§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, when my right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland asked me to undertake the moving of the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordship's House I think he had in mind the intricacy of the Bill itself. I hope also he had in mind the fact that I was for many years a Scottish Member of the House of Commons, always associated with the movement for an increase of small holdings in all parts of the United Kingdom, and friendly in every way to the policy of this Bill in the main provisions which it contains. The object of this Bill is the creation of small holdings in Scotland and the giving of security of tenure for those small holdings, and upon the object I need not say much, for there has never been any dispute that it is desirable, if it can be accomplished in the right way. No one has questioned in the House of Commons that it is desirable. I do not anticipate that anyone will question it here; and the noble Lord who has put down an Amendment to the Second Reading expressly affirms in that Amendment that the object is one which we ought to aim at.
I wish to express my own belief that the main principles of this Bill are much 949 more seriously desired in Scotland than is readily appreciated, or than it is easy to appreciate, if I may respectfully say so, in the atmosphere of London. There is an unusually strong feeling in Scotland upon the whole land question. I am perfectly aware that the topic with which I am dealing to-night is only a portion, and not the largest portion, of the land question; but I hope your Lordships will allow me, very shortly, to indicate the reasons why my countrymen attach exceptional importance to the early treatment of the land question as affecting our country. If you look at the census returns you will find that during the ten years preceding the last census the population in Scotland increased by 446,000 people, but in the rural districts there was a decrease of 42,000. The population of the rural districts of Scotland is now about one-fifth of the whole, which is remarkable considering the configuration and character of the country; and during the ten years the decrease in that rural population has been nearly 5 per cent.
Let me turn now to the towns, which have become overcrowded partly by reason of the influx of people from the country districts. The figures I am about to quote were stated by the Lord Advocate in the House of Commons and have been verified by the Scottish Office. In England and Wales the proportion of people who are living in overcrowded conditions is 8 per cent. In Scotland it is 46 per cent. Let me compare a few cities. In London 1 out of 7 of the population is living in overcrowded conditions; in Leeds, 1 in 10; in Liverpool, 1 in 12; in Manchester, 1 in 16. But in Edinburgh 1 in 3 are living in those conditions, and in Glasgow and Dundee, 1 in 2. I take in each case the same standard—namely, living more than 2 to a room. Let me say a word in regard to the consequences of those overcrowded conditions. There originated at the time of the War inquiries in regard to the physical deterioration of the people in this country, and the most recent report of all on that subject is dated July 18th last—a report of investigations conducted in the board schools of Glasgow by Dr. W. Leslie Mackenzie, medical member of the Scottish Local Government Board, and Capt. Foster, Inspector of Physical 950 Training. They divided the schools into four groups, beginning with the poorest, and show the effect of overcrowding. In all groups the children were distinctly below the standard both of weight and of height. One paragraph alone I will ask the leave of your Lordships to read. It is this—These figures show that the one-roomed child, whether boy or girl, is always, on the average, distinctly smaller and lighter than the two-roomed, and the two-roomed than the three-roomed, and the three-roomed than the four-roomed.I do not for one moment pretend that the subject with which I am dealing to-night is the sole cause, or, indeed, the main cause of that state of things, so utterly deplorable in itself. I am perfectly aware that drink has a great deal to do with it, and there are other causes with which I need not deal; but one of the causes is the exodus of the people from the country districts to the I towns, and that has been the subject of comment by the Inter-Departmental Committee of 1904, who declare that there cannot be any controversy as to the expediency of arresting, where possible, the exodus to which such baneful results are attributable.
The provision of small holdings is one method—I could not put it higher than that—of alleviating the evil, and if the system spreads it will be to a great degree an effective remedy. Whether it will spread or not depends upon the terms upon which the system is established, and upon the inducements you offer people to stay on the land. Unfortunately, although numerically there are many small holdings in Scotland, they are not more than 15 per cent. of the whole area; and while it is true that the number of small holdings in the crofting counties is increasing, it is also true that the number in the non-crofting counties of Scotland, with the exception of three counties, is decreasing. The decrease is not very great, but it is all over the area of the non-crofting counties. I maintain that it is the duty of all Scotsmen and of all lovers of their country, to use all their vigour, all their vigilance, and every lawful means in their power, to better a condition of things such as I have described.
I now part from this subject, upon which it is not agreeable to dwell, 951 because I desire to avoid anything in the nature of rhetoric in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, and to confine myself to as simple and clear an explanation of the scheme propounded in the Bill as I can put forward. I cannot touch all the points, all the details, but I wish, if I can, to present an intelligible picture of the scheme propounded by the Government. The Bill, to begin with, establishes two fresh authorities, one of them an Agricultural Commission, consisting of three persons, of whom it may be said in substance that they will form a Board of Agriculture for Scotland. One of the Commissioners, called the Commissioner for Small Holdings, will be specially charged with the duties of the Board relating to small holdings. Another authority constituted will be a Land Court consisting of five members, of whom one must be a lawyer, and one must be able to speak Gaelic; the other three are not required to possess any special qualification. I am perfectly aware that great importance must necessarily attach to the persons selected to hold those important offices. I asked my right hon. friend the Secretary for Scotland, and he told me that he had not even thought of the names as yet, but that it was his fixed resolve, if the Bill passed, to appoint absolutely fair, just, and impartial persons to offices of such considerable importance. In the Bill, so far as practicable, the administrative duties are confined to the Agricultural Commissioners, and the judicial or quasi-judicial duties are reserved for the Land Court.
The policy of the Bill is to afford security of tenure, to begin with, to existing small holders, with appropriate limitations and restrictions, and my contention is that in substance the change in the law as regards existing small holders is not greater than that which is required to prevent the right of arbitrary ejectment or eviction being exercised together with the consequences that flow from that principle being laid down. That necessarily involves the fixing of a fair rent, and the Bill provides that, unless the parties agree, a fair rent shall be fixed by the Land Court, and that the tenant shall be irremovable except under certain specified statutory conditions. In order to obtain a fair view of what is meant let me enumerate to 952 your Lordships the limits and conditions which are to attach to this new tenure. What class of holdings, to begin with, are to come within the Bill? None are to come in except those which are under fifty acres in area, or under £50 in rent. No holdings are to come within the Bill which are held under a lease exceeding a year until after the lease has expired, nor any garden ground, market garden, land within burgh boundaries, ground held for public purposes, woodland or park, permanent grass parks held temporarily for the purposes of a business, such as a butcher's business, nor any glebe, small allotments, or home farm—those are the restrictions preventing a certain class of holdings coming within the Bill.
When the Bill does apply, a new tenure, as I have said, is created, namely a fair rent, fixed, if not by agreement, then by the Land Court, coupled with irremovability except under specified statutory conditions. The landlord under such conditions may dispossess a tenant if he deteriorates the holding or delapidates the buildings, or fails to pay the rent for a certain period, or ceases to cultivate the holding by himself or his family, or becomes bankrupt, or if he sub-divides or sub-lets the holding, or erects any additional dwelling-houses without the landlord's consent, or if he breaks any condition approved by the Land Court for the protection of the landlord, or if he obstructs the landlord in the exercise of his reserved rights. It is difficult to think of any legitimate reason for evicting a tenant that is not one of those I have just specified. There is no power of sale of the tenant's interest, nor any power of assignment. All that the tenant can do is to bequeath the holding within his own family, but not outside.
The rights of the landlord are reserved to the landlord in regard to mining, quarrying, cutting of timber, the making of roads, fences, and drains, and in regard to sporting; and, in addition to that, power is reserved to the landlord to resume the holding if the Land Court is satisfied that he desires to do so for some reasonable purpose having relation to the good of the holding or of the estate, and among other specified reasonable purposes there are feuing for the general benefit of the estate, occupation 953 as a residence by the landlord if it is only estate, building of dwelling-houses or churches or schools, or planning or making roads—for all those purposes the landlord is entitled to resume the holding if he establishes that his is a bona fide purpose. When these relations have been established the landlord will, of course, receive his rent, and enjoy all those rights that are reserved, and no trouble can arise. But there may be a renunciation of the holding by the tenant, or the tenant may be removed, and I think it right to state what the consequences are in that event. In that case the landlord may re-let, but the holding remains subject to the Act unless it is released from that tenure by the Land Court. The landlord must pay the out-goer the value of his improvements, deducting any rent due to himself. If he re-lets then, of course, he will be at once recouped. If, however, the holding cannot be re-let, and remains vacant, the Land Court must require the Agricultural Commissioners to provide compensation to the landlord so long as the land is not released from this tenure. That, my Lords, is putting as shortly and tersely as I can the nature of the tenure which is created by the clauses of this Bill.
I now pass to another part of the Bill—namely, the creation of new small holdings. In regard to them, when they are created their tenure will be the same as that which I have already described in the case of existing holdings. And how are they to be created? In the first place the Bill aims at promoting voluntary agreements, and indeed we hope and believe that the exercise of compulsory powers in Scotland will be comparatively rare, and that the good offices of the Agricultural Commissioners will bring about agreements in the great majority of cases. The Small Holdings Commissioner, if he is satisfied that there is a demand and suitable land is available, may negotiate with the landlord as to a scheme, and advances of money may be made by way either of loan or of gift. As your Lordships are aware, the great difficulty in the case of small holdings is the cost of equipment. For that reason loans are allowed to be made either to the landlord or to the tenant, or, indeed, to anyone who in the judgment of the Agricultural Commissioners can further the scheme. Loans are allowed for dividing the land, 954 for fencing it, for road-making, for drainage, for building or for any similar purpose. Gifts may also be made, but not the building; and in order to achieve the purpose by voluntary arrangement the services and assistance of any Association or of any person likely to help may be made use of by the Agricultural Commission.
Where agreement fails—I hope in comparatively rare cases—the Agricultural Commissioners must prepare their scheme and submit it for the consideration of the Land Court. The Land Court will hear all parties, consider the matter independently, and having decided on the scheme they will fix the rent and award compensation, and in regard to this transaction two features are noteworthy. The first relates to compensation. Compensation must be made to the landlord for the loss on the letting value of the new holding or of the farm from which it may be taken, or on the sheep stock which he may have to take over on valuation from the old tenant—a peculiarity which may be appreciated by those who are familiar with farming in Scotland. Compensation must also be made to the farmer out of whose farm the small holding is cut. No fuller measure of compensation could be given The second feature is, that the Land Court, in selecting tenants, are to consider the landlord's objection to any particular applicant, and to give preference to applicants chosen by the landlord. Those are, in substance, the provisions in regard to the creation of new small holdings.
The Bill also contemplates that the powers and duties of the Agricultural Department in London, so far as they affect Scotland, shall be transferred to Edinburgh, and exercised by the Agricultural Commissioners. I will not enlarge upon that subject beyond saying, that there can be no difficulty in making provision against any possible conflict between the agricultural authorities of the two countries on such questions as cattle disease. I have endeavoured to summarise and to state the governing features of the scheme presented in this Bill. It is impossible for me to enter upon full details, and if I did I should only obliterate the general impression I have endeavoured to make, aiming at brevity for the sake of clearness. I do not know whether the Bill will reach the 955 Committee stage or not. But if it does reach the Committee stage, the Government will be prepared to give an answer to objections if they are fair ones; or if any feature appears unfair they are, of course, prepared and anxious to give the closest consideration to it. But it is impossible effectively to answer objections to detail on Second Reading.
I do not know whether the Amendment which my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh has placed on the Paper is designed for anything further than to set forth the general view that he has upon this important subject and to form the text on which he will explain to us any particular views that he holds. If so, I cannot imagine a more useful thing than that we should be told beforehand the text of the sermon which may follow. But if it is intended, as I sincerely trust it is not, as an Amendment which is to destroy this Bill, then, and in that case alone, let me point out its character. In that case it bears all the notes, marks, and badges of a wrecking Amendment, for it contains no particulars, it suggests no alternatives, and it confines itself purely to vague language which, if it is intended as a text, is appropriate. But this language, if not inappropriate, is undoubtedly unsatisfactory as a method of dealing with a serious proposal if it is intended as a weapon for the destruction of the Bill.
For let us see what it is. The Amendment begins by stating that this House is "anxious to encourage the formation of small holdings under reasonable conditions." I welcome that sentiment; but I should like to know what are reasonable conditions. It is an excellent sentiment, too, that we should "consider favourably such fair amendment of the Acts relating to the tenure of crofter holdings as experience may have shown to be necessary." But what has experience shown to be necessary? It deprecates an "indiscriminate and universal extension of the crofting system." Very good, but what is the discriminate and partial system which meets with the approval of the noble Lord? I suppose the alternative system adumbrated by the Amendment is that which was insisted upon in the House of Commons I rather think by Mr. Balfour, and other distinguished Members of that House—the purchase system. Now, I appeal to your Lordships 956 to say whether any Member in this House believes that the small holding system in Scotland could be established on the purchase method now? We all know perfectly well the difficulties in Ireland under the Act of 1903; owing to the great depreciation of stock and the difficulty of finding money, it is a perplexity of the first magnitude. No one surely can believe that at an early date it is possible even to begin a purchase system in Scotland. It cannot be done; the financial circumstances of the moment are not favourable to it, and I believe that is universally recognised.
But there is another reason. There has been experience in Scotland of the Crofters Act of 1886, of which all who are familiar with it speak in the highest terms. When that Act was passed it was, not unnaturally, the subject of anxiety and apprehension; it was thought that it would invade the rights of property, spell ruin to the landlords, and be a failure. I am quite certain no one will say that those apprehensions have been in the least degree realised. It has been beneficial to landlords and tenants, and the whole neighbourhood, and it has been a blessing to the country. That, I think, is a proposition which will not be disputed. But it rests on divided ownership, not on purchase. I will not enter on the question whether dual ownership has succeeded in Ireland or not. But in one way or another in Scotland the difficulties have been successfully solved, so that while many are anxious to extend the Crofters Acts, no one wishes to substitute purchase for divided ownership in the crofting districts.
I know too much of my country to venture on the differences between the Highlands and the Lowlands, but we are all Scotsmen. I am myself a Borderer, and I believe that in the Lowlands, in the same way as in the Highlands, the good sense, moderation, and intrinsic fairness of the population will produce good results under dual ownership. The evil is admitted on all hands; and there has been no attempt to dispute that the remedy of small holdings, so far as it goes, is a good remedy, and one that it is desirable to put in force. Moreover, no one, save in a vague and nebulous manner, has propounded any other remedy, except that of purchase, which is impracticable partly because of the 957 financial considerations, and partly, I believe, because, after the experience of the Crofters Act, opinion in Scotland would prefer infinitely the system of double ownership. I can only express my most earnest hope that your Lordships will not be deluded by the clamour of the Press, or by the artificial or organised opposition by the more vocal classes in Scotland, into the belief that this Bill is not really desired in Scotland. I myself firmly believe that it is. But, whether it is or not, I maintain that this scheme is one that deserves the closest attention at your Lordships' hands, and that, while it may undoubtedly be improved—and Amendments will be heartily welcomed—it would be fatal to destroy it.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Chancellor.)
* LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
, who had given notice on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move—That this House, while anxious to encourage the formation of small holdings under reasonable conditions, and to consider favourably such fair amendment of the Acts relating to the tenure of crofter holdings as experience may have shown to be necessary, deprecates an indiscriminate and universal extension of the crofting system, sees no justification for establishing in Scotland a Land Court on the Irish model, and declines to proceed with a Bill which introduces into the agricultural districts of Scotland the evils which are inseparable from any system of divided ownership in land,said: My Lords, no one, least of all myself, underrates the responsibility which I have assumed in putting down the Amendment which stands upon the Paper to-day for your Lordships' consideration. At the outset I can say with truth that the speech to which we have just listened has done as much as any speech possibly could to smooth the way for the Bill which it will be my duty to criticise. I accept to the full the statement of the noble and learned Lord that the professed object of the Bill is in itself in every way desirable, and I would be glad to co-operate in regard to it and to see, as my Amendment says, in truth, an increase of small holdings on proper terms and any fair and reasonable Amendment of the Crofters Acts. But the speech of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has not dispelled the doubt which I have felt ever since I saw the first print of this 958 Bill whether those who have made themselves responsible for it have really gauged what will be, what must be, its effect upon the land system of Scotland.
This Bill has been put forward to-day as a mild and simple measure for the purpose of increasing small holdings in Scotland, and the noble and learned Lord said he hoped we should be in agreement on the main principles. But, my Lords, what are the main principles? Are the main principles of the Bill merely the extension of the system of small holdings, or do they include a Land Court, a system of fixing rent, and a division of ownership? If we pass the Second Reading of a Bill of this kind we are charged with accepting its main principles; if we do not we are said to stand as mere obstructionists in the way of reform. One thing I venture to say to your Lordships without fear of contradiction, is that on the point of tactics your Lordships will never succeed in pleasing the critics of this assembly. They will find fault with you whichever course you take. I have taken the course which I think is the fair and reasonable one. I have stated, no doubt, as the noble and learned Lord said, in general terms, but still in terms which I really mean, and which I believe the large majority of those on this side of the House really mean, that we would be glad to have an opportunity of doing two things which this Amendment professes our readiness to do. But although we desire to preserve the existing small holdings and to create new ones I am here to say—and I shall do my best to prove it—that in my humble opinion the method which has been adopted in this Bill is the worst that could have been devised for its professed object, because it would give rise to a great number of evils and do damage to our land system in Scotland of a more far-reaching character then any other which could have been brought forward.
It is not universally true that small holdings are diminishing in Scotland. There are more of them than there were twelve years ago. Unfortunately our information is defective as to the kind of small holdings in which there has been an increase. The noble and learned Lord thinks it has been mainly in the case of holdings under the Crofters Acts. Having regard to the 959 counties in which the increase had taken place, I think it has occurred in connection with what I would call garden holdings, or holdings on which fruit and vegetables, are grown, on the outskirts of the towns, or in specially favoured districts. But what I complain of in regard to all those who support this Bill is that they do not show any real understanding of the causes which are handicapping agricultural small holdings in Scotland at the present time. Those causes are just the same as those which are operating against the larger holdings—the fall in prices, the burden of rates continually increasing, and the improved standard of living. Men will not now live—and rightly—under the conditions in the country under which their fathers and grandfathers lived before them. I think that the limit of fifty acres is in itself a mistake, so far as agriculture is concerned. I do not say so much about market gardens and so on, but for agricultural purposes fifty acres is the most uneconomic size that could possibly be devised, because it is too large for a family and too small for the employment of hired labour.
What is operating against the small man in agriculture is exactly the same thing that is operating against him in almost every walk of life. The hand-loom weaver has practically died out except in certain limited parts of the country, when a special industry exists, and the fisherman with the small boat has largely disappeared, and that in spite of much effort by expenditure on harbours to keep him up. All this is regrettable. I am far from saying it is incurable, but I am certain of this, that if it is curable at all it is only by the suiting of means to the end, by endeavouring to enlist by justice and fair play the cooperation of every class from whom you may possibly get assistance. I think that this Bill, in so far as it brings about a sweeping and gratuitous revolution in the conditions under which all holdings are held in Scotland, is liable to prove the greatest obstacle in the way of those very things which its promoters, I believe, most honestly desire. In the first place, the Bill trenches upon the rights of owners to an infinitely greater extent than it benefits the small holder, and by the very form which it has taken it will 960 penalise most of those who have done their best in the past. It will confiscate or render unrealisable a large part of the capital laid out on improvements, and of the rest it will transfer a substantial portion from the owner to the tenant without a penny of compensation or of payment.
I go so far as to say that if this Bill is passed in its present form, it will inflict a grave shock on the faith of all contracts, and on the stability and value of all agricultural property. It is wrong in its root idea of extending the crofter tenure to the rest of Scotland. Let me inquire very briefly what that crofter tenure is. What is its justification? What are its essential principles? And how did it come into being? The case for the Crofters Acts was that the Highland crofters had an inherited customary, though legally precarious, tenure, and had built their own houses and made all the improvements. Let me remind your Lordships what the Crofter Commission said. On page 37 they proposed that valuers should visit each holding, and that—any building in serviceable condition or suitable for the working of the holding which can be shown to have been executed by the occupier or his predecessor, and for which he had received any consideration, should not be taken into account in fixing rent.By the way, I may say that while I think that perfectly sound, the Crofters Act did not proceed on that principle. It took a dead limit of £30; it cut off all below on one side and all above on the other. The Bill was a rough and ready method of carrying the Commissioners' recommendation into effect, and I venture to think that the fixing of the £30 limit, not in itself logical or even just, has been the source of a great deal of the heartburning which has been traceable to that very fact. Sir George Trevelyan, in introducing the Bill, said—Their little holdings are not like the rest of the holdings in England and Scotland. They are not equipped by the landlord with all that makes them fit for habitation and cultivation. Their improvements in their holdings and in their houses are made by the crofters themselves.And he proceeded to show that nothing but a sense of honour prevented them from having their rents raised to an impossible extent, and he gave a certificate to the Highland landlords, as a class, in the most eulogistic terms.
961 I stand here to say that the general rule laid down by Lord Napier's Commission is perfectly sound. It seems to me as sound to-day as it was twenty-one years ago. If the landlord has done the improvements, the whole market value of the subject as tested by free competition and bargain belongs to him. If the tenant has done the improvements, then the landlord's share is the market value, less the value of the tenant's improvements not compensated for. If you are going on this line at all, the proper thing to do is to ascertain the facts in each case, and then to regulate the respective rights in accordance with those facts. Now, contrast the situation in regard to the whole of the rest of Scotland. A fully equipped farm represents capital, and capital belonging to two people. All that part of it which is not properly removable belongs to the landlord; that which is properly removable belongs to the tenant. The tenant is protected by the Agricultural Holdings Acts; the protection of the landlord is, in the last resort, his right of resumption of the holding; and the rights between these two people all over Scotland rest upon the faith of well-defined, well-understood contracts. Landlords have laid out a large amount of capital, sometimes in the purchase of their estates, but more often in improvement of them. They have incurred obligations for the benefit of their property and their tenantry which, except on the faith of the stability of contracts, they would not have undertaken. Where any improvement is due to the tenant and is made under proper conditions let the tenant's property be secured to him. Tenant right, whether in Ireland or in Scotland or anywhere else, is a subtraction from the rent, and, as I have said, it is proper and sound if the tenant has legally earned it, but it is wrong if he has not. Once admit tenant right without discrimination, as this Bill does to a large extent, and you place the landlord in the position that he cannot in any way alter the condition of the tenancy; he can neither raise the rent however justifiable, nor get rid of a bad tenant, nor maintain the standard of agriculture.
While the Bill will deprive the landlord of his just rights, it will also— 962 and this is perhaps the worse part of it—discharge him from the obligation to do what he has previously considered his duty. Over the great part of agricultural Scotland the rights of the owner and occupier have rested, not upon the confused customary tenures which obtain in the Highlands, but on free contract between an owner with equipped land to let and a tenant with capital, in the form of stock, or implements to work it. There is no particle of distinction in principle between large and small holders; they sit in each district side by side and under similar conditions; they may move from one tenancy to another, and you will find wherever you go that the capital expenditure has been equally made for the benefit of the large and of the small. The essence of ownership is the permanent right; the essence of tenancy is the temporary hiring of land. Under the circumstances as they exist in Scotland I say that the grant, whether it be to a large or to a small holder, of fixity of tenure and of a rent court has never yet been justified, and I believe it not to be justifiable.
The noble and learned Lord took credit for not having assignation in the Bill. Assignation was in the Bill to a large extent when it was introduced, and I do not see myself, if it is right to give the privilege of a fixed rent and a tenant right, how you can logically stop without allowing him to assign it. I do not believe it is a logical resting place, and if you once give the right of assignation you will be pressed on the downward road to giving free sale; and with fixed rents, permanency of tenure, and free sale there will be nothing between us in Scotland and all those troubles and difficulties which we have so often to deal with as regards Ireland. I make no objection whatever on the point of such compulsion as may have to be applied. I should hope that if landlords were satisfied that they were likely to get justice there would be very seldom occasion for having recourse to it. At any rate, in principle it seems to me too late in the day to object to it. We all of us admit that we hold our property subject to the right of Parliament to expropriate it for a public purpose upon fair terms, but we must 963 jealously examine whether this new principle of compulsory hiring can be safely admitted.
There is a difference between the English and the Scottish proposals in this respect. As I understand the English Bill, the landlord there will be sure of a solvent and a suitable tenant. He will have a responsible body from whom he can claim compensation for deterioration and so on. I will not go further into that point in a Second Reading speech. I should like, however, to say a word in answer to the reiterated objections of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that a system of purchase is impossible. Again, it is being proposed for England as an alternative to compulsory hiring. Is it not pertinent to ask why we in Scotland are to be treated worse than England in this respect? But I know it is a cardinal point with the advocates of this Bill, because there is no matter in regard to it which from first to last they have been paying themselves more extravagant compliments than upon this. The Lord Advocate is reported on the Second Reading of the Bill, and also outside Parliament, to have said that the difference between the cost of settling a family by purchase and by hire is the difference between £800 and £23. The details of the calculation have never been given; they would be interesting.
I suggest to your Lordships that there is, comparatively speaking, no difference at all between the cost of establishing a small holding by purchase and by hire. I will give my calculation, and if any noble Lord opposite wishes to challenge it, I hope he will do so while I am speaking. Suppose I take a plot of land worth £500 a year for small holdings, subject to all burdens. Twenty-five years purchase of that amount comes to £12,500. What does it matter to the small holder whether he pays £50 a year as rent to the landlord or as interest on an annuity to the Government? The Government's credit would, I think, enable him to get better terms through the Government for purchase than from the landlord in the form of rent; but, whether that be so or not, the cost of buildings, of the dwelling-house, of laying out the land in roads, and of fences, drains, etc., would be the same in either case. In the one case the 964 landlord gets the rent; in the other case the Government gets the annuity. The question of certainty of payment does not touch the argument, because it is one of the cardinal points of the supporters of the Bill that it is a delusion to say that the settler will not meet his obligations. That is my answer to the statement that hiring is much cheaper than purchase.
We have heard of the proverbial Chinaman who burnt down his house for the purpose of roasting his pig. He is never regarded to have been a very sane person; but what would you have thought of him if he had burnt down his house and failed to roast his pig in the process? I propose to prove that, while every interest with the exception of one is damnified by this Bill, there is not one interest concerned which on the balance will get a benefit. Let me take first what are called the qualified leaseholders. In the Lowlands of Scotland there are practically no eviction grievances at the present time. If there are any harsh cases on record they are practically a thing of the past. It is more difficult—and I speak both with knowledge and feeling on this point—for a landlord to get a good tenant than it is for a good tenant to get a farm. Freedom of cultivation has been established; security for the investment of capital in the land has been established; and it is difficult to say what actual benefit the small holder will get under the Bill, unless you think it legitimate to give him the landlord's property at less than the landlord could get for it in the open market, for as long as he likes and with liberty to throw it up on twelve months notice whenever he chooses. If that is the benefit—and I believe it to be the only one that can be pleaded—the less said about it the better. In every other respect the existing small holders will be in a worse position than now with regard to future improvements, for the owners of the land will not lay out money on holdings over which they can exercise no control or management, which do not revert to them in full property, and as to which they are reduced to the position of being a mortgagee, a tax collector, and a tax payer.
There is no provision in the Bill for assisting the existing small holders by way of loan, and the difficulties that they 965 find themselves in will be great when they have to renew their buildings, keep up their march fences, and find drain pipes at their own expense. At the present time, almost without exception, the landlord finds these things in consideration of payment of an agreed rent under a free contract. But if this Bill passes I believe it will be found that the tenant will have to raise money for them on more onerous terms than the landlord is able to obtain. I have had put in my hands the complete accounts of a group of eleven estates in one of the most prosperous parts of the eastern counties of Scotland, on which there are mixed holdings. On the eleven estates managed from one office there are eighty-four holdings, ranging from £10 to £850 in annual value. There are thirty-two under £50, and hardly one of these pays interest on the buildings, fences, and drains. Not one of those holdings would be economically sound if it were set up at the present moment; and yet they are being carried on, partly because a wise landowner does not look into the detail of his expenditure on this or that holding, when it is for the general benefit of the estate that they should be maintained; and if these holdings had not been carried on for the benefit of the estate as a whole, at the expense of the larger holdings, they could not have existed.
Only yesterday morning I received a letter—I can give the name of the writer if necessary—from a personal friend of mine, formerly a Scottish Member of Parliament, who states that there is a small holding on his property, seventeen acres in extent, with a rent of £21. It is held on a yearly tenancy. The tenant keeps cows and manages a dairy-farm for the sale of milk to a neighbouring small town. The sanitary authority has come down upon him—probably most properly—for some repairs and improvements. The tenant brings this notice to the landlord, and the landlord having inquired into it, finds that it will cost him about £100, or something more than five years rent, to put the place in repair. The landlord tells the tenant that so long as this Bill is proceeding he dare not spend that money, as there is no security that he can make a bargain with the tenant, although the latter is willing to make it. But for this Bill that work might have been gone 966 on with without delay. The man cannot find the money himself, and it is idle to say that his position would not be infinitely worse than it is at the present moment if this Bill were passed. So much for the present tenant.
Let me come to the new holder. Your Lordships will find the provisions about him in Clause 7 of the Bill. I do not wonder that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack shrank from expounding the provisions of that clause, or, at any rate, thought it expedient not to do so on the Second Reading. It is a marvellous clause; there are about seventeen subsections in it, and it extends over five pages. The tenant, the landlord, the Land Court, the Agricultural Commissioners, and all the rest of them, are mixed up in inextricable confusion. I have carefully examined the clause, but I do not feel that I can claim to understand it. But where are the new small holders to come from? There is no limit in the Bill. They may come from any part of Scotland to any other part. They may come from Glasgow or Dundee, or from the crofting districts, to the most fertile lands of the Lowlands and of Forfarshire; and so far from the position of those who want new holdings in the future being benefited, it will be very much more difficult to make a new holding in the future than it has been in the past. It will be a most philanthropic landlord who does it voluntarily, because he will part with all control over his property, and if you have to put in force compulsion you will greatly increase the difficulties. No landlord wants to have a tenant he does not know and therefore cannot like. He does not want to have a man dumped upon him on terms to which he would not have voluntarily consented; and with the prospect of a pecuniary loss against which he would be powerless to take precautions, I venture to say that, except with the maximum of friction and difficulty, you would not be able to establish new holdings at all.
Let me try again to make a calculation. I am very anxious to be fair, and if I have erred in this calculation it is on the side against myself. Take forty-five acres of occupied land, farmed at present at a rent of 18s. per acre, for small holdings; it would probably be fair to reduce the 967 rent to 15s. per acre, in respect that it will cease to have the use of buildings to which the land was formerly attached. The gross rent then of the land would be reduced from £40 to £35, but the new man will have to have a house, and he will have to have buildings. A water supply, roads, and so on, will be necessary. Supposing all these things cost him £600, which I believe to be a moderate estimate, and you charge 5 per cent. on that outlay to allow for interest and depreciation, that will come to £30 a year. Added to the £35 which I have already mentioned, this makes a total of £65 a year, or something like 27s. an acre to the small holder instead of a present rent of 18s.; and, if you are to be fair to the other interests, there must be some compensation to the existing tenant and the landlord. It does not seem to me that the prospect of farming the new holding under this Bill is very attractive.
You do not know whether there is any real demand for these small holdings, you conjecture it, but you have had no inquiry whatever to establish that there is a demand; and in so far as there has been any inquiry, it is contrary to the actual reports that have been made that there is any real demand. Let me now consider the effect this Bill would have on existing tenants and the condition of agriculture generally. In the agricultural districts you have a system under which there has been a larger expenditure by the landlord and tenant than in any other part of the world. The expenditure by the tenant is now rightly protected from confiscation by the landlord. The result is the admiration of agriculturists everywhere. But the Government propose, by this Bill to introduce into this highly developed system one transported from the Highlands, the most agriculturally backward in the British Isles. If land is taken from the farms to which I have referred, much more is taken from the landlord than the original value of the soil. All that has been put into it by the owner and his predecessors is taken away. That is bad for agriculture, it is bad for the community. I go further and say that in so far as this Bill puts a check on the elimination of bad tenants, it is bad in itself, bad for agriculture, bad for the community, and especially bad in this, 968 that, as it takes away the self-interest of the landlord, it takes away the only guarantee which you have for the maintenance of a high standard of agriculture.
In addition to that the proposals of this Bill would create extreme uncertainty and unsettlement among tenants. No one would know from day to day, from month to month, or from year to year when applications would be made and to what extent slices were to be taken off his farm. Refusal to-day does not prevent renewed application to-morrow. Confidence in the future, which requires to be definite and assured, is destroyed. Rotation may be thrown out of gear for years by the reduction in the size of the holding. It is no use to say you will get compensation, for the loss resulting from uncertainty cannot be put into figures; it cannot be compensated for in the coin of the realm. That this point may not rest on my testimony I venture to quote a statement by one of the best authorities on the subject. Dr. Gillespie, whose name is a household word in agricultural Scotland, said—According to an immemorial adage, the profits a farmer ought to make is an annual sum equal to the rent of his farm, and that is not an overstatement of the case. Thus, if fifty acres is taken away and rent diminished by, say, £45, the farmer who has compulsorily been ousted ought to be paid £45 during the remainder of his lease, besides the value of the improvements from manures, residue of feeding stuffs, etc., he has effected on the land. But that is not all. His farm has been put out of gearing, inasmuch as the taking away of so large a slice of it has made it impossible for him to cultivate it in the usual and proper rotation. Outsiders who are ready to pronounce glibly on agricultural matters, as if to the manner born, know nothing of the inconvenience and heavy loss this would entail, but practical farmers are well aware how important this feature of the case is.I turn for a moment to the effect on the landlord, not that I suppose he is considered worthy of a thought by the friends of noble Lords opposite. For him the Bill will to a large extent involve a gratuitous destruction of value. It is in part a personal transfer of property from one person to another; but that is not the worst of it, because by dividing the interests you destroy the property in such a way that it does not even pass in full to the other man. It is unjust to 969 present to a man who has been only a short time in the tenancy all these rights at the expense of the owner. An indiscriminate gift of this kind is impolitic as regards agricultural efficiency. The rights conferred are of little value to the industrious tenant whom every person is running after, and the lazy and dishonest tenant is entrenched in a position of advantage, and the owner is deprived of power to secure the proper upkeep of buildings and the maintenance of the fertility of the soil.
The real security for the owner is his power of resumption and his right of selecting a tenant. These, fairly exercised, are the appanage of ownership of which you have no right to deprive him. Underlying this Bill there seems to be the assumption that the landlord's only interest is money, that the interference of an official in Edinburgh, or, I would rather put it, of a whole army of officials, can supersede his personal interest in his own property and in those who have been associated with him sometimes for generations. The real interest of the owner is his security for the permanent fertility of the soil, and in that the interest of the community coincides; but in this Bill you are diminishing the power of the owner to maintain that fertility. A tenant can go from the farm when he likes, no matter how disgraceful the state in which he leaves it, and in ninety-nine cases out of 100 any attempt to claim damages is absolutely worthless. You are proposing to give by this Bill not only immunity to the bad tenant, but you are placing a premium on fraudulent proceedings to an extent which can only be realised by those who have practical knowledge. The machinery of the Bill is nothing but an expedient for taking property without the payment of a just price. It would be possible to cut up property in a way which would produce extravagant depreciation of value, and this Bill puts the absolute right in this body of persons sitting in Edinburgh to divide up the estate how and when they please without a shadow of control or appeal.
There are two other interests to which I will advert for a moment, that of the farm servant who wants a holding and that of the community. All the difficulties which I have indicated in the way of the establishment of new holdings will 970 act as a bar to advancement of the wishes of farm servants. It will be much more difficult to settle them in the future than it has been in the past, and for this reason. It is part of the advantage of the present system that in some districts tenants move from small holdings to larger ones and leave the small holdings vacant for farm servants to go into. The effect of the proposals of this measure will be to stereotype the present holding, so that it will be difficult for new men to come in in the first instance. With regard to the town population, I should be the last to minimise the effect of the quotations which were given by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. I believe the state of things to be as he describes; but if this Bill were passed, to what extent would it remove the congestion either in Edinburgh, in Dundee, or in Glasgow? It is a pill for an earthquake. If you spend the whole of your £65,000 on new holdings you would not establish 100 new holdings in a year, and what will 100 holdings do in the lifetime of any of those who are here for the relief of the present congestion in the town?
I will not labour these points, but I say distinctly that only one interest will be benefited by the passing of the measure—the interest of the existing crofters. There is a case, I will say even a strong case, for a fair, reasonable, and considered amendment of the law regarding crofting tenure. Few people know it better than I do, because I have been over every congested district and almost every parish in Scotland comprised in those areas, and I say frankly that there are some of the provisions of this Bill as regards those districts which are eminently reasonable. I like the new definition of the crofter; I like the increase of the power of the Agricultural Commissioners who are to represent the Congested Districts Board; I have no objection to the extension of powers under the Congested Districts Acts; I think it is reasonable to open up the subsidiary occupations to crofters; I see no objection to the enlargement of holdings at the instance of a single applicant; and I would rather approve of the provisions for the resumption of some of the holdings for feuing. There may be other points, and I sincerely hope that we may be able to get to a position in which those things can be fairly considered upon their 971 merits but the way is block by the preferred folly of the greater part of this silly Bill.
There is one other interest which is, curiously enough, neglected in this Bill—the interest of the ratepayers. It is not altogether a very easy point to explain to a largely English audience, and I therefore appeal for indulgence. Under the Crofters Acts, or rather, perhaps, I should say, under our system of valuation, the entry upon the valuation roll on which rates are fixed is made in the name of the owner; that entry is the rent which the tenant pays; and the tenant's name has under it the rent which he pays. So that in ordinary circumstances the entry for the owner and the tenant is in the same figure, and all over Scotland it does represent the value of the subject. But under the Crofters Acts the owner has ceased to be owner of the whole value of the holding, because the improvements are made by the crofter. It is reasonable that the crofter should not be rented on them. But it is not reasonable that he should not be rated on them. Seeing that everyone else is rated on his improvements. I know of one case in which a crofter, having obtained money from a friend in India, expended £800 on the building of a house, but that house rightly, not being the property of the owner, is not entered on the valuation roll, and the crofter only pays rates upon the original £5, which was the value of the croft before the house was built. That unfair exemption and unfair privilege is going to be extended to all the small holders under this Bill.
Let me imagine two holdings in the same parish. One is fifty acres, at £3 an acre, the gross value being £150. The occupier of that holding would come under the Bill. Another man—a poorer man—rents sixty acres at 30s. an acre, the value being £90. Although he is the poorer man he does not come under the Bill. The first will have the whole of the advantages and will not be rated on any improvement which he makes, either with Government money or his own; but the second, the poorer man, will have additional burdens to discharge on behalf of the other because a reduction of value naturally increases the pressure of the rates on others. If land is taken away from the buildings, and they are, so 972 to speak, depreciated in value because they serve less land, they will be entered on the valuation roll in a lower sum, and the poorer man will be subject to an increase of the rates for two reasons—first the gross valuation of the parish will be reduced, and, the rate per £ will be increased. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made a great point of the dislike of the crofter holders to purchase. This is one of the main reasons why they dislike purchase. They see that so long as they remain tenants, and tenants only, they escape rates which they ought to pay, and if they were made owners they would in future be liable for the owners rates as well as those exigible from the occupier, and the subject would be fairly valued as is not now the case.
I think I have proved that with one exception there is not a single interest which is likely to derive any benefit under this Bill, and I am entitled to say that the whole weight of expert opinion is overwhelmingly against it. The Highland and Agricultural Society is against it, the Chamber of Agriculture is against it, and there is not, so far as I know, a single practical estate manager who has said a word in its favour. The Danish Commission selected by the Secretary for Scotland went to Denmark and studied the question, and eighteen out of twenty of the members of that Commission have, since their return, signed a paper in which they say that the Bill will not serve the purpose for which it is intended. Meetings of agriculturists throughout the country have condemned the Bill, and the meeting held at Perth some weeks ago, which the promoters of the Bill appeal to, was mainly composed of party politicians who shout with their leaders; but there was one agriculturist at that meeting—a Mr. Wallace—from the south of Scotland, and he spoke against the Bill.
I wish someone would explain to me what really was the origin of the scheme in the Bill, and how it came to be selected. There was an allusion in the King's Speech of last year to this subject. In that Speech there occurred this sentence—The social and economic conditions of the rural districts in Great Britain require careful consideration. Inquiries are proceeding as to the means by which a higher number of the population may be attracted to and retained on the soil, and they will be completed at no distant date.973 The final paragraph of the speech contained a promise—for amending and extending the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act.That was, I suppose, the genesis of this Bill. But the result of the inquiry referred to in the first part of the Speech was not waited for, with foreknowledge, perhaps, that the result would not favour these proposals.
I think I am entitled to remark upon the fact—and I do so in order that we may have such explanation as may be given to us—that there has been almost entirely, with the exception of the Law Officers of the Crown and Mr. Sinclair himself, a conspiracy of silence on the part of the members of the Government about this Bill. Noble Lords who sit opposite know Scotland and the conditions of that country. I hope we shall hear something from them in the course of this debate, from the noble Earl the Colonial Secretary and the First Lord of the Admiralty, but, so far as I know, they have not as yet made any public pronouncement in favour of the Bill. Mr. Haldane, who sits for a Scottish constituency, has carefully abstained from saying a word in its praise. Mr. Asquith, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has spoken on the financial side of it in the House of Commons, but in other respects he has been silent. Sir Edward Grey, to whose opinion I would attach great value, has, as far as I know, never said one word about it. Even the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has abstained from any praise of the measure. I do not know whether he likes, or whether he consented to, the provision for transferring part of his duties to the Secretary for Scotland. I shall not inquire. But last year, on 10th October, in Edinburgh, three months after the Bill was published and circulated, Lord Carrington, discussing the Land Tenure Bill, as it was then called, and the question of compensation as payable by the landlord, went on to say—It is a strong measure to interfere with his contractual rights, and to limit his freedom in negotiating with an incoming tenant the terms on which he will let his land. Such legislative regulation of the terms of contract is really the first step in the direction of valued rents and a Land Court, and without saying whether they are good or bad I doubt whether the members of the chamber are prepared to 974 enter upon that right without much fuller consideration.The Bill had been circulated about three months at that time. I should like to know if the noble Earl had really considered it. If he had, how did he come to speak of it in terms like those? If he does not agree with the Bill, it is not difficult to explain. But he cannot both agree with it and have deliberately spoken in that way.
If this were a Bill for the creation of small holdings or an amendment of the Crofters Acts, it would have no warmer supporter than myself. If it can be transformed into one or both of these things it will still have my warm support for what it is worth. But, in my humble opinion, as it is, it is nothing short of an agrarian revolution for Scotland. The system, bad as it is, proposed to be set up by this Bill cannot stand; it is no permanent settlement. It is not even logical on its own stupid lines. It goes either too far in the direction of divided ownership, or it goes not far enough. How can a system stand which produces such anomalies as I have instanced to your Lordships? I will give you one more. There may be two tenants side by side, one paying £150 for a 200-acre agricultural farm; the other man paying the same rent for 50 acres of better land on which he grows fruit. The one has his rent fixed by a Court, security of tenure as against his landlord if he wishes to stay, the right to go if he chooses and freedom from rates for his expenditure. The other man not only has none of these privileges, but he is saddled with liability for additional rates for the benefit of his richer neighbour, coupled with the oppressing apprehension of losing at any moment 50 acres of his own farm.
I should like to make one personal reference. By one of those extraordinary coincidences which sometimes happen this is the anniversary of the day upon which I entered into the responsible ownership of my estate such as it is. This day forty-three years ago I became an owner of land in Scotland. Since that time I have resided on my estate. I have dealt personally with my tenants, and since I came of age not one letter has been written, and not one bargain made, which has not come under my personal cognisance; and I venture to 975 think that with that experience I may be said to know nearly as much—I put it modestly—as a man who has been Secretary for Scotland for fifteen or eighteen months. I say that in this Bill you are disregarding economic conditions; you are disregarding all reasonable provision for security of property, on which the comfort and prosperity of every man, rich or poor, in every civilised country depend. For a successful scheme of small holdings you want, and you ought to have, the cooperation of landlords as a class; but in this Bill you have taken the most elaborate precautions to make that cooperation absolutely impossible.
I am obliged to speak strongly because in this matter I feel strongly. I say that this Bill has been born in ignorance, it has been nurtured in obstinacy, and it is being supported by class hatred and political spite. I care not whether this House rejects the Bill or amends it and makes it a reasonable measure. I believe it will be very difficult to do that unless we have the consent of the Government. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack says he is a Scotsman and knows his fellow-countrymen. My Lords, I too, know my fellow-countrymen, and I tell your Lordships that if I allowed this Bill to pass as it stands I should be ashamed to go back to the north side of the border. My countrymen do not want a Land Court or divided ownership. Keep those things in the Bill and it will have my undying and relentless hostility, and I shall not be afraid to go before any audience in Scotland and defend the position I have taken up. Take out these things, and, as I indicate in the terms of my Amendment, the Bill will have no more sincere, earnest, or cordial friend.
To leave out all the words after 'That' and insert 'This House, while anxious to encourage the formation of small holdings under reasonable conditions, and to consider favourably such fair Amendment of the Acts relating to the tenure of crofter holdings as experience may have shown to be necessary, deprecates an indiscriminate and universal extension of the crofting system, sees no justification for establishing in Scotland a Land Court on the Irish model, and declines to proceed with a Bill which introduces into the agricultural districts of Scotland the evils which are inseparable from any system of divided ownership in land"—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord TWEEDMOUTH)
My Lords, we have had a very long and weighty speech from my noble friend Lord Balfour, and I think that part of it was not well phrased in which he made so severe a stricture on the present Secretary for Scotland. We, too, are Scots and we, too, think that we know something about the wishes of our country. The speech of the noble Lord was an absolutely non possumus speech. Lord Balfour used the very strongest language with regard to this Bill, language which entirely washes away the preamble of the Amendment which he has presented to the House. The speech of the noble Lord leads to no possible conclusion except the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading. I do not say that my noble friend has gone quite the length of his namesake in the other House of Parliament. In the other House Mr. Balfour said the Bill had the unique peculiarity of offending every canon of legislation, and that there was no responsible statesman, politician, or theorist in the country who would not be offended by its provisions.
If those are the sort of opinions held by noble Lords opposite, by the Opposition in the two Houses, the only just and proper course for the Opposition to pursue is to reject the Bill at once and consign it to limbo. But, as a matter of fact, the charges which are made against us, both in public speeches and in the Press, are really founded on a tissue of misapprehension, misunderstanding, and exaggeration. I think the preamble of my noble friend's Amendment is one on which we can all agree. I believe we are all agreed that it is necessary that a greater number of small holdings should be established in Scotland, and the noble Lord who has just sat down has not suggested a single alternative method or plan for carrying out that object. Speaking for myself, I admit that I do not accept the Bill verbatim et literatim, but I thoroughly accept its main principle, and the basis upon which it is founded, and I think the case for bringing forward a Bill such as this is absolutely unanswerable.
The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has already given some figures to show what the condition of the country now is. I venture to return to those 977 figures, though I shall deal with them in a somewhat different way. Taking the census returns, which gives very full information of what is taking place, for the twenty years between 1881 and 1901–1901 was the date of the latest census—I find that in 1881 the population of the whole of Scotland was 3,735,573; in 1901 it had risen to 4,472,103, an increase on the twenty years of 736,530 persons. But what has happened in the rural districts of Scotland during the same period? I am taking the figures from the following classes in the census lis, namely, farmers and graziers, farm bailiffs, shepherds, and farm servants; and I find that in those four classes there is a decrease in the twenty years from 204,948 in 1881 to 161,226 in 1901. That is to say, though there was an increase of about 20 per cent. in the total population of Scotland, there was a decrease in the rural population during the same twenty years of rather more than 20 per cent. Then it was rather argued in the noble Lord's speech that there was no demand for small holdings in Scotland; that small holdings were not liked, and were not asked for in Scotland.
* LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I did not say all that the noble Lord is attributing to me. I said there was no proved demand.
§ LORD TWEEDMOUTH
It is a most curious thing that, taking the farms in Scotland of all sizes, the number of small holdings is infinitely greater than that of large holdings. The total number of holders of agricultural farms in Scotland is 88,000; the persons who hold small holdings number 62,000, and they hold land worth only £690,000, whereas the other 26,000 persons farm land of the rental value of £4,674,000; that is to say, out of the total rental you have 62,000 persons holding land only of the value of £690,000. I think that shows that there is a great demand for small holdings, that the people are desirous of getting small holdings, and that they have been put off so far with a very small amount of land, and that of the worst and cheapest there is in the country.
What is this Bill founded on? It is founded on the Crofters Act, 1886, and 978 on the Congested Districts Act, 1897. The noble Lord asked how the amount was fixed in this Bill at fifty acres. A limit of fifty acres was in a Bill that was introduced when he himself was in office in 1902. This Bill makes no change in the law so far as the crofters are concerned, except the introduction of the principle of compulsion, and that principle, I was very glad to note, the noble Lord opposite accepted. He accepted the proposition that it is necessary for the State to have the power of compulsion in order to obtain for the people of the country the rights that we are desirous they should have. My noble friend raised the question of dual ownership of land under this Bill. I think it is very difficult to say where dual ownership ends and where it begins. When you have two people occupying the land in the relation of landlord and tenant you have at once a dual ownership. The system of cultivating land under a lease is essentially a Scottish system. From the Tweed to Cape Wrath you have the system of feus, which is nothing in the world but the leasing of land, with certain rights reserved, for very long periods or even for perpetuity. That is the very essence of the Scottish land system. I say, therefore, that the holding of land on lease for the purposes of agriculture is a good old Scottish custom which it is right should be extended.
It is admitted that the result of the experiments under the Crofters Acts has been extremely successful. I think even some of the great landlords of the Highlands will themselves admit that they and their tenants have gained considerably from those Acts. The noble Lord who denounced this Bill made light of it, because he said that under no possible circumstances would more than 100 small holdings be created every year. If that is the view of the noble Lord, it does not seem to me that he need be very anxious in the matter. If that is the amount of disturbance that will be caused by the Bill I fail to understand the strong objections to it entertained by the noble Lord. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor very clearly stated the different conditions by which the crofter was edged in, and a small landholder under this Bill has exactly the same conditions imposed upon him as now exist under the Crofters Act. But there 979 are a great many other advantages that will be obtained under this Bill. In the first place the landholder, when a small holding is instituted, will be absolutely compensated for any damage that may be done to him in his rent or for any loss sustained over the rest of the land from which the small holding is taken. It has to be considered that the men who are to be appointed either as members of the Land Court or as Agricultural Commissioners will be men of the highest weight and the greatest experience, and I believe that you can safely entrust to them the duty of carrying out the regulations of the Bill with honesty and with a desire to act fairly to all interests. To suggest that these men are likely so to deal with land as to produce the results depicted by some of our opponents is really most ridiculous.
For my part I most earnestly urge on the House that they should not take violent measures with this Bill, which I believe will be an admirable commencement of the change which we all desire to bring about—an increase of the small holders and of the rural population. I do not think that the landlords need be afraid that their big holdings are going to be torn up, or that they are likely to experience any great difficulty from the operations of the Bill The natural tiling is that certain areas should be taken suitable for small holdings, and that on those areas small holders should be established. It is perfectly evident that a small holder has a much better chance of getting on in the world and of doing his business if he finds himself grouped with others of the same profession and the same desires as himself, so that they may co-operate together and do their business in a good and sensible manner. Besides that they then have the advantage of common communication from the outside world, both for the goods that they want to sell and for the things they want to bring in to help in the cultivation of the land. I urge that this Bill is deserving of careful consideration, and that it is worthy of tender treatment at your Lordships' hands, and I hope that, though you may wish to amend it in some of its details, you will accord to it a Second Reading.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords I am very sorry that I cannot vote 980 for this Bill; and for a very simple reason. I am going to vote for the English Bill, and I cannot stultify myself by voting for both. I am very sorry I cannot vote for this Bill, because I have never yet voted against any measure of the Government which I worked hard in my humble way to bring in, and to which I sincerely wish well as a bulwark of free trade. I hope I shall not have occasion to vote against them again. I am not sure from the speech of ray noble friend Lord Balfour whether he intends to press his Amendment to a division. I will not ask him the question directly, because it may not yet be in his mind to answer it. But I would print out that my noble friend spoke very warmly and kindly of the crofter clauses of the Bill, whereas, as far as I understand his Amendment—and I applaud the sentiments of the Amendment entirely—it would put an end to the whole of the Bill if it were carried, crofters' amendment and all. Perhaps my noble friend might be inclined on reflection to modify the words "declines to proceed with a Bill" in his Amendment, which seem to place an absolute negative on the Bill.
We in the House of Lords are in a very strange and anomalous position with regard to all measures connected with land. In all probability—I say it in all humility—we know, by experience not always pleasant, much more about land than the Members of the other House of Parliament. But yet, when we are called on to discuss it, there is a suspicion of our dealings with land, which I will not say is unreasonable, but which I do not think is always well founded. We are considered as children of wrath, as landlords, and as viewing land only from the landlord's point of view. I am not conscious of being a child of wrath, and I hope I shall not have occasion to discuss this Bill from a landlord's point of view. And not merely are we children of wrath, but, as Mr. Gladstone would have said, we have a double dose of original sin. We are not only landlords, but Peers, and everything that landlords may do, or Peers may do, at this moment, is subject to the suspicion and irritation of a large number of our otherwise well-meaning fellow creatures. That is an anomalous position, but I want to point out that, after all, this is not in essence a landlords' question at all. I hope none of your Lordships intend to proceed to a 981 division with any idea or conviction that he is a landlord dealing with a landlords' Bill. This is a matter for the State, it is a matter of high Imperial necessity, and of intense municipal stress. All the figures which were quoted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and requoted with pleasant iteration by my noble friend who has just sat down, tend to point to the fact that this is a question not for landlords, not of agriculture, but of high State and Imperial importance, and that the Bill rests its arguments on the interests of the State as a whole. I should be very glad if your Lordships would clear your minds of any economical or agricultural aspect of the Bill. If it has an agricultural aspect, which I gravely doubt, it has been completely disposed of by the exhaustive and able speech of my noble friend the late Secretary for Scotland.
I will go a little further into this matter, because it is not without interest. The other day in Edinburgh, a town of which I have the honour of being a citizen and in which I am closely interested, a rising, or I might say a risen, member of the Government, though young, took the occasion to apostrophise me not to desert the democracy in this great struggle about land, and not to be deterred by personal possessions from enlisting under that standard. I am sure that the hint about possessions was kindly intended, but let me assure him it was not needed, because so far as I can understand my material interest in this Bill is limited to a single tenant who pays me £12 a year. Long may he continue to pay it, and if he receives the farm which he took under one tenure under a totally different tenure by the benevolence of this Bill, let me assure him that I do not grudge it in the slightest degree. That is the extent of my interest under the Bill. I was asked by Mr. Churchill that I should not dissociate myself from but should associate myself with the democracy in their great struggle about land. Well, I would ask which democracy—is it the English democracy or the Scottish democracy? I know very well what the wishes of the democracy mean in the mouth of a Minister, I am far from saying that, I have never used the expression myself—it means the particular Bill of which the Minister is in charge. I venture to ask which democracy 982 I am to serve. Is it the English democracy or the Scottish democracy? As embodied in the English Bill or the Scottish Bill? I could not, obviously, serve both.
I would go further, and ask which Minister I am asked to serve. In the House of Commons on the Second Reading of this interesting measure, which I may remark in passing I think is by far the most amazing ever presented by a responsible Government to Parliament, Mr. Sinclair, the Secretary for Scotland, went out of his way to declare that he was in no way responsible for the English Small Holders Bill. I presume that Mr. Harcourt returns the compliment, and, I should think, with much more gusto and zest, and refuses to be responsible in any way for the Scottish Bill. I sympathise more with Mr. Harcourt than with Captain Sinclair. But what an extraordinary idea of Ministerial responsibility we have come to, when these two gentlemen, each with his Bill under his arm, totally different in principle and precept, come down and adjure us in the name of democracy to pass his Bill and no other, and say that each is not responsible for the other.
I do not quite understand why there should be this great difference of attitude with regard to the land question in England and Scotland. This year the Tweed marks a rampart and boundary between the agricultural circumstances on each side. I now understand why it is that my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack takes such an interest in the Bill, because he has described himself as a Borderer, and probably, therefore, from his rural retreat he can see the operation of both systems at once. But though this year the Tweed is an insurmountable barrier between the agricultural systems of England and Scotland, last year the Tweed had so completely disappeared—like the river Mole in Surrey—that at the tag end of an English Land Bill Scotland was introduced as an afterthought, and thrust in to mark the completion and completeness of the two systems of agriculture. Now either the Government were wrong last year or the Secretary for Scotland and the First Commissioner of Works must be wrong this year. They cannot be right on both occasions. On which leg do they mean to stand—on their English leg or their Scottish 983 leg? It is quite impossible that they can take up a firm position on both. They wobble beneath them. I wonder what the Ministry will say when they come to the English Bill here. Will they drag out their forlorn wooden Scottish leg once more, or will they take a manly stand upon the comparatively safe leg which the First Commissioner of Works has presented?
I confess there is something sinister in the difference of attitude of the Government as regards the land systems of Scotland and England as between last year and this year. I remember that last year the Minister for Agriculture went to Edinburgh, where I had the pleasure of sheltering him under my roof. The noble Earl betrayed a strange and marked indifference to the Scottish Bill and some ignorance of its provisions. The schism was then beginning; it has now developed in a concrete form. What is the reason of this? It makes one think there is something below the surface—something sinister—when a Ministry comes at you with one barrel loaded with elephant shot and the other with snipe shot. People ask which game they mean to bag. I know there are some people in the country so scandalous as to say—I hope beneath their breath—that the one barrel, the English barrel, is meant for use, and the other barrel, the one loaded with elephant shot, is intended to bring down the House of Lords, to act as a topic for the autumn campaign.
Now, I want to say a word or two as to the object of the Bill. It seems to be perfectly logical, and near to the heart of all of us—nearest to the heart of those who call themselves Imperialists, and who wish to rear an Imperial race fitted to govern and colonise. The object of the Bill may be defined to be that we wish to plant, or replant, a race of yeomen in the country, and that we wish to prevent the migration of the rural folk into the cities. I think the figures which have been produced go to establish that contention, but although the Government are so copious with their figures they have omitted two considerations. One is that the figures to which they call attention are not to be largely remedied by the operation of this precise measure, and therefore they form a bad foundation for argument in its favour. 984 The second point, of which my noble friends seem wholly unconscious, is that this state of things is by no means confined to Great Britain or to Scotland, but prevails universally in all the older and in some of the newer civilised countries, and under conditions much more exaggerated than our own. Take the case of France. Lord Lansdowne the other day read an extract from a pamphlet by M. Meline, which pointed out the great and growing evil that is prevailing in France—the general transmigration of the rural population to the cities. Yet that is a nation of small holders. Therefore I do not think it is absolutely proved that the remedy of His Majesty's Government will meet the disease.
Let us take another case—the case of Germany. Germany is a very prosperous-nation, and we are constantly asked to take advantage of its experience. There was a telegram from Berlin published only last week to this effect—The ever-increasing movement of country people towards the towns is making itself felt in Germany to so great an extent that it is almost impossible in some districts to carry out the cultivation of the soil, and the military authorities have been compelled to delay the calling out of Reserves for their annual training, and in some cases to grant furlough to the greater part of the men so that the harvest may be gathered in.That is the case in Germany. What is the case of the United States? In the United States there is none of this "curse of landlordism" which lies like a blight over this melancholy island of Great Britain. There they have boundless space, and there there is what is not so much respected now in Great Britain—boundless liberty. There there are the same evils only in an aggravated degree. There also appeared in the papers last week the following—The announcement that farm lands in the State of New York have fallen off 170,000,000 dollars in value in the last twenty-five years, and that there are now within its borders 12,000 abandoned farms, capable of rearing a population of 250,000, excites no little chagrin and amazement.That is the condition of things outside these islands. My noble friends have cited their figures with signs of amazement on their faces as if these things were known for the first time.
My noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, who would give the Bill every recommendation that eloquence and 985 reasoning power can give it, having given the House those figures, proceeded to recite the provisions of the Bill. "What alternative plan have you?" asked the Lord Chancellor. Why there is the Government's own alternative plan which is being discussed in the House of Commons at this very moment. The Government seem to be totally unaware of another circumstance which is not without its force. They never seem to think that small holdings had ever been tried here before. Anybody who has an estate in Scotland that has been in his family a century cannot fail to know that a century ago the rule in Scotland was entirely small holdings. Why have they disappeared? They have disappeared not because anybody wanted to get rid of small holders, but because the small holders found it did not pay to cultivate the land in small holdings. It is a question of political economy.
It may be, and I think it is, a wise thing to try to restore the small holders on the land, but we must not proceed simply on the figures of the number of people crowded into one room in the large towns, and then argue from those figures that this Bill is the only remedy for the evil. I am not so sure as the Government are that small holdings would be profitable Scotland. People can have small holdings now without much difficulty. I was reading the other day in a weekly newspaper a review of five biographical accounts of very successful small holders, beginning with Harriet Martineau and coming down to the present day. These small holders were extremely pleased with their success, but the pertinent remark that applies is that in none of the cases did they clear £45 a year, which is not the average earnings of a working man in Scotland, and, if my estimate of the shrewdness of my fellow-countrymen is not altogether unfounded, they will infinitely prefer £52 a year without risk to a precarious £45 with every risk under the sun, with every penalty of climate, and even with the advantage of holding from the Land Commissioners of Scotland.
I believe this to be an affair not of the landlords nor of the tenants, but of the State—an Imperial affair—a matter of grave concern to this kingdom. What is the conclusion? The conclusion I draw is 986 an irresistible conclusion, one from which even this Government cannot flinch. It is that if this is a matter of Imperial concern, of municipal concern, and of no other, it is an experiment for which the State should pay, and not the landlord. If the Government wish to try this experiment let them try it honestly and straightforwardly at their own expense, and not come forward cowering under the shadow of an imaginary landlord, and say that you are going to perform great things by establishing 100 small holdings in a year and entirely removing the excess of our city population.
Passing from that aspect, I confess that I view the source of this Bill with the greatest suspicion. The Secretary for Scotland, Captain Sinclair, has yet to win his spurs, and I have no doubt that he will win them, and he may yet become acquainted with the elements of Cabinet communication and common responsibility. But I must say that he is a very young Minister—I do not know what his age is; I am speaking of his experience—and his public record is not such as to induce us to place a blind confidence in his agricultural legislation, because the Committee which he despatched to Denmark to report as to the condition of agriculture there reported almost unanimously in a sense adverse to his Bill. His record does not give us any encouragement for following him blindly in his agricultural experiments, and I am certain that even were Mr. Gladstone to rise from the dead with his great, his universal, capacity and unrivalled experience, it would require much to make his most ardent followers, so far as they were not merely Party hacks, follow him in so vast an experiment.
The Secretary for Scotland has the advantage of the assistance of the Law Officers of Scotland and the Lord Advocate, but they are locked in a death struggle as to what constitutes rent, and they have not even arrived at my noble friend's easy definition of feu, imperfect as I think that definition was. Until they have made up their minds upon that fundamental question in relation to land, I cannot extend to them more confidence than I do to the Secretary for Scotland. Until they are agreed, it is useless to seek what their intentions may be. I am willing to concede to the Secretary for Scotland every moral quality. He may 987 be an angel for all I know; but an angel with discordant wings is not likely to fly very far.
There is another doubt with regard to the source of this Bill which was touched upon by my noble friend—the total want of that inquiry and investigation that should have preceded a Bill of such phenomenal importance. This Bill establishes fair rents and fixity of tenure. How many years of investigation occurred before Mr. Gladstone, ardent reformer as he was, embodied fair rent and fixity of tenure in the Bills relating to Ireland? There was the Devon Commission of 1845, and there was a quarter of a century more of inquiry and investigation before Mr. Gladstone could be induced to proceed any further.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I will not note the interruption of my young friend. He is so impetuous that he would lead me into a disquisition that would take me far from my argument. But I will point out that there has been no investigation conducted coram populo. There was a Departmental Committee on small holdings, but their labours are not expected to terminate before Christmas. This Bill may pass before Christmas, or it may not pass before the following Christmas. The Secretary for Scotland, constrained by his two wise lieutenants, might have been able to control his impatience until he saw the result of that inquiry. But he must legislate, at any cost, without waiting for the inquiry of the Departmental Committee. So far as I can gather from the Bill, the Secretary for Scotland, without any considerable knowledge of the subject, has rushed into legislation. A rather strong phrase was once used of a distinguished friend of mine—that he was an old man in a hurry; but the danger of an old man in a hurry is as nothing to the danger of a young man in a hurry.
We might also complain that for this Bill there is no visible or audible demand wha ever. At every meeting I have seen—and I have watched with some care—agricultural or otherwise non-political, which has been called to consider this Bill an almost unanimous protest has been made against it. The Commission 988 sent out by Captain Sinclair to Denmark protested, by sixteen out of twenty-two, against the provisions of this Bill. I know the Master of Elibank, who, I believe, controls the political destinies of Scotland, has written a letter on the information at his command, in which he says there is an immense anxiety for small holdings in Scotland. But he neglected to tell us, what was more pertinent, whether this Bill will constitute a satisfactory reply to that demand, and whether it will not cause infinitely more evil than the present state of things.
The principle of the Bill is essentially a vicious one. If nobody else goes into the lobby against the clause that applies the crofting system to the whole of Scotland, I will go alone, with or without a teller. I do not believe any more vicious or more foolish principle was ever applied to land legislation. What is the crofting system? Is it the survival of the fittest? Is it the highest form of agriculture known to Scotland that we are asked to adopt? Some of your Lordships travelling in the Highlands may have seen thin, sparsely cultivated strips of land, sometimes with a cottage built by the savings of children abroad, by lonely lakes, or by the shores of the sea, or on barren moots. There live men who would rather die than leave their native land, struggling against nature, and trying to secure a precarious crop in a climate totally unsuitable for it, on soil wholly unadapted for it. Rather than leave or migrate they persevere in cultivating that ungrateful soil. All honour to them for it; I respect them for it. But I do not think that is a condition of things that we ought to work and legislate to transfer to the magnificent and fertile fields of the Lothians and the Lowlands of Scotland. I cannot imagine any responsible Minister who knows what a crofter is and what a croft is coming down deliberately to this House and proposing to apply that system to the Lowlands of Scotland. I should have been less surprised had the Secretary for War, in producing his Bill for the Territorial Forces, decided that his new Army should be provided with bows and arrows for defensive purposes. What you are attempting to do by introducing the crofting system is to supersede the highest farming known to Great Britain, 989 and perhaps to the world, by the most backward system in these islands. That is the remedy brought forward by my noble friend opposite in order that the people of Glasgow may live fewer in a room than they do now.
I strongly suspect that we see in this Bill no real attempt to deal with the land question in Scotland, no honest attempt to diminish the evils of overcrowding in urban areas. I believe it to be another specimen of the instalment system that was so eloquently proclaimed at Stirling in December, 1905, and which has been followed with such disastrous results. That instalment system in Ireland has worked in this way—the Government have proffered a loaf to Ireland, and they have received a stone, hurled with some violence and precision, in return. There seems to me to be a deliberate attempt—I cannot in any other way explain the genesis of the Bill—to introduce the Irish system of instalments into Scotland. I can imagine—it is a hideous vision—some maleficent angel brooding enviously over the prosperity of Scotland, seeing its spacious and well-tilled fields, its magnificent manufactures, its general contentment, and saying to himself, "How on earth can I overturn this great edifice of happiness and well-being?" I can imagine him searching with critical eye in every corner and cranny of these islands, and at last, his eye alighting on I the crofting system and finding on the barren moor or by the lonely lake these desolate crofters, occupied very much on the same tenure as the holdings of the peasants in the West of Ireland are occupied, or were occupied in the old days, saying, "Ah, if we could only spread these crofters all over Scotland, if we could only extend this system to the whole of Scotland, why in time we might produce another Ireland. Like a contagion spreading over the dormant Tweed, who knows that we might not make the whole of this island like unto Ireland in its agrarian system, with all the vast expenditure it has caused, with all the bloodshed and all the crime, and all the hostility of feeling that has placed Ireland on the brink of a revolution for the last half century." I am far from saying that it is the intention of Captain Sinclair to embody himself in this vision of a bad angel. I rather regard him as a well-intentioned angel, but with discordant 990 wings. But there is a place which we are told is paved with good intentions, and I do not propose that that place shall be my native country of Scotland.
I proceed from the principle of the Bill, which is to extend the crofting system to the whole of Scotland, to its methods, which I believe to be almost as vicious as its principle. The methods of the Bill are in the first place to adopt the Irish apparatus, the Land Court and Land Commissioners. How the evil angel I have imagined must Lave rubbed his hands when he heard of those names which are to regulate and to sap the independence of the Scottish farmers. The proposal is to establish a well-endowed Board in Edinburgh, and I have no doubt the Commissioners, although we have not been told what they are to get, will receive no starving remuneration. It is proposed to establish this Board of pampered officials to regulate the land affairs of Scotland. I am very much attached to Edinburgh, and I am perhaps foolishly attached to Edinburgh boards. But I remember that when I was responsible for the affairs of Scotland as Under-Secretary at the Home Office, before, I think, the present Secretary could have left the nursery, I was surprised and disgusted to find that the Edinburgh boards were not so popular outside Edinburgh as they were inside Edinburgh. There was a hideous propensity in towns outside to describe Edinburgh boards as Edinburgh jobs. That was the view of the unthinking gentiles who dwelt outside the boundaries of Edinburgh. I must honestly say that this particular board has some of the unsavoury associations connected with that unsavoury word. I suppose it is said that there was a great national demand for this Board. I suppose there was such a mob of agriculturists who had laid siege to Downing street coming up from Scotland that it could not be resisted for a moment. But all the tangible evidence we have would rather show that this Board is not desired. There are ninety-three correspondents of the Board of Agriculture in Scotland. They are not merely correspondents; but they are held practically to represent after examination the opinions of the farmers and agriculturists in their neighbourhood. They were asked the other day, not by the Board of 991 Agriculture, but in an impartial inquiry, whether they wished to remain under the Board of Agriculture or to come under the new body. Seventy-three of them answered out of the ninety-three, and seventy-one out of the seventy-three replied, with an emphasis that I can understand, that they very much preferred to remain under the Board of Agriculture. It was not the representatives of the Government who informed them of the agricultural feeling of Scotland. There must have been some inner consciousness some secret communication which is not visible to any Member of your Lordships' House outside the Government.
I myself do not particularly welcome the appearance of this Board. The Lord Chancellor found consolation for the constitution of the Board in the fact that the Secretary for Scotland would only appoint persons of the highest character in whom he had the highest confidence. I never heard of any appointment that was not justified by remarks of this kind. Every appointment I have been instrumental in making—and I am sure I may speak for those who were my colleagues at that time—was entirely made with a view to the worth of the individual and his fitness for the particular post to which he was appointed, quite divested of any idea of political partisanship. These ideas are the source of all appointments. Such observations from my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack make me think that since he gave up practice at the Bar he has lost some of that guile which is supposed to be the characteristic of members of his profession. I take comfort to myself in thinking that a series of upright and independent men will be appointed by the Secretary for Scotland; but I feel pretty sure that I know the sort of man who will get the appointment.
One other curious point to which I may call attention in connection with this Board and which will fortify the unsavoury idea of a job is that when the first Bill was introduced the Commissioners were to have £1,000 a year apiece. On the second introduction of the Bill the Secretary for Scotland thought this was wholly inadequate, and under the closure, not by the spontaneous wish of the Committee, he raised the salary of the Commissioners 992 by £200 a year each—from £1,000 to £1,200—which was, of course, for the purpose of enabling him to obtain people of that high standing and impartial character whom he would not have been enabled to obtain by the lower tariff.
There is another fact about the machinery of the Bill which inspires me with the deepest distrust. The Secretary for Scotland never wearies of telling us that the essence of his Bill is the preservation of the landlord. That, he says, is the keystone of the Bill—to preserve the landlord! Some of your Lordships in early youth on the 5th of November may have followed a small, but melancholy, procession carrying a grotesque effigy, amidst the plaudits of those who should have known better, which was destined after a brief and melancholy existence to be burned at a common bonfire. I am reminded of the procession of Guy Fawkes when I am so constantly told that the existence of the landlord is necessary as the keystone of the Bill; because it seems to me that under the provisions of the Bill I see the landlord paraded like that effigy, applauded by the single taxers of the West of Scotland, borne on his way to his melancholy annihilation at the hands of some supplementary Bill.
What is the position of the landlord under this Bill? The Solicitor-General for Scotland, who is also my esteemed representative, so far indeed as a Peer can be said to have any representative, in the House of Commons—or, indeed, any friend—is never weary of telling us that the landlord loses no rights under the Bill—that everything he values is reserved to him. He can shoot over the land if there is any game. I think that, as far as I recollect, is the argument. I will point out to the Solicitor-General that the position of the landlord is not precisely of the character he tries to indicate. Under this Bill a Land Commissioner, who, by-the-bye, may investigate any land or enter any building in the course of his investigations—an Englishman's house is his castle, a Scotsman's is not—a Land Commissioner may at any moment select a piece of land which he, in his own unaided judgment, may consider suitable for a small holding. If that unaided judgment is confirmed by the more deliberate views of the pampered Board in Edinburgh, the Land Commissioners 993 may take any piece of land they choose belonging to a landlord, at any rate they may fix, and place on it any tenant. The landlord may like or dislike him. That is a matter of total indifference to the land commissioners. That is the position of the landlord under this Bill, which we are assured by the Solicitor-General for Scotland is entirely uninjured by its provisions. What is left to the landlord except to be a rent-charger, to watch the transfer of his land to tenants not selected by him except in cœteris paribus conditions (which I do not understand), to watch a procession of tenants passing through his small holdings and perhaps ultimately receiving rent? There terminates the old beneficent—mutually beneficent—relationship of landlord and tenant in Scotland; it may be regarded as buried; and if this Bill be passed, this Bill will be its sepulchre.
There is another point to which I would call attention with regard to the landlord. The Scottish Department in the House of Commons never cease to deny that there is any question of dual ownership under this Bill. I remember a very indignant invective from one of the Law Officers who asked where you could find dual ownership in the Bill, and expressed the hope that I would read the Bill and indicate where the dual ownership could be found. It is some satisfaction to me under this united and harmonious Government to find that the noble Lord took the dual ownership as a matter of course, and that my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty, in a sentence of which I could not clearly comprehend the meaning, said it was not clear where the dual ownership began and ended, and then went on to some argument about a feu, which I was not able to follow, but which indicated the total acceptance by the Government of the fact of dual ownership under the Bill.
That is a very grave change to be brought in at a moment's notice on the first accession to power of a Government by a Minister previously untried. I wonder if your Lordships realise how deeply and profoundly that principle reaches down into the very bases of our social structure; how, if recognised, it cannot be limited by its present limit of rental; if accepted, it cannot be constrained by the Tweed. It must proceed forward; having given a fair rent 994 and fixity of tenure you cannot in the nature of things resist the logical extension to free sale, and then you will have realised what you have been trying to do all along by this large, but subtle, instalment—makinganother Ireland of Scotland, and making that agrarian system prevail ultimately throughout this island.
The noble and learned Lord challenged those who objected to this Bill, with the conduct of which he seemed to feel complimented, to produce an alternative plan. It is said, "what are your arid criticisms? We want something substantial to substitute for a Heaven-sent measure." I do not wish to define the place whence the Bill came, but there is an alternative plan. I am not completely satisfied with the Government plan for England, though I shall vote for it, as being founded on comparatively sure and safe principles and working methods. The Government have no right to ask their critics to furnish an alternative, and as things are now regulated in Parliament it is not possible for a private Member to get a measure through, and the attempt is waste of time and effort. On this occasion, however, I depart from rule and will make a present to the Government of what I believe to be an alternative and right plan for dealing with this question.
The only right and honest way, to speak plainly, of proceeding in this business is by way of purchase. Let the State try the experiment. I do not necessarily say the method of giving freeholds is the best, or that more experience is needed in Great Britain. I deprecate the extreme rashness of the Government, and cannot understand why the Government, which has large estates in England on which they could try experiments, should not equally purchase estates in Scotland, and become the superior, or landlord, of tenants. The advantage of agricultural colonies—that is what it would come to—is that you would be able to secure the co-operation the Bill will not be likely to give. You could, moreover, have afforestation, which, in the belief of many who are more skilled than I, is a remedy for the desertion of the land and for a mass of unemployment. Conveniently land banks might be instituted for such colonies, which would be an inestimable boon to the small holders. Lastly, it would be an immense advantage to have a community of small holders, one vying 995 with another, one encouraged by the experiment of his neighbour, instead of the small holders being in scattered fragments.
If you ask me how I would provide for the government of such a labour colony, I say I would have Commissioners for the whole island—not in Edinburgh—attached to the Board of Agriculture, for the establishment of uniformity of treatment. Further, I would suggest that the man who would imcomparably be the best head of such a department would be Sir Horace Plunkett of whom Ireland was not worthy. I am not alone in believing that in some such system a solution of the problem could be found. Captain Waring, the Member for Banff, repudiated indignantly the idea that there is a wish for leasehold as compared with freehold tenures. I am encouraged by that testimony, and firmly believe that deeply rooted in the Scottish character is the desire for a freehold tenure to develop with all their energy.
I know there is an objection to my proposal, and it was not obscurely hinted at by some members of the Government. The Solicitor-General for Scotland, on the Second Reading in the other House, spoke of the rigid opposition the Treasury offered to all financial demands for Scotland—a candid confession. But I should think, if I had anything to do with the working of such a scheme as that, I should not go with all the pomp of red tape and say, "The Government want this or that estate;" I should purchase as an ordinary buyer. If you buy for the Government you buy much too dear; if you buy as a private individual you pay the market price. I do not think it can be said this cannot be done. It can be done. The London County Council, the second body in the kingdom, after Parliament, in some respects a more important and more satisfactory body from an administrative point of view than is Parliament itself—I have the warmest regard and respect for that body—the London County Council finds no difficulty in buying cheap land. To my life-long sorrow I found that so when they purchased an estate near my own and covered it with a lunatic asylum. What the London County Council can do the Government can do, if only it will untie a few knots of the red tape with which it is swaddled and behave like a rational individual 996 seeking a rational thing in a rational way.
That brings me to my last, and I think my greatest, objection to the provisions of this Bill, the gross affront and disparagement implied to Scotland. In the course of this or next week you wilt have the opportunity of considering the English Bill of the Government. In that Bill you will find that the English county councils, with, I know, some stimulus from the Agricultural Department in case of neglect on their part, are to be entrusted with the work of dealing with this question on their responsibility as popularly elected bodies representing the wishes of their constituents. Look all through the Scottish Bill produced by this Liberal Government and you will not find one jot or tittle of confidence in the elected bodies of Scotland. English county councils are, forsooth, such estimable bodies, chosen by such more intelligent people, that they can be entrusted with, functions denied absolutely to members of Scottish county councils. England, under the English Bill, is treated like a self-governing colony; Scotland is to be treated like a Crown colony and despotically governed by an Edinburgh board. Her representatives, except in the House of Commons, are to have no voice in the control of the business, they are expressly and insultingly excluded from any participation in that work which is granted in the case of England. No greater affront or insult could be offered to Scotland than is to be found in the Bill.
I take another point, in which I think we have some reason to complain. You admit the vicious principle and do not give money enough to carry it out. You admit your vicious principle but you starve it. Scotland is accustomed to be starved by every Government, but it certainly has reached the acme of starvation under this Government, which cannot provide a loose box for cavalry horses in Scotland for want of money. I wonder how long Scotsmen will submit to this persistent style of disparagement, all the more marked from the fact that most of the members of the Cabinet are Scotsmen or represent Scottish constituencies? Their self-denial, their determination that no suspicion of self-interest, or undue-partiality for their country shall attach to their actions has been carried rather 997 too far. I beseech them to east away the fear of suspicion of this kind, for I can assure thorn it does not rest upon them in Scotland.
I myself yield to none in a desire to promote small holdings. A sum of £650,000 a year for ever was included in the new Irish Government Bill. It was offered to Ireland as part of the legislative proposals of that Bill, but it was rejected by Ireland as wholly inadequate. Mr. Redmond shortly afterwards made a speech in which he said that every Department in Ireland was starving for want of money. How long is it likely to be before we in Scotland have a chance of turning up our noses at £650,000? I can assure the Government we will not insult them in this way; £650,000 for three years—the sum indignantly rejected by Ireland for ever—would go far to solve this question of small holders in the whole of Great Britain. I beg noble Lords opposite to consider this matter and see if they cannot act somewhat more liberally in regard to Scotland, and that, at any rate, if the Bill is destined to become law, they will considerably enlarge its financial provisions.
I say, then, on all these grounds I am unable to vote for this Bill so far as it relates to the Lowlands. I cannot vote for it, but, as I said at the beginning of my speech, I am going to vote for the English Bill, and I will not willingly permit a damaging comparison to be drawn between the north and south side of the Tweed. I will not vote for elected bodies south of the Tweed, and for a close Edinburgh board on the north. I will not vote south of the Tweed for responsible ownership and for dual ownership, with all its ghastly consequences, on the north. I will not vote south of the Tweed for the principle of purchase, and for the principle of hiring, meagre hiring, on the north. In a word, I will not vote for England south of the Tweed and for Ireland north of the Tweed. I will not be a party in any way, direct or indirect, to the introduction into the healthy body politic of Scotland of the poisonous bacillus of the Irish agrarian system.
My Lords, this Bill which we are asked to read a second time is in reality three Bills. It is a Bill for the establishment of a Land 998 Court and Agricultural Commission in Scotland, a Bill for the preservation of the small holdings created under the Act of 1886, and a Bill for the creation of new holdings. The whole of the proprietors, very nearly the whole of the farmers, a very large number of the crofters in the various districts, all entirely object to the first of these suggestions—the establishment of a Land Court—and I am bound to say I thoroughly agree with them. The Scottish Chamber of Agriculture has condemned the setting up of a substitute for the Board of Agriculture and the directors of the Highland Agricultural Society have stated that in their opinion the transference of part of their work from the Board of Agriculture to the Secretary for Scotland's Department would be detrimental to the interests of agriculture.
The Minister for Agriculture, who is not in his place just now, attended a meeting in Edinburgn in 1904, I think it was, and he heard from that body a resolution to the effect that—This Conference, while favouring the creation of small holdings where a demand for them exists, is of opinion that fuller information, should be obtained on the subject before legislation is introduced, and is opposed to those provisions of the Small Holders' (Scotland), Bill by which it is proposed to establish a system of dual ownership of land for Scotland.My Lords, we heard that the Minister for Agriculture very much enjoyed his journey up to Scotland, and I trust that he enjoyed the conclusion to which the Board came.
There is also fixity of tenure to the landholder, but I should like to point out that it is a very one-sided fixity of tenure, because it is binding on the landlord but terminable in any year at the option of the tenant. The landlord, if he chooses to take back the ground for any purpose which may be perfectly legitimate in itself may be debarred by the Land Court, unless he can satisfy that Court that, having relation to the good of the holding and of the estate, it is desirable he should have it, and then he can only get it back upon payment of full compensation to the tenant. Of course, it is a most one-sided bargain, as it puts the landlord in an entirely different position from what he has been accustomed to, and it gives the whole position into the hands of the tenant, who can at his option leave or 999 remain. Then, of course, the Bill strikes entirely at the system of long leases, and sales will be almost if not quite impossible. By giving fixity of tenure, and by creating these small holdings, the value of the land is very greatly decreased, and it makes it very, very difficult for anybody whose whole capital is in the land which may belong to him to release that capital for any other purpose which he may choose to use it for.
Then I come to the fair rent. It is open for the landlord as well as the tenant to apply to the Court for the adjustment of fair rent, and of course the Land Court may possibly, upon the application of the landlord, increase the rent. But supposing the tenant is not satisfied with that, he can refuse to pay the rent; he may give a year's notice, terminate his tenure, and leave the place, and in addition to that the landlord has to allow him full compensation for improvements. So that in fact the landlord is absolutely bound by the fair rent which the Court may fix, and the tenant is perfectly at liberty to go away at any time. It seems to me that that is a very hard thing for those who are in the position of a landlord.
Then we come to the law as it is at present. The landlord who has been found liable for compensation to the tenant in respect of improvements which have been made is entitled to set off against the liability his claim Against the tenant for rent. This Bill removes the right, as it gives the Agricultural Commissioners a first charge on the landholder's claim. In other words, this simply restores the old law of hypothec which was done away with in the year 1880, I think it was. Under that law the landlord had a first claim on the belongings of the tenant for any loss which might accrue to the landlord through the tenant leaving. Supposing the tenant become a bankrupt, the landlord is then in the position of having to pay, because he is a creditor, and also a debtor, to the bankrupt, so that he has to pay his own indebtedness in full and to accept, in respect of his own claim, such dividend as may remain after the first charge has been paid to the Commissioners. Surely this is absolutely contrary to the general Saw of the land, and I think it is a most extraordinarily hard case, and most 1000 certainly would require amendment. Then supposing we take five farms, or take one farm of 250 acres and divide it into five other farms of fifty acres each. It is very natural that the five farms will be far more expensive to equip than the one farm of 250 acres. You have the houses and the steadings, the roads, fences and all other requirements for farms which have to be provided, and although in theory the yield of the five farms may be greater, in practice that is not found to be the case. There is another thing to be said about that, which is that fifty acres is a most uneconomic size for a farm, and for this reason—that a farm of fifty acres must have a pair of horses to work it, and yet there is not work for the pair of horses. An economic farm is from seventy to eighty acres, according to the nature of the soil and the heaviness or lightness of the land, and there the pair of horses have their full work—they are fully employed on the land, and it can be worked in an economic fashion. But it is perfectly obvious to your Lordships that one farm of 250 acres is very much easier and very much cheaper to work than five farms of fifty acres each. Then the expenses of cultivating, of harvesting, and of marketing are naturally very much larger on the five farms than on the single farm, and it is obvious that a smallholder with fifty acres or less is quite unable to employ the labour saving machines for harvesting and so forth which are used by all large firms. So that the conclusion of the whole matter is that the larger farm is very much more economical than the small farm.
I would also point out that the rent of the land of the farm is in reality a very small item. I know myself that I have spent a fairly large sum since I succeeded in putting buildings on various farms—I have made a great number of small holdings, and what I find is that the rent I get for these farms is simply the interest upon the money which I have laid out in providing buildings and so forth, and you may take it that when the nineteen years—we may put it at nineteen years because that is the term of the lease—have expired you may look for no rent, or at any rate the rent will be very small—I should put it down at less than half-a-crown an acre. A letter 1001 appeared in the Scotsman on the 7th May, written by a Mr. James Macdonald, in which he compares the dual ownership system proposed in this Bill with the hiring system at present in general operation in Scotland as regards tenant farming. He points out that under the first-named system the occupier—that is the tenant—finds the entire capital. The landlord provides the land, and the occupier provides a portion of the equipment and finds the labour for working and stocking his holding. Under the Scottish system the landlord pays the whole of the equipment and the occupier's capital is employed in stocking and working the holding. Then he brings this out to a conclusion, and he arrives at the figures by assuming that with land of moderately good quality, rented at about £1 an acre, the price would be about twenty-five years' purchase of its rental, and that it would be used for ordinary agricultural purposes. And then under the third system of stocking and working the holding, £8 per acre would suffice. Under those circumstances he finds that the amount of capital for a twelve acre farm in the first system which I have noticed—that is the dual ownership system—would be £250, but that under the Scottish hiring system that £250 would furnish a thirty-acre farm. There you see is an enormous difference, and of course as it goes on, the amount is very much increased. For instance, £3,000 would equip, under the dual ownership system, 170 to 220 acres according to the nature of the land, and under the present Scottish hiring system it would equip 400 acres. I think that is a great point. It practically comes out that for the purpose of dual ownership a small holder would require £15 to £20 per acre, and under the present system he would only require £1 an acre. Of course we all agree that if it were possible to put the population back on the land, it would be a most excellent thing for the State to have a strong and healthy population going on the land, but I submit that if the advantage is so great, surely any loss should be borne by the State, and not by one class only of the community. It has also, I believe, been said that the scheme is calculated to increase the capital value of land by adopting a system of purchase. It this is the case, the State would get the increment; but if, on the contrary, 1002 it were to decrease the capital value, it is surely very hard that the loss incurred for the good of the State should be laid on the landlord. It seems to me that this is a very great revolution of the whole conditions under which land has been held for many years, and one which very unfairly penalises those land lords, and penalises most those very landlords who have done most to maintain and improve the condition of the land. It disturbs the rights of property, and it also is liable to transfer valuable elements of proprietorial right from one-class to another without any compensation.
There are one or two other things, which I should like to call to your Lordships' notice. One or two have already been noticed, I think, by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and also by Lord Rosebery. In the first place there is no doubt that wherever a proprietorship is existing, whether in France, in Ireland, in Canada, or in, America, the burden of debt which has been incurred in raising capital for the carrying on of the farm, or the paying off of relations and other things, has always been hanging like a millstone round the neck of the small holder. Denmark has also been alluded to, but I would like to point out that the farmers in Denmark live under entirely different conditions from those which apply to the farmers in this country. In the first place they have a protected market, while we have not, and that, I think, is a very important matter. In the second place, they have a very extensive co-operative system, excellently-worked and excellently arranged, and there is no reason that I can see why we should not have some such system in our own country. I confess I have tried to get tenants to see it in the same light, but there is a great deal of independence amongst our people in the North; each man likes to do the best he can for himself, and is jealous of any interference from his neighbour; and as far as I can make out I do not think that co-operation seems to appeal to them. What they try to do is to lot each man work for himself, and to make the best he can of his farm, and I must say they do it in a most gallant and excellent way. There are no hotter farmers and no better tenants than we have in our northern country. Then there is a third reason, and that is that in Denmark the State, before they made 1003 small holdings, honestly bought the land they wanted, and then created the small holdings on that land. If that were done, I am perfectly convinced that there is not a single person who would object to the provisions of the Bill; in fact, it is practically what was suggested by Lord Rosebery—that purchase should be introduced instead of the scheme that is before us.
In 1904, as has already been stated, Mr. Sinclair got together a Commission which he, I believe, paid for and sent out, to go into and find out about the root causes of the Danish agricultural success. The members of the Commission, I think, are rather important. They included a member of the Congested Districts Board, and also of the Crofters' Commission, as well as representatives of the Highland Agricultural Society, and the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, teachers from the Agricultural Colleges, and many practical farmers. That was the composition of the Commission which Mr. Sinclair sent out, and the result that they came to after their labours was unanimously agreed upon, and was to this effect—Combining the example of Denmark with their experience of Scottish agriculture, the Commission are clearly of opinion that without raising questions of land tenure too wide for this Report and without imputing failure to bring such holdings into existence, the credit of the State could safely be used, and the principles with which the Legislature is familiar suitably adjusted to Scottish conditions.I think that is a very strong report from the Commission which was sent out by Mr. Sinclair, who afterwards became the Minister for Scotland, and has introduced the most extraordinarily revolutionary agrarian Bill which has ever been put before this country.
In conclusion, I should like to tell your Lordships of a case which occurred to myself. There were five small holders, the largest of whom loft and went to a larger farm—I think of about sixty or seventy acres—on my own estate. The crofters went up in rotation, each into a larger holding, and finally there was one croft left of from fifteen to twenty acres—I am not quite sure about its size. The tenant who was a "grieve," amongst others, applied for this, and it was given to him at an agreed rent, and I caused this 1004 question to be asked him: "Would you like to stay here, as crofters usually do, on a year-to-year lease, or would you like to have a nineteen years lease, or what lease would you prefer?"—and the answer was: "If I could contract out of that Small Holdings Bill I would take a nineteen years or a thirty-eight years lease." He got a nineteen years lease, and there he is now perfectly happy, and I am quite convinced that the whole of crofters or small holders, of whom there are now a very large number on my estate are perfectly happy under the conditions under which they have all held the land for very many generations. I think that this Bill is a most objectionable Bill in every way. There is only one fair way to arrange this question, if it must be arranged—if it cannot be left alone—and that is by some scheme of land purchase. But I most sincerely trust that your Lordships will follow the scheme which has been so admirably put forward by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and that you will have the courage of your opinions and reject the Second Reading of this Bill.
THE MARQUESS OF HUNTLY
My Lords, the case against this Bill has been so admirably put in the able and eloquent speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, and of my noble friend Lord Rosebery, that I do not propose to follow the details of the criticisms which have been directed against it. I should like, however, to call attention to one or two points which have perhaps been rather overlooked. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of the Bill alluded very confidently to the feeling in Scotland in favour of the measure. I have no doubt he spoke for the part of Scotland in which he himself is so well known; and I, on my part, can only speak for the portion of Scotland where I also am well known. I may say decidedly that there I have taken particular pains to take the opinion of small holders, of labourers and of those interested in agriculture; and, although there is a very strong feeling in favour of small holdings, there is also a very strong feeling, and indeed a much stronger feeling, against the methods of this Bill by which it is proposed to create small holdings. I find unanimously amongst that class of men—men who have risen from being what we call "grieves," who have taken a small 1005 holding and then have gone to a bigger I farm—there is an opinion that if this system becomes the law of the land, there is no chance of a man's rising from the position of a labourer into being an affluent farmer; and there are many such instances to my certain knowledge round my part in Scotland.
The next point to which I should wish to allude is the question of the decrease in the population. I think Lord Tweedmouth put the decrease at 20 per cent. in the rural districts among those classes interested in agriculture, as compared with a very large increase in the towns in Scotland. That may be so—I do not quarrel with the figures—but I may say that in that decrease Scotland does not compare unfavourably, as the noble Earl pointed out, with other countries. There is not, in my opinion, much comfort to be got by comparing ourselves with other countries; we ought to look rather to the causes of that decrease. Many causes have been put forward for it; but, in my opinion, we have only ourselves to thank, in a great measure, for this decrease of the population of rural districts. Ever since the first Education Act was passed, oar system of education in the rural districts of Scotland has been entirely antagonistic to the teaching of the child in rural pursuits. There has certainly been a change for the batter of late years in that I direction; but, for the first twenty-five years after the Education Act came into force, the system was to encourage the child to go into other pursuits apart from agriculture; his education was directed to fitting him to be a clerk, or to follow, some industrial occupation, and the whole tendency was to encourage him in getting better and larger employment in industrial and manufacturing pursuits. Can we complain, then, that the child grew up without any knowledge of agriculture? I am glad that, as I have said, within the last two or three years a change has come about for the better. At the present time nature subjects, horticulture, botany, and other subjects of the kind are allowed to be taught in our schools; and I think that if we only encouraged the child in rural districts to learn those pursuits that are natural to a country life, we should do far more to get the next generation to come back to the land than by trying to bring back from the 1006 big towns those who have gone there from the country. That is, I am confident from having had experience in rural districts, the real system which we should employ in trying to get back our population to take an interest in the land. One warning I want to give, when we talk of small holdings. We are going to have a discussion upon another Bill, and I would point out that it is no use thinking that every small holding will be successful. If you take a man and put him down upon a small holding, and he does not understand his work, that small holding will be a failure. You cannot provide small holdings unless you first of all see that the people you are going to put upon them are qualified, experienced, and competent; if you do not do that the thing will never pay.
I should like to allude to one point which was alluded to by Lord Tweed-mouth. He rather claimed that this system was no stranger to our system in Scotland, and he alluded to the feuing system as evidence in favour of that contention. But I would point out that in the question of granting feus, where no doubt the superior remains the rent charger, the buildings are there as security for his rent, therefore the landlord under this Bill would not be in an analogous position to that of the feu superior, because he would have no security whatever for his rent.
The last point is one which affects the district of Aberdeenshire and the northern parts of Scotland more than any other part of the Bill, and that is the daring proposal to transfer from the Board of Agriculture the duties they fulfil to a separate Board of Commissioners in Scotland. If there is one experience that we know of in the north of Scotland it is that we are satisfied that the Board of Agriculture, having the sole control over our flocks and herds, are able far better than divided bodies to control such outbreaks of disease as we have experienced. If you had a divided body controlling the imported live stock, locking after disease, and other things of that kind, you would instantly return to the chaos we were in before our flocks and herds were decimated by disease. There may have been opposition originally to the methods and the work of the Board of Agriculture, but experience has taught us, and I am confident that all 1007 breeders of live stock within the United Kingdom and Ireland will agree that the system which has worked under the Board of Agriculture has been most successful, that we see the value of our flocks and herds in this country increased by the work and the provident care with which the Board watches over them, and that we dread any divided authority arising which may place in danger those flocks and herds to which we look so much for our profit.
Now, my Lords, I agree with the strictures which have been passed upon this Bill, and I do not and cannot myself see how you can possibly, by what is suggested—introducing the clauses of the English Bill—amend this measure. I am not a lawyer, and therefore I cannot say anything as to that. I would sooner myself have voted—as I shall vote if it is put to the Question—for Lord Balfour's Amendment, thus getting rid of the Bill and leaving another measure to be brought forward upon saner, and what we consider better, lines. If it can be put right—if you can amalgamate the English clauses with this Bill, and can improve it in that direction—I shall be only too pleased, but I would far sooner see it go to the wall, and I shall therefore vote for Lord Balfour's Amendment if he carries it to a division.
§ * THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
Both the noble Lords who have just spoken come from Aberdeenshire; I am sorry that my noble friends are not able to support this Bill, but, as I also hail from that quarter, I should like to be allowed to put in a word in the opposite direction. Perhaps that is sufficient excuse, if excuse is needed, on my part for intervening in the proceedings of your Lordships' House at the present time. I have another reason, or pretext, or ground for speaking, and that is that there have been several allusions made publicly in Scotland, not only to the county to which I belong, but to an estate with which I am connected, implying that the experience on that estate told against this Bill. Before further referring to this personal matter, I may in passing remark that, although a good deal has been said this evening about the absence of any inquiry preceding the introduction of this measure, it must be pretty well known, at this time of day, that there is a need for the 1008 encouragement of small holdings, and that small holdings are desirable. This is not the first time that a measure dealing with this subject has been introduced into Parliament. If I am not mistaken, in the year 1892 the Government with which my noble relative Lord Balfour of Burleigh was associated brought in a Bill with reference to small holdings. That Bill, too, was founded on the report of a Committee; and not only so, but the county councils were included in that measure as an operating authority. But, so far as regards Scotland, that Bill, I believe, has had little or no effect it has been practically inoperative. I believe that one county has been subject to some of its operations, but we have heard very little about it. That Bill, as I say, was one which followed inquiry and included the county councils. Now, after all, what were we to inquire into? No one could be doubtful about the success of small holdings under favourable conditions; and I think it may safely be said that the essential condition necessary to promote the success of small holdings, and especially the system of co-operation between the occupiers of small holdings, is security of tenure. We had an eloquent tribute from the noble Earl (Lord Rosebery) who, as usual, held the House to-night, as to the work of Sir Horace Plunkett. I am sure that we are all agreed as to that work, and I think it cannot be gainsaid that one of the leading features of Sir Horace Plunkett's work was a successful application of the system of co-operation. But I rather think that the success of the system of co-operation followed the introduction of fixity of tenure in Ireland. Again, we are told to-night that there is no demand in Scotland for a change, or for the encouragement of small holdings. My own experience does not lead me to agree with that; I think all landlords will agree that they have no difficulty in letting small holdings, and that in fact they are much more easily let than large ones. If one may be allowed to speak of one's own experience, I may say that on my own estate we have a large-number of candidates for small holdings, especially for those from about thirty-five to one hundred acres in extent, waiting in a sort of queue for an opportunity to take a small holding. The estate is one which is perhaps illustrative of the present discussion, and 1009 it has been quoted in a sense which is not borne out by the facts. My noble friend Lord Kintore, who will, I think, be here to-morrow, though he is unable to be present to-night, informed me that he had heard that upon the estate there had been a large reduction of small holdings. He presumed it was because the tenants of the small holdings could not make them pay. I at once explained to him that he was under a misapprehension. His impression was gained apparently from a statement made somewhere in the country that there had been a reduction of about a hundred small holders on one portion of this estate. That was evidently a misapprehension. That statement was not made. The gentleman who is said to have made the statement explained to me that what he had said was, that one would not need to go over many parishes in some parts of the country to find that within the last forty years as many perhaps as a hundred small holdings had disappeared. He was not speaking of the estate to which I am alluding, but of a number of estates. As to the actual condition of that particular estate, it is one which may be described as a small holding estate; there are 48,000 acres of arable land, with an average rent of about 16s. 6d. per acre. The total number of holdings is 809; and of those, no less than 540 are under sixty acres; under twenty-five acres there are 416; and under five acres there are fifty-four. The number of holdings has actually increased during the past thirty-seven years, the period during which I have been responsible for the charge of the estate, and there are now 958 holdings as compared with 935. That includes cottages with gardens. As to the disappearance of any small holdings since the year 1870, there may be about fifty which no longer exist, but this apparent reduction includes such readjustments as the combining of two small holdings or the addition of a very small holding to a medium holding. The other cause of disappearance has generally been the death of the tenant, or the absence of the tenant, without any immediate successor claiming or desiring occupancy. I have already alluded to the demand for small holdings, I and perhaps it will not be irrelevant to mention that on this estate of which I am speaking £85,000 has been spent on 1010 houses, and £80,000 on steadings, and so on. But I will not trouble the House with any further figures as to this. My point is that there is a demand there for small holdings, and I believe that the success of these holdings might be, and would be, increased by such a measure as that which is now before us.
There has been a good deal said about the "feeling" in Scotland. I could not help thinking that my noble friend on the cross benches (Lord Rosebery) was rather severe about the Edinburgh boards. He seemed to think that to be a member of a board in Edinburgh was not a very estimable thing. He knows as much about Edinburgh as any man living, and I am sure he will agree with me that his words on this subject are not to be taken too literally. I, too, am a citizen of Edinburgh—in fact I was born there—and when one thinks of the Lunacy Board, the Prisons Board, the Public Health Board, and others, it is to be hoped that members of those boards will not take to heart too much what the noble Earl said when he used the rather severe word "jobs" in connection with those institutions. At any rate, I claim that a board, whether sitting in Edinburgh or anywhere else, consisting of Scotsmen who thoroughly understand their country and are fully alive to the responsibilities of such a position as they would be placed in, are as fit to be trusted in even such delicate operations as those which they would have to perform as men in any other position of similar responsibility would be. After all, as to Scotland's feelings, we have heard a good deal before now from my noble friend about the Scottish nationality and the claim that Scotland should be treated on occasion in a different way from the rest of the country, because of the fact that she is in some ways a distinct nationality, owing to the difference in her conditions and history as compared with those of England. I will conclude by saying that it is no wonder there should be a consensus of opinion with regard to the desirability of the encouragement of small holdings, for many reasons, and especially this—that the type of person who seems to be produced by such homes as these is something that may well be described as a national asset. I am sure that any schoolmaster in Scotland would say that his most promising pupils, and those who 1011 have been the greatest successes in after life, have been those who have had the advantage of being brought up not only in a home but a homestead, amongst all the surroundings of rural life, the live stock and the various little amenities which go to make up a home of this kind and cause such homes to be so earnestly sought after. I would like to add this to what I have said, very inadequately, in support of this measure, that I most honestly, without any arrière pensée, without giving way to any of those mysterious designs of which we have heard, desire to say a word of support and hopefulness regarding it. We have heard of the evils of migration into towns. That is an evil which is common to all towns in all countries. Other countries are striving to combat that evil. The present Bill is a deliberate and a carefully thought-out proposal with that object, and I think a heavy responsibility will rest upon us if we reject it.
* LORD LOVAT
I rise to speak with some reluctance, because I do not wish to take up the time of the House if some member of His Majesty's Government is to make a statement with regard to the Highlands and its treatment under the Bill. As this does not appear to be probable, and as moreover it is a misfortune of the Highlands to be represented in another place entirely by south-country gentlemen, I think it is my duty to-night to make some reference to one or two issues with which the Highlands are intimately connected.
May I say at once there are several points in this Bill which commend themselves very favourably to me, and although I am unable to accept all the principles which underlie the Bill there is much I feel would work for the benefit of the Highlands as a whole. With the general objects of the Bill in the first place most of us can see eye to eye, the increasing of the welfare of the crofters, and the increase in the numbers of them. I am afraid I do not take the rosy view which the Secretary of State for Scotland does of the possibilities of developments of crofter settlements, but I believe that within certain limits the number of crofter holdings can be extended, and extended for the benefit of the community as a whole. The actual 1012 clauses, or main headings, which I think will commend themselves to those interested in the Highlands are the increase of the money grants and the extension of the area over which the Congested Districts Board rules. Under the Agricultural Commissioners—who practically are a glorified Congested Districts Board—we may hope for the benefits throughout the Highlands which have been given by the Congested Districts Board on the west coast. I think that anyone who has seen the work of the Congested Districts Board in improving lines of communication, opening up routes for trade, improving stock, helping fishing by experiments and markets, assistance in making new and extending existing holdings, will view with favour the possibility of similar work being done by Agricultural Commissioners in other parts of the Highlands. The extended reference of the word to include forestry is admirable, and it is there that many of us hold that the royal road to repeopling the soil lies. I would here at once ally myself with what has fallen from several noble Lords who have argued that the Agricultural Commissioners should have their work confined to work such as I have mentioned, and should not have the administrative functions of the Board of Agriculture tacked on to them as adumbrated by the Secretary for Scotland. I think all those interested in agriculture in the North as well as in the South of Scotland, wish the central Board of Agriculture in London to control the agricultural situation throughout the United Kingdom.
Then, my Lords, there are certain clauses affecting the position of existing crofters, which I for one would heartily agree with. I am certain that the provisions as to the letting of houses for summer visitors will add very much to the prosperity of crofters, and at the same time will tend to make their buildings more sanitary and more healthy than they are at present. I can speak from experience of a number of my own crofters who actually do take in summer boarders, and I can speak from first hand information as to the money that they receive, often four times their rent, and the improvement of the houses which has resulted. Then on the subject of leaseholders, that is a matter on which a great many proprietors in the Highlands voluntarily abandoned their power of 1013 veto. I do not see why this facility of getting a fair rent, which has been given by many, should not by law be given to all throughout the North of Scotland. With regard to the provisions as to applications for enlargement of holdings, I do not think that is a matter which anyone can argue that one number is fairer than another, and I personally have no obection to the substitution of the word 'one" for "five."
Now, my Lords, with these points I agree, but there are certain principles in the Bill which I do not think we can possibly accept. In the first place, there is the injustice which will be done to the occupying tenant, which I do not think has been brought out fully in either House. I am sure that if our Highland representatives were more in touch with Highland feelings, they would know that the most dominant passion among Highlanders is their desire for fixity of tenure and their love of the soil. Why should we consent to do anything which will make the tenure of every tenant in the Highlands, whether his family has been upon the ground for one tenancy or ten, open to eviction by any south country interloper? Wherein has the tenant offended that we should make his occupation of the land insecure? If there is one thing which the proprietor of ground in the Highlands values more than anything else, it is the number of generations of men who have succeeded each other on the same property. Under the Crofters Act, which is in many senses a fair Act, these men at all events had a chance of occupying their dwelling, even if a great portion of their land was taken away. Under Clause 13 of the Crofters Act, these men could retain a portion of their farm, to scale of size, which at all events would give them sufficient ground to dwell on, and cultivation of some sort or kind. Under the new Act, at the end of any lease, any tenant, whatever length of time he may have been on the soil, may be turned out. Is money a compensation for such injustice?
Then there are certain injustices to landlords, of which I do not think the Government have recognised the gravity. Under Clause 13 of the Crofters Act there was protection given to deer forests in a case where the advantage given by an enlargement of the number of holders was not in 1014 proportion to the damage done. I am aware that deer forests are a thoroughly unpopular institution, but as deer forests and sporting rents pay half the rate in many Highland parishes, it is essential to the benefit of the community that they should remain. If any other industries can be found to take the place of deer forests, which will give employment to the same number of men, which will bring capital from outside to build houses, paths, lodges and roads, then by all means lot deer forests go; but until other work is found or until the rating difficulty is got over, I think it will be found a serious menace to the whole community if the rates, which already in some parishes are 10s., 15s. and in one case 20s. 6d., should be further raised.
Now, my Lords, the difference between the views of the Government and the views I hold on the subject of land legislation lies deeper than any of these mere clauses which I have mentioned. The difference lies in this—that I hold that the land question in the Highlands, the question of repeopling the glens is, in the first place, an economic question, and, secondly, a land question. Until you have got some method by which you can give employment outside croft work to the people in these new crofts that you propose to make, you will not be able to make them economic successes. I speak with very small knowledge, but I have divided some farms among crofters, and I have been interested in the dividing by my friends of a very considerably larger amount, and I can say, having watched closely those settlements which have succeeded and those which have failed, that success has only been attained where there has been work outside the work on the croft. In the cases where division of land has taken place and there has not been either fishing, forestry, tourist traffic or similar work, the crofts have either failed to pay their way, been given up, or amalgamated once more into larger holdings. Until the economic difficulties can be got over, the hashing up the farms, the changing from £30 holdings to £50 holdings is merely a shifting from one hand to the other, without making any real advance. The noble Lord (Lord Rosebery) has referred to the narrow strips of soil which we have suitable for arable land in the Highland glens. That says, in a word, 1015 exactly what our difficulty in the Highlands is. It is not a question of the summer grazings which noble Lords see when they are in Scotland in the summer months; it is a question of those narrow strips of ground which keep the stock of the people at the time when the snow covers the hills for six months at a time. That is the limitation which we cannot get over, and cannot help by any tinkering of legislation until we can put some of the people to some work that can be done to make good, or pay for, the wintering of the stock; and any upheaval of the laws which govern sheep farms, and which interfere with the wintering of deer and other stock, unless thoroughly thought out to an end, must end in one result, and that is disaster.
My Lords, I would like to speak for one moment on the subject of the Crofters Act which has been so often mentioned here and in another place, and upon which we have heard such very various views. I cannot speak with the fullness of knowledge of my noble friend Lord Balfour, but I can speak with the experience of some years in managing an estate under this Act. I will say at once that the Crofters Act has been a success from one point of view, and really from one point of view only; and that is the form of tenure which is given to the small holder. It has given a form of tenure, whether you call it dual ownership or whether you do not, in which the landlord does still take an interest in his tenant, while the small holder, with the knowledge and the certainty that he is fixed on the soil, does further assist himself by his own action beyond the point which he would have done if he knew that at any moment his tenure might come to an end. I say at once there are clauses which would not act fairly in any other country except the Highlands, because there we have got a people who by tradition are tied down to the soil. I refer especially to the clause which gives compensation for voluntary renunciation, a clause which has done more to limit the increase of small holdings than casual observers of the crofter question are aware. It is argued here, and it has been argued in another place, that the Crofters Act has been of financial value to the crofter. That I would at once deny. The Crofters Act has really done in actual monetary gain 1016 a very small amount. What it actually has done has been this—where money has come from outside employment this money which would formerly have been put to whiskey has gone into the building of houses. To imagine that the Crofters Act where there was no employment has of itself increased the wealth of the people, is to imagine what is not true. I have heard it said very often that in the county of Inverness-shire £156,000 has been put into crofters' buildings. Let me assure you that where these crofters' buildings have been put up, in each place where you go you will see the building is actually by the side of a pier, by the side of a railway, or where new communications, shooting lodges, or tourist centres, have made more prosperity in the country. If you go to the out-of-the-way parts of Western Ross or Inverness, or to Skye, where fishing or yacht employment is not present, can anyone say that the state of the houses or condition of the people show improvement since 1886.
In conclusion, my Lords, I would like to say just one word about the way in which many of us look at this Bill. You are going to give a board great, in many ways absolute, powers; what expectation have we that the personnel of the board will be such that justice is assured? From the uncontrolled supporters, if I may use the word, of the Government, we have in speech at all events hardly had what was fair. We have read numerous speeches throughout the country on the subject of the rack renting, of the oppression, which is said to exist. Might I quote just one instance, so that you may see how fair those references to rack reuting in the Highlands are? The Crofters Commission, sitting last year, at a cost of £4,450, reduced the total rents in the Highlands of Scotland by some £3 10s. in all. Yet the Government wish to set up another Land Court on a greater scale with larger salaries than those of the Crofters Commission. If, through the rest of Scotland, the rents are reduced by such enormous reductions as you see in the Highlands, is public money likely to be profitably expended? But, my Lords, is justice in speech done by His Majesty's Ministers? We have had statements, such as that most unfortunate statement which was made by the Lord. Advocate in another place, on the subject of the Barra troubles. I do not wish to go 1017 into the question of the rights of the ease, or to discuss whether the Lord Advocate should have been more cognisant of fact—but what I do wish to do is, to ask whether it is likely to increase public confidence, or to help to settle this land question as a whole, that statements should be made which I think it must be admitted are not entirely founded on fact. It was argued by the Lord Advocate that the condition of lawlessness in Barra was primarily due to the action of Lady Gordon Cathcart, who was most unfortunate in the dealings with her tenants. Now, my Lords, I wonder whether there is any proprietor who has done what this lady has done for her people. She has divided the whole of the island of Barra amongst the crofters, she has only retained one farm, and even on that farm she gave cottars land for the growing of potatoes; she has helped in erecting buildings for the fishery people, she has advanced money for boats, and assisted in placing boys out in places on the mainland, she has given gardens and houses, she has given potato land to those who had none, and has sold land to the Congested Districts Board on fair terms whenever they have asked it. I ask if it is likely to assist in any way in the solution of the land question or to give proprietors the idea they are to be treated fairly when a member of His Majesty's Government gratuitously makes trouble between landlord and tenant in the way which has been done by the Lord Advocate.
My Lords, I would like to say, in conclusion, that if we are to arrive at a satisfactory solution of the land question, it must be faced in a way in which the landlord, tenant, and crofter classes are to work together. I think that the work of the Congested Districts Board, and the division of land which has already taken place in the Highlands will shew that so far the proprietors are alive to the necessity of a further division of land, and they would wish to help, as far as they can, in carrying out such a division where it is economically possible. But this Bill in many cases goes outside what may be considered just and fair, and I consider that unless we can have definite assurances on some of the points over which we are at issue, many of us will 1018 feel extreme difficulty in voting for the Second Reading.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I am sure, my Lords, that whatever may be the views of anyone in your Lordships' House in respect to the merits of this Bill, we shall all have but one feeling, and that a feeling of deep satisfaction that a Bill of this importance and far-reaching nature was placed in the hands of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack. It is not for me to suggest a compliment to the noble Lord, but I may say that there is no one whose ability, fairness, and straightforwardness are more recognised on both sides of your Lordships' House, and we feel perfectly certain of this in addition,—which is a great advantage to both sides of your Lordships' House—that whatever strong points there may be in any Bill those strong points are certain to be brought out by the noble and learned Lord. But, my Lords, what did he say? How did he deal with the Bill? The noble and learned Lord told us that the objects of the Bill were the creation of small holdings, and giving them security. We are all agreed upon that. We are all agreed as to the desirability of the extension of small holdings. We are all agreed as to the desirability that those holdings should be secure. The whole question at issue between us is the question of how this is to be carried out. The noble and learned Lord then passed on to tell us of the strong desire there was in Scotland for this Bill. We hear of this strong desire, but only from politicians. We hear of it from the Prime Minister, who gave, I think, the other day, as practically his only justification for the Bill, the "strong desire" there was for it in Scotland. I should like, like my noble friend, Lord Rosebery, to see this "strong desire" a little nearer the surface. It may exist, but it is not apparent. But I am not inclined at all to argue this matter upon the question of desire. I want to argue it upon the question of what is best for the country, and that is the issue which I think your Lordships will have to try during this debate. The noble and learned Lord passed on from that point to an interesting discussion on the question of the increase of the population in the towns, and the decrease of the population in the rural districts, and he drew a sad picture of the state 1019 of the overcrowded districts of Scottish towns. He pointed out to us the far greater percentage of overcrowding in Glasgow and other Scottish towns as compared with London, Liverpool, and other English towns; he made a great case as to this overcrowding, and said that the establishment of small holdings was one amongst many things that might to some extent diminish this evil. But, my Lords, the noble Lord did not show us, and did not attempt to show us, in what way this enormous evil that we have to contend against—this overcrowding of the great towns—was going to be touched, even in its very fringe, by the Bill which he lays upon your Lordships' Table. I am not going to attempt to diminish, or to decry the magnitude of the evil, but I do say that the greater the evil, the larger the figures you have to deal with, the more miserable is your attempt to cope with it by this Bill. What do you propose to do? You have thousands upon thousands overcrowding your great Scottish cities, and you propose to spend £65,000 a year to cure the evil.
§ EARL CAWDOR
The noble Lord is quite right—it is £100,000, made up of two amounts of £65,000 and £35,000.
§ EARL CAWDOR
£35,000 in addition to the £65,000 makes up the £100,000. But £35,000 of that £100,000 is allocated to the congested districts, and the other part to other purposes. But even taking the amount as £100,000, if you were able to allocate it all to the one thing, which you cannot, because £35,000 is allocated, as I have said, to the congested districts, does the noble Lord even then suggest that that is going to cure this evil? It is absolutely playing with the question for the Government to tell us that they are even touching the fringe of this great evil by the £100,000 a year which it is suggested is going to cure it. I put it to the noble and learned Lord (the Lord Chancellor) that, with all his fairness, and all his tender-heartedness in regard to the evils which I know he deprecates in these large towns, it is really trifling with these questions to 1020 suggest that under this Small Holdings (Scotland) Bill you are, by the sums allocated for the purpose, doing anything which can have the slightest effect in the world upon the overcrowding of the great Scottish towns.
The Lord Chancellor then passed on to give us a sketch of the Bill. He told us of the Agricultural Commission which is to take the place, as far as administrative duties are concerned, of the Board of Agriculture. There is very much to be said against that proposal. It has been dealt with already to-night, and I do not propose to go into the question at any length. I want to deal as shortly as I can with a few of the main principles of the Bill, and with nothing else. The noble and learned Lord spoke also of the Land Court as being set up for judicial duties. He gave us a sketch, as I say, of the Bill, but he gave us not even a sketch of justification for its provisions. He said nothing to justify the establishment of the Agricultural Commissioners; he said not a word to justify the establishment of a Land Court. His description of the Bill was admirable, and for those who had studied the Bill with care, it was a most admirable and lucid statement of its provisions. But it contained nothing in the way of justification, and if the noble and learned Lord is not able to justify the Bill, I do not know to whom we can turn on the Government side to justify it. The noble Lord said one further thing which struck me at the time, and that was that this Bill—and I think he said the Land Court—was wanted to prevent the eviction of small holders. Does the noble and learned Lord suggest that there are evictions going on to-day? He does not. Then why is this Land Court wanted? It is established for the purpose of stopping evictions which he has told us do not take place.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I ought perhaps to have said more than I did, but I wanted to open the Bill as briefly and as clearly as I could. I do not suggest that there are any evictions going on at this time, but I do say that the difference between a man who has a knowledge that he is protected by law in all the improvements that he makes in his holding, and the man who has not that protection, is generally, or very 1021 often, the difference between a prosperous and an unprosperous tenant.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I am very much obliged to the noble Lord. I did not for a moment mean to suggest that he had not made a clear and lucid statement. I accept of course his statement that he makes no charge that there are evictions going on at present. Upon that I may say that I should have thought that before any Bill was proposed for the prevention of eviction, some slight inquiry might have been made as to when evictions had last taken place. We have it that they are not taking place to-day, and therefore I should have thought that any suggestion as to the necessity for this Bill for the purpose of preventing evictions was practically done away with. Now the noble Lord says that the man who is under no fear of eviction—who cannot be evicted—is in quite a different state as to prosperity and comfort from the man who can be evicted. I deprecate very much the introduction of personal matters, but I can give your Lordships one sample which is at all events within my own knowledge. I have, on an estate of which I have full knowledge, tenants under the Crofters Act, who can at any moment, if they choose, apply to the Crofters Commission for a fixed rent. I have adjoining those, with nothing but a wire fence between them, and not always that, tenants who are not under the Crofters Act, but who have no claim, no right, no power to get a fixed rent. Those people are living side by side, and they have before the Crofters Act was passed, and since, been always treated exactly the same, and each of them is equally contented. Therefore, I say that you cannot set up, and it cannot be maintained by those who know the working of the Crofters Act, that the man who has the Crofters Act is contented, and the man who has not the Crofters Act is discontented, and feels himself insecure. I say that in answer to the noble Lords' comment in the last few words he said.
Now, my Lords, there were two points in the noble and learned Lord's speech which I am bound to say surprised me very much. The noble and learned Lord made no recognition in any shape or form, so far as I can remember, or so 1022 far as I noticed, of the present system that exists as to letting holdings in Scotland. He did not say one word about the existing system under which leasehold tenants under their landlords have lived on the same holding for generations past; and that is applicable to the very smallest holdings as well as to the very largest. Of those holdings, I think we were told by the First Lord of the Admiralty to-night, 70 per cent. in Scotland are small holdings. Therefore in all these matters of which I am speaking I am referring to 70 per cent. of small holdings, and to the balance of larger holdings. Those tenants and landlords are bound together by the ties of generations. The tenancies in many cases are as old, if not older, than the owner's claim to his property. The labourers on these estates work up from being a labourer to being a small holder; the small holder works up step by step to becoming a large farmer of his district, and this is all done by kindly friendship and kindly consideration, and further by the knowledge that the landlord has of the tenantry and labourers amongst whom he dwells. The noble and learned Lord did not refer to all this. Did he know of the state of things? If he did, is it not a little surprising that he at least should with one stroke of the pen, without one word as to the system he was sweeping away, without a syllable of commendation for the merits that that system has in the opinion of those who know it best, be it landlord, be it tenant, or be it labourer—that he was content, without one word of sympathy or one word of excuse, by the Bill which he has submitted to your Lordships' House, to sweep away the system out of the Scottish system of land tenure, and to put upon us in Scotland, if he could get his will, the dual ownership of the Irish land system? Who defends the system of dual ownership in Ireland? The noble and learned Lord does not. Who does? May it be suggested that it is the happy taxpayer whose millions are being expended year by year in order to put an end to a system which has been found to be intolerable?
The second surprising thing in the speech of the noble and learned Lord was that he made no reference whatever to the English Small Holdings Bill now under discussion in another place. So far as the noble and learned 1023 Lord's speech was concerned, no one would have gathered that such a Bill was in existence. We might have thought that we were simply dealing with this particular Bill, and that there was nothing else to be discussed. I hope your Lordships will insist upon this at least—that whatever part or parcel of the Government's land legislation we deal with this Session, we shall know it all and consider it as a whole. So far England and Scotland, as far as small holdings are concerned, have been dealt with under the same Acts. The last Small Holdings Act incorporated Scotland. Scotland and England up to this date stand side by side with regard to the powers of their local authorities in dealing with small holdings. That is to come to an end. But it was so insignificant a matter—a matter so trivial—that it was not worth the notice of the Lord Chancellor in introducing the Scottish Bill to the notice of your Lordships' House. In England the Government have determined to recognise local authorities, and to give them extended powers as to small holdings. May I ask whether anyone on the Government side, during any part of this debate, is going to enlighten us as to why local authorities in England are to be given these powers and to be trusted—I grant under the Government's English Bill only to a certain extent, but still, are to be recognised, and to be the medium of carrying out the extensions of the Small Holdings Acts as they now exist, while in Scotland nothing is to be done through the local authorities? The whole plan of legislation as to small holdings is to be blocked off here as far as Scotland is concerned. We are to be favoured with a Land Act with dual ownership and many other blessings in disguise, but our local authorities in Scotland are apparently unfit to carry out the small holdings system which is applicable to England and which local authorities in England are supposed to be absolutely capable of carrying out. I only ask as a matter of courtesy whether any member of His Majesty's Government in the course of this debate will enlighten us as to the reasons for this somewhat grave and important divergence.
We have had a great deal made of the overcrowding difficulty. No one mini- 1024 mises its gravity; but the difficulty is not peculiar to Scotland. It may be greater in Scotland than it is in England, but it exists in both countries, and if you can get rid of the overcrowding difficulty in England through the English system that is proposed and through the local authority, why should you cast aside your local authorities in Scotland and say that you cannot possibly deal with the difficulties of overcrowding unless you set up a Land Court and adopt the Irish land system? I would suggest to your Lordships that what is reasonable in the amendment of the law as to small holdings in England should be equally applicable to Scotland. I suggest to your Lordships that what there is in the Scottish Bill that is reasonable in so far as the crofting parts of Scotland are concerned it is desirable that we should retain and carry into effect this session. What there is in the Scottish Bill that has in it the taint of Irish legislation I suggest to your Lordships that we should absolutely reject. If the Bill that is now before your Lordships' House is rejected you will not get the amendment of the law that you think reasonable for Scotland as well as for England embodied in the Bill. You will lose the whole of that if you reject this Bill, because, as your Lordships are well aware, Scotland is not included in the English Bill. Again, if you reject the Bill you will lose any opportunity of amending the Crofters Acts in the way in which many of us in this House think they might reasonably be amended. Therefore I make this appeal to my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I would suggest to him that he should allow the Bill to be read a second time. I am glad the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon) is satisfied with that. Would he kindly now allow me to complete my sentence? The noble Marquess seems very much amused. Perhaps he will with ordinary courtesy let me at all events explain exactly the grounds upon which I make that suggestion.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON
I am very sorry if I have done anything which is not agreeable to the noble Lord. I was certainly rather amused at what appeared to me to be the sudden change of opinion. I had not the slightest intention of being disrespectful to the noble Lord.
§ EARL CAWDOR
I am only too glad to have afforded the noble Marquess the slightest amusement, but he laughed considerably when I suggested that we might allow the Bill to be read a second time. Of course, I quite accept the noble Marquess' explanation, and I am sure he will not think that I intended in any way to be discourteous to him. I will now pass on to explain why I make the suggestion which I have made to Lord Balfour of Burleigh. I thought I had already foreshadowed the reasons which induced me to come to that conclusion. I suggest to Lord Balfour of Burleigh that he should allow the Bill to be read a second time on the distinct understanding that we shall be entitled to consider the Government Bills as affecting land as a whole. I suggest that we should enact for Scotland the amended provisions—that is when we have amended the Bill in your Lordships' House or when we have seen the Bill amended in another place—that we should enact for Scotland reasonable amendments such as have been defined by previous speakers in regard to the crofting districts of Scotland, and that we should lastly—and certainly not least—absolutely decline to extend to Scotland the Irish land legislation and the Irish land system as is proposed under the Government Bill—a system which has cost, not alone the country, but I think Ireland itself, very dearly indeed.
§ * LORD CLINTON
I think the noble Lord has expressed the opinion of the House in suggesting that we should consider any proper scheme for the creation and extension of small holdings in Scotland. He has expressed what several noble Lords have stated very fully—that we all object very strongly to the method which His Majesty's Government propose in this Bill. We object to the multiplication and complication of all the machinery provided by this Bill. We object to the setting up of new, unnecessary and expensive bodies of officials everywhere. We claim that popularly-elected bodies in Scotland have every bit as much right to be trusted in regard to the creation of small holdings as similar bodies in England. But above all we object to the setting up of the Land Court in Scotland, and to the extension of the Crofters Act of 1886 to the Lowlands. That Act, as your Lordships are well aware, was an exceptional piece of legislation applied to an exceptional state of 1026 affairs—to meet agitation and to put an end to disturbance in a particular part of Scotland which differed very widely from the rest. It was for the purpose of mitigating undoubted grievances which were felt by the Highland crofters. The grievance which they chiefly complained of was that, while they claimed an hereditary right sanctioned by long usage, to the ground which they cultivated and to the grazings which they held in common, and while they claimed an actual right to all their buildings and improvements, yet they remained only tenants at will, sitting under a tenure which was legally precarious, and liable to be turned out at any time at the whim of a capricious proprietor. Their claims, I think, were fully met under the Act of 1886, but it is now proposed to apply the same legislation throughout Scotland—to that part of Scotland where no grievance of the kind exists whatsoever, where there is no agitation, where there is no disturbance, and where no claim at all is put forward by small holders for any ownership. It is proposed to apply this legislation to all farms under £50 annual value throughout the Lowlands. I submit that in that part of Scotland which I at all events know well, the north-east of Aberdeenshire, the small holders are in an absolutely different condition from what they are in the west. They are not congested districts in any way, and I am certain that the people who occupy the holdings have no wish whatever to be crofters. Their tenure is a perfectly sound one. They sit most of them on nineteeen years' leases; they have the full security which that lease gives them; they have the additional security amounting almost to fixity of tenure granted them by the Act of last year, and they have the full right of compensation for all their improvements under the Act of 1883, and subsequent measures. They are under absolutely the same terms and conditions as to cultivation and everything else, sitting, indeed, under exactly the same form of lease as their larger brethren, the difference being absolutely only one of size. They make no claim to any sort of hereditary right whether sanctioned by long usage or not. Although many of our small holders in that part of the country have occupied perhaps two or more nineteen- 1027 year leases, yet the bulk of those in small holdings are farm servants who have saved a little money during their term of service, and have taken a croft, when they have been able to get one, solely as a stepping stone to better things, and in the course of time rising up until they become occupiers of larger holdings. In fact I think they move about quite as much, if not more, out of small holdings than out of larger farms. It is argued, and has constantly been argued, that this Crofters Act ought to be applied to the whole of Scotland because it has been so great a success in the crofters districts. I believe the Act has been a success. The noble Lord (Lord Lovat), who is so thoroughly acquainted with the crofting districts, has given it a certificate of high character in many respects, and it certainly has accomplished some of the objects for which it was brought in. It has stopped agitation, it has put an end to disturbance, and it has given the fixity of tenure which was so earnestly desired. But all these things were peculiar to a particular part of Scotland, and they are not to be found in the Lowland districts. And it is after satisfying those peculiar districts that the success of the Act stops. The noble and learned Lord who introduced this measure in a speech, the greater part of which I think will find agreement from this side of the House, drew a most harrowing and pathetic picture of the crowding up of families in towns. It is a picture which will draw the sympathy of every Member of your Lordships' House; but that condition of things is not confined to the great towns of Scotland or of Great Britain, I think it will be found in every part of the civilised world. I think it was also suggested that an extension of the Crofters Act would remedy this evil, and indeed the whole of our present smallholding legislation—is put forward for the express purpose of preventing the depopulation of the rural districts. But has the Crofters Act prevented in any way that depopulation where it has been in existence? Some very interesting evidence was put before Lord Onslow's Committee on Small Holdings on this point; it was given by the greatest authority on this question, Mr. Mackenzie, the Secretary to the Land Commission. He stated very plainly that the position of a croft under the Crofters Act stereotyped the crofter in that holding; 1028 it apparently smothered his ambition. When once he had improved his croft as far as he could, there was nothing left for him to do. He was afraid of moving away from the croft to a larger place for fear of losing the benefit of the improvements he had made, with the result that, though he himself would remain in that district, his family, his sons and daughters, being tired of the narrow sphere, cribbed up in that small place, migrated constantly, most of them to the larger towns, and many going to the Colonies, where they could find a freer state of things. I should like to call your Lordships' attention particularly to two questions which were put to Mr. Mackenzie on this subject, in answering which he states the matter exceedingly clearly. I do not think it will be suggested that we could get better evidence upon this point than from the Secretary of the Land Commission. In the Minutes of the Evidence before Lord Onslow's Committee a question (No. 4490) was asked of Mr. Mackenzie—You cannot say that the crofter system has altogether stemmed the migration from the country into the towns?and his reply was—No, it has not.Further, a few question later, he was asked—Is there any other point which you wish to mention?and his reply was—With regard to the number of inhabitants, I may mention that the population has been going down. Statistics show that this decline in the population has been quite as large since the passing of the Crofter Act as before.If the Crofters Act has not succeeded in preventing depopulation, what is the excuse for applying it to the Lowlands of Scotland? There is no demand for it in the Lowlands, in spite of some assertions to the contrary. Certainly those who have lived in other parts of the country are not aware of any such demand. The whole of the evidence we have is against the Bill. The Chamber of Agriculture and most of the farmers' clubs have raised their voices against it. A petition was recently presented by the Duke of Richmond from the north-east of Scotland showing that a very large number of farmers, labourers, and others are against the Bill. Of the total signatures against the Bill, 852 were 1029 crofters, and 1,095 were farm servants, all of whom keenly protested against the measure. I submit that if this Bill was a Bill which would prevent depopulation, the evidence would have been exactly in the contrary direction: instead of our being able to say there is no demand for it in Scotland, I have no doubt whatever that if people in Scotland believed that any success would attend this measure, they would be clamouring at the doors of your Lordships' House for the passage of the Bill. We thoroughly believe in the value of small holdings, and not only in those favoured districts which are suitable from their soil, climate, or position, as regards means of railway communication, and otherwise—not only in districts suitable for those reasons for the special culture of vegetables and fruit, but also in the less favoured districts which are purely agricultural; we know that there also they can be a success, provided the occupants are given in addition some subsidiary occupation. In the north-east of Aberdeenshire, we have a very large number of them; they do exceedingly well, many of them make money, many of them are able to take larger farms, and they do well because they have there a very considerable amount of employment in connection with quarries, fisheries, part of the year in peat-mosses, and ordinary work of the estates in connection with game, and so on. All these various forms of employment have enabled these people to make money; and it seems to me the most unfortunate thing that His Majesty's Government should not recognise that so many of our local rural industries have been squeezed out of existence by economic forces, partly due to legislation, and should not endeavour, along with a scheme of small holdings, to bring in an alteration of this kind. I believe that almost every State of Europe does something of the kind, except ourselves; and that in almost every State you will find a system of State forestry which employs almost the whole of its rough labour from among the cottagers, with a small amount of land, living in and round the forests. That that has been successful your Lordships can see from any statistics upon the subject; it would be an advantage to small holders, and it would be of the greatest possible advantage to the State. 1030 I believe this matter has been pressed upon the attention of every Government for the last twenty or thirty years; and there is reason to regret that some action in the matter has not been taken. In this north-eastern country I say we have a very large number of small holdings; we have kept those holdings going and we have re-built them at very great expense to ourselves, because we believe they are of great importance to the State and to the district. Certainly there has not been a commercially profitable return on the investment, or it has been very, very small; but every single one of those will, at the passing of this Bill, be taken out of the hands of the landlord and put into the hands of the Land Court. The tenant understands fully the disadvantages which this Bill, the extension of the Crofters Act, will bring him; he understands that at present, sitting under an ordinary landlord, he has his buildings kept in repair and renewed when required; he understands that when this Act is extended to the Lowlands of Scotland these will be paid for by himself. It is of the greatest advantage to a thriving young farm servant who wants to take a holding at the present moment that he may take it when he has saved a small amount, sufficient to stock the place. If the Act is extended to the Lowlands of Scotland, he will not be able to take it without having saved a sufficient sum of money to keep his buildings in order. Now, if anything, the extension of the Act must add very considerably to the difficulties of management; it must tend to lessen the amenities of our estates. None of us like to see bad buildings on the estates. It is quite certain that once these buildings get into the hands of poor crofters who have little or nothing beyond the stocking of their places, they will gradually fall into a state that we shall not like to see; this will lessen the capital value of the estates, and make them more difficult to sell. People do not buy estates now so much for investment as because of the amenities and the advantages which they bestow; and the amenities and advantages of these estates will be very largely reduced if this Bill is passed.
My Lords, it seems to me that we who have spent a large amount of money and 1031 have done our best to keep up small holdings on our estates, are to be punished and penalised in this way, that we are to be put into a very much worse position than the owners of estates who have not kept up any small holdings at all; and that, because we have adopted in the past a policy which has only been recently taken up by His Majesty's Government, we are to suffer the hardships of this Bill. It is difficult to know why we should be punished and penalised in this way. Can His Majesty's Government say that a landowner is now well advised to divide up his farms into small holdings with the certainty that before long those small holdings will be taken out of his control, and that his estate will be reduced in value? Is that likely to encourage the creation of small holdings? And in reference to the Bill which the Minister for Agriculture is bringing in for England, will it improve his chance of getting land-owners to give their land voluntarily by agreement if the Government pass this Bill? Is it likely that they will stop there? Is it not more probable that they will apply the same principles to England? It is very easy indeed to draw a distinction between the crofting districts and the Lowland districts of Scotland, but it is by no means so easy to draw a distinction between the Lowlands of Scotland and England, and it appears to me to be almost certain that as time goes on, if this extension of the Crofters Act is permitted as regards the Lowlands of Scotland, it will also be brought into England. I believe that extreme measures of this kind will make the voluntary creation of small holdings an exceedingly greater difficulty in future, but if the Government would bring in a well-considered measure for small holdings in Scotland, I do not believe that they would have the least difficulty in passing it. I do not think that we could possibly accept a measure of this kind, which offends against our primary ideas of what is just and right, which is a hardship upon all classes connected with agriculture, and which must fail in the object for which it is nominally introduced.
My Lords, the arguments against the Bill have been so ably and eloquently expressed that it is with great diffidence that I offer any 1032 remark at all on its general principles, but I do so because I believe it to be an ill-advised and unwise measure, and contrary to the wishes of a great number of the people of Scotland. If it were likely that this Bill would be of substantial value to any large section of the community, if it were going to prove a remedy for the admitted evil of rural depopulation, I suppose there is not one of your Lordships who would be unwilling that some such measure should pass into law; but the root of that evil lies very deep and is not to be cured by such a remedy as this. The chief result of this Bill will be to disturb the relations between landlord and tenant and labourer, and failure to achieve its object.
When a Bill like this is introduced, which introduces a new principle as far as the south of Scotland is concerned and is to be applied to the whole of Scotland, regardless of the different conditions that obtain in different parts of that country, there should be ample evidence to show that there is a great demand for these holdings which cannot be satisfied on reasonable terms. Unfortunately there is only too much land to be had in many parts of Scotland at a very low price indeed, and it would have been far better if the fair and straightforward method had been adopted for some small experimental measures of purchase outright. But the Bill does not permit this, and instead we have the system of compulsory hire at an arbitrarily fixed rent. I say no word against the principle of such holdings—it is highly desirable that it should be extended and facilities granted when it can be done on reasonable terms and with reasonable chances of success—but I think there is often a disposition to regard the acquisition of land as an end in itself and not as a means of making a profit to its holder. Taking into consideration the condition under which the industry of farming is carried out in this country, when under the most favourable circumstances it is difficult to make more than a small profit, it is a fair assumption that if you put upon the land a large number of such holders, many of whom will have little or no experience of their task, and be further handicapped by lack of capital and having to pay interest on loans for the erection of new buildings and so forth, many of them will make a failure of it, and there is little doubt 1033 where the result of that failure will rest in the end. We were engaged last year in passing a Bill to provide security of tenure to tenants. I do not know what will become now of that security when a tenant is liable to be deprived of perhaps the best part of his farm at any time, or what is to happen to the labourer displaced by the action of the Commissioners to be appointed. I do not doubt for an instant that these gentlemen will perform with justice and moderation the duties allotted to them, but I maintain that on principle it is highly undesirable that such autocratic and arbitrary powers should be conferred on them at all. When land is taken by the State compulsorily for any purpose, that operation should be hedged round with the most careful safeguards and restrictions, and adequate compensation paid to every person from whom the land is taken, and for any loss that is incurred in the taking. I do not know, my Lords, what would be said if it was proposed to take land for a railway company, for instance, under such conditions as obtain in this Bill.
I submit that of all the industries in this country, that of agriculture least deserves to be made the subject of rash experiment and hasty legislation. We hear much of unearned increment and land monopoly. We hear little on the other side of the vast amount of capital spent on making the land fit for cultivation, of the vast amount spent on improvement, of the large sums required; and rightly required, to be spent on providing decent housing accommodation and decent conditions of living for the labourer. Lastly, I think that it should occasionally be remembered that the great benefits accruing to the people of this country from the fact that they are enabled to buy their food in the cheapest market means that the land has to maintain a constant struggle for existence under stress of the severest competition. My Lords, I submit that this great industry should receive that consideration and fair treatment without which no industry can prosper. If it is to be subjected to hasty and ill-advised legislation there is this danger, that the capital which is invested in the land may take fright, and if that should happen you would have mortgages called in on a large scale, heavy and serious loss to thousands and complete ruin to many. 1034 I maintain that for these reasons, my Lords, this is a mischievous and ill-advised Bill, and I propose, therefore, to support the noble Lord's (Lord Balfour) Amendment.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
It was my intention to have proposed that the House should give this Bill precedence tomorrow, but after the very extraordinary remark made just now by the noble Earl (Earl Cawdor), I have been a little doubtful what course to take. However, I believe it would be most for the convenience of your Lordships if the Bill were to have precedence, and under the circumstances I will make this Motion Of coure any discussion of the Bill tomorrow, after what we have been told by the noble Lord, must be of a purely academic character. I beg to move, "That the Small Landholders (Scotland) Bill have precedence of other Bills to-morrow."
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not quite sure what the noble Lord meant by the intimation at the end of his observations. Of course we entirely agree that this Bill should have precedence to-morrow, but when the noble Marquess went on to say that this discussion is of an academic character, I think noble Lords—at all events, those sitting on this side of the House—will not be inclined to agree with him. I should have thought that after what has passed this evening the noble Marquess and the Government would have realised that this discussion is of anything but an academic character, and is intended to bear very abundant fruit.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
I want to say a word as regards order. I do not in the least understand what it is in Lord Cawdor's statement which makes the debate academic. I want to know exactly where we stand. I daresay the noble Marquess has some meaning present in his mind which is not present to mine.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
I am quite as much in the dark as is my noble friend who has just spoken. I want to know where we stand. I want to know the meaning of the statement that has 1035 been made by the noble Earl Lord Cawdor. I suppose we shall know in the course of discussion to-morrow. But it appears to me that we shall be engaged in the discussion of a Bill which the noble Lords opposite are going to turn entirely inside out, and to substitute for part of it a perfectly new Bill.
§ Debate adjourned till to-morrow, and to be taken first.
§ House adjourned at twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.