§ LORD EBURY
My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture whether he will state what steps have been taken to insure observance of the condition prescribed in the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908, Clauses 1 and 7, that persons availing themselves of its provisions "will themselves cultivate their holdings"; and whether he will lay on the Table any instructions issued by the Board of Agriculture upon that subject.
I should have hesitated to ask this Question were it not that the language of the Act to which it applies is liable to arbitrary interpretation from which there is no legal appeal. That being the case, I 150 ask it because I am informed that in urban neighbourhoods county councils, acting under direct inspiration from the Board of Agriculture, are beginning to entertain applications for small holdings from persons who have no pretension at all to be able themselves to cultivate those holdings, and whose only incentive to apply is the chance of obtaining an accommodation tenancy which either needs no cultivation or upon which they can place a locum tenens, and obtaining it at less than the market value. The noble Earl, in his parental rejoicing over the measure to which I am alluding, has, I believe, described it as the Labourers' Charter, and in so far as it has to do with labourers, or anything at all like them, I believe he fully admits himself that he has had the cordial co-operation of landowners in carrying out its provisions. But the innovation to which I refer, having regard to the wording of the Act and to the discussions which have taken place upon the subject, appears to me to go far beyond and outside the intention of Parliament. I greatly hope, therefore, that the noble Earl will be glad of the opportunity which I am giving him of assuring your Lordships that I have been misinformed, and that the practice at which I have pointed has not had and will not have the support, direct or indirect, of the Department over which he presides.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, I hope I shall be able to give a satisfactory answer to the Question which my noble friend has put to me. I shall be happy, if he wishes it, to lay on your Lordships' Table the Instructions that I have given on this subject. As the House is aware, the Act came into force on January 1 of last year, and, of course, the first six months was a period of preparation and investigation. But it seemed to me that some counties were interpreting the Act in rather too narrow a spirit, and I thought it advisable to issue a Circular to county councils. This I did on May 26 of last year, enclosing some model Rules to be adopted by county councils and by councils of county boroughs. I will read to your Lordships two short extracts from the Board's Circular and from the Rules which bear on the subject. In the Circular which I wrote, through the Secretary of the Board, to the different county councils I said— 151I am directed by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries to say that they are constantly receiving inquiries as to the correct interpretation of the words 'will themselves cultivate the holdings' which occur in Section 1 of the Small Holdings Act, 1892, and in Section 6 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1907, and the Board think it desirable, therefore, that they should state for the information of your Council what in their opinion is the practical effect of the words quoted. The question is one of considerable importance in view of the fact that if the words are construed in too narrow a spirit the effect might be to exclude from the benefits of the Acts a considerable number of applicants who desire to obtain land to be used as an adjunct to their present employment, and to limit the operation of the Acts to the provision of self-supporting small holdings the cultivation of which would occupy the whole time and attention of the holder. … The Board are of opinion, therefore, that there is nothing in the Acts which would prevent a Council from providing holdings for those applicants who, while already engaged in some occupation, have sufficient spare time to be able to cultivate successfully a small holding. The experience of the past in many parts of the country shows that such men often succeed well as small holders, and the acquisition by them of small quantities of land as an adjunct to their present occupation frequently makes just the difference between bare subsistence and comparative prosperity. It is for this reason that many of the most successful small holdings in the country are to be found in districts where the surrounding agricultural conditions afford piece work of various kinds, or where there are in the neighbourhood mines or other industries which do not occupy the whole time of the workers. The Board think, therefore, that as a general rule a Council would not be justified in declining to accept applications from men who desire to obtain small holdings as an adjunct to their present occupation or in giving such applications a secondary place in their consideration as compared with those of men who propose to make their whole living off their holdings.We also sent out model Rules as to small holdings for adoption by county councils and councils of county boroughs. I will only trouble your Lordships with the paragraph referring to the persons eligible to become purchasers or tenants and the paragraph as to the conditions under which holdings are to be held by tenants. The former runs—The persons eligible to be purchasers or tenants of small holdings shall include every person who has informed the Council of his or her desire to acquire a small holding and has satisfied the Council of his or her ability to cultivate properly a small holding of the size and character desired. Provided that no person shall be eligible to be a purchaser or tenant of a small holding which with any holding already acquired or held by such person under the said Acts or otherwise would make up an area exceeding fifty acres, unless at the date of sale or letting the total annual value of the holdings for the purposes of income tax would not exceed £50.152 The other Rule is that—The tenant shall himself cultivate the holding and shall not use it for any purpose other than agriculture, horticulture, the keeping or breeding of live stock, poultry or bees, the growth of fruit, vegetables or the like, or other purpose of husbandry.I can assure my noble friend that I have heard of no arbitrary desire on the part of the Board of Agriculture to justify any council in saying that they are acting under the inspiration of the Board in going outside the four corners of the Act.
I will give to the House a case which came under my own personal observation. I visited a portion of Crown property in a village called Swine, in Yorkshire, not far from Hull. As we entered the village the driver of our motor-car sounded the hooter, and some cattle that were in the road promptly put up their tails and galloped off round the corner. I asked the boy in charge of the cattle why it was that they were on the road apparently to the common danger. "Oh," replied the boy, "they belong to some gentlemen in the village." I pointed out that that was no excuse, and asked why they were not in the fields. The lad said the owners of the cattle had no land of any sort or kind to put them on, and they were therefore obliged to pick up a livelihood at the side of the road. I saw the Crown tenants, and they seemed to have the whole of the parish, as it were, by the throat. The tenants had the whole of the land right up to the backs of the gardens of the houses, and in some cases right up to the houses themselves. I asked them whether it would be possible for them to give a small portion of the land to the unfortunate people who had cattle but nowhere to put them. The blacksmith's cow, for example, was kept in the woodshed, and as the woodshed was on higher ground than the blacksmith's shop the result was not very satisfactory. The tenants, with one exception, refused to give up any land, and therefore I had no option but to take land for these people. I took fourteen acres from a farm of 327 acres, three from a farm of 203 acres, three from a farm of 289 acres, nine and a half from one of 418 acres, and six from one of 362 acres—thirty-five and a half acres in all out of a total of 1,599 acres. I need not say that there was a good deal of resentment in regard to this. The Yorkshire Herald described it as "East Riding Farmers victimised," and "Whole- 153 sale Mutilation of Farms." I think that is a somewhat exaggerated version of the proceeding, but that is the way in which persons in that part of the country looked upon that transaction. Of the people who wanted this land one was a small holder, another was a carrier, another a blacksmith, another a carpenter, another a groom, another a gardener, and the rest were farm labourers. I think that members of your Lordships' House, in your desire to give land to deserving persons and in your determination to carry out the law as it at present exists, would be the last body of men to grudge to a hard-working man, whether he be an agricultural labourer or a village artisan or tradesman, a small piece of land to supplement his income and make his life more comfortable. I think it is true to say that a small piece of land to an agricultural labourer makes the difference between a bare living and a comparatively comfortable existence. An accommodation holding would provide dairy produce for the man's family; it would give to a man who was in the butchering trade a run for the cattle he did not wish to slaughter for a day or so; it would give the higgler a place on which to put his horse; and in that way these worthy men might improve their position and raise themselves in that sphere of life in which Providence has placed them. I can assure my noble friend and the House that nothing illegal will be done as long as I am at the head of the Board of Agriculture, and that we will keep within the four corners of the Act, which I believe is doing a great deal of good to the agricultural community throughout the length and breadth of the land.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lord, the concluding portion of the noble Earl's address to the House was interesting, and, as usual, full of picturesque detail, but it did not seem to me, I must own, strictly relevant to the Question put to him by my noble friend behind me. I do not wish to pursue that part of the case further, but I am anxious to ascertain from the noble Earl whether these Rules from which he has quoted have been or are likely to be published and made available to the public.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
All the county councils have received them. They have had them now for a considerable period.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
It would be convenient that they should be circulated to members of your Lordships' House, who take a great interest in this matter.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
So far as I was able to follow the extract which the noble Earl gave from the Rules, they seem to me to deal sensibly enough with the particular points raised by the noble Lord behind me. I understand the noble Earl to say that under these Rules applications for small holdings will not be entertained unless it can be shown that the applicant has sufficient spare time to cultivate a small holding, and not only that, but unless he is able to satisfy the council of his or her ability to cultivate. Now if those two conditions are insisted upon I think it is likely that any abuse of the Act will be effectually prevented, and I must say that for my own part I attach, very great importance to this. The object of our small holdings legislation was to restore, if we could possibly do so, a part of the rural population to the land—that is, to set them up as bona fide agriculturists. That object would not be attained if small parcels of land were granted indiscriminately to applicants, whether they were likely to take up the profession of agriculturists themselves or not. There is another point which has to be considered. In many cases land has to be taken for this purpose from farmers who are already in occupation of it. I am sure the noble Earl will bear me out when I say that farmers do not desire to obstruct the policy of small holdings. At the same time they will, beyond all doubt, greatly resent having land taken from them if the land is used for some purpose other than that for which they were led to believe the Small Holdings Act was passed. Those are points of which we ought not to lose sight, and I am very glad to hear from the noble Earl that the policy which I think would find favour with most of us on this side of the House is really the policy accepted by the Department over which he presides.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
My Lords, before we pass from this discussion I wonder if the noble Earl would mind if I put to him one or two difficult problems which it has fallen to my lot to encounter in the administration of his Act. The noble 155 Earl this afternoon explained to us the admirable way in which he had been able, on the Crown lands, to take some part of the land from the sitting tenants and give it to small holders whose different occupations he described, but he omitted altogether to tell us—and the point is the most important one of all—whether the tenants from whom he took the land were yearly tenants or held the land on a lease. The matter is of great importance, because you may get an area where one or two hundred acres are required from the sitting tenants for the purpose of placing small holders on the soil, and it is essential in order to be fair that all the tenants in a locality should give up some land.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
But it may happen that some of the tenants hold on a lease, the remainder being only yearly tenants. What happens? Those tenants who are on a yearly lease give up their land because they know they are bound to do so according to the terms of the Act, but those who hold land on a four, five, or seven years lease can only be reached through the compulsory clause, which the county councils have to put in force. No doubt a county council can do that, but the point that arises is this, that the moment the compulsory clause is put into effect the tenant on the soil can claim far greater compensation than the man with only a yearly tenancy. Again, by whom is that compensation paid? It is not paid by the county council or by the landlord; it has to be put on the incoming tenant—that is to say, the rent to the small holder has to be raised. So far as I am aware, there is no machinery in existence by which you can deal with a man holding land on a long lease and make him give up a portion of it at a reasonable price. This is rather a complicated point, and I trust that I have put it clearly to the noble Earl. If he could give us any information as to how we are to deal with tenants who have long leases and how county councils are to allocate in a proper manner the compensation due to those tenants, I should be indeed grateful.
There is one other point which the noble Earl slightly evaded but which arises out of the Question standing on the Paper in the name of Lord Ebury—namely, what is the right kind of tenant to place on the 156 soil. Farmers who have been asked to give up land have said over and over again, "We are prepared to give up land if in our place you will put bona fide agriculturists, but we do not see why we should be called upon to give up land if in our place you are going to put men who have very good trades already, and allow them to take up ours as well. We think that is unfair and shall try to resist it." As a landowner, my hands are very much tied in the selection of those persons who should be placed on the soil because we have no information from the Board of Agriculture as to whether they consider that a bona fide agriculturist should be the first person who should be considered. If the noble Earl could, in the first place, give us information as to how we are to deal with those tenants who have a long lease, and, secondly, inform us which kind of tenants should be selected—whether bona fide agriculturists or individuals who have already some kind of occupation—it would be of great value to those landlords who are trying to carry out the Act.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
The noble Duke has referred to two difficulties. He asked me whether the Crown tenants were on a yearly lease. Yes, that is so. They were yearly tenants, and so there was no difficulty. If they had been under a lease for a longer period there would have been great difficulty in getting the land, and, even if it had been obtained by compulsion by the county council, there would have been—and properly so—compensation to have been paid, and that would have increased the cost of the land and would have been a great obstacle in the way. Then the noble Duke asked me as to the right sort of tenant to put on the land. That is not a very easy question to answer. I suppose it is all left to the county councils, who are a very intelligent body of people and know the local circumstances. They must do the best they can in the difficult conditions. But I should think that a man who obtained his living absolutely and entirely from the soil would naturally have the first chance. I think it would be fair to give it to him, though I should like most earnestly to impress on the House that we do not intend to permit a man, because he has another occupation, to be debarred from getting the land to which he is entitled under the Act. I think that is the only answer I am able to give to the noble Duke. Of course, difficulties do 157 arise and must arise, but I think we can trust to the common sense of the county councils to do the best in the circumstances that present themselves.
§ LORD EBURY
My Lords, the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition so admirably summed up the point I should have liked to raise on the speech of the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture that as I understood the noble Earl to concur in what he said I need not trouble your Lordships with any further observations.
My Lords, I do not know whether I am in order in making the request or whether it will be an easy thing for the noble Earl opposite to do, but I should like to ask for a Return of the number of bona fide agricultural labourers who get their livelihood solely from the soil who have become small holders under the Act, and also the number of those who have been given small holdings who have subsidiary occupations, such as that of blacksmith or some other trade. The intention of the Act and of the noble Earl was to bring the people back to the land, but I take it he did not mean townspeople—
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I will make inquiries, and if the Return can be given I shall be pleased to present it.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I think the Board of Agriculture have to make an annual Return to Parliament.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Might it not be possible in that Return to discriminate between the various kinds of small holders—between those who, as Lord Saltoun has just said, are really connected with the soil and nothing else, and people, like tradesmen, who do not themselves cultivate in the strict sense of the term? As we all know, the object of the small holdings legislation has been to bring people back to 158 the soil and to increase the number of those on the land. To give to a tradesman who resides in a town or in the suburbs a small holding which he either does not cultivate himself or cultivates in connection with his own dwelling is not bringing people back to the soil; and in order that Parliament may be able to ascertain how far the objects of the Act are being carried out I think it would be very desirable, if it be possible, to discriminate between these various classes of holders.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, in reply to the noble Earl, I understand that the Report for this year has been prepared and completed, and therefore it will not be possible to add to it the information for which the noble Earl asks. I confess I have some doubt myself as to how far it is possible to discriminate accurately between the two classes. When the noble Earl speaks of a tradesman living in a town, that is an easy enough classification; but when you come to the village blacksmith, or, as very often happens, the publican, I do not think it can be said that in giving him facilities to own land you are travelling in any way beyond the objects of the Act. It must be remembered that these small parcels of land are often worked to a considerable extent by the families of the small holder, and to that extent you are giving people a new interest in the land, and, in fact, keeping on the land those who might be brought up altogether divorced from it, and who would otherwise be likely to go straight away to the towns to earn their living there. I can only say from my own experience, living as I do in a county of small holdings, that I find that those who have some other industry make admirable small holders. They work their land very well, and really tend to form part of the agricultural community of the country.
§ LORD EBURY
May I point out that my Question had special reference to the working of the Act in urban neighbourhoods?