§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
My Lords, yesterday my noble friend Lord Dunmore produced to your Lordships a Bill dealing with the same object, with the same great problem, as that with which the Bill standing in my name to-day seeks to deal. In a speech of great lucidity and clearness he dealt with alternative proposals, and I am sure your Lordships will join with me in offering him our congratulations upon dealing with a very difficult problem in the manner in which he did. Within the last twenty-four hours my attention has been called to certain comments which make it appear that there is a hostile rivalry between his Bill and the one I am introducing to your Lordships to-day. I should like to say at once that there is no hostile rivalry whatever between us, and I am sure the noble Earl would be the first to repudiate any suggestion that our schemes are in any sense hostile to one another.
The two Bills are, however, rivals in a perfectly friendly sense, in the sense that one alternative must always be to another, and for my own part I infinitely prefer my own Bill because I believe it is the simplest and most direct way of dealing with this difficult problem. A further criticism has been made to the effect that the. Unionist Party is divided and split up with regard to this land policy. I saw that stated in a Radical journal this morning. With that I should like to say that I entirely and absolutely disagree. The Unionist Party is not split up upon the line of policy to be taken with regard to this question, and the two schemes which have been introduced 117 into your Lordships' House in the last two days are merely different aspects of the same question. I would sum it up in the old Latin motto, Gradu diverso, via una. We are taking the same road but by a different step. The object my noble friend and I had in introducing these Bills together was to afford your Lordships an opportunity of considering the two measures side by side and considering them in further detail by their reference to a Select Committee.
With all respect to the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture, I venture to say that the Act for which he was responsible has entirely broken down. It has broken down because it was founded upon principles which will never go to satisfy the object of those who have the land question at heart. It has broken down because it is based on the principle of tenancy as opposed to the principle of ownership. When that Act was first brought into operation a long list of applicants was sent in from every quarter as suitable occupiers for small holdings, but I am afraid that many of those applicantswere found to possessed characteristics more akin to those possessed by the "Gentle shepherd of Dartmoor" than to making a man a good and useful cultivator of the soil. Whatever credit is due to the working of the Small Holdings Act must in large measure be attributed to the courtesy and tact with which the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture has managed this matter. I hold no brief for it, and I say it is an unworkable measure; but I hope the noble Earl will forgive me when I pay him the compliment of saying that whatever success it has attained has been due to his own tact and diplomatic administration. The noble Earl was good enough yesterday to say that the landlords had backed up the Government nobly. I am glad he said that, because in every case the landlords of England have done their best to make the Government's Act a workable measure.
There are the two schools of thought as between leasehold and ownership. I do not propose to emphasise the difference between those two schools. It is sufficient to say that the Unionist Party favour the ownership principle. With regard to the scheme of my noble friend Lord Dunmore, there is one criticism which I have to offer—a criticism which also applies to the 118 Small Holdings Act of the noble Earl opposite. It is that these schemes are too large, too big altogether for the local bodies to administer. The advantage of the Bill which I am asking your Lordships to read a second time to-day is that it is handed over to a Department already in existence, with advisers, with experts, with the machinery all there ready to cope with the measure. There is this further difficulty. The moment you hand over a great measure to local bodies, whether it be to the county council or to any other body, you at once have the extra financial risk placed on the ratepayers, and I take it your Lordships will agree with me when I say that the ratepayers of this country are already called upon to do too much.
I will endeavour to make as clear as possible the provisions of this Bill. I take no credit for it to myself. Whatever credit there is must rest with that distinguished veteran statesman, Mr. Jesse Collings, who for so many years, in and out of Parliament, on the platform and in that charming volume of his, "Land Reform," has been advocating the great principle which this Bill contains. We are told that; there is no desire for land. Only a moment ago I was talking to a noble friend of mine in this House who very much questioned whether there was any desire for land; and a cynic once remarked that land was very much like matrimony—those who were in it wanted to be out of it, and those who were out of it wanted to be in it. I do not accept the analogy of that cynic, but I certainly say that by providing land for the small holder you are giving opportunities to the most healthy young men of this country to settle and marry and live upon the land. You are taking a step towards re-establishing that most healthy class, which after all is the backbone of every nation—the agricultural and farming class.
This Bill is in two parts. The object of Part I is to restore and extend the system of cultivating ownership in England and Wales by providing facilities for the sale of land to occupying tenants, and the object of Part II is to restore and extend the system of peasant proprietary in this country. Under Part I it is hoped that money will be provided very much on the lines of Mr. Wyndham's Act for Ireland, which I think we must all admit has been an unqualified success. Clause 1 sets out 119 the conditions under which the application for sale of land to the tenant may be made. It provides that where a landlord and his tenant are agreed to purchase, they may either jointly or separately apply to the Board of Agriculture for the sale to the tenant of the holding. The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture will see that in this Bill the authority of the Board of Agriculture has been entirely and thoroughly safeguarded. With Clause 2 I need not trouble your Lordships. It has reference merely to the conditions of sale, and gives certain particulars about the different class of owners and is purely legal. Clause 3 deals with the title of the land—a clause which it is necessary to insert in every Bill for land purchase. Clause 4 is merely a descriptive clause specifying certain charges not deemed incumbrances. Clause 5 deals with the costs of sale, and provides for the settlement of certain fees with regard to sale. Clause 6 has reference purely to the distribution of the purchase money.
Clause 7 deals with advances to tenants for the purchase of their holdings. It provides that the Board may advance to any tenant for the purpose of purchasing his holding the whole or any less part of the price of such holding, and upon such advance being made the Board shall by order declare the holding to be charged, and the holding shall thereupon become charged, with the payment to the Board in respect of and in lieu of such advance. This clause simply regulates that after the advance has been made and the agreement drawn up the land becomes chargeable to the Board with the annuities specified elsewhere. Clause 8 limits the advance that may be made to any one purchaser. It provides that an advance shall not exceed£7,000 unless the Board, by reason of special circumstances, deem it expedient to make an advance not exceeding£9,000.
The repayment of these advances is regulated by Clause 9, which lays down that the purchasing tenant shall pay at the rate of 3¼ per cent. in all—2¾ per cent. to represent the interest on the loan, and½ per cent. to represent sinking fund. These are distinctly more advantageous terms than the terms in the Bill which was read a second time last night. Then there follows the ordinary section to protect the Board in case of non-payment of the annuities. I am well aware that 120 there are certain parts of this Bill which could be modified, but that does not discourage me because I believe there is hardly any important. Act of Parliament which has ever been placed on the Statute Book without some modification or some extension. Clause 11 is, I think, important. It is a prohibition of sub-division and subletting. When this Bill goes to Committee, if it does go to Committee, I hope your Lordships will insert some clause which shall safeguard the vendor from loss and also prevent any possible land speculator using this Bill for purposes other than agriculture. The danger in any Bill of this sort is, of course, that a land speculator may take advantage of it in order to acquire land cheaply, and therefore I hope some strengthening clause will be inserted which will prevent that danger.
I now come to Part II, which I consider almost the more important part of the Bill. Clause 13—the first clause in Part II—provides that the Board may, subject to the provisions of this Bill, purchase from any absolute or limited owner any land which they may deem suitable for the I purpose of providing small holdings. Under the Small Holdings Act passed by the noble Earl opposite the county councils and the Board of Agriculture together provide small holdings for certain applicants. What has happened is that many a hardship is inflicted upon a landlord—but that does not matter—and many a hardship is inflicted upon a tenant farmer. What has been going on all over the country? Landlords, in order to assist the noble Earl, as he so generously admitted last night, have very often been obliged to take the eye of the farm away in order to provide for these small holders, who generally apply for the best field in a farm. Under Part II of this Bill the Board of Agriculture will be able to do what has been done in Germany. In Germany there is a system whereby land, a whole farm, is purchased and handed out to small colonising farmers, who, as far as I am able to ascertain from people who have been there, are doing extremely well on the land.
The other provisions in Part II are very similar to those contained in Part I—that is to say, they are provisions protecting the Board and providing for the payment of interest, the arrangement of 121 the advances, and so on. Clause 21 gives the Board power to erect buildings or adapt existing buildings. I am not sure that I am altogether satisfied that that clause might not require amending when it gets to Committee. I think it is desirable that the Board should be protected to this extent, that they should not be called upon to spend too much money upon the holding after it has passed out of their hands. For that reason I would be perfectly willing—and I am sure my right hon, friend Mr. Jesse Collings would be willing—that the clause should be somewhat modified. Part III is financial. Without any prejudice to the privileges of your Lordships' House, I think it is undesirable that we should discuss those clauses to-day. I hope I have succeeded in a measure in making the provisions of this Bill clear to your Lordships.
The advantage which this Bill has over Lord Dunmore's Bill is this, that you have the advantage of direct dealing with the State. In the Bill which was introduced yesterday a National Land Bank with a State guarantee was to be the medium for providing this money. I do not like guarantees. I personally have never had to give a guarantee without having had to find most of the money afterwards, and if that happened in this case the last state of my noble friend's Bill would be exactly the same as the course which I am taking to-day—namely, the State would have to find the money. Lord Faber said yesterday that he thought Lord Dunmore was very sanguine if he imagined that he would easily raise£5,000,000. I entirely agree with Lord Faber. I do not think it is possible to raise£5,000,000 in a National Land Bank, because, in the first place, in order to make it possible for the would-be purchaser to pay a reasonable rate of interest it would be absolutely impossible for the Land Bank to make a profit; and I would like to ask whether you are likely to get£5,000,000in a land bank without some of the owners of that money desiring to make a profit. In one clause of his Bill the noble Earl talks of bonuses and profits and other things, and in reading that clause I was somewhat reminded of an account I read years ago as a boy of the South Sea Bubble. That is why I prefer direct State guarantee. I prefer State guarantee because the State can lend far more cheaply than a private individual, and, what is more, you do not 122 have the middleman, and it is the object of every transaction in these days to as far as possible get rid of the middleman. The difference between the State financing the scheme and a bank financing the scheme is the difference between the wholesale and the retail merchant.
No doubt your Lordships will have in your minds the Irish Loan, the enormous sums of money which were found and the loss which was suffered in providing that loan for land purposes. I do not think that is a very strong argument against this Bill, and I will tell you why in the first place I believe that the flotation of the Irish Loan was not as satisfactory as it might have been. It was a first attempt, and I do not doubt that in another attempt the Treasury could provide means for guarding themselves rather better. And in connection with this I might say that I am certain that no purchaser would find fault if he were asked to pay rather a higher rate of interest. Suppose the rate of interest was 3 per cent. instead of 2¾, and then allow another ½ per cent. for sinking fund; 3½ per cent. would not be at all too high for the advantage of acquiring ownership.
There is one other advantage which I think attaches to this Bill. I would like to see His Majesty's Government dealing in land, because that would more than ever convince us that His Majesty's Government had confidence in this particular kind of stock. I myself would feel my confidence in land greatly restored if I saw His Majesty's Government come forward to advance a loan on the security of land. There is another thing which, after all, is very important. Take these land banks. As Lord Faber pointed out, the sum is an enormous one to raise, and I venture to think that a very small proportion of those who invested their money in the land banks would be what might be termed philanthropic financiers. I am afraid that the establishment of a land bank and the purchasing of land through the medium of this land bank would eventually mean neither more nor less than the handing over of the farmers of this country and others into the hands of glorified moneylenders. That may be a real or imaginary danger, but that is the reason why I prefer this scheme to the alternative scheme introduced yesterday.
123 There is another objection, I think a real and substantial objection, to Lord Dunmore's Bill, and that is that county councils in this instance are called upon to administer an Act for the benefit of a private corporation. The land bank having been formed at once proceeds to apply to the county council and the Board to administer the Act. I have had some years' experience of county council work and still have the honour to be a member of a county council, but I do not see where the county council is going to get time to administer an Act of this sort, and under its provisions, if the scheme failed, the finances of the county council are placed in a very unfavourable position. The county council are to have the pleasure of coming in last. They are to have the pleasure of taking a mortgage on a mortgage. Suppose the scheme failed, the land banks would then call upon the State to provide the money; the State then would come in and the land bank would come in and grab all they could. But what becomes of the county council? They would have to go with a smiling face to the ratepayers and ask them to fork up the money which had somehow disappeared. I do not wish entirely to throw cold water upon the suggestion of land banks. Such institutions can be most valuable. For instance, in the scheme which my noble friend Lord Shaftesbury introduced some time ago we had a most valuable proposal for helping certain classes of people. I can well imagine that these land banks are most valuable for the purpose of helping a tenant who had purchased his holding by State money to develop his land afterwards; and the advantage of co-operative land banks I need not point out, as I am sure your Lordships will agree that such banks are and would be of the greatest salvation to this country. But I say that this scheme is altogether too large for a private corporation to deal with, and that it can only be dealt with by means of a Treasury loan and with the confidence that the Government was behind it and there was no intermediate body.
One thing I forgot to mention earlier. When this Bill goes before the Select Committee, if your Lordships give it a Second Reading to-night, I think we might very well insert some provision with regard to land transfer in order to cheapen the transfer of land. I do not know whether His Majesty's 124 Government will agree with me upon that. They have made the transfer of land dearer, and therefore I hope when this Bill goes to the Committee something will be inserted providing for the cheapening of land transfer. I should like to see an investment, clause put into this Bill such as was in Mr. Wyndham's Act, and I would like to see a clause inserted to more closely regulate the sub-division and subsequent sale of land under the Bill.
I do not think I need detain your Lordships longer except to refer to a few opinions in support of this Bill which come from various parts of the country. First of all I have opinions as to the causes why so much land is in the market. I expect the noble Earl knows as well as I do why there is so much land in the market at the present moment. But surely, having got all this land in the market, this is the very moment to pass a Bill or make possible the passage of a Bill which is going to give the sitting tenants an opportunity of purchasing their holding. Here is one extract—What may happen in the future I do not know, It is the uncertainty as to future taxation, more than perhaps that lately imposed, which causes the breaking up of estates. I hear to-day that Lord—is proposing to sell his estate, which has been in his family since the Conquest.I have a large number of other extracts from farmers and others drawing attention to the amount of land available, and asking that there should be an opportunity for them to purchase their holdings. Then I have certain regrets which have been expressed by farmers and others that this Bill had not been in force during the last few years. In that case many a man would, they say, have had an opportunity of buying his holding, which has now been sold with the whole estate. Next I have "organised opinions of tenant farmers and others with regard to the advantages to be gained by this Bill." In addition to the Central Chamber of Agriculture, the Scottish Chamber of Agriculture, and the Farmers' Club, which have signified their approval of the principles of this Bill, no fewer than 168 other chambers of agriculture and farmers' associations have passed resolutions to a similar effect. I have the list, in my hand. One resolution states that—The solution of the difficulty lies in the enactment of Mr. Jesse Collings's Land Purchase Bill.125 And this resolution is from the Yorkshire Union of Agricultural Clubs and Chambers of Agriculture—a most important body.
I have to thank your Lordships for the kind indulgence which you have accorded me in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. I feel that the Bill is not perfect. I do not claim that it is any heaven-sent panacea towards entirely solving this problem. But I do say that it seems to me to be by far the most sound and the most practical scheme for the solution of this most difficult problem. I believe that if His Majesty's Government were to be good enough to give it their serious consideration they would find that it was not as much of a bugbear as perhaps they imagine, and I feel sure that the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture would be then able to tell us, in his courteous and ingenuous manner, that after all the Board had found something in this scheme. If your Lordships are pleased to give the Bill a Second Reading, I shall afterwards move that it be referred to a Select Committee.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Malmesbury.)
§ THE PRESIDENT OF THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (Earl CARRINGTON)
had given notice, on the Motion for the Second Reading, to move to resolve, "That this House is not prepared to give its consent to a Bill which entails a new and very onerous burden upon the public revenue until adequate financial provision has been made by Parliament to enable its provisions to be carried into effect."
The noble Earl said: My Lords, before I move the Resolution which stands in my name I think it my duty to apologise for the necessity under which I am placed of inflicting another speech on your Lordships. Noble Lords on the opposite side of the House, in the friendly rivalry of which the noble Earl has so pleasantly spoken, seem to me to be determined to bring in almost daily some agricultural Bill which involves a very serious drain on the public purse, and therefore my having to speak again at such short notice is your Lordships' misfortune but really not my fault. I thank the noble Earl very much for his kindly words, and the only portion of his speech to which I could take exception was that in which he talked of the hard- 126 ships which, he said, under our Act had been inflicted on tenant farmers. That is a remark which is very often made. It is made on a great many platforms, but it is not a remark that will hold water. It has been made in this House, but not one member of your Lordships' House has ever been able to bring forward a single specific case where any hardship has occurred. I was able to get a Bill through your Lordships' House last year to pay compensation for disturbance to farmers, which was made retrospective for two years, and I have in my hand a list of the claims that have been paid under that Act. They amount to£1,772, and I shall be pleased to hand the list to the noble Earl to look over as a confirmation of my statement that our Act has been well and properly and fairly administered, and as far as I know there has not been a single case of hardship under it.
I must ask your Lordships to give serious consideration for a few moments to the details of this Bill. As far as I can make out, Lord Malmesbury proposes by this Bill to crystallise the new attitude of the House of Lords with regard to the old system of landlord and tenant. He justly describes it as my old and right hon. friend Mr. Jesse Collings's Bill; and this Bill, if it means anything, means that the patriarchal system which was supposed to be the great stand-by and the great protection of English agriculture, is going by the board, if it has not already gone. Let us take the Bill of the noble Earl as it stands. The first clause, as he told us, provides that any landlord or tenant may, on having agreed upon a price—rather an important thing—apply to the Board of Agriculture for the sale to the tenant of his holding. What does that mean? In plain English it means that the Board of Agriculture, as was so well said yesterday by my noble friend, Lord Belper, are becoming land agents for the sale of land. Lord Malmesbury goes a step further. Not only are they to be land agents, but he hopes to see the day when the Board of Agriculture, which, after all, is the Government, become land dealers. That certainly is a great step in advance.
Then let us go to Clause 3. That clause provides that every application to the Board shall be accompanied by a deposit by the landlord. That means that the Board of Agriculture is to take over the 127 deposit. I suppose it will be responsible for it. It will have to put it out at interest, or put it into the care of some person who will give the Board interest for it. In fact, the Board now becomes a banker. In the latter part of Clause 3 it is provided that the Board shall inquire as to the circumstances and the sufficiency of the price. As regards the circumstances, I suppose most people would say that would be a very legitimate and proper thing to do. But the sufficiency of the price! Think for a moment what that means. It means that we are to inquire whether the landlord gets enough for the property that he sells of his own initiative to the tenant. It is well known that if glebe land, for instance, is sold, we have to see that the land fetches its proper value; but it seems to me a strong stipulation to impose to say that if a man sells his estate the Board of Agriculture should go and see that the poor, dear landlord had got a sufficient price from the rascally tenant. That means that the Board now becomes either a private or a public inquiry office.
The noble Earl rightly describes Clause 7 as an important clause. It provides that the Board may make advances to "any" tenant for the purchase of his holding. The Board now becomes a moneylender. Therefore we have the Board of Agriculture in these four distinct capacities—land agents, bankers, inquiry office, and moneylenders; though I am bound to say there is a qualification that the unfortunate Board of Agriculture is not to lend more than £7,000, going up, I believe, to £10,000, to any one particular tenant. I should like to ask the noble Earl how this advance is going to be repaid. As I understand, it is going to be repaid by a purchase annuity calculated at 3¼ per cent. The noble Earl adumbrated—I believe that is the proper word—some peculiar changes that were going to be made in the Bill, either by Mr. Jesse Collings or some unknown persons, but I prefer to stick to the text of the Bill, and take it as I find it. I presume the provision in the Bill means that 2¾ per cent. is to be paid as interest, and ½ per cent. for sinking fund, and that is to be repaid in 68½years. I will say a word about that in a moment.
Clause 11 provides that the prospective owner shall not subdivide or sublet his property. That is not a very attractive proposal to a man who is going to be 128 seduced by the belief that he is going to have the magic of ownership. He is not only not to subdivide or sublet it during the 68½ years in which, if he lives long enough, he is going to pay off the sum by the ½ per cent. sinking fund, but when he becomes the absolute possessor of his land he is neither to divide nor sublet it. Just think what that means. A man pays £700 or £1,000 for his farm, and he is not allowed, without the consent of the Board of Agriculture, to subdivide any portion of the land which belongs to him and over which he has the magic of ownership. Nor without the permission of the Board is he allowed to set aside a field for allotments or for potato-growing for his labourers. I honestly do not think that that is a very attractive proposition to lay before intending purchasers. Then he cannot mortgage his holding for any sum exceeding five times the rateable value—that, of course, would be about 20 per cent. of the capital value. I do not suppose anybody would advance much money on a holding which certainly for the first fifty years was being paid for at the slow rate of ½ per cent. But let that pass.
There is one provision in this Bill which I think has been overlooked by the noble Earl. It is that a man can sell by the redemption of his purchase annuity. That opens the door to any amount of land speculation. This is the inevitable result: If the land goes up in value, of course the purchaser pockets the profit, but if it falls in value out he goes and the loss in money falls on the State and the community. Therefore I was not in the least surprised when I heard the noble Earl say that all these chambers of agriculture, farmers' clubs, and different agricultural societies in England are keen on the proposal. In fact, it would be a great want of intelligence on their part if they did not do everything possible in their power to get my old friend Mr. Jesse Collings's Bill through both Houses of Parliament.
THE EARL OF MALMESBURY
Will the noble Earl forgive me? I specially said that in Committee I hoped some clause might be inserted dealing with the point on which he has touched.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I am delighted to see that the noble Earl has discovered flaws in Mr. Jesse Collings's Bill, but with the permission of the House I would like 129 to argue on the Bill as it is presented to us in black and white. Where is the noble Earl going to get the money for all this? Where is this money coming from? He will say, "You have not read the Bill; you have not read Clause 25. We get all the money we want from the Consolidated Fund." That is very nice indeed. But what is the Consolidated Fund? The Consolidated Fund is a fund into which are paid the proceeds of the Imperial taxes, which up to the present moment have been imposed by the elected House of Parliament. That is what the Consolidated Fund is, and therefore under this Bill fresh taxation will be imposed to the tune of £12,000,000, and will be imposed by the unblushing proposal of Lord Malmesbury and my right hon. friend Mr. Jesse Collings. And this measure is introduced into your Lordships' House at this particular time! I leave it at that.
May I say one word about the financial difficulties which are apparent to everybody on reading this Bill? The terms are 2¾ per cent. interest, and ½ per cent. sinking fund payable for 68½ years. We all know that those are the terms that were payable under the Irish Land Act of 1903. Here again this Bill provides a text for a splendid platform oration. It was said all through the last election, "Why do they do all this for Ireland? Why do they do nothing for us? Here are you farmers being trampled upon," and so on. When you come to thresh this out in your Lordships' House there is not a single noble Lord who does not know that no Government since that date has ever been able to borrow on those terms. There has been a deficit every year ever since 1903. Then who has been paying this deficit? Why the noble Earl and myself and your Lordships and everybody in England. And this came to such a pitch that in 1909 the Act had to be amended and fresh terms made. We all remember what a hullabaloo there was in this House. We all remember the debates when poor Lord Denman was almost driven out of his seven senses, and we remember them all the more because it touched us—I am an Irish Peer though I have no Irish land—it touched the pockets of Irish Peers because they are paid now, not in cash, but in 3 per cent. Stock at par, though that Stock fetches much less in the market at present. And besides that the bonus which was given to the landlords was 130 reduced, I think, from 12½ per cent. to something like 7 per cent., which naturally caused great commotion in your Lordships' House. Therefore I do say, without fear of contradiction, that the financial terms proposed by the noble Earl and Mr. Jesse Collings are quite inadmissible as they stand.
Part II refers to the purchase of land for "smaller holdings." Small holdings are in size from one acre to fifty acres, but, curiously enough, in this Bill "smaller holdings" are from three acres to not more than 100 acres. If noble Lords will look at Clause 13 they will see a provision to the effect that the Board may purchase any land for persons who desire to buy. That is to say, you need not be a tenant. You may be anybody; the Board of Agriculture must buy the land for any tinker, tailor, or candlestick-maker who desires it. In Clause 21 the House will observe that not only can the Board of Agriculture advance the whole of the price—just think of advancing the whole of the price!—but under Clause 21 it is to advance the whole of the cost of adaptation. I am not absolutely certain whether the Board cannot advance for buildings. Then in Clause 24 there is again the proviso that no "smaller holding" for the purpose of which the Board shall have made an advance shall be subdivided or let without the consent of the Board. But with that care which we all take over our poorer brethren there is the provision at the end of Clause 24 that if any such holding should be subdivided or let, the Board of Agriculture may cause the holding to be sold.
Then with regard to finance there is this curious provision, that out of this £12,000,000 only £2,000,000 is to be devoted to the poor people, and £10,000,000 is to be devoted to the big farmers. "Unto him that hath," and so on. That shows the difference that has come over Mr. Jesse Collings since he has moved about in well-bred and fashionable society. In old days when he used to address the agriculturists and the chairmakers of Buckinghamshire with me from a farm cart and preach Radicalism to them, it would have been£10,000,000 for the poor and£2,000,000 for the rich—and very lucky the rich would have been if he had given them as much as that. Now the poor people are to come off second best, and are only to get a sixth of the whole sum. I will not detain the House as to the respective 131 advantages of tenancy and ownership. That has been threshed out so often that perhaps I might refer the House to a very important debate that took place at the Farmers' Club in November of last year, when the case for both sides was fairly stated, and any one who reads that debate will be able to judge for himself which side has the best of it.
But I do maintain, and I challenge contradiction on this, that as far as we know at the present time there is not much demand for owning small holdings. My old friend Mr. Jesse Collings, who is a past-master in genial craft, went down to see my small holders in Lincolnshire, and he said to them, "Don't you wish that this land belonged to you instead of to Lord Carrington?" and all my tenants replied, "Yes, Mr. Collings, we do." They thought, "This is the man for us; Carrington is no good. This is the man we must stick to." Mr. Collings told them, "You stick to the Unionist Party and we will be the men who will do this for you." I went down about six weeks afterwards and saw a lot of my tenants. I said to them, "I hear you want to buy your small holdings. I will sell them to you with the greatest possible pleasure." Their chins dropped and they said, "God forbid; we are perfectly satisfied as we are"; and they gave me the idea that they had believed Mr. Jesse Collings wanted to make them a present of the land. In that case I can understand this desire for ownership. Out of 4,000 applicants for small holdings in 1910 there were only seventy-four persons who expressed any desire, and that was not a wild one, to buy—only 1.8 of the whole, not a very large proportion; and in Cambridgeshire, where 4,000 acres of land were acquired by the county councils in the two years, there was only one man who wanted to buy his holding, and he turned out to be an uncertificated bankrupt and so they could not come to terms.
On the other hand, I recognise that in Wales there is some demand, and I pay a tribute of respect and gratitude to Lord Penrhyn and Mr. Assheton-Smith, of Vaynol, for their chivalrous conduct in the way they met their tenants. They sold some of their outlying farms to men who wished to remain on their own holdings, and I sent a Commissioner down to Carmarthenshire who arranged with the county council to advance 80 per cent. We were 132 able to arrange for an advance of 80 per cent. of the purchase money to these people, who had a little money of their own and were able to get the remainder through friends. These purchasing tenants are on the land now and doing extremely well. There is no desire on our part, where arrangements can be made with justice to the public purse, to prevent ownership of land on a businesslike basis. There is, however, a good deal of misrepresentation in this matter. Mr. Walter Long said, in the House of Commons in June, 1907—I think the Government will find, when they ask future small holders, 'Do you wish to become small holders on the basis of ownership or occupation?' that, in 90 per cent. of the cases the reply will be in favour of ownership.As I have told the House to-day, our experience was that out of 4,000 applications in 1910 only 1.8 of the whole were wishful to buy.
It may be said that it is a curious thing to find a Radical opposing Tory proposals for social reform, but I do respectfully beg to say that there is an enormous difference between your revolutionary land policy and ours. Our land policy for the last five years has been, without frightening or injuring or being afraid of any one, to try to build up brick by brick and stone by stone a self-supporting system economically sound, and I do think that we can show a good result from the seventeen Agricultural Acts out of the eighteen Bills which, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, I have introduced since I have been President of the Board of Agriculture. I do not take the smallest credit to myself for that. I only say, knowing the determination of your Lordships at all costs and all hazards not to allow any improper legislation to pass through this House, that I can lay my head on my pillow with an easy conscience because I know that in those seventeen Acts there could not have been anything wrong or detrimental to the welfare of the country. I quite agree that there is a serious outlook for farmers in this country. The patriarchal system of land ownership seems to necessitate proceedings of eviction. As everybody knows, when an estate is put in the market every one—farmers, labourers, small holders, everybody—is given notice to quit. That, we are told, is absolutely necessary, because for a sale you must have vacant possession. I do not quarrel with that, but I do say 133 that we land reformers who have been thinking of this have had a remedy at the back of our heads for a considerable time.
So long ago as 1902 or 1903, in the Report of the Welsh Land Commission of which I had the honour to be chairman, we recommended the suggestion that on the sale of an estate tenants should be allowed to remain for two or three years; and now since the matter has become acute I have appointed a Departmental Committee, and have been fortunate enough to secure Lord Haversham—one of the best chairmen in England—as chairman of that Committee to make inquiry into the subject. Would it not be wise to wait for the Report of Lord Haversham's Committee before we pledge ourselves to Mr. Jesse Collings's proposals, which, to say the least, are somewhat crude and ill-considered? Besides that, there is a higher principle involved. Ought we at this time and in this House to initiate financial proposals which must inevitably excite false hopes, and which, even if experimentally adopted, would entail a charge of £12,000,000 on public funds? In 1909 your Lordships, in your wisdom, thought fit to throw out our Budget, which provided means for meeting the extra taxation of the country which was absolutely necessary in the circumstances, and now you propose that that expenditure should be enormously increased. Our view is that a Bill which raises financial issues at every stage should be introduced in the house of Commons. Therefore I beg to move the Resolution standing in my name, and I respectfully hope that I shall have the support of the House in carrying it.
Amendment moved, To leave out all the words after ("That") for the purpose of inserting the following Resolution: "This House is not prepared to give its consent to a Bill which entails a new and very onerous burden upon the public revenue until adequate financial provision has been made by Parliament to enable its provisions to be carried into effect."—(Earl Carrington.)
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
My Lords, I must apologise to my noble friend Lord Dunmore for not having had the pleasure of being here yesterday when he moved the Second Reading of his Bill, but as a matter of fact—I hope I am not making a confession of a great political 134 crime—I have just come from the West of England where I have been electioneering; and I should like to take this Opportunity of saving that, whatever may be said by noble Lords in this House, there is undoubtedly, for reasons which I shall endeavour to explain, a good deal of dissatisfaction at the existing conditions of things. My noble friend the President of the Board of Agriculture concluded his remarks by stating what we already knew—namely, that he had appointed a Committee to investigate cases admittedly of hardship where farms are sold and tenants disturbed from their holdings. I wish to say, in passing, that although I have sold a good many outlying estates I have never given my tenants notice to quit. My noble friend said it was general that whenever a sale took place the tenants and cottagers and everybody were given notice to quit. That is not always the case. I admit that where it is the case some hardship does exist. But the real cause of that is that the very heavy taxation under the Budget and the policy and unrestricted language of a good many members of His Majesty's Government have so frightened the confidence of owners that they have felt no alternative but to sell large portions of their estates.
What my noble friend has referred to as the patriarchal system, so far as the tenant farmers are concerned, has been an exceedingly beneficial system in this country. Most of the great landowners, whether wisely or unwisely, have certainly not received any commercial return upon their property in land. I should like, in regard to that, to refer to the alternative policy adopted by my noble friend. He said yesterday that he did not wish to blow his own trumpet. I am sure nobody in this House is more modest; but if he did blow his trumpet as I have known him blow his horn when he was Master of the Cotswold hounds he could do it with great effect. With all deference to the noble Earl, I do not think if he were to go down to rural constituencies and advocate the advantage of this system of county council tenancies it would awaken any large or responsive echo. Why? Because tenants under county council arrangements have a much stricter and a much more exacting landlord than they had before. I should like to refer to that matter. My noble friend says that the way to meet this difficulty is under his Act for creating 135 tenants under county councils. I do not know whether your Lordships have studied the Annual Report of the Small Holdings Commissioners. It is a very instructive Report. There are two classes of cases. There are the cases where the county council purchases the land out and out. In that case, let us consider what the tenant has to pay. He has to pay the interest on the purchase money, plus a charge for the sinking fund. Besides that, he has to pay a charge for moneys expended on buildings, equipment, and adaptation of the land. Then in addition he has to pay from 15 to 20 per cent. of the total for repairs, for insurance, for management, and for what is termed in a very elastic phrase "contingencies." Now, under the patriarchal system which the policy of the Government has had the effect of frightening out of existence, on the large estates the tenants practically had their repairs kept up for them, and they certainly did not pay anything for insurance or management.
Now I come to the more general case of county council tenants, where the county council leases the land from the owner. Where there are no buildings, the rent is equal to that which is paid by the county council; but in addition the tenant has to pay from 7½ to 10 per cent. for management, and where there are buildings he has to pay an additional 7½ to 10 per cent. for repairs. What the people feel is this, that they are paying more than they would pay to a large landowner, and at the end of the time the land will not be theirs. There is another remarkable statement in that Report. I find these words—There have been several cases of particularly good purchases where the Councils could have afforded to let the land in small holdings at rents considerably less than the former occupiers have paid. The Board of Agriculture have, however, taken the view that in such cases the rents charged should be based on a fair rental value.In other words—and this is what I want to point out—the policy of the Board of Agriculture under the existing Act is that the State and not the tenant is to get the benefit of the good bargains. That is a very important point. I confess I was somewhat surprised to hear my noble friend Lord Carrington state that there was no demand for small holdings. I believe I am quoting my noble friend correctly.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I beg the noble Earl's pardon. Did he say that I said there is no demand for small holdings in England?
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I understood my noble friend to say it and I was surprised. But if that is so, I do not understand why the taxpayers, for whom my noble friend was so largely concerned this afternoon, have to pay the cost of providing six additional Commissioners.
§ EARL CARRINGTON
I am very sorry I should have been misunderstood. There is an enormous demand for small holdings. There are 8,000 people whom we cannot satisfy now, and in consequence of that I had to apply for six more Commissioners.
§ THE EARL OF PORTSMOUTH
I am glad that the noble Earl has made the matter clear now. Be that as it may, if there be a demand for small holdings what I maintain is that there is a still greater demand for a system under which these people should become owners, and not become permanent occupiers under the State. I do not see why on this occasion we need go into criticisms directed against certain portions of the Bill. No doubt the financial points are very serious and anxious ones. I read the interesting speech of my noble friend Lord Faber yesterday, and I quite appreciate, of course, that it is a matter we cannot discuss in this House. Nobody proposed that we should discuss the financial proposals. All that is proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, is that his Bill should be accorded a Second Reading similar to the Bill of Lord Dunmore last night, and that it should then be referred, not to a Committee of your Lordships' House, but to a Joint Committee. [Several NOBLE LORDS: No, no.] I understand now that he proposes to refer it to a Select Committee. Very well. There will be no objection whatever to that, because the matter can be carefully considered. It is perfectly obvious, from the reply of my noble friend opposite, that the present Government do not intend to deal with this question at all, but in the meantime 137 we shall at least be making some progress in getting the difficult points that have been raised considered by a perfectly impartial Committee. In these circumstances it does seem to me that your Lordships' House ought to adopt the suggestion of Lord Malmesbury, read his Bill a second time, and then refer it to a Committee to further investigate and report.
§ LORD MACDONNELL OF SWINFORD
My Lords, in his remarks in moving the Second Reading of this Bill the noble Earl made certain references to the Irish Land Purchase Act, in which he seemed to find an analogue to the Bill which is now before your Lordships. A cursory reading of the Bill will satisfy any one that there is great similarity between it and the Irish Land Purchase Act of 1903, particularly in regard to the voluntary nature of the transactions and in regard to other provisions upon which I do not propose to detain your Lordships now, as they are matters more for Committee, should the Bill reach the Committee stage. I will only say, in regard to the provisions of the Bill other than the financial provisions, that I trust the noble Earl will not rest satisfied with the securities which he has provided in Clause 11 of his Bill, if he wishes to prevent the splitting up of holdings and the division of small holdings into still smaller holdings. He has taken that provision from the Irish Land Act, but I assure your Lordships that the provision has been found in Ireland to be unsatisfactory and insufficient.
I desire particularly to direct your Lordships' attention to the financial points. It is quite true that the Irish Land Act of 1903 did provide for the payment of the purchase advance in cash. Therein it differed from the custom of previous Acts—those Acts with which the name of my noble friend Lord Ashbourne is so honourably connected; and the result was that the Treasury had to raise loans in order to provide funds for land purchase. Those loans could at the time only be raised at a loss, and provision was made in the Land Act of 1903 to meet that loss. The Ireland Development Grant in the first instance was made a sort of buffer between the Irish ratepayer, upon whom the loss was ultimately to fall, and the Treasury. But the Ireland Development Grant was soon exhausted, and then the loss caused by the flotation of loans had to be paid either by the Irish ratepayer 138 or by the Treasury. The Act provided that the obligation lay upon the Irish ratepayer, and he was called upon to pay. The Irish ratepayers, represented by the county councils, stated that they never knew they were incurring such an obligation as that. The obligation had been imposed in former Land Purchase Acts but had never been enforced, and finally they refused to pay. The Treasury said, "We cannot raise loans without incurring expense. Somebody must pay, and inasmuch as you refuse to pay we refuse to raise any more loans until we are made secure against the loss." In that way land purchase in Ireland came to a standstill. When the Act of 1903 was passed Consols stood at about 94 or 95, but in a few years Consols had fallen to nearly 80, so that the Treasury could raise no loans without incurring a loss of 15 to 20 per cent. Consequently the whole thing came to a standstill, and it was absolutely necessary that some steps should be taken in order that land purchase should go forward. The Government took up the matter, and the result was the Act of 1909, the principal provisions of which were that the Irish ratepayers were relieved of the obligation imposed upon them, discretion was given to the Treasury to pay owners in Stock instead of cash, and in order to enable them to issue a 3 per cent. Stock the annuity was raised from 3¼ to 3½ per cent.
Now in this Bill it is provided that the Treasury shall make certain advances from the Consolidated Fund. The Consolidated Fund is nothing more than the aggregate of the year's taxation. Therefore, as was pointed out by the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, it would be necessary, in order to make advances from the Consolidated Fund, to impose at the beginning of each year an adequate amount of taxation in order to provide the money wanted. It is an impossible thing, I should say, that this burden should fall upon the ordinary taxpayer who does not benefit from land purchase, although he may have a sentimental desire, as we all have, that small holdings should be enlarged and increased in number. If you are unable to advance the money from the Consolidated Fund, the only possible way of raising it is by loan. Then you incur the danger which the Irish Government have experienced, and if you advance in Stock you are face to face with the difficulty the Irish Government are experiencing now. It was expected that 139 the 3 per cent. loan raised on the basis of the Consolidated Fund would sell at about par. At the time the Act was passed the War Loan was selling at par, and Local Loan Stock at 98. What is the case to-day? Local Loan Stock is selling at about 94, and the Government 3 per cent. Irish Loan is selling at 92. Irish landlords naturally object to take payment in depreciated Stock, and so you have arrived at this pass, that, notwithstanding the endeavours made under the Act of 1909 to remedy the difficulties of land purchase in Ireland, land purchase is still at a stand still. I venture to say, with the utmost respect to the noble Earl, that the finance of the Bill requires entire recasting. It is quite impossible that any scheme of land purchase could be based upon such finance as is in this Bill.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken is thoroughly familiar with many of the topics which have been discussed this evening, and he is also fully conversant with everything relating to the Irish land purchase code. Therefore what he says about the finances of land purchase as applied to Ireland is entitled to great weight, and will no doubt be received with respect when it is sought to apply any of those principles to England. But the broad question that underlies the whole of this discussion is whether it is wise and reasonable to seek to give the tenants of England an opportunity of becoming the absolute owners of their farms. We have the teachings of nearly the whole civilised world to indicate that it is a reasonable thing to give those who live on and till the land, not merely security of tenure as tenants, but an opportunity of acquiring their holdings. This is a wide and important issue, which marks the dividing line between those who criticise this Bill and those who are in favour of its provisions.
This subject has commended itself to a vast number of those whom it is sought to benefit, and I do not think it has been adequately met by the noble Earl who is in charge of the Board of Agriculture. Is it unreasonable that the proposals should be presented to your Lordships? Have we not here the benefit of the presence of the Minister in charge of this particular question who makes on each occasion that he rises a speech if possible more genial than its predecessors? It is impossible not to listen with interest and with a certain measure 140 of personal sympathy to the noble Earl. It is impossible to entertain any feeling of animosity towards him. But in this matter we must divest ourselves of the weakness of sympathy and try to look at the matter from a common sense point of view. The question is whether Lord Carrington is in favour of doing more than his own Act does. I am not disparaging his Act. I am sure he was animated by the best possible motives when he passed it. But does he recognise that it is a reasonable and a fair thing that the tillers of the soil should aspire to go a step further and become the owners of their land?
This is an important question which is growing in intensity every day, and as far as my observations go from a perusal of the Press I believe that the noble Earl does not rightly appreciate the gravity and seriousness of the position. Why is it that all other countries have recognised the force of this claim on behalf of the tillers of the soil? Any one who is conversant with agrarian legislation on the Continent of Europe knows that this is an ideal which is sought to be carried into practice, with all the safeguards that financial prudence can suggest. The noble Earl, Lord Carrington, passed lightly over the teaching almost at his door in the case of Ireland. I am entitled as an Irishman, not to forget that, and the noble Lord opposite, Lord MacDonnell, having the same advantage as myself, cannot get away from it either. What is the principle that has guided and governed the administration of the land purchase system of Ireland? One of the greatest appeals you can make to human nature is to recognise that people all desire to become, if you like on fair and reasonable conditions, the owners of the farms which they till, on which they were born and on which they live. The whole purchase code of Ireland is founded upon that. I do not put that forward as a Party claim, because great names are identified with that code. Mr. Bright, I think, was the first to give it practical application. The name of Mr. Gladstone is identified amply with it, and also the late Lord Salisbury's Government and Mr. Balfour himself.
Finally there was Mr. Wyndham's great Act of 1903. Of course that Act is open to some of the criticisms made just now by Lord MacDonnell as to its financial proposals, but it has been applied on the whole with great and substantial success. When 141 one turns to Ireland and finds that thousands of tenants have become owners under this code, one recognises that it has worked vast changes and given a wide measure of peace where there was formerly a vast amount of discontent. And when we remember that the credit of England has been invoked, that over £100,000,000 has been devoted to this great purpose, is it unreasonable to say that it would not be unbecoming to see whether something could not be done to give a similar measure of relief and advantage to the tenant farmers of England?
This is a great and wide question, and one not to be put aside by small criticisms of detail. I am bound to say that the noble Earl Lord Carrington did not show much grasp of the intricacies of the Irish land system. Many of the things upon which he commented as open to question are found working fairly and well under that system. It is true that in some of the matters of finance and some of the dealings in reference to the floating of Stock difficulties have occurred which have been sought to be met. But the points made by the noble Earl did not strike me as entitled—If I may say so with great respect—to any serious weight in the comparison of the legislation now proposed with the legislation that exists in Ireland. Does the noble Earl suggest that whilst the new purchasers were under an obligation to the State it would be competent to permit them to subdivide their holdings and mortgage them? Surely it is reasonable to say that those who advance the money shall have the right to see that they are adequately protected, and that the holdings on which the advances are made are kept free from further burdens. The governing phrase in Clause 20 is "if satisfied with the security." That is apart from the zone system, which is altogether another matter. Surely that shows that this Bill, which I suppose was largely framed on the Irish model, does not seek to run not with the finances of the country, but leaves ample control.
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture appeared to suggest that this was not the place to bring forward a proposal of the kind. Is that so? That has not been the history of the Irish land purchase code. I myself had the honour of bringing into this House the Bill of 1885, making proposals which were afterwards 142 accepted by the House of Commons. There is nothing to prevent a Bill being brought in here, although I admit it is open to the House of Commons to say whether it will supply the financial requirements which alone can enable the Bill to be worked out. Points have been made in reference to the money part of the Bill, but I shall not discuss them except to make this remark. Does the noble Earl suggest that at no time is any encouragement to be held out to the tenant farmers of England? that nothing is to be given to them to enable them to purchase their holdings? It is easy to make objections to particular proposals, such as £2,000,000 being assigned for one purpose, and so on. I admit that all these things have to be considered by the financiers who deal with this topic. The Money must come from some source, and in Ireland it came from the security of the State to the extent of over £100,000,000. Is it not reasonable to suggest that you should hold out some expectation to these people? Do the Government really contend that no encouragement is to be held out to the tenant farmers of England, by means of national credit, to enable them to purchase their holdings? There are many topics that I would like to discuss in reference to this matter, but I forbear. This is not an occasion for dealing with details. I will close the few remarks I have made by a reference to a phrase which the noble Earl himself used—"the magic of property." That is a phrase that must have been very present to the minds of the promoters of this Bill, and it is a consideration that should receive sympathy from your Lordships. I therefore hope you will accord a Second Reading, at all events, to this Bill.
§ LORD BYRON
My Lords, I have very few words to address to your Lordships. I thought, while listening to the speech of the noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, that he was going to save me the trouble of speaking, because he got very hot on the scent. My object in rising is to request the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, to reconsider the point as to whether he would send this Bill to a Select Committee or not. The noble Earl, Lord Portsmouth, was not quite certain, I think, as to whether the Committee should be of the Whole House or a Select Committee I suggest that this Bill should be sent to a Committee of the Whole House. The fact is, this is a Bill that will receive the sympathy of a great many members of 143 this House, and the difficulties in connection with a measure of this kind would be greatly reduced if there could be general suggestions from noble Lords who are practical agriculturists. There is one point to which I would like to call attention. It is stated in the Bill that the sum wanted amounts to £5,000,000, but in the prospectus of the Rural League the figure is given as £10,000,000, and then in a letter from Mr. Jesse Collings to the noble Marquess, Lord Lansdowne, whose absence we so much regret, the amount required is set out as £25,000,000. That is a point that will require elucidation.
Then, again, it is said that these loans would be made subject to the payment of the annual instalments and "certain other conditions." I trust that in Committee some one will be able to take up the point as to what those other conditions are. One great objection to this measure is that those tenants who have not sufficient capital of their own to purchase a farm will always experience the greatest difficulty, once they have purchased it, in finding capital to work it and keep it going. More especially will this be the case if the purchaser happens to be a married man with a family. It must be remembered that in this case he will cease to have a landlord behind him who can do the repairs for him. He can expect no remission of principal or interest from the Government which lent him the money as he could in the matter of rent from his landlord; and he must not be behindhand with his payments, as rural tenants are sometimes now permitted to be. It must be remembered further, that a great deal depends upon the skill of the purchaser himself. That is not a thing he can bequeath to his offspring, and unless a tenant is able to pay off his holding in his own lifetime there is always the danger that the purchase will not be completed.
Another point is that when a tenant has to pay off a mortgage it becomes excessively difficult for him to hire fresh land, and it is generally the desire of every successful yeoman to hire more land. I think that in Committee some provision for permitting a man to hire fresh land should be inserted. Then, again, legal charges are apt to mount up rapidly. I think the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, said there were certain provisions with regard to that. Further, there is always the danger that land may 144 be cut up and sold by the man who purchases his holding. This may cause the greatest annoyance to the landlord who has sold a farm to a tenant and who finds it gradually being purchased, say, by a neighbouring landowner, perhaps the very last person he would have wished to purchase it; because it seems to be a law of nature that the large fish should swallow up the small one in that way. I would further point out that under the Agricultural Holdings Act very great security of tenure is given to tenants holding under the county council, and there is no fear that the rent of a tenant under the county council will be raised.
The tendency of modern ideas and legislation is rather to municipalise, if not actually to nationalise, the land, and it is quite clear that a measure of this kind runs counter to that tendency. I cannot help thinking that that would be one insuperable objection to this Bill becoming law. I for one regret that it is so, and I fancy that before long a reaction may set in, but certainly that is the tendency of the present day. Without a doubt there is in the Home Counties a great dislike to holding long leases. There is a kind of restlessness among the tenants especially in the North, at any rate in Scotland, and I venture to think that that, too, will militate against a Bill of this kind. At the same time I feel that there is so much to be said for a measure of this kind that I am inclined to support it on Second Reading. Two great advantages, I think, will accrue from it. First of all it presents a social barrier against revolution or socialism, and, secondly, it enables the cultivation of the poorest land by the energy and allay of the new owners to be undertaken. They will dress it and cultivate it to the very best of their ability, and so in that way the poor lands of England will get improved. I would invite the noble Earl to say whether this Bill could not be considered in Committee of the Whole House. If so, I should support the Second Reading.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I wish to say a few words in support of this Bill in the hope that it may go to a Second Reading and afterwards to a Committee, in order that the various details may be considered and its provisions perfected. I noticed that the noble Earl, Lord Carrington, directed a great deal of attention to 145 certain details which I think could be perfectly well remedied in Committee, if the Bill goes there. But first of all I should like to congratulate the noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture upon one thing. The noble Earl, I think, from our pleasant experiences of his speeches, can generally he relied upon to give away the more extreme members of his own Party with a refreshing candour which is particularly grateful to your Lordships. We had a delightful instance of that this evening, when he reminded us that out of eighteen beneficent agricultural Bills which had been introduced, no less than seventeen had been passed by this House of landlords, which is generally supposed to be so obstructive and to act entirely in opposition to the truest interests of the agriculturists of the country. I commend those figures to any of your Lordships who may be speaking on public platforms, and we are very glad to have them on the authority of the noble Earl himself.
One of the points which the noble Earl raised was this. First of all he challenged us to show that there was any reason for alarm on the part of landowners, and he stated that nothing had been said for the purpose of creating that alarm. I remember a speech made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he was speaking with his accustomed frankness on the subject of landlords and their land, and somebody at the far end of the room shouted out, "Take it from them." The Chancellor of the Exchequer replied, "Well, I think I have made a pretty good beginning, have I not?" Then when we have speeches of that description made by leading members of the Government surprise is expressed by the noble Earl because owners of land are somewhat nervous at the present moment, and because investors hesitate to come forward to buy land as an investment. Land is bought for two purposes. It is either bought as an investment or for the purchaser to farm. I believe I am right in saying—I have it on the authority of a leading firm of auctioneers in this country—that there is a very great falling off indeed in the purchase of land for investment. In regard to what the noble Earl said on the question of giving the tenants notice, I think he made rather a wrong point on that. The noble. Earl laid stress upon the fact that tenants are given notice in order to "sell with possession." I do not think there are many cases of that.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
The landowner gives notice in order that possession may be had within a reasonable time after the sale, and in cases where farms are sold singly. There are few, if any, cases where estates are sold as an entire estate where tenants are given notice. I do not see any reason whatever why when an estate is sold as an entirety tenants should be given notice; but where a landowner has to sell individual farms it is very difficult for him to find a purchaser unless the purchaser feels he can enter upon occupation within a reasonable time after purchase. Consequently, seeing that the Government have frightened investors to such an extent as they have done it generally happens that the landowner, when he does put up his land in that way, finds the land on his hands if he has not got anybody but the actual tenant to bid for it; that is to say, if the tenant is unable to bid for it. That is the opinion of men who have had great experience in the buying and selling of land, and I am not at all certain that I do not prefer their experience to that of the noble Earl.
But there is another point which I would like to mention. The noble Earl laid great stress upon the duties and obligations which it is proposed to lay upon the Board of Agriculture, and he considered it most objectionable that his Department should be called upon to act as what he called land agents. I think it is far better that a State Department should act as land agents than as land owners; but the ownership of land by the State, as we know perfectly well, is a policy which is being deliberately put forward by a large section of the noble Earl's supporters. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself has said that he regards what he calls land nationalisation as bound to come "by degrees," whatever that may mean. That is nothing more nor less than the State ownership of land, and I consider that agriculturists and tenants will have a far worse time of it with the State as landlord than with an individual. I do not see any real objection to the Board of Agriculture being called upon to act as a sort of arbitrator in a matter of this description.
The noble Earl may not agree with the wording in the Bill where it is suggested that the Board should satisfy themselves with 147 regard to the sufficiency of the sum. I do not think that is what is meant by the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury. What I take it is meant by the Bill is not that the Board should be called upon to see that the landlord gets a sufficient price for his land, but that the price is a fair one as between the landlord and the purchaser when the State is called upon to advance the money; in other words, that the State should be safeguarded against being asked to advance a larger sum than the land is worth. I think that is all that the noble Earl who introduced the Bill meant, and therefore the objections raised by Lord Carrington are quite beyond the mark. There are various details in the Bill which are, perhaps, unworkable, more especially the clause which deals with the question of sub-letting, but these are all details which can be put right in Committee. But on the general principle of the desirability of getting land into the ownership of more people than at the present time, I give the Bill my hearty support. It seems to me somewhat incongruous that a Government which is largely supported by gentlemen who go about the country denouncing your Lordships for being owners of such a large proportion of land, men who are never tired of saying that the land is owned by far too few people, should now oppose a Bill for the purpose of increasing the number of owners of land.
§ LORD BARNARD
My Lords, I may say that a large portion of my time is occupied with matters connected with agricultural land and agricultural tenants. I ask your Lordships to revert for one moment to what is the object of our debate this afternoon, and from which I think we have been somewhat deflected—I refer to the principle of the Bill. I cannot help thinking that Lord Carrington was somewhat hard on Lord Malmesbury when he said he would only consider the details of the Bill. He picked out clause after clause and I was going to say discussed them, but he passed over them very lightly. He ignored altogether the principle of Part I of the Bill. What is the object of Part I? It merely says that when a landlord is willing to sell and a tenant to buy, the State shall under certain guarantees assist the tenant to buy. I have not heard one single word from the noble Earl in opposition to that theory He does not offer any alternative policy. I know he dislikes the system of great landlords. At the same time, when an opportunity is offered of assisting a tenant who 148 has been, or whose family has been, on a farm for generations, in order to save him from being turned out of his home, the noble Earl does not offer any alternative policy to that suggested by Lord Malmesbury. For that reason I shall support, and I hope every noble Lord in this House will support, the principle of Part I of the Bill.
The principle in Part II is based upon rather different ground. It is largely to prevent what has been called the "eye of the farm" being taken to satisfy the aspirants for small holdings and leaving the worst part in the hands of the existing tenants. The noble Earl, Lord Carrington, forgot in his speech that Lord Malmesbury, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, expressly stated that he did not tie himself down to every detail. I am quite willing to admit that there are many clauses in this Bill which require a great deal of consideration, but the principle of the Bill cannot be denied by any fair-minded or honest man. Lord Carrington stated very prominently to this House—and it must be borne in mind that in addressing this House your Lordships are also to a certain extent addressing the outside public—that it is proposed that the agricultural interest shall put their hands into the pockets of the taxpayers to the extent of ten or twelve million pounds. A man not well instructed reading that would imagine that that was to be a gift from the taxpayer, but the principle of the Bill does not mean anything of the kind. It is merely that the money should be advanced by way of loan to enable these men to acquire their holdings, and that the money should be repaid under ample security. If the provisions in this Bill are not sufficient, then further safeguards ought to be inserted for that purpose.
The noble Earl the President of the Board of Agriculture said that it was very hard that the Board should be land agents, bankers, and money-lenders. It is quite true that they are asked to act as bankers and as money-lenders, but I do not admit that they are asked to act as land agents. The principal clause of the Bill is to apply to cases where landlord and tenant agree to sell and purchase; the Board are not to be asked to intervene in the matter at all, and the only case where they are to satisfy themselves as to the sufficiency of the price has already been explained by Lord Denbigh. Then the noble Earl, Lord 149 Carrington alluded somewhat scornfully to the provisions forbidding subdivision or mortgaging. I think those clauses were directed to the same end—to affording sufficient security to the State against the property being in any way injured and the State being allowed to suffer. The noble Earl also made scornful allusion to the division of the funds which it is proposed to allot to the Bill. He said that £10,000,000 were to be applied for the benefit of the well-to-do farmers and only the miserable sum of £2,000,000 for the poor people who were to have the small holdings. I do not know on what principle the two sums have been allotted, or on what principle every tenant farmer is supposed to be well-to-do and somewhat of a rascal, and every applicant for a small holding is regarded as a most deserving and necessitous person. But I have consulted the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, and I am informed that there is no magic in these sums of ten and two millions, and that these figures can be easily altered if necessary.
One word with regard to these applications for small holdings. Lord Carrington objected to the proposal to provide holdings for any persons who desired to buy, but he omitted the words at the end of the clause, "and who will themselves cultivate the holdings." The noble Earl made some remark about tinkers and tailors. I do not know whether we are right in assuming that he does not consider tinkers and tailors proper persons to have small holdings. I should think that was the very object he and his friends in the Government are aiming at. However, provided a tinker or a tailor wished to buy and wished to himself cultivate the holding, I think he has a perfect right to do so. We have been asked by the noble Earl to cite a concrete case where injury has been done under his legislation. Well, I will venture to give the noble Earl a challenge. I ask him whether he can give us a concrete case where injury has been done to any person—tenant, labourer, or cottager—not an isolated case, of course, for there must be such cases—by the existing system of land tenure in this country. I cannot help being reminded in this connection of a correspondence I lately read between the noble. Earl and a noble Duke, in which I think the noble Duke came out triumphantly. I apologise for having detained your Lordships. All my 150 time, as I have said, is spent among agricultural people and tenants, and for that reason I hope that this Bill will be read a second time and referred to a Committee, when ample opportunities will be given for considering its details.
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My Lords, we have listened to a number of most pertinent observations from the noble Lord who has just sat down. Lord Barnard has had much experience, and has made one of the most effective contributions to this debate. Lord Denbigh reminded us that we are sometimes spoken of as a House of landlords. Whether that accusation be just or unjust as applied to your Lordships' House as a body, you seem to me to be pre-eminently qualified to devote two afternoons to discussions such as we have listened to yesterday and to-day. If we are a House of landlords these debates show that we are not only prepared but anxious to share the advantages of that position, if advantages they be, with as large a number as possible of our fellow-countrymen. I venture to say that noble Lords on both sides of the House ought to be indebted to the two noble Lords who have on successive afternoons with so much clearness, modesty, and ability put forward their views on this great agrarian question, both dealing with the same problem—the problem of adding to the number of the owners of the soil of this country—but dealing with it from different points of view.
Lord Dunmore last night advocated the system which has attained so much success in foreign countries, the system of providing purchase money and credit by means of credit societies and land banks; and although a considerable volume of criticism, and perhaps fair criticism, was levelled against the details of his Bill, quite insufficient justice was rendered to the soundness of the main principle of his Bill. It would be irrelevant for me to pursue that subject further this afternoon. Then the noble Earl, Lord Malmesbury, this afternoon approaches the same problem from an entirely different point of view, or rather he proposes a widely different solution. Lord Malmesbury, basing his advice upon the success of Mr. Wyndham's Irish Land Act, by which we know that a body of something like 300,000 tenants have become owners of their land, asks why, of course admitting the differences 151 that we know exist between the different parts of the United Kingdom, the same broad principles should not be applied, or at any rate considered, in relation to the solution of the same question in this country. That is surely a most reasonable suggestion, and one which must commend itself to the sympathetic consideration of your Lordships. Further there is a special advantage in this Bill in that it is divided into two parts and is not confined to one branch of the question. I think I remarked last night that Lord Dunmore's Bill only attempted to deal with the problem of ownership on a small scale. Lord Malmesbury's Bill covers the whole field. Part I deals with large tenants who may wish to acquire farms of larger acreage. Part II deals with the small cultivator who may desire to become the possessor of a holding. From that point of view Lord Malmesbury's measure is a very comprehensive one, and one which seems to me to deal adequately with the different aspects of the case.
The noble Earl who introduced this Bill has been rather more fortunate in the speeches made upon his Bill than Lord Dunmore was last night. That is to say, he has received from many members of this House a full measure of encouragement and approbation of the principal points in his Bill. Of course he had directed against him the merry artillery of the noble Earl opposite. I noticed that Lord Carrington's speech was divided, as most of his speeches are, into two parts. The first was an innocent exaltation of the performances of himself and his own Department. He told us of the excellent administrative work performed by his officials, and of the enormous number of Bills successfully passed, as Lord Denbigh reminded us, through this Chamber which is said to be the enemy of the rights of the people and the mutilator of the proposals of Liberal Governments. Lord Carrington then went on to describe the effect produced by his own magical rhetoric, with which we are so familiar, when it is directed upon the agricultural labourers, some of whom he has had the privilege of addressing in his own part of the country. That was the attractive embroidery of his speech.
The second part of Lord Carrington's speech was an attack upon, or at any rate a criticism of, Lord Malmesbury's Bill. May I say, before I pass to that, that as regards the policy of his own Department which 152 Lord Carrington expounded, not for the first time, we give him full credit for his desire to increase the number of small holdings in this country, and I think he himself admitted that he had received great assistance from many of those who belong to this Party and sit on this side of the House. Very gladly do we render that assistance, but what we do complain of is that neither by word nor by act do we ever receive any sympathy in regard to the proposals which we put forward. This policy of land ownership, upon which is built up the stability of every prosperous State in the world and which should commend itself to the sympathy of every patriotic man, we put before His Majesty's Government, but they say "Oh no; no ownership by the individual; we support ownership by the State, the county councils and local authorities; any arrangement rather than that individuals should become possessors of the soil on which they work." The noble Earl never said a truer thing than when he said there is a great gulf between the policy of the two Parties. His policy is tenancy; our policy is ownership. And although we do not get much support from the noble Earl now, yet in the fluctuations of politics I can well conceive that the time may arrive when even from the opposite side we may find conversions to that view of this problem which has been so much derided to-night. There was a slight misunderstanding between Lord Portsmouth and Lord Carrington. Lord Portsmouth thought the noble Earl had said that there was no demand for small holdings in this country. That obviously is not the case, because he gave us the figures. But what the noble Earl did say was that he was conscious of no demand for ownership.
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
He accepts my interpretation of his language. There I venture to say we dispute him altogether. Whether you take the class of the rather superior tenant farmers or the smaller man, both of whom are provided for by the Bill of my noble friend, surely there is abundant evidence of a desire on the part of both for ownership. You merely have to go to any land agent or auctioneer, or read the records of any estate thrown on to the market, to find that, at any rate in the class of tenant farmers, there is an ample and widespread desire to become owners of the soil if only adequate means 153 can be devised to enable the intending purchaser to buy and to provide him with the purchase money on reasonable terms.
Then, again, as regards the smaller class, is it true to say there is no demand for ownership on their part? I have always been led to think by those who are connected with the soil, first that that demand does exist, and, secondly, that the great obstacle in the way of its gratification is this, that a man does not want a small piece of ground unless he has a dwelling in which to live upon it. If you gave him the land and a cottage upon it, or the means of acquiring a cottage upon it, it would be quite a different thing. It is the object of these Bills, whether you do it through the credit societies or through a Department of Government, to provide a man with the money to get the land and to build something on it. If you solved that question you would find a material and widespread desire among the poorer classes of the peasantry of this country for ownership of the land.
It would not be right for me to follow Lord Carrington into the criticisms of the details of this Bill. I am not responsible for the Bill; it represents the views and the activity of a League with which we are all acquainted. But some of the criticisms which Lord Carrington made are criticisms which an ingenious Minister, backed by a capable Department, can always direct against any Bill. I have introduced Bills into the House of Commons myself, and I know perfectly well that the officials of a Department can give you reasons equally good for opposing any clauses contained in any Bill. I have no doubt that if the officials who serve Lord Carrington's Department so well had been permitted to direct their criticisms against the seventeen Bills to which the noble Earl referred, they might have been riddled from end to end. Therefore I am not seriously impressed by these particular criticisms, although I do not deny that in many cases they were pertinent and ought seriously to be considered.
But there was one feature which did surprise me, or rather it was an omission, which very much surprised me, in Earl Carrington's speech. He placed upon the Paper a Motion to this effect—and I imagined that this Motion represented the 154 line of argument that he was going to take against the Bill—That this House is not prepared to give its consent to a fill which entails a new and very onerous burden upon the public revenue until adequate financial provision has been made by Parliament to enable its provisions to be carried into effect.I was waiting to hear the noble Earl argue that proposition, but it never came. At the end of his speech he read out in a perfunctory manner the terms of his Motion, but not a word did he say in its favour or support. He was very wise, if I may be allowed to say so, and I will tell your Lordships why. I carry in my mind very distinctly a recollection of debates that took place in this House only three years ago.
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
My noble friend Lord Cromer cheers. He knows very well to what I am going to allude. I speak of the debates on the Old-Age Pensions Bill. On that occasion the Government brought in proposals for placing a great—I do not say an illegitimate—charge on the revenues of this country before "adequate financial provision had been made by Parliament to enable its provisions to be carried into effect." The estimates of that charge varied in the course of the passage of the Bill through the two Houses of Parliament from six to seven millions and from seven to eight millions—
LORD CURZON OF KEDLESTON
And they have subsequently risen to twelve millions, if not more. When that Bill was introduced into this House noble Lords opposite responsible for it had no idea what it was going to cost. They gave no indication whatever of the manner in which the cost was to be met. All that we had was obscure and menacing hints by the Chancellor of the Exchequer that there were plenty of henroosts to be robbed—a menace which I am bound to say was most amply fulfilled in the ensuing Budget. I remember Lord Cromer getting up and making a most powerful speech, in the course of which be said he had never known a case of more reckless finance. But surely the case here is even worse than I put it. The Bill of which I am speaking, which was thrown upon the Table of this House in this reckless manner, was a Bill vested with the full authority and responsibility of the Government of this 155 country. And yet members of the Government had none of these scruples on that occasion. But here to-night, on a small Bill introduced by a private member of your Lordships' House, without, as we know, the slightest chance of passing into law, at any rate at present, and only introduced with the object of inviting discussion in the hope that it may be threshed out by a Committee—in this case the scruples of Lord Carrington, which were dormant three years ago, are apparently aroused. I think the noble Earl, it I may say so, whatever may have been his reasons for putting his Motion on the Paper, was wise not to argue it. I have nothing more to say except that I hope your Lordships will mete out the same generous treatment to Lord Malmesbury's Bill that you did to Lord Dunmore's Bill last night. It is quite obvious that a great many of the matters in the Bill will be much the better for a good deal of discussion by competent persons. My noble friend has indicated his desire to meet all reasonable criticisms, and I do not think your Lordships will have done a bad two days' work if after listening to the discussions on both these Bills you refer them to the same Select Committee.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR WAR (VISCOUNT HALDANE)
My Lords, I listened with the deepest interest to the latter part of the speech of the noble Lord who has just addressed the House, because he has come upon the real point in this Bill. We are not, I beg respectfully to say, discussing a mere academic proposition in a debating society. To a more discouraging apologia for a Bill than the one just made in the concluding part of Lord Curzon's speech I have never listened. One would have imagined that this Bill was never intended to be taken as a practical proposition put before a body of legislators. What is the Bill? Stripped of its surroundings and brought down to the root principle, it proposes that the Government shall take out of the Public Exchequer £12,000,000 and apply the money as a lever for carrying through a certain reform. The reform may be an excellent one. I think it is an admirable idea that it should be made as easy as possible for people to transfer land, but when you propose to take £12,000,000 out of the Public Exchequer you are proposing to take a very grave step, particularly when it is apparent, as it is on the face of this Bill, that this is only a first step. If the Bill succeeds, or is in the 156 slightest degree a reality, you must proceed to further large sums without limit.
The gravity of the situation is also complicated by considerations which were mentioned by Lord MacDonnell, who showed that the finance of the Bill was of the most hopeless kind, and if the Treasury consented to go into this speculation they would go into it at a large loss. It is no answer to these arguments to cite the case of the Irish Land Purchase Acts. The noble and learned Lord opposite, Lord Ashbourne, is associated, and very honouraby associated, with that legislation. He said to-night, Could there be a better policy than that the tenants of England should be given an opportunity to buy their land, and that the State should give assistance to that end? But it was not on any such grounds that land purchase was brought forward in Ireland. Land purchase was brought forward and State assistance given and money lavished because we were dealing there with a grave problem of social order, and without the intervention of the State and without appealing to the Public Treasury that problem could not have been solved. We are dealing here with something desirable, but not with a question of social order. The reform is, I agree, a good one, but it is one that is not urgent for the expenditure of public funds.
Have we, in the course of this debate, given serious consideration to what is the only point in this Bill—the proposal to use the Public Treasury? In this Bill there is no new or remarkable legislative machinery. There is no proposal for compulsion, as there was in the case of leasehold enfranchisement, a subject which was very much before the public mind twenty years ago. There is nothing of that kind here. It is simply this, that if a landlord and a tenant choose to make a bargain and the Board of Agriculture approve it, the Treasury is to find the whole purchase money and to be repaid on the very speculative basis of a £3 5s. annuity. In these circumstances speaking for the Government, I can only say we take a very much more serious view of the proposition than that taken on the Benches opposite. We are not a debating society; we are a House of the Legislature; and if we are discussing anything we are discussing it in a serious spirit. Taking that view there is only one alternative, and that is to protest against this proposition 157 being made, and the only way we can do that is by dividing upon it.
About the merits of the scheme I wish to say very little, because it seems to me that the whole matter is swallowed up in the considerations to which I have referred. I am not sure that there are not other ways of helping tenants still more effectually than enabling them to become the owners of their holdings. I have often felt that what was wanted was greater opportunities for people to become tenants of land. That is much more important than to enable those who are already tenants to become the purchasers of their own holdings. The small farm is a new, and, I think, a growing feature. Certainly in Scotland, with which I am more familiar, nothing is more striking than the growing demand for the small farm of 150 to 200 acres. But this Bill does
§ Resolved in the affirmative. Bill read 2a accordingly, and referred to a Select Committee.158
§ not help or encourage that. You have got the machinery in the Act of 1908 which enables you to deal with allotments and with the small holdings that are defined there. This Bill carries you a little further, but in what direction? Merely in the direction of enabling tenants who are already tenants to become owners in fee simple. I do not regard that as the most urgent of the reforms connected with the land, and for that reason, but mainly on the ground that tins constitutes a substantial financial proposal, if my noble friend goes to a Division I shall vote with him.
§ On Question, whether the words proposed to be left out shall stand part of the question?
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 54; Not-contents, 30.157
|Norfolk, D. (E. Marshal.)||Portsmouth, E.||De Mauley, L.|
|Devonshire, D.||Vane, E. (M. Londonderry.)||Estcourt, L.|
|Wharncliffe, E.||Greville, L.|
|Bristol, M.||Gwydir, L.|
|Winchester, M.||Churchill, V.||Hastings, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Heneage, L. [Teller.]|
|Bathurst, E.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.)||Hindlip, L.|
|cathcard, E.||Hylton, L.|
|Cromer, E.||Lawrence, L.|
|Dartrey, E.||Ashbourne, L.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Denbigh, E.||Balfour, L.||Newton, L.|
|Derby, E.||Barnard, L.||Rathmore, L.|
|Fitzwilliam, E.||Barrymore, L.||Ravensworth, L.|
|Halsbury, E.||Belper, L.||Ritchie of Dundee, L.|
|Leven and Melville, E.||Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.)||St. Levan, L.|
|Lovelace, E.||Clanwilliam, L. (E. Clanwilliam.)||Sandys, L.|
|Malmesbury, E. [Teller.]||Sinclair, L.|
|Manvers, E.||Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Wandsworth, L.|
|Morley, E.||Clinton, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Morton, E.||Curzon of Kedleston, L.||Zouche of Haryngworth, L.|
|Loreburn, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Blyth, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Morley of Blackburn, V. (L. President.)||Brassey, L.||Pirrie, L.|
|Colebrooke, L.||Reay, L.|
|Eversley, L.||Sandhurst, L.|
|Beauchamp, E.||Haversham, L.||Saye and Sele, L.|
|Carrington, E.||Hemphill, L.||Shuttleworth, L.|
|Liverpool, E. [Teller.]||Herschell, L. [Teller.]||Stanley of Alderley, L. (L. Sheffield.)|
|Haldane, V.||Lucas, L.||Swaythling, L.|
|Lyveden, L.||Tweedmouth, L.|
|Allendale, L.||MacDonnell, L.||Weardale, L.|
|Ashby St. Ledgers, L.||Marchamley, L.|
§ House adjourned at twenty minutes past Seven o'clock, till Tomorrow, half-past Ten o'clock.