formed in most districts, and they had the sympathetic assistance of the vernacular Press. Everywhere we found the truest loyalty towards the Queen and all the Royal Family, and everywhere we received the greatest kindness, civility, and hospitality, and we were at once struck with the good management and liberality of many of the big Welsh landlords, pre-eminent amongst whom, without a single exception, were the Welsh Members of your Lordships' House. Our Report, which has been criticised as being too voluminous, is divided into parts. Book I presents a general view of the conditions and circumstances under which land in Wales and Monmouthshire is occupied and cultivated, with a history of land tenure in Wales. This portion of the Report was compiled and signed by all the Commissioners, and is, I venture to think, a valuable description of the customs of the Principality in matters relating to agriculture and the farm, and is, as a matter of fact, accepted as a great authoritative work, and will, I believe, as time goes on, become more and more appreciated. Book II. contains the conclusions and recommendations of the Commissioners as to legislative and administrative action. There is first the Report of the majority, then the separate Report of the minority, and, lastly, a summary of recommendations signed by all the Commissioners, which, therefore, constitutes the unanimous Report of the Commission. It is only of this unanimous Report that I wish to speak, and I only need trouble your Lordships with four of the eleven recommendations which it contains. The first of these is more of a statement than a recommendation, and it is to the effect that Wales requires separate legislation. The words of the Report assented to by all the Commissioners are these:We think that the circumstances disclosed in regard to Wales by our inquiry urgently call for legislation … and it would be expedient to deal with the case of Wales in a separate Bill.Again, in another paragraph, the minority say:We are fully sensible that there may nevertheless be economic differences between the agricultural problems of the two countries requiring careful consideration.376 This has been denied, but I can only say that those who deny that Wales differs from England are divided into two classes—those who have very small powers of observation, and those who have lived in England and not in Wales, or vice versa. The second recommendation is:In cases of the death of the owner of an estate, or of the sale of an estate, the tenant should be protected by law in the occupation of his farm at the old rent for three years, instead of one year as at present, provided he fulfils certain conditions.Of course, the conditions winch must be observed are the punctual payment of rent and the proper cultivation of the land in a husband manlike manner. There may be objections to this recommendation, but I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the manner in which estates are sold in Wales. When it has been decided to put an estate into the market, one year's notice to quit to every tenant is invariably given, and often the estate is revalued, with a consequent increase in the rents. Notice is given to quit at Michaelmas, and the estate is generally put up for sale in the following June, when the auctioneer is able to say to intending parties:If you purchase you have a perfectly free hand You may allow the tenants to remain at the old rent, you may raise the rent if you please, or you may get rid of the tenants within three months and put in your own men, or farm the land yourselves.Then the tenant must go, and all the compensation he would get would be under the Agricultural Holdings Act, which is generally acknowledged not to be worth the paper it is written on. Our proposal was that when an estate owner died, or when it is necessary that an estate should be sold, the tenant should be entitled to remain on his farm for three years from the date of sale at the old rent, so as to give him time to look round to provide himself, if necessary, with a new occupation, and so avoid losing the entire fruits of his good industry. This proposal, you will find, was recommended by the whole of the Commissioners. The third recommendation to which I would call your Lordships' attention was:In the event of the tenant giving notice to quit, with the view, say, of getting his rent reduced, though he might afterwards make arrangements with his landlord to go on with the farm, or in cases of readjustments of rent 377 by the landlord, these should be constituted fresh lettings, and the tenant should be compensated for the improvements up to that date under the Agricultural Holdings Act.This recommendation, which was also agreed to by the Conservative members on the Commission, would secure the reform for which tenant farmers through- out Great Britain have fought so long—namely, compensation to the sitting tenant; and on any re-arrangement of the terms of the tenancy all that the tenant had done would be allowed for before the new rent was fixed. The other recommendation of the unanimous Report, which was intended to prevent capricious evictions, was:Notice to quit should be given for specified reasons only, such as non-payment of rent and non-compliance with the terms of agreement, and if given for any other reason the tenant should receive compensation for disturbance, in addition to compensation for his improvements.It is generally asserted that in Wales there are no such things as evictions, but I will quote one instance that struck me very forcibly. A Mr. Jones stated the following case. His father, Elias Jones, of Tan-y-Castell farm, was the occupier of a farm within sight of Snowdon, in the parish of Dolwyddelan, which his family had occupied for over 500 years. He altogether held three farms, on one of which there stood the old castle of Dolwyddelan, a picturesque spot, in which tradition says Prince Llewellyn himself was born. It was acknowledged that the farmer had built the house and all the walls, and had reclaimed land on the mountain side. Mr. Elias Jones happened to be a Nonconformist, and he happened also to be a Liberal. He was unfortunate enough to fall foul of the parson—he voted in the Liberal interest in 1868, and was promptly given 12 months' notice to quit by his landlord, who turned him out of his house and home, and consequently compelled him to seek a resting place elsewhere. I do not think there is one single Member of your Lordships' House who would not admit that this is a sad and shameful story, but it is absolutely true. And after the man had recited this story he pointed across the table and said to me:Mr. Chairman, the man who did this cruel thing was your own uncle, Alberic, Lord Willoughby De Eresby.Your Lordships laugh, but I do not think Mr. Elias Jones saw anything to laugh at 378 in it. I say, without fear of contradiction, that it is a monstrous thing that a man who is the owner of an estate should not be prevented by law from doing such a cruel thing as to evict a man without compensation, at 12 months' notice, whose family has been 500 years on the ground. My uncle inherited the Welsh estate which came into the family in the 14th century. Since that time the old house on the estate in which he lived, and which, by a generous arrangement with my cousin, Lord Ancaster, is now in my possession, has never been sold or let to a stranger. The owners of the estate took a great pride in maintaining the most friendly relations with their tenants, and I may mention, as an instance of the good feeling which existed, the fact that when my grandfather, who was universally known throughout North Wales as "the good Lord Willoughby," paid his annual visitor to Gwydyr he was invariably drawn from Bettws, a distance of three miles, by the tenantry on the estate. That feeling has been kept up, and now exists in a marked degree in the case of Lord Ancaster, my cousin, who, under our grandfather's will, inherited the vast estates in Lincolnshire and Scotland, as well as in Wales, which were added to already very large property in Lincolnshire. Lord Ancaster has kept up the traditions of the family, and is well known as one of the most generous and practical landlords in the whole of the United Kingdom. In the same year (1868) tenants of a whole district in Cardiganshire were evicted for voting contrary to the wishes and proclivities of their landlord. It will probably be said that some of these evictions happened years ago, and are now forgotten. It may be true that the landlords have forgotten, but not so the evicted tenants, who never forget their feelings on being evicted. But is it true that tenants have not been cleared off their farms during more recent times? In Denbighshire a Mr. Pochin bought a property 20 years ago when there were 25 tenants on the estate, but at the present moment, out of these 25 he has only four of them left. Only those with a knowledge of Welsh customs and conditions of farming can estimate the state of feeling which exists in consequence of these occurrences. I think I have said enough on this point, but if necessary I could give many more instances of people being turned 379 out of their farms unjustly. There is one further point to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention—a point referred to in the minority Report of the Commissioners. In case of something like a general dispute on an estate between the landlord and the tenants as to the rents or the conditions of tenancy, the minority recommended that the Board of Agriculture should appoint a mediator to bring about, if possible, a friendly settlement. But, according to their proposal, he was not to have any compulsory powers, so that, after taking immense trouble in the matter, his advice might at the last moment be rejected by either party or by a few refractory tenants. This in reality meant an optional land court. These suggestions, coming as they did from Conservative landlords, made it very plain that the necessity for an inquiry as to how land was held and occupied in Wales was very urgent, and that drastic changes in land tenure were imperative. On the question of the land court I should like to say a word. I have made it a practice on my estates, when any dispute arises as to rents, to refer the question to an independent arbiter agreed to by both parties, and his decision is final. This custom, I believe, is also adopted on Lord Kintore's estates in Aberdeenshire, and works with the happiest results. I have a tenant whose father began farming our estate 50 years ago, and who has succeeded so well that he now spends £5,000 a year in wages, and occupies four or five farms in North Bucks. He complained of his rent, and said it must be materially reduced. The question was referred to an eminent valuer at Bedford, who went carefully into the matter, and reduced the rent by £100 a year. This the tenant cheerfully accepted, and he went on with his farms. In the south of the County of Bucks another tenant who farms about 800 acres also complained of his rent being too high. We agreed upon an independent valuer, who went through the farms, and in that case the rent was increased by exactly the same amount as the previous decrease. These instances show that landlords need not be afraid of independent arbitration, for there are honest firms of high standing who will do their duty in such cases fearlessly and honourably without seeking to do injustice to either landlord or tenant. My Lords, I have, with great respect, to thank your 380 Lordships for having given me this opportunity of laying before you the unanimous recommendations of the Royal Commission, and I have only one more word to say in conclusion. When I mentioned my intention of bringing this matter before your Lordships I was asked over and over again what was the use of doing so. People said: "The best you can expect is that the matter will be dismissed with contemptuous indifference; if you bring in a Bill it will be thrown out by an enormous majority, and at the same time will afford an opportunity for opponents of any land reform whatever to hold up the Royal Commission to ridicule and to misrepresent it as an ignorant, unfair, and partisan body created for the sole purpose of attacking property in general and Welsh landlords in particular." My Lords, I have no fear of this, for thirty years' experience of your Lordships' House has taught me that the great majority of Peers are always disposed to treat any proposals for the uplifting of the community with patience and consideration, however distasteful or unpopular they may be to some members of this House. Besides, public opinion on land questions is advancing by leaps and bounds. Every Member on the Opposition front bench in the House of Commons two years ago voted or paired in favour of Mr. Vaughan Davies's Bill to establish a Land Court, and, what I think is more important still, the Conservative candidate for East Denbighshire at the bye-election, having the support of the whole Unionist Party, of every parson and of every squire, publicly pledged himself, if returned, to bring in a Bill embodying the unanimous recommendations of the Welsh Land Commission. In a letter published in The Times on January 26, 1898, he said:The portion of the Report which was unanimous contains little or nothing to which a Tory could object.I honestly believe that these recommendations, if carried into law, would do no harm to landlords, while they would give security and confidence to hundreds of farmers whose families have for many hundreds of years been building houses and walls, and reclaiming land higher and higher up the mountain side, and whose only prayer and hope is to be allowed to remain in peace in their old homes, in the land of their fathers, the land they love so well. I beg leave to 381 ask Her Majesty's Government the question which stands in my name.
THE DUKE or ARGYLL
My Lords, with the permission of my noble friend at the head of the Government I rise to intervene for a few moments between the noble Lord opposite and the answer which he expects to get from the Government. I can assure the noble Earl opposite that nothing which he has said or could say on this question would be received with contumely by any Member of this House. We are all desirous of treating this question earnestly and seriously. I think it possible that, burdened as my noble friend beside me is with his enormous work as Prime Minister and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, he may not be aware of all the facts which bear on this question. In the first place permit me to remind the House that the question of the noble Earl amounts to nothing less than asking the Government whether they are prepared to bring in a new Irish Land Bill for the Principality of Wales and the County of Monmouth. Just think what a question this is to put at this time of the session! We have now reached nearly the end of June, and the noble Earl must have known that the answer, so far as a promise of immediate legislation is concerned, must be in the negative. Perhaps the noble Earl wishes to know whether the Government will introduce a measure in a future session, but he surely cannot expect such an answer from my noble friend now. That is impossible. I will, with your Lordships' permission, place before the House some facts connected with the Welsh Land Commission which have struck me very much. The noble Earl has dwelt very much upon the excellence of his Commission, and upon the distinguished, at least excellent and worthy, men who were upon it. And he has represented it to your Lordships as being a body whose opinion must carry great authority. In one sense I fully agree, but in another sense I venture to disagree. and I take this opportunity of protesting against the system which is growing of legislating by Commissions—not merely governing by Commissions, but legislating by Commissions. What happens in a case of this kind? A Liberal Government is in difficulty. They wish to summon up their resources and to add to 382 them. They hear of some great portion of the community who are anxious to get something from their neighbours by the help of Parliament, which the Government are not quite prepared to give them. What is the result? They say, "Oh, we will issue a Commission to inquire." The result of that Commission is foreknown. It is generally composed of a majority of men of extreme, or, at least, of strong opinions. There are interspersed a few who have more moderate leanings, and one or two landlords are generally put in just to give the Commission an appearance of impartiality. Then comes the Report, not dealing with facts—that would be legitimate—but dealing with recommendations of the most fundamental character to alter, perhaps, the whole constitution of society. For that work such men, I venture to say, are not competent. It would require such men as the framers of the American Constitution to reconstitute society and rearrange the fundamental laws of property. The gentlemen upon this Commission were no doubt excellently qualified for ascertaining facts, and not one fact, I am sure, would they misrepresent for the purpose of their opinion, but they are not the men to whom I would trust such a great and fundamental question as this. On that Commission, with the exception of the noble Earl opposite, whom we all respect and regard, for he has discharged every public duty to which he has been called in an admirable manner, there was but one gentleman who, I venture to say, has ever been heard of, or probably ever will be heard of, outside the Principality of Wales, and that is Mr. Seebohm. With great respect to the noble Earl opposite and to all his colleagues, I contend that this is not a body to which we can safely trust recommendations of a character such as those to which he has alluded. I should like very much to know how many members of your Lordships' House have ever read the Report, which, with the evidence, extends to some 700 closely printed pages. I have never met a single noble Lord who has read, learned, and inwardly digested that Report. I do not say there is not a great deal of very useful information in it, but it is a most miscellaneous Report. For instance, there is a most entertaining chapter on the wild birds and wild beasts of Wales in the 10th century, and being interested in natural history I was delighted to read it, but I cannot see what 383 this has to do with the question of land tenure. I have picked some salient facts out of the Report, but I do not think they tell in the direction of the recommendations. In the first place, the Commission found that Wales had been less affected by agricultural distress than either England or Scotland; and, in the second place, that improvements in Wales are, as a rule, made by the landlord and not by the tenant, as in Ireland. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I take this from his own Report, and that fact alters the whole state of the case. A good many of your Lordships were very much exercised about despoiling Irish landlords of a great part of their birthright, and we always salved our consciences by saying that in Ireland all the improvements were carried out by the tenant. You cannot say that of Wales. There is another fact brought out in the Report which I regard as most striking, because it goes far to show that there has been very little distress in Wales, and that, on the whole, the condition of the country is good. It is this, that there are no vacant farms and no derelict farms in the whole of Wales. The noble Earl (Earl Carrington) says "Hear, hear." Very well; but what is the case in England and in some parts of Scotland? There are to be found farms which cannot be let because agricultural distress is so great that no profit can be made, and others which are worked by the owner with no profit at all; but in Wales there is an eager competition for farms, which forces up the rents. Who are the competitors for these farms? In England and Scotland we suffer from the competition of strangers and foreigners, who bring in produce and undersell us; but are they foreigners who go in to compete against the natives in Wales? Oh, no. The Commission does not say so; it does not even hint it. The high price of Welsh farms is entirely due to the competition of Welshmen among themselves. Does that look like a very unhappy condition of things? The alleged insecurity of tenure, at all events, does not prevent Welsh people competing against themselves. They wish for the farms in order to establish their sons and grandsons in a healthy and, on the whole, a desirable occupation. It seems to me a monstrous proposition to say that this is a state of things which requires revolutionary agrarian legislation. There is another element which increases 384 the competition for these farms—namely, the fact that they are mostly small farms, to which the working classes can aspire. I very much wonder who is the writer of the Report.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I ought to have explained that, having seen the disadvantage of a Report being written by the secretary at the dictation of the chairman, and thrown at the heads of the Commission, I asked the whole of the members to write what portions they would select themselves, and they did so. It is not, therefore, written by one individual, but piecemeal by the whole. It was put together and talked over line by line, and in that way the Report expresses the unanimous opinion of the Commission.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
Well, all I can say is there must have been some gentlemen on the Commission who had very strange notions of intelligent and logical propositions. I confess that I have never read a Report so full of bombast and empty phrases, and I certainly have never read a Parliamentary Paper which was in some parts so utterly unintelligible. Here is a specimen:With reference to the general economic management of an estate, we think that the influence of the landlord should be exerted towards emphasising its solidarity as an economic unit upon which a particular industry is to be carried on.I recommend my noble friends who own property in Wales to remember that that is the principle on which they ought to manage their estates. How an estate, especially a Welsh estate, which often extends from the top of a mountain to the bottom of a valley, and in which the principles of farming and everything connected with the land varies, can be "an economic unit," I cannot understand. The sentence I have quoted is nonsense. Let me mention to the House a circumstance about this Commission which happened to myself. I saw in the papers that a certain Scotchman, whom I shall not name, had gfven the most absurd evidence about Scotland before the Commission, and accordingly I wrote to the secretary and asked to be allowed to appear in order that I might answer some of the statements made by this gentleman. After some correspondence had passed I appeared before the Commission and gave evidence. 385 They were good enough to be struck with a principle I laid down, which I have often emphasised in this House in connection with the Irish Land Acts—namely, that if the State undertakes to take away a portion of a man's property for public reasons, the principle should be laid down upon which the land is valued or assessed. The noble Earl opposite and his colleagues agreed, and they proposed that the court should be guided by general rules and principles. I looked with great anxiety to see what these general rules and regulations were, but this is what the Commissioners say:The first principle which should be laid down is that the court should separate the value of the land in its improved condition from its value in its unimproved condition—that is, its prairie value.I ask your Lordships if any one of you can tell me what prairie value is. I have tried, but have failed to get an explanation. I am not certain about the origin of this clap-trap word, but my belief is that it had an American-Irish origin, and that it means, practically, land which has no value at all. Prairie land may be the richest land in the world, and very often is, but the value of everything is in the demand for it, not in its own qualities. A prairie is a country where there is no settlement, where there is no population, and therefore where there is no demand for the land; and consequently what the Commission meant when they said its "prairie value" was absolutely nothing, as it would have no value. That is the first principle which this Commission says is to be considered by the new Land Courts when they are erected. All this is most miserable clap-trap. I am not going to follow the noble Lord in detail, but I contend that at the present moment no foundation has been laid, in fact, in argument, or in principle by the noble Lord's Commission for any revolutionary Land Act for Wales. That is what I say, and what I hope we shall heat from the noble Marquess is the conclusion to which the Government have come.
* LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, the noble Earl who presided over the Welsh Land Commission did well in altering the date which had been fixed for his notice, because if the notice had, as was originally intended, followed Lord Inchiquin's notice with reference to the Irish Land Acts, the noble Lord, after 386 that discussion, could hardly, I venture to think, have proposed legislation of the same sort for Wales. Neither the Commission nor the noble Earl has shown any reason why Wales should have different legislation to England in this matter; if any place could claim exceptional legislation, it would be Essex. Wales neither requires it nor demands it. The noble Earl stated that the Commission was a very fair one, but my recollection is that it was considered a packed one at the time, and was composed almost entirely of Gladstonians with a set purpose before them. Several of the members of the Commission had fads, and did nothing but put questions which had no reference whatever to land tenure. If the noble Earl had been in his place last Monday he would have heard a lecture on the evils of irrelevancy, deserved by a speech of May 16th, but perhaps not on that occasion, and a statement to the effect that Her Majesty's Government had no time left this session for initiating any legislation, and that the noble Marquess at the head of the Government had a very poor opinion of Royal Commissions; and I certainly think the Welsh Land Commission has done more to bring Commissions into disrepute than any other Commission I can remember. The members touted for Land Courts and for complaints against landlords, and the noble Chairman touted with such efficiency that he had a complaint made against his own action in selling machinery belonging to his tenant along with a flour-mill. I hasten to say that he was completely cleared of this accusation, but that did not prevent him from encouraging others equally fabulous. Professor Rhys was also accused of harsh action, when Bursar of Jesus College. So far as I can see, the only purpose for bringing forward this question to-day is to cause agitation in Wales, and therefore it is a most mischievous motion.
§ THE PRIME MINISTER AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (The Marquess of SALISBURY)
My Lords, I have not many observations with which to trouble your Lordships. I am afraid that I must plead guilty to the charge in which both the first speakers enveloped the House of not having studied the whole of the Report of the Royal Commission. Your Lordships will appreciate the nature of 387 the task which would have been imposed upon any Peer who attempted to do that when I tell you that if that Report was placed before me now I should not be able to see any of the noble Lords on the opposite benches.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The evidence is by far the most valuable portion of the Report. I only wish to say, in answer to the noble Lord, that we have not the slightest intention during the present session of attacking the Welsh agrarian question, and I do not venture upon any prophecy as to the date when the desire will seize us. I do not myself think that it is desirable to have an agrarian measure for Wales. When the Irish question was put before us we were always told that Ireland was a highly exceptional country, and that the precedents which were created then would not be employed to the injury of property in this island. I am afraid that I always thought this too sanguine a view, but, at all events, such reasons as there were, to which I never attached great value, for the Irish Act, in no way applies to Wales. The proposal of the noble Lord was, I think, enveloped in unnecessary complications. He tried to persuade us that he was simply the mouthpiece of his Commission at the moment when it became unanimous; but he gave us a speech which, if it hail any meaning or object at all, must have pointed—and I do not think he will deny it—to the erection of a Land Court with compulsory powers. That is, to give to some persons a right to take money out of the pockets of the landlord and to put it into the pockets of the tenants. To legislation of that kind I certainly feel no inclination whatever, and I believe it would do nothing but harm. The noble Lord read us a summary of the recommendations of the Commission, and reading them over with some skill, I think, he tried to persuade himself and the House that the minority of the Commission had reported in favour of a compulsory Land Court. The compulsory Land Court is the whole kernel and gist of the matter—if it is not compulsory it is nothing—whether this power is to be given to any person, however selected, to take the money from 388 the landlord and give it to the tenant. To this legislation certainly the Commission, when it became unanimous, had not committed itself. Whenever a serious proposal of that kind comes before the House then we may deal with it in detail. I can only say now that the whole of the noble Lord's argument appeared to rest on the fact that the rights of property had been occasionally, it may be frequently, abused. But the same argument may be applied to all rights of property in all countries and at all times, and with reference to property of every sort. It is quite as forcible—in- deed, it is more—in respect of personal property as between the creditor and the debtor, whose proceedings constitute a great part of the business of the courts of this country. There are numberless cases of gross hardship where the creditor by enforcing his rights has reduced the debtor to misery and despair. But we have not yet been asked on that account to put an end to the right with which the debtor himself has invested the creditor, because it is known that if we did that we would shatter the progress and prosperity of the country and bring all commercial action to an end. There is no other ground than these occasional, and I believe very occasional, abuses of the rights of property, which existed to a much greater extent 30 or 40 years ago than they do now. This House, at least, has never accepted the principle that because of such abuses rights of property should cease. If a compulsory Land Court were erected all independent rights of property in land would cease, and therefore I do not believe that under any circumstances the legislature of this country would adopt so dangerous a principle in the Statute Book as far as it affects this island. I am afraid, therefore, that I can give the noble Lord no hope of an agrarian Bill. He mentioned some other matters that were recommended by a unanimous Commission; they did not seem to me matters of very great importance, and whether they are worthy of legislation I do not know without more careful examination, but the essence of the whole matter is a compulsory Land Court, and to a compulsory Land Court I am entirely opposed.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
My Lords, the noble Marquess in the last few remarks he made, admitted that there 389 might be, though he did not say that he in any way accepted them, recommendations in the Commissioners' Report apart from the question of the Land Court which might deserve consideration. With regard to the noble Duke, he is undoubtedly well acquainted with the land question, and has paid great attention to it, but he has always seemed to me to look at it from a single point of view—that no concession that can be avoided should be made to tenantry; that the extreme rights of landlords are in accordance with the principles of free contract, and ought to be maintained. He was always a consistent, conscientious, and able opponent of the legislation for which we on this side of the House were responsible in regard to Irish land, and the fault I find with the attitude he has assumed is this, that he has a set of economic principles which are to be applied, like the bed of Procrustes, to all and every situation, whatever it may be. If the tenant does not fit into the bed upon which he has to lie it is his fault, and he must suffer the consequences. I dare say he would say that applies equally to landlords, but I do not believe it is wise or safe to deal, especially with land, upon what I may call cut-and-dried principles. Of course, it does not follow that every proposal for reform of the land laws must be a wise one, but the general and steady and, as I think, undiscriminating opposition of the noble Duke to any reform is not wise, and, I think, is dangerous and injurious to the welfare of the State.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
That is my view of the noble Duke's position; it is my general deduction from the many very able and very interesting speeches I have heard from him on the subject. With regard to the Report itself, I do not think it is open to the criticism of the noble Duke, though he is a master of language and composition; but when he throws so much obloquy on the expression "an estate an economic unit," I venture to differ from him, and to ask him for a precise definition. I take it in its ordinary acceptation, and I do not see why an estate cannot be an economic unit. No doubt the noble Duke will say it is not an economic unit in this sense, that there must be variety of soil and 390 situation on a large estate; but that also applies to a farm. The soil and situation are not the same all over a farm, but I think the expression is sufficiently intelligible, and it seems to me not open to serious rebuke. For the rest of the Report, the noble Duke dismisses it with the words "miserable clap-trap." There is nothing so easy as to treat a matter in that way. I do not think the grievances of the Welsh tenants can be regarded as miserable clap-trap. My belief is that the Welsh tenants have grievances, and that the case for Wales consists in this, so far as I know—I do not profess intimate acquaintance with the Principality—the general condition of agricultural tenants differs materially and seriously from the condition in England. That would be my answer to the noble Marquess. I do not contest the view of the noble Marquess as to the danger of disturbing a system upon which we have for generations rested in this country; but if there is in one portion of the island a particular position, and a state of things very different from that to which we are accustomed, I do not think it is always wise or safe to apply a principle that may be safely applied to other parts of the country, simply from fear and dread that we may be introducing some economic principle not entirely in accordance with our general views in regard to land. I confess I am not thoroughly acquainted with the evidence given before the Commission, nor do I think it is necessary as a qualification for speaking on the Report unless the evidence comes within moderate compass. I content myself with reading the Report and verifying any particular part of it by reference to the evidence. But I remember on one occasion reading the whole of the evidence taken before a Commission. That was a Commission on Currency, a subject with which it is not safe to deal unless one goes thoroughly into it. Therefore I made an exception in that case. Though I have not read the evidence taken before the Welsh Land Commission, I have read the Report, and it is very remarkable. I sincerely trust that, whether it is dealt with by the present Government or afterwards, we shall not put aside contemptuously as unworthy of attention the grievances of the Welsh farmers. That they have grievances I am convinced, and these arise from a state of things we are not familiar with here, and I do not think we should lay it down that no remedy can 391 possibly be applied. The noble Duke said with perfect accuracy that the Report is founded on no allegation of agricultural distress, and that in that respect Wales differed from Ireland. It is founded on the grievances of tenant farmers, who hold their land under tenure they consider extremely insecure, and under extreme competition, and these facts show the peculiar position in Wales. The noble Duke asked me if it was usual in Norfolk for tenants to receive notice to quit when an estate was sold. I have never heard of such a thing there. Such a thing being done would probably result in there being no purchaser for the estate. Unlike Wales, we in Norfolk have extreme difficulty in keeping tenants, and it is still more difficult to find new tenants. The whole question deserves careful attention; how far it would be wise to go can only be determined with legislative proposals before us; but I think my noble friend is well justified in bringing the matter forward.
THE DUKE OF ARGYLL
The noble Earl has mistaken my object in referring to the extreme competition in Wales. I quite agree with him that it differentiates the two cases, but the existence of that competition does not tend to prove distrust on the part of the Welsh people of that for which they are competing.