§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
§ * EARL CARRINGTON
My Lords, this Bill was read a first time in the other House on 27th May. On 12th and 13th June the Second Reading was passed without a division, and although it was considered by a Standing Committee of the Commons' House of Parliament on fifteen days, during which eighty divisions were taken, the closure was not brought into operation on any single occasion. The Bill then went down to the House of Commons again and was three days on Report, the Third Reading being also carried without a division. The Bill is a long one, consisting of forty-seven clauses and two schedules; and before I say anything with regard to its provisions perhaps I may be permitted to bear testimony to the ability, the tact, the temper, and the courage shown by my right hon. friend and colleague, Mr. Harcourt, in piloting the Bill through the House of Commons. Altogether the Bill was debated for twenty-one days, and I hope your Lordships will therefore consider that full time was accorded for its consideration.
In this Bill there is nothing new, there is nothing radical, there is nothing revolutionary. What we are trying to do by the Bill is merely to restore to the agricultural labourer some of the conditions under which he lived in the earlier part of the last century. Perhaps I may be permitted, very briefly, to refer by way of example to a single estate, of which I happen to have a little personal knowledge—I refer to the Ancaster estate at Grimithorpe, in Lincolnshire. In the year 1801 or 1802, a Report was asked for by my grandfather, who happened to be the President of the Board of Agriculture at that time, with reference to this estate, and the Commissioner who in response to 23 that request went down to Lincolnshire stated that at Grimthorpe every labourer had from three to fifteen acres, all had at least two cows, several ewes, sheep, and a pig or two. Their rent was from 10s. to 20s. per acre, and each labourer also had a cottage and a garden, for which he paid from 20s. to 40s. a year. In the words of the Report they were—An orderly, decent, church-going race of menand not a cottager on the Duke's estate ever demanded relief or aid from the parish, except under very exceptional circumstances, such as illness. They brought up their families well, and the poor rates at Grimthorpe were only ls. an acre all told. Corn was at that time 113s. a quarter, and the cost of living was proportionately high, but these men, by having a piece of land, were able to live a decent, honest life, and bring up their children in comparative comfort.
That happy state of things, as your Lordships are aware, came to an end. Then came the time of the hungry forties, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, the agitation in 1872, which was put down with a strong hand; but still the conditions of labourers remained very bad in England. In 1881 there were very nearly one million agricultural labourers—983,000 to be perfectly accurate—in this country, but in 1901 that figure had dwindled to 689,000—a decrease of 30 per cent. in twenty years. In the year 1892 the scales fell from men's eyes, and they saw that the continued creation of big farms was becoming a public danger. The Conservative Government, then in office, to their great credit brought in a Small Holdings Bill, which, however, was not altogether a success. It was described by my right hon. friend in another place as a pathetic failure, but on that I do not wish to dwell. I would rather remind the House that in 1887, and afterwards in 1892, the Conservative Party, to their very great credit and honour, gave us a lead, and the condition of the agricultural labourer passed from the sphere of Party politics. It became a national question, and the nation was determined to do away with what really was a national degradation and a national disgrace.
In 1905, when the present Government came into office, they found the law 24 relating to agricultural holdings in a very confused state. The county council, as the House knows, is the authority for putting in force small holdings under the Act of 1892, and small holdings may be any size from one to fifty acres. But under that Act the county councils could not purchase and they could not hire compulsorily. As regards allotments, the state of affairs was almost more confused still. Under the Act of 1887 allotments could not exceed one acre, but under the Act of 1894 parish councils had concurrent powers and under that Act allotments could be of any size except when compulsorily hired, and then they were limited to four acres of pasture or one acre of arable and three acres of pasture. Under the Act of 1887 the district council was the authority; under the 1894 Act the parish council was the authority. Still more difficult was the fact that the district council could purchase compulsorily but could not hire compulsorily, while the parish council could hire compulsorily but could not purchase compulsorily.
When my right hon. friend Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman became Prime Minister, he determined to take the agricultural question in hand in earnest. Last year we passed the Farmers' Charter—the Land Tenure Act. This year it is the turn of the labourers. We have been told that there has been no demand for small holdings. As to that I will give my own experience in connection with the Crown lands. When I was entrusted with the management of the Crown estates, with an area of 62,000 acres, there were only fourty-four small holdings on them. At the present moment I have applications for over 10,000 acres of land, or one sixth of the whole. Many of the applicants are men who would make a good living on the land, and in my first year I hope to have—i.e., by Michaelmas next—without doing any harm to any living being, 2,000 acres of Crown lands under cultivation by small holders.
I now come to the principle of the Bill. The main principle of the Bill is to let land on lease with security of tenure at a fair rent, as against establishing a peasant proprietary. We have a great many authorities on our side—the Duke of Richmond's Commission, the 25 Royal Commission of 1893, Mr. Chamberlain's Select Committee, the Cambridge County Council, Mr. Le Strange, Miss Jebb, and Mr. James Macdonald, secretary of the Highland Society. I must not forget the Committee over which my noble friend Lord Onslow presided, and which did such good service to the agricultural world. In his report the noble Earl does not in any way discard peasant proprietorship, but he says he is bound to admit from the evidence submitted to the Committee that the desire to hold land as an owner is less strong in Great Britain than in Ireland or on the Continent. Mr. Jesse Collings, perhaps the pioneer of small holdings, spoke in the House of Commons of the great magic of property, but I honestly think that what people really want is not so much to be the owner of a little bit of land as to have security of the land on which they get their living. But perhaps the most important argument of all in favour of hiring as against purchase is that it enables land to be temporarily used by small holders at a fair rent while it is ripening for building purposes. Moreover, a sort of iron band of freehold small holdings would necessarily hamper the legitimate expansion and development of many of our country towns.
The main objects of the Bill are three—first, to establish a central authority to organise the general administration of these Acts; secondly, to put pressure on county councils who are unwilling to take action of their own accord; and, thirdly, to give further facilities for the provision of small holdings to be leased and not sold. The Bill provides that the Board of Agriculture shall appoint Small Holdings Commissioners—not less than two—and other officers who are to be paid by Parliament, and their duties are to gather information with respect to the demand for small holdings actual or prospective. They will, if there is any demand for small holdings, send in a report to the Board of Agriculture, and the Board, if they think it desirable, will forward the report to the county council. There are three stages to be gone through. The first is the report stage, and it is on that stage that I am now speaking. If the Commissioners report that a demand exists, the county council are given six months, or such longer time as may be thought fit, to 26 prepare a scheme of a general character. I now come to the second stage. The scheme is to indicate the localities in which small holdings are to be provided, but not to specify or earmark any particular land. These schemes are to be submitted to the Board of Agriculture, who, after considering the objections, if any, will settle the scheme either with or without modification, or may annul it altogether. And if it appears to the Board of Agriculture that the carrying out of the scheme by the county council results in a loss, the Board of Agriculture will pay one half of the loss incurred.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
The subsection reads—If it appears to the Board that the carrying out of a scheme under this Act has resulted or is likely to result in a loss, the Board may, with the consent of the Treasury, pay or undertake to pay out of the Small Holdings Account the whole or any part of that loss.The Treasury have however undertaken in the case I mentioned to pay half of the loss. If the scheme is carried out by the Commissioners against the will of the county council and the result is a loss, the Board of Agriculture may pay the whole or part of that loss. That, I think the House will agree, is quite right.
Then the Board of Agriculture may give object lessons by themselves providing small holdings. That is a recommendation in Lord Onslow's Report, and it has been put into the Bill. A special account is sanctioned by the Treasury, called the Small Holdings Account, and I am glad to be able to say that the Treasury have behaved with great liberality and have earmarked £100,000 which is to be placed to the credit of that account for the first year. Out of that fund will be paid—(1) the contributions towards the losses incurred by county councils or the Commissioners under Clause 5; (2) the expenses incurred in carrying out the experimental small holdings, as recommended by Lord Onslow's Committee; (3) the contributions towards the incidental expenses of acquiring land which it is not fair to ask the cultivating tenants to pay; and (4) grants to co-operative and other societies under Clause 39 and the minor payment to be found in Clause 26. 27 I now come to the compulsory purchase or hiring of land. This land is to be let to the tenants on lease. The power is in the 6th clause, and the procedure in the 26th. Where land is compulsorily hired by local authorities under Clause 26 it must be for a term of not less than fourteen years and not more than thirty-five years, and the county council, by giving notice—not more than two years' notice and not less than one—can renew compulsorily for a similar term; that is to say, if these small holdings are, as I firmly believe they will be, a great success, the lease can be renewed at the end of the term, whatever it is, and of course the land will be revalued at the time. If it has become intrinsically more valuable, of course the rent will go up, and if there has been any depreciation in the value naturally it will go down. If there is a burning desire among would-be small holders to buy their piece of land, as we are told there is, they can do so under the Act of 1892, which is not interfered with in any way by the present Bill; but land so acquired must be obtained voluntarily and by agreement.
The procedure for the compulsory purchase of land we have tried to make as simple and inexpensive as possible, and it is based on the Parish Councils Act of 1894. This is what may be done. The county council will submit to the Board of Agriculture an order, under the Lands Clauses Act of 1845, to purchase or hire compulsorily such land as is specified in the order. Under the order the land is specified; under the scheme no particular land is earmarked at all. The county council then give notice to all the owners, occupiers, and lessees, and these men are given the opportunity of being heard at an inquiry, where the witnesses can be put on oath. And to prevent any unnecessary expense no expert witnesses and no legal gentlemen will be allowed to appear. Then, in the same way as in a scheme, the Board, after considering these objections, may confirm the order, with, or without modifications, or they may annul it; and to keep the expenses down, which is a great object in the Bill, and to make the thing work as cheaply and in as workmanlike a manner as possible, the Board of Agriculture, with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, may fix a scale of costs. Then there is a new departure in that connection. The 28 council may withdraw from the transaction altogether if it thinks that the scheme cannot be made to pay, but that withdrawal must be within six weeks of the award.
I now come to what is perhaps one of the most important parts of the Bill and that which will really make it a workable measure and ensure its great success—the extension of the time for the repayment of the loan for land compulsorily purchased from fifty to eighty years. That has been allowed both by the Local Government Board and by the Treasury. Perhaps your Lordships may not think there is very much in that, but it makes an extraordinary difference. In the supposed case of £100 required for the purchase of three acres—£33 6s. 8d. an acre—the difference made to the rent by the extension of the period of repayment of the loan from fifty to eighty years is the difference between 5s. ld. and 1s. 7d. The interest is fixed by the Treasury Minute of 1904 at 3½ per cent., and therefore the land, when the sinking fund is represented by ls. 7d. can be let at £1 4s. 11d., say £1 5s. per acre. I think we may congratulate ourselves upon the fact that we shall be able to offer land to small holders at a rent of £1 5s. per acre.
Then comes the question of equipment. On that question I must remind your Lordships that the Public Works Loan Commissioners only lend money for equipment for fifty years. As your Lordships know, some land will not require any equipment. If you let anything from five to ten acres of land to a man who has some land already and who has buildings and a house, he will not want any equipment on the additional land. Another case where small holdings will require no equipment is where a farm is already equipped with buildings which lend themselves to subdivision. I know of a farm of 322 acres the tenant of which died and the widow wanted to be released. The farm was thereupon let to six or seven men, and was subdivided without the least difficulty. Two of the men were put into the two cottages that were on the estate, and the others lived in their homes in the village adjacent to the farm; and the buildings were subdivided by the landlord at a cost of —150. Your Lordships know what the expense is in connection with change 29 of tenant, and I venture to think you would regard yourselves very lucky if you got out of the reletting of 322 acres of land with an expenditure of so small a sum. The Crown Commissioners had a 500-acre farm in hand for sixteen or seventeen years, and a gentleman farmer who wished to take it at 10s. an acre rent said he would like a few things done. I added them up and found that the demand represented an expenditure of £1,500. I respectfully pointed out to him that that was six years rent, and I wished him a very good day and we have heard nothing from him since.
In the case of land that requires complete equipment, I should like to allude to what we have done in that respect on the Crown lands. There were two farms in Norfolk, a certain portion of each of which we took, with the entire consent of the tenants. In one case the tenant used to farm 1,100 acres, for which he paid a rent of £1,000 a year. The farm was in a very poor condition. There were great complaints about the rabbits, and I sent down two rabbit-catchers, who, in the first field of forty-five acres, caught 1,000 rabbits. We have given the tenant 366 acres of the best land, all the buildings, and a very comfortable farmhouse. His rent, and that of the small holdings, together for the first year, though the farm is in a terribly bad condition, is £1,190; for the second year we shall get £1,340; and for the third year £1,480. That shows that, so far as the Treasury is concerned, there will be no loss. The cost of equipment in this case works out at an extra rent of 5s. 2d., and in the other case of 7s. 6d. an acre.
Taking what I will call the prairie value of the bare land at £1 5s., and adding 7s. 6d for equipment, including houses, buildings fencing, and water supply, £1 12s. 6d. is what the small holder would have to pay. Take the average rent of cottages all over England as 3s. a week, that comes to £7 16s. Well, £7 16s. is nearly the rent of five acres of land; so that the money that the tenant would have to pay for his cottage is the same, and he has five acres of land thrown in free. It is declared to be impossible for the men to pay these rents, but actual practical evidence shows that such a plan as I have indicated can be profitably carried out if the right people are engaged and you get suitable land. 30 I pass now from the question of equipment to say a few words on thebonne bouche I have kept to the last—namely, the protection afforded to the landlord's interests. Clause 30, Subsection (1) provides that—No land shall be authorised by an order under this Act to be acquired compulsorily for the purposes of small holdings or allotments which at the date of the order forms part of any park, garden, pleasure ground, or other and required for the amenity or convenience of any dwelling-house, or which at that date the property of any local authority or has peen acquired by any corporation or company for the purposes of a railway, dock, canal, water, or other public undertaking.Further, regard will be had to the extent of an owner's property and the local conditions, and no holding of less than fifty acres will be taken. Then it is provided that where land has been hired by a council compulsorily under this Bill, and the land or any part thereof at any time during the tenancy by the council is shown to the satisfaction of the Board to be required by the landlord to be used for building, mining, or other industrial purposes, it shall be lawful for the landlord to resume possession of the land or part thereof upon giving to the council twelve months previous notice in writing of his intention so to do. If a part only of the land is resumed the rent payable by the council is to be reduced by such sum as, in default of agreement, may be determined by valuation by a valuer appointed by the Board.
The compensation which the landlord would have to pay would be fixed on the value of the improvements to the landlord, and not to a hypothetical incoming tenant. All we ask of the landlord is that when he resumes the land he shall pay for what is really of value to him as the landlord. Of course, strawberries, raspberries, and geraniums would be of no value to a landlord who wanted to lay out his land in building plots, and he would not be asked to pay for them. But I am afraid there is a fly in the ointment, for no extra 10 per cent, for compulsory purchase will be allowed under the Bill. Therefore, no moral or intellectual damage, of which we heard so much prior to the South African war, will be paid for. The other interests of the landlord will be protected under the Lands Clauses Act. Another worthy body of persons who will be justly treated are the rural clergy. At the request of 31 the most rev. Primate, provision has been made in Clause 29 to protect the clergy from any increased obligation with respect to dilapidations, and I have received a courteous letter from the Archbishop, in which he intimates that he hopes to be able to give the Bill whole-hearted support.
I now come to the labourer. Compensation for the loss a labourer may suffer is provided for under Clause 34. I believe that loss of employment will not be likely to arise by the acquisition of land for small holdings, but rather that there will be an increased demand; but where a labourer can show that loss of work results, a county council will be empowered to compensate that labourer, or to pay the expenses of his transfer to another locality where work is available. Of allotments I have little to say; they are dealt with by the six clauses 20 to 25 in Part 2 of the Bill. The Board of Agriculture will be the central authority instead of the Local Government Board, and the powers of rural district councils will be transferred to parish councils as the sole allotment authority in rural districts. Rural district councils have acquired 243 acres, and have installed 464 tenants, but parish councils have done much better with 15,550 acres and 30,222 tenants. Except in exceptional cases, allotments will not exceed five acres. All existing allotments are transferred from the rural district council to the parish council, and the Act is extended to London. Clause 39 empowers a county council to promote the formation or extension of co-operative societies and credit banks, and to assist such organisations. I honestly think that the success of our scheme will to a large extent depend on co-operation. I have seen the representatives of the leading co-operative societies, and I am in great hopes that the industrial societies will take land for their members, and will help us to capture those home markets which are at our doors, but which we have, not very wisely, allowed to slip into the hands of the more astute foreigner.
The Bill is a long one, and if I have not touched upon all the points I would ask your Lordships to excuse me, as I have been naturally somewhat apprehensive of trespassing too long upon your attention. I have to thank the House very respectfully for your patient hearing, 32 and to express the hope that your Lordships will give the Bill your generous support and assistance. There are some candid friends who tell us that the Bill is certain to disturb the friendly relations which exist between landlord, tenant-farmer, and labourer, and they say it will ruin that glorious paternal system which has lasted for so many years. If there is a paternal system in England, all that I can say is that the agricultural labourer is its disinherited child. The noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition told us some time ago that we were to look upon noble Lords opposite as our allies rather than as our common enemies. Personally, I have no fear as to the answer of your Lordships to our appeal on behalf of the agricultural labourer of England and Wales. I honestly feel that you are with us in our endeavour to leave the agricultural world a little better, a little brighter, and a little happier than we found it; and with these words I respectfully ask your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(Earl Carrington.)
* THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I think your Lordships will agree that the noble Lord has given the House a very faithful sketch of what the Bill proposes to do. In the concluding passages of his speech he held out a sort of hope to your Lordships that there was something particularly good in it for the landowning class, but when we came to hear what thebonne bouche was, I think it might be summed up in these words: "Look how generous I am; I have not nailed his ears to the pump." I am afraid that before the discussion of the Bill is concluded the noble Earl will have learned a good deal from this side of the House as to whether the interests of the landlords have been properly protected. But the noble Earl is quite right with regard to one thing. He is quite right when he says that noble Lords on this side of the House, and more particularly the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, have always expressed a desire to consider in the most favourable manner any measure which His Majesty's Government may propose for the purpose of increasing small holdings, for the most laudable and praiseworthy object of keeping those who are 33 now on the land in the country, and possibly of getting some of those who have migrated into towns to return to the land. Therefore, I was rather surprised to notice certain expressions which were used towards your Lordships' House by the Prime Minister in another place when he said that he was going to speak quite plainly. We always know, when anybody says that he is going to speak quite plainly, that he is going to say something very disagreeable. The Prime Minister said that this was—a complex and a nicely balanced mechanism which could not be rudely altered in any of its parts without endangering the whole.My Lords, I suppose that means that your Lordships are not to make any Amendments in the Bill. I sincerely hope that your Lordships will consider this Bill in the same dispassionate manner that you do all Bills which come before you, and that if you think the Bill needs amendment you will not shrink from making such Amendments as you think right and proper.
I say at once that I think there are many parts of this measure which are very good indeed, and if I may be permitted a word of egotism, I would say that the best parts of the Bill are those which embody the recommendations of the Committee over which I had the honour to preside. We all admire in the noble Earl opposite the boyish enthusiasm with which he espouses every cause which he takes up, but, unfortunately, such enthusiasm sometimes leads one into some inconsistencies. The noble Earl and I have had experience of democracies. We have both of us endeavoured to administer the affairs of the democratic Colonies of Australasia. We have both of us occupied seats upon what is, perhaps, the most democratic body in this country, the London County Council—and, indeed, I think I remember the noble Earl upbraiding me as an alderman for not occupying the proud position which he did. He called himself "a simple soldier in the ranks"—which is simply "democratese " for a councillor as opposed to an alderman, and I remember how he used to inveigh against the tyrannous Unionist majority in the House of Commons, which prevented the freely elected people in London County Council 34 assembled from placing such taxation on the ratepayers of London as in their wisdom they thought proper. I had, therefore, really to rub my eyes when I saw the name of the noble Earl on the back of this Bill, which proposes to invest the President of the Board of Agriculture—namely, my noble friend himself—with what I consider are absolutely autocratic powers for over-riding the freely elected county councils of the country.
Now, my Lords, what may the President of the Board of Agriculture do under this Bill? He may send his Commissioners into any county, and may call upon the county council to make a scheme for small holdings, of which they may entirely disapprove, and he may then sue them for the cost as for the recovery of a debt due to the Crown. Further, he may, at the instance of any six people, or even perhaps at the instigation of a single agitator in any parish, send his Commissioners into a parish, arm them with powers to overrule a parish council which has declined to provide allotments for the six people (the district councils' powers being taken from them by the Bill) and he may then tell the county council that they ought to be ashamed of themselves for not having used their powers to override the parish council, and for not having provided allotments for the six. He may compulsorily acquire any land for the purpose, and if, after all the mighty six throw up the land—which, as the Board's Report on Agricultural Depopulation shows has been going on of recent years all over England—he may, of his own mere motion, cause an immense amount of trouble and disturbance, stirring up the worst passions of mankind, even supposing that the provisions for the compensation of the unfortunate persons at present interested as landlord and tenant in the land are adequate, which I greatly doubt. He may cause all this of his own motion, over-riding parish and county councils and taking away the powers which the district councils possess at present. I say that the noble Lord, as President of the Board of Agriculture, is practically autocratic in this matter. He has nobody over him, except, perhaps in a measure, the Cabinet, 35 of which he is a member. It is no doubt true that he is responsible to Parliament, but when I see the nature of the responsibility to Parliament which is exercised by some members of His Majesty's Government, I can only say that they appear to me to be extremely amenable to the "ginger" of the Labour Party. I do not wonder that a colleague of the noble Earl on the London County, Council—Mr. Dickinson—who is now a Member of Parliament—expressed his nervousness and disquietude that he should have to sit in the Committee and hear the cause of the county councils championed entirely by those who are opposed to him in politics. My only consolation in this matter is that do not believe that the noble Lord will be able to coerce the county councils It has been tried by other Departments. It has been tried by the Local Government Board, and it has been tried by the Education Department. My noble friend the late President of the Board of Education knows quite well how extremely difficult it is for a Government Department to coerce freely elected county councils.
So much for the powers conferred by these Commissioners upon the Board. But who and what are those Commissioners? They are something entirely unknown to the law. We know quite well what inspectors of the Board of Agriculture are. They are Civil Service officials responsible to the Board of Agriculture, and to nobody else. But the Commissioners set up by this Bill have entrusted to them certain powers by authority of an Act of Parliament, and, naturally, if the President of the Board of Agriculture or anybody else says to them: "You are not to do so-and-so," they will say: "Ah, but we are instructed by Parliament; we have this Act behind us; we are to do these things." The word is "shall," and not "may," and I think it will be found very difficult indeed for any President of the Board of Agriculture hereafter to control these Commissioners who are to be set up.
Now there are some remarkable omissions in this Bill to which I would wish to call your Lordships' attention, as well as 36 to some of the provisions which it contains. It is a curious thing, I think, after all that has been said on the subject, that there is no power in the Bill to create ownerships. I must apologise to your Lordships for quoting words of my own, and I should not do so were it not that they were concurred in by all the members of my Committee, including so ardent a land reformer as Mr. Munro Ferguson, so loyal a supporter of His Majesty's present Government as Sir Francis Channing, and so able a writer, particularly in the Radical Press, as Professor Long. This is what my Committee said—The Committee think it hardly necessary to demonstrate that in the general interest of the community it is desirable that as large a number as possible of persons should have a direct interest in the land of the country, and that in the interests of agriculture and of the productiveness of the soil it is expedient that the numbers of those who not only occupy, but also have a permanent stake in the land, should be materially increased, in order that so important an industry as agriculture should make its voice heard in the affairs of the nation to a greater extent than is possible when, as now, the majority of the rural population have but a transitory interest in its prosperity.My Lords, those are words with which I think most of your Lordships at any rate on this side of the House, will entirely agree, and I wonder very much why the machinery set up by this Bill has been confined to tenancies, and has not been extended to ownerships. I can only imagine three alternatives. The first is that His Majesty's Government was afraid that each one of these peasant proprietors would become a red-hot Tory. That, certainly, is the experience, of the past. Or, perhaps, they were afraid that they would become strenuous advocates of tariff reform; or, again, perhaps they were captured by the Land nationalisation section of the Party to which His Majesty's Government belongs. I strongly suspect that the last of these three considerations had the greatest weight with His Majesty's Government. At any rate, we had a demonstration on 26th April last, I think it was, at Drury Lane. If it had been on the 26th December, I think it would have been very much of the nature of the performances which usually take place at Drury Lane on the date. That meeting was address 37 the Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, who said that—The land acquired by State credit or authority could never be again alienated.That is broadly and crudely the doctrine of land nationalisation. At any rate, there is not a word in the Bill which tends to create what most people believe to be the most important of all forms of small holdings, namely, occupying ownership. It does not even extend those powers given by the Act of 1892 to advance money to occupiers to enable them to purchase the farms which they now occupy.
The noble Lord said that the Bill gives fixity of tenure. No doubt the tenants will be the tenants of a public authority, and they are not likely to be capriciously evicted. But I shall be very curious to watch the difference between the position of small holders under the public authority and under a private landlord. Is the public authority going to remit their rent in bad times? I think the ratepayers will have something to say if they do. Who is going to do the little repairs which the landlord is constantly called upon to do? I have very little fear of any comparison between the public authority as a landlord, and a private individual.
The second omission which I notice in the Bill is that no additional opportunity is given to the landowners to provide greater facilities for small holdings on their property. The Committee over which I had the honour to preside made a very strong point of that. They believed that with the enormous advantage possessed by the State in the low rate at which it can borrow money and lend it upon good security, there was a grand opportunity for enabling landowners to create small holdings upon their properties. But this Bill is not entirely a Bill for creating small holdings and nothing else; it is a Bill which will be extremely useful on the platform in the autumn; and I quite understand that at Radical meetings a measure which provided for the lending of money to landlords at a low rate of interest would not command a very great measure of applause.
Now, my Lords, I pass from its omissions to some of the provisions of the 38 Bill with which I heartily agree. I heartily agree with the setting up of a Small Holdings Fund; but I wish the noble Lord had told us a little more clearly what the amount of that fund was to be. He said it was to be £100,000—that, I suppose, is for the first year, of which two-thirds have already expired; and therefore we may expect £100,000 to be paid into the Small Holdings Fund for the remainder of this year; and, if we are to have three times that amount every year, I think a great deal may be made out of it, although the calls under the Bill are, no doubt, very considerable. Next, I welcome the provision enabling the Board of Agriculture to make experiments in parts of the country where small holdings do not exist, with a view to demonstrating both to landlords and to county councils that they may be made a success. I welcome also the provision for the repayment of the costs of county councils in setting up these holdings, though not, of course, either in paying for the land or any recoupment to the owners of the land. I cordially approve of the idea of appointing advisory committees, because I am quite certain that no authority in London, nor even an authority in the chief town of a county, can really properly look after allotments at a great distance from their centre. I also welcome the provision to delegate the powers of the county councils to borough councils in their immediate neighbourhood, because I believe that if there is to be any attempt to get people to go back to the land, the only way in which you can do it is by getting the urban authorities to co-operate with the rural authorities in settling persons from the towns upon the land, and I notice that the borough councils can only do so with the consent and the co-operation of the county councils.
But I confess that I am filled with some alarm when I see that the Bill extends also to county boroughs; that is to say, that a large borough such, for instance, as Bristol or London, may, under the Bill, acquire land in any part of the country, and may dump down on it a colony of small holders who may be the least fit persons in the world for cultivating small holdings; that they 39 may call upon the rural county council to provide the sewerage, the roads, the drainage, and the water supply for such small holdings entirely against their will; and that even if the small holdings are a failure, and the small holders are ruined, they would under the Poor Law have to be relieved at the expense of the ratepayers of the county in which they are situate. I do not believe you will turn back the tide of migration from the towns into the country—I think you may stem it, but I do not believe you will turn it back. And I think there is grave danger in allowing these great cities to make experiments in places where the county councils, who are the governing bodies of those districts, have the sole charge of the interests of the ratepayers and the population of those counties do not approve of them. I think there is grave risk in allowing this to be done without their knowledge and consent.
There are other provisions to which I will not allude in detail, save one, and that is, that co-operative societies will be encouraged by grants from the Small Holdings Fund, and that the county councils will have power to let land to associations for the purpose of sub-division into small holdings. Both of those, I think, are valuable provisions, because I believe from experience of the past that more has been done in the way of creating small holdings by the active energy of two or three individuals forming one of these societies, or perhaps forming committees of a county council, than will ever be done by merely leaving the matter to the local authorities, even when stimulated by the Board of Agriculture.
Now, my Lords, I am sorry to have to turn to some of the provisions of the measure to which I cannot altogether, I am afraid, give my consent. I will not say that I think the provision for the compulsory hiring of land ought to be entirely eliminated from the Bill. Parliament has accepted the principle of compulory hiring in the case of allotments; and those who are ardent promoters of small holdings, such as I claim to be, would not lightly set aside a provision such as this, made on the responsibility of His Majesty's Government; but I 40 must say that I think it is carried a little too far in the Bill. You are practically going to allow a county council, or the Commissioners sitting in their place, to hire land at a perpetual rent charge; they may hire land for thirty-five years; and, at the end of those thirty-five years, they may go on hiring it again, and so on. If small holdings are going to be a success, it will be known whether they are a success at the end of thirty-five years; and I must say that I do not think it is too great a thing to ask that a county council, if it decides to go on for a further term after the thirty-five years should give the landlord the option, should he so desire it, of being expropriated and should be prepared to buy the land upon which they have created small holdings.
Then, my Lords, the powers given to parish councils under the Bill are very wide indeed for so small a body. They are given not only to parish councils, but to parishes which are so small that they have nothing but a parish meeting. I think that most of your Lordships who live in the country know that in these small parishes matters of that kind are managed in a hole and corner manner by one or two men, who may perhaps have prejudices and may perhaps have axes of their own to grind; and I confess that I view with especial suspicion the provision to exempt these parish councils from any limit of expenditure in the provision of allotments. In every other respect, in whatever else they may do under the powers that have been granted to them by Parliament, they are limited in the amount of the expenditure which they may incur. But, under this Bill, I can see no provision for any limit whatever to the expenditure which a parish council may incur in the provision of allotments.
I was not at all satisfied with the reply of my noble friend opposite in the matter of the recoupment by the Treasury in cases where there has been a loss to the county councils, and he did not answer at all the question which I addressed to him upon another matter. I must apologise for not having given him private notice of my intention to ask that question,but he did not say, and I cannot see anything in the Bill to tell us, whether, in the event of a parish council being compelled, as they may be 41 by the Commissioners, to provide allotments whereby they make a loss, any provision will be made for recoupment by the Treasury of the loss so incurred by the parish council.
I am sorry that the Government have not seen their way, in some way or another, more clearly to define who are the persons to whom these small holdings and allotments should be let. There does not seem to be really any limit whatever in this respect, except that the person is to cultivate his holding. I know of a case of a small holding held under an association by a very estimable old lady who lets lodgings in London; and during that time of the year when all, except your Lordships, are enjoying themselves in the country, she goes down there and lives upon her small holding, but during the whole of the rest of the year she cultivates her holding by raising eggs upon it for her London lodgers. I do not know whether she is quite the sort of person to whom your Lordships are prepared to apply the provisions of this measure; but, as far as I can understand, the only necessity is that the persons to whom small holdings are let shall grow flowers, or keep bees, and they may then be said to be cultivating their holdings.
There was one clause which the noble Lord dwelt upon with a great deal of satisfaction, but which I confess appears to me to be rather of what is commonly known as "shop-window dressing," and that is the provision for compensation of agricultural labourers displaced by the conversion of large holdings into small ones. It looks very well on paper, but I do not know whether your Lordships have seen, as I have, a document constituting a slashing reply to Earl Carrington in his attempts to minimise the significance of this pamphlet. Perhaps it was that which drove the noble Earl to accept the Amendment which I believe was put into the Bill in another place.
I am not going to ask your Lordships to consider what are the provisions of the Bill with regard to protecting the interests of the landlord, because I am quite certain, looking round these Benches, which are so well filled for this time of year, that there are plenty of noble Lords present who will not fail to acquaint the 42 House with their views upon that subject, and I may therefore pass rapidly to the remaining considerations, which are confined, I think, to the position of existing tenants—large tenants—to the alleged difficulties in getting land, and to the question whether the small holdings established under this Bill are likely to be successful. Now, as to the first of those considerations I am afraid my noble friend must again find himself in a position of some difficulty; for last year we had him advocating what he is so fond of calling "the farmer's charter," a measure which he told us was going to remedy that terrible state of things where an unfortunate tenant might be turned out of his holding by a capricious landlord without so much as the price of a pantechnicon van to convey his furniture from his old to his new holding. And now we have the noble Earl bringing in a measure in which the tenant may be turned out of his holding against his wish and against his landlord's wish.
As to the question of the difficulty of obtaining land, I think that has been largely disposed of by debates which have taken place in this House earlier in the session; but I cannot refrain from referring to a Report issued by the Board of Agriculture on this subject, and called a "Report on the Decline in the Agricultural Population of Great Britain." That Report is founded on replies sent by the Agriculture Correspondents of the Board; and a night or two ago the noble Earl told you that he did not think very much of the Agriculture Correspondents of the Board. He said that they were ahereditas which he received from me. He did not use the adjective which is commonly prefixed to the word "hereditas"—perhaps for the purpose of sparing my feelings. But let me assure the noble Earl that he need. not trouble about my feelings, if the use of that adjective would in any way relieve his own. At page 16 of that Report your Lordships will see it is said that—so far as allotments are concerned, there is a very general consensus of opinion that requirements are, as a rule, well satisfied.And the Report goes on to say at page 19 with regard to small holdings (it quotes, by the bye, Mr. Carrington Smith—and surely in that conjunction of 43 names there is something racy of the democracy) that—while the advantages of small holdings as an incentive to the younger and more desirable class of men to remain on the land are very generally recognised, the difficulties of providing them are forcibly referred to by many correspondents. Various obstacles are mentioned, but that which may be said to overshadow all the rest is the cost of equipment. The difficulty, as one Report says, 'is not in obtaining land, but in the cost of putting up the requisite buildings.'My Lords, it is quite true that county councils have been somewhat slow in putting into operation the Act of 1892, but I do not think they are quite what this Bill assumes them to be, mulish and pig-headed. They are not averse to do what Parliament and Government Departments believe it to be their duty to do. I ask the noble Earl what he thinks. He has had experience in the administration of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, and he knows just as well as I do that there are many county councils—certainly very many members of county councils—who do not see at all eye to eye with the Board of Agriculture as to the method by which they think they are stamping out those diseases. But I think the noble Earl will agree with me that county councils, whatever their private opinions may be, have cordially co-operated with the Board, and have done their best to administer the law as they find it, and to carry out the recommendations and instructions which are given to them by the Board. County councils may be Supine, and they certainly are economical; they have no wish, and they do not want, if they can possibly help it, to put up the rates. Noble Lords who live in the country know full well how heavily the rates fall upon the unfortunate tenant farmer; and I must say that I think, when His Majesty's Government say, as they do say, in this Bill, "This is an excellent Bill, but we leave it to those who do not want small holdings to pay at least half the cost," they are saying a very hard thing to some of the county councils. They then go on and say," If you will not create small holdings, we will apply that spicy stimulant which is so dear to the heart of the Under-Secretary for the Colonies." I think it is conciliation, and not coercion, which you 44 want to apply to the county councils. I think you would do much better if, instead of threatening them, you did your best to show them that if they did their duty, and a financial loss was the result, you, representing the taxpayers of this country, would do your best to help them out of their difficulty. You are setting the county councils against the Government; whereas you ought to be enlisting their sympathy and their co-operation. I have no belief myself in these Commissioners touring about the country in motor cars to find a "prospective ,demand" for small holdings. I know what a "demand" is; but what is a "prospective demand?" Can it mean anything but that an agitation will be got up and that everybody will be told, "If you do not want small holdings, you ought to want small holdings, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves for not wanting small holdings." I do not think that is a proper method for a great Government Department to adopt. I believe that in most cases colonies of small holdings may be said to be a success, though I should be very far from saying that there have not been many cases of failure of small holders; but it usually depends upon either the nature of the holding or the nature of the small holder himself. It is to my mind more important to get the right man than to get the land; and I hope that His Majesty's Government will not fall into the mistake of thinking that they have only got to bring the man and the land together and they are certain to make a successful small holding. I believe that in almost every case the town man will fail to make a successful small holder. The one thing which goes to make a success in that line of business is a desire for independence. With that desire you may get success, without it you will get failure. And my belief is that it would have been quite sufficient to have confined this Bill to the object of providing funds for the carrying out of experiments by the Board of Agriculture in districts where small holdings do not already exist, with a view to giving the incentive to private landowners and to county councils. I believe that that, coupled with a rigorous demand for returns on the part of county councils, and for explanations as to why they did 45 not put into force the powers which they already possess, would have been quite sufficient, without threatening them with punishment for default, but, instead thereof, encouraging them to make every effort to give effect to the powers which have been already placed in their hands.
I am not going to ask your Lordships to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, because, as I say, I believe it has many good points, though I think it has many points of considerable danger. If the Bill passes into law, as I have said, we shall all watch it with the greatest interest; and I think those of your Lordships who are interested in county councils will do their very best to give it a fair chance and a fair trial. If the result is in any way either to help people who are already there to remain upon the land, or to bring those who have left it back to the land, I for one shall not grudge His Majesty's Government any success that may be justly due to them for the measure which they have laid upon the Table of your Lordships' House.
THE LORD ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY
My Lords, I feel that I owe your Lordships an explanation—I will not say an apology—for rising at this moment to say a very few words upon this question. I doubt whether it is generally realised how immense, in a matter of this kind, is the responsibility of the National Church upon what we may call its business side. Great as is the material interest possessed by many of your Lordships in a matter of this sort, the largest, probably, pales into insignificance as compared with the aggregate responsibility which the National Church, as a property owner, has in this particular matter.
The property of the Church of England, apart from tithes, consists in no small degree of agricultural land, and the aggregate amount of that agricultural land, scattered, as is the land of no other owner whatever, in small patches, all over the country, amounts to about 850,000 acres. That may be spoken of as divided into two parts, held in two ways. There is first the property in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and then there is the local property, the glebes of individual clergy. The Commissioners 46 hold about 250,000 acres of agricultural land, and I ask your Lordships' attention when I mention how that land is at this moment divided as an evidence of what has been the aim of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the direction of the creation of small holdings. One thousand seven hundred and fifty acres are let in allotments, but setting that on one side, the remainder is comprised in 3,000 holdings, of which about two-thirds—that is 2,000 holdings—are under fifty acres each, and three-fourths are under 100 acres. The proportion of small holdings in a legal sense is thus very great indeed, nearly 56 per cent. of the whole are under fifty acres and 75 per cent. under 100 acres.
For years it has been a standing instruction from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to local agents that, whenever a farm becomes vacant, its suitability for use as a small holding should be taken into consideration, and I may say that after some inquiry we have not been able to trace a single case in which a request for a small holding has been made and refused, except one case in Somersetshire, which is at this moment under inquiry. The Commissioners will be exceedingly glad if this Bill enables them to promote yet further the small holdings which they have done so much to increase in number and to make a success, and, believing as they do that this Bill will have that effect, I feel sure that I am entitled to say that they, speaking generally, give it their very heartiest and fullest approval and support.
Then, as regards the glebe lands, that is a kind of property which is unique in England because of its being divided into such very small portions, and practically extending, in those small portions, throughout the whole country. The aggregate of glebe land in England is about 600,000 acres. To the owners of that land this Bill is of the extremest importance, because it removes some of the conditions which at present render it difficult, and sometimes impossible, for the clergy who desire, for the public good, to promote small holdings so to utilise their glebes. Glebes are in one way quite specially suitable for being divided up, and used as, in a technical sense, 47 "small holdings." First, because for the most part the glebe is central in a parish—in a convenient situation—and, in the next place, it is proverbially—or usually, at all events—some of the best land in the parish. The existing difficulties are that the owner of that glebe is hardly in any case a capitalist, and is practically quite unable to provide the ordinary equipment in the way of buildings. He is unable to do so partly because he is not a capitalist, and still more because his tenure of that land is exceedingly brief and altogether uncertain. It is, therefore, practically impossible for him to provide the equipment which would be necessary for promoting the use of it as small holdings. And then in another way he is hampered still more, because he, and he alone, lies under a strict and stern law of dilapidations which absolutely requires him, at a short interval of years, to put into repair whatever buildings exist on any part of his glebe, whatever his own financial position may be. It is quite impossible that the ordinary country clergy can subject themselves to such a liability if it rests upon them to keep in repair the buildings necessary for small holdings.
Now, my Lords, both these points have been with the greatest care, and courtesy, and thoughtfulness, met in the Bill before your Lordships. In Clause 29 arrangements have been made which ought to render possible the application of glebe lands for small holdings by the removal of those particular difficulties, at all events, which have ordinarily stood in the way, and I feel on behalf of those who desire on public grounds to promote small holdings, and who also feel that there would be no disadvantage as regards the property itself, that we owe thanks to the Government for the care they have taken in this matter.
This subject has been before some of the councils of the Church. The Convocation of Canterbury considered it with a very careful and expert committee during last summer, and that committee presented a report which was on the whole entirely favourable to the proposals of the Bill as it now stands. And, besides that, it was subsequently considered by what is known as the 48 Representative Church Council, which contains both lay and clerical members of the Church of England, and that council voted practically in favour of some such Bill as this.
There are details which no doubt ill be subsequently discussed in Committee, and about some of them I shall be anxious to hear whether any criticism is to be offered which may require the points to be gone into further. But, speaking generally, I am quite clear that this Bill ought, if properly applied, to enable the clergy to carry out their wish—a wish which has been long-standing and frequently expressed—to facilitate and extend the letting of glebe lands in small holdings. That will, I believe, from the very circumstances I have described, be a peculiar gain to the public at large and to those who desire small holdings, owing to the large distribution of these glebes and the consequent frequency of opportunities in different parts of the country which will be afforded. Nor do I believe any real harm will be done to the clergy who own these glebes. There are no set of men throughout England who are in closer touch with, and have a better understanding of, rural life, rural aspirations, rural interests, and rural ideals, than the clergy, and from the communications which I have received upon this subject, and from the part I have taken in the deliberations of the clergy and laity respecting it, I am able to say that there is a, to us, quite surprising unanimity in the reception which these proposals have met with on the part of men who, I must say, are singularly qualified to express an opinion, and who are agreed that the proposals now before the House and the country are likely to result in real good. I have no right to speak of that unanimity as absolute, but I can only say that, judging from the communications which have reached me, and from the voices which I have heard on the subject, I have every reason to believe that there is, at any rate, a practical unanimity of opinion in favour of this Bill, and I most cordially hope, therefore, that the Bill will go forward and will become law.
§ LORD BELPER
My Lords, in the very short time during which I propose to address myself to the Bill I shall speak 49 principally from the point of view of those who will have to administer the Bill when it becomes an Act. I think it will be at once admitted, even from the short debate we have had here to-night, that this Bill will cast a very heavy responsibility indeed upon the county councils—a responsibility which will be more difficult to fulfil from the fact that we are to have associated with us, in what has been called in the other House a "partnership," gentlemen from London—Commissioners—who will have no special knowledge, to start with, of the county in which they may be sent to administer the Act. In addition to that there is in this Bill a proposal entirely novel. Not only will these Commissioners have the power, if they think right, of superseding the discussions of the county councils, but, having done that, they will be able to make the county councils raise the amount of loss that may accrue out of the rates. I wish to say a word about that in slightly more detail presently, but I think, having made those two remarks, it is clear to your Lordships that it was the duty of the County Councils Association, as representing the counties, to consider very carefully what the provisions of this Bill were, to put themselves into communication, at the earliest possible moment, with the Government in order to press any Amendments which they might think desirable upon the notice of the Government, and to take what steps they could to remove some of the features in the Bill which the county councils think would make its administration difficult.
Let me point out in the first place that the dual administration between two sets of authorities must necessarily create a somewhat delicate situation. If these Commissioners act with tact and judgment, and with the desire to work cordially with the county councils, I quite recognise that it may be possible to work the Act in a satisfactory manner. If, on the other hand, the position the Commissioners take up is that they are to coerce the county councils, if they approach us in a spirit of putting a pistol to our heads, and try to enforce their view before they have properly considered the conditions which govern the particular district for which these schemes have been proposed—then I think the 50 work of the county councils will be almost impossible, and it is not likely that the Bill will lead to satisfactory results. I sincerely hope that that will not be the case. I may say for the county councils that in all the suggestions we have made with regard to this Bill we have made them with the object of improving the measure, and in no way in order to interfere with its efficiency. A good deal has been said with regard to what county councils have done in the past. I believe it is perfectly true that many county councils have done very little. But I think the fault is not in the county councils themselves, but in the fact that under the conditions of the law as it stood they have not found it possible or safe to constitute small holdings in their districts, and in many cases there was not that clear demand which has been. supposed by some people to have been made in many parts of the country. I can only say that if we are to get on well with these Commissioners I hope that they will act with tact and judgment, as I have suggested. I do not know what are the qualifications that will be sought for in these Commissioners. I only hope that the Government will in this case, as well as in the case of the Bill that we have just discussed in this House, which refers to Scotland, exercise that self-denying ordinance which will ensure that they will appoint men with knowledge of agriculture—sound business commonsense men—and if, in addition to that, they have tact and discretion, then I hope that the Bill when passed will be worked successfully. I am sure that the county councils will do all they can to co-operate in a cordial spirit, even with these Commissioners who are sent down to some extent to supersede them.
We have considered the question whether we should protest against these Commissioners being enabled to overrule the county councils but we felt that if there were any county councils which absolutely and deliberately refused to do their work, it was not for us to stand in the way, and to say that there should not be some power which should enable the Act to be carried out in cases where the county councils declined to do so. But I do not believe that there will be any 51 such cases, and I must confess that I feel that it is some reflection on the county councils to have put this power into the Bill. I think it is a reflection which county councils hitherto have done nothing to justify, because anybody who knows the working of the county councils knows that when they have to administer any law, they at all events do their best to administer it fairly and reasonably for all who are concerned and .affected by it. And that is the spirit, certainly, in which we should address ourselves to this Bill.
In this spirit, with a view of improving the measure, we have already suggested to the Government several different Amendments for the purpose of ensuring that the work which has to be done between the Commissioners and the county councils should be done in such a way as to lead to the most satisfactory results. I should like to recognise that Mr. Harcourt, in receiving us, showed a great desire to understand, and to meet, the Amendments which we suggested. In a considerable number of cases he has accepted our proposals. There are certainly others in which he has not been able to meet our views entirely, but at all events I wish to recognise that he has met us in a most reasonable and conciliatory spirit. I can only say that our object in moving these Amendments in regard to the administration of the Bill was to ensure that the views of the county councils should be properly considered before any definite steps were settled. We wished also to ensure that the Board of Agriculture should be the master of the situation, that the Commissioners practically should be the servants and the officers of the Board, and that the Board itself should be consulted on any matters of importance which arise during the discussion between the Commissioners and the county councils, so that, if possible, we should avoid that friction which might otherwise occur, and ensure that before any such definite steps were taken as for the Commissioners to draw a scheme to over-rule the county council, at all events the views of the county council should be thoroughly known to the Board of Agriculture, and should be fairly considered. 52 Then I come to another part of the Bill. The part of the Bill to which I take most exception is that which deals with the financial arrangements. What are these proposals? It is necessary to state them, because I notice that the noble Earl who moved the Second Reading entirely ignored this part of the Bill, or at all events, he did not give a single argument in favour of the quite novel procedure which it is proposed to set up by it. Shortly stated, under this Bill the Commissioners will be able to impose on the county councils a scheme in this way—that, if the county council in their discretion do not think that scheme advisable, they will themselves be able to exercise all the powers of the county council, will be able to settle that scheme, and to compel the county council to raise a rate for the purpose of securing that of which they do not approve. I venture to say that these are proposals which are entirely subversive, if they are carried out to the full, of the system upon which our local government is established.
I notice that in the other House it was claimed for this Bill that it was the greatest measure of reform of agricultural holdings in the country that had passed through, or been introduced into Parliament. But if you wished to make that definition complete, I think you should also say that it is the greatest attack upon the whole system of representation on which our Local Government Acts are established that has ever been brought into the House of Commons since the county councils were first instituted. I am old enough to remember that it was a watchword of the Liberal Party that representation and taxation must go together. But in this measure you have a proposal which is entirely subversive of that principle—which would compel the authority which is representative of the ratepayers to raise a rate for a purpose of which they do not approve, and which may not be approved of by any one of those electors who have sent members to represent them on the county councils.
I know it is said that there is a precedent for this proposal. I have been more than once told that there is a precedent in the Act which was passed establishing district and parish councils. In that 53 Act there was a proposal that if the district council refused to carry out the sanitary matters which it is their duty to deal with as far as parishes were concerned, and if any parish complained to the county council, the county council could call upon the district council to do its duty. If it still refused absolutely to do its duty, they could then do the work themselves, and charge on the proper district a rate for the purpose of carrying out that work. I venture to say that that is no precedent whatever. What are the conditions under which that power is given? In the first place, the minor authority must absolutely refuse to do its duty—not omit, but absolutely refuse to do its duty. In the second place, the parish which is the sufferer must complain, and it must be borne in mind that it is the sufferer in matters concerning the health, and even the livelihood of the perish itself—sanitary matters. I am reminded that in that Bill I moved myself to extend that particular clause to highway matters as well, knowing how important it was, if the roads were impassable, that somebody should put them in order and that they should not have to wait until the recalcitrant authority consented to do their duty. But I venture to say that those proposals are no precedent for this present proposal, because in this case it is an outside authority which is to step in. That outside authority is to step in without any application from anybody at all, and for a matter which, however important on grounds of public policy, cannot be said to be of so serious importance for a moment as matters which affect the health, and almost the livelihood, of a particular district.
But that is not the reason why I say this is an entirely novel proposal. Granted that that is a precedent as far as that is concerned, what this Bill proposes to do is to over-ride the discretion of the county council when the county council have done their very best to form a proper judgment and to consider the matter from every point of view as fairly as they can. It is in that case that it seems to me monstrous that anybody, or any Government, should be able to over-ride the representatives oaf the ratepayers, and make them levy 54 a tax for a purpose which, in their judgment, is unwise and impolitic
As I say, we thought it necessary to approach the Government on that question, and we were referred to a clause which was subsequently introduced in Grand Committee and negatived. It is Subsection (3) of Clause 5. My noble friend read it as I wished to hear it read—that—If it appears to the Board that the carrying out of a scheme under this Act has resulted or is likely to result in a loss, the Board 'shall'—as my noble friend said—with the consent of the Treasury pay or undertake to pay out of the Small Holdings Account the whole or any part of that loss.
My Lords, unfortunately the clause stands as "may," and there is nothing to compel the Board to exercise or to say in what cases the Board should exercise their discretion under that clause. Under these circumstances, we approached the Government again with two suggestions, and as there has been some question about these suggestions, I should like to state them categorically. The first suggestion was that a clause should be introduced providing that where any county council puts the Small Holdings Act into force, and loss is thereby incurred, the Treasury should pay at least one-half of such loss, on receipt of a certificate from the Board of Agriculture that the county council has acted reasonably and taken due precaution in the matter. That, I think, was a most reasonable proposal. It was suggested that where two parties were concerned in the partnership of carrying on this work, though one had the predominant power with regard to what the scheme should be, the expenses should not be thrown wholly upon the other party, but be divided equally between the two should parties. I may say that Mr. Asquith certainly had nothing to say in argument against our proposal, and he promised to do what he could in answer to our suggestion. But unfortunately we were told that it was quite impossible to put that clause into the Bill, because in the other House they had reached a stage in which they could not deal with it without re-committing the Bill. I am not competent to express any opinion on that point, or to say whether there was 55 any means by which it could be done in the other. House, but I venture to say that in a matter of that importance, which is the only safeguard which has been given us with regard to the finance clause of the Bill, it ought to appear on the face of the Bill itself, and I think it is most unfortunate that a measure of this sort—because we have no power whatever in this House to deal with the question—should become an Act with these clauses still in the Bill, unmodified in any way, which will form a most dangerous precedent in future in the event of anybody wishing to interfere with the power of county councils in raising moneys. We now understand that there is to be a Treasury Minute with regard to that point, and I fully accept Mr. Asquith's and Mr. Harcourt's statement to us that they will carry out that proposal in a Treasury Minute. Of course, as far as that goes, we are perfectly satisfied with a Treasury Minute for the moment, but a Treasury Minute can be altered, while an Act of Parliament cannot be altered, and if a Chancellor of the Exchequer, in some year in the future, finds this charge rather a heavier one than he expected, and if, from different reasons, he finds himself rather short of cash, what security will the county council have that the Treasury Minute will not be altered, and that we may not get even the very reasonable modicum of relief which may be given us now under that Treasury Minute?
Then there was another point we asked for, and I wish to make that perfectly clear, because I understood from the answer that was given by the noble Earl that he could give us no promise or pledge of any sort or kind with regard to it. The point was in answer to a resolution passed unanimously by the County Councils Association to this effect—that steps should be taken to get a clause inserted, providing that when a county council was over-ruled by the Board on a matter of discretion with regard to the nature of a scheme and a loss was incurred, in no case should the expenditure be charged upon the county rates. This proposal was put before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I am bound to say that I was under the impression that he was willing to 56 meet our views in this case. We were certainly referred to Subsection (3) of Clause 5. No doubt it was under that clause that it would be done if the whole expense was paid. But whether we were only referred to it as a clause under which power was given to pay the whole of the expense, or whether, as I thought. we were referred to the clause with the understanding that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would undertake to pay the expenses under that clause, I do not wish to press at the present moment, because in conversation things of this kind are very easily misunderstood. But what I do venture to say now is that I hope we shall have an authorised statement from some member of the Government as to what the Government will do in this particular case. It is about the strongest case you can possibly conceive. This is a case where the county council has done their best, where they have not refused to make a scheme, but where they have discussed a scheme with the Commissioners, and have only broken off on a difference of opinion as to how they should exercise their discretion. And to say that a Commissioner from outside, or the Board of Agriculture, if you like, because it is the Board of Agriculture, should in that case compel the county council to impose a rate for a loss which had been incurred owing to a mistake made by the Board of Agriculture and the Commissioners, seems to be so monstrous a proposal that I can hardly suppose any Government could make it. If it is right to do it, why cannot we have an assurance that it will be done, and that, whether by a Treasury Minute or in some other way, the Government will assure us that in a case of this sort, where it would be a gross injustice if it were not done, they will take care that the loss shall not fall upon the rates, but shall be paid wholly out of the Consolidated Fund? It is not merely a question of the amount of money that the county council has to pay. It is not merely a question of principle. That, as I have said, is, I think, a most important question, but it is not merely that question. It is a question which, unless you can settle it in some satisfactory way like that, will prevent the county council and the Commissioners working cordially together. If you have 57 two partners in a concern, and one is to have the direction of the policy and there is a loss owing to that policy, and then part of the cost is to fall upon the county council, the other partner in the firm, such a state of things as that would make it extremely difficult for the two bodies to work cordially together, and in the interests of that object, I would venture to ask that we should have some assurance with regard to that matter.
I will not, at this late hour, discuss at any length any other feature of the Bill. I will venture to say, as I began, that while we are perfectly willing cordially to work this Bill if we are treated in a reasonable spirit, I think a great deal of the success of the measure will depend upon the discretion that you give to the county councils, and upon your not fettering them either through Commissioners or through the Board of Agriculture.
There is a part of the Bill which my noble friend Lord Onslow referred to which is, I think, of some importance—the question not of the landlord who might be put to a loss if particular land was taken, but of the sitting tenant. I do not know whether the provisions of this Bill are sufficient to cover all the cases in which loss might be incurred by the tenant of an existing farm if particular land was taken away from that holding, and the rest of the holding thereby considerably diminished in value as a farm. I do not think they are. I believe it is extremely difficult to draw a clause which will meet all the cases where a tenant might really be obliged to give up a farm because a particular piece of land was taken away from him. But what I venture to say is this. Make that as clear as you can, but after all the great safeguard will be whether the Act is administered reasonably, or whether it is not, and if you treat the county councils in a proper way, and give them the wide discretion that they ought to have, and do not over-rule them—they having the most local knowledge and the most information with regard to the conditions of the district over which they have administration—there will at all events be some safeguard that these eases will be dealt with in a reasonable 58 and a fair way, because I think there is no body of men with whom I come in contact who are more willing to deal fairly with all cases that come before them than members of county councils.
I have ventured to make these remarks in no spirit of hostility to the Bill, but certainly with a jealous regard, not only for the work of the county councils, but for the traditions of local government, and I regret very much, as I said, that any Government should have made an attack—or has put proposals in a Bill which are an indirect attack—upon the system of local government. I hope, my Lords, you will forgive me for occupying your attention for some little while in making my humble protest against any proposals of that sort.
* EARL NELSON
My Lords, the other day I was reading that very interesting book, "The Staff Officer's Scrap Book,' and I cannot help giving an extract from Sir Ian Hamilton with reference to the subject which is now before us. I will begin by quoting these few words—A peasant cultivating his own patch of land is in rather a different monetary relation towards his own landlord from a merchant who merely is making money out of it, or the facto y hand who draws upon it for wages. He owns a bit of it. The peasant owner is a strong independent man, who has a stake in his country. These are the fellows we want as soldiers, the yeomen who have been from the beginning of history, and will be to the end, the backbone of Empire.I have read that extract, because that is the reason why I wish well to this Bill, and I hope that by means of it, in some way, judiciously treated, we may do one or two things, for there are two things distinctly which we have to do. We have to re-create the old yeoman proprietor. If you do that, and enable him to continue, you must remedy those evils which have caused him to throw up his holding. In the first place, we must have registration of land, so that the conveyance of land can be made as cheap as possible, and in the next place, if you are to keep the old freeholder when you have got him, you must prevent him dividing his land or raising a mortgage upon it.
The other thing we have got to do is to try to keep the agricultural labourer, or to draw him back on to the land. I 59 can remember many years back when we never heard of such a thing as an agricultural labourer leaving his cottage. The reason they have gone away is because they have ceased to have a home of their own. In many cases where large farms have been held, I know that the tenant has rented not only the four or five cottages which are essential—the shepherd's cottage, the carter's cottage the machine-man's cottage—but all the cottages that he could get on the estate, and all the cottages he could get in the neighbourhood, so that the labourers were under his hand at a month's notice. That is one of the chief reasons why you find that they have drifted away from the land. In some of the parishes where I have property that has not been the case—we have not the large farms, and there you will find that there is not an exodus of labour to anything like the extent that there is in other cases. You will also find a better feeling between the labourers and the tenants. But in other cases, when Michaelmas comes round, there is a great change, and four or five families in the village go out; and if anything can be done to give a continuous holding to the labourers in the parishes, so that they may look upon their homes really as homes, that will do more than anything else in keeping them there, and in stopping the exodus which we are desirous to stop.
I have done a great deal to try and keep the agricultural labourer on the land. For the last twenty years I have given three acres and a cow, and there are some experiences which I should like to give. and which may be useful in considering this question. I will put four cases which have been failures. One was the case of a man who was not sober, and who could do nothing. Another was the case of a man—a most sober, well-educated man—and his wife. The man had been a carter and knew not a bit about cows, and not a bit about dairy work, and they failed. The other failures were when a father or husband died, and the woman was obliged to hire labour, and then they were unable to pay their rents. In all the other cases I have had my rents regularly paid. I hay, never been asked to make good a dead cow, or anything of that sort. They have done the thing, and have gone on in an 60 independent manner. But then we had some labourers—not so many as I could wish—and they, by working as labourers, have been able to get on with their holdings, but most of them, and all of my smaller holdings of thirty acres and less, get on because they have something else to do. I have secured in this parish the butcher, the carpenter, the bricklayer, and those sort of people who would naturally otherwise have drifted into the towns. I have also let some of my land—thirty acres to one, twenty to another—to shopkeepers who are carrying on work of their own.
With regard to the rather larger holdings, under £100 a year, there is one instance which, perhaps, would be very interesting to hear about. The man has about eighty-seven acres. (I ought to say that in all these cases I have a common which has never been enclosed, and that, of course, is a help to them.) This man has about 700 hens and about fifteen cows. His wife is a good dairy-woman; he himself is a hard worker—he is a higgler, and collects eggs and things round—and last, but not least, he is within about twelve miles of Southampton, and has a market with the steamers sailing from Southampton. That man has done so well that there was another small farm of mine of a different character, and therefore a cheaper farm per acre, which this man's son has just taken, and I have every reason to believe that he will be as great a success as his father. I would say one more thing in reference to that land. One of the large tenants had been a shepherd for some years, and I was able to put him on this land, with his son, and as long as he and the son lived they were able to go on, but as soon as they died, and the daughters had to hire labour, they allowed me to take the land and let it to these other persons to whom I have referred.
There is one thing to be noted here, and it is a lesson we may well think of. We must be very careful whether we put fifty acres or £50 as the limit. In this particular farm the man had enough land, when he took it, to employ two horses and a half, and he asked me to allow him another twenty-five acres, because then he could farm, and farm well, having enough for three horses. That is one 61 of the things to be remembered, and the other thing is, of course, that you cannot farm fifty acres of heavy land when, perhaps, you could farm sixty or seventy acres of light land. But, depend upon it, in the case of all these small farms, they will not be successful unless the men have something else to do. One of my men has thirty acres. He does all the woodwork in the locality—makes hurdles all through the winter. He is perfectly certain to get on. Therefore I am quite certain that there is a possibility of encouraging these men, but you must be very careful. I was anxious to get one of my large tenants to introduce the Northumbrian system of giving his labourers a cow. He had two labourers who had been fourteen years with him, and when we inquired into the matter we were obliged to give it up. In one case the woman was not able to do anything; she was more or less of a slattern. And in the other case the man had taken a little to drink, and had no money to invest. There is one other thing I would like to caution you about, and it is this—that you may be quite certain you will never make a success if the man has to begin with borrowed money. You must wait for them to have money of their own, and then they have a chance of success.
There are two other things I should like from my experience to caution you about. One is this. A grandfather of mine had a lot of squatted holdings at 2s. 6d. a year, leaving the men, without any direction, to put up a cottage of their own, or to make an orchard of their own, upon the land, and letting it to them for three lives. All these lives have now fallen in. Of all those cottages, I never had a desire expressed to renew the lease, except one, and that was a public-house, and as soon as it fell in I would not allow it to be continued as a public-house. In all the other cases every one of these cottages was in a disgraceful state. Most of them had fallen down, and the three or four that I kept I was unable to let, until I had laid out from £50 to £100 on each of them. That is a specimen of the dangers of long leases unless you are very careful, and see that the houses are properly built, and that the men have money, and are likely to carry out the thing properly. 62 There is one other instance that I will venture to give you, because I think that also may help us in the consideration of this Bill. There was an Act passed some years ago—I think about eighteen or nineteen years ago—called Lord Salisbury's Act. That Act was for enabling glebe land to be sold with the consent of the patron, and it will interest you, if you have not seen any account of it, to know what happened in that particular case. There were forty-seven acres of heather land with very little gorse upon it. In that case the common had been enclosed, and this forty-seven acres was the share of the rector, acre for acre, of the glebe land that he held. He was able to do nothing with it, and when he died the fence had all dropped down. His executors had to pay £100 for the fence. When the next rector came I advised him to go under Lord Salisbury's Act, and I think we were the first people to take advantage of that Act. It is one of the rules of the Act that houses must be properly built; they must cost at least £120; the land must be properly drained; and all that is in the title deeds. They are bound to do that, and either the Board of Agriculture or the person who sold the land had the power to go in and see that the buildings were kept in proper repair. Otherwise they had the freehold. There were seven acres in single acre pieces, and the rest were respectively two fifteen acres, and ten acres, making up the forty-seven acres. When the land was taken over the rateable value was £6 a year. At the present time there are seventeen houses upon it, and the rateable value is £126, and one of the men who has been there from the first told me that the land sold originally for £15 an acre, while the price of the land now, independent of the cottage, is £75 an acre. Of course, it is used for market gardening, and it is very well done, but my point is that you would never have got these men to spend their money and their labour upon this land if it had not been their freehold. I do not think it would have gone at all unless it had been their freehold. These things are worth thinking about at the present time, though it is perfectly true we have not got the agricultural labourer—it has fallen very much into the hands of the market gardening 63 class, and one of the original holders now holds, with his family, about twenty-three of the forty-seven acres in his hands. But there they are, and they make a great deal by strawberries. One man tells me he made 131bs. of strawberries out of an eighth of an acre.
There is one other thing I feel very strongly, and that is that you may get success by giving leases; but the real solution of the matter is to get men to buy the land, and to get men to buy it who have some money of their own. It is not so great a delay as many would be disposed to think. The other day I myself sold some outlying cottages and a blacksmith's shop. The man not only paid me a fair price for it, but within the year a very good house of his own was built upon the freehold, and in another parish one of the landowners sold all her cottages, and I believe they were all bought by independent holders, and they are now freeholds. In one case an old gamekeeper of mine had saved enough money, and he not only bought a bit of land with a cottage upon it, but he repaired the old cottage and built himself another. Therefore it is perfectly certain that if we are careful we may do well in the matter, but what I would point out is that if there is not very great care in the first selection, every failure that happens will throw the work back and prevent people from desiring to attend to land.
There is one other thing I feel very strongly, and I hope that many a landlord will let land on long leases from himself. If he does so there will be a chance for a struggling man to get on, if he is a good man, and has a bad crop or loses two or three cows, or something of that sort, the county council has not got a heart, and will not be like the landlord, who would be able to help a good promising tenant by a small gift to make his loss good.
I have no more to say upon the matter. I hope that good may come of this Bill. I think it is possible we may amend it in some particulars. I should be very pleased indeed if more could be done to ensure land being bought outright. I am certain that would be the surest solution, and would enable us better than in any other way to restore the people to the land.
§ * EARL FORTESCUE
My Lords, I would like to begin the few remarks which I intend to make to your Lordships by expressing a sincere hope that this Bill will succeed and will result in increasing the population of our rural districts. But I do not think the noble Earl is quite justified in treating it as a development of the Bill of last year. That measure was intended, as he told us, to secure tenants against capricious eviction, and, by giving them stability of tenure, to encourage them to invest money in their farms, and thereby to increase the productivity of the soil. In the present measure the stability of the sitting tenant is not over-much regarded, and the main object of it appears to be to increase the rural population without very much consideration of the economic production which may follow in consequence. I think I am justified in saying that by the speeches made in its support both here and elsewhere.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies has informed the agriculturists of this country that the condition of things in Denmark is what they ought to imitate and aspire to. Unfortunately, Mr. Winston Churchill does not seem to know a great deal about farming. He made a trifling mistake of 18 per cent. to begin with in the proportion of lands under crop in Denmark, and then he went on to assume that because the Danes kept more cattle and more pigs per thousand acres than ourselves, their system of farming was altogether superior to ours. But, unfortunately, the facts do not quite justify its assumptions. The figures are per thousand acres: in Denmark, 264 cattle, 225 sheep, and 208 pigs; while in the United Kingdom they are 239 cattle, 629 sheep, and 76 pigs. It is true that shows that we keep twenty-five head of cattle and 132 pigs less per 1,000 acres, but as we keep 396 sheep more on the same area I think everybody who understands farming will admit that the excess of sheep fully makes up, and more than makes up, for the deficiency in bullocks and in pigs. And we are quite equal to the Danes in other forms Of produce also, for according to the Returns issued by the Agricultural Department, 65 both in grain and in hay the average produce per acre in this country is equal to, and somewhat better than, it is in Denmark; while we get the yield by employing thirty-six people to the 1,000 acres instead of seventy-three. It has always been agreed that a man who makes two blades of grass grow where one grew before is a benefactor to his species, but I have never heard that the same commendation was to be given to the man who, while growing only the same quantity of grass as before, had to get another man to help him to do it. The fact is that in Denmark the extra thirty-seven people are only employed in agriculture because there are not sufficient trades for them to get a living elsewhere, while in this country those who are not so employed have either removed into a town, where they help to swell the demand for agricultural produce, or else, by emigrating to our colonies, are increasing the demand for our manufactures. I am sure it is altogether a mistake to suppose that the agricultural labourers who leave the agricultural districts swell the ranks of the unemployed. They are able-bodied men, who may displace others in the towns into which they move, but who themselves do not become unemployed. The truth is that greater population is not at all the same thing as profitable employment. The most certain method, perhaps, of restoring both in the rural districts would be the utterly absurd and impossible one of re-enacting the corn laws and prohibiting the use of machinery. In that case everybody would be ready to till the land for corn, and any number of people would be required for the purpose if machinery was prohibited, and all had to be cut with the sickle as it was a century ago, when the state of things prevailed in Lincolnshire of which the noble Lord told us earlier in the evening.
We have heard nothing in this House—and little or nothing has been said in the other House, I think—about the great economic forces which are always at work, and will always assert themselves in the long run, whatever our legislation may be. I sincerely trust that the policy of the Ministry in this Act will be a success, for I am quite ready to admit that in many parts of rural 66 England there is room for more people, but I do not think it is sufficiently realised that the labour which is employed on the farms must be proportioned to the output if farming is to be successful. Some people talk as if farmers had a natural disinclination to employ labourers, and as if they discharged labourers whenever they could. That is a complete delusion. A farmer is quite ready to put on another man, and to pay him 15s. a week, or £40 a year, if by so doing he will get £50 or £60 more of produce. But if, by discharging a man and buying a machine, he is able to reduce his wages bill, and still maintain the produce of his farm at the old figure, that course obviously is to his advantage, and that is the reason for a great deal of the depopulation of the rural districts. Every decade our manufacturers claim that they are maintaining and increasing their output by improved machinery, although they employ fewer hands, and I really do not know why the land system should be blamed because those connected with it have followed exactly the same procedure. If it were not that modern improvements have enabled us to do so much more with machinery on the land, it would be more difficult than it is for labourers to rise in the world, because it would be impossible for them to employ the other labour necessary to work even the smallest holding; but I must say that I think the difficulty of labourers getting on in the world has been very much. exaggerated. This Bill may give them greater facilities for doing so, but I am certain that wherever there are farms of a moderate size a little inquiry would show that a very large number of the men who are farming the land have really begun at the bottom of the ladder. I have made some inquiry about my own estate, and I have found that in Devon and Somerset more than 40 per cent. of the land I have let is let to men who were either labourers, or village artizans, or the sons of such. Half the holdings are under fifty acres, and the rents run from something under £10 up to £260, while the areas farmed vary from three acres up to 700 acres. But the population of the parishes in which the property is situate has decreased by 20 per cent. in thirty years notwithstanding. 67 If I am not wearying your Lordships I should like to be allowed to give some further particulars to establish my case. On three adjoining moorland parishes, with a combined population of about 1,000, where I own the great bulk of the land, I have nearly 13,000 acres let to forty-eight tenants, and only six of those belong to the farmer class; two are great-grandsons of labourers; two are grandsons of labourers; thirteen are sons of labourers, and twenty-five are labourers. But the population of these parishes has gone down 12½ per cent. in thirty years. I find much the same thing in another district where, in lower and more fertile country, I have over 3,000 acres, and where, out of twenty tenants, the majority both in numbers and acreage belong to the labouring class. No one can say that in these parishes labouring men have not had a chance of climbing the ladder, but the population there has diminished largely all the same. And there is nothing unique about what I have told the House, at the other end of the county, 60 or 70 miles away, Miss Jebb found that over 25 per cent. of the holdings in certain parishes were in the hands of men of the labouring class.
The truth is you cannot get people to live on the land if they can do better for themselves off it, and whether this is possible on a large scale is, I must say, unless circumstances are very favourable, exceedingly doubtful. The mere opening up of prospects of promotion for labourers, excellent and desirable as that is, will, as I think I have shown, not be sufficient in itself to keep up the population of the rural districts. I can remember not so very long ago when "free trade in land " used to be one of the cardinal points of the Liberal creed, and I must say that I wish that instead of making the somewhat artificial proposals which they have put before Parliament the Government had taken a more courageous, course, and sought to remove the fetters which prevent free dealing with the land of the country. We hear a great deal about the risks of small ownership on account of the tendency of small freeholders to mortgage their land. No doubt they do that freely, just the same as larger landowners do, because it is the only way in which they can raise money. If dealings with land were simpler and 68 cheaper than they are, and if a small owner who wanted money could sell a bit of his holding—as he can, I believe, in every other country under the British flag—with a minimum of legal expense and trouble, there would be much less of mortgaging than there is at present.
In conclusion, I have only to thank your Lordships for the consideration with which you have listened to me, and to say that I hope the Bill may fulfil some of the expectations of the promoters, but as a free trader I wish that the Government had gone in for a more courageous policy rather than for one which I fear may lead, in many quarters, to both friction and disappointment.
* THE EARL OF POWIS
I should not venture to intrude upon your Lordships' House were it not for the fact that I come from a district which has, perhaps, as many small holders as any other part of this country.
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture opened this debate by saying that the object of this Bill was to restore to the agricultural labourer some of the conditions under which he lived in the earlier part of the last century. I do not think the agricultural labourers in this country will thank him very much if he restores them to the conditions of 1800. He gave us a glowing description of the Duke of Ancaster's estate in the year 1800; but I venture to suggest that if the noble Lord paid a visit to the Earl of Ancaster's estate at the present time he would not find that many of the labourers desired to change the conditions now existing for those of 1800. At any rate, I think that there are very few of your Lordships' estates where the labourers are not in a very much happier condition now than then, and that they would not thank you if you offered to restore them to the conditions which prevailed in 1800.
My Lords, I prefer to take the reasons for this Bill which were given by the Lord Chancellor for another Bill which was brought before your Lordships' House a few days ago. The Lord Chancellor drew a most harrowing description of the condition of the large towns. I am sure we all realise, and desire to alleviate, the terrible state of overcrowding in many of our large towns, and we also realise the 69 disadvantage of depopulation of the rural districts, both as regards physique and for many other reasons, which cause us all to wish to see the population returning to the country and not leaving it. But I venture to ask: will the Bill which His Majesty's Government have produced, and which they ask your Lordships now to read a second time, produce any result in that direction? If the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture thinks it is going to produce anything in that line, I am afraid he will find the Bill is, like the Act of 1892, which he criticised to-night, a "pathetic failure." Whether the Bill will be a "pathetic failure " or whether it will not, I venture to ask: has His Majesty's Government made any inquiry into the question of whether depopulation is arrested in the rural districts where large numbers of small holdings exist? Of course I have not the opportunities which His Majesty's Government have for making those inquiries; but I have made inquiries in my own neighbourhood, where, as I have said, we have a great number of small holdings; and what do I find? First of all, I take the Return which was presented to your Lordships by His Majesty's Government, a Return of the agricultural holdings in Great Britian. On p. 5 I find "Wales;" and there I find that the small holdings of all kinds, both from one acre up to five acres, and from five acres up to fifty, have increased in Anglesey and Cardiganshire. And then again, on the previous page, I find the same thing in the county of Hereford. There is also an increase of holdings between five and fifty acres in the county of Montgomery, from which I come; but there is almost a corresponding decrease of those between one acre and five acres. So there is not much in that point. But what I venture to draw your Lordship's attention to is this: if you will compare the census of those counties, you will find that there has been an increase of 445 small holdings in Anglesey; 171 in Cardiganshire; 250 in Herefordshire; and fifty-seven of the larger kind in Montgomeryshire, though in the last named there has been a decrease of fifty-five of the smaller kind, so that it only makes a difference of two on the whole. The decrease of the rural population has been in these proportions: 8 per cent., 70 3 per cent., 3 per cent. and 7½ per cent. If you take into consideration the excess of births over deaths, the loss by emigration has been from 3 per cent. up to 16 per cent. of the population. I do not think those are very satisfactory figures, or very hopeful figures, for His Majesty's Government, if they hope to see, to any considerable extent, this large population pouring back from the towns into the country by the operation of this Bill.
Then again, I have had figures taken out for my own part of the world, for over forty parishes where I have some property; and what do I find? There are as many as 2,000 small holders in the district to which I refer—considerably over 2,000—and that gives an average of about fifty small holdings to every parish. And what else do I find? In almost every one of those parishes there is a considerable decrease. As a matter of fact, there is an increase in five parishes. In one parish it is a town population, so we can dismiss that one; the next one is a mining population, and there is a slight increase there; then there comes an agricultural population, and that has increased by five. Then there is another parish where the increase is due entirely to an addition to the parish in the shape of a township which has been added to it within the last twenty years. The fifth and last one is a rural parish where they have a magnificent addition of thirty-seven to the population. That large addition to the population is explained in this way: that is a parish where I sold a considerable number of small holdings a few years ago; and I dare say that will give a great deal of pleasure to the President of the Board of Agriculture. But what was the result of my selling these small holdings? I find that the increase in the population is due to the fact that out of the holdings which I sold several of them were broken up into building lots, and have been turned into small villa residences for shopkeepers in the neighbouring town. I do not think those are very satisfactory figures for the success which is to attend this tremendous change, the greatest change, as I think the Prime Minister said, which has disturbed any agricultural community of recent years. 71 But, I am not criticising this Bill because I am opposed to small holdings. As a matter of fact, I can prove to you very easily that I am not, because on my property I have as many as 640 holdings of between one and fifty acres, which is the exact figure of the Bill of the Government; and on my Welsh property 85 per cent. of my holdings are between one and fifty acres. I do not want to go into the question of the management of my estate before your Lordships, and I only quote these figures to show that I am not criticising the Bill from any hostile spirit to small holdings. I am very strongly in favour of small holdings where they can be wisely placed, and placed without injustice to others. I venture to say that this Bill causes injustice to landlords. I do not say that there is anything in that which would very much trouble His Majesty's Government, though I know they have been courteous and kind enough to reserve to us our parks and gardens. But, I say it is also a measure of injustice to tenants and labourers. If the Bill is to have any considerable effect, it must necessarily displace a considerable number of labourers, because, of course, there is not a very large number of labourers who are able and skilful enough to get sufficient capital to start small holdings. I am glad to say that, as far as that is concerned, I could show the President of the Board of Agriculture many labourers in my part of the world who have been able to do so, and I attribute that to the fact that the district is more suitable to small holdings than, perhaps, is the county of Lincolnshire, which has been referred to so often in this House. But I venture also to say that it is unfair to the sitting tenant, and that it must cause a feeling of insecurity when the sitting tenant feels that at any moment the Commissioners may swoop down upon him and take some portion of his land.
My Lords, last year you laid tremendous stress upon giving security to the tenant farmers of this country; and landlords were painted in somewhat black colours. The necessity for security being given was then said to lie in the fact that it was necessary for the proper cultivation of the land. I say that what you gave in 1906 you are removing in 72 1907; and if the Government when they brought in the Bill of 1906 had in their minds the Bill of 1907, I say they were perpetrating a fraud upon the agricultural population. I venture to ask why it is that a Government office is to be allowed to act in such an arbitrary manner to the tenant farmers of the country. If a private individual acted in a similar way, every supporter of the Government would be stumping the country from end to end, crying out against the injustice of the landowners. I think the tenant farmers would be perfectly willing and ready to part with their land if it could really be shown to them that it was for the benefit of the whole community, and they would be ready and willing to put up with the inconvenience which must necessarily attach to a portion of their farms being taken from them. I say they would be ready and willing to put up with that inconvenience if it were shown that it really was for the benefit of the community at large. But where the injustice comes in is, that the Government make the tenant farmer pay for the very thing they are going to take away from him. He is the one sufferer more than others by the Bill which you are bringing in. Is it not the fact, and do you not all know perfectly well, that the tenant farmers in a parish are always the largest ratepayers excluding the landowner; and is it fair to make the man who suffers most by the Bill pay the other sort of bill which you are imposing upon the. country? And have not already the Commission on Local Taxation reported that the incidence of local taxation is very unfair, and the Governments of both Parties declared that the opportunity was only wanting for them to remedy the injustice of the present system? I find that specially referred to in the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee, which quoted from the Reports of the Commission on Local Taxation.
That brings me to the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee, and I only wish His Majesty's Government had followed that Report a little more closely than they seem to have done. I conclude that His Majesty's Government studied that Report, but, as far as I can make out, 73 they seem to have ignored it in almost every respect. I am reminded of a man who complained to his friend: "You asked So-and-so to give an opinion, and then you never followed it." The friend said: "Oh, yes, but, of course, I only asked for his opinion so as to make up my mind in the opposite direction." I think that is the way in which the Government have treated the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee, and I will quote to your Lordships a few of the recommendations of that Committee. One of the strongest recommendations they make is, that small holdings should be provided by the State by taxes, not by rates. Secondly, they state that they do not approve of compulsory hiring. The noble Earl (Lord Onslow) has referred to that question to-night. Thirdly, they recommend that advances should be made to landowners—and, especially, they lay stress upon the fact that that is the most rapid means of providing small holdings on a sound and economic basis. The Government seem, as I have said, to have made up their minds in exactly the opposite direction to what the Committee have done. They propose by this Bill that small holdings shall be principally provided out of the rates, even against the judgment of the county council; secondly, they proceed by compulsory hiring; and, thirdly, they do not recommend making any advances to landowners. Sir Francis Channing—who evidently, judging by his remarks, is not what I should call a friend to the landowner—strongly recommends proceeding by loans to landowners as being the best instrument of State policy ready to our hands. Those are the words of Sir Francis Channing. Then further, Mr. Munro-Ferguson says in that Report that to improvise small holdings in hostility to that system would be to court failure at the public expense. I have already quoted the Prime Minister as saying that this is the greatest change that has ever taken place; and I think I may venture to say that it is not likely to be received with open arms by either landowners, tenant, farmers, or labourers. Mr. Munro-Ferguson proceeds, in a characteristic manner, to remark that it is not necessary to burn down the house to roast the pig. But I venture to say 74 that although it is not proposed to burn down the whole house, you are at any rate setting fire to the kitchen, and that that causes a very strong feeling of insecurity in the other parts of the house.
I think His Majesty's Government will have to search a great deal further if they wish to find a remedy for the depopulation of the rural districts, and to stem the tide which is flowing towards the towns. We have had pointed out to us in some of the Reports which have been presented to this House the causes which tend, and I know your Lordships are very well aware of them, to this depopulation. Is it not brought about by the spread of education, and the class of education which is given to the children in the national schools, by machinery, by the higher wages in the towns and mining centres of the country? And is it not also brought about by the greater attractions of the towns as compared with the country? I think those are the principal causes of the depopulation of the rural districts and of the flow to the towns.
I do not know whether I shall be thought to be presumptuous in venturing to suggest one or two possible remedies. I do not say that they would stem the tide, because I think we have got to look very much further, and the question how to stem this tide is one which must naturally puzzle the greatest statesmen. We know perfectly well that it is a tide which is flowing in every country in Europe where there is an agricultural population, and where there are also mining districts or populous towns. But, I venture to suggest that something might be done by the establishment of State forests and, possibly, by loans to landowners to afforest waste lands, and also by the improvement of education—certainly in our rural parishes, and even in our urban districts, where I venture to suggest that more suitable agricultural education should be given, the youth of those districts instructed in forestry, and better instruction given in botany and chemistry. I venture to think that those are some ways—small trifling ways perhaps—in which you might help to stem 75 this tide. But I do not think, as I said before, that you will altogether solve the problem; it is probably a question which passes the wit of man to settle altogether.
As I have said, I am not an opponent of small holdings, and I think I have shown that I am not. All I wish to say is that I do not altogether approve of the Bill which has been presented to your Lordships' House by His Majesty's Government; but I hope and trust that, if noble Lords on this side of the House meet His Majesty's Government in a spirit not at all hostile but even friendly to that measure, noble Lords opposite and His Majesty's Government will meet this side of the House in an equally friendly and conciliatory spirit, and that we may look forward with some hope to seeing the Bill—I will not say considerably, but at any rate to some extent, amended, so that it may become a more useful measure, in our opinion, and also one more agreeable to the agricultural community of this country. I thank your Lordships for having listened to me so patiently.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
It is rather curious, my Lords, to contrast the very different course this debate has taken from that which we recently had upon the Scottish Bill. Upon that occasion, the only speakers on the Government side confined themselves to, I had almost said, commonplace generalities. They told us much of the evils of overcrowding, of the depopulation of the country, and so forth, but they told us very little of the machinery of the Bill; and they never attempted to defend it. To-day, almost every speech, until the last two or three, has been devoted merely to details of this measure, and nothing has been said about the general principles involved. I can only suppose—and if my supposition is right, I entirely agree with noble Lords opposite—that they felt that while the machinery of this Bill was defensible the machinery of the Scottish Bill was entirely indefensible.
But, my Lords, I venture on the present occasion to ask you to allow me to say a 76 few words upon general principles, instead of merely dealing with details. I will not repeat again—I will ask noble Lords to believe—that I am quite as conscious as any noble Lord here of the evils of overcrowding, of the depressed condition of great portions of the populations of our big towns, and of the great desirability, if it be possible, of bringing them back to the land, and of the great advantages generally of a country life over an urban one. But I would ask, what is really the cause, what is at the root of the phenomenon which we see in every country in Europe at the present time, and especially in our own—the tendency of the poulation to go to the big towns? Is it not plain that it is because, for the greater part of the nineteenth century, we were under the domination of the Manchester School who put money, and the making of money out of manufactures and trade, above everything else as the one means of saving this country, whose fiscal policy tended in the same direction, whose care for the agricultural labourer and for the interest of any class which was dependent upon the land wasnil, who allowed all this condition of overcrowding which they were causing to grow up in the towns without an effort to stop it? And, having gone on for more than half a century in that particular line of action, the very party who most upheld the Manchester School (led by Mr. John Bright of the Manchester School of those days) comes forward now and tells us that they deplore this very condition of things which they themselves have brought about.
Now, what is the real cause of the tendency of rural populations all over Europe to go to the towns? It is because every nation in Europe has become a nation of manufacturers; and, as M. Mèline tells us in his book, there is considerable doubt whether the whole of Europe has not gone crazy over this manufacturing mania, and is not guilty of a great deal of over-production which is causing a great many other evils which we need not touch upon to-night. I think that should be remembered; and if the interest which the Government takes in this measure is really a sign that we are returning to a more sane 77 view of economic questions, I am sure that we shall all hail it as a sign of a wiser policy than that which has been pursued in the past.
I have always believed—I was brought up by a school that believed—that the land was the most important capital that the country possessed, that it was the one inalienable asset which any country had, and that no country could be prosperous unless the classes who lived and were dependent upon the land of the country were prosperous also. That was a very old fashioned idea fifty years ago, and we are only, I must once more repeat, reaping the consequences of our forgetfulness of that great truth.
Now, my Lords, you want, if possible, to improve the condition of those who are dependent upon you, but before I go to that, allow me to quote one passage which occurs in the Report of the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Onslow. It is a curious passage. Speaking of the difficulty of comparing the distribution of land in this country with that which obtains abroad, it speaks of—The large extent to which in small farm countries plots of land of minor extent included in the agricultural totals are, even more largely than with ourselves, occupied by persons engaged in other local or small domestic industries. The prominence of these industries is less usual in countries like our own where many petty local trades have been displaced or extinguished.By what have these petty local trades been displaced or extinguished? By manufactories. Again, I say, everything points to the conclusion that the real cause of the depopulation of the country in the past is the utter disregard of the welfare of those employed upon the land, and the undue impetus given to everything which tended to draw the population into the towns.
Now, my Lords, I ask, what has the Liberal Party done in the past for that population? Who was the greatest opponent of the Factory Act of the late Lord Shaftesbury? Mr. John Bright. Who passed the first Public Health Act worthy of the name? My noble friend Lord Cross, in 1875, under a Conservative Government. When did any one of the Liberal Party take the smallest interest in the agricultural labourer, or the smallest 78 interest in agriculture? In the year 1885 immediately after they had received votes, and then we had an election fought on three acres and a cow.
I have another reason for hailing this measure with satisfaction. I hope that it will open the eyes of some of our political economists. I am sorry the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty has left the House, as I cannot help calling attention to that very remarkable statement he made to us the other night, when he told us that the relation of landlord and tenant was an instance of dual ownership. That astounding statement fell upon an astonished House, and fell upon the still more astonished Party opposite I think, for it acted as a douche of cold water which entirely silenced, for the rest of the evening, all the Members who occupied the opposite benches. No, I believe I am wrong. I believe the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland struggled to the surface for a few moments, but the cold water was too much for him; he sank, and nobody took his place, and, for the rest of the evening dead silence reigned upon the benches opposite. And yet that noble Lord, equipped with that knowledge of economics which he showed, will go down to public meetings and will cry up free trade and denounce tariff reform and all the rest of it with the greatest confidence. I cannot help thinking that that sort of thing will speedily die out if your scheme of increasing small holdings really succeeds; and I doubt, if the number of small holders is so increased in this country that it should become a quantity not negligible in general elections, whether some of the most earnest free traders will not change their views with regard to the taxation of food. I was very much struck by what I thought was the commencement of a concession to-night on the part of the noble Lord the President of the Board of Agriculture, because I observed that amongst other advantages which the small holders had in the beginning of last century he mentioned the fact that corn was at 113s. per quarter. I quite agree with the noble Earl: it is a great advantage to the small holders.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I said corn was 113s. a quarter, and that it showed what 79 an advantage these small holdings were. Even with that difficulty, he was able to make a good living and educate his children well.
§ THE DUKE OF NORTHUMBERLAND
There is the difficulty of a man getting 113s. for his corn. Of course it is notorious that in every country in Europe which has a large number of small holders you have protective duties, and you will have them in this country if you get small holdings, because, in proportion to their number, small holders would make this felt at times of general election. I very much doubt whether the noble Lord will have the opportunity of putting that to the test, because I do not think his Bill will produce small holders to that extent.
Now I want to turn for one moment to what, perhaps, I ought not to mention. Noble Lords have mentioned their own experiences. I am going to turn to a case of my own as a test of what has really been going on. Let me begin by saying that what I said about the advantages of a tax on corn to the agricultural labourer I decline to be considered to be in favour of this or that political and economic doctrine. I frankly confess I have proceeded very little further in the study of political economy than apparently the noble Lord the First Lord of the Admiralty. I have studied so far that I am aware how little I know, and I never, if I can possibly help it, express an opinion in public for fear I should be talking nonsense. When I hear that there is such an enormous demand for small holdings in the country, I ask myself: What have individual landed proprietors been doing all this time—all this time your Manchester school has been forcing the labourers into the towns? I assert they have been trying to stop and counteract the very thing which noble Lords opposite and their followers have been doing. If I ask you to allow me to mention some figures in my own case, I shall do it with two provisos. I am not mentioning them because I think they are exceptional, but because I think they are a fair example of what all landed proprietors, or the vast majority of them have done. In the next place, I am not, of course 80 taking any personal credit to myself, because it is a state of things which I inherited and which existed years before I had anything to do with it. What is the case? On my own estate in Northumberland I have 331 persons occupying small holdings from five to fifty acres, covering 3,540 acres, and I have 279 tenants occupying from four to five acres, covering 1,116 acres, a total of 610 tenants and 4,650 acres. The noble Lord told us to-day that he had quite recently got 2,000 acres of Crown land turned into small holdings. I am sure we all congratulate him upon it and hope his small holdings will prosper and flourish. I did not quite understand some of the conditions, but I am very glad to hear that the Crown has land which will yield 1,000 rabbits an acre, and which immediately after will apparently yield 25s. an acre. I am afraid my property is not so elastic or gifted as that. Here is a case where I have got just double or rather more than double the number of acres that the noble Lord has been able to get of Crown land. Would you believe it, I am one of the landlords whom the Prime Minister quoted as an instance of landlords who would not let anybody have small holdings? Perhaps I am unwise to tell that, because I am bound to say the Prime Minister did not mention my name. It is, however, a fact. The Prime Minister on 24th April was asked by Mr. Lane-Fox on what official information he relied in making the statement that in one district after another the demand for land for the purpose of small holdings was met with a blank denial—of course that gives you the impression that the person who gives the blank denial will not have anything to do with them—and whether he could lay information before the House giving names and districts he referred to. He did give a good many districts, and amongst them was Leamington, where land—property of mine—suitable in the opinion of the committee of the county council, could not be obtained, and where it was resolved that information to that effect should be given to the applicants. I suppose that is an extract from the minute of the county council. What it means I do not quite understand. Whether it means that the committee thought it was suitable and 81 could not be obtained, or whether it means the committee could not obtain any land that was suitable I do not know. It is a most ambiguous sentence. At the same time it is a fact. There is the report from the committee of the county council, a perfectly correct report, and the Prime Minister quotes it in such a way and in such a connection as to imply that the landlord to whom he refers was un-unwilling to let any land for small holdings. I do not want to detain the House. It would be of no interest to the House if I were to give the reasons I had for refusing the application. I could justify my position. What I complain of is that these cases are taken in that manner without full inquiry into all the circumstances, and that landlords are put in an absolutely false position and held up as entertaining views they do not entertain.
I am afraid, although I have a certain number of small holdings—and I trust tenants prosper upon them—that there is not any hope of extending them to any great degree. There is a society which is reported upon by the Committee presided over by Lord Onslow, called the Northern Allotments Society, and it exists at Newcastle. I do not want to detain your Lordships by reading a long extract to show the work of that society, but it is really not a small holdings society at all. It is a society which very wisely, from their point of view, buys land up and turns it partly into building land, partly into accommodation land, and partly into small holdings, thereby managing, as I understand, to pay on one kind of property what it loses on another. It is not, however, an association for small holdings, pure and simple, and is no proof of the success of small holdings. So much is this the case that when the evidence was given before Lord Onslow's Committee, Professor Long said that the estates of the society were not small holdings in the strict sense of the word. That is the only society of small holdings I know in Northumberland, and, as I say, although a certain number of small holdings would prosper in the North of England, I do not think you would get a very large extension of them here. The reason is palpable. Land is not for the most 82 part rich, and such land as is rich is not near a good market, and the climate is a very rough one. We never get much heat in summer.
I want to refer for a moment to another matter. I know what is going to happen in Northumberland and probably in other parts of England. The Commissioners are coming down and going to make a sort of propaganda in favour of small holdings, inciting the people to make a demand; and, if there is any difficulty on the part of any landlord, no matter for what reason, he is going to be held up as the Prime Minister holds me up, as an obstruction. I protest very much against this everlasting talk about a demand for small holdings. You can create a demand for anything. Nobody ever tells us whether people who demand them are the sort of people who ought to demand them, and whether they are capable of making the business a good one. I look with a great suspicion upon the idea of these Commissioners coming down in a sort of roving undertaking—with that unfortunate word "prospective" in the Bill—to enable them to keep up this agitation. I do not object to it so much, or at all on the part of the landlord, but I do object to it very much on the part of the tenant. No tenant in future in this country can ever have fixity of tenure, because he will always be liable to have his land taken from him compulsorily. For that reason, I think that the Commissioners action may be detrimental to the tenant; but I think it will be detrimental to the small holder if, by holding out hopes to men utterly unfit for the work, unqualified for making them a success, they tempt people to demand small holdings and then attempt to satisfy them. I want to know what the reports of the Commissioners are likely to be. I ask that question because there was an unfortunate return which was mentioned and criticised much earlier in the session, and which I am sorry to say throws, in my mind, the greatest doubt upon the return which in future will come from the Board of Agriculture. You will, my Lords, remember the circumstances. This return was a memorandum of the evidence contained in Parliamentary 83 papers as to the demand for allotments and small holdings, and as to the difficulty of obtaining land for these purposes. I venture to think if any simple man read that he would think that the words as to the demand and as to the difficulty meant where there was a demand and where there was a difficulty and that therefore the evidence would have been given on both sides. It was notorious, and it was admitted by noble Lords opposite that the memorandum was not fair, in that they had taken all the evidence in favour of the demand for small holdings, and had left out the other evidence, which, by the way, was two-thirds of the evidence at their disposal. The serious part is that nobody who knows the noble Lord will believe for one moment that he would do anything which was not fair or strictly in accordance with political honour. It therefore comes to this, that in future it is lawful and honourable for a public office of the Government to send out a return, which ifsuppressio veri suggestio falsi does not describe it, I cannot find a term which Parliamentary debate will allow me to employ. That in future is what I understand may be expected from Government offices. I do not like to look forward to the future reports on the success of small holdings if these are to be the principles upon which they are to be given.
I have detained your Lordships already long enough; I only want to say a few words more. It sometimes astonishes me that, having a system in vogue in England which has created small holdings in the past, and which seems on the whole to have answered very well, we should have deliberately abandoned it, and made it impossible. I mean the copyhold system. The copyhold system is very much laughed at and abused by those who know little about it. It is condemned because it is feudal. That is enough for many people. They do not know what feudal means, but it is quite enough to damn any question. The copyhold system, it must be confessed, is surrounded with many ancient usages and customs which are quite obsolete, but it did give that which noble Lords opposite always wanted to give. namely. fixity of tenure. Yet it 84 retained the right of the lord to recover the property in certain cases. It was managed without all these Commissioners and all this expense, and it had in addition the great advantage which has been alluded to, of being a cheap and simple method of transference. Unfortunately, the law has made it absolutely impossible to create copyholds at the present time. I do very much wish the noble Lord, alongside with this measure, would consider that question, and let us have the power to create copyhold, doing away with the objectionable and obsolete incidents connected with it. I cannot help thinking that he would find he had got all he wanted by this Bill or similar measures, in a very much simpler manner, with no expense at all, and that many landlords would be extremely glad to avail themselves of the opportunity. There is one thing which we ought to remember, and it is that, so far as I know, in the history of the world small holdings on a very large scale have never been a success. I mean, of course, as regards the prosperity of the class that has held them. That is a curious fact. I am not, of course, speaking of one estate or period. The noble Lord mentioned an estate which was a success at the beginning of the last century, and I dare say it is perfectly true, but this is the first time we have heard of the agricultural labourer at the beginning of the last century being prosperous. Mr. Jesse Collings has written a very interesting book on the reform of the land. He makes a short history of the land question, and the dealings of landlords with their tenants of all classes. He always speaks of a time when the agricultural labourer lived in clover,, but he never mentions when the time was. You may take the whole history, and every period is the same. From one cause or another the agricultural labourer was depressed. I believe that to be the case, and I should like to make a challenge to noble Lords who advocate an unlimited increase of small holdings to pint out the time, in England especially, when the population on small holdings were in a thoroughly prosperous condition. I think they will find it rather difficult. Of course, that is no argument that in the future you should not have a population of prosperous small 85 holders. The conditions of things are very much changed. There never was, however, a time—that is the main point—in England when a man lived under his own vine and fig tree.
In all I have said I have not said one word against this measure. I wish it all success, although I wish to see it amended in certain particulars which other noble Lords have touched upon, and which I have not thought it necessary to mention. I do say, however, that no legislation can alter certain facts. The essence of the success of small holdings is rich land, good markets, great thrift and industry on the part of the occupiers, and, I would add, some form of protection, or something like it. I do not wish to be bound down to any particular phrase. Where those conditions exist, small holdings, I quite admit, may be prosperous; but otherwise I do not believe that to any large extent you will have prosperous small holdings, and I would like to point out that every instance I have had in view—and I have had them of different kinds and on different occasions—of successful small holdings has been on excessively rich land near some good market.
* THE UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS (Lord FITZMAURICE)
It would, perhaps, be hardly respectful if, after so many noble Lords, all speaking with knowledge and authority on this question, have addressed your Lordships from the opposite side of the House, nobody on this side of the House rose at this stage to continue the debate. At the same tme perhaps I may be tempted to observe that, except in regard to details, it cannot be said that any marked opposition has been shown by noble Lords opposite to the provisions of this Bill. It is undoubtedly a pleasing contrast to some of the debates we have had recently to find what on the whole may be called a spirit of accord prevailing between the two opposite sides of the House. A very large part of the debate has been taken up by a recital, a very interesting recital, of the personal experience of noble Lords in regard to their own estates and their own neighbourhoods. Other portions of the debate 86 have ranged over a wider field and have touched upon topics of historic interest in connection with the English land question. A moment ago the noble Duke who has just addressed the House put in a word on behalf of the ancient system of the copyholds as having provided in its time a large class of precisely the sort of holder it is desired by this Bill to bring into existence. I do not think I need be alarmed by the word feudal, to which he alluded, from expressing a considerable amount of agreement with what has fallen from the noble Duke. If I may be allowed to say so, it is not at all acknowledged by modern historical science, which has done so much to elucidate this question, that copyhold tenure was really an incidence of feudal tenure; on the contrary, I should say the best opinion, so far as I know, is of the opposite character. At any rate, we do know that there is a famous passage in Lord Coke's Institutes that copyhold in his time did afford independent existence to the very class of men the noble Duke had in his mind when he spoke. My noble friend, Lord Fortescue, who earlier in the evening made a very interesting speech, reproached the Government with having introduced this Bill instead of reviving the ancient view of the Liberal Party in regard to free trade in land—the ideas of Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden—and he asked why a totally different kind of Bill from this was not introduced. I can only say there is nothing whatever antagonistic between the ideas of free trade in land as understood by Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden, and the provisions of this Bill. The two plans deal with two different aspects of the question. Undoubtedly it would be a very cheering thing to us to know that, if at some future time a Liberal Government thinks well to take some strong measures in regard to those heads of policy which were summed up by Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden under the name of free trade in land, we shall have the support of one who is so powerful in the landed class of this country as my noble friend. I may, however, remind my noble friend that something has been done of late years in that direction. My noble friend, Lord Nelson, to whom I listened with all that respect to which his aged experience entitles him, and 87 who in the county where I live is known so well and respected so much, also alluded, like Lord Fortescue, to the necessity of setting up cheap registration. Now cheap registration was an essential part of Mr. Bright's and Mr. Codben's ideas, and most undoubtedly the Registration Acts which we owe to the legal skill and perseverance of the noble Lord who till recently sat on the Woolsack—I mean Lord Halsbury—have done something towards rendering it possible to introduce cheap registration which would apply to small freeholds as in other countries. I may remind him that it is now possible for a county council, with the leave, I think, of the Lord Chancellor, under certain conditions to set up a county register, and I can only hope myself that the system already established in the county of London will not hurriedly be abandoned merely because an agitation has been got up against it by certain members of the Incorporated Law Society, but that, on the contrary, it may be extended in the manner suggested by the two noble Lords whose names I have mentioned. These questions, however, are rather outside the immediate object and purport of this Bill. There is nothing whatever in this Bill antagonistic to them. There is nothing whatever in the Bill which would render free trade in land or registration more difficult. On the contrary, we claim that, so far as it would influence public opinion, upon which those questions depend for their solution, it would tend in a direction favourable to the views of the noble Lord. This Bill, however, deals with a totally different class of questions.
We have been asked in the course of this debate why a Bill of this kind has been introduced at all. Mr. Balfour the other day said it was in reality absolutely contrary to all principles of Liberalism, for a Government which professed to be a free trade Government, and he claimed the support of the well-known political economist of the Cobdenite school, Mr. Harold Cox, who always speaks with great knowledge and great independence. He said that for the law to step in and claim the use of public funds to create small holdings was a derogation from the principles of free trade, which un- 88 doubtedly depend mainly and largely upon the principle that in economic matters price has to be left to find its own level, the law not interfering to benefit any particular class. I shall be perfectly frank upon this question, and acknowledge that to a certan extent the criticism made by Mr. Balfour is theoretically an accurate one. It may be argued—and logically perhaps there is no answer—that in this particular instance we are departing from those principles of non-interference which we accept as a general rule in regard to trade and commerce, but I must say that it always appears to me that to argue with strict logic from matters connected with trade and commerce between different countries to matters of purely internal and domestic economy is not an argument which, however verbally accurate and however logical it may appear, is based upon substantial facts or real inferences. The debate to-night has shown a singular concurrence on the part of noble Lords upon both sides of the House coming from every part of England—although the admission was made in rather a grudging spirit in some cases—that there is a demand of some kind for land which at the present time is not easily satisfied. Some noble Lords spoke from their own experience as landowners, justly claiming that in many instances on their own estates they have gone very far towards meeting the existing demands, and others spoke, not of matters within their own immediate control and knowledge, but of what they have seen in their own neighbourhoods and upon other estates. I listened to the speech of my venerable and noble friend Lord Nelson, with great interest; and I desire to say how much I have always felt the perseverance he has shown in my own county—shown long before others took the matter up—in extending facilities to the labouring classes to obtain land in small quantities. Everybody who knows Wiltshire must have always regarded him with admiration and respect, because he has led the way. I have sometimes thought that that county is one which does afford a very great deal of encouragement to those who believe in the success of such experiments as those which this Bill is intended to provide for. There was a Parliamentary Return issued 89 some years ago in regard to allotments, and I remember that that county came out at the head of the list. In that county, upon large estates, you may see a great system of allotments, almost running into small holdings, dating chiefly from the time when Lord Nelson began his useful work, I mean in the forties, when there was a very large amount, a terrible amount, of distress in the west country, caused by agricultural depression coinciding with a very great change in the manufacturing industries of that part of England. The great development of industries in the centre and the North of England destroyed to a very large extent the manufacturing prosperity of the West of England, which has never quite recovered, and it had the special effect of closing a very great number of the small factories scattered about in the villages, throwing back upon the land nearly the whole of the population which had been engaged in them. I myself know many places at the present day where you can still see the gaunt remains, gradually dwindling to a heap of bricks, of cloth factories which, in their time, employed a considerable number of hands. It was at that time that the great allotment system which grew up in that county began. All that is set out very fully in the Reports of successive Commissions. In more modern days we have had there the very interesting and curious experiments connected with the name of Major Poore, of Winterslow. One remarkable result of those experiments is this: If you take the last census of the county of Wiltshire, you will see that Winterslow is very nearly the only really rural parish which shows an increase of population. There is not the smallest doubt it has been caused by the way in which the land has been broken up. I am not going to jump, I hope noble Lords opposite will understand, at the conclusion that because this experiment at Winterslow has been successful—owing to reasons which, perhaps, I know as well as any Member of your Lordships' House, reasons, some of them, I quite admit, peculiar to the place—therefore a similar experiment is bound to succeed every there and that the population is certain to go up everywhere in consequence in the same way. All I venture to say is that Winterslow is 90 a proof that if you have favourable conditions of soil, if you have somebody like Major Poore to take the thing in hand in a spirit of business and not of philanthropy merely, and if the neighbouring conditions of industry are also favourable as they are at Winterslow, then you are justified in believing that such experiments as this Bill proposes to encourage will meet with a like success. There is another experiment far more ancient than that of Major Poore at Winterslow. Some of your Lordships who hunt with the Duke of Beaufort's hounds probably know Malmesbury Common, a tract of land 800 acres in extent. Under an enclosure Act of the century before last it was broken up into a sort of shifting tenure. The town council of Malmesbury owned the whole of this large tract of land, and it was divided so that the mayor had 50 acres, the aldermen about 15 acres each, and the commoners the rest divided amongst them. That tenure has gone on to this day with the most admirable results. Noble Lords opposite will be interested to know that in the old days when Malmesbury returned a Member to Parliament, the commoners, everyone of them out and out Tories, voted for the blue candidate because they were firmly convinced that it was the wish of the Liberal Party to deprive them of their allotments. It is impossible to say how far this has checked the diminution of the population so apparent in the northern part of the county. The general impression, I believe, is that, although it has not stopped the population diminishing, it has had a marked effect in preventing that diminution being as great as it would otherwise have been. I am not at all a pessimist about the condition of the rural districts I know. I entirely agree with what was said the other day by Mr. Rogers, the Member for East Wiltshire, who speaks about things of which he knows, that there has been a marked improvement of late years in the rural districts and that there is more hope. It would be very disappointing if it was not so. Undoubtedly, great efforts have been made by legislation and otherwise to improve the condition of our rural districts, and I believe if you examined the returns of the Post Office Savings Bank and the friendly 91 societies, which are the real tests, you would find that, although the rural population has diminished, yet the condition of those who have remained has greatly improved. I go further and say that they know this themselves, because very often agricultural labourers have told me that things were, as they said, getting better; and instead of drawing upon their imagination, as is often done, for a glorious state of things which is supposed to have existed in some remote past, they contrast the inferior state of things of thirty years ago with the condition of things existing now. The result of this, in my opinion, is that there is more money seeking investment amongst the rural labourers than formerly, and they not unnaturally look on the land on which they live and from which they sprang as the legitimate means of investing their money. They very frequently find, however, that the opportunities they seek are not forthcoming. It is to assist that class of men that this Bill is particularly designed. It is to encourage the landowner, and, failing him, the county council, and, failing the county council, to enable the Government through the Commissioners, to find for these people who are deserving the means of investing their money in the land which in some cases they have hitherto sought in vain.
I am quite aware that I am not arguing this question from the point of view of those who tell you that things are getting worse and worse in rural districts and that it is all the result of some system of local tyranny on the part of proprietors and others who desire to drive the people off the land. With that point of view I have no sympathy. It is one which in my opinion is unjust and cannot be substantiated. If I were to identify myself with it by silence, I think I should be untrue to every tradition, I was going, if I may be allowed, to say of my own public life either in my own county or in Parliament. I believe, on the contrary, that there is a very great desire on the part of most landowners in this country to do what they can to facilitate allotments and small holdings: but we must remember that, as my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture has said, there are very great difficulties often in the way of 92 landowners equipping the land. This Bill will undoubtedly give these facilities in cases where the landowners are unable to come forward as they themselves desire.
My noble friend Lord Belper, speaking on behalf of the County Councils Association, took the view that the chief objection to the Bill was the want of confidence it showed in the county councils. That, indeed, has been the only important criticism that has been made this evening on the Bill. I would therefore ask my noble friend to allow me, standing as I do on common ground with him, to say a few words in reply. I cannot understand how it was that he could see such a great difference between the position which we give to the Commissioners under certain circumstances to compel the county council to act when it is found in default and the position given by law to county councils to compel subordinate local authorities to do their duty. My noble friend said that the county council could only act, for example, when a parish council appealed from the decision of a rural council. That is true, but I have often heard the criticism that the county council ought to be given a far freer hand because often in cases of the greatest malfeasance by a rural council local pressure and local unpopularity come in and parish councils are unwilling to act, and gross abuses go on which the county council might desire to deal with if only somebody would come into court, as it were, and indict the recalcitrant body. The position we have taken up is this: a larger power ought to be given to the Commissioners, and they should act on what may be called their own knowledge and information, and not have to wait until some other body or some specified group or number of persons come before them and put the county council in the place of the defendant. The system of local government which we have built up under the two great Acts of 1888 and 1894 is an hierachy which begins at the parish council, goes on to the rural and urban council, then to the county council, and finally to the government of the land above the county council. I venture to claim that noble Lords opposite who above all things are Unionists, ought to support the hierarchic system of government, and not to claim that the fifty-two 93 county councils are all to be set up as petty or independent Parliaments. I do not believe that the county councils desire to have that position at all. I am quite aware that the old mediœval idea of county government was something of this kind. Many of your Lordships have no doubt read some of those delightful novels of the Sir Walter Scott of Hungary, Maurus Johai. One of the motifs of one of his novels is the confusion and the independence in the old county government of Hungary. The parties representing our Whigs and Tories, were always cutting each others' throats in the county parliament, but they were always willing to unite against the central Government. That is not the principle upon which English local government exists, and I claim that if you were to consult any of the modern text writers on English local government, you would find they point out that the great principle on which that government rests is the hierarchic principle. Above the county councils is the Central Government which holds a certain check on the county councils by means of the purse strings, in the same way as the county councils holds a check upon the smaller authorities and in other cases has a direct power to act if the local authority is in default. I have been asked as the chairman of a county council: Are You going to be a party to the President of the Board of Agriculture coming down into Wiltshire and levying a rate on that county? But my hon. friend will do nothing of the kind; that is not the machinery; there are large sums which have to be paid from time to time from the local taxation account, through the Treasury, under various heads into the Exchequer Contribution Account, and I take it, if a county council is recalcitrant it will be by means of one of those amounts that quiet pressure will be brought to bear upon it.
§ LORD BELPER
I am very unwilling to interrupt, but the noble Lord has picked one point out of several I mentioned which showed that the case he quoted was no precedent for the proposal in the Bill. The only point he has alluded to is the fact that I said that the county council did not take any action unless asked by the parish council. That is 94 one small point out of four or five I mentioned, the chief of which was that it was only for special purposes of urgency that the county council was allowed to step in and do the work which the local authority absolutely refused to do. I went on to say that I did not think that was a case on all fours with this, and that this Bill went much further, inasmuch as the discretion of the county council, where discretion was required, was overridden by an outside authority.
* LORD FITZMAURICE
That is what I have been endeavouring—imperfectly no doubt—to reply to. I have pointed out that the whole essence of this Bill is that above the county council stands the government of the country, just as the county council stands above the minor local authorities of the county. That is perfectly in consonance with what I ventured to call the hierarchic principles of English local government, which did not accord absolute independence to any local authority, but which depended upon the principle, if I may put it so, that "England expects every local authority to do its duty." The only point I have not touched upon—and I was going to do so—is how far the establishment of small holdings is a matter of first importance to justify the interference of the Government. The essence of our Bill is that we do think it is a matter of importance.
* LORD FITZMAURICE
If we all think that this matter is one of real local and general importance the Government is fully justified in taking the necessary powers to enforce the necessary duty upon the county council if it is in default. If noble Lords will read the clause relating to the action of the Board of Agriculture and its Commission in regard to county councils in default, they will find they are hedged in by every conceivable precaution. Every opportunity will be given to the county council, and believing as I do that the county councils are anxious to do their duty, I think the cases of default where the Board of Agriculture will have to act will be exceedingly rare and certainly most exceptional. I am inclined to think, in fact, that nearly all these criticisms are 95 based upon the idea that the Board of Agriculture is going to come in and try to force county councils to set up systems of small holdings and allotments whether the land is suitable or not, whether circumstances are favourable or the reverse, and whether local feeling is favourable or not. My noble friend has told the House that the gentlemen to whom he intends to entrust these arduous duties are men of great skill, knowledge, and experience, and I feel absolutely certain myself from what I have seen of Government Commissioners and inspectors in other branches of local work that the county councils and these Commissioners will act together in a spirit of perfect friendship and harmony, and that there will be hardly any instance where the county councils will be in default, or where the Government will have to call in these powers which have so alarmed my noble friend and the County Councils Association.
Upon other points the discussion has been chiefly one of details, and we shall approach all these with far greater advantage in Committee than we can this evening. My noble friend has pressed again the point which earlier in the evening was brought forward by Lord Onslow, and I can only regret that the Answer my noble friend gave has not altogether satisfied him, but I think I can certainly give him this assurance, that there will be every desire on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to construe the pledge which he has given in a liberal spirit, without, of course, going beyond the promise which he gave in the House of Commons. In Committee here we may probably be at some little disadvantage in regard to that clause, because I take it that it is a financial clause and that it might be difficult for us to amend it even if we desired to do so. That, no doubt, was the justification for Lord Onslow's raising the matter by a separate Question; but, bearing in mind the pledge which has been given, and bearing in mind also other alterations which were made in Committee and on report in the House of Commons by which the financial risks of the county council have been considerably diminished in, regard to these schemes, I cannot help hoping that by the time 96 this Bill has emerged from Committee it will have received that unanimous support from your Lordships' House. which, so far as the Second Reading is concerned, I now venture respectfully to urge your Lordships to give it.
§ THE EARL OF DARTMOUTH
I feel an apology is due to your Lordships for intervening in this debate. TheWestminster Gazette was deeply indignant with the Duke of Montrose the other day for having ventured to address this House on the Second Reading of the Scottish Smallholders Bill, because he had a son who was defeated in the last general election. I am in the same unfortunate position, but if I could only make so good and well-reasoned a speech as he did on that occasion I should not make the apology to your Lordships that I now do. The reason I venture to interpose is that I personally have had a great deal of experience in the matter of small holdings, and I think in a measure of this kind, where a great departure is being made, is is essential that those of your Lordships who have experience in these matters should, even at the risk of wearying the House, give their experience for what it is worth. We have heard a good deal about Party feeling. Let us be quite straightforward about it to-night. We cannot overlook the fact that at the last election on every Radical platform the Tory landlord was held up to contempt for his greed, for his despotism, and for his social qualities. The Prime Minister the other night deprecated strongly the fanning of class war. There will be no fanning of class war from this side of the House, but if the Prime Minister is really honest in what he says, let him set an example, and when he gets on the platform in the country let him and those who follow him abstain from making these charges, which cannot but leave a feeling of soreness behind them. My noble friend who introduced this Bill is anxious to deprecate any Party feeling, but it seemed to me to be a little farfetched to introduce a purely imaginary Midland Lord Lieutenant into the Second Reading of a Scottish Small Holdings Bill, and if it is desirable, as I am sure it is, on the part of us all to avoid these party recriminations, it is better not to make 97 insinuations that may lend themselves to that interpretation.
The noble Lord who has just sat down has told us that there has been no opposition to the principles of the Bill, and I do not think there will be any. If the objects of the Bill are such as I understand them to be, namely, to improve the position of the agricultural labourer, to stay the exodus to the towns, and to make the surroundings of rural employment more attractive, there is no one who will give him a more hearty support than those who sit on this side; but there are one or two points on which we should like a little further information. As to the class that is to be primarily benefited, I take it it is the agricultural labourer. Is there any proposal in the Bill to limit the area from which these applications come? Because it seems to me that with the impetus to be given to those who desire small holdings it is quite possible that those outside any particular area may come down in the hope of getting a small holding, when the agricultural labourers have refused, or have had no desire to take up the small holdings, because they know of the difficulties of agriculture in that particular district. That, I think, is a not unimportant point. We have heard something about the causes of the exodus of the rural population. I do not propose to go at length into that; but amongst the many reasons given for that exodus is the preponderance of Tories on the county benches. I think that of all the reasons given that is, perhaps, the most ridiculous.
Whilst we are in thorough agreement with the general objects of the Bill we differ as to the means. It seems to me that this Bill is framed to get the minimum of benefit with the maximum of friction, and if we can do anything in the course of our debates to remove that friction, I think the Bill will be none the worse for it. I do not propose to go at length into the various questions that have been already raised, but I should like to say one word as to my own private experience of small holdings. My noble friend at Birmingham the other day said that the experimental stage has passed. The experimental stage passed fifty years ago so far as concerns localities 98 in which small holdings are suitable; but if the experiment is to be made to enforce small holdings in localities which are not suitable, then I think it would be better for the noble Lord if he postponed his experiment until he had some more definite lines to go on, because, as has been pointed out already to-night, it is perfectly clear that unless all the conditions are suitable it is quite impossible that small holdings should be successful. This is not new discovery. I have a property in Yorkshire, and on that property I have something over 500 holdings, of which only fifteen exceed forty acres. These have been in operation now for from seventy to 100 years, and the reason why they are successful, as they have been, is that those who hold them have other occupations. Some sixty or seventy years ago when hand-loom weaving was carried on, the families on most of these small holdings took the work home, but now that large mills have started those who are employed in this work prefer to be near their employment, and the result is that in the case of those at a greater distance from the work than others, we have great difficulty in letting these small holdings, although, as I say, they have been in operation for over seventy years. It is one of those points which ought to be clearly borne in mind in dealing with this Bill, that unless a small holder has some other occupation, or the circumstances surrounding him are particularly favourable, it is quite impossible that he should live comfortably on the holding.
There is another point, and that is as to the advantage of the public authority over the private landlord. Now here is a case which not infrequently happens. There is an old couple who have been living for years on a small holding, working it themselves. They are too old to work it, and then comes the question what are they to do. Are you to turn them out? They have lived for many years in their cottage, they resent extremely the idea of being turned out, and so you are compelled either to leave them in their cottage and put the land to other small holdings, and when they die to take away from these other small holdings extra land that has been allotted 99 to them, or else you have to turn them out in the first instance. Of course, with the individual landlord in nearly every case, at considerable loss to himself, he makes an arrangement with the old couple; but surely if it goes to the public authority who have only ratepayers' money to play with, they can show no such sympathy.
I have only one word further to say, and that is that I hope these parish councils will not be given too great power, and I will give you my reasons. In the year 1895 just after the parish councils came into existence, I was approached by a neighbouring parish council to provide 137 acres of allotments. Well, the Act, as your Lordships will remember, had been in force since 1887, and between the two periods I have named I had no application. I was very much surprised at the size of the demand, and I wrote to the parish council and asked them to be good enough to send a representative to discuss the matter with me. He came, and I talked the matter over with him. He told me that at the election a good many promises were made and the general impression was that land was going to be given away. I explained that that was not the system on which the Allotments Act was based, and I inquired how many applications there were for these 137 acres of allotments. I was told there were sixteen. That showed, at any rate, that the parish council did not know what an allotment was. Then I inquired into the evidence, and I was told Mr. A. wanted so much and Mr. B. wanted so much. I said: "Surely Mr. B. has land." "Oh, yes," was the answer, "but he wants sixteen acres of your accommodation land to add on to his little bit." I explained that that was not the object of the Allotments Act, and I wrote a letter which, no doubt, was one of those blank denials of which we have heard so much; and I admit it was a blank denial. At the end I wrote that if the parish council could find a demand from a single person in whose interest the Act was framed, I should be anxious to make arrangements to satisfy that demand. That letter was written in November, 1895, but it has never been answered yet, and I have never had an applicant from that day to this. 100 In conclusion, I can only say this: we were told the other night that it was not the desire of the Government to enter into an uneconomical system for collateral advantages. We are glad to hear it, but there does seem an impression, and I do not say it offensively at all, among the Radical Party that the only object which the landlord has is the collection of his rent. Noble Lords are perfectly aware that not only is rent not the only object, but it is not the main object, and that the real charm of owning land is to see those among whom you have grown up, your tenants and your labourers, who have very often succeeded their fathers as you have succeeded yours, growing up contented,. prosperous, and happy; and if there is anything in this Bill that will produce that effect, I can only assure my noble friends opposite that I will give it all the support I can.
§ * VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
This Bill comes to your Lordships with everything in its favour. It passed the Second and Third Readings in another place without a division; it was carried through a very business-like Grand Committee, by a worthy successor of an eminent father, with a courtesy and consideration which all Ministers might well imitate, and it has been recommended to us to-night by a President of the Board of Agriculture who is universally popular, and who is a firm believer in the system proposed in this Bill. Therefore it was with the greatest surprise that I observed that the Prime Minister concluded the debate in another place by warning, I might almost say threatening, your Lordships as to certain things that would happen if your Lordships treated this Bill in a hasty, partisan, or interested spirit. If we have to treat it hastily it is not our fault, but that of the arrangement of the business of the session by His Majesty's Government. I thought the warning against partisan or interested treatment was ill-judged, because, whatever our faults are, we are an assembly of Englishmen, and Englishmen, though they may be led and persuaded, will not be driven. It was also singularly inappropriate to the occasion. The noble Lord the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs admitted that there was practical unanimity 101 in support of the Second Reading, and that there had been no marked opposition to the main features of the measure. I wish that the forms of the constitution had permitted the Prime Minister to be among us to-night, for he would have felt the inappropriateness of his words, and seen that your Lordships have every desire to co-operate with the other House, and with the Government in extending the system of small holdings in this country, and that we are not prepared to press any Amendments which, so far as we can tell, would really hinder or weaken the proper operation of the measure.
I am very glad that we have not in this debate heard some of those singular arguments which have met with the apparent approbation of the Prime Minister, statements made by enthusiastic regenerators of society who seem to believe that a measure such as this can be a cure for the destitution and the physical and moral evils that attend overcrowding in our great towns. "Back to the land" is their cry, just as if the great bulk of the population of the towns has ever been on the land, as if they want at all to go there, or as if they would stay there if they went! This Bill only has to do in a very trifling measure with any such great problem as that. It may be that after long training and careful supervision some townspeople may be able successfully to work small holdings, but as a rule a townsman would be quite unable to succeed as a small holder. But the Bill has been recommended to us for another reason. I will venture to quote some words used by the Prime Minister in that respect. He said that it would cure the effect which the English land system has had upon the tillers of the soil, the decrease of population, the poverty, the emigration, the stagnation in many country districts—that it was meant to open to them the land which is now fenced off from them. Even the President of the Board of Agriculture followed that line to-night when he told us that the condition of the agricultural labourer was a national degradation and disgrace. I would refer the President of the Board of Agriculture to a certain passage in the speech of the noble Lord 102 the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. He said, in effect, that any such statement was nothing short of an absurdity, and that from his intimate knowledge of country affairs as chairman of a county council in one of the principal agricultural counties of England it was an unjust representation of the condition of the rural population. He went on to say that which is perfectly correct, namely, that the condition of the agricultural population, mainly, of course, referring to the agricultural labourers, has enormously improved in recent years. In my belief, it has never been so good in this country as it is at present.
I prefer to approach the question in the more moderate way in which it has been approached by the representative of the Board of Agriculture in the other House. Sir Edward Strachey informed his audience that under the provisions of this Bill very little land would have to be purchased compulsorily as there was plenty in the market, and that no existing tenant who has been working his land well would be removed. That is not the agrarian revolution that some persons enthusiastically contemplate. It is much nearer the mark, I believe, as to the probable results of the working of this Bill than the wilder statements that have been made in other quarters. I hope that when this Bill becomes law the Department of Agriculture will remember that, after all, there is something stronger even than Acts of Parliament, and that is the economic law. I hope they will remember that the establishment, and still more the maintenance, of small holdings, is attended with economic difficulties of a very grave nature. It is all very well for the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture to say that they want to put the agricultural labourer back into the position he occupied 100 years ago. I quite admit that if His Majesty's Government are prepared to adopt a fiscal policy which would bring corn up to 113s. a quarter, which he told us it reached at that time, then they could establish small holdings all over the country without any compulsory powers at all, and those small holdings would pay very well. But we know very well that that is not the policy which 103 is likely to be pursued either by this Government or by any responsible statesman in this country. The bulk of our agriculture depends mainly upon the production of beef and mutton, and beef and mutton unquestionably can be better and more cheaply produced on large holdings than on small holdings. With this object all great agricultural authorities fifty years ago impressed upon landlords that it was their bounden duty, in the interests of the country generally, to enlarge the size of holdings to get rid of tenants who had neither capital nor knowledge of agriculture, to provide comfortable houses and extensive buildings, and thus to attract tenants possessing knowledge and science of farming so as to obtain the best possible yield from the land.
In the following out of that policy, small holdings became to a large extent merged into larger farms, and that has been the main cause—the economic cause—of the comparative decrease of small holdings in this country. My noble friend Lord Fitzmaurice said that this Bill was intended to encourage landlords to re-establish small holdings. I could not understand what he meant. If you want to encourage landlords to re-establish small holdings, the State ought to advance them capital for that purpose on easy terms. There is no such provision in this Bill, and no such provision has ever been suggested by His Majesty's Government. On the contrary, it has been strongly opposed for reasons into which I need not enter. But supposing a landlord had sufficient means to turn large farms into small, and to re-establish the small holdings on his estate which, perhaps, at one time existed, how do the proposals of the Government encourage him to do this? They bring in a Scottish Small Holdings Bill establishing a Land Court, fixing for small tenants fair rents and fixity of tenure, and absolutely discouraging landlords from any expenditure of capital by depriving them of control over their property. That is the way His Majesty's Government encourage landlords, to re-establish small holdings in this country.
The Bill proposes that these small holdings—as landlords either cannot 104 establish them or naturally shrink from doing so—are to be re-established by county councils, or, in their default, by the Board of Agriculture. We all remember the history of the Small Holdings Act of 1892. Why did that Act fail? It failed for two reasons; first of all because there was a very small demand for small holdings. The county councils, I believe perfectly sincerely, tried to find out whether there was any such demand, and would have acted upon it if they had discovered it. I know that the council of my own county inquired in every parish whether there was any such demand or not, and did not get a single application. But there was another reason. That Act, if carried out to any extent, would have undoubtedly put a large charge on the rates, and everyone acquainted with rural life knows that there is no feeling so strong in the rural districts of this country, no political opinion so decidedly held, as the hatred of any increase in the rates. The constituents of the county councils would not listen to anything of the kind; they would have turned out the county councillors who had recommended it; and I think that those who are responsible for this Bill ought to remember that the county councils are, after all, the most democratic institutions that we possess in England. Their franchise is the most democratic we possess, because not only women but even Peers are allowed to vote. Therefore it is quite clear that, whatever may be said by Radical orators as to county councils being dominated by Tory landowners or farmers, they necessarily represent the real opinion of the most democratic constituencies in this country.
As the county councils, not finding any demand for small holdings and not desiring to increase the rates, have generally failed to carry the Act of 1892 into effect, His Majesty's Government have hit upon another principle. They propose to give compulsory powers of purchase or hire to county councils, on which I will say a word or two later, and, if the county councils still do not choose to establish small holdings, they are to be compelled to do so by the Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture. 105 When this Bill was presented to the House of Commons, it included a clause abolishing any limit on the rate which the county councils might levy for that purpose, with the result that the Commissioners of the Board of Agriculture might compel any county council to incur any amount of expenditure they chose, without any limit at all, against the wish of the county council and against the will of their constituency. My noble friend Lord Belper has dwelt upon this already, and I do not wish to detain your Lordships upon it. To my mind that proposal was one of the greatest interferences with democratic Government that could possibly be conceived. It is all very well for the noble Lord the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs to talk about the hierarchy of the parish council, the district council, and the county council, and to draw a comparison between the compulsory powers which a county council may exercise over a parish council and those which are proposed in this Bill to be given to the Board of Agriculture over a county council. But it is no analogy at all. All these councils represent the ratepayers and derive their revenue from the rates. The Board of Agriculture does not represent the ratepayers at all. The Board of Agriculture represents the House of Commons, which is responsible for expenditure from taxes: and if the Board chooses to enforce an expenditure of this kind, which it might be quite right in doing, against the wish of the locality, I venture to say that that expenditure ought to be defrayed, not out of the rates, but out of the taxes. That is the real point at issue between us.
Now, what has been said on this subject? A Treasury Minute has been promised which is to provide for half the loss being met by the Treasury, where a county council having done its best has incurred a loss in carrying out this Bill. That is perfectly right, and I do not want to dwell upon it. But then there is a further case, which was put in another place to the Minister who was in charge of the Bill—the case of a county council which refused to carry out a scheme because they expected it would entail a loss, and the Commissioners stepped in and carried out the 106 scheme. On whom would the loss, if a loss occurred, fall? The President of the Board of Agriculture told us this evening that no pledge had been given by or on behalf of the Government that such a loss would be made good out of public funds. But what did the Minister in charge of the Bill—Mr. Harcourt𠅄say in reply to that challenge? He said—He had always felt that under such circumstances as had just been outlined it was impossible to imagine that the cost would be charged upon, or recovered from, the county council by the Board and the Treasury.What we ought to have perfectly clear before the Bill leaves Committee—although I quite admit that financial affairs are not our concern—is what the Government really mean to do in that case. I do not think myself anything could be much stronger than the words which I have just read; yet we have heard them interpreted by the President of the Board of Agriculture as no pledge whatever. It is all very well for Lord Fitzmaurice to tell us, as he told us this evening, that these Commissioners will be persons of light and leading, who will never enforce the establishment of small holdings at a loss on a county council, except under circumstances which everybody will admit to be right. But, my Lords, what we are concerned with as a legislative assembly are the provisions of the Bill, and the provisions of the Bill leave it absolutely open to the Treasury to do as they like, to pay a half or to pay nothing at all, and we cannot get from the Government any definite statement as to what they mean to do. We are bound to press this point, and I will tell you why. When the Bill went down from its discussion in Grand Committee to the House of Commons the Speaker ruled, on the proceedings on Report, that this question could not be raised to any effect at that stage, and that it would be necessary to recommit the Bill if the matter was to be dealt with in the Bill itself; and the Government, from that want of time to which they are perpetually liable, and which is due to their endeavouring to carry through in one session more legislation than that session can properly produce, absolutely declined to recommit the Bill, although the House of Commons wished such a liability to be imposed 107 on the Treasury, and although the Minister in charge of the Bill had said that in his opinion it must be done. Therefore, my Lords, although I quite admit what was said by the noble Lord opposite, that it may be extremely difficult for your Lordships to touch this matter owing to your want of power over financial affairs, yet I think we ought to consider whether it would not be possible for us, if the necessity should, unhappily, arise, to frame some Amendments in the Bill which would at any rate give the House of Commons an opportunity again of considering the matter, and, if they choose, of putting a definite statement in the Bill that in such circumstances as those to which I have referred, the loss should fall, not upon the county, but upon the Exchequer. This point is very important, to my mind, in view of the relations between the Central Government and the local authorities, and I trust it may have the careful attention of His Majesty's Government.
There are other points which have been alluded to in debate and on which I should like to say a word. The county councils are to be authorised to buy or to hire land either within or without their county. That is a point which was taken by my noble friend Lord Onslow, who perhaps is the best authority in this House, or out of it, upon this special matter of small holdings. I think everybody will feel that there must necessarily be some kind of provision in the Bill which would enable the councils of London and of our great cities to obtain land outside their boundaries for the purpose of establishing small holdings. I quite admit that; but surely there ought to be some kind of limitation on those powers. Why should the London County Council, for example, go to Northumberland or Cornwall in order to purchase land for that purpose? An adjoining county would be amply sufficient, and I think it would be perfectly fair to ask that the consent of the county council of that county should be obtained before a town colony is established in their area.
Now I come to the question of compulsion upon owners with regard to purchase or hiring. That has been the law for a considerable number of years 108 under the Local Government Act of 1894 with regard to the acquisision of land for allotments. I do not think it has done any harm whatever; I believe that, on the whole, it has done a great deal of good, because it has enabled land to be provided for allotments, I think, as a general rule, without any necessity for putting the compulsory powers into force. I should hope that the same result might follow from the compulsory powers given in this Bill. But I would point out that there is a difference, and one which, I think, will have to be considered in Committee, between the provisions of this Bill and the provisions of the Act of 1894. The Board of Agriculture is supreme under this Bill except in one matter—the fixing of the compensation for purchase or the amount of the rent. In everything else it is absolutely supreme. So far as I read the Bill, though on that I cannot speak with any legal authority, it seems to me that there would be no appeal to any Court even on the point whether the Board of Agriculture had properly carried out the definite instructions given to them by the Bill as to the land which they might not purchase, or as to the terms and conditions which they are bound by the Schedule of the Bill to insert in the hiring. That is a very great power. It may be right that the Board of Agriculture should have such a power when in the position, as they were under the Act of 1894, of arbitrators between the owner or the tenants of the land and the county or parish council desiring to acquire it; but in this Bill, in default of the county council or the parish council, they are a party to the contract, and surely it has never yet been heard of in our legislation that one party to the contract should absolutely dictate the terms and conditions of the bargain to be entered into with the other party. I commend that to the consideration of the President of the Board of Agriculture.
The principle has already been conceded by His Majesty's Government, because they have inserted in the Bill a provision that where the Board of Agriculture is the party acquiring the land the arbitrator or valuer who is to settle the value of the land so acquired is to be appointed, not by them, but by the Lord Chief Justice. I 109 think that to carry out that principle they ought also to provide that there should be some person outside themselves who would settle the terms and conditions of the hiring and some kind of appeal as to whether they had fulfilled the instructions given them in the Bill as to the limitation of their powers with regard to purchase and the manner in which they were to carry out the hiring. This very point has been very recently under your Lordships' consideration in the Evicted Tenants Bill, and, with the assent of His Majesty's Government, an appeal has been agreed to upon certain definite matters which are very muchin pari materia with the points to which I am now alluding. Therefore I hope that before this Bill leaves your Lordships' House this matter may be considered fairly, and that we may have some kind of Amendment to the present provisions in the Bill on the subject.
I do not want to detain your Lordships at this hour with any further observations on the details of the Bill. There are not a few points, some important,and some of minor importance, which doubtless will be raised in Committee. I would only say, generally, that I cordially agree with the observations which have been made by many noble Lords during this debate, and which I think are practically accepted by His Majesty's Government, that small holdings cannot be successfully established everywhere and cannot be successfully carried on by everybody. You must think of the soil, of the nature of the climate, and of the person whom you are putting on the holding, before you can successfully establish a small holding at all. It would be contrary to public policy to pick out what I may call the eyes of a large farm and leave the rest of it absolutely useless for agricultural purposes. That, I am sure, the noble Earl would never dream of sanctioning. Small holdings may do very well for what I may call the minor agricultural operations, such as poultry keeping, the production of eggs, honey, bacon, butter, and things of that kind; and I think we must all wish, whatever our views on free trade—which, in spite of the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Fitzmaurice, is not applied in this 110 Bill to the dealings between landlords and other persons—to see a greater amount of such articles produced in this country and less imported from abroad. If that should be the result of this Bill no one will be more gratified than myself. We on this side of the House desire to do our best to co-operate with noble Lords opposite in so framing this Bill in Committee that it may be a really fair and just measure to all interests concerned, and that it may bring about such a change in the position of the agricultural labourer and in the position of agriculture in this country as may tend to the improvement and the future welfare of our people.
§ LORD RIBBLESDALE
My Lords, I think that as a Party we must all appreciate the kindness and the fairness of what has fallen from the noble Viscount who has just addressed us, but as a House we must also recognise the kindly and critical usefulness of many of the comments which he passed upon the Bill. Resting as this Bill does upon the Report of Lord Onslow's Committee, and especially, I think, on paragraph 125, I need say very little about its main object. We have all agreed over and over again that the depopulation of the country districts is just as unfortunate as the over-population of the towns, and that to increase the number of economic small holdings and of progressive small holders is everybody's desire, and many people's concern.
Whether this Bill, when it becomes law, will give rise to the enchanted England of Lord Carrington's dreams is quite another matter. But, at all events, he recommends us nothing whereof his conscience is afraid, or, indeed, his practice; and though it is said by some people that the trend of this kind of legislation is to change the old ways and the old charities of rural life, and that the future rural England which legislation of this kind will create will be unkind and unrelated, as a lover and upholder of these things I do not believe it. I have no such apprehensions. The noble Viscount who has just addressed us paid a very high compliment to my noble friend Lord Onslow, and to his great experience in this matter as a 111 former Minister for Agriculture, as the owner of a large estate, and as Chairman of the important Committee upon the Report of which this Bill is largely based. I am sure we all agree with what the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, said on that subject.
In the course of his speech the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, asked whether we were quite satisfied what sort of men we wanted as small holders. He told us about an old lady who kept lodgings in London and poultry in the country, and said that that was not the kind of person we wished to encourage, with the ratepayers' money, to take up small holdings. No doubt this does raise a material point as to the class of persons who will be not merely acceptable but desirable as the occupiers of small holdings. Speaking for myself, I do not think that the persons who will take these small holdings will always prove therusticorum masculi proles we all have most in view. I think they will be rather a mixed lot. We are all inclined to generalise from our own experience, and I might generalise from mine perfectly soundly, whereas noble Lords opposite, generalising from theirs, might arrive at a different conclusion. As for myself I do not object to the old lady living in London to whom Lord Onslow referred. In my part of the world we have a great many small holders, and I could put my finger on many successful ones, but they are mixed. The most successful is, besides, a cow leech and a pig sticker; another tidies up the gardens for the better off villagers; and I remember that when I had some horses in the heart of Leicestershire I occasionally used to be driven up by the local tailor and general merchant, who was passionately fond of farming. He held nine acres under an Oxford college, and he told me that if only he could get more he could do very much better; but he could not get more, not because the owner of the land round would not give it to him, but because the property of the landowner was in the hands of trustees, and he could not find the money to provide the equipment. That is the kind of man who would probably become a small holder under this Bill, and who would contribute very much to 112 intensify the cultivation of this country. At all events, some risks have to be run, and we must take the chance of that; but I believe that, given suitable land and reasonable equipment and a tenancy as proposed in the Bill as against ownership, you will have up and down England a good many applications from quite the right sort of people.
This brings me to a very cardinal point of the Bill—ownershipversus tenancy. I should like to congratulate His Majesty's Government on having stuck to tenancy as against ownership, and I hope they will do so like leeches. In view of the fact that Lord Onslow again laid a good deal of stress upon this point I would like to give your Lordships my reasons for preferring a tenancy to ownership. Lord Onslow quoted from his Report when he said that ownership was desirable in the interest of agriculture and production, but I believe His Majesty's Government in the Bill have contemplated the moral and material welfare of the individual who is to be put on these small holdings. I do not believe myself in riveting these people to the soil. The noble-Marquess the Leader of the Opposition used words on this subject which I always remember. He said that what he would like to see would be a graduated system of tenancy whereby a man could begin in a very small way and work himself up. That is what you wilt secure under the system of tenancy as against the system of ownership.
I think it was the Minister in charge of the Bill in another place who spoke of the rumination of possession. When the rumination of possession takes the form of a very unsuccessful small holding I think it is calculated to make the owner depressed and bilious. Then there is the question of intestacy, which creates all sorts of difficulties in connection with land. Zola's "La Terre," a novel which held and dismayed Mr. Gladstone, gives some idea of the passion and difficulties which arise out of a very extended peasant proprietary. What you want is mobility and elasticity of land system. You do not want to rivet people to the soil; like the man crossing a ploughed field, the holder gets 113 to loathe the earth that is sticking to his feet.
I pass for a moment to the machinery of the Bill. Under Clause 31 powers are given to take grazing lands in common and to attach them to these small holdings. I understand that that land can be either bought or hired by compulsion just as in other cases. I hail that as one of the most valuable provisions in the Bill. That is what is likely in many parts of the country to make the larger sort of small holdings successful. The noble Viscount who spoke last touched upon what my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture said about the success of the small holder when wheat was 113s. a quarter, and I think he said that if you could go back to that you might have a larger application for small holdings than you will have at present. I dare say that is true, but, as I read history, what really killed the small holder was protection, which made all his necessaries so dear, and the inclosure of the common lands. I believe the provisions of Clause 31 and the blessings of free trade will contribute a great deal to the success of this Bill. I may cite, in that respect, the success of small holders in the New Forest and in Ashdown Forest. They have common rights of various sorts, and that helps them very much.
Hard things have been said about the Board of Agriculture Commissioners. It is supposed that they will do all sorts of disagreeable and almost insensate things. It is imagined, even when a county council, composed, as the majority of these bodies are, of people who are pretty well versed in land, has carefully considered a scheme and decided that, either from the nature of the inhabitants or of the soil, or the capriciousness of the climate, the place is unsuited to small holdings, that none the less the Commissioner will swoop down and make himself extremely disagreeable. I do not believe he would do that, but, even if he did, how is the Commissioner or the Board of Agriculture to proceed against the county council? I should very much like to see them do it against the West Riding County Council. They have only, under the Bill, powers of 114 peaceful persuasion. I do not see how the Board of Agriculture, on the recommendation of their Commissioner, could put a county council into the dock, or by what process they could possibly proceed against the council.
I like nearly the whole of the machinery of the Bill, but I do not feel very comfortable about Clause 16. That clause enables a county council to perform very considerable operations, apparently with public money, to demonstrate the feasibility of small holdings; and in this connection I remember very well that Mr. Arthur Young, who was at the Board of Agriculture and wrote many admirable books about farming, ruined himself at farming. If the Board of Agriculture are to spend a good deal of money on demonstrating the feasibility of small holdings, and by any chance are not successful, that would no doubt operate as a dismal warning to other small holdings, and would hardly be an encouragement to the purposes of the Bill. I personally believe in the individual talent of the man who farms a small holding. I think this Bill, whether it is to be a success or a failure, will be very much better demonstrated if you leave it to individuals than if you ask a Government Department, at considerable expense, to step in and carry out a series of experiments.
We have heard something about the compensation of landlords and whether it was enough. The word "compensation" in all breasts very properly raises mixed feelings and even considerable confusion of ideas; but, as far as I can see, severance is fairly provided on the giving of a lease and also deterioration on resuming. That seems to me to be fairly dealt with in Paragraph 2, Schedule I. I would like to refer with very great approval to Clause 30 and to Paragraph (4), Part II. of Schedule I., as to the provisions made, both for landlord and tenant, where only a part of a holding is taken. That, I think, was a very awkward nut to crack. People's ideas differ, but as one who farms about one-tenth of a small estate of 5,000 acres I myself feel pretty well satisfied with the provisions with regard to severance and deterioration. I began with two cows, 115 which I kept in stalls in my stable, and with a pig which was presented to me by a lady in Huntingdonshire. Though I started in a very small way I now farm 460 acres; but I am bound to say—and I am sure my noble friend Lord Carrington will be delighted to hear it—that I did better as a small holder than I do now. But I manage very well, because I go on a profit-sharing and co-operative plan with my agent and bailiff, and I am glad that in this Bill provisions are made for co-operation.
In conclusion, my Lords, I hope this Bill will not be essentially amended. I think the whole tendency of this debate goes to show that noble Lords, as Lord Rosebery said the other night, look on this Bill as an assembly who have been bred and brought up on the land and to the land. I think we understand a great many of these subjects almost unconsciously, from the mere action of heredity and long generations behind us. I think the Bill should not be amended because it seems to me to provide, in a reasonable way, for reasonable security to the small holder; and to get on the small holder must have fair security. It does much again, I think, in a reasonable way, to make our land system more elastic on the lines indicated by the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, to enable a man to begin in a small way and so work upwards without encumbrance and restriction, and with assured help and encouragement. I hope, therefore, your Lordships will give the Bill a fair and safe conduct, and that when it is in Committee, to use the felicitous expression of the right hon. Gentleman who piloted it through the other House, there will only be a happy rivalry to improve it which will come from your great store of practical knowledge and experience. A great Englishman and a great guide more than 100 years ago wrote these words—The sun has risen and the corn has grown, and whatever talk has been of the danger of property, yet he that ploughed the field has commonly reaped it and he that built a house is master of the door.I submit that there is nothing in this Bill that will endanger any of those operations, and I beg to give it my cordial support.
My Lords, at this late hour I do not intend to detain your Lordships for more than a few minutes. The noble Lord who has just sat down spoke of protection having in the past led to the decrease of small holdings, but I would remind him of the Commission appointed by Mr. Gladstone, which reported that the depopulation of the rural districts was due to foreign competition. My great fear with regard to this Bill is that the farm labourer is not sufficiently safeguarded. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture dwelt very shortly on the clause which gives compensation to these labourers. I do not think it goes far enough; and I estimate that there will be a decrease of two farm labourers for every small holding created under the Bill. The Return in the case of the Burwell estate, which was presented on my Motion, showed that on that farm of 917 acres, there were formerly thirty-nine labourers employed, but that when the estate was cut up into small holdings, twenty-one of these men had to seek employment elsewhere. As to the cost of equipment, I think it will be found in practice that considerably more will have to be added to the rent in respect of buildings and water supply than was mentioned by the noble Earl in charge of the Bill; and the question of the water supply, owing to the scarcity of water at the present moment, is going to be a very serious one in connection with these small holdings. One of the chief causes of the depopulation of the rural districts has been the introduction of labour-saving machinery in agriculture; and if the figures are worked out you can account for 166,000 farm labourers losing their employment in the last twenty-five years through this cause, which the Bill now before your Lordships does not profess to touch. It is not my desire to interfere with the Bill more than is necessary in Committee, but there are one or two points upon which Amendment will be needed to secure its successful working. Though I trust the Bill may do much in the direction desired, I am afraid there is no probability of seeing the old farm labourers returned to the land in any large number.
§ THE MARQUESS OF RIPON
My Lords, I cannot let this debate close without for a few moments thanking your Lordships for the reception which you have given to this Bill, and for the very fair and considerate manner in which it has been discussed. I especially desire to tender my thanks to the noble Viscount opposite, Lord St. Aldwyn, for the very interesting and valuable speech he made, and I can assure him that some of the points to which he specially directed the attention of the Government will be carefully considered before the Bill leaves the House. There is one very important matter connected with the question we have been discussing which has not been debated as much as I expected, and that is the preference which the Bill gives to hiring rather than to purchasing. The subject has been touched upon, very naturally, by my noble friend Lord Onslow, but it has not been so much debated as I thought it might have been; and there is one aspect of it on which I should like to say a word before the debate closes.
We have heard some of the reasons which have led His Majesty's Government to think that the provisions of the Act of 1892 with respect to purchase are sufficient and require no further alteration at the present moment. But, my Lords, there is an objection to the purchase of small holdings which cannot be overlooked, and that is the frequent result which follows on very limited ownership of that kind in respect to the indebtedness into which the small holder falls. I recollect well enough those ancient days that very few of your Lordships remember, when we young Radicals of that time were all believers in the doctrines of Mr. John Stuart Mill and Mr. Thornton and great advocates of peasant proprietorship. But as life has gone on, one has learnt something in these matters, and I especially learnt a good deal from having been in India. There you see before your eyes the evils which befalls the small holders of land when they get into the hands of the money-lender; and it is because we believe that that is a real danger to those persons who hold very small properties of this kind, that the Government have hesitated to take steps to encourage 118 the increase of that sort of small holdings' and I believe we have been right in preferring the system of hiring to the system of purchase, for those and many other reasons.
A good deal has been said about the mode in which county councils will be treated under this Bill. There is nothing new in Government Departments taking powers to deal pretty summarily with great local representative institutions. I believe there are many cases in which the Board of Agriculture and the Local Government Board have powers of dealing with county councils and local authorities of a very summary kind. But I can go back to a period before the establishment of county councils—to the Education Act of 1870. That Act established excellent and valuable school boards—the great school board for London, and the other school boards in different parts of the country; and it contained a very summary clause indeed—Clause 63, I think it was—which gave to the Education Department power at their own will entirely to supersede any school board, even the great school board for London, and to appoint persons to administer the affairs of the board, and even levy rates, in the event of the default of the elected members. Those are very good precedents. When we are discussing a measure of this kind the most horrible pictures are put before us of what this Department, or that individual, is sure to do. But, my Lords, they do not turn out to be true. Public Departments are not so foolish as to act in that manner, and a little more recollection of what is the usual manner in which public affairs are administered would dissipate at once many of the fears that are often expressed. I have said from the beginning—I said so, I think, on the first night of this session—that I believed your Lordships would give to this Bill, when it came up to you, a fair consideration, and that you would not treat it in the manner in which many persons prophesied you would. I have been right, and I hope the further history of this Bill as it passes through its various stages in your Lordships' House will confirm the opinion I have already formed.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Wednesday next.