HL Deb 01 August 1911 vol 9 cc765-75

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Earl Carrington.)


My Lords, on the motion for the Third Reading of this Bill I have given notice to move its rejection, and I do not think that any of your Lordships who have been present on the previous occasions when this Bill has been discussed can be in any way surprised that such an Amendment should be moved. I am not in the least opposing the principle of the noble Earl's Small Holdings Act. I say that because on several occasions when remarks have been made with regard to the administration of that Act or any part of it, the noble Earl has always regarded the remarks as if they were directed at the Act itself.

My reason for moving that this Bill be read a third time this day six months is this. I am sure it will be agreed that if any exemption is proposed to be given in a Bill regarding small holdings or any other matter of that kind to any class or set of people, it ought not to be given without grave consideration, and that when that exemption has been given and is in the Act it ought not to be taken away without some really good reason. This Bill has gone through as many changes and vicissitudes as any Bill that I ever remember, and, if your Lordships give it a Third Reading, the noble Earl is going further to alter it and for the fourth time to introduce material Amendments.

May I, in a few words, state what has occurred with regard to this Bill? First of all let me read the subsection which this Bill as introduced was intended to repeal. It is subsection (3) of Clause 41 of the Small Holdings Act of 1908, and it runs— No holding of fifty acres or less in extent or any part of such holding shall be authorised by an order under this Act to be acquired compulsorily for the purpose of small holdings or allotments. This Bill as originally introduced into your Lordships' House was entitled a Bill "to repeal subsection (3) of Section 41." When the noble Earl moved the Second Reading of the Bill he was asked what reasons he had for taking away from the holders of fifty acres or less a protection which he himself had given to them in the Act of 1908. His reply was that a coach and four were being driven through the Act, and he gave us a case where an old lady in Buckinghamshire had divided a farm among, I think he said, five of her relatives, or at all events among five tenants, and had in this way endeavoured to contravene the principle of the Act.

Naturally, this Bill excited a great deal of uncomfortable feeling in the country. People who had felt perfectly safe under this exemption in subsection (3) were alarmed that it should be proposed to take away this protection from them without any good reason. The noble Earl was challenged, and was asked to produce at the next stage the cases on which he founded his allegations of evasion. When the next stage of the Bill was reached the noble Earl admitted that he had no more cases to give us, and his explanation was that his Department were naturally the last people to hear of any violations of the Act. It apparently did not occur to him that it was his Department and he himself who were proposing to legislate on this question. The noble Earl admitted that he could not produce any case except that of the old lady in Buckinghamshire.

But that was not all. The noble Earl then altered the title of his Bill. The title of Bill No. 1 was to "repeal" this subsection, but Bill No. 2 was altered in Committee to a Bill to "amend Section 41 of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908." This was the second edition of the Bill; but in this the noble Earl provided protection only for the tenant of fifty acres. Under the Act, of course, the protection extended both to the owner and to the tenant of fifty acres. The noble Earl's proposal having been originally to limit the protection which was to be given, he accepted from Lord Clinton an Amendment which runs in this way— The powers conferred on a council by an order for the compulsory acquisition of land under this Act shall not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the order and cultivated by him if the total area, including such laud cultivated by him, does not exceed fifty acres in one holding— That is, of course, exactly the same provision as is in subsection (3) which the noble Earl was proposing to repeal— or sixty acres in two or more holdings; nor where they exceed those areas if the annual value for purposes of income Tax does not exceed £50 or £60 respectively. Therefore so far from diminishing this security, if there is any alteration at all it is certainly in the way of increasing it.

As I say, it has now become a Bill to amend. It was considered and further amended on Report, and then the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury, called attention to the fact that the owner was not included, and accordingly an Amendment was accepted including the owner as well as the occupier. That is the stage which the Bill has now reached, but if your Lordships give it a Third Reading, the noble Earl has, as I have said, an Amendment on the Paper which is going to further alter the Bill and will, as far as I can see, leave the law as nearly as possible in the same state in which it is now without this Bill. Surely in these circumstances your Lordships cannot give the Bill a Third Reading. The Bill seems to be absolutely purposeless arid useless. The noble Earl introduced it because he wanted to repeal this subsection. If he succeeds in obtaining what he desires from your Lordships to-day he will not have repealed this subsection at all. He has, indeed, boasted that the Bill would leave the tenant of fifty acres or less in exactly the same position as he is in now. I do not think I need say anything more. I cannot believe any one in this House wishes to pass legislation which, if it is anything at all, is so much waste paper.

Amendment moved— To leave out ("now") and insert at the end of the Motion ("this day six months").—(The Earl of Camperdown.)


My Lords, I would ask the noble Earl who has moved this Amendment to think again before he presses it upon the House. I do so because there is a serious reason why some Bill of this kind should be passed, and I believe before being placed on the Statute Book the Bill would be made as efficient as the noble Earl would like it to lie. I admit that the criticism of the noble Earl opposite is fair criticism of the procedure connected with this Bill. I do not think the procedure is altogether what my noble friend Lord Carrington or any of us would have wished. But at the back of this Bill there is an urgent necessity for legislation.

If your Lordships will allow me I will put before you an illustration of how at the present time the Act is rendered nugatory, and I think the instance that I shall give will show that there is a crying. necessity for some measure to amend this particular subsection in the original Act. I have myself been connected with allotments and small holdings for a great number of years, especially in the county of Worcester, where there are a large number of these holdings and where they have proved very useful to the inhabitants. The local authority desired, as early as 1909, to acquire a small plot of land of about 12 acres in extent from a. comparatively large farm for the purpose of allotments. They tried for six months to negotiate for that piece of land. They commenced in April, 1909, and at the end of that year they bad not been able to acquire the plot. The local authority rapidly exhausted all the means of obtaining the land without compulsory powers, and finally they passed a resolution to endeavour to acquire it compulsorily, feeling that the needs of their constituents required that this land should be procured. But in this they were thwarted. They issued their compulsory order on September 14, 1910, but on September 12—two days before—the farm was divided up between the man who originally cultivated it and his three sons, all of whom were made tenants of portions under fifty acres. It looked suspicious; there was no doubt about the method in which it was done. There was a public inquiry held into the question, and the solicitor for the owner came before the Inspector of the Board of Agriculture and said distinctly that this division was clone in order to frustrate the acquisition of that particular piece of land for the purposes of allotments. That is what my noble friend below me described as driving a coach-and-four through the Act.


How will matters be altered by this Bill?


This was an endeavour to take from a large farm by compulsory methods, after all other methods had failed, twelve acres for the purposes of allotments. This was frustrated by the division of the farm into holdings of under fifty acres.


And so it will remain under this Bill.


This Bill, as my noble friend proposes to amend it and as it will be amended in another place if your Lordships allow it to go to there, will be made efficacious for the purpose of preventing such frustration of the Act. The moment it is publicly announced that an Act can be frustrated in this way the provision in the Act is rendered inoperative. I would beg your Lordships not to reject the Bill on Third Reading, because I feel confident that if it passes through this House Amendments will be introduced in another place which will make it efficacious. We do not want an Act capable of doing untold good among the poorer members of the agricultural population frustrated, as this Act has been, by these devices. In the particular district of which I am speaking—Bromsgrove—there has been great annoyance in consequence of the difficulty of obtaining this land. I hope that after the statement I have made showing the necessity for some such legislation as this the noble Earl will not press his Amendment.


There has been more evasion of this provision than the noble Earl seems to imagine, and it is to me an amazing thing that a great Scottish noble should take the trouble to come down to your Lordships' House to throw out a Bill and thereby perpetuate what has been most clearly shown to be an undoubted hardship. It has been persistently represented inside and outside of this House that my intention was to change the class of existing small holdings——


I have never said a single word of that sort.


No; but the noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, used these words—that my intention was "to change the class of existing small holdings." Those are his exact words as reported in Hansard. It is said that I wish to reduce the size of the holdings and deprive small holders of the security they at present enjoy. Nothing was further from my intention, and I thought I fully explained the object I had in view. I will read to your Lordships what I stated in moving the Second Reading of the Bill on May 11 last. I said— I have seen it stated in the Press that there is some sinister design at the back of this Bill and that it ought to be resisted. It is stated that there is a sinister design to cut up farms and to injure existing small holders. I can assure the House that nothing is further from the thoughts of the Government than to do any such thing. I am quoting from the Official Report. I went on to say— The sole and only reason for proposing the repeal of this subsection is that it has had in its working results which were neither contemplated nor desired. The noble Earl cannot stand up and say that these results were contemplated, and still less can lie say that they were desired.


But I will stand up and say that the noble Earl could not give us any cases of evasion when asked to do so after due notice.


My explanation was misunderstood, or else it has been entirely forgotten. To make my position absolutely clear I had the subsection redrafted so as to give the genuine small holder that full security on which the noble Earl and the House rightly insist. There are two grave difficulties with which it is my duty to grapple. First there is the question of by-takes. If the noble Earl carries this Amendment he will perpetuate by-takes. As the law stands at present a tenant farmer farming 1,000 acres may hire a field of under fifty acres, and no matter how important that field may be to the villagers or to the people in that neighbourhood, it is a small holding in the eyes of the law because the additional land is taken from another landlord. Does the noble Earl wish to perpetuate such a thing as that? In Norfolk alone there have been at least four cases of that kind. Shall I be told that it is unreasonable to ask your Lordships' gracious permission to be allowed to remove this anomaly? The second difficulty has been well described by my noble friend Lord Ilkeston, than whom no man in England knows more about small holdings, for it was in 1883 I think that my noble friend and Mr. Jesse Collings started the small holding movement in Birmingham. The second difficulty is that the Act as it stands offers a ready and simple means of evasion. Unless this Bill is allowed to pass, all that a man has to do to retain a large farm in its entirety is to let it out in parcels of fifty acres nominally to various members of his family, and, as my noble friend Lord Ilkeston said, the county council cannot touch it.

Your Lordships have challenged me to produce cases in addition to the case in Buckinghamshire. Four cases of farms being subdivided in order to evade the Small Holdings Act have come to my knowledge. Two cases have come to my knowledge within the last three days, and there is the case which has been quoted to-night by my noble friend behind me, which makes three, and the day before yesterday the clerk to the Northumberland County Council sent in another case, which makes four in a week. That these cases exist there is no earthly doubt, and, as Lord Ilkeston so well said, you have only got to advertise them, as the noble Earl has been doing, to lead to cases all over the country of a coach-and-four being driven through this provision of the Act. I feel very strongly about this. Your Lordships would never allow one of your agents in any circumstances to do such a thing as is being done to evade this Act, and appeal with confidence to the noble Earl to let the Bill go through, and not to perpetuate what is undoubtedly a hardship.


I think the noble Earl is rather under a misapprehension as to the reasons which induced my noble friend Lord Camperdown to interest himself in this measure. The noble Earl seems to think that Lord Camperdown's action is a purely vexatious one, but that is not at all the case. Let the House remember that this Bill when it was laid upon the Table was directed only to one object—namely, the repeal of the third subsection of Section 41 of the Small Holdings Act, 1908. That subsection is the charter of the small holder. It is the subsection which says to a man who occupies a small holding that because he is a small holder he shall not be liable to find himself dispossessed of a part of his holding in order that it may be given to someone else. When we saw the noble Earl laying sacrilegious hands on that provision we were bound to enter a protest, and that was the explanation of my noble friend's intervention. The noble Earl opposite told us that nothing was further from the thoughts of His Majesty's Government than to produce any result of this kind. I have no doubt the noble Earl is perfectly sincere, but we were dealing, not with the intention of His Majesty's Government, but with the effect of their Bill, and their Bill beyond all question would have had the effect I have ventured to ascribe to it.

The noble Earl will remember that when he was challenged as to the necessity of this legislation and asked to produce the cases of evasion on which he said he grounded his proposal he was able only to produce a single case, and that seemed to some of us rather a slender foundation for so grave an alteration of the law. The noble Earl has brought up his reserve forces this afternoon. The noble Lord who sits behind him has produced a second case. We had heard nothing of it before, and some of us thought it did not appear to be in all respects appropriate to the argument; but I will assume there is a second case. Then the noble Earl stated that he was himself able to contribute another two cases, so that we have a total of four cases. But what the noble Earl forgets for the moment is that this Bill has been altered on every occasion on which it has come before us. I think the Amendments which the noble Earl is going to move to-day after the Third Reading constitute the fourth transformation which this Bill has undergone, and he really must not be surprised if the House is a little bit puzzled and I may say a little bit suspicious also.

I wish the noble Earl would tell us in the simplest possible language what really is the alteration which this Bill makes in the existing law, as I cannot help thinking that the Bill as we now have it preserves subsection (3) of Section 41, at any rate in its essentials, with a comparatively slight addition. If that is the case, if small holders are not going to be deprived by this Bill of any of the protection which they now enjoy under the existing law, and if the only alteration is that if one of them holds a second holding the two holdings together are not to exceed a total area of sixty acres—if that is really all that the Bill does, I cannot see that it does any great harm, and I for one would venture to counsel my noble friend beside me not to press his opposition. At any rate if the noble Earl, with his Department at his back, is really able to tell us that there is a hard case which ought to be dealt with and that that hard case can be dealt with without practically impairing the security which these small holders now enjoy under the existing law, I for one would be prepared to accept his assurance and not oppose the further progress of the Bill.


The noble Marquess has spoken in a reasonable and fair way about the clause, and I do not think some of the observations of the noble Earl opposite were otherwise than justified. This is a difficult and complicated matter, but I think the justification of the clause is found when you read subsection (3) of Section 41 of the original Act. One has only to look at it to see that that was one of those provisions put in by the draftsman amid a group of clauses and not sufficiently thought out. The subsection is too abstract in its form. It simply took the fifty acre limit and said that nobody who had under fifty acres was to be displaced. That was not enough, and there have been cases of evasion. The Bill preserves the whole of the bona fide rights of the fifty acre holder. It also embraces the holder of sixty acres, and protects him if the sixty acres are in two small holdings and do not exceed a certain figure in value. The Bill simply seeks to carry out what was the original policy of the Act of 1908, and I submit that it is within the spirit of what was intended by subsection (3) and will make the matter clear.


We have now found out that the person who is really at fault over subsection (3) is the draftsman. The noble and learned Viscount has said that the draftsman somehow or other failed to express correctly the intention of the noble Earl. All one can say is that the noble Earl never said that for himself. It is a defence which certainly is original. As to how far it is correct that might be a matter for further discussion. However, I have not heard yet a really clear statement of what the difference will be if this subsection disappears and the noble Earl's subsection is substituted. The noble Earl says that if the House accepts the Amendments which he will move after the Third Reading it will not be such a bad Bill; but as the Bill stands now I cannot see that it makes any difference worth speaking of in the existing law, nor do I see that even if the noble Earl's Amendments are accepted the existing law will be altered in any material way. It is highly inexpedient to alter existing laws unless you are making some really material, intelligible, and good alteration. I shall, however, accept the suggestion of the noble Marquess and not press my Amendment for the rejection of the Bill. I think it is a matter of very little consequence. All that will happen will be that your Lordships will have distinguished yourselves by putting on the Statute Book by way of a great reform a Bill which, so far as I can make out, does not alter the existing law.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


My Lords, before the question is put I should like to say a few words on this Bill. I took great interest in the Small Holdings Act and have been vainly endeavouring to ascertain how this Bill, as proposed to be amended by the noble Earl, will meet the difficulty with which he seeks to deal. I am in entire sympathy with him with regard to that difficulty. I do not want to see county councils prevented, by fictitious sub-divisions of large farms, from taking land for small holdings and allotments, but what I fail to see is how that will be prevented by the Bill even as the noble Earl proposes to amend it after the Third Reading. I think that Lord Ilkeston, who has had considerable experience in this matter, did see sonic defect in the words as they stand in the Bill. If your Lordships pass this Bill, as I suppose you will, I hope it will be under protest, so that it may be further considered in another place and put into a shape in which it will work.


There are at the present moment two classes of hard cases which will be dealt with by this Bill without any danger whatever to the security of the tenant or the owner of fifty acres and under or of sixty acres if held in two holdings. I should have been perfectly content to leave it at fifty acres, but Lord Clinton put the case of a man who may have added to his holding land which brought it to over fifty acres. We therefore thought that there should be a little latitude, and because I accepted the Amendment I have been reproached by noble Lords on the other side. There is no possible danger in this Bill to the security of the tenant, and if your Lordships allow me to have this Bill the two classes of hard cases, which I am sure nobody on the other side of the House would permit. on his own estates, will be satisfactorily dealt with.

On Question, the original Motion agreed to: Bill read 3a accordingly.

EARL CARRINGTON moved to amend Clause 1, so that it would read— 1. Subsection (3) of section forty-one of the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 1908 (which prohibits the compulsory acquisition for the purposes of small holdings or allotments of holdings of fifty acres or less in extent), is hereby repealed, and in lieu thereof the following subsection shall be substituted:— (3) The powers conferred on a council by an order for the compulsory acquisition of land under this Act shall not authorise the council to acquire or extinguish the interest of any person in land comprised in the order and cultivated by him or his tenant, if the total area which is cultivated by the occupier of the land comprised in the order, including such land, does not exceed fifty acres in one holding, or sixty acres in two or more holdings; nor where the total area exceeds those areas if the annual value for purposes of income tax does not exceed fifty pounds or sixty pounds respectively.

Amendments moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 13, after ("order") insert ("and cultivated by him or his tenant") and after ("area") insert ("which is cultivated by the occupier of the land comprised in the Order.") Clause 1, page 1, line 15, leave out ("they exceed") and insert ("the total area exceeds").—(Earl Carrington.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.