THE EARL OF ONSLOW
rose to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture the following Questions: (1) whether the Local Government Board and the Public Works Loan Commissioners will lend money for the full periods fixed for loans under the Small Holdings Acts and whether the President of the Board of Agriculture will say under what authority a refusal to lend for such full period is based; (2) whether it is the intention of the Local Government Board to subject proposals of a county council to the examination of the officials of that Department, as well as of the Board of Agriculture, before granting sanction to a loan, thereby considerably increasing the cost of the land to the small holder; (3) whether, if any part of the sinking fund to repay the cost of the purchase of a small holding is borne by the county rate instead of by the small holding tenant, and the scheme results in a loss, the Treasury will refuse to bear any part of such loss; (4) in cases where a council takes on lease, either by agreement or compulsorily, land with a prospective but not immediate building value, subject to the rights of resumption under Clause 33 of the Small Holdings Act, 1907, what time would be granted for a loan for the erection of buildings and houses thereon; also whether the compensation for unexhausted improvements effected by the tenant, which will be useless to the person using such land for building purposes, must fall on the county rate; (5) whether the Board will sanction the addition of 5 per cent. on land, 10 per cent. on buildings, and 12 per cent. On dwelling-houses to the rental of small holdings, for repairs and management, or what percentage meets with the approval of the Board; (6) whether in the event of the breach by one of the sub-tenants of a county council of the covenants of a lease, the 1613 penalty for which was re-entry, the landlord would be entitled also to resume possession of the land occupied by the other sub-tenants; (7) whether, in the opinion of the Board, the occupation of a piece of grass land provided as a small holding by a county council for the purpose of grazing a pony or cows is a compliance with the provision of Section 6 of the Act of 1907, that a small holder must himself cultivate the holding; (8) whether in cases where farm labourers apply to be put in the position of small holders instead of farm labourers, but are called on to vacate their cottages to make room for their successors as labourers on the farm, the county council should erect new cottages for them, or may acquire their present cottages either by agreement or under compulsion; (9) whether, in the opinion of the Board, it is the duty of a county borough to provide land for small holders outside the county, if they cannot do so within, for persons who will thus cease to be county ratepayers; (10) whether the Board of Agriculture will fix a date at which it will notify to councils in whose counties there remains an unsatisfied demand for small holdings the date by which, in the opinion of the Board, such demand should be satisfied, and in default of which it will be the duty of the Board to prepare a scheme; and, if so, what notice will be given of the intention to fix such a date; (11) whether, in the opinion of the Board of Agriculture, in cases where in any district there are only moderate sized holdings of about 100 acres held mainly in connection with rural industries, a county council should entertain applications to have them broken up for holdings of 50 acres or under; and (12) whether the President of the Board of Agriculture will take note of the many and serious difficulties which have arisen in the administration of the Acts, and institute an inquiry thereon with a view to the introduction of an amending Bill to overcome them.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I think I owe an apology to your Lordships for the length of the Questions which appear in my name on the Paper, but I am not going to dwell at any length upon them. I wish to refer only to two of their,—the first and the third Questions, 1614 which deal with the length of time which will be allowed for the repayment of loans on houses and buildings. A period of eighty years is allowed in the case of land, and, of course, the small sum necessary to be set aside as a sinking fund is not a serious item in the rent; but when you come to the question of buildings and houses, instead of eighty years, you are cut down to thirty years, and in some cases, I am told, to under fifteen years, which makes a serious difference to the small holder in the rent he has to pay. For your Lordships must recollect that the small holder is required not only to pay the rent for the land which he hires and the interest on the cost of the buildings, but also to pay off the loan on the land and buildings within a certain number of years; that is to say, at the end of that period the county council becomes the happy possessor of the land, houses, and buildings for nothing. To show how great a difference the term of repayment may make, I would like to take a few concrete cases within my own knowledge. The first case is that of buildings about to be put up at a cost of £800. If eighty years were allowed, the annual charge would be £30, but if only thirty years were allowed, the annual charge would be £44, which, over a holding of 145 acres, would amount to an additional rent of 2s. per acre. The second case is that of a farm of 115 acres where £350 has to be spent on buildings. In this case the difference between eighty and thirty years would be not less than 1s. per acre. I also have a third case where the difference would be 1s. 6d. per acre. Surely there is no necessity to fix so short a period as thirty years. I think county councils may be relied upon to see that the buildings are kept in proper order and in substantial repair. As to the other Questions on the Paper, some of them have been answered to individual county councils, but I thought it would be of great assistance to all who are administering the Act if the Answers could be more generally known. Others were addressed to the noble Earl on the occasion of a conference which he summoned of representatives of county councils of England and Wales on the subject of the administration of the Small Holdings Act. That 1615 conference lasted some time. A full Report of the proceedings is on the Table, but I have looked through the Report in vain to find what answers were returned to those Questions. The proceedings seem to have been interrupted by the well-known hospitality of my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture, which has been one of his characteristics ever since he first entered public life. The whole of the conference were taken off to an excellent luncheon. They, no doubt, returned replete with the comforts of this life, but very empty-handed as regarded the questions which they addressed to the noble Earl. I thought, therefore, that the noble Earl would acquit me of any desire to hamper his Department if, for the information of those genuinely interested in small holdings, I gave him this opportunity of replying to the Questions that he did not answer on the occasion to which I have referred.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (Earl CARRINGTON)
My Lords, in reply to the first Question I have to say that the Board of Agriculture have been in communication with the Local Government Board on the subject, and it has been agreed between us that the Local Government Board, when so requested by the county councils, in the case of the purchase of land for small holdings, will grant loans for the full period of eighty years; and, as regards buildings, whether purchased with land or erected by councils, they will grant further loans for whatsoever period is justified by the character and probable life of the buildings up to the maximum of fifty years allowed by the Act. In the case of buildings erected upon land leased by the councils, of course the term of the loan will not exceed that of the lease, except where the lease provides that compensation is payable by the landlord for the buildings on the termination of the lease. The Board of Agriculture are so far quite satisfied with the arrangement. We have got a very good working arrangement, and I. think there need be no fear that we have come to a very 1616 satisfactory arrangement on the subject of the first Question.
Then the noble Earl asks whether it is the intention of the Local Government Board to subject proposals of a county council to the examination of the officials of that Department, as well as of the Board of Agriculture, before granting sanction to a loan. Of course, if the Local Government Board did that in every case it would be what is called an intolerable strain; but the Local Government Board have stated that in ordinary cases they do not think it necessary to hold an inquiry on their own account. Hence I do not think it need be anticipated that any examination of a case which they may make will really increase the cost of land to the small holder.
The Answer to the third Question— whether, if any part of the sinking fund to repay the cost of the purchase of a small holding is borne by the county rate instead of by the small holding tenant, and the scheme results in a loss, the Treasury will refuse to bear any part of such loss—is in the negative. They will not refuse to do so; but the Treasury Minute requires that the Board should certify that a council had used their best endeavours to obtain rent at the amounts necessary to recoup all the council's expenses. In view of the terms on which money can be borrowed under the Act, there really is no hardship on the councils. I honestly think that, under the new regime, people will be able to get small pieces of land, generally speaking, at lower rents than they could do formerly when from £8 to £20 an acre has been charged to these poor people for land for which farmers used to pay from 15s. to 20s. an acre.
As to the fourth Question, in some cases it would be possible, but in many cases that must be recognised as impracticable. In reply to the fifth Question, 15 per cent. would be about fair for all repairs, management, insurance, etc., where there are houses and buildings; and where there are no houses or buildings we think that about 7½per cent. might probably be required. Question No. 6 is a legal conundrum, and I do not think I need go into it deeply. I am told that certain sections of the Conveyancing and Law of Property 1617 Acts, 1881 and 1892, which deal with rights of re-entry and forfeiture of leases, meet this difficulty. I do not profess to understand it, but that is the legal answer. The Answer to the seventh Question is: Yes. It is immaterial whether the land is used for grazing a cow or a pony. The Circular of 26th May, 1908, disposed entirely of that question.
The noble Earl next inquires whether in cases where farm labourers apply to be put in the position of small holders instead of farm labourers, but are called on to vacate their cottages to make room for their successors as labourers on the farm, the county council should erect new cottages for them, or may acquire their present cottages either by agreement or under compulsion. The Answer is that where a council desires to house applicants for small holdings they may either erect new cottages or purchase existing ones; but as a general rule, there would be difficulties in the way of compulsory hiring. Of course, the question of turning labourers out of their cottages is very much to be deplored. I may, perhaps, call the attention of the noble Earl to the case of Ireland—people seem much more favoured there than in this country. Under the Labourers' Cottages (Ireland) Act, where the accommodation is deficient or unfit, labourers have to be supplied by the district council with houses.
The point dealt with in Question No. 9 is practically the London problem— the problem of the urban boroughs, where it is the duty to provide land for small holdings outside the county. That is the great question of London, which is under consideration, and perhaps the noble Earl will forgive me if I do not go deeply into it to-night. Next, the noble Earl asks whether the Board of Agriculture will fix a date at which it will notify to councils in whose counties there remains an unsatisfied demand for small holdings the date by which, in the opinion of the Board, such demand should be satisfied, and in default of which it will be the duty of the Board to prepare a scheme. There is a great deal to be said for this suggestion. Under the Act six months is put as a limit, but I do not 1618 honestly think that the time has yet come to accept the suggestion. Speaking generally, I think county councils are endeavouring, to the best of their ability, to meet the Act. The Act requires that if the Board are of opinion that a scheme should be brought forward in any particular county, and if they inform the council accordingly, they are allowed six months to prepare a scheme before the Board can act in default.
The answer to the question whether, in the opinion of the Board of Agriculture, in cases where in any district there are only moderate-sized holdings of about 100 acres held mainly in connection with rural industries, a county council should entertain applications to have them broken up for holdings of fifty acres or under, is to be found in the account of the Conference to which the noble Earl has referred. It is impossible for the Board to give an answer to hypothetical cases of this sort. The county councils are, after all, reasonable men, and they can be trusted to act in a reasonable manner. I do not think it is very likely that in ordinary circumstances such a state of things should arise. Of course, if it is necessary, those men who hold 100 acres must give up the land, but, generally, some other and better arrangements can be made.
As to the last question, I do not think I can admit that the difficulties are either numerous or very serious. The administration of the Act is difficult, and the principal difficulty is, of course, the very large demand which has been disclosed from suitable men. We are overwhelmed with the demand for land, which used to be denied, but which I think now is generally accepted. Every officer in my Department is working double time to meet the demand, and the Treasury have told me that they will be generous in giving me as much more assistance as I may reasonably require. I think that, on the whole, though some people are a little bit disappointed that we have not gone still faster than we have, the Act is working extremely well, and I should be very much disappointed if, by next Michaelmas, we have not 100,000 acres in this country under small holdings. I do not think that an inquiry into the 1619 Act at the present moment would serve any useful purpose, and I respectfully ask that I may have a little more breathing time, say, till next Michaelmas, to see what progress has been made then.
My Lords, the other day I asked the noble Lord who represents the Local Government Board in this House several questions with regard to the terms for the repayment of loans for the purposes of this Act, and I received categorical answers. I also called attention at the time to the fact that the statement which was then made by Lord Allendale, on behalf of the Local Government Board, differed entirely from that contained in a letter on the same subject which several local authorities had received from the Local Government Board. A month has elapsed since I called attention to the matter, and the local authorities are in precisely the same position as they were then. The county councils have received different answers from the Local Government Board with regard to the terms of the loan from those stated in this House, and I suggest that it might be practicable to issue regulations or a circular to the county councils explaining exactly what is the position, so that they may be able to proceed with the Act. As things are, county councils are being hardly treated in this matter. The Act has been in force since January and we are now in the last month of the year; yet to this day the county councils have not had clear instructions as to how they are to administer the Act. I therefore hope the noble Earl will see his way to issue regulations or a circular on the subject.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
This is a very important point, and I am much obliged to the noble Lord for mentioning it. I will at once consult with the Local Government Board on the subject and see whether a notice might be circulated to remove any misunderstanding there may be, though I was not aware that there was any misunderstanding.
THE EARL OF KIMBERLEY
I should like to ask the noble Earl whether, in the case of a scheme which has been approved by the Board of Agriculture, the Local 1620 Government Board will insist on sending down their own valuer, and, if so, whether there is any appeal as to a difference between the two valuers.
§ EARL CARRINGTON:
I think that, in ordinary cases, the Local Government Board will accept the valuation of the Board of Agriculture and give us credit for trying to be fair to all parties. I hope that any difficulty of the kind referred to by my noble friend will be entirely avoided in the future.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes past Six o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter past Three o'clock.