§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
rose to call attention to the speech delivered on the 20th of April by the Prime Minister at the Holborn Restaurant, in reference to the question of small holdings, and particularly to the following passage—I notice further that from one district after another, as official Returns show, the demand 186 for land for the purposes of use and labour is met by blank denial.And—There is a whole mass of official testimony: to show that a strong demand for this type of holding exists in many parts of the country, and if only this demand could be satisfied, the young men and the best men in the villages. instead of setting their faces in despair towards the town, would be glad to remain at home. We hear of this unsatisfied land hunger very largely in the East of England, we hear of it in the Midlands, we hear of it in the Southern Counties.And to ask whether the "official Returns" and the "mass of official testimony" mentioned by the Prime Minister have already been laid before Parliament; and to move for Papers.
The noble Marquess said: My Lords, I should like to explain, if I may, at the outset, that when I put this notice on the Paper I did not do so with any idea of provoking this evening a general discussion upon the question of small holdings or rural depopulation. Your Lordships would have been entitled to much longer notice if there had been any question of such a discussion. But it did seem to me that as this question is apparently to be given very great prominence in the near future, as we are told that it is to be the subject of what is described as a "crusade," it would be for the public, advantage that we should endeavour as far as possible to obtain all the available information in regard to the basis of solid fact on which legislation of this kind will no doubt proceed. We ought to know, I think, all that can be ascertained with regard to the extent of the demand for small holdings, with regard to the extent to which that demand has been frustrated, and with regard to the causes which have led to any disappointment which has been experienced. I hope this evening we may obtain, at any rate, some contribution towards the knowledge which we desire.
I trust, however, that your Lord ships will not think me presumptuous if, before I go further, I say one word with regard to what I conceive to be attitude of the land-owning class, which is so numerously represented in this House, towards this great question. I am under the impression that there is a widespread, if not general, agreement 187 among that class to the effect that the policy of consolidating holdings which prevailed for so many years was a mistaken policy, and that we are glad to know, on the authority of a Parliamentary Committee, that for some years past that policy has ceased to prevail, and that people are content with holdings of a reasonable dimension. Most of us, I think, would be inclined to go further, and to say that the ideal system would be one, not of large holdings or small holdings, but a system in which holdings would be graduated in size, so as to give an ample opportunity to deserving men to rise from the ranks and gradually acquire a larger and larger stake in the agricultural enterprise of the country.
If we come to the political aspect of the question, I think we should all of its say that the agricultural system of this country would be founded on a much sounder basis if means could be discovered for largely increasing the number of persons interested in the soil. I, therefore, venture to predict that most of us as politicians and public men will be found desirous of removing every impediment in the way of the adoption of such a policy as I have described, and that as individuals and landowners we shall be ready to give all reasonable facilities for the adoption of such a policy. I should like to look forward to a movement in favour of a policy of that kind, tending surely, if slowly, to bring back more and more people to the soil; and having the support of the three great classes in the agricultural community and of the two great political Parties in the State.
It is because an ideal of that kind is present to my mind that I read with much regret the speech delivered by the Prime Minister on Saturday last, to which I am about to call attention. That speech appeared to me to be needlessly provocative in tone. It seemed to me to suggest very erroneous ideas—ideas calculated not to advance, but to retard the kind of settlement which we all desire. It was a speech remarkable, not only for what it contained, but for what it omitted. It was an essay upon rural depopulation, but it altogether failed to explain that rural depopulation has been due, not to 188 one cause, but to the combination of a great many cases. It is true that early in the speech there was one short sentence in which the speaker admitted that the advent of free trade and the extension of facilities for the rapid transportation of goods had very profoundly affected the agriculture of these islands. But there was no attempt to describe the extent to which foreign competition, higher taxation, and such other like causes had depressed the position of cultivators of the soil in these islands.
Again, I find nothing in the speech calculated to bring home to the audience the enormous difficulty and expense attending any attempt to adapt the farms of this country to an entirely new kind of distribution amongst cultivators. I find no reference to the extreme difficulty of selecting men competent to undertake this detailed cultivation of the land. Nor, again, was there any indication that the speaker was aware that it is only in certain parts of the country, and where there are certain conditions of soil and climate, that petite culture can be resorted to with advantage. Nothing, again, was said of the risk of failure where the experiment was tried under unpropitious conditions, or of the costly results of such failure—and costly it must be either to the cultivators themselves, or to the taxpayers, or to the ratepayers, or to whoever it is who finds the sinews of war for the attempt.
Nor, again, did the Prime Minister touch upon what has always seemed to me one of the most interesting and suggestive features of the case—I mean the effect upon the young people of this country of the kind of education which they obtain in our village schools, an education which, I believe, does very little indeed to fit them for the profession of agriculture. All those points were slurred over, and prominence was given to one cause and to one cause alone—I mean the alleged reluctance of the landowning class to give facilities for the experiments. My Lords, that was, if I may use the expression, the leit motif which ran through the whole performance—the selfish refusal of the owners of the soil—because that was again and again accentuated—the selfish refusal 189 of the owners of the soil to give facilities for any new departure in this direction.
If that was not the purport of the speech, then, I say, what was the meaning of that remarkable passage in which the speaker dwelt upon the dislike of the squire to see such common things as cabbages and pigs and unseemly outhouses? That was the description—that the squire and his friends "in society" found something displeasing in the appearance of those familiar objects, and that it was because those familiar objects were displeasing that this denial took place. Or what, again, was the meaning of the passage containing the reference to the increase in the number of gamekeepers, and to the time wasted in discussions as to the hares and pheasants of the landlords? What are we to think when we find passages of that kind placed in close juxtaposition with references to derelict farms and deserted villages? Is not the suggestion that the farms are derelict and the villages deserted because those selfish considerations have prevailed with the landowners of the country? Then, last of all, there comes this remarkable assertion, that the peasantry of England migrate to the towns because, while they remain in their villages, they cannot call their souls their own. I should should like to hear that statement repeated to an audience of sturdy villagers in the part of England which I know best.
I complain of all this because it seems to me quite needlessly to import prejudice into the consideration of a great public matter. These statements may be useful for political leaflets, to be scattered before an ignorant audience at the time of a general election; they may serve their purpose for those who wish to make an attack upon your Lordships' House; but, with all respect, I say they are unworthy of the great position held by the man who made use of them, and they are not calculated to bring about that co-operation towards a common object which I, for one, desire to see so much.
These statements are, of course, general statements, and, therefore, not very easy to deal with. I cannot come 190 here and prove to your Lordships—although I can go very near it—that the squire in many parts of England is never better pleased than when he sees a great number of the humble animals, to which the Prime Minister referred, in the farmyards of his tenants. But there did come a point when the Prime Minister was precise. It is to that part of his speech that I desire particularly to call attention. The Prime Minister told his audience that there was a great mass of official testimony to show that a strong demand for this type of holding exists in many parts of the country, and that, if only this demand could be satisfied, the young men and the best men in the villages, instead of setting their faces in despair towards the towns, would be glad to remain at home; and he also said that he noticed that from one district after another, as official returns showed, the demand for land for the purposes of use and labour is met—I call your Lordship's attention to the expression—by a blank denial.
Now, I am anxious, and I think many of your Lordships must be anxious to see, these official returns. I want to know where and to what extent these requests for laud have been met by a blank denial on the part of those who were in a position to meet them. Let me say that, if this mass of official testimony is not produced and laid upon this Table, we shall take leave to disbelieve altogether in its existence. I understand that my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture will follow me, and I am quite sure he will give me a courteous and considerate answer, but I should like to warn him that there are one or two kinds of answer which he might possibly give which would not satisfy me. I shall not be satisfied if the noble Earl tells me that one or two, perhaps anonymous, landlords have behaved unreasonably in the matter of small holdings. It is quite possible; although, if there are such cases, I should like to hear the other side and to give the person accused an opportunity of giving an account of his conduct. But I shall not be content with the production of what, I think, the Prime Minister called, upon another occasion, samples of this kind of misconduct, I shall be very suspicious of 191 samples; I do not think they are always quite fairly chosen out of the heap. And I want to know a little more about the size of the heap and the contents of it.
Then, again, I shall not be content if the noble Earl tells me that difficulties have been encountered on some occasions with farmers. The farmers are men of business, and they naturally are not always very favourable to the idea of seeing their holdings parcelled out and distributed to other people; and it is quite likely that the farmers in some cases have been found tenacious of that which is their own. Then, again, it will not content me to be told that the local bodies, the county councils, for example, have been rather slow in moving. The county councils have got to think of the ratepayers and the ratepayers' money, and, if they are prudent, they will not be in too great a hurry to plunge into these experiments at the cost of the ratepayers. These answers I shall not be content with, because the charge of the Prime Minister—and I defy anyone to contradict me—is levelled, not at individual landlords, not at farmers nor at the local authorities, but at the landowners as a class.
I shall be very much surprised if. after all, this great mass of official testimony proves to be quite so convincing as we are led to expect, and I will tell your Lordships why. I have paid some attention to the Returns which have been laid upon this subject, and I find in those, no doubt, indications of the difficulty of carrying out at a great pace far-reaching experiments of this kind, but I do not find in them anything suggestive of the kind of organized refusal amongst the landlords which has been suggested in the Prime Minister's speech. But there is another document—a document of very great value—which has lately been placed in our hands, I mean the Report of the Committee appointed by my noble friend Lord Onslow when he was President of the Board of Agriculture. I commend that Report to the attention of those of your Lordships who have not already read it. Let me say that I do not agree with the whole of the recommendations of that Committee. But the value of the Report lies in this: that it is the testimony of men who knew their subject thoroughly, and who had done their best to collect evidence as 192 to mattere of fact from all parts of the country and from many different classes of people. This Report is entirely sympa-pathetic to the policy of small holdings, but it is fair and judicial in tone, and well worth careful reading.
In that Report I do not find any reference to a universal demand for small holdings. What I do find in it is that there is a local demand, a sporadic demand, varying very much according to the circumstances and conditions of the neighbourhood. I find init that there are many conditions—conditions which are not to be found everywhere—in the absence of which the experiment is predestined to failure. I find that, even where the circumstances are favourable, the operation must necessarily be a very costly one, and I find it stated that one of the greatest difficulties attending that experiment—perhaps the greatest of all—lies in the selection of suitable individuals, and for this reason—I am quoting the words of the Report—thatMen who have failed in every other walk of life think that any man can make money out of the land.Now, I believe that is a very widespread fallacy; it is one against which we have to guard ourselves very carefully. I await the production of this official evidence, and I shall be very much surprised if it does not confirm my view.
But perhaps before I leave the subject I may be allowed to say one word upon another branch of it. I think we have a right to demand these official papers, but I am going to ask the noble Earl, rather by way of a favour, whether he will not add to that something which a great many of us would like to have—that is, an authoritative and complete statement of the experiments which he has himself carried out in order to introduce a system of small holdings. The role of the noble Earl is a somewhat remarkable one in these controversies. In the old-fashioned missionary meetings, it was usual, I believe, to produce a black man, who was exhibited as a member of a dangerous tribe, a tribe addicted to strange meats and evil practices of all sorts, and he was exhibited as a specimen of the successful results of the missionary's work, clad in broadcloth and satisfied with beef steaks. 193 My noble friend is invariably exhibited as a specimen—perhaps the single specimen—of a regenerated landlord. He is described, as the Prime Minister described him the other evening, as being fortunate in that he owns estates which are ''perfect hives of industry and prosperity." I am almost tempted to say that there is one phenomenon which we usually connect with hives, and which has been apparent in connection with the estates of the noble Lord—there has been a good deal of buzzing about them. I can assure my noble friend that I say these things in no cynical spirit, because I really believe that our admiration is due to him for having exerted himself, as probably very few people have, to solve this problem. He is an enthusiast. I am one of those who admire enthusiasts. I do not think we have nearly enough of them, and I lay my tribute of admiration at the feet of the noble Earl.
But I want him to tell us how it is done. We are told he is the one person who has solved the problem. Now, what is the problem? It is that of equipping what is described as an uneconomic holding without any loss to the public purse. That is a pretty considerable problem, and, if the noble Earl can tell us how he has solved it, we shall one and all feel that we owe him a debt of gratitude. There is something to he found about the noble Earl's experiments in the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee, and I draw some rather interesting conclusions from it. If your Lordships will look at page 20 you will find that the noble Earl's experiences were of a rather varied character. In the case of one or, I think, two estates he was able to divest himself entirely of his acres by selling them to the Holland County Council in Lincolnshire and the South Lincolnshire Small Holdings Association, and the Report goes on to say—This association occupies the position of a substantial tenant and eliminates those risks which often make landlords unwilling to let land to labouring men and others.The noble Earl was in clover there, because the risk was eliminated. Then there was another estate in which the experiment seems to have succeeded. It was in the neighbourhood of Spalding, and it took place upon land exceptionally 194 well adapted for growing early vegetables peas, potatoes, etc., and, to a small extent, spring flowers and bulbs. We cannot all run to spring flowers and bulbs. We should be delighted if we could, but I fear it is impossible. There was yet another estate in the neighbourhood of Flackwell Heath. There the rent has not been punctually paid, though the tenants manage to make a living. That is not putting it very high. And in yet another portion of the noble Earl's possessions where he endeavoured to establish small holdings it is reported that the experiment failed, and that the seven small holdings created have been absorbed by one man. I assume that there were cases in which the experiment succeeded entirely, but it is quite clear from the quotations I have given to the House that the noble Earl is not able, by merely raising his finger, to solve the difficulties which so many people have been wholly unable to surmount.
I must add yet one other thing. The noble Earl is in a particularly favourable position to give the House information, because last year, under a little Act of Parliament which, I daresay, passed through this House without very much notice, he became an ex officio Commissioner of Woods and Forests. He is the adlatus of the Commissioners appointed under the Act of 1851, and he is, I presume, at this moment harnessed between the two steady-going officials who now preside over the affairs of that office. That gives the noble Earl 71,000 acres—
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE(Earl CARRINGTON)
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I beg pardon, 62,000 acres upon which to try experiments, and we are informed by the Prime Minister that he has begun to try them already. That will be most interesting, and I hope the noble Earl will tell us how he is getting on with the Crown estates. We shall have to keep a weather-eye upon him, because, if he does not administer the Crown estates with proper prudence and diligence the taxpayers of the country will have something to say about it.
195 I apologise to the House for having spoken so long, and I would end with only one observation of a quite general character. It is this. In my view we should never lose sight of the fact that agriculture is a business, and that it must be carried on on business like lines. If in agriculture, or in any other business, you are going to strike out upon an entirely new venture, you ought to have a clear idea of where you are going, why you are going there, and how you mean to get there; and I do trust that His Majesty's Government will not lose sight of that consideration. But I rejoice that they are able to approach the problem in a hopeful, or even in a sanguine, spirit; do not. however, let them suppose that by a wave of a magician's wand, by any legislation, however courageous, they will be able suddenly to bring back to the villages people who have left the villages for the towns, or that they will be able, at any rate not without something like a revolution and without creating great hardship and injustice, suddenly to cut up farms tenanted by hard-working and industrious men into Scottish crofts or English market gardens. I do, on the other hand, believe that something can be done, and most of us will be very glad indeed if we can help to do it. But let me say this—it is my last word. If you wish us to help, there is a right and a wrong way of setting to work, and the speech to which I have ventured to call attention this evening appears to me to be an example of the wrong way of setting to work.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
My Lords, the noble Marquess has put his Question down on the Paper, and the first word he used in his most interesting, and, as far as I was concerned, and I have to thank him for it, most kindly and complimentary speech was a request for information as to solid fact. I should like to put myself in the hands of the House as regards the solid fact, because I do not know whether noble Lords have seen the Parliamentary Papers which were published this morning and which contain the Answer of the Prime Minister to the Question on this subject he was asked in the House of Commons on the 24th.† The official Returns to which Mr. Lane-Fox referred† See (4) Debates, clxxiii., 10.196 are set out in that Answer. They extendover three pages, and I am afraid I should weary the patience of the House if I read through all those official documents, which are Reports which have been laid on the Table of the House of Commons at various times, and all of them, I think, with one exception, during the time that the Unionist and Conservative Government was in power.
But before proceeding to deal with them, I should like to call attention to two or three remarks which preceded the noble Marquess's Question. He alluded to the attitude of the landowning class; and I am sure all my friends on this side of the House will have been delighted to hear him say that they considered the consolidation policy of past years a mistake. He then adumbrated an ideal system of graduating the size of farms. That, I am happy to inform the noble Marquess, is our object, that is our ideal. It is our ambition to manage, if possible, something of the sort, that there should be farms of all sizes and all descriptions so that a man should be able to own a small farm and eventually go on to a bigger farm; and I was very glad to hear from the noble Marquess that all facilities will be given on that side of the House towards the adoption of that policy.
I was a little bit disappointed with the way in which the noble Marquess alluded to the speech of the Prime Minister on Saturday. I heard that speech, and I. am bound to saythat I cannot see the amount of provocation which the noble Marquess thought fit to attribute to it. It is very easy to take sentences here and there away from their context and then to fling them at the unfortunate-speaker's head and say, "This is provocative," and "This ought not to have been said." I cannot admit that, if you read the speech carefully, there is that amount of provocation in it which the noble Marquess tries to prove. Then the noble Marquess complained of the omissions from the speech. But the speech lasted fifty-five minutes. It was a very long speech, and if all the reasons for rural depopulation had been introduced by my right hon. friend we should have been there now. I might en passant say that there was one particular reason. 197 which we are always told is the one great reason for the depopulation of our rural districts which the noble Marquess, inadvertently, I am sure, omitted to mention. That was the cause of free trade, and if we had had a discussion on the cause of free trade I do not know when the speech of my right hon. friend would have ended. But my right hon. friend stuck to one point, and he was perfectly right in doing so, one point on which we are all agreed, that there is great difficulty in getting land for small holdings throughout England.
The noble Marquess said that he was very suspicious of what he calls samples. So am I, and I thank him for the wording of his question; for there he confines himself entirely to official Returns, and therefore I hope I may be excused for not mentioning any landowner's name or holding up any person to be gibbeted, as that only makes bad blood and defeats the object which we have in view. I hope I shall not be accused of shirking this question if I do not do that. But the noble Marquess acknowledged that the county councils had been very slow. I think they have been uncommonly slow, for we have been waiting and waiting for the last fifteen years for them to do something. Speaking from memory, I think that out of the 32,000,000 acres of agricultural land in England the county councils have produced the magnificent total of 800 odd acres of small holdings, and of these eighty acres are in the county of London. So that the county councils cannot say that they have helped to solve this problem.
The noble Marquess asked me to give him a complete statement of the result of my own experiments. I shall be very glad to send him some literature on the subject. I have two or three pamphlets which I will forward to the noble Marquess, and I hope he will do me the honour of reading them. I must say that in my own experience I have found allotments and small holdings to answer everywhere except in one district, where some persons who never ought to have had allotments were given land, and tried what they could do with it. The land was unsuitable, and so these seven sportsmen gave it up as a bad job. But I hope the House will believe me when 198 I say that I am the last person in the world to put myself on a pedestal in this matter. I have tried in my humble way to do what I could. But I deprecate being put forward as an example in any sort of way.
When you think of what Lord Harrowby has done—he has, I think, 2,000 acres under small holdings—and when you think of what landowners like the late Lord Tollemache have done, and what my friend Mr. Jesse Collings has done in promoting small holdings, it must be admitted that the experience of these practical men, who approach the subject in a businesslike way, sustains my contention that small holdings can be made to pay, and that they are an immense boon in almost every part of England.
In the Parliamentary Papers issued this morning the House will see a great mass of official evidence, which proved, up to the hilt every word that my right hon. friend said on Saturday. I will refer only to one document—a letter addressed to me on April 15th by the parish council of Moulton, near Spalding. They are a very shrewd, hard-working people there, and the allotments in that part of the country have been a very great success. Such a success have they been that, while in the ten years between 1882 and 1892 the exodus from the nineteen villages round Spalding was 2,500, in the ten years from 1892 to 1902 the exodus fell to 150. During the latter period the Lincolnshire Small Holdings Association was in operation, and these figures show how allotments keep the people on the land. The letter to which I refer from the Moulton Parish Council begins as follows—To the Right Hon. Earl Carrington.President of the Board of Agriculture.We, the undersigned, members of the Moulton Parish Council, assembled at the annual meeting, respectfully desire to draw your Lordship's attention to the pressing demand for small holdings in this and surrounding parishes in South Lincolnshire.In the past, vacant farms have usually beenlet to progressive farmers; and small holders and would-be small holders have been passed by. As things are at present it is almost impossible for an industrious and capable man to hire a small holding except at an exorbitant rent. Even at such rent the holdings available are very few.199This large parish contains about 12,000 acres of fertile land, nearly all of which is suitable for cultivation by small holders.Nearly 3,000 acres are held by three tenants out of a population of 2,017, living in 463 houses; twenty tenants occupy nearly half the land in the parish, upwards of 5,000 acres.We believe that this distribution of the land is typical of the parishes in South Lincolnshire.The writers go on to say—The rents paid by existing small holders run to £5 per acre including the house and buildings. There are five small holdings in the parish, cultivated as ordinary agricultural land, rented at £4 and upwards per acre.The average rent of all existing small holdings is about 33 per cent. more than the average rent of the larger farms. The larger farms are well equipped as a rule with house, cottages, and buildings; the small holdings are often badly equipped with buildings. Several persons pay a separate rent for a house and buildings, and then hire odd fields at rentals of 50s. and 60s. per acre.The parish council hires allotment land from five landowners which it has to let at rents varying from £2 to £3 per acre, inclusive of rates. This land has no buildings of any kind upon it.There are 151 allotment holders in the parish. Under existing circumstances they can make no progress. Several of these desire to become small holders. There is also a strong demand for land from persons who would not require houses. But the experience of members of this council is that holdings of from 25 acres upwards with cottages and buildings on them are chiefly required.There are capable men with money saved and friends willing to assist, ready to take and work such holdings; hundreds more in the future would come forward for such holdings if only they could see a prospect of obtaining them.The parish council desire, if they may do so, to add that where the land is suitable, the question of buildings need be no obstacle. The small holder can live and afford to pay the same rent as paid by the larger farmer and, in addition, a fair interest upon any reasonable sum necessary to furnish the land with houses and buildings.That letter was signed by the whole eleven members of the parish council, and it states that two young men left the parish for Canada this week, and that six of the brothers of the Chairman have emigrated to Canada.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
The farmers do not own the land. I will read the passage again—In the past, vacant farms have usually been let to progressive farmers; and small holders and would-be small holders have been passed by.I should like to add a personal statement relating to my own experience. It concerns a farm of 800 acres, belonging to the Crown, in Wingland, in Lincolnshire. In 1905 the tenant of this farm died, and the Lincolnshire Small Holders' Association, of which I am a member, applied to take the farm for small holdings from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. We were refused at once, and had not even the opportunity of making an offer. That farm was let to a young man twenty-four years of age, whose father farmed the adjoining 400 acres, and thus the two farms were consolidated. That surely is a case of "an official blank denial," in the clearest sense of the term. I do not think a better case could be given of what the Prime Minister had in his mind.
I do not wish in any way to bring an accusation or complaint against the Commissioners of Woods and Forests. They simply acted up to the rules of the office. As everybody knows, they are a most conscientious body of honourable men, and do their duty to the State in the most perfect way. When the Commissioners were severely taken to task in a debate initiated last year by Lord Harrowby because they had not cut up some of their farms and given people a chance of getting small holdings, I pointed out very respectfully to the noble Lords who made those objections that this was hardly fair, that the Commissioners were probably carrying out the policy they were ordered to carry out, and that the Unionist Government had been in office for the last twenty years, and if they had had a great desire for small holdings the very first thing they would have done would have been to say to the Commissioners, "Go into the open market and find out whether this which we believe to be a fictitious desire for small holdings, this great longing for the land, exists, and if it does it is your duty to satisfy it." In my objection to any censure being 201 passed on those hon. Gentlemen I was backed up by the noble Marquess opposite who, in his own chivalrous way, defended them and said—The Commissioners were instructed to administer the Crown Estates on the most economical principles, and in such a manner as to produce the largest revenue that could be obtained from the land.Early this year the Prime Minister, with the consent of the Crown, gave over to the Board of Agriculture the management of 62,000 acres of agricultural land in England, and when the Prime Minister gave me over this trust he gave me most distinct and specific orders. He said that of course there was to be great economy in the management, and that the best fair-rent revenue should be derived from the land. But he went further than that, and said that we ought out of the Crown lands to try and show an object lesson as to how small holders might be satisfactorily put on the land, not in any way to oust farmers, or do landlords any harm, but for the practical benefit of the landlords themselves as well as the tenants.
When in the early part of this year I took over the agricultural portion of the estates there were, practically speaking, only forty-four small holdings tenants occupying from 3 to 50 acres of these 62,000 acres, with the exception of a farm to which I shall refer. During the very brief period I have been appointed Commissioner of Crown Agricultural Lands spontaneous applications for small holdings have been received—not applications that we have tried to get—from eleven out of the fourteen different counties in which the Crown agricultural lands under my charge are situated—Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Oxford-shire, Suffolk, Wiltshire, and Yorkshire. I will not trouble the House with the details, which will appear in my Report to be published in June. But may I give a few instances? In South Lincolnshire we have had eighty-seven spontaneous written applications for 2,800 acres of land. The majority of these men at present have only allotments or single plots of land. I shall be told, I suppose, "You know nothing about these people; if you went to London you could get 20,000 men very likely. How do you 202 know these are not bogus men?" In answer to that I say the applicants already own 479 head of stock, in addition to cash, twenty-one of the applicants stating that they possess cash to a total of £3,430, while others state that they can invest £10 an acre in the holding and can produce a bank-book to show it. I trust before the end of the year to have satisfied 50 per cent. of the present demands in this locality without depriving a single farm tenant of his livelihood or of his home. I have received in Yorkshire, from one parish alone, Welwick, fifteen spontaneous applications for 500 acres from residents. In that parish I am informed there are 3,600 acres, 2,000 acres of which are farmed by four farmers, three of whom are non-resident, having farms in other districts. In this case also the majority of the applicants have cash in addition to experience and stock.
During the last few months there was a farm in Cambridgeshire of 917 acres which had been in hand for some years, and I think the experience of most of us is that you do not make much out of a farm in hand. No tenant for this farm could be found anywhere. Mr. C. D. Rose, M.P. for the Newmarket Division, has taken this farm, and at the present moment it has been let to eighty-two tenants either for allotments or small holdings. Very nearly fifty families are now dependent on that land, and still there is in that district an unsatisfied demand, and if I had any more land vacant I should be able at once to let it to satisfactory tenants.
In Wiltshire there was a Crown tenant, who at his own request was released from his farm of 234 acres. The old principle of the office would have been for him to have found a tenant, to whom the farm would have been handed on. I telegraphed down to ask if there was any demand for small holdings, the parish council came up to London, saw me, and we let this farm at once, over the table in my office, to the parish council. It was eagerly taken up, and the council has already let every flower-pot of it and still have more applications.
In Yorkshire a similar instance has occurred, where the local body is taking 500 acres of Crown land for further development, for allotments and small holdings. I really think that these 203 facts prove the statement of the Premier, and show such a strong unsatisfied demand for small holdings throughout the country generally that, without waiting for the Small Holdings Bill which is shortly to be introduced, I have felt it my duty to communicate with each parish, district, and county council in which Crown landsare situated, and to give very serious consideration to a large scheme which is being formulated for dealing with a large demand for small holdings which exists in Cheshire. I hope I have said enough to satisfy the noble Marquess that the case of the Prime Minister has been proved over and over again. If I have been unfortunate enough not to convince the House, I can only ask noble Lords once more to read the official document to which I have referred, but with which I have not ventured to trouble the House.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I am certain that every fair-minded man in the House will, after reading the document, agree with me that the Prime Minister was absolutely, totally, and entirely justified in every word he said at the Holborn Restaurant.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
Will the document to which the noble Earl has referred be circulated to this House?
§ EARL CARRINGTON
Oh, certainly. I will have it circulated to your Lordships. I am indebted to the House for the patience with which my observations have been listened to, and I most respectfully thank the noble Marquess opposite for his promise to assist us, as far as he can, in our endeavours, to use the words of the Prime Minister—Without haste but without rest to cope with and to overcome a state of things which is drifting into a public danger as well as a national disgrace.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I listened with the greatest interest, as I am sure did all your Lordships, to the noble Earl's statement of the results of his administration of the Crown Lands. I have always held the opinion that it 204 was the duty of the Government in this as in many other matters, such as the employment of labour, to set an example to all, whether they be landowners, employers of labour, or other, in the administration of their affairs; and I have every reason to hope that the noble Earl will be able to show that there is a way of making small holdings in the country an economical success, and I shall look forward with the greatest interest to the Papers which he has promised to lay before the House.
I concur entirely with what my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said when he expressed great regret that this matter was being treated by His Majesty's Government and by the Leader of His Majesty's Government as a Party affair. I venture to think that a question so serious as this, involving the welfare of so many of His Majesty's subjects in these islands, should, if possible, be treated on non-Party lines. I should like for my part to see a measure brought in from this side of the House—if we are not to see the measure of the Government for some time to come—showing what those who are in opposition to the Government are prepared to do in the way of providing small holdings. And I venture to think that such a measure would largely surprise some of those who have loudly declared that the House of Lords is opposed to any measure for the dissemination of land among the people of the the country.
I regret the diffidence of the noble Earl, who feared to weary your Lordships by reading the statements which he said proved up to the hilt the statement made by the Prime Minister last week. I venture to say that the evidence called in aid by the noble Earl falls entirely under the denomination referred to my noble friend, Lord Lansdowne, in that it consists of nothing but samples. First of all, we have an extract from a Return of 1895, showing that in many cases, county councils were unable to obtain land by agreements, and the document then proceeds to recite what happened in only seven counties out of the whole of the counties of England and Scotland. No mention is made about those county councils who bought land or took steps to acquire it, but found that there were 205 no applicants at all to take it up. Then this document proceeds—Some specific instances of the difficulties experienced by the rural sanitary authorities in obtaining land for allotments before the passing of the Local Government Act of 1894 may be found in the House of Commons' Return of 20th June 1892 (No. 310). Land could not be obtained at all by agreement in the rural disttricts of Buckingham (Bucks), Whittlesey (Cambs.), Braintree (Essex), Tet-bury (Glos.), Isle of Thanet and Blean (Kent), Banbury and Thame (Oxford), and Cosford (Sussex).Then we are given the evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Small Holdings in 1890, of Mr. Fyffe, the estates bursar of University College, Oxford, regarding an estate in Sussex. But that is no proof of a general disinclination on the part of the landowners of this country to provide land.
Then the document deals with the Report of my Committee, and quotes this extract from my Report on a visit to the small holdings in Worcestershire—
The men endeavoured to obtain land from a neighbouring landowner, but a rule on the estate was not to let more than a quarter of an acre to labourers.I do not wish to mention names, but I may say that that landlord is Lord Plymouth. The rule referred to is well known on the estates of many of your Lordships, but it does not follow from that that my noble friend, Lord Plymouth, was unwilling to let land in larger portions for small holdings. Next we come to the evidence of Miss Jebb. I hope your Lordships will peruse the evidence given by that lady, who visited all the counties of England on the question of small holdings. Some of her evidence is quoted, but not all. This lady said that in nearly every case she found land was just coming into the market, had just come, or was likely to come. There was no proof that there existed any difficulty in obtaining land for small holdings.
THE EARL OF ONSLOW
With pleasure—Q. 7831. Is it your belief that men have gone into the towns because they were 206 unable to get land?—I have certainly met with that in a great many cases.The difficulty is not in obtaining land for small holdings; the difficulty is in providing suitable buildings to make the land pay. The Salvation Army have been for some time past looking out for an estate which they could cut up into small holdings, and although they have had quantities of land in every part of England offered to them it has not been of a suitable character. They have at last, however, settled on land near Colchester, which is suitable for the purpose. The Committee of the House of Commons of 1890, which was presided over by Mr. Chamberlain, said—We were led to inquire why the interests of owners of land have not naturally brought about a multiplication of small tenancies. There appears to be a general willingness on the part of owners to devote land for the purpose, but the difficulty of providing the necessary buildings is almost insuperable in the present conditions.Every official document on which the Prime Minister relies is full of evidence of that character—that the owners are willing to give the land, but that the difficulty is the economic one of providing the necessary buildings.
I venture to hope that His Majesty's Government will before long produce their Small Holdings Bill. I think I may say, on behalf of my noble friends behind me, that the Bill, whatever it may be, will not be met in a hostile spirit. I greatly regret the decision of the Government not to introduce the Bill in your Lordships' House, because I am quite sure that by my noble friends who are most anxious to create small holdings in this country it will be received with sympathy, and if it proceeds upon lines which are generally acceptable it will be supported. In your Lordships' House the Bill could be dealt with much earlier than in the other House, where there is a block of business. I hope the Government will reconsider their decision, and either produce their own Bill or give sympathetic consideration to any Bill brought in by my noble friends behind me. Having examined with very great care all the official documents published on this subject, I must say I cannot find one single word to justify the sweeping assertion of the Prime Minister. To say 207 that the landowners of this country as a whole are opposed to utilising their land for the purpose of creating small holdings is a slur upon them under which they cannot be expected quietly to sit down.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, if no other noble Lord wishes to address the House I will say just a few words in reply to the speech of my noble friend who has just sat down. What the noble Earl said at the end of his speech does not fairly represent anything which fell from my right hon. friend the Prime Minister. My right hon. friend did not imply, and did not intend to imply, any belief that the landlords of this country were as a body indisposed to allow an extension of small holdings.
The question really is a question of sympathy. It is that which has been often wanting in local management. If you look at the facts of the case in regard to the action of county councils, you will observe that in many cases there has been a great readiness to accept the statement that nothing could be done in this matter. I do not say that it is always so; far from it, and there comes in the question of sympathy. Where there has been upon county councils members who have taken up this subject and shown an interest in it, there you will find that something has been done. But it cannot be denied that the Act of 1892 has been a failure. We do not want any proof of that. We have it in the fact that noble Lords opposite when in office appointed the Committee presided over by my noble friend who has just sat down.
Why did they appoint that Committee? We have now had fifteen years experience of the Act of 1892. When the Committee was appointed the Government had had thirteen years experience of the Act, and they had come to the conclusion that the Act had not succeeded. My noble friend behind me, the President of the Board of Agriculture, told your Lordships how many small holdings had been set up throughout the whole of the country by county councils, an absolutely insignificant number. In consequence of that state of 208 things noble Lords opposite appointed this Committee. I think they waited a long time before appointing it. My noble friend Lord Onslow spoke of some of his noble friends bringing in a Bill of their own for the purpose of dealing with this question. I for one shall be very glad to see their Bill when they produce it. I think it is a fair answer to him to say, why was that not done by the late Government? Why did they not do so when they were in office? I lay no blame on my noble friends opposite because their Act failed. I do not think it was an Act ever likely to succeed, and it is absolutely clear that long ago it was established that the Act was practically unworkable.
As I have risen to say a few words on this subject I may, perhaps, be allowed to refer to the speech of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition. My noble friend distinctly said that the Prime Minister had stated that this difficulty of getting land for small holdings existed throughout the whole country. It is obvious, from the extract from my right hon. friend's speech which the noble Marquess has put upon your Lordships' Paper, that that is not what he said. My right hon. friend said—We hear of this unsatisfied land hunger very largely in the east of England; we hear of it in the Midlands; we hear of it in the southern counties.That is very far from being a statement that this land hunger exists all over the country. Therefore it is clear that the Prime Minister had no intention of applying his remarks to the whole of England or to landlords as a body. The evidence we have before us shows that in those districts mentioned by the Prime Minister the demand exists for small holdings.
I do not say that any legislation you adopt can be tarried out all over the country in a year or two. Of course it cannot. You must proceed step by step. But the foundation must be laid and means must be taken to secure the object which we have in view, and which, apparently, noble Lords opposite are willing to promote—namely, that the system of small holdings should be largely extended in suitable parts of the country. That is the purpose and intention of His 209 Majesty's Government. I am afraid I cannot satisfy your Lordships as to the contents of our Bill. I must leave that to my right hon. friend Mr. Harcourt, who in a short time will introduce the Bill in the other House.
My noble friend has referred to Miss Jebb, a lady who is thoroughly acquainted with this question. She has written an interesting and valuable book on this question, which I commend to your lordships' consideration. The upshot of the book is, as I understand it, that in many parts of the country the county councils have done very little to excite a demand for small holdings or to make those who might desire them acquainted with the law, and the result has been the small number of small holdings which has been established up to the present time. My noble friend who represents the Board of Agriculture has shown how very much he has already done in respect of the establishment of small holdings on Crown lands. That is a great work and it does not deserve to be treated as if it were merely a matter of chaff. No man in this country has done more in this matter than my noble friend behind me. Besides what he has done in his private capacity, we have had to-day proof of what he has been able to achieve during the short period he has occupied the position of a Commissioner of Crown lands.
I do not object to this discussion. I do not know that is has advanced matters very much, but it has, I hope, shown that there is a certain readiness on the part of noble Lords to consider any proposals with regard to this question. I know there are many persons who say that your Lordships will not listen to anything of the kind. The noble Marquess opposite has spoken about a "crusade." I do not understand that expression.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I know that; but that does not enable me to understand it better. I have seen a good many assertions in the newspapers that your Lordships will not deal with this question. I have never believed it; I; have always believed that your Lordships 210 would give this question the consideration which it deserves. I cannot conceive anything which would be worse for the position or reputation of your Lordships' House than that you should deal hostilely or even indifferently with this question.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the debate which has been initiated to-day by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition has not been entirely without fruit. I go further and say that in the interest, not only of those Members of your Lordships' House who are interested in land, but in the interest of the whole agricultural community, be they owners, occupiers, or labourers, a debate such as this was absolutely necessary in order that the statements made by the Prime Minister on Saturday last should be freely and fully discussed in Parliament.
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture took exception to the observation of my noble friend behind me, that the speech of the Prime Minister was of an unnecessarily provocative character. I venture to assert that no impartial person interested in the question of land tenure could regard the Prime Minister's speech as anything but a direct attack upon one class of the community; more especially as the right hon. Gentleman went out of his way to declare that the Government intended to carry on a crusade against that class. I do not. Think any other construction could be put on what he said. What is the crusade to be? The Prime Minister seems to me to be endeavouring to force an open door, and to compel owners of property to give that which they are gladly giving—their support to the creation of small holdings. The question of small holdings is a very important one, and noble Lords on this side of the House have not the slightest intention of putting any obstacle in the way of their creation.
It has been said that owners of property have denied opportunities for the creation of small holdings. I am at a loss to know on what ground that statement is based. The crusade referred to by the Prime Minister is not a crusade intended really to benefit agriculturists; it is a crusade against certain Members of your Lordships' House because they are owners of property. The problem of small holdings 211 is a very difficult one to solve. As the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has told us, localities vary, and consequently you cannot legislate for all districts alike. The varying conditions of different localities have to be considered. I am convinced that no noble Lord opposite will contradict me when I say that what we desire is to make the tenants of small holdings prosperous. If that is to be done we must consider the situation, and also the condition of the people. In certain parts of the country where there are small holdings the tenants derive a considerable portion of their income from working on the land of the larger farmers. Those conditions should be taken into account, and we should consider whether, if that income derived by the smaller man is taken away from him on account of the large farms being broken up, he will be able to exist at all. In a great number of cases these men would become paupers.
The Paper which has been supplied to my hon. friend Mr. Lane-Fox, and which has been frequently referred to in the course of this debate, contains only what I should call ancient data. Every instance quoted occurred in the nineties, and the majority in the early nineties; nothing is quoted after the year 1900, The document does not meet the requirements of the case at the present time. Seven years have elapsed since the most recent case mentioned in that Report. The cases quoted may have been selected specially for the purpose of the Prime Minister, but I maintain that if you go into the question more fully you will find many cases to the contrary and quite antagonistic to the views put forward by the Prime Minister.
I have not heard in the course of this debate any reference to the Committee which sat last autumn and went very closely into the question. I should like to hear from the noble Earl the Lord President of the Council, whether any witness before that Committee stated that there had been a "blank denial" given by any landlord to an application for land. Before such an expression as that is used the charge ought to be I proved up to the hilt. Statistics show that to a great extent the contrary is the case. In the memorandum of the Cooperative Small Holdings Society pre- 212 sented to Lord Onslow's Committee we read that—As a result of the Allotments Acts, 1887 and 1890, the Small Holdings Act, 1892, and the Local Government Act, 1894, a mass of experience has now been accumulated in England; between 20,000 and 30,000, acres have been acquired by local authorities, and let to from 50,000 to 60,000 tenants.That does not look like a "blank denial." Again, in the same memorandum we read that—During the ten years from 1887 to 24th June, 1897, district councils, parish councils, and county councils have acquired 15,216 acres, and let them to 29,925 tenants.I quote those figures as showing that when these demands have been made they have not been met by a "blank denial." Such an assertion it would be very difficult for the Prime Minister to prove. Only a few moments ago the noble Marquess the Leader of the House declared that there was difficulty in obtaining land in the Midlands.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
I have in my hand a document supplied to me by my noble friend the Duke of Rutland relating to the Midland counties. It states that of holdings of from 100 to 150 acres fifty have been taken; of from fifty to 100 acres, thirty-nine have been taken; of from thirty to fifty acres, twenty-five; of from fifteen to thirty acres, forty-seven; of from ten to fifteen acres, fifty-five; and there are about 250 holdings from one to ten acres. I think that is sufficient to disprove the statement that it is impossible to obtain holdings in the Midland counties. The statement that the demand for land for this purpose has been met by blank denial is unworthy of a Prime Minister.
I agree with my noble friend behind me that your Lordships, no matter on which side of the House you sit, are only too anxious to promote the welfare of those connected with our great national industry; but in endeavouring to promote the prosperity of agriculture we should act harmoniously, and speeches should not be made for political purposes which tend to do considerable damage to agriculture. The sort of speeches in question do infinite harm. But I believe that such 213 speeches will be thoroughly understood by the agricultural classes, and that when the time comes for you to ask for the verdict of agriculturists they will speak with no uncertain voice. I trust the day is not far distant when you will ask them to tell you what they think of your proposals, and I look forward with; absolute confidence to the result.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I do not desire to prolong this discussion. I simply rise to ask a question. The Prime Minister, in the two extracts from his speech which the noble Marquess has put upon the Paper, says that from one district after another, as official Returns show, the demand for land for the purposes of use and labour is met by blank denial. He went on to say that there is a whole mass of official testimony to show that a strong demand exists. A Paper has been circulated to the other House of Parliament, and the question which I wish to ask is whether that Paper contains the whole of the evidence upon which the rather startling statements of the Prime Minister were made. I may be put down as not easily satisfied, but, having read this Paper through, I confess myself wholly unconvinced that it shows the slightest warrant for these strong allegations.
I am not very familiar with all the Acts which are referred to in this Paper, but I venture to say that not only in this Paper, but throughout the discussion tonight two wholly different things have been mixed up—namely, allotments and small holdings. I think it desirable that all the references in this Paper should show on the face of them whether they refer to allotments or to small holdings. The Paper contains only two or three extracts referring to small holdings, yet the Prime Minister must have been speaking of small holdings rather than of allotments, because allotments by themselves would certainly not check rural depopulation. I do not believe that the demand for allotments is in many cases an unsatisfied demand. If the Prime Minister's speech meant anything at all, it meant to prepare the way for a measure which was to increase the number of small holdings as distinct from allotments, and I fail to find any evidence at all in this Paper that there is this general demand, 214 or this mass of official testimony as to the refusal of land for small holdings.
The real difficulty about small holdings is the economic difficulty—the cost of changing from one system to another; and no discussion can go far which does not take account of that great difficulty. The extract from the letter of the parish council, which is the only testimony of recent date, fills me with astonishment, and I wish we could have some further explanation in regard to it. We are told here that the rents paid by existing small holders run to £5 per acre, including house and buildings. Can any noble Lord opposite tell me where small holders, as distinct from holders of allotments, are paying £5 an acre, even including house and buildings? If there was any chance of getting £5 an acre for any land that I know of, the landowners would be tumbling over each other in the hope of establishing small holdings on those terms. What I am suspicious of is that these are not occupants of small holdings, but allotment holders. It seems to me worthy, of inquiry, if £5 an acre can be got from small holders, how it is that there is not a great rush to supply that demand. If there is really this great quantity of official testimony, if there is this number of official returns, the Paper which I hold in my hand is really a very meagre answer to the request for information. If there is this universal failure to satisfy the demand, surely we can have some further information than is given in this Paper presented to the House of Commons.
§ * THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (The Earl of CREWE)
My Lords, perhaps even at this late hour it is desirable that at any rate one other speaker on this side should say a word in reply to the last two speeches. As regards the general impression which seems to have been left on the minds of the noble Lords opposite by the speech of the Prime Minister, I can only say that I had the pleasure of listening to that speech, and it appeared to me, as I heard it, to be couched in very moderate terms. I did not recognise in it any note of provocation. It is perfectly true that the Primo Minister spoke strongly, as he felt strongly, with regard to what he believes, 215 and what we believe, to be the need for extending the system of small holdings and the difficulty which attends that extension; but I think noble Lords opposite have been somewhat too ready to look out for something in the nature of provocation in the speech, and they have really in some cases—I am sure without the faintest intention of doing so—twisted the Prime Minister's words into a sense which they were not intended to bear.
The noble Marquess Lord Londonderry assumed that my right hon. friend's phrase "blank denial" referred entirely to the landowners' attitude towards the request for small holdings. My right hon. friend said nothing of the kind. What, I take it, was in his mind when he used, that phrase was the failure of public authorities to find a proper supply of land under the Act of noble Lords opposite. Then my noble friend Lord Balfour complained of what he considered to be the meagre character of the information given in the Paper presented to the House of Commons. I really do not see what my right hon friend could do more. He gave in his speech instances of certain districts in which there was an unsatisfied demand for small holdings, and in the printed Paper he has given certain instances applying to those districts, and that was his particular reply. As regards his general reply, I would refer your Lordships to paragraph 125 of the Report of the Departmental Committee. That paragraph reads as follows—The Committee further made inquiry as to whether there exists in all parts of the country an unsatisfied demand for land, whether to rent or to purchase. It was made evident to the Committee that in some parts where for years past the division of land into small holdings has been energetically pursued, the demand has been overtaken; on the other hand a very large body of the evidence goes to show that in many places more land or the kind already divided into small holdings would be taken up with avidity, especially if properly equipped and offered for hire with a reasonable security of tenure.I do not know that my right hon. friend ever suggested that the land should not be properly equipped, and when your Lordships see our Small Holdings Bill I hope you will find that such provision must necessarily be made.
Then Lord Balfour stated that he was astonished at a rent of £5 an acre being 216 asked for small holdings. Perhaps I might give him an instance from my own district. It is a painful one to me, because it applied to a piece of land I desired to purchase and afterwards did buy. It was a small holding, freehold, of six acres, with not very good buildings and a small orchard. It was three miles from any considerable town, and was let by the townsman who owned it to a tenant for £36 a year. That is not £5 an acre but £6. I can assure the noble Lord that rents of that amount are by no means infrequently asked, and the astonishing thing to me is that they should be obtained, but they undoubtedly are in some cases. I really do not think that there is any desire on the part of noble Lords opposite to dispute the general proposition that there is, in some parts of England, an unsatisfied demand for small holdings, and my right hon. friend the Prime Minister, if his speech is read carefully, did not go further than that.
My noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has told the House of the remarkable demand that has been made upon the Crown lands since he has been in charge of the agricultural part of those lands, and it certainly does seem to me a reasonable deduction to draw that, if spontaneous demands of that kind are made in the case of Crown lands situated in many different parts of the country, similar demands for land in private hands would be made if it was any use making them. But everybody is aware that, in a great many cases, people who desire small holdings know very well that it would not be very much use making a demand of the kind. Landlords in a great many cases would say—and I am bound to admit that I greatly sympathise with their position myself— "You are asking a great deal in desiring us to disturb an excellent tenant, whose family has been on this farm for generations, in order to cut up the farm into small holdings." Consequently the demand is not made. I could not help being somewhat amused by the observation which fell from the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition on this matter of disturbing tenant farmers, when he said that farmers did not like to be deprived of their own. I have not heard before in this House the kind of interest which a farmer has in his yearly tenancy described as his own.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
I venture to think that if such a phrase had been used in the debates of last year, the hair of noble Lords opposite would have stood on end with horror. Objection has been taken to my right hon. friend's description of the work which has to be undertaken in this matter as a crusade. I think it may fairly be described as a crusade—not a crusade against landlords, but a crusade against the apathy which has existed in many parts of the country in this matter, and I cannot help thinking that the noble Marquess in his opening speech did somewhat underrate the very considerable objection which is felt by many people to dividing their estates into small holdings. First and foremost there is the difficulty of expense. It is perfectly true that a large number of landlords cannot afford, even by the various means of borrowing which are open to landlords, to put up the necessary buildings, but at the same time I am bound to say that I think the matter does go somewhat beyond that, and that there is in the minds of a good many landowners—the smaller rather than the larger landowners—a feeling that small holdings are more troublesome to manage, and present to the landowner a certain number of objections of different kinds which do not apply to larger farms. That is the cause of what I have ventured to call apathy, which does not amount to denial, but to a want of interest in the matter, which I am afraid has touched the landowning class, and which has undoubtedly touched public bodies.
We on this side of the House certainly make no complaint that this question has been raised, and I hope we have succeeded in making the matter somewhat clearer, and in presenting the speech of the Prime Minister in a more favourable light to the minds of noble Lords opposite. The Marquess of Londonderry and the Earl of Onslow have appealed to us to treat this matter on non-Party lines. That is an appeal which is very often made, but it is always made by those in Opposition. I have never heard it made by any Party when holding office. Certainly we do not want to treat it on unnecessarily controversial lines, and when our Bill comes before this House 218 I hope we may look with well-grounded confidence for the assistance of noble Lords opposite.
LORD BALFOUE OF BURLEIGH
I do not wish to press the noble Earl unduly, but he did not answer the question whether there is any further evidence, in addition to what is in this Paper, which can be produced.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I will not take up the time of the House by attempting to reconcile the different interpretations which have been placed on the Prime Minister's speech. I may take it from the noble Earl who has just spoken that the remarkable phrase about "blank denial" which I quoted in my Notice had no reference to the landowners of this country.
§ * THE EARL OF CREWE
I scarcely went so far as that. I said I believed that what was in my right hon. friend's mind was the refusal on the part of the county councils. I have no doubt instances could be found both ways.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
The noble Earl is in a better position to fathom the recesses of the Prime Minister's mind than I can be; but I think that nine people out of ten who read that speech would have interpreted it, as most of your Lordships have interpreted it, as a suggestion that it was the landowners who were to blame for the denial of land for the purpose of small holdings. May I be excused if 1 do what is sometimes done when the sense of a document is a little obscure? May I be allowed to collate that speech with a speech delivered in the evening by the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, who was, apparently, speaking from the same brief? The Under-Secretary for the Colonies delivered himself of this sentiment—They—His Majesty's Government—had no intention of plundering the landlord, and they had no intention of allowing him to plunder them.That is rather a remarkable sentence read in the light of the Prime Minister's previous utterance. But I understand 219 now that we are to take it that the crusade is not against landlords, but that it is a moral crusade against apathy and indifference and similar qualities. What I really rose for was for the purpose of expressing my hope that His Majesty's Government will, on reflection, see their way to give the House information a great deal fuller than that contained in the extremely meagre Paper which has been in some of your Lordships' hands this evening. It is quite clear that there must be a great deal more information, and the oral statements to which we have listened this evening have failed altogether to give us the information we wanted. We have failed altogether to obtain from His Majesty's Government a statement of the extent to which the difficulty of obtaining land for small holdings really can be traced to the attitude of persons who own land and who are reluctant to part with it. Therefore we hope for more information. The particular cases cited were exactly the kind we expected would be cited. They were samples, and may I say they were samples that would not wash? The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture actually had to go for his leading case, not to the estate of a landowner, but to an estate owned by a public Department; and the noble Marquess who leads the House expatiated upon the shortcomings of the county councils, who, he said, were much too ready to assume that a difficulty would be experienced in obtaining suitable land. The noble Marquess also told us that the last Act had fallen short of our expectations. These are all things which are perfectly arguable, but they are not statements which meet the point we raised—the point, I mean, of how far the demand for land for this purpose has been stifled by the action of the landowners of the country.