THE EARL OF ONSLOW
My Lords, I rise to ask His Majesty's Government whether it has been finally decided that Mr. Clark, whose farm at Welwick was taken for small holdings, is not to receive compensation for disturbance out of the Small Holdings Fund; and whether they intend to bring in a Bill to prevent similar cases of hardship in the future.
I must apologise to your Lordships for bringing this question before the House again, but unfortunately it is one that has not yet been settled. I may, perhaps, very briefly remind your Lordships of what happened, for I think it is rather a typical and not an isolated case. This farm was Crown property, and the whole of it was taken away from the tenant, who, it is true, held other land, but the question is whether he was entitled to receive any compensation for disturbance. My noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture expressed great sympathy, as he always does with any person who suffers hardship, and he hoped that it would be possible to give some compensation to Mr. Clark for being dispossessed of his holding. I suppose that after careful examination on the part of the Law Officers of the Crown and other Government Departments it was found that there was no power to give any compensation to this dispossessed tenant, and as far as I know he has not received, from Government sources at any rate, any compensation.
I received only a day or two ago a cutting from the Yorkshire Herald in which the following passage occurs—We are informed that the President of the Board of Agriculture gave Mr. Clark £50 out of 657 his own pocket, with an expression in something like these terms: 'For God's sake don't let us hear any more about this Welwick business!'That may or may not be correct, but from what I know of the noble Earl I strongly suspect that it is absolutely true. It is just the sort of kind, good-natured thing the noble Earl would do; but in the words of the French officer at the charge of Balaklava—C'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas la guerre. What we desire is that when persons are dispossessed of their holdings in this way they shall be entitled to receive compensation out of Government funds, and not be dependent on the generosity of the holder for the time being of the office of President of the Board of Agriculture.
I understand that the Prime Minister has given an undertaking that a measure to make some provision to meet these cases will be introduced, provided he can be satisfied that it will be treated as non-controversial. An association with which I am connected, the Central Land Association, passed a resolution yesterday, which has been forwarded to the Prime Minister, assuring him that so far as they are concerned—and there are 104 Members of the other House of Parliament connected with the association, of whom eight Unionist and nine Liberal Members are upon the Committee—they will make every effort to secure that if the measure is introduced it shall be treated as non-controversial. In those circumstances I very much hope that we may learn from the President of the Board of Agriculture that that which has been up to now looked upon as a great hardship will be removed, and that the compensation will be a charge on the Small Holdings Fund and thus not result in increasing the charge to the small holder.
§ THE EARL OF CARLISLE
My Lords, before my noble friend answers the Question I should like to put a supplementary Question about a case which has not yet arisen, as the compulsory sale has not yet taken place. In this case the County Council of Northumberland propose to purchase compulsorily a farm near Morpeth. The present tenant took the farm from me a year ago in order to provide for his deceased brother's children, his brother having long been tenant of the farm. Supposing his nephews, for whom he took the farm, had been put in as joint tenants, they would each have a very small holding, 658 but as it is he is the tenant, and very strongly objects to give up the farm. I wish to know- whether, in case compulsory powers are taken, this man will have compensation. In the county council itself a member protested against this act, as he thought that to turn orphan children away from the land on which they expected to make their livelihood would be a hardship and an injustice. I myself should be very sorry to see this done, not so much because I care for keeping the farm in my possession, but because it seems to me that it is likely to do great discredit to the working of this Act, certainly unless the tenant can get compensation. I shall be very glad to know what is likely to happen in that case.
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (EARL CARRINGTON)
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, has put to me two Questions. He first asks whether it has been finally decided that Mr. Clark, whose farm at Welwick was taken for small holdings, is not to receive compensation for disturbance out of the Small Holdings Fund. The answer is in the affirmative. It has been finally decided that this gentleman is not to receive any compensation out of this Fund. The noble Earl went on to ask, as I understood, whether it might not be referred to the Law Officers of the Crown to know whether such a thing was possible. I think the noble Earl must remember that in the Small Holdings Act, which your Lordships were graciously pleased to allow the Government to pass through this House, there was no provision of that sort at all.
I need not go into the whole story again, but in the Land Tenure Act, which was also permitted to pass this House, there was no provision for compensation to be paid by individual landlords, and therefore it was considered that it would not be quite fair to take out of the public purse money for compensation in cases in which it would not be given by private owners. But a good deal of water has flown under the bridges since then, and small holdings are now, I think, an acknowledged fact, and are supposed to be to some extent a success. In two years we have got 75,000 acres of land in England, and we have only had to take 11,000 acres by compulsion. I think that is very satisfactory, and it shows that not only noble Lords opposite but landlords all over England do recognise 659 what a great boon small holdings are to the working population, and that they have most generously and handsomely done their duty as far as lay in their power.
As regards Mr. Clark's case, it has, as I have said, been finally decided that it is impossible to compensate him out of the Small Holdings Fund. This was one of those extreme cases which always happen in the carrying out of any fresh legislation, and it was a case in which I honestly thought that compensation might very fairly be paid. I therefore asked the Treasury if it could be given, but there were reasons—I acknowledge that they were very strong and good reasons—why such a departure could not be made. I therefore wrote to Mr. Clark telling him the facts, and regretting that nothing could be done. I would not mention this had it not been for the speech of the noble Earl. I went down to Hull in December of last year and had a farmers' "At Home," which was very numerously attended. Between 100 and 150 Holderness farmers were kind enough to smoke a cigar with me after the farmers' ordinary, and I need not say that the case of Mr. Clark, of Welwick, was the chief topic of conversation. I do not know whether the noble Earl knows Mr. Clark.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
He is one of the best representatives of the Holderness farmers. I do not think I can put it higher than that. He is a capital fellow in every way, a man much respected in the countryside and easy to deal with. We had a conversation which lasted nearly three hours, and at last we came to an agreement. I said to him, "There is going to be an election next year, and nobody knows how the election may turn out. I should be very sorry that any body should be left on the Crown Estate with a nasty taste in his mouth so far as I am concerned. I honestly think you are entitled to compensation, and I have tried to get it from the Treasury. But as I cannot get you £100 out of the Treasury, and as I suppose I am morally responsible for your displacement from the farm, I shall be very happy as a Crown Commissioner to make you a present of £50 myself, and I hope it will be accepted in the same spirit in which it is offered." The Holderness farmers are a very gentlemanly lot of men. They said: "Oh, no; we will not stand that. 660 Will you get him another farm when another farm comes in, and give it to him for his son?" I may say that the farm we had to take for small holdings was in time to come to be farmed by his son. I replied that that was all settled; that I had promised him the first chance of occupying another farm, and that I hoped my successor in days to come would bear the matter in mind. Later I received a very pleasant letter from Mr. Clark. He accepted my offer in the same spirit in which it was made, and so the matter is happily concluded so far as Mr. Clark is concerned.
I always was of opinion that something ought to be done in regard to the compulsory taking of land from tenant farmers who were on private estates, and as we have to be very particular in these days, especially about commas, perhaps I may be permitted to read—it will not take a moment—what I said in the House of Lords on May 17 of last year [†] in answer to a Question put by Lord Onslow. I then said—Perhaps I may be permitted to say that whatever are the equities of the case as between a private landlord and a tenant, there is great force in the argument that a tenant has special ground for compensation where land is acquired for small holdings by county councils under the Act. In furtherance of a great national policy, which we hope will keep the people on the land, machinery has been set up which must inevitably bring prematurely to an end tenancies which must otherwise have existed for years to the satisfaction of owner and occupier. It is said—and I will admit the truth of it—that we have introduced a new and disturbing element into rural life. I repeat that I believe that is perfectly true; but, at the same time, I am convinced that what we have done will stir up the sluggish waters of rural life and convert them into living streams. This, of course, may entail changes and movements which may put farmers to some inconvenience and expense. It follows, therefore, that this class are the strongest critics of the Small Holdings Act. They are reluctant to see it put into force, not only on their own farms, but on the farms of their neighbours; and, naturally, they enlist the sympathy of the landlords, some of whom are unwilling to bring tenancies to an end for the sake of what they probably consider to be a problematic advantage to themselves and others.That is what I thought all along, and to that opinion I still adhere. As regards the noble Earl's second Question—namely, whether His Majesty's Government intend to bring in a Bill to prevent similar cases of hardship in the future—the answer is Yes.
§ [†] 1 H.L. Deb.5 s. Cols.943–4661
§ EARL CARRINGTON
We intend to bring in legislation on this subject as early as possible, and I rejoice in the knowledge that it is to be treated as non-controversial on both sides of the House. I am given to understand that that is the case. I hope it is true, and I trust that this will pacify to some extent the opposition felt to the Act by some tenant farmers. No doubt it is a disagreeable thing to have a portion of one's farm taken away. Still, we have been told that we must make sacrifices for the public good, and I hope, with this concession, that we shall not have any serious opposition to the principle of small holdings, which I believe is a policy appreciated and approved of by both sides of the House and by all classes of His Majesty's subjects.
§ LORD STANMORE
Is the noble Earl going to return no answer to Lord Carlisle?
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I cannot carry every case in my mind. If the noble Earl will give me particulars of the case to which he refers—
§ EARL CARRINGTON
If we get this Bill through I hope that proper compensation will be paid to any tenant of my noble friend whose land is taken for small holdings.
§ THE EARL OF CARLISLE
May I ask the noble Earl if he will go down and have a conversation?
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Can the noble Earl tell us when the Bill is to be introduced?
§ EARL CARRINGTON
Good heavens! I cannot.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
I hope it will be introduced in your Lordships' House. In spite of these touching accounts of convivial meetings held on the eve of a General Election, this is felt to be a very grave injustice. I know that objection is taken to the word "injustice" in connection with this matter, but it is nothing short of a very serious injustice, 662 and it is a very doubtful policy with regard to agriculture. We are told this evening that 11,000 acres have already been acquired compulsorily. It seems to me that the stirring up of the sluggish waters of rural life and converting them into living streams by means of compulsion has been going on at an alarming rate, because last December we were told that 8,000 acres had been acquired compulsorily for this purpose. The agricultural community of this country have found it very difficult indeed to understand the attitude of the Government towards the sitting tenant. First of all, soon after they came into office they adopted a Bill which certainly would have had the result of sitting tenant against landlord and landlord against tenant to a very undesirable degree. That Bill left Parliament in a very different shape from that in which it entered it. But the point I wish to make about that is that the one reason we were always begged to accept that Bill was that it would do good to agriculture because it would remove from the tenant the chance, which we say was an entirely illusory one, of being capriciously evicted by his landlord. Everybody knew that the number of cases of capricious eviction of ten ant farmers was hardly worth mentioning, and certainly not sufficient to justify a Bill of a highly controversial character. The next thing we are told is that in order to for ward the Small Holdings Act carte blanche is to be given to take as much land as you like, and that the men dispossessed are not to have recourse to the ordinary remedy which other subjects of His Majesty have when their property is taken away from them by force. Therefore I thank the noble Earl very much for his promise to bring forward a Bill, and I hope we shall have some assurance from His Majesty's Government this afternoon that as we are still able, I believe, to take part in the legislative business of the country, we may have an opportunity of dealing with this subject before our existence is put an end to.
§ THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (THE EARL OF CREWE)
My Lords, I rise merely to reply to the question with regard to the introduction of the proposed Bill. I think it will be generally recognised that this Bill, which is a Bill for the payment of compensation, is of a character which is invariably introduced in another place.
§ EARL CAWDOR
My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will have appreciated very highly the noble Earl Lord Carrington's clever manner of getting over difficulties in exceptional cases with reference to this Act, but I think it would become a tedious operation if it had to be carried on for long and in connection with many cases.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
§ EARL CAWDOR
The consumption of tobacco at these gatherings and the wearisomeness of three-hour conversations with tenants who had complained would be a serious task to put on any noble Lord who might hereafter hold the post which the noble Earl now occupies. Therefore I think we are all glad to hear that there is a prospect of this matter being dealt with in a satisfactory manner by legislation. The noble Earl said a good deal about the great boon it was to those who had obtained small holdings, but we should guard very carefully against injury being caused to any individual in giving a boon to somebody else. If it is thought necessary to take away a man's land or interfere with his farm, the burden and cost of it should certainly not be placed on the individual, but on some proper fund sanctioned by law. As far as I am concerned, and I think I may speak for those who sit with me on this side of the House, we shall give every consideration to such a Bill as this, and I hope the Government will bring the measure forward at an early date.