§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, the object of the Bill to which I am going to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to-day is to create, or, rather, to provide for the creation of, small holdings and allotments in Scotland, a small holding being defined as a holding which either does not exceed £50 in rent or does not exceed fifty acres in extent. This Bill is identical with the one which your Lordships were so good as to accept from me last year, and its procedure—in fact, I may say almost the whole Bill—is identical with the Small Holdings Act of 1907 which applies to England. The procedure and details of that Act are very well known to your Lordships, and I explained this Bill to the House in some detail last year. Therefore on this occasion I hope it will not be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships at any very great length. I shall content myself, at this stage at all events, by simply presenting to your Lordships in skeleton the main principles of the Bill.
166 The first five clauses contain the words which provide how schemes are to be framed, how they are to be originated, and how they are to be carried out. If your Lordships will look at the Bill you will see that two persons are to be appointed by the Board of Agriculture who are to be called the Small Holdings Commissioners. They are to be persons with a knowledge of agriculture, who, acting under the directions of the Board, are to ascertain the extent to which there is a demand for small holdings in the several counties, or would be a demand if suitable land were available. They are then to report to the Board and to state whether it is desirable in their opinion that a scheme should be made, and they may indicate the nature of the proposals which they consider ought to be embodied in the scheme. When the Board are of opinion that it is desirable that this should be done, the report is to be forwarded, with any modifications which the Board think desirable, to the county council, and it is then to be the duty of the county council to prepare one or more draft schemes; but if the county council decline to undertake this duty, or within six months after receiving the report fail to prepare a scheme, then the Board may direct the Commissioners to prepare one or more draft schemes. There is an alternative procedure. The county council itself, without waiting for the report, may initiate a scheme and may lay it before the Board in the same manner as the Commissioners can; and after due consideration, either of a scheme put forward by a county council or a scheme put forward by the Commissioners, the Board may confirm the scheme. After that it shall be the duty of the county council to carry it out, and if the county council fails in that duty the Board may order the Commissioners to carry the scheme into effect.
Clause 6 provides that for the purpose of providing small holdings a county council may either purchase or hire land, voluntarily, if possible, and, if not, by compulsion. That differs from the English Act in this, that in the English Act there are no compulsory powers of purchase. I do not see what objection there can be to inserting in a Bill for providing small holdings a power to purchase. There is no obligation whatsoever to buy, but surely it is an advantage that a county council should have the power.
167 Under Clause 7 the county council may, for the purpose of small holdings, adapt the land for sale or letting, and the amount of money which they expend for that purpose will, in accordance with the provisions of the Act of 1892, be taken into consideration in fixing the rents. The expenses of the Board under this Bill are to be provided for by an account which is to be called the Small Holdings (Scotland) Account, and which is to consist of such moneys as may be voted by Parliament for this purpose. This your Lordships will find in Clause 18. Beyond that there are certain restrictions placed upon certain descriptions of land which may not be taken for this purpose. Those restrictions your Lordships will find in Clause 27. They are identical, I think, or very nearly identical, with a clause contained in the Bill which was put forward recently by the Scottish Office. At all events, I am sure there is no great discrepancy between the two.
Now we come to the manner in which land may be taken by compulsion, either for purchase or hiring. That will be done by an order, which must be applied for in the first instance by the county council and which must be approved by the Board of Agriculture. Your Lordships will find those provisions in the First Schedule. The order is to be in a prescribed form. It must be published, and the Board, in cases where objection is taken to the order, must hold an Inquiry. And with regard to compulsory hiring, the order is to determine "the terms and conditions of the hiring other than the rent;" and, with regard to the rent, if that matter becomes a question of dispute it is to be settled by a valuer appointed by the Board. I think I have now given your Lordships, in skeleton, the principles of the Bill, with the exception of that part which relates to allotments, and on which I do not think I need detain your Lordships long at this moment. The purpose of those clauses is to make the law the same in Scotland as it has hitherto been in England. The Bill provides for the transfer of powers from the county council to the parish council, and in the event of the parish council not doing its duty with regard to allotments, then it is made imperative on the county council, and, failing the county council, on the Board, to see that those provisions are observed.
168 I said that I would not detain your Lordships long on the provisions of the Bill, and I think I may conclude with a few remarks upon the main principles of the Bill. Your Lordships will observe that to the Board of Agriculture is entrusted the power of supervision under this Bill and of seeing that small holdings are provided. The Board under the Bill is given very extensive powers. It has the power of approving of the starting of schemes, of having schemes considered, and, when the details are concluded and arranged, of confirming them and seeing that they are carried out. It has the power of taking land by compulsion either for hiring or for purchase, and it has the appointment of the valuer who is concerned with the fixing of the rent. The advantage, as it seems to me, of having the Board of Agriculture in this position is this. The Board of Agriculture not only has professional advisers and also great experience in these matters, but is responsible to Parliament. Your Lordships will see in the Bill that when the Board of Agriculture takes away from the county council the power of carrying out an order—that is in Clause 5, subsection (3)—and when it makes an order directing the Commissioners to take the place of the county council and carry the scheme into effect, then that order has to be laid before both Houses of Parliament as soon as may be after it is made. I lay great stress upon this, because by this procedure you avoid the practice—the bad practice, as I think—which is becoming more and more common, of setting up and establishing separate authorities independent of Parliament and very often not subject to the control of the law; and it seems to me that the Board of Agriculture, which is not independent and has nothing in the nature of a Land Court —a thing which is, in my opinion, most objectionable—is a proper body for being placed in control of small holdings.
The next point to which I would call attention is that this Bill proceeds as far as possible on principles of mutual help and co-operation. Compulsion is avoided until it becomes absolutely necessary. It is said that the local authorities, the county councils, have been somewhat backward in carrying out these schemes of small holdings. Even if that were true, I cannot help thinking—and I am sure the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture agrees with me—that it is most desirable 169 able to enlist on your side the local authorities, who know the facts, and who necessarily are better acquainted with local circumstances than any outside body could be. This has been the endeavour of the noble Lord (Earl Carrington) from the very first passing of his Bill, and I am glad to know that he thinks this action on his part has been justified by the event. My noble friend, as your Lordships know, does not hide his opinions under a bushel, and he not infrequently gives utterance to them on public platforms in a manner which is both instructive and amusing. In February of the present year, in the course of a speech at Slough, he said—We have always kept in view the great advantages which would be gained if this Act were administered by men possessing local knowledge, both in the nature of the land to be cultivated and the character and ability of the applicants. I am no lover of bureaucratic methods, and I am satisfied that I could secure more and better practical results by enlisting the help of local representative men instead of attempting to do everything from Whitehall.Of the many wise things my noble friend has said, he never said anything wiser than that. He went on to say—My policy in this matter was much criticised at the time, and I was told that I was a very simple-minded person indeed to believe that county councils would be able and could be trusted to carry out the provisions of an Act of Parliament so revolutionary in character. But, looking back at the work which has been done, I do not for a moment regret my decision.The noble Earl proceeded to say that most of the county councils had done their work admirably, and I can only hope that he will instil that doctrine into his noble colleague (the Secretary for Scotland) who sits by his side.
The way in which the English Act has been worked by the English county councils also had testimony borne to it only a few days ago by no less a person than the Prime Minister. Mr. Asquith quoted figures—supplied, of course, by the Board of Agriculture—in order to show how well this Act had worked. He said that of holdings which had been acquired by voluntary purchase or voluntary hiring by the end of June, 1908, there were 2,000 acres; at the end of March this year, 27,000 acres; and at the end of June no less than 36,000 acres. All that area, my Lords, had been acquired by voluntary arrangement and without the interference of any outside court or similar body. 170 But, besides that, 5,000 acres were already acquired where the Board of Agriculture had had recourse to compulsion. Assuming this to be correct—and, of course, it is—it shows that the English Act, working on this voluntary principle and avoiding compulsion as far as possible, has attained very considerable success. It has been said that the Scottish county councils did not carry out the Act of 1892. Exactly the same remark was made with regard to the English county councils. But those who say that because Scottish county councils may not have been very active in carrying out the Act of 1892, therefore they are unlikely to carry out the English Act if applied to Scotland, forget this, that until two years ago there was no. power of compulsion at all, and therefore if a county council was unable to obtain land voluntarily it was unable to purchase land at all.
I will now say a few words as to the position of the small holder as it will be under the Bill. In the first place, he will have security of tenure which will very nearly amount to fixity. The county councils are empowered to hire land for fourteen or thirty-five years, and at the end of that term they are empowered, if they see fit, to renew the lease, so that any small tenant holding under this tenure has a tenure which really amounts to fixity. In the next place, if a small tenant has been unable to agree about his rent, he has a fair rent fixed by the valuer appointed by the Board. Again, under this Bill the small holder is treated on exactly the same terms as any other holder; and it stands to reason that if a small holding is a self-supporting mode of occupation it must rest upon its own merits and must not be supported by any outside advantages. In England at the present time small holders have to pay all the money spent upon the holdings by the public. What has been spent on their holdings is taken into consideration in fixing the rent. That is a perfectly sound and legitimate procedure, and I venture to think that it is the only procedure upon which small holdings can be justified. In my opinion it is by no means an economic principle upon which to conduct business that small holdings should be propped up by money taken from the taxes.
Under the Bill all present contracts are left untouched. I appeal to noble Lords 171 from Scotland whether in their knowledge there are not many small holders who at the present time are not only perfectly satisfied with the conditions of their tenure but who would be extremely indignant if they found that by some Bill or another they were deprived of their present tenure. If, however, they are not content with their present tenure, then their course would be to give up the holding and apply for a small holding under this Bill. I have now concluded all that it is necessary to trouble your Lordships with at this stage, and I ask you to give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Camperdown.)
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND)
My Lords, on behalf of the Government I welcome this Bill and the discussion which it brings. Nobody can be in any doubt as to the question being one of great importance, and any evidence is welcome that your Lordships' House recognises the importance of increasing the number of small farmers and small holdings in this country and thereby promoting the growth of the rural population. For my part I consider this one of the most vital questions that Parliament can discuss at the present time.
If history teaches us anything, it is that no great country can long survive the decay of its rural population, and when I reflect that we are behind nearly every other country in Europe in the proportion which our rural population bears to the rest of our population, I cannot help believing that it is high time that Parliament should attend to this subject. Taking the United Kingdom as a whole we have a smaller rural population, we have a smaller percentage of people employed in agriculture, than is the case in any one of the great nations which compete with us. We are not even making the best of our own resources. During the last twenty years—of course, statistics can be multiplied on this question, but I do not wish to trouble you with more than one or two to emphasise the importance of the subject—during the last twenty years something like two million acres of land in the United Kingdom have gone out of cultivation; in Germany, on the other hand, they have added three-quarters of a million acres to their cultivated area; and in Denmark they have added about a 172 million and a quarter. And if you look at the proportion of the population engaged in agriculture you find that whereas in the United States there are 1,500 to every 10,000, and in Germany something like 1,400, in this country, in the year 1901, there were only 495, as compared with 711 some twenty years before. In these circumstances the importance of the question cannot be denied, and I am glad that this House sees fit, at the instance of the noble Earl opposite, to give a short time to its consideration.
The subject opens a very wide field, but I will follow the noble Earl in his example of brevity, not because there is not much to say which is of importance, but because your Lordships are familiar with the subject. You have frequently debated it in recent years, and I will therefore confine myself to discussing this Bill on its merits and indicate briefly one or two reasons why I believe it is not a workable scheme. I join in congratulating my noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture on the success of his measure for England. That is a proof that the Government recognise the importance of this question. There are legislative proposals in regard to land for Ireland now before Parliament, and your Lordships are familiar with the legislation which has been attempted on this subject for Scotland. I notice two directions in which the noble Earl who moved this Bill seems to have advanced upon the position taken up not very long ago. He emphasised one himself in introducing the Bill to the notice of your Lordships—namely, that he has added compulsory powers of purchase to the former proposal. I notice this other feature. Your Lordships may recollect that the Government's proposals were severely criticised for not recognising the difference between the crofter districts of Scotland and the Lowlands. The noble Earl follows our example. The machinery of his Bill is applicable to the whole of Scotland from North to South, and in that I agree with the noble Earl.
So far as I can discover, the principle upon which this Bill is based is that what is good for England must necessarily be good for Scotland. I believe that is a sound Unionist doctrine, but it is not the principle that has built up the British Empire; it is not the principle which has conciliated Ireland, and it is apt to be 173 misleading even when it is applied to Scotland. Look at the experience of Scotland. Take the Small Holdings Act of 1892. In England it has had some operation. Nine county councils—very few, I admit—worked the Act to the measure of supplying something like 800 acres for small holdings. In Scotland, with the exception of one instance—Ross-shire—where twenty-five holdings and a total area of eighty-five acres were provided, the Act has been an absolute and entire failure.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Forfarshire on two or three occasions asked for applications, but received none.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I know. I was going on to argue that the very fact of the failure which the noble Earl quotes shows the unwisdom of proceeding on the same lines in the Bill now before the House. I will ask the noble Earl also to look at the operations of the Allotments Act which has worked hand in hand with the Small Holdings Act in the two countries. In Scotland under 200 people have received allotments, whereas in England nearly 50,000 tenants have been created under the Allotments Act. Is that not significant of the wide distinction between England and Scotland? Is it not remarkable that the same legislation should have had no operation in Scotland whereas it has had very considerable operation south of the border?
Then may I remind your Lordships that the farming habits and customs are completely different in the two countries? Take the conditions of work of the labourer. In Scotland he is a half-yearly or a yearly servant; he gives his whole time to the farm, and lives in a cottage on the farm; he has grazing for a cow, and, if he is unmarried, he lives either in the bothy with other unmarried men or with a relative in one of the cottages. His whole time is given to the working of the farm under the direction of the farmer. In England, broadly speaking, the conditions of the farm labourer are entirely different. He lives in the village, renting his own house. He is hired by the month, week, or day. He does not give his whole time, and he is obliged, and anxious, to supplement the wages which he receives from the farmer by working on some allotment or small garden ground, whatever he is able to secure. The conditions of the two men are 174 wholly different. If it is from any class in particular that you are to rear up a race of small holders it is from the farm labourer class who have gained experience in farming; but their conditions are entirely different in the two countries.
What is the bearing of this difference upon the endeavour to create small holdings? It is this, that the wants of the two men are widely different. Whereas in England the man wants an allotment or garden ground which is accessible from his own house and on which he can labour in the evening, in Scotland the farm servant, as we call him, wants nothing of the kind. What he wants is a small holding upon which he can live and make his home—anything up to 100 acres. According to the quality of the land the size of the farm must vary. There are plenty of ambitious, industrious, enterprising farm servants in Scotland who are willing and anxious to invest their savings in this manner provided they can be given a proper opportunity. In Aberdeenshire there are more than 5,000 holdings under twenty acres and 4,000 up to the limit of 100 acres. There are between 9,000 and 10,000 small holders in Aberdeenshire, the most successful farming county in Scotland, under the limit of 100 acres, and it is the same in other counties to a less degree. Berwickshire, Midlothian, and Roxburgh-shire are conspicuously counties of large farms, yet there is a total of over 1,200 of the smaller size farms under twenty acres, and 500 from twenty to 100 acres. In every county of Scotland there are these men, and it is in that direction that the ambitions, the needs, and the hopes of the Scottish farm servant lie.
But it is a very different matter to equip an allotment in England—and the large demand in England is for allotments—and, on the other hand, a small holding in Scotland. The equipment for an allotment is a tool shed and a fence at the most, whereas in Scotland you require fencing, adaptation possibly, roads, a house, farm buildings, and all the rest of it. You propose by this Bill to lay upon county councils the duty of working out these schemes. The small holder will not take your small holding unless, in the first place, it is offered to him at a fair rent. I say it is quite impracticable, so far as such examination of this Bill as I have been able to give it shows me, for a county council 175 to do the work which the noble Earl seeks to lay upon it. The cost is too great.
§ LORD LEITH OF FYVIE
The statement which has just been made by the Secretary for Scotland is quite incorrect. We can do it and we are looking forward to doing it. We are prepared at any time to take it up in Aberdeenshire.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I shall be very glad to follow the suggestion of the noble Lord and meet his argument. The noble Lord is aware, of course, that under Lord Camperdown's Bill—the noble Earl himself stated it very clearly—this is not to be a charity business. All expenses of acquiring and adapting the land to small holdings are to be recouped to the county council in the form of rent. We all know that the great difficulty in the creation of small holdings has been the expense of buildings. In many cases there has been no desire to withhold land or to prevent its being broken up into small holdings. The real truth has been that owners of land have not been able to afford to do so. The cost of the buildings makes the whole thing prohibitive. They could not lose money upon it. They have, therefore, declined to do it. Is it conceivable that a county council is going to carry out this business of going into the market, purchasing land, equipping it, and adapting it for small holdings at a lower cost than a private individual? I have yet to learn that that has ever been done, or is likely to be done.
§ LORD LEITH of FYVIE
It can be done in a business way—in the same way as it has been done before, and as we would propose to do it.
§ LORD PENTLAND
That is a matter of opinion, and, with the greatest respect to the House, I am expressing my opinion and giving reasons which induce me to hold that opinion. I do not believe that it is a practicable proposition. Obviously no men will come forward to take small holdings unless they can be let at a fair rent and one which will enable them to live and work and thrive upon the holdings. When you take into consideration the expenses which have to be thrown into the rent, you are faced with two alternatives. You must 176 either fix the rent of the holding at a figure which will attract no offers, or you must subsidise the rent, which is forbidden in the noble Earl's Bill, from the rates—a proceeding to which I should have myself the very greatest objection. I do not understand the motives or the intentions with which the scheme in this Bill has been framed, but in my humble judgment it is an absolutely unworkable scheme.
May I remind your Lordships that this is not a difficulty which I have conjured up in order to criticise the noble Earl's Bill? It is a difficulty that the Government were obliged to face in the Bill which they had the honour of laying before Parliament. We were obliged to face this difficulty, and we faced it with some support from experience which cannot be said to be the case in this instance. I do not propose to trespass upon the House by discussing the Government's proposals or defending them in any sense, but I may remind your Lordships that the way we met this difficulty was to provide funds by which the cost of adaptation should be borne by the Exchequer. Believing, as we did, the provision of small holdings to be a vital necessity, recognising that it was not fair to lay upon the landowner the cost of the adaptation of the land for use as small holdings, and recognising, further, that you could not lay upon the small holder the cost of adaptation without obliging him to sit at a rent which would be unfair, we provided funds by which the cost of adaptation was to be borne, in part, at any rate, by the community. Conceiving that this was an object of national concern, we provided the funds by which this difficulty could be met. Your Lordships may read in the Reports of the Congested Districts Board instance after instance in which tenants have been placed upon land in Scotland by the operation of precisely the methods which I have described, as exercised now by the Congested Districts Board. Something like 900 small holdings have been created in Scotland by our system, which is more, I think, than can be said—
§ LORD PENTLAND
Some of the people who are now crofters may have been cottars. Some quite successful crofters may have been cottars. I have yet to learn that it is any disgrace to live in one part of Scotland more than another, and to be called a crofter rather than a small holder. In essence, I submit, they are the same people if they are living and working under the same conditions.
If your Lordships will allow me, I will put one or two other objections, which seem to me obvious, to this Bill. In the crofter districts to which the noble Lord has alluded and in the neighbouring districts where for years the small holders have looked forward to obtaining for themselves the protection of the Crofters Acts, the noble Earl by his Bill proposes to run, side by side with the machinery which there exists, a system of creating small holdings by the county councils and the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. You are, therefore, to have in the same counties two separate sets of machinery for creating small holdings—one which the people know, of which they recognise the benefits, working through the Crofters Commission and the Congested Districts Board, which has, as I say, in the last twelve years created 900 holdings of this kind by purchase and by tenancy schemes, and, on the other hand, the system set up by the machinery of the noble Earl's Bill. Apart from its impracticability, on its merits, as applying anywhere in Scotland, it is not, I think, likely to have any operation whatever in the Highland counties. I have not said a word about the question of compensation, but if I were not trespassing on your Lordships' indulgence I would say that the question of compensation, the question of the freedom of cropping, must be considered when schemes for the establishment of small holdings are framed. I do not think that in these respects the scheme in this Bill is likely to meet with success, and, further, it is obvious that a scheme of this kind, involving the ownership of land in every county of Scotland by the county council, is likely to be most costly to work. For these and other reasons I shall be compelled, if the noble Earl presses his Bill to a vote, to record my vote against it.
178 I do not believe that this Bill—and it has been before the country for some time—has any support whatever in Scotland. The Government Bill was originally introduced in July, 1906. Ten months at least elapsed before the English Bill, upon which this Bill is founded, was brought forward. During the whole of that period there was never a suggestion in Scotland, though there was much criticism of the Government Bill, that the work of creating small holdings should be committed to the county councils; nor do I think there is any hope of progress whatever on those lines. For myself I can say truly that I am willing to consider any proposals dealing with this subject; but it is not enough to pass Bills into law; they must be framed to meet the end in view after considering the whole of the circumstances bearing upon the case. If proposals are to succeed, they must be framed with regard to the conditions of the problem.
There is one step gained in the appearance of this Bill—the noble Earl is now willing, or seems to be willing, to legislate for Scotland as a whole. But in so doing you must not ignore either the failure of the Small Holdings Act or the Allotments Act in Scotland or the existence of the crofter system in that country—the largest small holding system in operation in these Islands. I believe an increase in the number of small holders is vital to us as a country; and in providing them you must see that by the provisions of your scheme your small holder has security of tenure, a fair rent fixed by an independent tribunal or one in which he has confidence, compensation for his improvements, and freedom to use to the utmost for himself and in the interests of the community his capital, his labour, and his intelligence.
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the speech that has just been delivered by the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, and I confess that, in my view, his criticisms of my noble friend's Bill have been remarkably weak. He seems to me to have brought out hardly any point against the Bill except that no money is provided. But the noble Lord's own Bill only provided £65,000 for small holdings, and I think that sum would have produced hardly one small holding per annum in each county in Scotland. The noble Lord then made a great point of the difference in the conditions 179 of small holders in England and in Scotland. That is perfectly right. They do exist under thoroughly different conditions in the two countries. In Scotland the farm servant is hired for a particular period which gives him security for his labour, and if he is a careful man he saves money and looks forward to the time when he will himself take a croft or small holding. Personally I am always very glad to welcome these men when they come to me and ask for a croft. It is not always possible, however, to comply with their request, but when an opportunity occurs they are always the men who are selected for these crofts. That is the way in which farmers are made. When a man becomes a crofter he does not intend to remain a crofter. The labourer becomes a crofter; he then goes on to a small holding, and so on. That is the case not only in Aberdeenshire, but throughout the whole of Scotland. Indeed, I do not see that in the speech of the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland there was any real criticism of the Bill now before the House. It is true that in Scotland the labourer is provided with a house and in many cases also with a certain quantity of food, but that is always taken into consideration in the wages paid. The provision of a house is part of the labourer's wages. Another criticism was that there would be under the Bill two systems of acquiring land in the different counties. The areas which both bodies—the Congested Districts Board and the county council—look after are very well defined, and there would be absolutely no difficulty in carrying out the work of both bodies side by side. As showing how much the people in Scotland appreciated the Bill which the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland introduced in the House of Commons but which was rejected in your Lordships' House, I have had more than one man come to me with a desire to take a small holding and ask whether I could not make the acreage a little more or the rent a little larger so that he would not come under the Bill. That has happened on three or four occasions, and if that is the case in one part of Scotland I have no doubt it is the same in other parts. I must say I thoroughly support Lord Camperdown's Bill. In spite of what the Secretary for Scotland has said, I think that it is a most workable Bill, and that county councils when they got to understand its provisions would, if it were passed, take it up most heartily and do their utmost 180 to carry it into effect. My opinion is that the majority of small holders and farmers would greatly prefer to have the two Bills which have been introduced by Lord Camperdown and Lord Lovat to the cumbrous arrangements in the measure of the Secretary for Scotland. I therefore hope your Lordships will support the Second Reading of the Bill now before the House.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Lord who spoke from the Front Bench opposite began his remarks by according a welcome to my noble friend's proposals so cordial, almost glowing in its terms, that I began to hope that His Majesty's Government were, after all, going to relent, and to see that my noble friend's proposals contained features in many respects preferable to their own. But as he went on he proceeded to damn my noble friend's Bill in the most emphatic terms.
Now although I fully realise that, in view of the attitude of His Majesty's Government, there is no prospect whatever of this Bill being persevered with in another place, I am glad that my noble friend has taken another opportunity of putting on record views entertained by himself, and, I believe, by many other members of the House, as to the manner in which this small holdings question should be dealt with in Scotland. We agree with the noble Lord opposite in holding that the question is one of very great importance; and we are ready to deal with it, and to deal with it upon lines which we conceive to be eminently just, reasonable, and practical lines; and I say that the more confidently because the principles upon which this Bill is based are, after all, the same principles upon which the English legislation so warmly supported by His Majesty's Government was also based. It seems to me, so far as principle is concerned, that it is really impossible for His Majesty's Ministers to challenge the soundness of the grounds upon which my noble friend is proceeding.
What is the first principle on which my noble friend relies? It is, I think, this, that the duty of providing these small holdings is one which, in the first instance, belongs to the local authorities of the country, acting under the general supervision and direction of the central Government. My noble friend quoted with much effect the utterances of the President of the Board of Agriculture in regard to 181 the importance of obtaining the co-operation of the county councils. Only last night, if my memory serves me, he ended his speech by once again expressing the great obligations under which he lay to the county councils for the manner in which they had given effect to the policy of the English Small Holdings Act. We remain of opinion that, as a matter of principle, it is better to rely upon the existing local authorities of the different parts of the United Kingdom rather than to set up new tribunals with autocratic powers—tribunals of a kind which, as my noble friend pointed out, we are very fond in these days of setting up, for one purpose or another, by different Statutes.
There is another principle upon which my noble friend relies—one which seems to me to be of the utmost importance. My noble friend insists upon the fundamental distinction between a crofter and a small holder. I heard with bewilderment the statement made by the noble Lord a few moments ago to the effect that crofters and small holders were in essence the same. I say, on the contrary, that in essence they are different. The noble Lord has been concerned in the affairs of Scotland for a long time, and surely he must know by now that the crofter is a man who finds himself on a small lot which has probably been occupied by his predecessors in title for many generations—a small lot on which the improvements have been executed by the man himself and by his predecessors. Their position is wholly exceptional. It is entirely different from the position of the farmer as we know him in other parts of the United Kingdom. I say by all means, where you find these crofters deal with them as tenderly and as justly as you can. But I say do not go out of your way to extend the crofter system where it does not already exist. We have it in evidence from numerous sources that the crofter system has led to agriculture more miserable and to conditions of existence more squalid and wretched than any other system with which we are familiar in these islands, and it seems to me, I must say, midsummer madness to endeavour to spread that system where it does not exist already.
There is a third principle which underlies my noble friend's proposals. He desires, while giving ample opportunities for the creation of small holdings where they 182 do not exist and where they are required, not to break down the existing Scottish agricultural system; and, my Lords, surely we are not wrong in saying that the Scottish agricultural system is not one of which any country need be ashamed. It has led to cultivation of the soil more scientific and more successful probably than any which we know in any other part of the United Kingdom, and I have never been able to see what arguments could be advanced in favour of breaking down that system and of introducing sporadically, here and there, little patches of that system of Irish land tenure of which we have had such disastrous experience in other parts of the United Kingdom—a system which, pray let us not forget it, Parliament is at this moment endeavouring to put an end to by means of a very large expenditure from public funds.
I also notice with pleasure in this Bill those provisions which are designed to facilitate, not only the hiring of land for small holdings, but also the creation of a proprietary right in such holdings. That has always seemed to me to be one of the objects at which our land legislation should aim, and I have always regretted that it should have been studiously put on one side in the measures lately proposed by His Majesty's Government.
The noble Lord, in his criticism of my noble friend's Bill, dwelt upon the fact that in some respects Scottish agriculture and the conditions of agricultural life in Scotland differ from those which obtain in this country. I have no doubt they do. The noble Lord told us particularly that whereas in England we had agricultural labourers living in cottages provided for them, in Scotland you have what is known as the bothy system, and farm servants hired by the year or by the half-year; and he has a great desire that some means should be found for enabling the more deserving members of that class to establish themselves upon the land. I entirely agree with him, but then I say my noble friend's Bill contains clauses which are intended for that very purpose. If the noble Lord will look at the second and third clauses, I think they are, of the Bill, he will see that elaborate machinery is set up for enabling small holdings to be provided for these and other deserving members of the community.
183 The noble Lord went on to say that the question of equipment stands in Scotland on an entirely different footing from what it does in England. He said that in England the question of equipment very often resolved itself merely into the provision of a tool shed, whereas in Scotland a much more substantial and expensive equipment in the shape of buildings and fences and so forth was necessary. But does the noble Lord suppose that the equipment difficulty does not exist in England also? Your Lordships remember very well some discussions we had in this House, I think two years ago, upon the alleged failure of many of the local authorities to give effect to the Small Holdings Act. What was the difficulty that was pleaded—pleaded, I have no doubt, with absolute honesty—by the different local bodies? The difficulty that they pleaded was that the great expense of providing equipment was the main obstacle they had to overcome in dealing with the provision of small holdings. That I am sure, is within the memory of the House.
The noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, I understand, proposed to solve the difficulty by a grant from the Exchequer. My recollection is that the total amount of the grant proposed was something like £65,000 a year—an amount which, when you had sub-divided it amongst the different claimants, and after they had been provided with suitable homes in which to live, would not, I venture to think, have left a very large margin for other kinds of equipment. But be that as it may. The real difference between the policy of the noble Lord opposite and the policy of my noble friend behind me is not that the one policy is based upon subventions from public funds and the other is not. The real difference between the two is that the system which we prefer on this side is a system which has been tried, which has succeeded and can be made to succeed, whereas the other, in our view, is a new and dangerous experiment likely to have most unfortunate results upon Scottish agriculture, and likely to work with the utmost injustice both to the owners and occupiers of land in that country. If my noble friend goes to a Division I shall very gladly give him my vote.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD LOREBURN)
My Lords, I do not propose to say much, because I look upon this as a very barren controversy, and I am afraid 184 that it will remain so as long as the majority of this House take the view of, and the attitude towards, ministerial policy which they now take. Although reminiscences are by no means agreeable and are very often not useful, let me say a word or two by way of reminiscence. That the subject is of immense importance no one can dispute, because the people of Scotland are more and more, and in a rapidly increasing volume, emigrating from Scotland and from the agricultural parts of Scotland. There is no doubt about that, and it is an evil which everyone is anxious to remedy. For the first time during the last fifteen years, when we came into office we proposed a Bill dealing with the subject. Your Lordships will recollect it. It was met by Lord Rosebery with the objection that what was wanted was a purchase scheme and not a hiring scheme at all. Now, there is no authority in Scotland who will say that, and I believe that the noble Earl who moved this Bill will not say it.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Yet it was received with great acceptance in this House, and it was one of the main reasons, only eighteen months ago, for the refusal of your Lordships to even give a Second Reading to our Bill. The second objection of Lord Rosebery was that it was an insult—a gross insult, I think he said—to the county councils of Scotland. Does the noble Earl know of a single county council in Scotland which has expressed its desire to have these powers? Not one. Yet that was the spirit in which honest proposals to try and meet this problem were met. After that I appealed to the House. I was acting in concert with my colleague the Secretary for Scotland, and I went through a painful, tedious analysis of the English clauses and the Scottish Bill, and I told you that I was prepared to try and meet every difficulty that could arise by any Amendment that with reason I could accept. I said that I would do my best to meet the views of noble Lords on this subject—I did not say that without meaning it, for, as I have said, I was acting in conjunction with my colleague the Secretary for Scotland—but the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition, sword in hand, followed by his supporters, boarded our ship and asked us to scuttle our own vessel. I admit the grace with which he did it, but the end was that a 185 Second Reading was refused to our measure.
Now the noble Earl brings in his Bill. I congratulate him upon one or two things. In the first place, I congratulate him upon having in this measure agreed to the fixation of fair rents.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am glad that it is in the Bill again this year. I congratulate the noble Earl also upon having agreed to fixity of tenure.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
It is a perpetually renewable provision; it is security of tenure for ever, and that is fixity enough. I also congratulate the noble Earl on something uncommonly like the creation of a fair-rent Court. It is not a Court which always consists of the same persons, but there is a valuer who has complete control to fix the rent himself without appeal. I congratulate my noble friend upon that. It is something to think we have got so far.
I now come to the characteristic differences on which the noble Marquess relied —the differences between what you would not even examine eighteen months ago and what you welcome with alacrity now. This policy of having to go to the county councils is not desired in Scotland. It is not desired by the county councils, it is not desired by the people of Scotland, and it is only because the provision is in the English Act that now you want to insert it in the Scottish measure. But the provision in the noble Earl's Bill enables the county councils to be overriden by a bureaucratic central department. Those, however, are only matters of detail which in connection with the former Bill, if you had only been prepared to allow it to be considered, we could have discussed in Committee.
I agree also with the noble Marquess that crofters are different from small holders, but when one speaks of crofters as men on small patches of soil cultivated by needy people, hardly able to subsist in the remote and desolate parts of the 186 Highlands, the conception presented is that you do not want to increase this misery. Of course not. The real point, however, is not the question whether crofters should be placed in other parts of Scotland, but of giving security of tenure. The truth is that people seem to be alarmed at the idea of crofterising Scotland. We do not desire to crofterise Scotland, nor to compel the people to purchase their land—because they have not the money to do this—but to give reasonable tenure and fixity of tenure with some method of ascertaining fair rents in a method which would be conformable to the customs and habits of the people. We should not try to import county councils where no one wants them and where they would not really be of service.
As regards the proposals of the noble Earl, I am afraid they offer no prospect of success, for instead of accommodating your legislation to the wishes of the Scottish people, the noble Earl wishes to accommodate it to the English precedent. I do not know whether the noble Earl remembers it, but in the amusing "Letters of Malachi Malagrowther" Sir Walter Scott gives numerous reasons why the laws of Scotland should not be always assimilated to the laws of England. Why should they be the same? With all respect I ask whether it is not pedantry if a system has nothing wrong in it to refuse to give it to Scotland because the same scheme does not exist in England? I think I have fairly put the points of difference between us. Is it not rather, I will not say a scandal, but a reproach that, eighteen months after having refused even to discuss the proposals of the Government, noble Lords are now discussing the same subject under different proposals and without having been able to come to any accommodation, because one of the great points of difference still remains unsettled? Your Lordships say you will have it either by means of purchase or by means of the county council; but you will not allow it to be settled in the way in which the Scottish people think most useful. There is no principle in it. It is, if I may say so, nothing but obduracy which prevents this business from being, as it ought to be, settled.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, perhaps I may be allowed to say a few words in reply. I have been very 187 much struck by the speech which has just been delivered, because it is so entirely different in its tone from the speech which the noble and learned Lord delivered last year. He was then endeavouring to induce your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Bill of the Government, and he tried to persuade us by every means in his power—and he has, as we know, great powers of fascination and of cajoling the House—that these two Bills were very much the same. He said that fixity of tenure is very little more than what we had proposed, that the fixation of fair rents was to be found in both Bills, and so on. He said that, after all, there is not very much difference between a county council possessing purchasing powers, and so on, which are put in force by the Board of Agriculture, and a Court which has to fix fair rents. It is just there that the whole difference lies. The noble and learned Lord even went so far as to assure us that this Court, which was to be entirely independent of law, to be above all law and not responsible in any way to Parliament, and which was to have the most absolute powers of doing whatever it chose —that this really was no very great advance. It is just there that we meet him. We say, What is the reason for setting up an independent land Court? After all, if the noble and learned Lord is right, and if there is really not very much difference between the land Court and the procedure proposed in this Bill, pray why is the noble and learned Lord so obdurate, if I may use his own phrase, as to refuse to accept the terms in this Bill?
The noble and learned Lord said that I had made great advances. The noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland said the same thing. Certainly. We have made all the advances that we possibly can in the direction of the proposals of His Majesty's Government. If this Bill became law Scottish county councils would, for the first time, have the power of hiring land by compulsion, and I am sure that the members of the county councils would do their best to carry out the provisions of the Bill. Turning to what was said by the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, I must admit to being a little perplexed by his criticism; and a person who, I think, must be more perplexed than I am is the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture, who is sitting at this moment so peacefully at his side. I am 188 surprised that the noble Earl did not at once rise to defend his bantling the English Act. Did the noble Earl hear his colleague say that England requires allotments, not small holdings; that Scotland requires small holdings, not allotments? Does the noble Earl agree with that? And did he hear his colleague say that the whole system of compensation in his Act is wrong, that the systems of cropping are most unsatisfactory, and that they will not do for Scotland?
Then the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland made an assertion which has just been contradicted from the Woolsack. He said that there was nothing about fair rents in this Bill. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack knows better. He knows that there is fixation of fair rents in the Bill, and if the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland would only read the Bill he would see that it is so. Then there was another still more surprising assertion which the noble Lord made, and which I do not think is altogether complimentary to Scotland. He said that in Scotland you cannot set up a small holding without providing for its adaptation out of the taxes. Does the noble Lord really mean that? It seemed to me quite inconsistent with another remark he made —namely, that there were a great many farm labourers who had saved money and were ready to take up small holdings but only wanted the land. Why could not they put a portion of their savings into the equipment of the small holdings?
The noble Lord naturally got on to his Bill, and he said that in his Bill provision had been made in this direction. Does the noble Lord remember how much that provision amounted to? He provided a total of £65,000 to be spread over the whole area of Scotland. That sum was all that there was to provide buildings and equipment. The noble Lord, although he offered the equipment as a gift, did not go so far as to include the buildings. I would ask your Lordships, supposing this desire for small holdings to be as general as the noble Lord says, and supposing also that his Bill worked with the celerity which he imagines it would—I think, however, it would be found very different when put into practice—and that a large number of small holdings were created and a large sum of money required for buildings and 189 equipments, how far would £65,000 go? Not very far. I think he would have found that there would have been a general complaint at once all over the country from small holders who had been led to believe that the noble Lord was going to equip their holdings.
The noble Lord said that this Bill of mine creates two different systems. Yes, it does. But there are two different sets of people—one the crofters and the other the small holders. The greater part of, the noble Lord's crofters are people whose crofts do not amount to £5 a year, and even then, as he knows, they do not pay their rent. But the small holder is a different person altogether, and should be dealt with by a different procedure. The crofter is a person whose rent may rise as high as £30; a small holder's rent may rise as high as £50. Therefore it seems to me that, so far from its being any disadvantage to a crofter, it is a great advantage to him that there should be two systems, because if he has enough money to start a small holding he can then apply to the county council for one and get it. The noble Lord said that my plan would prove most costly. I wish lie had gone on to tell us where all this cost was going to arise which would not necessarily arise under any other proposal. He also said the Bill was unworkable. Well, assertions are not arguments, and I must say I did not hear in the course of the noble Lord's speech anything to establish either of those last two propositions. I shall certainly ask your Lordships to read the Bill a second time. It represents what in my opinion, and, I believe, in the opinion of many noble Lords on this side of the House, is a good and workable system of small holdings for Scotland. At all events, I hope that the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland, whichever way he votes upon it, will not say again, as he did the other day, that this House had stopped all proposals for the creation of small holdings in Scotland.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.