§ Debate on the Amendment proposed by the Lord Balfour to the Motion for 1203 the Second Reading, viz., "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, "resumed (according to order).
* THE EARL OF KINTORE
My Lords, knowing my limitations, I am always in substantial agreement with the saying of a witty man that very often a man's most brilliant flashes are his flashes of silence. Therefore it has always been my endeavour never unnecessarily to occupy your Lordships' time. On that ground alone I feel that I may count upon your Lordships' good nature if I now venture to address the House upon this Bill. But, my Lords, I have another ground. Last night, I think, Lord Rosebery opened his speech—a magnificent and a memorable one—by the remark that so far as his individual interests under the Bill were concerned, the utmost that the proposed Land Court, even in its most feverish and energetic mood, could do would be to play with a sum of £12. The noble Earl is a much more fortunate man than I, for one, am. I am one who is seriously affected by this Bill. I remember that a fortnight ago another Scottish Bill—only a private Bill—was before this House when, for very sufficient and adequate reasons, any discussion on the merits was barred. But the Bill before us tonight is not a private Bill. It is a Bill of far-reaching and first-class character, promoted by the Government, referring to Scotland. Even poor old Ireland to-night has a temporary rest, and it is the merits of this Bill for Scotland which it is our business and our duty to discuss. By-the-bye, my Lords, I am not quite sure that the phrase I used, "the merits," even though used in a Parliamentary sense, is an entirely happy one in regard to this Bill. For I imagine that the average Scotsman reading it would be apt to say that before you can discuss its merits you 1204 have to discover them, and that, as I think the debate of last night conclusively showed, would be an enterprise which even with the able help of the Lord Chancellor, would prove unprofitable and fruitless. For in truth, so far as I know, no Bill for Scotland containing more unjust and more amazing provisions has ever been thrown at this House—provisions unjust to the ratepayers and not only ruinous directly and indirectly to many-landowners—that is an object always dear to the heart of this Government—but also, I am afraid, likely to prove more of a bane than a boon to the very class which this Bill professes to benefit. The debate on the proposals of the Bill in another place, I need hardly add, were at once choked and closured in the House of their origin. For any parallel to the proposals of this Bill we have, I think, to turn to Ireland, and surely the state of that country—the condition of its landowners and tenants alike—is not such as to offer inducements to any of your Lordships interested in Scotland to acquiesce sub silentio in this legislation.
Turning to the Bill, your Lordships will find that we, first of all, have clauses amending the Crofters Act—an Act which now only applies to the crofting parishes in certain counties in Scotland—and then applying that Act to the rest of the country. My Lords, of the working of the Crofters Act I will not presume to speak—I have not first-hand knowledge—but those who know—and it has been mentioned by some of them in this House—agree that it has worked well during the twenty years it has been in operation. I accept that statement unreservedly, but I ask your Lordships, is that any reason whatever for applying the provisions of that Act to the remaining and enormously larger part of Scotland, where every agricultural condition, the relations between landlord and tenant, the habits and characteristics of the people themselves, are totally different from those in the northern and western Highlands? The Secretary for Scotland is not, I think, a Scottish landowner himself, but at least he knows that on the vast majority of holdings throughout the whole length and breadth of that country the dwelling-house and the steadings are built by the landlord, and the draining and the fencing are executed 1205 by him as well. His expenditure—and it has been very great—has been indiscriminately applied to holdings both large and small, and tenants move quite freely between one farm and another. True, there are, of course, certain cases of improving leases where the tenant has put up his own house, but that fact has always been taken into consideration in fixing the rent, and as a matter of fact the landlord is constantly repairing or replacing those buildings. Gratuitously to seek to alter the system which has given to Scottish agriculture the great reputation which it enjoys, by applying the Crofters Act to districts quite unsuited to it, seems to me to be too inept, and too bad a policy for language to describe. Remember that in my part of the country at least—and I think what I am going to say applies to all Scotland—there is no hostility to small holdings as such, and any statement to the contrary, whether made in or out of Parliament, is really nonsense. Let me, as proof, adduce figures taken from the last Return—that of 1906—as regards Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, and the small county of Kincardineshire. Aberdeenshire then had 6, 956; Banffshire 2, 502; and Kincardineshire 868. Those figures do not appear to me to indicate anything like hostility to small holdings. I have a considerable number myself; and, of course, one always strives to do what one can for the well-being of the tenants. If there be an exception—and personally I have heard of only one—where complaint has been made that the number of small holdings on any estate has been sensibly reduced, that exception is an estate which the Secretary for Scotland and my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty know well, the estate of a noble friend and neighbour of mine in Aberdeenshire, a Member of this House and a distinguished member of His Majesty's Government, who spoke last night. I see that at a meeting of East Aberdeenshire Radicals held in that constituency last month, where they were merry-making over the prospective plunder to come from this Bill, a tenant of that noble Lord stated, as an instance of the necessity for the Bill, that in his district of Methlick at least 100 small holders have been done away with in years past. Curiously enough not even East Aberdeenshire Radicals are infallible, and that 1206 statement of this man may be an exaggeration; but, even it were true, no doubt the reason was that in face of foreign competition and low prices these holdings could not make a living, far less return a profit to their occupants.
The Secretary for Scotland says that the Bill is one of the whole Cabinet, collectively and individually. My noble friend opposite, the First Lord (Lord Tweed-mouth) speaking upon the Bill last night, damned it, as it seemed to me, by an apologetic speech of faint praise. Then, I should like to hear what my noble friend the Secretary for the Colonies has to say. Will he tell us in how far he considers this Bill suitable for the broad acres of Fife? And then there is another noble Lord, now a Scottish proprietor, who is not, I am afraid, present at the moment, who adorns the Front Government Bench. He, it is true, greatly to his disappointment and surprise, and to that of his friends and admirers, has not yet obtained Cabinet rank, but I think he is bound very soon to do so, representing, as he does, the War Office, and having, by his recent conduct of a first-class measure through this House, obviously added greatly to the many other obligations under which he has laid His Majesty's Government. Although his explanations were not characterised by that clearness of exposition which some of us so badly needed, they were, I think, marked by a very proper sense of personal pride in his work and in its value. If he chooses to express his views—if he has any which he wishes to express—I am sure the House will be delighted to hear them. Your Lordships are able to judge what weight to give to statements by Ministers upon the Bill; but, after all, it is not so much what they think of the Bill—or rather, what they say of the Bill—as the Bill itself with which we are concerned.
Going back, then, to the Bill, I want to ask, how are our small holdings to be dealt with? In the first place, the tenants are to be dubbed "crofters," who are not in any sense crofters; fixity of tenure is given to all tenants under fifty acres or paying less than £50; and the Bill sets up a highly salaried Land Court with a staff, unlimited either as to number or remuneration, to cut down rentals and to fix them, as cut, so 1207 that the landlord is deprived absolutely of all management of his estates; the capital he has laid out is, in effect, wiped out; and the major part of the owner's rights are transferred to the tenant without one shilling of compensation. What is to be the result of placing us so undeservedly in this position of helplessness? Here is one illustration of it. I have a little farm of some 40 acres in extent, of which the present rent is £35; it has been in the occupation of the same family for two generations; the tenant's lease has expired; his buildings, which consist of the usual dwelling house and steadings, require renewing, if he is to have a new lease. He and his mother live there now, and they are hardworking and satisfactory tenants. He was most anxious to enter into a new agreement with me. The cost of the necessary buildings will be about £600, £250 for the house and say £350 for the rest; and all that would be lost to me, as I understand it, under this Bill. So that this deserving man had to be refused a renewed agreement, and his land must be otherwise disposed of. He went away from the estate office saying, "What is to become of the small folk if you won't give us buildings V Rights of property till now have demanded, and have secured, voluntary action on the part of the landlord. So far from encouraging that voluntary action, this Bill takes away all such rights, and is going to inflict injuries on the owners far greater than any benefit which it will confer upon the tenants—one of the chief advantages, perhaps, of the Bill in the eyes of the present Government. I have said that fixity of tenure is to be given. What does that involve? Fixity of tenure does away with the landlord's rights to dispose of his property as he thinks best—that seems clear. Having let his land on certain agreed terms Parliament steps in and alters the bargain to one under quite new conditions—conditions binding throughout on the landlord, but terminable in any one year by the tenant. An owner wishing to appropriate a small holding must, first of all, satisfy the Land Court. I grant that the advantage of fixity of tenure to a good tenant is obvious; but who would be so foolish as to attempt to disturb one? A landlord is only too glad to have him; so that the good tenant does, in practice, have fixity of tenure. But it would be, 1208 I think, clearly absurd that we should be compelled to retain those bad tenants who, while keeping within the four corners of the law, violate the spirit of every condition under which they hold. The same sort of criticism applies to fair rent. Perhaps we shall be told that fair rent cuts both ways and affects both parties, and that the rent may be possibly, on occasion, raised. But in that most improbable event, all the tenant has to do is to give a year's notice, and then the landlord is bound to pay for all improvements: in other words, the landlord is obliged to accept the rent as fixed, but the tenant need not continue to pay it; and it is to be remembered that "fair rent" here means rent for the purpose of Scottish small agricultural holdings; and that for improvements for which the landlord has to pay no prior consent on his part is in future to be necessary. Who can deny that a form of tenure which confers on the landholder the right of perpetual occupation at a judicially fixed fair rent, the right of erecting buildings which are at his own disposal and under his own control during his tenancy, and the value of which he is entitled to recover from the landlord on leaving, exhibits all the essential characteristics of dual ownership, a system which has proved disastrous in Ireland and which has been emphatically condemned by Lord Onslow's Committee on Small Holdings, and of which that Committee reported as follows—Experience has proved that a system of dual ownership of land is one which, under ordinary economic conditions, cannot be permanent and which, while it lasts, is fatal to the proper maintenance of holdings, to harmony between landlord and tenant, and to the prosperity of agriculture.Of course this must be so, though these considered opinions seem to go for nothing with this Government. Dual ownership is bound to prove a fatal policy from the point of agricultural prosperity and progress. Fixity of tenure is of little value to a good tenant; but it places the dishonest tenant in a position of advantage, while depriving the landlord of all substantial security for up-keep of buildings, seeing that it deprives him both of the power of resumption and of the right to choose his tenant. The tenant may quit at any time on a year's notice, and may leave his holdings in such a disgraceful state and so injured by neglect that it 1209 represents to the landlord a far greater loss than any sum which he might recover in damages would be any compensation for.
Then, my Lords, what is to happen if the small holder fails? There will be, I fear, plenty of instances of this. Why, the owner is to be stopped from re-letting, except to a new small holder or for the enlargement of an existing holding; and, if he fails to do this, so far as I know, the land will lie waste. Nothing in the Bill will, I think, help to depreciate landed property and to alarm lenders without benefiting a single human soul more than the clauses relating to the provision of new and the enlargement of existing holdings. The provisions for compensation for loss of letting value and loss of land, on which, I think, the Lord Chancellor relies, are really valueless, because payments are to be in the discretion of the Land Court; and there is no firm guarantee whatever, as the funds at present available are obviously absurdly inadequate. Your Lordships will observe that no power of compulsory purchase is taken, but that for both old and new holdings a system called "compulsory" hiring is established, a system which I do not think I shall be stretching language too far if I describe as a Cleveland, as I think, none too honest system of taking property without paying the price. As Lord Balfour said last night, you deprive the owner of his rights and leave him all the risks; you transfer many of those rights to the tenant, and you relieve him of responsibility. And finally, realising, I suspect, that this scheme may after all prove a failure, you so devise it that future liabilities are not to fall upon you, or upon the State, but upon owners who are to be robbed and despoiled beforehand. Am I wrong? Then, why not compulsory purchase? That, on cause shown, we should all agree to. To say, as a Radical evening paper did the other day, that—Peer after Peer, speaking of compulsory purchase, even when most carefully guarded and limited, speaks of it as an invasion of his private rights, as spoliation, confiscation, and highway robberyis simply unadulterated rubbish. For such objects as railway construction, municipal administration, and so on compulsory purchase must exist, and is often largely required. Yes, but not "compulsory hiring," with no firm guarantee of rent.
1210 My Lords, this precious scheme is devised, I understand, to check rural depopulation. Certainly the Secretary for Scotland is obsessed with a grand ideal. Glowing pictures are drawn of crowds of ne'er-do-weels unemployed in the towns attaining at last their ardent desire for a plot of land of their own. Well, give a man a plot, and what is his first step? He has to build and equip, either with his own money or with borrowed money from the Land Court. How far will the public money go? The public money at present is about sufficient, at £600 per holding, for 100 holdings, or an average per county of four—four little miseries, dotted about the county! I fear it is useless to point out to this Government that, when all is said and done, the practical benefits to accrue will be out of all proportion to the injuries to be inflicted. No doubt it is an advantage to a small holder to be given what he now has not got, to receive money's worth which belongs to another, and to become the occupant of another man's property on a very reduced scale of rent for an unlimited time, and with opportunties in the meantime of taking all he can out of the soil and then throwing up the holding. But are those the sort of benefits which Parliament should encourage by legislation? In my part of Scotland I am clear that the only benefit a small holder is likely to derive from this Bill is a chance of further reductions of rent. But a reduction from the present moderate rents will be dearly bought when the time comes for renewing his buildings, clearing his barns, doing drainage, and all the other things which the landlord now does for him. Inferior buildings, too, are sure to result.
But the great question—I had almost called it the root question, but I forbear—in this case is, can small holdings pay? On this I should like to quote one of the greatest authorities on Scottish agriculture, a man whose name is a household word there—I mean Dr. Gillespie—but Lord Balfour last night quoted figures so very similar that perhaps he was speaking of the same instance. Dr. Gillespie takes a case of a holding of 48 acres at 15s. per acre, on which footing the tenant would have to pay in rent £36. He would then borrow £600 for equipment and buildings, which would cost him in interest £21, or a total of £57 in annual payment. 1211 That works out at the rate of £1 3s. 9d. per acre. And then, supposing the tenent is able by diligence to make a living with a rent of 15s., Dr. Gillespie asks what chance he would have of doing so with a rent of £1 3s. 9d. besides upkeep. You have also to remember that horse-keep is a much greater item on a small farm than on a large one, and also that no labour-saving appliances are possible to the small holder. There is another result which the passing of this Bill would ensure—a result I regret very-much—and that is, that I fear the landlords will cease to make any outlays on any of these holdings themselves. Why should they? They become mere rent-chargers at such rents as the Land Court fixes—rents fixed, if Ireland's example is to be followed, on no set principle, but without chart or compass. Will the probable reduction of rent mean more to those men than the loss of all the landlords' outlay?
I want to ask one question as to how the Bill affects agricultural labourers and large farmers. Except for the four small holdings per county, labourers without capital must remain outside the Bill. To whatever extent new small holdings are set up, ploughmen will be turned off the farm whence these small holdings are carved, and to that extent this Bill becomes a Ploughmen's Eviction Bill. It is calculated that every four or five small holdings created will mean the discharge of three ploughmen and their families. What is to happen to these sturdy fellows? One's pity goes out to them Are they to migrate to the towns in search of new homes and new work to which they are not accustomed? And then, again, what of the farmers? Their prospects are not rosy. The Land Court, at their sweet will, may slice off small holdings from any farm, upsetting the farmer's rotation, and preventing him farming in the best-paying manner. With diminished acreage some of the landlord's buildings are not required, so his outlay on them becomes useless, and whilst on the one hand, not knowing how much land will be left him, the farmer will curtail his expenditure as his lease runs out, the owner on the other hand will hesitate to spend money on buildings which may become superfluous. So that, besides being a Ploughmen's Eviction Bill, I really think 1212 this Bill may become a Farmers' Disturbance Bill.
My Lords, these are some considerations—expressed, I fear, at unpardonable length—which I submit should give the Government pause in the legislation upon which they have embarked. But I entertain no foolish hope that they will do so. The present balance of Parties in another place is too favourable to a Government with so dull a sense of the laws of meum and tuum to allow anything to weigh when the business in hand is to sanction by legal enactment a scheme of confiscation or robbery Outright. Cheered on their way by a majority elsewhere, which is largely ignorant of all questions of estate management and antagonistic to all landlords, they will press forward this Bill, and so it is to the House of Lords that not only Scottish landowners but the farmers farming their land and the labourers those farmers employ look to safeguard them from the disastrous effects of this most predatory Bill. My Lords, I support with all my energy the Amendment of my noble friend Lord Balfour.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, just as the House was adjourning last night, the noble Marquess who leads the House gave utterance to one of those oracular statements which he sometimes makes, which puzzled even the simple and unsophisticated mind of Lord Rose-bery, and puzzled, I believe, every other Member of the House, including the noble Lord himself. For on being asked what he meant he said that he did not know where he stood. My Lords, all he said was this. He said that after the statements which had been made by Lord Cawdor, the debate on the part of the Government would be for the rest of the time academic. I wonder what he meant by that. Did he mean that the Government were going to observe a policy of silence, or did he mean that the Government—if they are going to speak, and I am sure we all hope and trust that they will—are not going to address themselves to the points of importance in this Bill? If he means the latter, all I can say is that the debate, so far as the Government is concerned, began as academic, and will terminate as academic. In all those three speeches which have been made 1213 beginning with that of the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack, no title of justification has been given for this Bill, no reason has been given for the introduction of such measures as Land Courts and Commissioners. You would have supposed, so far as they are concerned, that a Land Court and a set of Agricultural Commissioners were as familiar in Scottish estates management as such an institution as the sheriff. But whatever reasons there may have have been for bringing forward this Bill, up to the present time we have not been favoured with one of them. On the contrary, so far as we have had any reasons, they have been against the introduction of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord himself said that there were no evictions that he knew of—no capricious evictions. He had nothing to say against rent. He had nothing to say against the management of the estates. Might he not have gone on, and informed us why it is necessary under those circumstances to introduce changes which are more drastic even than those which have been proposed for Ireland? The noble and learned Lord was followed by Lord Tweedmouth. What did Lord Tweedmouth say? So far as I understood him, he does not altogether like this Bill. What he said was that he did not accept this Bill verbatim et literatim. My Lords, Latin quotations and Latin phrases are always rather obscure. I do not know what verbatim et literatim means any more than I do what the Bill means when it says that the choice of the landowner of a tenant is to be accepted by the Commissioners "ceteris paribus." "Verbatim et literatim!" I wish the noble Lord had gone on to tell us, if there are things in the Bill which he dislikes, which are the things he likes. What is the principle of the Bill—for that, I suppose at all events he accepts? I suppose that if there is any principle in the Bill it will be fixity of tenure. Does the noble Lord like that? There is the institution of a Land Court. Does he like that? There is the institution of the Land Commission. Does he like that? As yet, he has not told us, and I do not know what these Amendments are that he says he is prepared to accept. We very often hear of Amendments which the other side are prepared to accept from your Lordships, but when one comes to 1214 examine them, they generally whittle them down into verbal changes and so on, and they expect that your Lordships are going to take up that dignified position which is destined for your Lordships by the Prime Minister—that you should merely ratify the decisions of the Government, making such verbal changes and alterations as they will be willing to I accept. Then Lord Aberdeen spoke. He is the only other member of the Government who did speak, and it occurred to me that the Government must have been rather hard up when they asked Lord Aberdeen to speak. I am I not altogether certain that Lord Aberdeen has not committed a constitutional irregularity. All I can say is that I am sure that we are always very glad indeed to see him, and to hear him speak, but at the same time—your Lordships will know better than I do—I do not remember any case in which the representative of His Majesty in Ireland came into this House and made a speech on a Government Bill. At all events, whether he did what was constitutionally irregular or not, he told us nothing. No one will say, I presume, that this Bill is not an important Bill. The Prime Minister, in that famous speech at Holborn which has been so much misunderstood in some particulars, said—We are not extreme revolutionaries, but we do not shrink from formidable changes. We are not foes of property, but we are anxious to see property rightly apportioned.As far as I can understand this Bill, it must be a Bill dosigned to carry out the view of seeing property more "rightly apportioned." And, my Lords, even if it is not an extreme revolution, I do not think any of your Lordships' will deny that it is at least a formidable change.
That being so, who is the author of this Bill? The Secretary for Scotland in another place seemed throughout the debates most anxious to avoid the exclusive paternity of the Bill. He said, I think, more than once, and he was supported by the Prime Minister—" This is not the Bill of the Scottish Office, but it is the Bill of the Cabinet." Well, I suppose every Bill of the Government is a Bill of the Cabinet, but I should like to know, for instance, are all the members of the Cabinet interested in this Bill? Do they approve of it? I should like very much indeed to hear the 1215 noble Earl the Secretary for the Colonies say that he approves of the Land Court, and of Commissioners, and so on, because I have so much faith in the good judgment of my noble friend that I am not altogether certain that such an expression on his part would not have some influence on my own opinion. He has not done it yet, but there is still time for him to get up and do so. So that we come to this, that at all events this Bill originates with the Scottish Office. The Scottish Office is not so modest that it will deny all share in the production of this Bill, I hope. Who, then, are the Scottish Office? As we know, in the Scottish Office there is no agricultural staff of any sort. The persons in the Scottish Office on whose opinions, I suppose, the Government rely are the Secretary for Scotland, the Lord Advocate, and the Solicitor-General. If we are to judge of the Scottish advisers of the Government from their speeches, all I can say is that they are in a state of the most deplorable ignorance with regard to the agricultural question. Lord Rosebery last night said a great many things about the Secretary for Scotland which were very true, every one of which I endorse, but none of which I propose to repeat to your Lordships. But I am going to say one or two things for myself. This is the opinion of the Secretary for Scotland of the relations between landlord and tenant. He said—I can see no injustice in applying the crofter system to tenancies in which all the improvements have been made by the landlord. The landlord will get a fair rent for his holdings as they stand, and what landlord would want more?Now, my Lords, is that the opinion of the Secretary for Scotland as to the relations which exist between landlord and tenant? Because, if it be so, all I can say is that it is not merely that he does not know the A B C of the question but he is not capable of understanding it. Let me come to his advisers, the Lord Advocate and the Solicitor-General, who have taken up very much the same position. They regard the position of an agricultural landlord and tenant as they regard the position of a lawyer and his client. I hope I am not insulting anybody present, but as I understand the position of a lawyer it is this, that he does a certain definite service for his client. His client in return pays, or ought to pay, a certain fee. When the lawyer has done his service, 1216 and when the client has paid his fee, there the relation between them ceases. But, when an agricultural small holder or crofter has paid his rent, does his relationship with his landlord cease? I wish to heaven it did. What about whitewashings, what about improvements, and when a man comes to pay £5 or .66 for rent, what about all the various things he wants done? I wonder what the lawyer would say to him. I think I know, because I know that among the farming classes there is no set of managers whom they object to like lawyers, and a farming tenant has about the same affection for a lawyer manager as a dog has for a cat. Over and over again it has been said to me by tenants, "I would not have come to your estate if you had had a lawyer managing it," and yet that is the management which we are going to institute under this Bill. There is another part of the A B C of land management on which the Secretary for Scotland appears ignorant, as appears in the first clause of the Bill. He appears to think that a small holding is the same thing as the croft. It is hardly necessary to remark upon that in an assembly like this, where everybody knows the difference. It will be sufficient to say that a croft is a small holding containing a small part of arable land, and with some common grazing, and so on, in the Highland part of the country, and that a small holding under this Bill may mean fifty acres close to a town paying a rent perhaps of £2 or £3 an acre. And yet this Bill says that that latter tenancy is to be treated as if it were one of the former, and that all the rules which apply to the former ought to apply to the latter. You may make a crofter a small holder, but unless you wish to be guilty of the most utter absurdity you can never say that a small holder is a crofter.
Now, who approves of this Bill? Do the landowners? Do not let us say anything about them. As we know, the landowners all belong to the criminal classes, and if in addition a landowner happens to be a Member of your Lordships' House he deserves a double reward of punishment. So, my Lords, let us go to the farmers. Are the farmers in favour of this Bill? Why, some of the most Radical farmers in Scotland are protesting tooth and nail against it. 1217 Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman is aware of this, because he said to them when the Bill was being read a third time in another place—I assure the farmers they need not be nervous; it is quite obvious that large, well-equipped, and highly-cultivated farms will not be touched, they will be the last selected.Somebody asked why? and he said—Because it would be undesirable." "At the other end of the scale," he went on, "no farmer with less than 150 acres can be touched. There will be a gradual application and ultimately we shall know how far it can be extended, but at first, and for many years, there can be no interference with any farmer interested.Now, if so, what is going to be the effect of this Bill? But, do you think that the farmers of Scotland are to be gammoned with language of that sort? The sheep farmers have already pretty well proved that they are not going to be very quiet when their interests are touched. But do you think the large farmers want this Bill? It is quite patent it is the large farmers that will be touched, and if they are not touched then there is no use whatever in the Bill. So much for them Now we come to the agricultural labourers. Are they in favour of the Bill? In the first place, have the agricultural labourers considered the Bill or had any opportunity of considering it? And in the second place, they are very much better oft' as they are. An agricultural labourer in Scotland—I think Lord Balfour said it last night, but at all events it is perfectly true—gets at least £1 a week, and in many cases more. Let him have a small holding of £50 a year. Will he make another rent out of that? And if he does, then he has the full risk of cultivating the croft and so on, whereas in the other case he receives his wages whenever he chooses. The real truth is that the agricultural labourer foresees that it is possible he may get a holding on terms which are not altogether economic. At all events, supposing the experiment is tried, it will not hurt him if a number of holdings are carved out of a big farm. He will look on, and it cannot do him any harm even if it does him no good. Therefore, he will look on and see what comes of it. Then take even the electors—are they in favour of the Bill In the first place, do the electors know the plan? I think we had a great deal said about Glasgow and other towns of that sort. One of the only two bodies which have 1218 petitioned in favour of setting up a separate Department of Agriculture in Scotland is the Corporation of Glasgow. The Corporation of Glasgow had this right to do it—that it is the authority for administering the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act in Glasgow. But that amount of knowledge is very great compared with the amount of knowledge which is possessed by most people in towns in these matters. What do they know about Land Courts and things of that kind, and what do they care? No, my Lords, what has attracted them is the orators, the politicians who have gone round the country talking about "back to the land "and generalities of that sort, and saying, "if you will only vote for these Bills and for this Government your slums will no longer be crowded "and other things of the same kind. But the only tangible meeting to which I have seen allusion made at which this Bill has been approved was a meeting at Perth. I hope your Lordships will excuse me if for a moment I go into the meeting at Perth. I cut this account out of a newspaper, it amused me so much. At Perth, on the 29th June, there was a meeting. This account is cut out of what is, I think, the only Radical newspaper—the Dundee Advertiser, and by the way I may remark that at this very meeting a speaker said that the Scottish Press had served them very badly in this matter. This was Mr. Ure. He said—We have been badly served by the Press of Scotland in this matter, with one very conspicuous exception.My Lords, you may imagine what must have been the blushes of the editor of the Dundee Advertiser, who was present on this occasion. At this meeting there were over 600 representatives of various constituencies in Scotland, and they had been whipped up, as it appears here, by the Scottish Liberal Association. The meeting was held in Perth, under the auspices of that association. Mind, my Lords, this is the "spontaneous ebullition of public feeling" on which the Government rely. There were twelve or fourteen—rather more—Members of Parliament present, who have all been occupied up here talking and voting in favour of the Bill. No doubt under great pressure they ran down to Scotland to be present at this very interesting meeting, and the Master of Elibank made a speech which I assure your Lordships would 1219 well repay reading, but which I will not inflict upon your Lordships. Anyone who likes to do so may see it afterwards. Then Sir Robert Pullar, the Member for Perth, was not able, owing to domestic bereavement, to be present, but he provided lunch—a most useful part—he gave lunch to the Liberal representatives, in the Salutation Hotel, I think, and to the Liberal women in the Temperance Hotel, which no doubt was a very good thing for them. This great public meeting took place, and it Was addressed by Mr. Ure, the Solicitor-General for Scotland. I do not mean it in any offensive sense, but he is what I may call the paid advocate of this Bill. It was also addressed by Mr. Erskine, who is the private secretary, I believe, to the Secretary for Scotland, and who is also a Member of Parliament. These two gentlemen seem to have made speeches. But it is interesting to notice the people who were absent from this meeting, and the excuses that were sent. Generally speaking, the reading of excuses is a very tiresome ceremony, but on this occasion I should like to tell your Lordships who sent excuses. In the first place there was the Marquess of Breadalbane; in the next there was Lord Tweedmouth. Of course, Lord Tweedmouth had something better to do, and could not have been expected to be present. Then there was Lord Haddo; then there was the Right Hon. R. Farquharson, a very well-known Radical Member of Parliament. He sent his excuses, as also did Sir John Kinloch. Why, Sir John Kinloch was the Radical Member for East Perthshire for years, and voted for every measure, however extreme. It was a very strange thing that he should be absent on this occasion, at least it was not very strange that he should be absent, but it was very strange that besides, being absent, he should happen to be the owner of a deer forest, and your Lordships can easily see why he did not put in an appearance. However, I will not detain your Lordships any longer on that point. But if this is a meeting upon which the Government rely, if this is the "spontaneous ebullition of public feeling" in Scotland, I do not think they have got anything more to say down in Scotland than they have here in this House in favour of the Bill.
A word or so about this Land Court which is to be established. As I said 1220 before, no reason whatever has been given for establishing this Land Court. One would have supposed that a Land Court was as much a part of the every-day business of Scotland, as eating porridge used to be of the every-day life of its agricultural labourers. This Land Court which is to be established—what are its members? They are to be five uncrowned kings of Scotland. There is not a single appeal from them. They are to have the right to say how much land is to be taken, where it is to be taken, what rent is to be paid, and further than that, they are empowered to fix what relations are to exist between landlord and tenant. They are even more powerful than the Irish Land Commission, for I believe that even in Ireland, which we know is very much to be pitied, they are allowed at present some sort of appeal against the Land Commission. But in Scotland the sheriff is practically ordered to carry out whatever the Land Court has said, and is not allowed to inquire or to do anything else about it. All that has to be shown to him is that the Land Court have issued a ukase, and it is his business to see that that ukase has been executed. Now, who are these uncrowned kings to be? They are not named in the Bill. Are we going to commit ourselves absolutely and blindly to the guidance of the Secretary for Scotland in this matter? He says he has not thought of names yet. I dare say not. But I can tell him that as soon as ever this Bill passes Parliament—if that should unfortuately prove to be the case—he will have plenty of candidates; there will be no dearth of candidates, and, as my noble friend said last night, speaking from some past experience, we know that the most impartial men, the very best men, will be selected, without any possible reference to anything else in the world except knowledge of agriculture of the management of agricultural estates. At Blairgowrie (and what called my attention to this was a Return which my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture was good enough to send me)—at Blairgowrie, which is close to the Prime Minister, and close also to the house occupied by the Secretary for Scotland, there is a very respectable and a very respected association occupied in growing raspberries. They have done very well indeed, and what they have 1221 done is this. Having prospered at Blairgowrie, they have taken the way which ordinary and honest Scotsmen do of going into Perthshire and buying at the market price two or three hundred more acres and they are going to grow raspberries there. I hope and trust that they will do very well. But these raspberry growers I have some reason for thinking—I live in that country—have had a very considerable influence upon the Secretary for Scotland, and I am not sure they have not also had a considerable influence upon the Prime Minister. I am not sure that these two worthy Ministers have not got raspberries on the brain. I am inclined to think that the Secretary for Scotland is under the idea that you may, by extending raspberry growing, sell raspberries to an unlimited extent. But we know very well what happens when the market gets glutted, and when things are over-produced, and I can only say that I hope that we are not going to give these small holdings upon any principle such as this.
Now, my Lords, let me go to Scottish Commissioners of Agriculture. The Bill proposes to set up a separate Department of Agriculture for Scotland. What are to be their position and duties? In the first place, let us take them so far as their duties in connection with small holdings are concerned. They are to manage all the existing small holdings, and all the future small holdings. There are 46, 000 existing small holdings, and the number of the future small holdings is, of course, unknown. I should like to know, in the first place, how are they going to manage this. They are three men. Of course a vista of prosperity is opening for land surveyors, valuers, clerks, and people of that sort. Really, it is a sort of harvest for them. But what I want to know is, will these Commissioners, even with the aid of all these valuers and other people, and at unlimited expense, be able to manage at all? Because at the present time on any estate a small holder, when he wants something done, goes to the estate office. In future, he will have to go to these Commissioners. Now, if there is anything in this world that an agriculturist, whether big or small, dislikes, it is writing a letter. In the first place he will have to write to the Commissioners, 1222 then probably somebody will come and inquire, at an unknown cost, into the estate, and then he will have to write again, and probably in the last resort he will receive a point-blank refusal. Where will that small holder be as compared with his position now? He will be "in the cart." He will not get his improvement done, and it is perfectly absurd to say that any three men—I do not care how able they may be—can in any real sense be said to manage the small holdings in Scotland. As to the cost, I say nothing. Somebody suggested in the other House that it would be £100, 000 a year. If it is to be done properly, it will be more. But still, the idea of the Secretary for Scotland is this—that he thought it could be done at a cost perhaps a little above that for the present Crofters Commission I am only sorry for the Exchequer if that proposal is carried out.
The other part of the duties of these Commissioners is this. They are started as a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland. My noble friend opposite (Lord Carrington) at the present time has got an English leg and a Scottish leg. I regret to say that under this Bill his colleague is going to cut his Scottish leg off. But he is not content with that, because I am sorry to say that he rubs powder and brimstone into the wound. This is the description of my noble friend's Department by the Secretary for Scotland in the other House the first day on the Report of the Bill. These are his reasons why he must supersede my noble friend opposite. Your Lordships will remember what a united and a harmonious family this is—The least successful part of the Board of Agriculture's activities was, in Scottish opinion, that which is concerned in the administration of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act. The records of recent years show instance after instance in which the Board, not from want of zeal "—surely nobody would accuse my noble friend of that—" but from inability to adapt themselves to the local conditions have failed to appreciate this or that branch of farming conditions in Scotland. In the past sufficient weight has not been given to Scottish opinion.It is therefore quite evident that the Secretary for Scotland entertains a very poor opinion of my noble friend's 1223 abilities to cope with Scottish agriculture. I wonder whether he will display any more ability himself? You would naturally suppose from what I have read to you that Scottish opinion was going to be consulted under the present Act in the future. But not a bit of this. Listen to this—That Scottish opinion which Gentleman opposite quote "—that means the opinion of the Chamber of Agriculture, the Highlands Board of Agriculture, and every agricultural society in Scotland—will centre round the Chamber of Agriculture and the Highlands Society, but the agitation of those bodies is an agitation of second thoughts.I wonder what that means? You will observe, my Lords, that the farming opinion of Scotland my noble friend cannot take in, but the moment the farming opinion of Scotland declares itself, and declares itself against the Secretary for Scotland, then immediately farming opinion is not worth the paper it is written upon.
Now with regard to the effect of the Bill. In the first place what is to happen to existing holders? Every existing holder must come under this Bill, whether he will or whether he will not. He is not given any option of any kind or any sort. He may be pleased with his holding, pleased with his landlord. But this Bill says, "You are to become a tenant under the Act, and therefore that is what you have to do." Let me give your Lordships a concrete instance. It is a case within my own knowledge. A tenant of £8 occupies a holding. That tenant has been there—he and his forbears—for a long time. On that holding of £8, during the last ten years, the landlord has laid out £188. The tenant is perfectly content. As for saying that he is afraid of being removed, he and his predecessors have been there for hundreds of years, and he is perfectly confident that he will be able to remain. But what does this Bill do? It says: "Oh, no, we take you away from this estate management; we confer upon you fixity of tenure. If you do not know the benefits of that, you ought to know, and must be made to know, and therefore, in you come under this Bill." I wonder whether that tenant would like it. The 1224 next time he wants a gate, he has got to go through all this procedure, which I described just now, with the Commissioners. What about tenancies under voluntary contract? The noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack made a great point about that. He said this Bill tends towards voluntary contract, and if I remember rightly, he said "I think—at all events I hope—that a great number of tenancies will be made by voluntary contract." My Lords, there are two kinds of voluntary contract. The one is the voluntary contract under this Bill. If a landlord and a tenant come in under the Bill, then that contract is only so far voluntary in that it must be subject to the main principles of the Bill subject to fixity of tenure and soon. The rent is alterable every seven years. But what about real voluntary contract? What about contracts made outside the Bill Suppose that any of your Lordships make a contract with a tenant voluntarily and say: "Here you are; here is a lease of nineteen years; your rent is £40, and I will do the improvements and all the rest." There is not the slightest security that that contract will be kept, because at any time, if the tenant happens to change his mind, he has the power to apply to the Commissioners and to ask, after receiving all those benefits, that his holding may take its place under the Act. What about the tenure of the farmers? How much security will any farmer have who holds more than 150 acres? I should like that question to be answered. And even, if he is under lease, he has not the slightest security. The Government made a great point of this—the present leases which were in force in 1906 were not to be touched. Very well. But after that lease is terminated, why, you have done away with all the security of any new lease. That is what you have done under the Act. Any tenant who is farming a large farm with a great capital invested in it, a large quantity of stock, and all the rest—why, at any time these Commissioners may come down upon him and take any part of his farm, so long as they leave him 150 acres.
I am sorry to have detained your Lordships so long, but one word about dual ownership and I have done. I was very glad to hear the noble and learned Lord upon the Woolsack admit that dual ownership is created by this Bill. 1225 The lawyers in another place have been fencing with this question. The Scottish law advisers—one or two of them, at all events—said there was no such thing as dual ownership created by this Bill—that nothing was taken away from the landlord except the right to evict a tenant capriciously. Although I was glad to hear my noble friend on the Woolsack admit that dual ownership was established by the Bill, I must confess I was sorry to hear the reason he gave for it. He said that purchase was prohibited by the Bill. And why was purchase prohibited? What was his reason? He said it was because the financial conditions were not such as to enable the Government to borrow a large sum of money with which to purchase land. Is that a reason worthy of the Government of this country? I should call it very mean. I do not know any other term that will express it. But this is what the Secretary for Scotland says about land purchase—While the system of land purchase confers complete rights of ownership, with all its advantages, it is more costly for the State. A Government Department is a bad bargainer; it is expected to buy dear and sell cheap, and a Government Department in the position of a landlord is subject to political pressure.How does he propose, then, to proceed? He takes it out of the pockets of the landlord. There is a well-known story of the Rev. Sydney Smith, who went to hear a charity sermon, and was asked afterwards how he was affected by it. "Oh," he said, "I was affected most deeply—so deeply, indeed, that when the plate came round I put my hand into the pocket of my next neighbour, and turned his pocket into the plate! "My Lords, it is exactly in that way that this Government is affected by their great desire for small holdings. They will not provide them themselves." Oh, no, "they say," we will provide them out of the pockets of the landowners." And the Secretary for Scotland goes further, and puts forward an absurd plea that fixity of tenure involves no expropriation of the landlord. He says—On the other hand, the system of tenancy is more modest, less drastic, and indeed more conservative; it involves no expropriation of the landlord; the landlord remains in possession of the holding.Really, my Lords, does the Secretary for Scotland use those words seriously? It 1226 is almost impossible to believe it. Which is the owner of a holding? Is it the man who selects the tenant, who fixes the rent, who regulates all the conditions, without whose consent the holding cannot be vacated, without whose consent the holding cannot be re-let? Or is it on the other hand, the rent charger who receives such fair rent as these Commissioners, or this Land Court, may chose to award him? I think it is not necessary to say anything more on that subject.
I am afraid I have occupied your Lordships for a long time, but I end as I began, by begging the Government in self-defence—I might almostsay in defence of the honour of their own Bill—to produce some justification, or some reason, for these sweeping conditions. Up to the present time not one word has been said, not one tittle of justification has been given, for instituting this Land Court, these Land Commissioners, and so on. It is not too late even now, and I should be greatly interested to hear some justification put forward of this abnormal course. All I can say is that if the Government do not give us any reason, then I shall believe it is because I they do not believe in their own Bill, and because they do not know of any I reason which will justify in any way the revolutionary proposal which they are making.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
With the indulgence of the House and the courtesy of the noble Duke who is just about to rise, may I be allowed to re-assure my noble friend upon one point in his speech, namely, where he spoke of what he considered a departure from constitutional usage in the fact that a Member of this House holding the office of Lord Lieutenant of Ireland-has interposed in debate? I think I can find a precedent for that; I have one in mind at the present moment. Unless I am mistaken, Lord Cadogan, when he was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, took part at least on one occasion in a debate on this side of the water; and it is a curious coincidence also, according to my information, that a Member of your Lordships' House, who (I mention this as illustrating Lord Cadogan's sympathy of disposition and comprehensiveness of view) was his aide-de-camp, came over also and voted against his chief. I only 1227 wish to point out that, as far as I know, the Constitution has not been shaken by my having participated in the present debate.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
May I ask the noble Earl if the condition of Ireland was as grave as it is now at the time when Lord Cadogan came over?
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
I quite understand to what the noble Earl alludes, and I am glad to say that at this moment there is a very much more reassuring condition of affairs prevailing.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
In the few remarks I shall make I hope your Lordships will understand that they apply entirely to the non-crofting area. I live on the borders of the Highlands and the Lowlands, amongst small landowners and crofters who up to now have never been affected by the Crofters Act; and I cannot ascertain that there is any wish amongst them to be brought within the purview of the Bill before your Lordships to-day. My experience also leads me to within a few miles of Glasgow, and I know very well—nobody knows better—the congested state of Glasgow, caused in great measure by the large industrial works which have arisen on the banks of the Clyde. Those works employ thousands of hands, who in the morning and evening are taken backwards and forwards from Glasgow to the works. There are schemes in progress by the owners of the works for building large tenements, which they hope will induce their employees to live in the vicinity of their businesses; and those tenements will relieve Glasgow of thousands of souls, and will do more to relieve the congestion of that city than all the Land Acts that were ever invented.
The Prime Minister clinched his arguments on the Report stage of this Bill in another place by stating that it was a Scottish Bill, and that it was urgently and absolutely needed and wished for in Scotland. I beg very respectfully to controvert that latter statement entirely; and I will venture to analyse for a moment some of the "support" which the Prime Minister's Bill is reputed to have received. One of the Members for Glasgow, who 1228 very frankly stated that he had never seen a croft in his life, supports this Bill because he says it is the first step in land nationalisation. That is not, I think, a very satisfactory argument. Another hon. Member says that he supports this Bill because he is in favour of a Land Court which can make regulation rents, so that when land purchase comes the land will be able to be bought more cheaply. That is not exactly an argument in favour of this agricultural Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland himself, when advocating this Bill some time ago, said that it would relieve the landlords from an unproductive investment, and would cause the small land-holders to put their hands into their pockets. That does not seem to me to be a very valuable suggestion either in favour of this Bill. The hon. Member for the Leith Burghs, a most staunch supporter of the Government and one of the first agriculturists in Scotland, has opposed this Bill tooth and nail. The County Council of Renfrew, a county which is separated from the Highlands merely by the waters of the Clyde, and which contains the the environs of large towns, such as Renfrew, Paisley, and Greenock, has worked harder than perhaps than any other council to bring before the people the so-called advantages of small holdings. The result has been three applications, one from a photographer. The hon. Baronet who represents Renfrewshire in another place voted in Grand Committee in favour of Lord Helms-ley's Amendment to restrict the application of the Crofters Act to the crofter arears. The hon. Baronet also absented himself from the final stages of the discussion and divisions on this Bill in the House of Commons. In Berwickshire, the most southern of our counties, the hon. Member who represents that constituency, I am credibly informed, has only attended the Grand Committee once since the 20th June. He has also absented himself from the final divisions in another place. That does not look to me as if he had got any mandate from his constituents to urge this Bill through your Lordships' House. I think I have shown your Lordships that at all events the desire for this Bill in Scotland is not general. But, supposing it was, I presume that the Crown lands of Scotland would have been the first to be included 1229 within the operation of this Bill. Up to the 31st July the Crown lands were not included within the operation of the Bill; and I do not think they would be included now, if it had not been for my hon. friend the Member for the Ayr Burghs, who brought forward an amendment to include Government lands because, he said, otherwise the landowner would be obliged to receive a tenant from the Agriculture Commissioners, whoever he was, and the Crown authorities would refuse any such responsibility. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Scotland said that Crown lands had not been included because such land was administered by a Public Department, and was sufficiently under Parliamentary control. He at length agreed to accept the Amendment on the understanding that he would be at liberty, if he thought it necessary, to delete it on the Report stage. It may interest your Lordships to know why my hon. friend the Member for the Ayr Burghs brought forward this Amendment. It was because some time in May application was made by a responsible person, on behalf of ten or twelve others, for the terms on which the Crown would let them land close to the town of Stirling for an equivalent number of small holdings. The reply was received on the 1st of last month, and it was to the effect that the Department could not entertain the proposal, but that they would be quite prepared to treat with the county council as a responsible authority if they would become the Crown tenants. Now, my Lords, this is what your Lordships have begged for since this Bill was brought before you; this is what the Opposition in Grand Committee and on the floor of the House of Commons have begged for day by day. That is essentially what is in the English Land Bill. I do not think I am wrong in saying that this is a most astounding answer to send, under the circumstances. Amongst other things, I think that the individual who sent that reply was sailing very near that "blank refusal," about which we heard so much on a certain occasion. The fact is that the agricultural interests in Scotland have no confidence in this agrarian agitation of His Majesty's Government; and they have no confidence in the way that it has been treated in another place. Scottish people, as the noble Earl the head of the Board 1230 of Agriculture said last November, are long-headed and shrewd—they know the difference between a debate in this House and the Closure upstairs and downstairs of a Bill of this importance. They have not forgotten who last, November forced the second sub-section of the first clause of the Agricultural Holdings Act through Parliament, which has caused such a tangle in sheep valuation, and which has roused the Highland farmer more than he was ever roused before. They have not forgotten who, in the dead of night and in the absence of the Secretary for Scotland, included Scotland under the Lights and Vehicles Bill, a Bill particularly obnoxious to the Scottish farmer, as must be known by every Member for an agricultural constituency who was heckled upon that question at the last general election.
My Lords, the agriculturists of Scotland depend upon you to safeguard their interests. I, yesterday, observed a letter from the Master of Elibank in which he said that unless your Lordships pass this Bill as it is presented to you, he is prepared with some others to go to Scotland and raise an opposition to your Lordships' House. Let him come! Let them all come! If he thinks he is going to set the heather on fire, he is making the greatest mistake he ever made in his life. The agriculturists of Scotland depend upon your Lordships to safeguard their interests. There are three things in this Bill to which they object: they object to the compulsory clauses of the Crofters Act applying throughout Scotland; they object to the Land Court; and they object to being separated from the Board of Agriculture for England. If your Lordships will pass any Bill which leaves out those three things, then you will have the co-operation of every agriculturist in Scotland. If you do not, I shall certainly follow my noble friend Lord Balfour, and do my utmost to have this Bill thrown out.
§ * THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (Earl CARRINGTON)
I must candidly confess that it is with very great reluctance that I rise to intervene in this debate. I hoped that it would not have been necessary for me to have said anything at all, and I regret that I have to speak on this occasion, and for this reason: next 1231 week, the English Land Bill will be introduced into your Lordships' House, and there is a very good proverb that every cobbler ought to stick to his last. I am afraid I shall have a great deal to say next week; and therefore, although I am very grateful for the invariable kindness and courtesy with which noble Lords opposite receive me, yet I feel on this occasion somewhat anxious not to intrude too much upon your Lordships' time and patience. Before I say anything on the Bill, perhaps I might be allowed to say one word on what fell from my noble friend Lord Kintore as regards the Viceroy of Ireland's Scottish estate. I think if my noble friend had been in the House last night he would not have made the remarks he did make, because the whole ground was covered by Lord Aberdeen last night when he told us that out of 900 holdings on the Haddo estate, only fifty were removed, most of them on account of the death of the occupants, and the others because they were small and uneconomic. The holdings of five and ten acres have been grouped together, and that I believe is also a proposal in the Bill, to make them more useful and more profitable. Lord Aberdeen also stated that the gentleman, whose name I do not know, who made the statement that was quoted by Lord Kintore, explained afterwards that he had never mentioned Lord Aberdeen at all, and that he spoke of the whole district in which the estate in question is situated. I hope that reiterated statement will convince noble Lords opposite, as I am certain it will Lord Kintore, of the true state of the case.
Last night, my Lords, Lord Balfour of Burleigh talked about the "conspiracy of silence" as regards this Bill. I am under correction, but I think he said that I individually had probably never seen it. Well, I happened to be one of the Sub-Committee of the Cabinet which was intrusted with looking through the Bill before it was submitted to the Cabinet as a whole; and I was present practically almost before this Bill saw the light, which was "born in ignorance, nurtured in obstinacy, and supported by class-hatred and political spite." My Lords, if that is true—it is strong language, I admit, but we must speak strongly sometimes—if that is true, the best thing and the real thing to do would be to put this unhealthy bantling 1232 out of the way at once. And, with great respect, I would submit to your Lordships whether it would not be better for noble Lords opposite to take their courage in both hands and kill the Bill openly at once; and not allow this unfortunate infant to be strangled in some mysterious manner by a misunderstanding, and by unnecessary panic.
The noble Earl (Lord Rosebery) last night called attention to the action of some independent gentlemen, who are called the Scottish correspondents of the Board of Agriculture; and perhaps I may be forgiven for one moment for saying just a word on that point. The noble Earl was perfectly right in what he said last night; he said that they spoke entirely "on their own hook," and that no request of any sort was ever sent from my office asking for their opinions at all. But there is a certain Mr. Constable, whom noble Lords opposite may know, the agent or, as he is called in Scotland, the factor of Mr. Maxwell Stuart. He sent out, entirely on his own responsibility, a circular on the question of whether or not there should be a separate Department of Agriculture in Scotland. His fellow correspondents sent back then-answers; and, out of ninety-one, I think it was, there were seventy against the proposal, and three for it. That result was at once sent to Mr. Arthur Balfour;. he was naturally very much gratified at the information, and his letter of gratification was read out publicly at a meeting on the 11th July of this year—this meeting of the correspondents. I read all this in the Press, but I only-got an official intimation of what had been going on on July 19th, a little more than a week after this interesting meeting took place. I should like to say that the position of those gentlemen is entirely honorary, it is entirely irresponsible: they are not, and never were intended to be in any shape, form or kind, an advisory board to the President of the Board of Agriculture for Great Britain on questions of policy. They were a legacy which was left to me by my noble friend Lord Onslow; they were a hereditas—I am not fond of adjectives; and therefore I shall not use one—but they were a hereditas left to me by my noble friend Lord Onslow; and curiously enough most of those gentlemen are of the Conservative and 1233 Unionist persuasion. That is a very curious coincidence; and I am perfectly certain that the Lord Chairman of Committees of this House had not the smallest idea of what their political principles were, any more than any lord-lieutenant of a midland county who promotes a large batch of most deserving gentlemen to the county bench, and then finds out, to his horror, amazement, and astonishment, that they are all of the Tory persuasion. Last night, as I sat at the corner of that bench, I thought there might be some difficulty if these irresponsible persons imagined, from the success of their meeting, that they, and not the elected Members of Parliament for Scotland, represented public opinion; and a thought came across my mind at that moment that they might go still further, and suggest and advise that the English Land Bill or some portion of it, might be made to apply to the country across the Tweed. And, as I thought that, I really trembled to think of what the language would be of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, if such a proposal, a proposal so audacious and so anti-Scottish, should happen to be made. But at that very moment a bolt fell from the blue, and the identical proposal was made from the Front Opposition Bench by Lord Cawdor, the worthy bearer of one of the finest and most historical names of Scotland. Now I ask your Lordships' to consider for one moment, and to fancy what would have happened if his great ancestor, The Thane of Cawdor, had made an academic proposal to put half Macbeth's kingdom under the English agrarian laws. I think that without one moment's hesitation Lady Macbeth, who was of course much the better man of the two, would have had him bundled into his plaid and chopped into as many pieces as there were checks in his tartan. I should like really to ask the noble Lord two questions, to which he would perhaps be kind enough to give us upon this side of the Table an answer. I ask the noble Lord first, does he seriously expect that any large section of his fellow countrymen would support this amazing und, I hope I may be forgiven if I say, somewhat unpatriotic suggestion?
§ * EARL CARRINGTON
Then there is a second question I should like to ask the 1234 noble Earl How is this going to be carried out? It seems to me that there is still a British House of Commons. It is sitting at this moment close by your Lordships' House, and I should most respectfully, and I hope without offence, like to ask the noble Earl how will the British House of Commons receive a proposal made by the House of Lords to charge the rates in the Scottish counties between the Grampians and the Tweed? I hope that there is no offence in that, but I should really like to have an answer on that point.
My Lords, I have but little more to say, but I may be allowed to say that I honestly believe that if this proposal to have a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland and a separate Board of Agriculture for England, had been brought forward as a separate measure it would have been received with general if not universal—I do not want to put it too high, but it would have been received certainly with a great deal of acclamation, and I believe probably that the stoutest defence of that proposal would be found among noble Lords opposite. And for this reason, I shall not easily forget—I do not suppose I shall forget as long as ever I live—the scathing protest and the burning words of indignation which fell from my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh last year, at my audacity in interfering in Scottish affairs in the Land Tenure Bill, nor the milder terms of reproach, the milder philippics, of Lord Camperdown, Lord Lovat, and other noble Scottish Peers the other day in connection with sheep stock valuations in Scotland. In fact the dressing-down I have had this afternoon by the noble Duke of Montrose shows me that, after all, my administration in Scotland does not give that entire satisfaction that one would have thought it might have given.
THE DUKE OF MONTROSE
I said nothing to affect the noble earl. I referred to the Crown lands of Scotland, which, I believe, are under the Woods and Forests Department.
§ * EARL CARRINGTON
I hope the noble Duke will do me the justice to say that he spoke of the heather that was set on fire.
§ * EARL CARRINGTON
I beg the noble Duke's pardon most humbly—I thought it had. As regards the Crown lands I am very much obliged to the noble Duke for having brought the matter before the House. I am afraid there is very little Crown land in Scotland, and of course the Balmoral estate, as everybody knows, belongs to the Sovereign personally. But I think the noble Duke has done a public service in bringing before the House the reply of the Commissioners in this instance. I will at once see my colleagues, Mr. Stafford Howard and Mr. Horner, and I am sure there must be some mistake in their portion of the Department, because I feel sure that they are as anxious and as willing as any noble Lord in this House to do all that they can in promoting small holdings and putting people on the land.
My Lords, I should like to ask what has converted noble Lords opposite. Why do they come down now to adore what they formerly tried to burn? Some people might think it was owing to the screams of the Scotsman newspaper, which has tried thought-reading, and pictured the most extraordinary dissensions in the Cabinet, the most extraordinary disagreements in the Government, and pictured my right hon. friend, Mr. Sinclair and myself in homeric and deadly conflict over the prostrate body of Scottish agriculture. But I dismiss that from my mind, because I know from forty years' experience that your Lordships' great characteristic is that you make up your minds for yourselves, and that you are the last people in England to take your ideas from any newspaper, however inaccurate or ill-informed that newspaper may happen to be. My Lords, what is the defence of the Bill? Why was my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack so fiercely attacked last night? What was his offence?
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am sure the noble Lord does not imply that an attack on the Bill carries with 1236 it an attack on the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.
§ * EARL CARRINGTON
I wish to imply nothing. If I have said anything to hurt anybody's feelings I withdraw at at once. I am bound to admit that in the course of criticisms my noble and learned friend's speech (although the critics were very friendly to himself) was to a certain extent rent and torn about. I do not think the Bill which the noble and learned Lord was defending was quite as acceptable to noble Lords as noble Lords opposite would try to make out. But what was his defence? He rested on the overwhelming—as I believe—opinion of Scotland as expressed by her own representatives, and surely, if Scotland is competent to look after the health of its human inhabitants, in all common sense why should she not be entrusted to do the same as regards her flocks and her herds? I most gratefully recognise the courtesy that I received from one and all during my visit over the border, but I say now what were the first words I said when I had the honour of going to Scotland—that I am perfectly ready and willing to hand over my responsibilty, such as it is, to those who necessarily are in a far better position than myself to judge of what are the needs of Scotland.
And now, my Lords, I have only one more word to say, and I hope that my last word will not cause any offence. I most respectfully submit to noble Lords opposite that they cannot possibly have it both ways, and I believe that noble Lords opposite were much more nearly right last year, when they were leading me the life of an early Christian on the Land Tenure Bill, than they are now in their hastily assumed protestations that the welfare of Scotland depends to a great extent on a mere Englishman and on his Department at 4, Whitehall Place, London. The Scottish Bill was brought in in the Commons' House of Parliament by the proper man, the Secretary for Scotland, and himself a Scotsman. It was supported by the great majority of the Liberal Members for that country. I believe I am perfectly accurate when I say there were fifty-eight Liberals who were in favour of the Bill, two against the Bill, and twelve Unionists who held the remnant of the seats that they held at the last general election. 1237 Who brought in the Bill in this House? It was brought in by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack—a Scotsman himself. It was brought in in a speech which the noble Earl opposite acknowledged in most generous words—words which were cheered, and deservedly cheered, from both sides of the House. He complimented my noble friend on the unique—I may probably be permitted to use the word—on the unique manner in which he brought in the Bill. A Scotsman brought it in in the House of Commons, backed up by the whole of the Scotch Members. A Scotsman has brought it in in your Lordships' House. That is good enough for me; and if Scotland, through her representatives, wants this Bill, I think it will be a very serious step to take if she is not permitted to have what she wants. Therefore it is, my Lords, that I shall most unhesitatingly, if we go to a division, give my vote in favour of the Scottish Small Holdings Bill. It has my support, for what little that is worth, and my heartiest good wishes and hopes that it will become law during the present session.
§ THE EARL OF ERROLL
The noble Lord who has just sat down has told us that this Bill was introduced in the House of Commons by a Scotsman. He has told us also that it was introduced into this House by a Scotsman. But the noble Lord forgot to tell us that its rejection, or rather, the Amendment equivalent to its rejection, was moved in the House of Commons by a Scotsman, Mr. Munro Ferguson, and was seconded by another Scotsman, Sir Edward Tennant. I think noble Lords on the other side of the House would call these two hon. Members of the other House good Liberals. I think they would also apply the same term to the noble Lord who sits on the cross-benches, Lord Rosebery. I do not see how the noble Lord can claim that all Scotsmen are in favour of this Bill.
I should like to say a few words as to the main objections to this Bill, though I must say that the ground has been so thoroughly covered by the exhaustive speech of the noble Lord, Lord Balfour, and the brilliant speech of Lord Rosebery that it leaves 1238 very little to be said, and I have no wish to reiterate the argument, as I believe it is proposed to end the debate as nearly as possible at seven o'clock. I think we are all agreed as to the evils of depopulation of the rural districts. We are anxious that a remedy should be found. But we do not want a quack remedy, and one that will have no appreciable effect in bringing the rural population back to the land. It seemed to me that the noble Lord who has just sat down gave the whole case away when he said that the tenants on Lord Aberdeen's estates had given up their holdings because they had found that they were uneconomic. My Lords, I think that includes almost our whole case. Depopulation of the rural districts is due, I think, to a good many causes. It is due to the spread of education, which makes our country youth discontented with their lot, and attracts them to the towns. Improved transit, cheap trains, bicycles, and so on, take them into the towns on Saturdays and Sundays, and when they come back, I think that they are liable to contrast the monotony of rural life with the hum and movement of the town. Then there is another cause—improved machinery. I remember a year or two ago, when on a farm I have in my own hands, I first bought a binder. I was told it would knock off five or six men during the harvest. Then, of course, there is emigration to Canada, which opens up a wider life to the energetic youth of the country. But we must not forget that the chief cause of depopulation in the country is the limited livelihood which can be got out of crofts and small farms. This is due, as your Lordships know, to the depression of agriculture, which is due in turn to bad seasons, foreign competition, and fall in prices. These are the real causes of the depopulation in the rural districts, and I do not see how this Bill is going to rectify them In good years, I know, small holdings may be made to pay. The result in bad years to the small landholder who has no other means of support will be poverty, hardship, and very often bankruptcy.
I believe this Bill is a quack remedy—it is unjust to the landlord, and of doubtful value to the tenants. The present high state of farming in Scotland, which has evolved from a system of small 1239 holdings which existed in the eighteenth century, is due to the co-operation of landlord and tenant. The former gives it its first impetus by putting his capital into buildings and leaving the tenant his whole capital free for the equipment of his farm. Each one does his part, and the ground is thereby worked to the best advantage. They are mutually dependent on one another, and I believe that in their community of interests lies the bed-rock of successful agriculture. Now, my Lords, all this is to be changed, and a new and fantastic system is to be set up to replace it. The goodwill that exists between landlord and tenant is to be sacrificed to an idea. This system is to be controlled by a Land Court which has arbitrary powers, but no local knowledge. It will do things which the landlords themselves would have done very much better, and will have financial control without, as far as I can see, any financial responsibility. Why this power should not be left to the county councils in Scotland as in England I cannot understand. At all events, the county councils would have local knowledge which the gentlemen sitting in Edinburgh will not. It strikes me that this Bill deals not so much with land as with capital invested in land, and I think the arbitrary reversal of a system under which this capital has been invested is unjust and unfair. This Bill, instead of attracting fresh capital to agriculture, which is as necessary to agriculture as it is to industrial or commercial enterprise, will have the effect of driving capital away and encouraging its employment in more lucrative and less risky undertakings. No one will invest in land when he loses the control over it. It is obvious that the effect of this Bill will be to check the investment of owners' capital, and discourage the purchase of estates by men of means, willing to expend large sums of money in cottages and in putting up steadings, and in providing general employment on their estates. The justification for the Crofters Act was to secure to the crofters the possession of the capital created by themselves, and its application to small holdings is only justifiable where the capital invested has been invested by the occupiers and not by the owners. This Bill entirely destroys the free trade limit, and it introduces Protection, not against the foreigner, but against the neighbouring farmers.
1240 I should like to say one word on the demand for this measure in Scotland. Mr. Jesse Collings, who cannot be accused of want of sympathy with the working classes, described this Bill as rubbish. He further condemned it root and branch on Second Reading in the House of Commons. To show that there is no overwhelming opinion in favour of the Bill in Scotland, I will quote from the Aberdeen Free Press, a high-class Radical journal which consistently supports the Government in its general policy. This newspaper, in its issue of the 10th instant, says—The proceedings in connection with this Bill in Grand Committee have been freely criticised as a farce on account of their consisting mainly of the forcing through of its provisions by means of the Closure and the guillotine with little or nothing in the way of genuine, open-minded, free discussion. But much the same may be said of the whole proceedings in connection with the Bill in the House of Commons; there has been very little real discussion of the measure from the beginning of the proceeding to the end.The Aberdeen Free Press goes to say that it is notorious that on various points Liberal Members do not like the Bill and would gladly see it amended, and that the Highland Members are mostly of opinion that its operations should be limited to the crofter districts. Then follows a little advice to your Lordships, to read the Bill a Second Time, but to amend it in the direction stated, in which action it is declared your Lordships would have the approval of a large section of the general community. This, my Lords, is the opinion of the Radical paper in Aberdeen. I merely mention the matter to show that there is no overwhelming mass of opinion in favour of the Bill in Scotland, and I hope your Lordships will reject it on Second Reading.
§ LORD BLYTHSWOOD
My Lords, as the Duke of Montrose has referred to Renfrewshire, and as I belong to that county, I feel it my duty to state, in a few words, the feeling there among agriculturists towards this Bill. Being one of them I know their aspirations, and I also know that this Bill is looked upon with great aversion by them. They feel that the security which they have enjoyed under the present system for generations would be shaken to its foundations, and that in future all the work that they have 1241 put out on the land, all the reclamation that they have made, may be carried away at one fell swoop. They also feel sore at the fact that those who are to be planted on the farms from which they are to be evicted may not, and probably will not, know anything about agriculture. The Government are proposing to divorce from the land the very men who have made the land what it is. This would check the expenditure of capital and the improvement of the land. It has been the custom for hundreds of years in Scotland for landlords to supply the whole of the capital for permanent improvements. Who will perform those duties in the future under this Bill? The tenants put in their skill and the landlords put in their money, and between them they have fought bad times; and it is well known that the condition of agriculture in the north of Scotland is unsurpassed anywhere. You are going to remove fundamentally the very basis upon which these improvements have been made. You are going to set up a Land Court, which in Ireland has proved a curse to the country. You are going to make fixity of tenure where it is not wanted, because every tenant farmer knows perfectly well that, if he does his duty, there is no chance of his beingturned out. I can assure you that in my own neighbourhood the holdings are occupied by the successors of tenants who have been on the estate hundreds of years. Will not these men have a burning sense of injustice if they are turned out of the homes in which they live, and in which they hope to die? For these reasons I shall vote with all my heart against this abominable Bill.
§ * THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the arguments which have been advanced against this unfortunate measure have been so numerous and so cogent that I do not think I need detain your Lordships long. I doubt whether any measure has ever been subjected to weightier destructive criticism than that contained in the two speeches delivered last night by my noble friend Lord Balfour and the noble Earl on the cross benches (Lord Rosebery).
I may be excused for saying that the arguments which have been advanced in support of the case put by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack have not 1242 been very numerous, nor, in our opinion, very conclusive. We have had this evening the advautage of listening to the noble Earl who presides over the Board of Agriculture, and who bestowed upon the House a liberal allowance, shall I say of that milk-blended butter of which he is such an artistic manipulator? But he will forgive us if we say that he did not appear to us to get very close to the real points which were before the House. The most distinct statement that I collected from him was that he had no objection to divest himself of part of his mantle and pass it on to the new Board at Edinburgh.
Yesterday we had the speech of my noble friend the First Lord of the Admiralty; of that I will only say that he appears to be one of those who believes that there is more faith in honest doubt than in the Government creed, and we should be glad to know a little more of the extent to which those doubts have carried him. Comment has already been made on the silence, still unbroken, of the noble Earl the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and there is another noble Lord, Who usually conducts, with much modesty but also in a very efficient manner, the business of the Scottish Office, who has not contributed his quota to the discussion. So weak has the first line been that His Majesty's Government have apparently been compelled to call over their reserves from Dublin, and to produce his Excellency the Lord-Lieutenant, who has come here, no doubt full of his recent experience in Ireland, and ready to justify upon those experiences a proposal, I suppose I may say, to Hibernicise Scotland.
I have only one or two words to say with reference to the omissions from the arguments of noble Lords opposite. The principal omission seems to me to be that not one of them has attempted to bridge the remarkable gap in the argument of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, who spoke very eloquently and with the feeling and conviction which characterise his speeches, upon the evils of overcrowding in the large cities of Scotland. I do earnestly trust that if we differ from him on this occasion he will not think that we are callous and indifferent to these great evils. I will go as far as to say this, that if I believed that by encouraging small holdings in Scotland or extending the crofter system on the 1243 lines proposed by this Bill, we could at once make a substantial beginning towards reducing the evils of overcrowding, I should be ready to swallow a great part of my principles and to regard this Bill with feelings very different from those which at the present time I entertain towards it.
But no attempt has been made to show that there is any real connection between this question of overcrowding and the state of the law with regard to crofters and small holdings in Scotland. No attempt has been made to show that the passing of this Bill would appreciably diminish the evils to which the noble and learned Lord referred. On the contrary, it has been shown to demonstration that these evils exist elsewhere, and that they are easily to be explained by circumstances which have been described to the House. The importance of this argument seems to me to lie in this—that before you attempt to undermine the present agricultural system in Scotland the onus lies upon you to show that what you are going to do is really likely to achieve the object you have in view. I use that expression "undermine" advisedly, because I believe that as surely as we stand here to-night so surely shall we, if we introduce the beginning of the Irish land system in Scotland, undermine and destroy the whole fabric of agricultural society in that country.
I dare say I shall be told that if this Bill became law we should only have the Irish tenure here and there and applicable to small and exceptionally-circumstanced patches of land. But I appeal to my friends who remember the history of our Irish legislation to say if at one time there was not the same hope that the exceptional legislation applied to Ireland would be limited and confined to certain areas and certain classes of cases. It was thought at one time that that legislation need only be applied to tenancies below a certain size; it was thought it might be restricted to the more congested portions of the country; at one time leaseholds were excluded; and I believe I am right in saying that even now there lurk somewhere or other provisions giving immunity to estates managed upon the English system. But all these limits and all these attempts at restricting the operations of our Irish legislation 1244 have proved innocuous, and what my noble friend on the cross benches called the "bacillus of the Irish land system" now pervades the whole body, weakening its power and paralysing its energies.
After all, there was to a certain extent a justification for this exceptional legislation in the case of Ireland. We were told, and not without truth, that a great part of the Irish tenants were small and helpless people, unable to make their own contracts, incapable of taking care of themselves. We were told, and not without truth, that it was the custom in Ireland for the tenant, and not the landlord, to make the improvements. We were told, also with truth, that in many parts of Ireland a custom of tenant right was already in existence. What we did in Ireland, or what we professed to do, was therefore to transfer legally to the cultivators of the soil something which was already morally and in fact theirs. That system was introduced, not because anybody thought it an ideal or desirable system, but because it was believed to be inevitable, considering the circumstances of the country.
Exactly the same justification, for what it was worth, was forthcoming in the case of the exceptional legislation dealing with the crofters in Scotland. The same, or analogous, conditions were known to prevail, and accordingly analogous legislation was passed by Parliament. And if you can show that ouside the areas now earmarked as crofting areas there are other areas within which the same conditions prevail, I am quite prepared to say, "Let us extend our exceptional legislation to those areas." But outside the crofter areas in Scotland, will anyone say that the conditions of agriculture approach in the least to the conditions which prevail in Ireland or which prevailed in the crofter areas? Nothing could be further from the truth. Who will say that the ordinary Scottish Lowland tenant is a helpless person, unfit to make his own contracts, or that the average Scottish landlord is a person who fails to make the necessary improvements upon his estate? I would venture to say that if there is any difference between Scotland outside the crofter areas and the rest of Great Britain, the difference is that in Scotland the relations of landlord and tenant are more contractual 1245 and more closely defined on conditions understood by each party, and acceptable to each party, than they are south of the River Tweed.
Then has this system, which I might call the British system, worked harshly or inequitably as against the tenants in Scotland? That has never been alleged in the course of this debate by any one of the noble Lords who have addressed us. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, with that straightforwardness which never fails him, told us frankly that he made no such allegation. What he said was that, in his view, the question of fixity of tenure made all the difference between a man being prosperous or un-prosperous. Is the noble and learned Lord quite sure that that is a general proposition that can be advanced? Every tenant in Ireland since 1881 has enjoyed fixity of tenure. What about the 8, 000 applications from evicted tenants which are now engaging the attention of His Majesty's Ministers? Surely that alone is enough to show that fixity of tenure does not always bring prosperity and contentment in its train.
Have any grounds been alleged for thus differentiating between Great Britain south of the Tweed and the non-crofter districts of Scotland? Hitherto the same laws have applied to both. The same Act dealing with land tenure was made applicable to both. The law with regard to allotments and the law with regard to small holdings is practically the same. What, then, can you allege in support of the view that in this particular case you are to deal differently with people who are really occupying their land under precisely similar conditions? Does it not come to this, that you are going in Scotland to discard and put on one side a system which has been tried and which has stood the test, in favour of another system which has also been tried but has failed egregiously when the test was applied to it? The English system has stood the test of trial. When we cast our minds back to what we speak of as the "bad times" may we not say with some pride that unless our land system had been a sound one the owners and occupiers of land would never have emerged from that great trial as creditably and as successfully as they did? 1246 But when you come to the Irish system, how many Acts has Parliament been called upon to pass since we first began our Rake's Progress in the year 1870? I sometimes blush for our reputation as legislators when I consider the number of intricate statutes, each endeavouring to patch up and tinker some flaw in its predecessor, in which we have found it necessary to embody the code of law under which the peasants of Ireland occupy their holdings. And have we not within the last few days had a crowning example of our ill-success in that monstrosity of legislation, the Evicted Tenants Bill, which now lies on the Table of the House? Again, consider the number of Committees and Commissions which have inquired into the Irish land system and the manner in which those Committees and Commissions have successively condemned it. I dwell for a moment on this point because it touches very closely one made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in his opening speech.
The Lord Chancellor told us not to be alarmed by this legislation, because he said it was the intention of the Government to appoint as Land Commissioners men absolutely fair, just, and impartial. My noble friends who are connected with Ireland will carry their minds back to a similar reassurance which was given to us in the year 1881. We were then told that the administration of the new law would be entrusted to men who had every claim to our confidence, and the names of the three original Commissioners, men of the highest positions, were printed in that Bill. Three years afterwards a Committee presided over by Lord Cairns examined into the administration of the Land Act. And this is what they had to report. They said that the duty of fixing rent had been assigned to the three Commissioners named in the Act, whose names and standing were stated to be a sufficient guarantee that the duties would be effectively and impartially discharged, but that duty was subsequently delegated to sub-Commissioners, a very numerous body, and that this delegation to sub Commissioners was made before a single case had been heard in the first instance by the Commissioners themselves. So much for the security given by the original appointment in the 1247 Act of these impartial men. The Committee went on—No principles had been discovered, nor had those who practised in the Courts any conception of the nature of them.That is not very encouraging as a precedent.
Then in 1898 a Royal Commission, presided over by Sir Edward Fry, dealt with the same question. They animadverted strongly upon the general dissatisfaction created in the minds of litigants, the enormous increase in the number of appeals, the intense suspicion with which the whole body of assistant Commissioners and Court valuers were regarded, especially those who held office for short periods, or were paid by the day, and were suspected of lowering rents so as to keep the machinery at work, and the evil wrought by the unrest which was generated by periodical settlements of rent under such conditions. The Commissioners made this remarkable observation:—In such fashion is the solution attempted of one of the most arduous problems of distributive justice which has ever yet been raised.That is the fashion in which apparently it is desired that the same problem should be dealt with in another part of the United Kingdom. If I wanted even more recent confirmation of what I have quoted, I should find it in the statement made the other day before Lord Dudley's Commission by Mr. Finucane. He described the present system asone which leads to the deterioration of land, to the discouragement of improvements, and to perjury in the Courts and demoralisation of the worst character.That is what you are asked to extend to another part of the United Kingdom. I may supplement these extracts with a little anecdote which I really think is instructive. Last week a distinguished foreigner, a high official of the French Government, paid a visit to your Lordships' House. He found himself in the gallery, and he asked the person with him what subject was being debated. He was told that it was the question of the Irish evicted tenants. He said—"Dear me, the last time I was in the gallery of the House of Lords—it was twenty-five years ago—the Peers were then discussing precisely the same subject," 1248 and he added—"I suppose they have been discussing it ever since."
I will not detain your Lordships by going at length into the manner in which this Bill will affect the different classes of the community who will feel its effects. Of the farming class I will only say one word by way of warning and entreaty. I do trust that your Lordships will not allow yourselves to be carried away by the idea that these small holdings are a panacea for all the ailments of the agricultural community. Small holdings, we who have had the experience of them know, succeed in certain places where you have exceptionally situated land, and perhaps an exceptional class of people to deal with it. But the idea that because, let us say, fruit cultivation succeeds in certain areas in Scotland you are going to make it succeed all over Scotland is a wild imagination. I know—and I am sure some of my Scottish friends are familiar with it—a district in the neighbourhood of the little town of Blairgowrie where you can drive for a great distance through luxurious plantations of strawberries and raspberries. But do you imagine that you could grow strawberries and raspberries all over Scotland? And if you could, what do you imagine would be the feelings and the fate of the unfortunate people who have at great cost and trouble built up this industry for themselves? You would find that the original cultivators would be the first to complain if you extended your experiment too far afield.
Then I will also venture this further word of warning. The more I consider the effect of this Bill the more I am convinced that the small holders whom you are going to create will find themselves in a position not altogether enviable. They will, to begin with, it seems to me, inevitably hold their land at a high rent, for this reason—you will have to add to the natural fair rent of the land a consider able sum by way of interest on the cost of the buildings and equipments with which the holdings will have to be provided; and unless you make room for that interest by unjustly cutting down the original rent due to the landlord, it follows that the small tenants will sit for a considerable number of years under a rent very considerably higher than that of their neighbours.
1249 Then I am not at all sure that your small holder will greatly enjoy and appreciate the position in which he will find himself with regard to the authorities under whom he will hold his land. Scotsmen are very independent people, and I am not at all sure that the average Scottish tenant will greatly enjoy remaining in statu pupillari for an indefinite time, not allowed to deal freely with his holding, not possessing, on the one hand, the advantages of ownership, nor, on the other, the advantages which belong to a tenancy as we now understand it. To make the picture complete you must picture to yourselves that interminable vista of litigation, the septennial revision of rent lying ahead of the tenant, full of perplexity, disturbing his relations with his landlord, and making him, I should think, in many respects a very uncomfortable and unsettled sort of person.
As to the effect of the Bill upon the landlords, I should like to point out that one result cannot fail to be to discourage those landlords who are naturally favourable to small holdings from increasing the number of them. Many of us have long been believers in the system of what is sometimes spoken of as the graduation of holdings. I have always observed in these discussions that when anyone has suggested that there should be a sort of sliding scale of farms of different sizes, so that an enterprising labourer might have an opportunity of working his way up to I the top of the scale, that sentiment has been loudly cheered. But is anything more likely to deter landowners from creating these small holdings than the knowledge that every one of them will be a little island in the middle of his estate upon which a system unlike anything he has hitherto been used to will prevail?
I do not think we can shut our eyes to the fact that so far as this Bill is allowed to apply, to that extent it will purely and simply confiscate part of the landlord's property. Throughout these debates we I constantly come upon expressions of this kind used by the promoters of this legislation. We are told that nothing is taken I from the landlord under the Bill; that in no case does he stand to lose. I agree with my noble friend Lord Camperdown. I think those sayings betray what I can only describe as the unfathomable ignorance 1250 of many people with regard to the question of land ownership and land tenure. What is it that makes ownership of land attractive? It is surely not to be recommended as an investment. I do not know that any investment has turned out more disastrously. Most of the large proprietors if they now had in their pockets the sums which have been spent from time to time in the improvement of their estates, would be rich beyond the dreams of avarice. Surely what gives reality to ownership, what makes it a valuable and precious thing to many people, is that we have hitherto associated with it the power of guiding the destinies of the estate, of superintending its development and improvement, and, above all things, the right to select the persons to be associated with the proprietor in the cultivation of the soil. That is to my mind the true relation between landlords and tenants as we know them in this country. They are partners ready to stand and fall together, and to submit to sacrifices, one for the sake of the other.
But try to conceive to yourselves any other kind of partnership—a business partnership in which the senior partner owns four-fifths of the capital, and the junior partner one-fifth. That is, I believe, about the proportion which represents the interests of the landlord and the tenant on an English-managed estate. Then imagine that the Legislature comes in and says to the senior partner, "We condemn you to keep your partner whether you like him or not. You are to keep him upon terms which somebody else fixes for you, on no previously known or ascertained principle. Moreover, your partner is to be in such a position that he may, if he pleases, leave you in the lurch at any moment, although you cannot get rid of him. And, finally, he is to be allowed to conduct the business virtually on the lines that he pleases."
Now all that is the negation of ownership, and if you impose conditions of that kind on the ownership of land in these islands you confiscate part of the landlord's property every whit as effectually as if you were to come to him and say, "You must give me up two acres out of every five you possess in order that I may do with it exactly as I please." If noble Lords opposite challenge the accuracy of 1251 that statement, I say let them go to any experienced land valuer and ask him what would be the difference in value of the same number of acres, on the one hand subject to these new conditions, and on the other hand owned as landowners have hitherto been accustomed to own their estates. Or if you like to try it in a different way, go to any firm of solicitors—I care not where they are—and ask whether they think that a mortgage would be as well secured on the one class of estate as on the other. I have absolutely no doubt as to the reply you would receive.
There is another class of the community, and an important one, which has to be considered. I mean the taxpayers of this country. Is this Bill going to be a very good bargain for them? To begin with, there is a little account of £65, 000 a year; then there are all the expenses of the Land Court and of the Agricultural Commissioners, and in addition to that the claims for compensation to the landlord when, in order to further the purposes of this Bill, you take slices out of the larger holdings in order to manufacture smaller ones. Besides all that there is in the background—and I do not think we ought to forget it—a larger and remoter claim which may become extremely formidable—I mean the claim which will arise should this experiment be tried on a large scale and fail to a considerable extent. Many of us have had personal experience of cases where for a few years, particularly if old pasture had been broken up for an experiment of this kind, everything at first went well. Luxuriant crops, the produce of the carefully husbanded and stored-up fertility of the soil are gathered. The soil be comes exhausted; the cultivator cares no longer to go on with the cultivation, and the land is thrown back on somebody, exhausted and almost worthless. The Prime Minister has stated that in that case the loss is to fall upon the State, and I trust that people will remember that that is a liability—perhaps not an immediate liability, but a liability—which has to be taken into account. I will not dwell upon the ease of the ratepayers, because that was treated exhaustively by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, but the case of the Scottish ratepayers certainly is one which has to be taken into consideration.
1252 Then, my Lords, there is another class of the community which is likely to be affected by this Bill. Many of the farmers of the United Kingdom, not only of Scotland, regard with profound alarm the proposal to take away from the Board of Agriculture the power which that Board now enjoys of dealing with the question of the contagious diseases of animals. I have received from many parts of the country letters expressing the deepest concern at the idea of this transference, and that, I think, is also one of the new liabilities which this Bill brings into existence. I will not at this hour of the evening enter into other points; but I will express my hope that when the noble Marquess rises he will endeavour to deal with some, at any rate, of the arguments which have been used from this side of the House, and which, in our view, have not yet received any adequate reply.
But before I sit down I wish to say one word as to our views on the manner in which the Bill should be dealt with this evening. This Bill is a composite measure. It contains some provisions which seem to us not undesirable. It contains others to which nothing will induce us to assent. To the proposal to establish in Scotland a Land Court on the Irish model we shall offer the most uncompromising opposition. To the further extension of small holdings in Scotland we are entirely favourable, and we are quite ready to join with His Majesty's Government in doing for Scotland whatever we are going to do for England in regard to small holdings. Thirdly, we have no feeling of hostility whatever towards the Crofters Acts, and if, as I believe is the ease, these Acts stand in need of amendment on certain points, we are ready to consider those amendments with a perfectly open mind, and with the desire to make the crofter legislation as complete as those who believe in it can desire. I may refer to the instructive speech delivered last night by my noble friend Lord Lovat, who mentioned four points in regard to which he thought the Crofters Acts stood in need of extension.
How can we best set to work to give effect to the policy which I have just endeavoured to describe? I wish that even now we could expect 1253 from His Majesty's Government some help in giving effect to a policy which, no doubt, is not identical with theirs, but which no one can deny would go very far towards arriving at the objects which they themselves have in view; but I am not greatly encouraged by what little I know of the attitude of noble Lords on the Front Bench opposite; and I am afraid that we must endeavour to do for ourselves what we can in order to give effect to the views which I have expressed.
Therefore, I venture with great respect to suggest to your Lordships that we should ask Lord Balfour of Burleigh not to press his Resolution to a division this evening. If it were carried it would obviously put it entirely out of our power to do anything more for Scotland this year. It would put it out of our power to do anything in the direction of small holdings or in the direction of the amendment of the Crofters Acts. I venture accordingly to suggest that we should adjourn further consideration of this Bill until we have had before us the English Small Holdings Bill. When that Bill has been discussed and disposed of, I recommend that we should resume the consideration of the Scottish Bill, and that we should add to it clauses dealing with small holdings, mutatis mutandis, on the same lines as those on which the question of small holdings is dealt with in the English Bill. Further, I would propose that we should amend the Scottish Bill by adding to it some Amendments as to crofters I which we believe to be necessary.
Lastly, when that moment comes, I hope your Lordships will expunge root and branch the whole of the provisions designed to substitute for the time-honoured agricultural system which we have known so long both in England and in Scotland, which has worked so well, which has brought about such excellent cultivation of the soil and such good relations between those who own it and those who occupy it, a system of which we have had such bitter experience in Ireland—a system the fruit of which has poisoned the life and distracted the whole agricultural community of that unfortunate country. I move the adjournment of the debate.
§ Moved, "That the debate be now adjourned."—(The Marquess of Lansdowne.)1254
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL (The Marquess of RIPON)
My Lords, I rise to speak to the Motion for the adjournment. I desire to reserve what I have to say till the Bill reaches a stage at which it can be concluded. If the debate is adjourned that conclusion cannot be arrived at to-night. I believe the course the noble Marquess proposes to take is one altogether unprecedented. He proposes to move the adjournment of the debate sine die in order that he may wait to see what course your Lordships would desire to take with respect to the English Bill, which will probably arrive in this House to-morrow. The noble Marquess and others in this House, particularly my noble friend Lord Newton, seemed to be very displeased with me, because on another occasion I could not prophesy what the course was that this House was likely to take. The last thing I would have prophesied is the course the noble Marquess has taken to-night. I was, therefore, quite right in not being rash in committing myself to anything. I say the course proposed is wholly unprecedented. You want to hang up the Second Reading of this Bill until it suits you to take it up again. You want to deal with the English Bill first and then deal with this Bill. To that proposal the Government can be no party. We will be no party to delaying or postponing this question in that way. If you like to read this Bill a second time the postponement of the fixing of a date for the Committee is one thing; but if you propose to leave us under the shadow either of the hostile Motion of Lord Balfour or in doubt when it may please you to finish the debate, then I say that that position of uncertainty is an unprecedented and an intolerable position. No doubt we are in a minority—an insignificant minority—in this House, but that is no reason why we should be treated in a manner for which there is not, I believe, to be found in the history of Parliament any precedent whatever. This Bill belongs to us; it is our Bill, and it is for us to say, subject, of course to the approval of the House, when it should be proceeded with. I will be no party, nor will my friends behind me, to this proposal to adjourn the debate, leaving the Second Reading of the Bill hanging over to some future period, when it may suit the convenience of noble Lords opposite to bring it forward again, if that period 1255 should ever arrive. I therefore feel it my duty to give my strongest opposition to the proposal to adjourn this debate at the present moment.
THE EARL OF ROSEBERY
My Lords, I should like to say a word on the question of adjournment. I have heard no valid reason against the course proposed to be adopted, except that it is said to be unprecedented. I did not know that the Liberal Party were slaves to precedent; indeed I rather thought they prided themselves upon emancipation from precedent, and so far as this Bill is concerned, emancipation from precedent is one of its principal features. I do not conceive there is any adequate reason for not doing as is proposed. We want to have the whole land policy of His Majesty's Government before us at the same time. The noble Marquess wishes us to deal with it in instalments, but when you bring in land measures affecting the whole island it is not usual to proceed by instalments. I do not go on precedent; I follow common sense and desire to know what is to be the policy of the Government north and south of the Tweed before we give sanction to the Second Reading of this Bill.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, the noble Earl and the noble Marquess have expressed the sentiments I desire to express in the words I would have chosen had I the ability to do so. But as I am responsible for the form the debate has taken in consequence of the Motion which I placed on the Paper, it might be hardly courteous to the House if I did not say a word or two on the question of the adjournment.
The noble Marquess opposite says the proposal is unprecedented and intolerable. I have heard it said that if there is no precedent and the case is a good one, the sooner you make a precedent the better. The proposal would have been intolerable if it had been intended to increase the difficulty of the situation and the friction, so far as any friction has arisen. The proposal is not for that purpose, but is made in the hope, faint though it may be, but in the genuine hope, that by its means, even at the eleventh hour, we who honestly profess to be as much in favour of small holdings as noble 1256 Lords opposite may find a means of cooperation.
To two main points in the Bill I strongly object—the indiscriminate extension of the crofter system and the introduction of a Land Court into Scotland with the evil of divided ownership. If these things were inevitable principles of the Bill, if they were inevitable things to face before you could have a system of small holdings increased or encouraged, then there might be something in the position of noble Lords opposite. But I believe they are not necessary, and I personally think they are a greater disadvantage, a greater danger, than any possible postponement of an increase of small holdings for a short time.
So far as I am concerned, and speaking only for myself, I cannot purchase peace on this matter by the introduction of these two things into the land system of Scotland, whatever misrepresentation I. and the House may be subjected to. I believe they are not inevitable incidents to the increase of small holdings, and my fear is that if we consent to the Second Reading of the Bill before we are able to make up our minds whether or not with the consent of the Government we can eliminate these two things from the Bill, we shall be running the risk of being charged, as we are often falsely charged, with accepting principles which are in a Bill by giving a Second Reading when we do not mean to accept those principles. I hope that by argument, in a few days, by meeting, if necessary, we may find a way out of the difficulty. If that is impossible, then with a clear conscience I hope the Bill will go to its-inevitable fate; but I desire to do anything that is possible to avoid that result, and in that earnest hope I most cordially consent to the proposal to adjourn the debate.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (Lord TWEEDMOUTH)
My Lords, the words we have heard from noble Lords opposite have been brave words, but the action that the Opposition intend to take is one full of irresolution. The words they have used not only justify, but would require, a Motion for the rejection of the Bill on Second Reading. That was the proper course for His 1257 Majesty's Opposition to take. It is absolutely impossible that we can accept the Motion for adjournment.
§ On Question, "That the debate be now adjourned, "their Lordships divided:—Contents, 162; Not-Contents, 39.1259
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Waldegrave, E. [Teller.]||Faber, L.|
|Agryll, D.||Westmeath, E.||Fairlie L. (E. Glasgow.)|
|Bedford, D.||Wicklow, E.||Fermanagh, L. (E. Erne.)|
|Northumberland, D.||Forester, L.|
|Richmond and Gordon, D.||Churchill, V. [Teller.]||Gage, L. (V. Gage.)|
|Sutherland, D.||Cross, V.||Herries, L.|
|Wellington, D.||Falkland, V.||Inchiquin, L.|
|Falmouth, V.||Inverclyde, L.|
|Ailesbury, M||Halifax, V.||Kenmare, L. (E. Kenmare.)|
|Ailsa, M.||Hampden, V.||Kensington, L.|
|Camden, M.||Hardinge, V.||Kenyon, L.|
|Hertford, M.||Hill, V.||Kilmaine, L.|
|Lansdowne, M.||Hood, V.||Kilmarnock, L. (E. Erroll.)|
|Salisbury, M.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Kintore, L. (E. Kintore.)|
|Ancaster, E.||Milner, V.||Lawrence, L.|
|Bradford, E.||St. Aldwyn, V.||Leith of Fyvie, L.|
|Camperdown, E.||Templetown, V.||Lovat, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Ludlow, L.|
|Carnwath, E.||Addington, L.||Massy, L.|
|Cathcart, E.||Alington, L.||Middleton, L.|
|Cawdor, E.||Amherst of Hackney, L.||Konckton, L. (V. Galway.)|
|Clarendon, E.||Ampthill, L.||Moncrieff, L.|
|Cowley, E.||Annaly, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Dartmouth, E.||Ardilaun, L.||Muskerry, L.|
|Dartrey, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Newlands, L.|
|Derby, E.||Atkinson, L.||Newton, L.|
|Devon, E.||Balfour, L.||North, L.|
|Doncaster, E. (D. Buccleuch and Queensberry.)||Balinhard, L. (E. Southesk.)||Oriel, L. (V. Massereene.)|
|Barrymore, L.||Oxenfoord, L. (E. Stair.)|
|Eldon, E.||Belhaven, and Stenton, L.||Poltimore, L.|
|Feversham, E.||Belper, L.||Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.)|
|Graham, E. (D. Montrose.)||Blythswood, L.|
|Haddington, E.||Borthwick, L.||Ramsay, L. (E. Dalhousie.)|
|Hardwicke, E.||Bowes, L. (E. Strathmore and Kinghorn.)||Rathdonnell, L.|
|Harewood, E.||Rathmore, L.|
|Ilchester E.||Braye, L.||Ribblesdale, L.|
|Innes, E. (D. Roxburghe.)||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Calthorpe, L.||Robertson, L.|
|Lindsey, E.||Carew, L.||Rosebery, L. (E. Rosebery.)|
|Malmesbury, E.||Carysfort, L. (E. Carysfort.)||St Oswald, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.)||Saltoun, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Cheylesmore, L.||Sanderson, L.|
|Mar and Kellie, E.||Clements, L. (E. Leitrim.)||Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)|
|Mayo, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Sinclair, L.|
|Morley, E.||Dawnay, L. (V. Downe).||Stalbridge, L.|
|Morton, E.||De L'Isle and Dudley, L.||Stanmore, L.|
|Mount Edgcumbe, E.||Digby, L.||Stewart of Garlies, L. (E. Galloway.)|
|Northesk, E.||Dormer, L.|
|Plymouth, E.||Douglas, L. (E. Home.)||Stuart of Castle Stuart, L. (E. Moray.)|
|Powis, E.||Dunalley, L.|
|Rosslyn, E.||Dunboyne, L.||Ventry, L.|
|Rothes, E.||Dunleath, L.||Waleran, L.|
|Saint Germans, E.||Ebury, L.||Wemyss, L. (E. Wemyss.)|
|Scarbrough, E.||Ellenborough, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Stanhope, E.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Estcourt, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Craven, E.||Gordon, V. (E. Aberdeen.)|
|Crewe, E. (L. President.)||Kimberley, E.|
|Ripon, M. (L. Privy Seal.)||Portsmouth, E.||Airedale, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Althorp, V. (L. Chamberlain.)||Blyth, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Castletown, L.|
|Colebrooke, L.||Granard, L. (E. Granard.) [Teller.]||O'Hagan, L.|
|Courtney of Penwith, L.||Pirrie, L.|
|Denman, L. [Teller.]||Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Elgin, L. (E. Elgin and Kincardine.)||Headley, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Stanley of Alderley, L.|
|Eversley, L.||Herschell, L.||Swaybling, L.|
|Farrer, L.||Lucas, L.||Tweedmouth, L.|
|Fitzmaurice, L.||Lyveden, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Glantawe, L.||Nunburnholme, L.||Welby, L.|
§ Debate adjourned accordingly sine die.