HL Deb 25 April 1907 vol 173 cc219-22

rose to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether he would lay upon the Table the answers of the County Councils of England and of Scotland to the circular recently issued by the Board with reference to Small Holdings as soon as such answers were received.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Lansdowne I think it is very desirable that we should have much more complete information than we have at the present time with regard to this question. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has recently issued an important circular to all the county councils of England and Scotland with reference to the Report of the Departmental Committee on Small Holdings. As many of your Lordships may not have seen this circular I ask permission to be allowed to read the important part of it. It is signed by the Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, who writes— I desire to call the attention of county councils to this Report, and in particular to the observations contained therein with reference to the present administration of the Small Holdings Act, 1892. The Committee make certain recommendations for the amendment of the Act, with the object of giving further powers and wider discretion to county councils for the provision of small holdings. These and other proposals for legislation are under the consideration of the Board, but in the meantime I am to invite the attention of your council to the suggestions and recommendations made by the Committee. He proceeds— The Committee recommend that an annual inquiry be made by the small holdings committee of the county council from the minor authorities within the county as to the land occupied by small holders, as to whether there is a demand for further land, and as to any land available for this purpose. I am to suggest that the small holdings committee of your council might with advantage proceed to make such an inquiry from the minor authorities as is recommended. I think that demand on the part of the Board of Agriculture is a most reasonable and proper one, and I am only surprised that it had not occurred to them before.

Ever since the present Government have been in office it has been openly intended to introduce a Small Holdings Bill for Scotland, and also one for England. The Scottish Bill has been in existence since August last, and it is very strange that it should occur only now to the noble Earl to ask the county councils to make this inquiry for him. One would naturally suppose from the circular, the substance of which I have read to your Lordships, that the noble Earl wished the inquiry made for his information. But the noble Earl has not waited for the answers. Not only has the Scottish Bill been read a first time in the other House, but the English Bill has been prepared and is in draft.

I was surprised to hear from the Front Bench opposite that His Majesty's Ministers could not tell us what the proposals of their Bill are. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies was appointed to assist my noble friend opposite, but on Saturday last, when addressing an audience which cannot be supposed to have been very skilled in information on this point, the hon. Gentleman said he would tell them what the Bill was; And he did, for he said the local authorities were to been powered to buy land, and so on. We know that it is to be entirely different from the Scottish proposal. We find it very difficult indeed to get any facts which bear on these Bills, and it is absolutely essential, in dealing with changes which the Prime Minister himself described as formidable, that we should have minute information as to the necessity of making these changes, and the grounds on which they are proposed. It is for that reason that I hope the noble Earl will lay on the Table of the House the answers he receives from the county councils as soon as they come to hand, because we cannot proceed to consider such important Bills as those which have been foreshadowed without having adequate information as to whether the demand is and how far it is likely to be met without resorting to extreme measures.


My Lords, I am very glad to be able to inform the noble Earl that I shall have the greatest pleasure in laying these Reports on the Table. Of course, the noble Earl will allow me to do so at my own time, but as soon as I possibly can I will lay the Reports on the Table, as I am extremely anxious that the subject should be ventilated in every way. Perhaps I may be allowed also to answer my noble friend Lord Balfour, who asked if there was any further information. I can promise him that in the Paper which will be laid on the Table of your Lordships' House we will add a reference to all the Parliamentary Reports that we have, and upon which the statement of the Prime Minister was made.


I am much obliged to the noble Earl for his answer, and I hope that he will carefully distinguish between references to allotments and to small holdings, because the really important point in this matter is the economic difficulty with regard to small holdings.


I have to thank the noble Earl for promising to lay on the Table the information for which I asked. We must, of course, bow to his convenience, but at the same time I think it is essential that these Reports should be laid on the Table in plenty of time for us to consider them before the Bills are brought before the House. I would throw out for the noble Earl's consideration the suggestion that it would be desirable to circulate the answers from the county councils in instalments.