HL Deb 16 March 1908 vol 186 cc109-11

My Lords, I rise to ask the President of the Board of Agriculture whether, in view of the fact that the sum of £100,000 is placed to the Small Holdings Account and at the disposal of the Board up to 31st March next, with the prospect of further grants from the Imperial Exchequer in succeeding financial years, the Board have it in contemplation to take any proceedings under Section 16 of the Small Holdings Act, 1907, to demonstrate the feasibility of the establishment of small holdings in some parts of England where they do not at present exist; also whether the regulations laying down the conditions under which financial assistance will be given to county councils towards the costs of valuation, and the expenses of a local inquiry, etc., promised in the Board's Circular of 1st January, 1908, have yet been issued.

Your Lordships will recollect that one of the principal objects which the noble Earl declared that the Board of Agriculture had in mind was the institution of experiments in different parts of England in small holdings where small holdings did not then exist. That, I think, was founded on the Report of the Departmental Committee, and, inasmuch as a considerable sum of money will be at the disposal of the Board, I am in hopes that the noble Earl the President will be able to inform your Lordships that it is their intention to make use of some portion, at any rate, of that money in the direction I have indicated. Your Lordships will remember that one of the objects of the Act was to stimulate county councils who appeared to be somewhat disinclined to carry out the duties imposed upon them by the Act. I think it will be found that there will be many county councils who will not be very desirous of entering into rash experiments, lest it would involve a charge on the rates; and therefore I very much hope that, wherever the noble Earl finds there is that disinclination and where his Commissioners and the Board report to him that in their belief an experiment might be tried with success, he will be inclined to try the experiment with the funds at the disposal of the Board provided by the Treasury rather than compel county councils to undertake work which they may think will throw a burden on the ratepayers. With regard to the second part of my Question, I merely wish to know whether the regulations have been issued, and, if not, how soon they will be sent out. There is a great deal of anxiety on the part of county councils to know in what position they stand in the matter.


My Lords, in answer to the Question of my noble friend, the House will be glad to hear that, so far as we can make out at present, there will be no difficulty whatever in making experiments with regard to small holdings. The county councils and landowners generally are meeting us in every possible way, and there is every reason to thank them for the zeal and energy they are showing. Of course, the Small Holdings Act of last Session has been in operation for hardly twelve weeks yet, and the preliminary inquiries are not yet complete, but it is hoped very soon to ascertain the approximate demands of the country, and then we must find out how far the demands are genuine, and how many of the applicants are of the right sort. A great many have already applied, and in Kent, Lord Darnley, the chairman of the committee of that county, reports that 134 applicants have been interviewed, and he and his committee were enabled to approve of 119 at once. Up to this morning 141,008 acres, or 236 square miles, had been applied for. There are over 9,000 applicants on the list, and the applications are coming in every day. In referring to the support which county councils have received from landowners, perhaps I might be allowed specially to mention Lord Dartmouth and Lord Hare wood, whose action has been prominently brought before the Board; and also the Marquess of Anglesey and Lord Boston, who have rendered great assistance in this direction in North Wales. I hope that in the next few years thousands, if not tens of thousands, of hard-working, industrious men will be making an honest and, I hope, a profitable livelihood on the land. As regards the second question, the regulations referred to have not yet been issued, but we are in communication with the Treasury on the subject.


I am exceedingly glad to hear from my noble friend his unsolicited tribute to the zeal, energy, and intelligence shown by the English county councils. I suppose he is not prepared at this moment to state off-hand, in behalf of the Government, their reasons for thinking that the Scottish county councils would act differently if they had the powers.


The Scottish county councils are, under the Bill which unfortunately was rejected by your Lordships the other day, not included because what that Bill was concerned with was taxes, whereas under the English Act it is rates.


I am obliged to the noble and learned Lord for his explanation, and would only point out that under the Bill of Lord Camper-down, still before your Lordships, the Scottish county councils are so entrusted.