§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE SECRETARY FOR SCOTLAND (LORD PENTLAND)
My Lords, the proposals which are contained in this Bill have on former occasions had the advantage of the clearness and the cogency which characterise, as your Lordships well know, the eloquence of the Lord Chancellor in addressing this House, and therefore I must plead for special indulgence in endeavouring to explain them to your Lordships on this occasion. This Bill applies solely to Scotland, and is intended to accomplish three main purposes. First, it is a Land Tenure Bill for existing small holdings, and for that purpose it amends and extends the Crofters Acts. Secondly, it provides machinery for the creation of new small holdings in Scotland. Thirdly, it seeks to establish a Board of Agriculture for Scotland, which it is intended should 294 be fully equipped to promote agriculture, forestry, and other rural industries in all their branches. These purposes, though I have divided them, are closely related and interdependent, and the Government regard each one of them as an integral and vital portion of this Bill. Since July, 1906, when the proposals which this Bill contains were first introduced in the House of Commons, several other Bills dealing with the same subject have been laid before the Houses of Parliament, and opinion may, I think, fairly be described as having advanced upon the subject. Those who advocate and believe in small holdings are more numerous, and I trust I am not wrong in entertaining the hope that there will be a greater measure of agreement in regard to these proposals to-day than there has been hitherto.
In its first form this Bill was laid before Parliament in July, 1906. In 1907, after having been read a second time in the House of Commons by a very large majority—something like 239—it passed through all its stages and came up to this House. This House at the time did not see its way to give the Bill a Second Reading. In the following year—1908—after the Bill had passed again through the House of Commons, being supported by even greater majorities, this House rejected it on Second Reading by 153 votes to 33. The following year—1909—was the year of the great Budget controversy, and there was then no hope of making progress with a measure of this kind. In the succeeding year—1910—two General Elections took place. The net deduction from the transactions of these years is this, that through two General Elections and in three Parliaments the proposals contained in this Bill have had the strong and determined support of a very large majority of the electors of Scotland and of public opinion in that country. This has been reflected in the House of Commons. In 1906 the vast majority of the Members returned for Scotland supported this Bill, but there were even a greater number in the two succeeding Parliaments—this Parliament and the Parliament which preceded it. I think it may be said that rarely has any Bill received more marked indications of strong public support being behind it.
It has been said, I admit—and I dare say it may be said again—that there is 295 no substantial support for this Bill, that agricultural opinion does not support it. Well, agricultural opinion, like other opinion, has various modes of expressing itself, but I submit that in this and in other subjects it is apt to be dangerous and misleading to go outside the authentic organ of public opinion—namely, its expression in the Commons House of Parliament. To what is this public support due? It is due, I suggest, to the facts of the case. In Scotland, as in England, a very small proportion of the population live in the rural districts—about a quarter—and this proportion is growing smaller and smaller every year. Nothing has influenced public opinion more strongly on this subject than the appearance of the Census figures this year, and if your Lordships will allow me I will mention one or two salient facts which the Census discloses. In the first; place, it shows that during the decade which has just ended we have had in Scotland the lowest rate of increase since 1861—namely, 6.4. The increase in the preceding decade was 11.1. We have had, it is true, a total increase of population of 287,000, but the natural increase—that is to say, the excess of births over deaths—is something like 542,000, so that we have really a loss of population of. 255,000. Of the thirty-three counties in Scotland sixteen show a decrease of population, and in two others the increase is under 100. Of the total number of 875 parishes in Scotland, in no less than 536 there is an absolute decrease in population. Fifteen counties have fewer inhabitants than they had fifty years ago, and four counties have fewer inhabitants than they had in the year 1801, when the population of Scotland was not very much more than 1,600,000.
§ LORD PENTLAND
They are Argyll, Berwick, Perth, and Sutherland. There are 205 burghs m Scotland—the dwindling of the country population affects the small country towns—and in seventy-six of these, mostly small burghs, there are fewer inhabitants now than there were ten years ago. Then, again, the emigration figures for Scotland are alarming. We have hitherto been accustomed to regard Ireland as that portion of the United Kingdom which contributed most to emi- 296 gration, but that state of things has been reversed for the last, five years. Scotland contributes about 11 per cent, to the total population of the United Kingdom, but it contributes 25 per cent, to the emigration figures. For the last five years the emigration from Scotland has exceeded the emigration from Ireland by 17,000 people, and during the last ten years there has been a progressive increase in the emigration from Scotland. The figure ten years ago was 8,970; last year the record figure of 58,384 was reached. Then if you look at the agricultural condition of Scotland you will see that Scotland has shared in the loss of arable land; arable land has gone out of cultivation, and it is said that arable land does not pay. I submit to your Lordships that arable land does pay but requires expert fanning to make it pay, and we have to face the fact that unless there is more arable land the land will not support a larger rural population. It is in this connection noteworthy that while our land has been going out of cultivation, in other countries large additions have been made to the arable land.
Again, there are fewer people in Scotland actively engaged in agriculture in proportion to our population than in other agricultural and progressive countries. Every year a larger area in Scotland is devoted to deer forests and to sport. I am not attacking sport or deer forests. I wish to guard myself against any such inference. There is some land, no doubt, suited to such purposes, and probably a greater proportion of land would be taken from sheep farms than from deer forests if it were devoted to the purposes which I have indicated. At the same time it must surely be disquieting to realise the very large increase in the area devoted exclusively to sport in Scotland. In 1883, 1,700,000 acres were devoted to these purposes in the Highland counties. That figure is now very nearly 3,000,000 acres according to a return of 1908, and if we add some 500,000 acres devoted to this purpose in other counties in Scotland we arrive at a total of 3,500,000 acres. Scotland has fewer farms in proportion to her size and population than other agricultural countries. Denmark is half the size of Scotland; she has 230,000 farms, whilst Scotland has 90,000. Then, again, our agricultural labour is fast diminishing. There were 91,801 farm servants ten years 297 ago; to-day there are 73,794. I have some figures here—I hesitate to trouble your Lordships with them—which contrast the condition of Belgium with Scotland. They have been very carefully examined. But I will content myself with mentioning that many comparisons have been drawn, after a very careful examination of the circumstances, which confirm the apprehensions I have already indicated.
At any rate, my Lords, public opinion in Scotland is strongly convinced that we are not making the most of our resources, that our land is not supporting the population which it might support, and that it is not producing what it might produce. Scotland is renowned in some branches of farming, but, whatever be their merits or importance, the system of farming and land tenure in Scotland is not succeeding in keeping the people on the land. It does not offer adequate inducements to the man who works on it, and if we are to meet this need, which is a national and more than a purely agricultural need, the inducements must be increased, and we must make it possible for men in larger numbers to make a home and a career on the land in Scotland and reap the fruits of their own labour, as is the case elsewhere in the British Empire. These facts were bound, I submit, to influence public opinion, and it was not surprising to the Government that when a private Member in the House of Commons secured a place in the ballot he introduced the Government measure of 1908 as his own measure and obtained a Second Reading for it without a Division. The Bill went upstairs to Grand Committee, and much conference and consultation took place between the opposite sides of the House. There was an evident desire to endeavour to meet differences and to bridge over difficulties, and the Bill emerged from the Grand Committee with considerable changes and concessions.
It may be convenient to your Lordships if I endeavour very briefly to explain the provisions of the Bill as it now stands. As I have said, it seeks, first, to give a permanent tenure to existing small holdings and to so maintain their existence as small holdings; secondly, to create new small holdings, in order to offer a career to those who work on the land and to increase the number of small farmers. Your Lordships know that what we mean in Scotland 298 by a small holding is somewhat different from what, is commonly, I think, characterised as a small holding in England. We mean a small farm upon which a man and his family can make a living, and not simply a piece of ground which he can cultivate in connection with his existing dwelling-house. One feature, I submit, of all systems which have been established to encourage small holdings is that they have provided security of tenure. In Ireland this was done by the Ulster custom of tenant right, and subsequently by the peasant proprietary set up by more recent legislation. In England, in the Act of 1907, which your Lordships examined and debated, security of tenure is provided by the system of county council leases for the duration of thirty years, with powers, if not probabilities, of extension beyond that time. The reason is, of course, that without such security the stimulus to exertion is not present. Let a man reap the whole fruits of his labour and he will put forth the utmost of his exertions, his mental activity will be greater, and he will seek to co-operate with his neighbours and benefit by such opportunities in the way of agricultural education as the Government may offer him. The security which is offered by this Bill is not the Ulster system, nor peasant proprietary, nor the county council system. It differs from all these. It is founded on the tenure of the Crofters Act of 1886, of which we have had in Scotland five-and-twenty years experience. It is familiar and appreciated in Scotland, and under it great improvements have taken place.
This Bill gives to the crofter, who is under the Bill called a landholder, security of tenure, subject to conditions protecting the interests of the landlord, such as providing against the deterioration of the soil, the dilapidation of buildings, and other matters of the same kind. Subject to these, the landholder may remain on his farm as long as he likes and have the right to bequeath his interest in it. He will have to pay a fair rent, and he has the right of having that rent fixed by an independent and impartial tribunal. When he leaves the farm, he has the right to compensation from the landlord for such improvements as the tenant himself has put up, so long as they are deemed by the Land Court suitable to the holding. When this proposal was last discussed by this House it 299 was characterised by the noble Marquess opposite and others who criticised as the crofterisation of the Lowlands. I think that was the centre and core of their criticism. Strong objection was taken to it chiefly on this ground, that, apart altogether from the expediency of the policy, it was unfair to give this tenure to tenants who had not, like the crofters, made their own improvements. To do so, it was argued, would be to hand over to such tenants improvements which had been made at the cost of the landlord. It is just at this point that an important change has been made in the Bill. After much conference and discussion between both sides of the House common ground on this point has been found, and effect has been given to the distinction drawn between tenants who have and tenants who have not made their own improvements. Tenants who have made their own improvements, or the greater part of them, are to remain under the original tenure of the Bill as I have described it, and are termed landholders. On the other hand, for those who have not made their own improvements a separate Code has been drawn up, to which allusion is made in Clause 2 of the Bill, and which will be found in extensor in Clause 32. In both those clauses such tenants are described as "statutory small tenants," in contradistinction to landholders.
These statutory small tenants remain under the conditions of their existing agreement or lease; and, except when the landlord satisfies the Land Court that there is reasonable ground of objection to the statutory small tenant, that tenant is entitled by the provisions of this Bill to a renewal of his lease when it comes to an end. The landlord and tenant may, of course, agree as to the terms and conditions of the lease or of the renewal. Failing agreement, the landlord or the tenant may apply to the Land Court to fix an equitable rent and to fix the period for which the agreement or the tenancy is to be renewed. In determining the rent the words of the clause are, I think, fairly precise, and I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to them. They are to be found in subsection (8) of Clause 32, which runs thus—In determining the vent the Land Court shall, so far as practicable, act on their own knowledge and experience, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, holding, and district, 300 including the rent at which the holding has been let, the proposed conditions of the renewed tenacy, the improvements made by the landlord and tenant respectively, and the then condition and value of such improvements; and—these are the important words which were arrived at only after considerable conference and discussion—and shall fix as the rent to be paid by the tenant the rent which, in their opinion, would be an equitable rent for the holding between the landlord and the tenant as a willing lessor and a willing lessee.One further condition of this Code I would point out—namely, that in the event of the landlord at any time failing to provide or maintain the buildings and permanent improvements suitable to the holding, the tenant may apply to the Land Court, who may, after hearing the parties, declare that the tenant shall become a landholder and so pass into the other category of these small tenants and have the rights of a landholder under the Bill. This arrangement has so far been accepted as a satisfactory solution of this which your Lordships will remember was one of the most controversial points in the earlier discussions of this Bill.
I do not suggest in saying this—I wish to guard myself against saying it—that the Bill comes up to your Lordships in any sense as an agreed Bill. Your Lordships are probably as well acquainted as I am with what did take place in the House of Commons. It is true to say that both parties have done their best to meet each others difficulties in this matter and in other points of the Bill, and it is after that has been done, and in view of the better hope which there is for this Bill under such circumstance, that the Bill has now come to your Lordships' House. The House will observe that in describing the tribunal which fixes a fair rent I have called it the Land Court. Hitherto in the Highland counties the Crofters Commission has discharged the duty of fixing fair rents and the other duties prescribed under the Crofters Act, 1886. Obviously the existence of two bodies discharging similar duties is not necessary. Accordingly the Crofters Commission is by this Bill brought to an end and merged into the larger body for the whole of Scotland. The status of the Court and of its chairman is raised. It is to consist of not more than five members. Such administrative functions as the Crofters Commission has hitherto had have been taken away. Those ad- 301 ministrative functions have been reduced to a minimum, and it may, I think, be correctly said that the functions of the Land Court are strictly judicial. So much for the first part of the Bill.
I will now say a few words about the next purpose of the Bill, which is to create now holdings. Again here we have experience of this kind in Scotland. True, that experience is confined to the Highlands, but for all that it is not to be despised in the consideration of the very difficult work of creating new small holdings. In 1897 Parliament established the Congested Districts Board. Its duties are somewhat varied, but it performs the duties of a Board of Agriculture for the crofter counties. It spends money in improving live stock and in work of that kind, and it has, besides, powers for the purchase of land for re-sale to tenants, and it has also carried out schemes for the settlement of tenants upon land as crofters under the Crofters Act. During its existence it has created over 600 small holdings and carried out more than 1,000 cases of enlargement of existing holdings. This Bill proposes to extend these powers, which are wholly administrative, to the whole of Scotland. But the Congested Districts Board disappears and is superseded in the exercise of these powers by the Board of Agriculture, which is constituted, by Clause 4 of this Bill. I shall say something later about the general administrative powers of this proposed Board, but I mention it now for the reason that its powers come into play in the machinery which the Bill proposes to set up for the creation of small holdings.
As your Lordships well know, land cannot be made available for the creation of small holdings without the erection of new buildings. Frequently, if not always, the cost of new buildings is fatal and prohibitive to schemes for small holdings. That may not be universally the case, because the increased rental which may come from land may in certain cases meet, wholly or partly, the cost of the erection of new building's, but this question of new buildings has been a great obstacle to the breaking up of land for small holdings. Clause 7 of this Bill, and especially subsection (7) of that clause, is designed to meet this difficulty. It offers financial help, on the one hand, by grants or loans for fencing, dividing, and adapting land, for providing water supply, and other 302 purposes; and, on the other hand, it offers loans for the provision of farmhouses and buildings. Both these provisions are founded upon the practice which has been followed hitherto by the Congested Districts Board in schemes of this character. The same clause contains the procedure which is to be followed in preparing schemes of small holdings. And let me say here, my Lords, that there it, nothing whatever in this Bill restricting or preventing the existing freedom of any landlord to make small holdings on his own property under whatever system he chooses.
§ LORD PENTLAND
The freedom of a proprietor to make small holdings in his own way by agreement with his own tenants is in no sense impaired or restricted by this Bill.
§ LORD PENTLAND
There is no clause in the Bill which affects the existing freedom of a proprietor to make small holdings as he chooses. If he wishes the help offered by the Bill, then he comes under the Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Do we understand that it a proprietor creates a new small holding ab initio on land in his own hands, that, small holding is not affected by the provisions of this Bill?
§ LORD PENTLAND
I am not quite sure about statutory tenants, but before the end of the sitting I will give the noble Lord an answer on that point. I was referring to landholders' tenure, and was speaking especially with reference to Clause 7.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I beg the noble Lord's pardon for having interrupted him. But he made a statement in which he said that there was no interference with the liberty of landowners to create new small holdings on their property with their own money, and my interruption was caused by the fact that I did not see anything in the Bill which gave that power. Therefore I asked where the provision was.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I think the answer I have given is perfectly correct, but I will undertake to give a definite answer before the debate concludes. But, as a matter of fact, taking the operation of this clause which provides the machinery for the creation of small holdings, such holdings may, of course, be created by agreement between landlord and tenant. Secondly, the clause provides that the machinery of the clause shall be set in motion by the Commissioner for Small Holdings. Your Lordships will observe in subsection (2) of the clause that it is the duty of the Commissioner for Small Holdings to report from time to time what demands for small holdings exist and what land is available. His next step is to negotiate with the landlord of such land, and he then reports to his Board, who draw up the scheme. With the Commissioner for Small Holdings they decide what financial help they can offer to the scheme and what compensation is due to the interests affected, and if there is no difference of opinion the scheme proceeds; but should there be a difference of opinion there is a provision to meet it in the clause. For instance, the landlord may decline to negotiate, there may be differences of opinion among applicants which prevent an agreement, and so forth. If the Board, in those circumstances, feel obliged to proceed with the scheme, it becomes a compulsory scheme. Then the Board of Agriculture, after hearing all the parties, give due notice, and intimate to all concerned that the scheme is to proceed, if at all, as a compulsory scheme. They frame the scheme in all details and give notice that they propose to lay it before the Land Court. The scheme then goes before the Land Court, and the Court gives the parties an opportunity to be heard upon it, and, after hearing all parties as between the Board on the one hand and the landlord or other interests on the other, the Court decides what land may be taken, what is to be the fair rent for each holding, what land 304 is to be excluded from the scheme, and, indeed, whatever else is necessary to adjust the scheme.
Further, if in the opinion of the Land Court—and this is the provision for compensation which your Lordships will find in subsection (11) of Clause 7—damage will be done to the letting value of the land or to any farm, or, indeed, to any estate, or to a landlord in respect of an obligation to take over sheep stock and so forth, the Court may require the Board of Agriculture to give compensation to the interests concerned, provided always that the damage done is directly attributable to the constitution of new holdings. The Bill provides that the scheme shall be the scheme of the Board of Agriculture; that any differences between that Board and the landlord shall be submitted to and determined by the Land Court as a skilled, impartial, and independent tribunal; that the parties shall be heard, and that the decision of the Land Court shall be final; and that, in the event of the scheme proceeding, full and fair compensation, as awarded by the Land Court, shall be paid to all interests affected. I submit, my Lords, that under such a system as this the provision for compensation is a most important consideration. On the one hand, it is the view of the Government that compensation should be fair and full in every particular; on the other hand, the effect of such compensation will, as your Lordships will readily see, be to check unwise or extravagant schemes. They will be shown to be impracticable, and schemes which are launched will have behind them the probability, if not the certainty, of success.
But it may fairly be said, "This is all very well. You are going to take this land, break it up for small holdings and pay compensation and settle the tenants upon it. What if the scheme is a failure, and the small holdings which have been forced upon an unwilling landlord are thrown back on his hands?" That contingency, remote as I trust it may be, is met by the Bill. The proviso to Clause 17 provides that in such a case where the damage is attributable to the constitution of small holdings the landlord may apply to the Land Court to assess the damage or injury done by the scheme and require the Board to pay to him such compensation as the Land Court may determine. Before 305 I pass from that point I have only to repeat what has been said in another place on behalf of the Government, that if your Lordships can show that there are any risks unprovided for, any losses unforeseen, which will inevitably occur to the landlord or other interests in this matter, the Government will be glad to consider any proposals that can be made to remedy such omissions.
It is urged that these proposals constitute an unwarrantable interference with existing rights, and also that a system of dual ownership is set up by the Bill. We have frequently heard those arguments. There is a partnership set up by the Bill as there must be under any system of landlord and tenant; but I submit that this system which exists and which is strengthened and maintained by this Bill does not in principle differ from the partnerships constituted by the Agricultural Holdings Acts. If a larger population is to be placed on the land the economic position of existing small holdings must be strengthened, new small holdings must be made, and greater inducements must be offered. The only basis for such efforts is complete security of tenure. Purchase offers security of tenure, and the Small Holdings Act of 1892, which confers upon county councils powers by purchase to provide small holdings, is unimpaired by this Bill. But there is every indication, my Lords, that public opinion in Scotland, as well as in this country, will not have purchase. The evidence and the experience of the English Act of 1907 are very striking upon this point. Not 2½ per cent, of the 30,000 applications for land under that Act have been applications for purchase. That surely indicates that while purchase may be suitable in special cases and for special purposes—and I, for one, have never denied that—it is not suitable to, and is not demanded and is not likely to be taken advantage of by the great body of those who seek to improve their position on the land. The proposals in this Bill are intended to provide complete security of tenure with the least possible burden and the least possible interference with the existing system. The landlord may still sell, mortgage, bequeath his land, or dispose of it as he may think lit. He may shoot, he may fish, he may hunt, he may plant, he may dig for minerals, he may resume for building, he may feu his estate—none of these powers are in any way restricted or impaired by this Bill. 306 All that the Bill lays down is that so long as the land is let to small holders the small holder shall have security of tenure to do the best for himself and his family and for the country.
The third portion of the Bill, as to which I will only say a very few words, is the proposal to appoint a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland, which is to consist of three members, one of whom is to be the chairman and another the Commissioner for Small Holdings. The Board of Agriculture is to exercise its powers over all Scotland. It is to take over from the Congested Districts Board the powers which that Board has for promoting small holdings and for the aiding and developing of agriculture and dairying, the improvement of live stock, and the encouragement of home industries. Under Clause 4 of the Bill the Board is directly charged with the duty of promoting the interests of agriculture, forestry, and other rural industries, and in the same clause provision is made for the transfer from the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries in London of powers which apply to Scotland. The most important of those powers, so far as they apply to Scotland, is the administration of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act, and I would ask your Lordships to note that in that clause it is provided that these powers may be transferred cither unconditionally or subject to conditions. I do not propose to argue this point on the present occasion. It seems to be more suitable for discussion in Committee. But I should just like to say that the Government are entirely alive and agreed as to the importance of eradicating disease and protecting the herds and flocks of this country from disease.
This proposal has always been in the Bill. It was not inserted except after very full consideration and examination of the facts. It is held, that what is proposed is likely to confer greater protection and to be more prompt and effective than the present system, because the Scottish Board would be more accessible to public opinion, would have a more intimate knowledge of local conditions, and a greater opportunity of continuous vigilance over conditions which are likely to harbour disease. I may point out that this provision has nothing whatever to do with the question of the importation of Canadian cattle. That question is regulated 307 by Statute, and nothing can be done to alter the present position except with, the consent of Parliament. I am quite aware that there are apprehensions—perfectly honest and genuine apprehensions—on this subject. For myself, I confess I have no such apprehensions. I believe that the two Boards could act perfectly well together in this matter, and as an example I may remind your Lordships that in regard to the subject of epidemic infectious disease the Local Government Boards of the two countries work perfectly harmoniously and effectively together. There was an outbreak of plague the other day in Suffolk, but there was no nervousness in Scotland. Years of experience have quite satisfied us in Scotland that every precaution is taken by our own Local Government Board, acting in conjunction with the Local Government Board here. But I understand that proposals may be made in Committee to amend the Bill in this matter, and I can only say that the Government will be glad to give their best consideration to those proposals.
May I, before I sit down, say a word to explain why the Government attach vital importance to the establishment of this separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland? In the first place, the soil and climate, the laws and institutions and local authorities, the system of land tenure, the system of education—all these, which have an intimate bearing on the agriculture of the country, are different in Scotland from what they are in England. Secondly, the working of this Bill makes it imperative that there should be Scottish authorities to carry it out. I cannot conceive any Government making the proposal that the Crofters Commission or the Congested Districts Board should be worked from London rather than in Scotland, and the argument becomes all the stronger when these two authorities become authorities for the whole of Scotland. After all, agriculture is essentially a local industry. It is bound up intimately with the lives and the homes of the people, and if Scottish farmers are to be equipped as they should be to compete with their rivals, they should have the same help as their rivals have.
Every progressive agricultural country has not only remodelled its land tenure, but has provided its farmers with an active and energetic stimulus to their industry in the shape of a Department of 308 Agriculture. Look even across St. George's Channel and see what the Irish Department has done for Ireland. Unquestionably we are being left behind by the activity, the energy, and the success of the Irish Department in its development of the agricultural industries of Ireland. Take one of the very smallest of those industries, one which here is reckoned as one of the very smallest—the poultry industry. In five years in Ireland the value of the export of eggs and poultry has increased from £2,800,000 to £3,700,000. Nearly £1,000,000 has in the last five years been added to the exports from Ireland in this one branch, and it has been done by active work on the part of the Department in the provision of trained teachers, poultry schools, and instruction in the scientific care of poultry, the selection of birds, and so forth. It is just such facilities applied to every branch of agriculture that we desire to place at the disposal of Scottish farmers—facilities for education, for research and experiment, and for protection from fraudulent imitations which interfere with the sale of the genuine article.
Then in Scotland we have a claim to special treatment in this matter in the existence of very large opportunities for forestry which are common to no other part of the United Kingdom. And, finally, I would submit that the problem is not merely agricultural; it is social. There is real decay in country life, and depopulation is depriving the country districts of the enjoyment in full measure of the ordinary resources of civilisation. It is becoming harder and harder in Scotland to equip rural districts adequately with medical attendance and even with facilities for education. The burden is getting more and more onerous and more and more difficult to compass. And this vital and unavoidable obligation of endeavouring to recreate the rural life of the country cannot be undertaken unless every instrument is placed at the disposal of the people and of the Government. It can only be based on the independence of the people. The dwellers in the country must be allowed to strike their roots into the soil, and no longer be dependent on the will of any man for their home and livelihood. Therefore, in the view of the Government, there must be a Scottish Department to be the servant of Scottish agriculture and to work alongside other Scottish 309 Departments hand in hand for the purpose of enabling the land of Scotland to support a larger population and to make it more productive, to improve the methods of farming, to organise the farming industry, and to promote the industries which are auxiliary to farming, and so to raise and enrich the home life of the people who live in the country districts.
The whole country is interested in this proposal. It is not a matter of interest solely to rural districts; it is of interest to the towns. The present arrangements in regard to the Board of Agriculture—and in saying this I make no criticism of and no complaint against the Board of Agriculture in London and its officials who have carried on their work with the greatest zeal and energy, only under the great difficulty of being at a distance—the present arrangements are condemned by everybody. Everybody asks for a change. They do not all ask for the change which is proposed in this Bill, but then there are always critics and the world is not a perfect world. The Government feel that in this matter they will not be doing their duty if they do not press upon Parliament with all their strength the proposals which are contained in this Bill. I thank your Lordships very warmly for your courtesy in allowing me to explain the. Bill at such length, and I hope I have not unduly trespassed upon your time. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Pentland.)
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
My Lords, I have listened with the greatest possible interest to the exhaustive speech which the noble Lord has made explaining the provisions of this Bill, and I am sure I shall carry the sense of the House with me when I say that a fairer or more conciliatory speech could not have been made upon the subject. But whether he has convinced your Lordships that all the provisions of this Bill are the best possible provisions that can be imagined for the purpose which he has in hand is a matter upon which I have still grave doubts. The noble Lord began his speech by saying that the Bill was intended to accomplish three purposes. It was a Land Tenure Bill, it was a Bill for the creation of small holdings, and a Bill for instituting a Board of Agriculture for Scotland. So far as it is 310 a Land Tenure Bill—in other words, so far as it is purely a proposal to amend the Crofters' Holdings Act for those who are in the strict sense of the term crofters—I have little to say; but I still do not understand why, because you want more small holdings in Scotland, you are to unsettle every agricultural tenure in that country. The Bill does that, and it implies more.
The noble Lord said that since this matter had been last discussed opinions had advanced. I altogether deny that there has ever been any doubt here in this House, especially on this side, as to the advantage of a certain proportion of small holdings. But when the noble Lord goes on to point out, as a reason for the provisions of this Bill, that the rural population of Scotland has diminished and is diminishing, I am bound to say that if he intends to imply that that is even more than remotely connected with the question of tenure, he is entirely mistaken. He instanced four counties—your Lordships will remember that I asked for the names of those counties—as those that were the most terrible examples of the particular point which he was urging on the House at the moment. Those counties were Argyll, Berwick, Perth, and Sutherland. Well, Argyll and Sutherland are crofting counties. They already have this very security of tenure which is now asked for, and yet the population is diminishing. That clearly shows that uncertainty of tenure is not the main cause of the diminution of population.
Then take Perth and Berwick. Perth and Berwick happen to be two agricultural counties which are almost without any manufacturing town of any kind within them, and therefore the movement of the population to other parts of Scotland takes them out of the totals for those counties which are returned in the Census. To follow that up for a moment, the point of arable land going out of cultivation depends far more on other things besides tenure. It depends mainly upon prices. It is because the price of agricultural products has fallen during the last half century that this migration from the country to the town has gone on, and it will continue to go on unless prices rise—but this is a very large question into which I am not now going to enter. There is another cause which, has handicapped 311 agriculture in Scotland, and that is the continually increasing pressure and tyranny of what is put upon the rates which agricultural land has so largely to bear. It is these two factors taken together, the fall of prices and the burden of the rates, which have largely caused this migration of population.
Then as regards the proposal to establish a Board of Agriculture in Scotland. There I do not think opinion has advanced. The noble Lord said something about agriculturists not being largely represented in the other House of Parliament because they were, comparatively speaking, small in numbers and could not make the weight of their opinion felt. But if you take agricultural opinion, which I agree is not largely represented in the other House—if you take agricultural opinion as expressed through its own constituted bodies you will find that at a meeting held some few weeks ago at Perth, at which 14,000 agriculturists were represented and at which 120 delegates were present, there was not one single person to be found who would support the proposals in this Bill. There were two different proposals put forward. One was for a Board of Agriculture on the lines of the present Board of Agriculture but more representative of Scotland, and the other was for something like the Bill but not the proposal in the Bill: but the voting was 86 to 44. Neither of the resolutions before the chamber had the remotest connection to the proposals in this Bill; they were both for very radical changes in the particular proposals put forward in this Bill.
I shall not detain the House longer than I can help, because I, for one, am certainly not going to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. But I cannot even now understand why, because you want small holdings in Scotland, you must necessarily combine that with most radical changes in the whole of our agricultural tenure. This Bill is still in name a Bill to amend the Crofters Holdings Act; yet except by exception it really extends the principles of crofting tenure throughout the whole of Scotland. There is no case for that at all. The history of the crofting tenure makes it suitable to its own district; but it has nothing on earth to do with the general agricultural condition of Scotland. This Bill seeks to introduce both the system and the principles which were the 312 ruin of Irish agriculture. The real logical division between one form of tenure and another is not the size or the situation of the holding. The critical thing is, Who does the improvements? If the landlord has allowed his tenant, either by custom or bargain or otherwise, to put up buildings, to roof houses, to do the class of permanent improvements apart from the rent, no fair-minded man can deny that he has allowed the tenant to create for himself an interest in the holding for which he should be compensated. But I cannot see the remotest justice, in the case in which the landlord has done the whole of the permanent improvements, that the tenant is to be given any more interest than that for which he has bargained. There is no case for it, as far as I can see, in the circumstances of Scotland. As I have said, the logical, fair, practical, sensible criterion is, Who has done the permanent improvements? If the tenant has done them, I say again he has acquired an interest for which he should be compensated; but, so far as I know, that is not the case over the largest area in Scotland.
I understand the expressions "landlord," "tenant," and "smallholder." But just look what complicated phraseology we have throughout the Bill. I would take as an illustration subsection (10) of Clause 26. With all the intelligence which I have been able to devote to it and with all the explanation I have been able to get, I am still wholly unable to fathom what is the meaning of that subsection. You there find this provision—A person shall not be subject to the provisions of this Act regarding statutory small tenants who in terms of this section would be disqualified from being an existing yearly tenant or a qualified leaseholder.You have to wade through crofters, landholders with leases, landholders without leases, statutory small tenants, existing yearly tenants, and qualified leaseholders. I venture to say if there ever was a Bill introduced into Parliament with complicated phraseology this is one which beats anything I have ever seen.
And when I say that this Bill seems to threaten to revolutionise tenure all over Scotland, I have the authority of the Lord Advocate for that statement. The provision of the Bill to which for the moment I am calling attention is the one which says 313 that if there is a holder whoso holding is under £50 in annual value and under 50 acres he is to become, whatever his bargain with the landlord, a statutory small tenant. There is no logic in the limit of £50 in the case of value or of 50 acres in regard to size; and I will read what the Lord Advocate said in the other House when this point was put to him. He was asked why, if security of tenure was necessary, it should be limited to holdings of 50 acres, and he replied—It was because it was thought that small farmers alone desired to have this benefit. He readily admitted that there was no logical defence. Whenever large farmers intimated a desire to have security of tenure and fair rent, they should have it. The House could not deny it.The question I ask is, Is that or is that not a fair expression of the policy of the Government? Do they mean to carry on through all the sizes of agricultural holdings this principle that if a man who has bargained for a lease for a term of years desires to have it extended he is to have it regardless of the interests or the rights or the privileges of the landlord? That is why I say that this departure from the criterion of the man who has done the improvements is, to my mind, a fatal blot upon this Bill. I agree—and I say it because we are so often misrepresented—that if the tenant has done the improvements, by all means acknowledge it and compensate him and give him a fair return for it; but if you once depart from the principle that you can get possession of the property by doing the improvements yourself, you have taken the first and fatal step into all the difficulties which will land you in the Irish land system, of which we have heard so much in this House.
I stand on this principle, that there is neither fairness nor reason in taking away the right of the landlord who has honestly done his duty to his estate and has done the improvements. This Bill disregards that condition, and it gives to the tenant two things. It gives him fixity of tenure subject to the landlord having to prove something against his tenure, and it gives it to him subject to a rent being fixed by an outside authority. I say there is no fairness in that in the case of a farm any more than there is in the case of a house. If I let a house to anybody, I expect to get it back at the end of the lease. If I let a farm to a tenant, I expect to get, that farm back at the end of the 314 lease. And I say, with all the force that I can, that if you once depart from that principle you have taken a fatal step which you will never cease to regret.
The noble Lord spent some time in explaining to us the method by which small holdings were to be formed. First, there was to be agreement, as to which no one can take any exception. Secondly, there was to be compulsion in the case where there was not agreement. I at any rate am not going to take any exception to that where it is proved that public necessity requires it. But I think the procedure is rather complicated. There is, first, to be a report by the Commissioner; there is then to be a decision by the Board of Agriculture; and then there is a power to the Land Court to take, and also a power to assess the damage after hearing the parties concerned. I frankly admit that the conditions as laid down in the Bill and as explained by the noble Lord are fair. But, my Lords, it is not so much the paper conditions that I am concerned with, but the guarantees for carrying these out with fairness in practice. The value is to be taken, but the value to whom? Is the piece taken out of the farm to be valued according to its value to the person who now has it, or according to its value to the person who is to get it? It may be very different; and everything depends, not upon the conditions which are laid down in the Bill, important as they are, but upon the method in which they are carried out. You have this Board of Agriculture and the Land Court acting together. They have every temptation put in their way to make the thing a success. They naturally wish that their work should be successful, and it may be even said that their bias in this direction is a laudable bias. But in order to keep down the compensation to be paid to the landlord for depreciation in the letting value of his farm, they have only to fix the abatement to be given to the tenant at a very low figure. In view of this, they may be tempted to allow an abatement for the land taken equal only to the rent by which the holding will be diminished.
And there is an extraordinary difficulty in assessing the real damage to a farm in taking a slice out of it. It is a thing upon which opinions vary in the most extraordinary way; and I think I can prove, from practical experience under 315 the working of the present Government, that the value to the small holder, to a congregation of small holders, is much less than the value to a single tenant. The noble Lord opposite will remember the case of Vatersay. Vatersay as one farm was let at £300 a year to a substantial tenant; it was purchased by the Congested Districts Board, and when subdivided only produced £160 a year. In the case of that happening under a holding taken under this Bill, who is to bear that loss? Is it to be the landlord from whom the land is taken, or is he to be compensated? I ask that matters of this kind should not be left entirely to the opinion of those who are interested in making the procedure a success. The Commissioners are to say which land they want, and the Court is to have the power of taking it. It does seem to me that from the decision of the Land Court as to the value three must be an appeal of some kind. It does not appear to me to matter so much whether it is an appeal to a skilled arbitrator or to a higher tribunal, but the mere existence of the possibility of there being an appeal, the mere fact that the Court which comes to the decision knows that that decision can be appealed against, is a guarantee that they will not do an outrageous or unfair thing. But if they are in the position of doing as they choose without having to justify their decision, then I say we are put under a condition under which I will not willingly go.
Something was said of the high position in which the Land Court is to be placed. In Clause 3 there is a provision that the Chairman is to have what is called the rank of a Judge. Now what does that mean? I always thought that rank was a thing which was given by the Sovereign. I have never heard of this being given by Act of Parliament. You may give a man the rank of a Judge, but you do not thereby give him the ability or the fairness of a Judge. You may take a man out of the street and give him the rank of Lord Chancellor, but by that means you do not make him fit to preside over the Court of Appeal. This gentleman who is to have the rank of a Judge is to receive £2,000 a year, and to be removable by the Secretary of State for inability or misbehaviour. He is not to have the security of tenure of a Judge; therefore what security is it that he is to have the rank of a Judge? Is he to be called 316 Lord So-and-so, and is his wife to be called Lady So-and-so; and will that cease if he is removed on account of inability or misbehaviour? Of all the provisions I have come across in a Bill about a Court, the statement that a person is to have the rank of a Judge seems to me the most ludicrous and absurd I have seen in print. Then why are existing leases to be interfered with? The date of 1906 in Clause 7 still remains. People have made bargains for leases in the last five years, and it seems to me that 1906 should become 1911. That, however, is a comparatively small point, and may stand over until we reach the next stage.
I was surprised at the lightheartedness with which the Secretary for Scotland passed over the provisions establishing the new Board of Agriculture. I cannot conceive a matter in which a greater number of interests are concerned. It seems to me you must look at it from many points of view. The mere question of the Diseases of Animals Act is not a very large one; it is not, comparatively speaking, by any means the largest of them; but that we should have a proper system for repressing these diseases is of the greatest importance to agriculture and to the country generally. This, at any rate, is a matter in which there is no conflict of opinion as between England and Scotland. The success of your administration depends upon the solidarity of the two countries in the doing of it, and, if I may venture to say so, on the uniformity of administration. It is that uniformity of administration which has secured the confidence both at home and abroad which is so valuable an asset in this matter. In old days every local authority had power to make its own regulations, with the result that these diseases were rampant, and the loss to agriculture and the community generally was very large. Now it is known everywhere that the strictest regulations are enforced, and consequently our cattle, especially pedigree stock, are exported to foreign countries with the greatest freedom and without difficulty. If you once begin to draw a line between England and Scotland you give up the advantage of our insular position with all that it means. The sea is the barrier which you must maintain. But for some sort of national reason, apparently to pander to national feeling—[LORD PENTLAND: No, no]—we are to have differences 317 between England and Scotland. May I ask whether Wales is to be brought in in the same way? Is there to be a large land frontier for these diseases between Wales and England? If not, why not?
I agree with the noble Lord that I should never for a moment think of bringing the administration of the Congested Districts Board to London, but that Board only deals with a comparatively small area in Scotland—I will not say an unimportant, but a comparatively small area—and the circumstances of agriculture over the greater part of Scotland are much more in touch with English agriculture than with the Congested Districts Board and its work. Therefore I look with, the greatest suspicion upon the separation of the agricultural administration of the Lowlands of Scotland from the Board of Agriculture in London even in matters of that class. But so far as the administration of the Contagious Diseases Act is concerned it seems to me one of the most foolish steps which have ever been suggested. What is the theory upon which the Scottish Office was started? The Scottish Office was formed to deal with whatever is national or peculiar to Scotland: its system of education, its local government, its legal system, its poor-law, its fisheries, and so on. In these matters the powers of the Home Office were divided. A great deal that formerly belonged to the Home Office, and was administered for Scotland by the Home Office, was transferred to Dover House. But such things as factories and mines were not transferred, because here you could not tolerate the smallest differences of administration, and because it is absolutely necessary to keep the administration in Scotland and in England on those matters absolutely uniform. Then, with regard to the Board of Trade, such things as weights and measures were not transferred; and if you go through the whole list of Government Offices you will find that it is only in those things in which Scotland has special interests separate from England that administration is transferred.
I venture to say, looking upon it from the agricultural point of view, that it would be a great mistake to make this transfer, and on this matter there is absolute unanimity on both sides of the Border. You will not find a single agricultural association that will pass a 318 resolution in favour of this Bill or anything like it. I have referred already to what passed at Perth on October 6. Last month, again, the North-Eastern Agricultural Federation, representing nine of the agricultural societies in the north of England, passed a resolution stating that the Federation—urgently opposes the proposal to form a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland, which would have the effect, of placing the administration of agriculture in Great Britain under two separate Departments, thus leading to unnecessary increase of officials and expense, to unnecessary confusion in carrying out Orders under the Contagions Diseases (Animals) Act, and to increased burdens on an already over-loaded industry.In York, nine days later, the conference which met under the auspices of the Central Associated Chamber of Agriculture passed a resolution in practically the same terms.
The weight of authority is also entirely on this side. You will hardly find an ex-President of the Board of Agriculture who will take the view that these provisions are wise. Mr. Walter Long has spoken eloquently on the subject in another place. Mr. Chaplin has done the same, and I dare say the noble Lord saw a very interesting, and to my mind convincing, letter by Lord Burghclere in The Times a few days ago. I will quote the words of one whom I think noble Lords opposite will agree is also a considerable authority—Sir Edward Strachey, now Lord Strachie. Speaking a year or two ago at Perth when he was representing the Board of Agriculture at a Scottish conference, Sir Edward Strachey said—Speaking as a Saxon I can say that I think, from an agricultural point of view, it would not be an advantage if the two countries were separated and the connecting link between English agriculturists and Scottish agriculturists was broken … I am speaking purely from an agricultural point of view, leaving outside entirely, as I always do, political considerations.Can we not here leave out political considerations and look at it purely as a matter of administration? I venture to say that if you take that line there can be but one opinion—that this is a bad proposal.
The importance of absolute uniformity on both sides of the Border is this, that there is a constant movement of stock of all kinds between England and Scotland. At certain times of the year thousands of sheep and quantities of fat cattle are 319 brought from Scotland to England, and to some extent there is a movement in the opposite direction. I say, looking at it from a Scottish point of view, that the mere idea of giving power to an English Board to prohibit the importation into England of Scottish stock is one which fills me with alarm; but if you have a Board which is open to representations from both sides, which is bound to speak for both sides, which has the interests of both sides of the Border under its care, you get better, more sympathetic, and fairer consideration than if you allow any separation to be set up between them. I attach importance, in the interests of agriculture as a whole, to retaining the services of one man in the capacity to speak for the interests of agriculture. Agriculture has many things to contend with. I have alluded to the pressure of the rates. If there is one thing in the near future which is more desirable for reform than another it is this continual piling of burdens on agricultural land, and it is because I want to keep solidarity in the agricultural world that I desire to have somebody to speak for the combined interests of agriculture in a matter of that kind.
But if you are going to do this and to do it by Statute once for all, do not put in the Bill such a clause as this—that the Secretary for Scotland may do it by Order under his hand. How is the agriculturist to know how many Orders are passed and what are the real conditions of affairs? It is, of course, supposed that this Order is to be laid on the Table of Parliament, but even there the ordinary clause is not followed, for there in no provision that it is to be done during the session of Parliament. You may do it at any time when Parliament is not sitting and Parliament would have no power to protest. Why is a deliberate change made from the ordinary model form of the clause? It must either be absolute carelessness, or there must be something underlying it which we do not understand. It seems to me that this has been insufficiently considered, and I for one hope that the whole clause will be cut out when we reach the Committee, stage.
Then look at the drafting of Clause 38. Did anybody ever have to deal with a clause drafted like that? It runs—The Acts specified in the Schedule to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent mentioned in the third column—320 There are a whole batch of them; reference is made to half a dozen different Acts. But the clause does not stop there. It proceeds—and so much of any Act as is inconsistent with this Act is also hereby repealed.Who is to be the judge of the inconsistency? It is not a mere matter of law; it is a matter of opinion. So much of any Act as is inconsistent with this Act! It does seem to me that this is putting a burden upon us which we ought not to be expected to bear. So far as the general purpose of this Bill is concerned, so far as facilitating the creation of small holdings is concerned, I have nothing to say. But I do think that I am entitled to make this point, that in spite of what the noble Lord has said there remains in this Bill the original vice, that to set up a system of small holdings, which ought to be a simple and easy thing to do, you are undertaking what threatens, at any rate, to revolutionise the whole of agricultural tenure in Scotland.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I should like to say that I was perfectly correct in the answer I gave just now, that this Bill does not impair the present freedom of a landlord to make small holdings by agreement with tenants of his own, on his own plan, and at his own expense without those holders necessarily becoming either landholders or statutory small tenants.
§ LORD PENTLAND
The difference would be that one would be under the Bill and subject to Clause 32, and the other would not.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord who introduced this Bill on the conciliatory spirit which he displayed, and if the same conciliatory spirit is carried to the Committee stage and there assumes a practical form, I believe that much good can be done to make the Bill more acceptable to all parties. There are certain blemishes in the Bill which lead many to seriously consider 321 whether the evil of the Bill would not be greater to Scotland than the gain. The noble Lord stated that the increased interest in the question of small holdings dates from a comparatively recent time. I think that our beneficent interest in this Bill dates from the time when the noble Lord put down on paper the compensation clauses which had been promised by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman and by other Ministers of importance.
The noble Lord stated that he thought it would be dangerous for us to go outside the authentic exponents of public opinion in Scotland in coming to our decision on this question. I think we have a pretty strong case for going beyond the opinion of the Scottish Members of Parliament and searching outside for Scottish feeling on agricultural matters when we find that out of 150 farmers gathered together, Radical and Conservative, there was not one who held the views which the Scottish Members have placed in this Bill for a separate Board of Agriculture for Scotland. That is at any rate a prima facie justification for our not accepting holus-bolus any remedies that come from the Scottish Members in another place. I hope that this Bill will go through, not on its merits, because I do not think on the whole it is a well-conceived Bill, nor do I for a moment imagine that the millennium is going immediately to follow its passage, but it contains clauses which I should be very glad to see on the Statute Book. Certain crofter grievances in the north of Scotland will be done away with, and that security of tenure for small holders, which I believe to be a satisfactory tenure—that which crofters at present enjoy—will be extended to other parts of Scotland.
That this security of tenure is likely to lead in the immediate future to a filling up of the soil and the stopping of the depopulation which is going on at the present moment in rural districts I very much doubt, because, as Lord Balfour clearly pointed out, the exodus from the Highland counties where the Crofters Act is in force is really greater than from the Lowland districts where it is not in force. But I do believe that security of tenure is at the bottom of any hope of maintaining the present number of smallholders on the soil, and therefore I consider that to that extent it would be advantageous 322 that the tenure of smallholders should be altered. I submit that there were several points in Lord Pentland's speech which are very much open to doubt. I refer, first of all, to the idea that under this Bill he is going to increase considerably the area which is at the present moment in cultivation in Scotland. I very much doubt that, and I should like to ask your Lordships to consider where the noble Lord is going to find this land. He has made a pointed reference to the sheep farms and to the deer forests of Scotland.
Not only did I understand that to be so, but I am sure he voices what we have continually heard on Radical platforms for the last four or five years. The idea is that these 3,000,000 acres which at the present moment help sport can at a stroke of the pen be made to yield, wheat, or that great blocks of this land are to become land which can be profitably farmed by agricultural farmers. May I point out one or two arguments which I think are rather to the point? First, in the crofting districts every crofter has had since 1886 the power to claim land should be wish to do so. Yet there is less land to-day under cultivation even in the crofter area than there was at the time of the passing of the 1886 Act. If you have the Crofters Act and the fact that these men have a fair rent fixed and are not in any way mulcted for any benefits in agriculture which result from their own endeavour, and the further fact that these individuals have not claimed any more land, how do you expect that new tenants are going to do it? Admittedly there are in the deer forests of Scotland a certain number of acres of old arable land. But how many acres are there—2,840, according to the Deer Forests Commission. Very likely all that land will be claimed. But how many crofters are you going to fix? By Lord Pentland's own showing they must be crofts of a size to keep the family going, and that would mean at least 20 acres each. So there would be something like 140 families fixed on old arable land. Admittedly, since the Deer Forests Commission, the deer forest area has been very considerably extended; but even supposing that the area of old arable land has been doubled or trebled, you still have under 500 families that you would be able to settle on this old arable land. I believe 323 it would be very much better if you could use the deer forest land for any other purpose than sport. I consider you can, but I very much doubt that for pure agriculture you will get individuals to go on taking in old arable land. If it has not been done in the past by the existing crofters, except in the immediate vicinity of the coast or where they have other occupations, it is extremely doubtful that it will be done in the future. Where it is feasible I think it is excellent that it should be done, and I at once accept the provision in the Bill; but that you are going to fix any large number of individuals on the waste land of Scotland I very much doubt.
I am very glad that the noble Lord shares my opinion. If these new agriculturists are not going to be fixed on the waste land of Scotland, where are they going to be fixed? They will be fixed either on the sheep farms or the agricultural farms. Therefore the measure of success of this Bill is the number of existing tenants you turn out of their farms. That is a fact which Radical orators have done their best to keep out of sight. The present holders are going to be dispossessed. How is this going to affect the two parties who are to be dispossessed—first of all, the sheep farmer with a certain amount of arable land, and then the purely agricultural tenant? The large sheep farmers very often pay as much as £1,000 a year rent, and hold 200 or 300 acres of low ground grazing, and many thousands, sometimes up to as much as 10,000, of acres of hill land. By the division of these sheep farmers' ground—and Lord Pentland stated, I think I heard him correctly, that a good deal of this land will be taken from the sheep farms—you will be throwing out of gear a great deal of this Hinterland, so to speak, which the small holder will not be likely to be able to deal with, because it will require very large capital to put sheep on the hundreds or thousands of acres which lie behind the small holding. There is another point. The question of wintering is of the most serious importance in the Highlands. The sheep farmer has to send his sheep as far south as Fife for the winter, and the west coast farmer has to send his sheep to the east coast. Is the small holder likely to have the capital to enable him to send his sheep away? 324 I very much doubt it. If he is not able to do it, instead of reducing the area now purely devoted to sport, you will be running the grave danger in certain sheep farm districts of having large additions made to your deer forests. That is another point that Radical orators are apt to lose sight of. A point I wish particularly to insist upon is that the small holding will mainly be made out of the land of your purely agricultural tenants, and therefore the area of cultivated land which you hope to increase in Scotland can only be increased at the expense of what is already agricultural land. Your agricultural area is not going to increase, and therefore I fear the argument of the Secretary for Scotland was based on rather false premises.
Now, my Lords, I pass from that point to certain difficulties which I see. I very much regret that forestry, which I believe has great possibilities, especially in these waste areas, should be relegated to such an unimportant position in the Bill. When this Bill was first introduced, many of us who were opposed to certain clauses in it were particularly taken with the idea that we were going to have one member of this Board of Agriculture who was to be skilled in a knowledge of forestry. That implied that forestal development might be proceeded with in those parts of Scotland in which it was feasible. The development of these waste lands is only possible under forestry, because forestry is able to take non-agricultural land and turn it to some definite advantage; and with forestry you are able to do with smaller holdings, because a man can live on a two-pounds holding provided he has got regular work throughout the year. Therefore you get over the great difficulty, which you will have in any scheme of small holdings, of the shortage of arable land. That shortage is very much greater in the south-west and in the northern portion of Scotland than anything you have to deal with in England. The crofter and the smallholder generally is a labourer with land, rather than an agriculturist, and if His Majesty's Government would only come to the conclusion that that is so I am sure they would give forestry the proper position in this Bill which it ought to have, a position which I consider it had before these last changes were made.
May I refer for a moment to the question of the Court of Appeal, which Lord Balfour 325 took up so ably. This Bill has been before us since 1906. In 1906 we were definitely promised by Sir Henry Campbell-Banner-man, by Mr. Asquith, and others, that tenants and proprietors were going to have fair and equal justice under this scheme. For three years the Government declined to put in anything which at all corresponds with Clause 7 as it now stands, and for three years there was the hostility of a large section of the Conservative Party. Clause 7, subsection (11), which gives compensation, has now been put in, but you still reserve to the Land Court the final and absolute decision as to the extent to which that compensation should go. I submit that the Land Court is not the proper authority to dispose finally of these claims, and the hardship will be very much greater in the case of the tenant than of the landlord. The landlord in the majority of cases has very much less to lose than the tenant has. Take the sheep farms, where, on your own statement, you expect to get the most of your land. Owing to the pernicious system of valuation which has crept in of late years, small sheep farmers have had to take over the sheep at sums ranging from 25s. above their proper prices, and it would be a very grave miscarriage of justice if the individual has not an appeal in case an unfair decision is made. In exactly the same way with regard to compensation for improvements which the tenant may have made, we think it absolutely necessary and fair that an appeal should be given both to the landlord and the tenant from the Land Court, who are, after all, sitting in their own Court prosecuting work in which they themselves are interested. That power of appeal on the question of value should be given in whichever way His Majesty's Government think best, provided it is a fair one.
One word more on the subject of the Board of Agriculture for Scotland. Lord Pentland made a very able defence of the Land Board. I would submit that the whole of the points he raised would have been covered if you had a local Department of the Board of Agriculture sitting in Scotland. You would get the necessary encouragement of agriculture; you would get the whole of those inquiries and researches done which you wanted done locally; and you would have the great advantage that the Department would not cost you so much. Further, you 326 would have the benefit of the whole of the investigations which were going on at the main office in London, and the whole of their personnel and documents to refer to, and all the advantages which are derived from being part of a large Board without having to make a creation of your own in Scotland. The financial question is one of greatest importance. If you are only going to have for the administration of this Act £200,000, how much of that is likely to go in setting up an efficient Board, in sending round the necessary circulars, and in carrying on the investigations and having the Departmental officers throughout the country? Is it likely that out of a beggarly £200,000 you can afford to spend £60,000, which I am informed by a competent authority is the minimum amount you would require to satisfactorily set up a Board of Agriculture in Scotland?
§ LORD PENTLAND
I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord, but he will see that the expenses of the administration of this Board will be provided by moneys from Parliament, and will not come out of the £200,000.
Then with regard to the question of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act. The noble Lord quoted how well Ireland had done with the new Board. I am prepared to admit that we might have a distinct agricultural advantage if we had a Department in Scotland; but there is one big difference between Scotland and Ireland. One is surrounded by the sea and the other has the land frontier with England. Lord Balfour informed you how the stock continually crossed the Border. Then, again, foot-and-mouth disease can be carried not only by animals but on the boots of individuals who have stepped in the soil used by infected animals. In the case of the land border, individuals, and hares and animals of various kinds, can carry the disease over, and the chance of spreading it is therefore enormously increased. This foot-and-mouth disease, as we know, is at the present moment rampant all over the Continent; there are some 30,000 cases in France alone. We here are the only nation who have been able at all to cope with the disease, and are we to throw away the advantage we now possess? The Board of Agriculture, however much we abuse them 327 are a tried body who have their recognised and organised work, and not only under Lord Carrington but under other Presidents the Board have been able to swoop down instantly on cases which have appeared, and they have met with the greatest success in the last twelve years in stamping out disease. Is it worth our while as agriculturists to go in for this tremendous risk of having foot-and-mouth disease once more rampant throughout the country? We have heard what the opinion of farmers is. Radical, Conservative, and of every political shade of opinion, they are to a man against the provisions in the Bill with regard to a separate Board for Scotland. As Lord Balfour has pointed out, agriculturists in the north of England are equally firm and speak with the same voice. In view of this consensus of opinion from agricultural Scotland and England, I submit that His Majesty's Government will be well advised if they consider the point further, and see whether they would not get greater advantages by setting up in Scotland a Department of the Board of Agriculture. They would thereby, at any rate in my opinion, get all the advantages which Lord Pentland claimed for a separate Board.
LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE
My Lords, the fact that this Bill secured a certain amount of agreement in the House of Commons and passed a Second Reading without a Division is an inducement to your Lordships to give it a Second Reading without a Division here, but I would point out that it proposes to introduce into Scotland some of the worst principles of Irish land legislation. This is not a leap in the dark, or an experiment that is being made in the hope that it may succeed. This is an application to Scotland of the principle of dual ownership which has been tried in Ireland and found wanting. That principle was introduced there by Mr. Gladstone in 1881, and was extended by successive Governments, and it has been found to be productive in Ireland of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. Under it we have seen the inauguration of boycotting and illegal conspiracy to withhold rents, a conspiracy which was denounced by the Roman Catholic Church as immoral. We have seen a recrudescence of outrages of every description; and at last this system is being got rid of at a cost to the State of no less than £100,000,000 by way of loan, 328 which may or may not be repaid within seventy years, and a sum of £20,000,000 as a free gift—a not inconsiderable addition to the already very heavy burdens of the taxpayers of this country.
Under this system of dual ownership we have seen in Ireland the whole country over-run by a horde of officials who are only required for the purpose of fixing rents, and who would not be requisitioned for that purpose if it were not believed that the fixing of rents and the lowering of rents were synonymous terms. We have seen landlords refraining from making any improvements to their land from the conviction that there is no chance of obtaining any return for their outlay, and we have seen tenants refraining from making the best use of their holdings in the belief that the worse the state of the holding when it comes to be examined by the Commissioner the greater the chance of the rent being reduced for the next fifteen years. Under this system we have seen landlord and tenant drifting further and further apart, and it is this system which His Majesty's Government now propose to impose upon a peaceable, contented, and prosperous country. For the reason I have given I suppose it would be impossible not to read the Bill a second time, but I do hope that when the Committee stage is reached Amendments will be proposed to remove its worst blots, and, above all, to ensure that the tribunal set up with such extensive powers shall be one which will command the confidence, not only of those who are going to be put upon their neighbours' land, but also of those who are being changed from the position of land owners to that of rent chargers, and chargers of a variable rent which is to be fixed without any reference to their wishes.
I shall be told that this system of dual ownership already exists in the north of Scotland. I confess that I do not know anything about the Highlands, and if this Bill were confined to that part of Scotland I should not have taken part in this debate; but as it is proposed to extend it to the Lowlands of Scotland, and I am intimately acquainted with that part of the country, I venture to take part in the discussion. I should like to say a few words with regard to the large tenant farmers in the south of Scotland. I think your Lordships will all agree that as a class there are few that can equal 329 those men, and none that can surpass them. They are men of intelligence, they are men of capital, they work their farms by up-to-date methods, and at large expense they have provided themselves with up-to-date appliances which are specially suitable according to the size of the farm which they have to work. I know that it is intended, if possible, not to take land from these men, and that if there is other land vacant the Board of Agriculture is directed to choose it for preference. But supposing it is not available they will be obliged to have recourse to these farms, and then every tenant whose lease dates from a later period than 1906 may find that his very best bit of land is taken from him. It is said that he will be compensated for that. But what compensation can there be to either landlord or tenant; if the very eye of the farm is taken out, and a farm which is fitted in every way to work a certain number of acres is suddenly reduced very much in extent? Further than that, he will find that this land is taken possession of by new holders who hold on a very different system of tenure. Not only will a fair rent be fixed upon their holdings by an outside tribunal, but there will be fixity of tenure. We have heard that if the large farmers desire to have the privilege of fixity of tenure and equitable rents, His Majesty's Government see no reason why that should not be granted to them. I quite agree with that opinion. In fairness it could not be otherwise, and I think the larger farmers will wish to have the same facilities as the smaller ones. We shall see these landowners all turned into rent chargers no longer taking any interest in their property, but liable at any moment to be called upon by the tenant to make improvements to the farm, whether or not at the same time they are involved in large expenditure on other parts of their property, and in the event of their refusing to do so they will find the statutory holder turned into a land holder.
With regard to the Land Court, an Amendment was moved in another place proposing that there should be an appeal from the Land Court. Noble Lords who have spoken here have said that that is an absolute necessity. I only hope they will get it. I know in the case of Irish land appeals we have tried very hard to obtain that favour, and have been met 330 with a stern refusal by His Majesty's Government; but in the event of its not being granted I think it is most essential that there should be complete confidence in the Court which is set up. I venture to differ from the noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland when he says that the functions of this Court will be purely judicial and not in any way administrative. I should like, with his permission, to read the fifth subsection of Clause 25 of this Bill—Three members of the Land Court shall be a quorum; Provided that it shall be lawful for the Land Court to delegate such of their powers as they think expedient to any one member or to any two members of the Court.As I understand that, they may delegate to any one member of the Court the power to examine land and value it and fix the rent upon it. There is an appeal from that to three members of the Court, of whom one may be the very delegate who has already fixed the price. That seems to me to be an appeal, not from Philip drunk to Philip sober; if the chairman is not one of these three to whom the appeal is made, and there is nothing in the Bill to say that he is to be one, it is rather an appeal from Philip drunk to Philip half-seas-over. With a view to absolute fairness it is, in my opinion, absolutely essential to put in a proviso that the member of the Board of Agriculture who examines and values the land should under no circumstances be promoted to be a member of the Land Court. He is appointed for the purpose of putting small tenants on the land, and also to have the care of the Government money, which he will wish to use as economically as possible, and he will have a certain bias against giving landowners larger compensation than is necessary; and with a view to ensure fairness in the Court, I think it very desirable that an Amendment of that kind should be introduced in Committee.
One word on the question of fair rent, because it seems to me that noble Lords from Scotland hardly realise how very important the definition of "fair rent" is Lord Pentland gave us a long explanation of what an equitable rent was, and how well it was set out in the Bill. I quite agree with him—whether it is satisfactory or not is another matter—that it is very clear; but the only definition I can find of a fair rent is contained in the 6th Section of the first Crofters Act. That is extremely vague, I think. Noble Lords who come 331 from Ireland, and who have had experience of Irish land legislation, are well aware that there is no phrase which has caused more disputes than the phrase "a fair rent," and it is one with regard to which over and over again a wish has been expressed on the part of Judges as well as others that Parliament had given some clear definition of it. In 1897 a Royal Commission was appointed, of which Sir Edward Fry was Chairman, to inquire into this very question of fair rent. I am not going to bother your Lordships with long extracts from the Report. It is full of information. I will venture, with the permission of the House, to read two very short extracts on the subject. The Report says—Even now, after the Act of 1881 has been in operation for more than sixteen years, there is, so far as we can learn, no judicial exposition of the two weightiest words in the whole Statute—'fair rents.'And, according to the statement of the Lord Chief Justice on November 29, 1897, the members of the Commission differed amongst themselves as to the principles and methods by which a fair rent should be ascertained. The other extract is very short—We are convinced, as we have already shown, that the settlement of fair rents has been effected in an unsatisfactory manner with diversity of opinion and practice, sometimes with carelessness, and sometimes with that bias towards one side or the other which exists in many honest minds.With that evidence in front of us of what the result of not having a definition of fair rent has been in Ireland, I venture to suggest to noble Lords from Scotland that it is of the greatest importance that they should have a clear definition of what is a fair rent, as well as an equitable rent, inserted in the Bill. In this very Report there are suggestions as to how that should be done which I shall venture to adopt in the form of an Amendment when the Committee stage is reached.
One other point in connection with fair rent. Once a fair rent has been fixed, for good or for evil, whether to the advantage of the tenant or the landlord, it should be made the basis of all future changes—that is, it should not be arbitrarily changed; and only two factors should be allowed to be considered in future revisions of the rent, one the cost of production and the other the cost, as it has varied, of agricultural produce. If this is done I think it will give both landlords and tenants more 332 sense of security, on the one hand as to the value of the rent which they are likely to receive, and on the other hand a likelihood of a reduction or a rise in the rent at the next revision. I do not think that any Amendments can make this Bill a good one. That is impossible, as it is founded on the vicious principle of dual ownership. The true solution, in my opinion, is only to be found in land purchase; and I look forward to the time, which I am confident will come as surely as day follows night, when a Bill will be introduced, I hope by a Unionist Government, giving effect to land purchase, and thus remove the friction which I am sure must be engendered between landlord and tenant by this measure.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I am sure that all of us on this side will agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lovat, that had this been a measure for increasing the number of small holdings in Scotland there would have been no objection to it. It is a matter of real regret to us that the Government have chosen a method for bringing small holdings into existence which must arouse a great deal of objection and opposition on this side of the House. The noble Lord, Lord Pentland, prides himself, as I have no doubt he is quite entitled to do, on the fact that in regard to this Bill he has met the Party on this side in a considerable way. Credit should be given to him for his attempt to meet us, but the crowning mercy which he has extended to us is to take certain holdings out of the operation of the Crofters Act and put them under Clause 32 of this Bill. It is a fact, as stated, that they are out of the Crofters Act, but they are in something else which is scarcely distinguishable from the Crofters Act; they have been taken away from the letter of that Act, but in spirit they still remain. In many respects I believe that Clause 32 is almost worse than the Crofters Act itself. Indeed, there is so little difference between them, that when the Lord Advocate was put to it to defend this clause in another place from the attacks of his own supporters he had to tell them that this new clause did not differ in essentials from the old clause.
The noble Lord the Secretary for Scotland is afflicted with the theory, very common nowadays, that a large increase of small holdings is a universal cure, or perhaps a sovereign remedy, for all the ills which 333 affect rural districts: depopulation, want of prosperity, and everything else. That is an absolute fallacy. I believe there is a very real advantage in increasing the number of small holdings provided they are increased in a practical and reasonable way and within proper limits. But I do fear very much indeed that if people in their enthusiasm for small holdings work this Bill as it could be worked, and accumulate small holdings merely for the pleasure of accumulating them, the result may be very opposite to what is desired. The noble Lord, Lord Lovat, said that the, measure of the success of the small holdings scheme must be the number of the large holdings which you dispossess. I believe that is an absolutely sound remark. In order to give security of tenure to small holders you are taking away security of tenure from the large holders. Everybody acquainted with agriculture and the management of estates knows perfectly well that one of the conditions necessary for the proper carrying on of agriculture in this country is a reasonable degree of security of tenure. That security has been granted by our custom, I believe for a long time, and there is nothing which has broken into that security so much as these recent Small Holdings Bills. I fancy the noble Lord, Lord Pentland, does not like large holdings; at all events he told us that arable culture—which means, I think, grain growing—was not paying at the present time in Scotland, and would only pay under expert management. He implied, I thought, that that expert management would be found under the small holding rather than under the large holding. If he says so, I absolutely disagree with him. I do not know where he has got his experience of small holdings, because I am quite certain that if we are to keep up the high standard of farming which we fortunately have arrived at in Scotland and of which we are proud, it is essential that we should keep our large holdings. We shall never under a system of small holdings get the high quality of stock that we now have.
The noble Lord compared this country with foreign countries in the matter of small holdings. That is an absolutely unfair comparison. In every other country the small holder is protected by large tariff duties. In no other country than this has he to pay the great burden of local taxation; and in almost every other 334 country the success of the small holder depends on the fact that the holding is carried out on an ownership basis. The noble Lord tells us that there is no desire for an ownership basis here, and that under the English Small Holders Act no advantage is taken of the possible scheme of land purchase. Does it not occur to him that the fault may be, not in the small holders' want of desire to become owners, but in the particular scheme which is before them? As a matter of fact, there is a fault in the scheme. The scheme requires a much too large proportion of the capital value of the land to be paid down by the tenant himself, an amount which the tenant cannot afford. If a different scheme was brought in to effect the same object, it is my opinion that the small holders and many tenants would be very glad to take advantage of it. It is not only for the purpose that I mentioned that we require large holdings to continue in this country; we require them for the purpose of the small holder himself. It is very important in country districts that you should have a proper graded mixture of farms large and small, if for no other reason than that it gives small holders something to look forward to. It enables them to find some scope for their ambition, and gives them a ladder on which they may rise from small holdings up to large ones. An ideal estate is one with a proper mixture of small and large holdings, and but for these large holdings there would be in many districts of the country practically no one to give any employment at all. I believe that is one of the conditions in the interests of small holders which must be most carefully examined before we go into any small holdings scheme. In the ordinary case a small holder on a holding devoted only to the purposes of agriculture does not earn a living better than—very seldom equal to—that of an ordinary agricultural labourer, and if he is to keep his wife and family in comfort, if he is to have any opportunity of improving his own condition, there must be a possibility to him of earning money elsewhere. And I say that the demand for labour in any locality must to a very large extent govern the number of holdings which you can create under any scheme. Of course, it is different in the case of market gardens or fruit farms. Those possibly on very suitable land may be multiplied to almost any extent, provided, of course, you keep within the proper limits of supply and demand.
335 If we overstep the limits within which small holdings can be practically created in this country, if we try, as I say, merely to accumulate small holdings, then I am afraid this or any small holdings scheme will end in disaster and failure, and certainly in the poverty of the small holder. It is a perfectly fair comparison to compare what is going on now in the Western Islands with what you propose to do under this Bill. For some twelve or thirteen years the Congested Districts Board have been experimenting in that part of the country. They were face to face with a desperate problem, and I do not blame them in the least for starting the experiments, but I do not think any one can say at the present moment that they have been a success. If noble Lords will read the Annual Report of the Secretary for Scotland they will see that the condition of small holders there cannot be described as satisfactory. In a large number of cases they are behind with their rents, many cannot pay the interest on their loans, and many are very much in arrear in their repayments of instalments of capital on loans from the State. I think there is hardly a case amongst those people where there is any prospect of their succeeding in life; there is scarcely a chance for those men to make more than the barest living, except with the continual assistance of the State. You have created small holdings there by cutting up larger farms, you have done away with the men of capital, you have decreased the amount of employment, and you have brought about what is practically a dead level of poverty over whole districts; and I fear that there is an indication under this Bill that you intend to proceed further in that direction. You do away with Section 3 of the Crofters Act, which protects farms below a certain limit of rent. Subsection (c), I think it is, provides that no holding under a hundred a year shall be available for new holdings or for the enlargement of small holdings. In place of that you give protection to farms of 150 acres. What is a 150-acre farm in the Western Highlands? There is no protection to the man of capital or the man who employs labour in those districts unless you give a bigger limit than this 150 acres. I think that is a matter to which the noble Lord ought to turn his serious attention, because if small farms of less than a hundred a year are to be broken up in the Western Highlands, I fear disaster will follow.
336 My Lords, I do not want to exaggerate these matters in the slightest degree. I am not suggesting, even though this Bill is carried out to its fullest possible extent, that the condition of, affairs that we see in the west is likely to be duplicated in the east and south of Scotland, but I do say that unless it is carried out with more knowledge and less zeal there is a very great danger of our arriving at something which will be comparable to this failure in the west of Scotland. Noble Lords have dealt so fully with it that I may be excused from going into the latter part of the Bill. But there are two points on Clause 32 about which I wish to say a word. In subsection (1) it is provided that a legatee of a tenant shall be considered his successor in his holding. Those are, roughly speaking, the words. By a later subsection of the same clause the successor in the holding has a right to the renewal of the lease. Consequently the legatee has a right of renewal. Under our Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908 a tenant has practically an unlimited right of bequest of the remaining years of his lease—that is to say, he can bequeath to almost any one he pleases so many years as may remain before the termination of his lease. But think what an extension this is. You give to that tenant the right of bequeathing, not to his own family or relation, but to any one he pleases, and not only his lease but a permanent right to the renewal of that lease. That is very much further than the Crofters Act goes. The Crofters Act gives a right of bequest to the relatives, and I think the relatives are specially defined; but here in cases where the holdings are not under the Crofters Act, where as a special concession they have been taken out of the Crofters Act, you put the holder in this different position from the crofter, that he has a wider power of bequest than you have granted to the crofter.
There is another point later in the clause on which I should like to say a word. I refer to the Land Court. Considerable attention has been paid to that to-night, but chiefly on the ground of demanding that some appeal shall be given from the findings of that Court. In the case of the statutory small tenant whose buildings and everything belong to the landlord, the chief business of the Land Court will be to settle questions of 337 rent. Those will involve in single cases very small sums, but over a large group of cases will amount to a considerable sum, and they will not, I presume, come into the scheme which has been suggested as the subject of appeal. I suppose one could hardly ask for an appeal with regard to small sums of 10s. or a £1 or so, but I do submit that these tenants who are in a totally different position from the crofters, who are admittedly a non-crofting body of men, ought not to have applied to them a crofting form of valuation. I do not want to repeat many of the very hard things I hear said about the Land Court in Scotland, but it is a fact that we do regard the Land Court with suspicion. We cannot regard it, as the noble Lord does, as a fair and impartial body; we believe from the composition of that Court, from the way in which it is appointed, from its standing in this Act, that though it may have the best intentions in the world, it is bound to have a bias in favour of the small holder. Apart from the question of its impartiality, I would like to raise a question of its competence. Who are to be the members of the Land Court? That is a point on which the noble Lord might enlighten us. We would like to know who are to be appointed members of that Court. The noble Lord displays ignorance. Is there no indication that can be given to us of who these men may be, or even their Chairman. Such information might very considerably affect our views on this matter.
There is nothing in this Bill which shows that the members of the Land Court are to be appointed on account of their knowledge of agriculture; yet we are told they are to value the small holdings through their own knowledge and experience. They may be very eminent—I have no doubt they will be—but it is much more important to us to know whether they will be good valuers; and I object to any central body of valuers for a valuation of this kind. The whole essence of land valuation, even the first rudimentary principles of it, depends upon a local knowledge of the particular class of land with which the valuer has to deal. He wants to know the outgoings and incomings in the district, and all the advantages or disadvantages that may accrue to land in the particular locality. No central body can know that, and for that reason we object to such immense 338 power over an important part of our income from land being put within the control of this Land Court. There is a very fair system of valuation in existence. You may say that your system is fair; but I say it is not the fairest possible way, and we are entitled to ask for the fairest possible, way. The old system of valuation in Scotland is that each man should appoint his own valuer and call in an umpire in case of any differences. That system has worked satisfactorily for centuries. Recent Acts of Parliament have modified that idea. The 1908 Act provides that the valuer shall be appointed by the parties, and, failing agreement, by the Board. I readily accept that form of valuation. It is not the valuation I am fighting about, but the form of tribunal that you set up over us to make that valuation. I should like to say a few words with regard to the Board of Agriculture for Scotland. When Lord Balfour was referring to the Diseases of Animals Act the Secretary for Scotland seemed anxious to interpose a remark. Am I right in thinking that the noble Lord wished to say that the Government had agreed to take the administration of the Diseases of Animals Act out of the control of this new body?
§ LORD PENTLAND
I did say, when discussing that subject, that I understood, and this debate has confirmed it, that such proposals were likely to be brought forward, and that the Government would do their best to consider them.
§ LORD CLINTON
I was hoping that it went further—that the Government were willing to accept them. But in any case I am bound to raise this question, because as chairman of the Central Chamber of Agriculture I have within the last two days received resolutions from no fewer than six Chambers of Agriculture in different counties in England protesting against this proposal to separate the administration of the Diseases of Animals Act. Those resolutions have come from as far North as the Berwick and Borders Agricultural Association down to as far South as South Wilts; and there is a general feeling throughout England that there is a great danger indeed in 339 decentralising the administration of this particular Act. I do not want to trouble your Lordships with details. We all understand the awful risk that there is of disease. I am proud of the administration of the Act by the Board of Agriculture. I think it is one of their greatest claims to merit. The statistics show this year that, with the single exception of swine fever, all the notifiable diseases have decreased. It is true that we have had unfortunate outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease, but owing to the control by the Board of Agriculture they have been able to throw armies of men, inspectors and others, into the affected districts and confine the disease within the smallest possible limits. Compare that with what happened in the eighties when in a single year, presumably owing to bad management, this disease became epidemic and some 300,000 or 400,000 cattle were affected. We are satisfied with our administration now, and I do not think the Government ought to ask us to risk a recurrence of these disasters by making any change in that administration. That is the English case.
There is a Scottish case too, as the noble Lord knows. In Scotland they are equally agreed that there should be no change in the administration. For the first time since I have known agriculturist bodies in Scotland, they are unanimous about the Board of Agriculture not going under the Secretary for Scotland. I say that without the slightest disrespect to the noble Lord or to any of his predecessors in office. I do not think that has entered into the spirit of any of the resolutions. But it is felt that it is not right to take such an important thing as the agricultural industry out of the hands of a fully equipped body such as the Board of Agriculture is at present, out of the control of men of very high scientific and practical attainments who have had great experience in these matters, and put it into the hands of a Department like the Scottish Office, which already has, I suppose, more diverse matters of detail to attend to than any other Department of the State. If the noble Lord turns to the opinion of Scotland, I do not think he will find any in favour of putting agriculture under his own Office. I hope the Government will give consideration to that point, as well as to the question of the administration of the Diseases of Animals Act.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, I shall endeavour to make the few remarks I propose to address to the House as brief as possible. A great many of the points which have been raised are points which certainly will reappear in Committee, and therefore it will probably be better to defer discussion of them, or at all events the larger part, until that time. But before I proceed to make a few remarks upon the Bill I really must call attention to the drafting. Of all the Bills that I have ever seen since I have been a member of Parliament I consider that this is the very worst drafted. I do not know whether the Lord Chancellor amidst his multifarious occupations has had time to read the Bill. I hope for his sake that he has not. On several occasions the noble and learned Earl has objected to legislation by reference. This Bill, however, not only legislates by reference, but by double reference and triple reference. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour, mentioned Clause 38, which contains wording which cannot possibly have occurred in any previous Bill. After o stating that the Acts specified in the Schedule are repealed, it continues—and so much of any Act as is inconsistent with this Act is also hereby repealed.Can bad drafting go further? It is impossible for any human being to tell what is repealed and what is not. The noble Lord has been good enough to circulate a large Paper and we are much obliged to him, but that Paper itself condemns the Bill because it shows that previous legislation is interfered with, by reference only, to an unprecedented extent.
Now let me turn to the proposal in the Bill that there should be a separate Board of Agriculture under the Secretary for Scotland. I speak, of course, without any reference to the present occupant of the office. Lord Clinton said, most properly, that the Secretary for Scotland is a maid of all work—those are not his exact words, but the substance of them—and that he has already got a great many more matters than he can possibly attend to. For instance, among other things, he is the Chairman of the Congested Districts Board and reports to Parliament every year. I wonder how many meetings of that Board he has ever attended—of course not one.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I must correct the assumption of the noble Earl. I cannot give him the exact figure, but I have 341 attended every meeting that has taken place since I have boon in office.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Where? and how many meetings have there been? I will accept the correction of my assumption, but I do not accept the correction of my facts; and if the noble Lord assures us that he has taken an active part in the deliberations of the Congested Districts Board, all I can say is he is making a very large claim upon our credence. But let me say that no single agricultural body, or body of any other kind or sort, has been found to advocate this plan of a separate Board of Agriculture under the Secretary for Scotland. A proposal was made in favour of a Department of the English Board of Agriculture with the Chairman a Member of Parliament and responsible to Parliament. But no one has advocated throwing upon the Secretary for Scotland any duty in connection with that Board.
The plan of the noble Lord's Bill is to create new holdings. How does he propose to do that? He proposes to create them at the expense of the taxpayer. Why? Because he says the holdings cannot pay; they are not economical. I" remember the noble Lord saying in this House in 1909 that—The way we meet this difficulty is to provide funds by which the cost of adaptation should be borue by the taxpayer. You could not lay on the small holder the cost of adaptation without obliging him to sit at a rout which would be unfair.Remember, my Lords, that this Government is a Free Trade Government; yet here a favoured class of landholders is being set up at the expense of the State. If they require assistance to set them up, what security have you that they are going on and going to succeed? I do not like to remind the noble Lord, because I have done so so often, of what happened at Vatersay. At the same time Vatersay is an instance that should be set up as a monument of what you ought to avoid. If the taxpayer really realised that these holders were to be set up at his expense simply because they could not pay a fair rent—that is, a rent which will cover the cost of their buildings and the adaptation of the land—he would, I think, be not altogether pleased. The noble Lord when told that he creates dual ownership by this Bill, said that he leaves the present relation of landlord and tenant just as it is.
§ LORD PENTLAND
I hope the noble Earl will allow me to tell him what I said— namely, that the intention, and, so far as I could judge, the effect, of the Bill was to interfere with the existing relations of landlord and tenant as little as possible.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
But that little as possible means that yon set up two landlords and one tenant. Take the case of a new holding. The Commissioner comes to me and says, ''I want a bit of your land to make a small holding of." I say, "Very well." He says, "Will you please put up the buildings." I say, "No, thank you, because if I put up buildings the result will be that those buildings will be a sort of plaything for the Land Court, who at some future stage can make the rent any figure they please. Therefore I prefer that you should do it." So the State is a landlord in regard to the buildings, and I am the landlord in regard to the land, and then there is the tenant; so you are creating dual ownership.
Then the noble Lord proceeded to deal with what are known as statutory tenancies—that is, those of existing tenants whose improvements have been paid for by the landlord. I want to repeat the question which was put just now by Lord Clinton. You admit that these statutory tenancies are quite different altogether from what have hitherto been crofts, because you put them in a separate clause. The landlord having done everything, why is he to be subjected to the Land Court with regard to the question of compensation and so on? Clause 32 says he is to be under the Act of 1908. He is to be dealt with under the Agricultural Holdings Act and not under the Crofters Acts. Why should you not extend the system of valuation which is given in the 1908 Act? Why with regard to compensation should be under the 1908 Act, and with regard to rent and so on under this Bill? For, remember this, you bring in the Land Court in a case with which the Land Court originally had nothing to do. It is a case where the landlord has done everything. Why, then, should you not follow the provision you have made in your 1908 Act? Then, my 343 Lords, this Land Court is irresponsible; there is no appeal from it. I noticed that in describing the Land Court to us the noble Lord entirely omitted to call attention to the fact that there is no appeal.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The noble Lord to that extent said it was a final Court. But why should it be a final Court? Observe what the Land Court can do. The noble Lord said also that its duties were entirely judicial. I do not know why he said that. Just look at Clause 7, subsection (11). The Land Court is to declare—(a) In respect of what land, if any, specified in the scheme, one or more holdings for new holders may respectively be constituted, and up to what date the power to constitute them otherwise than by agreement may be exercised;(b) What is the fair rent for each new holding;What is that but an administrative act? Is that a judicial act? Then—(c) What land, if any, specified in the scheme is to be excluded therefrom; and(d) Whatever else may be necessary for the purpose of making the scheme effective and of adjusting the rights of all parties interested in or affected by the proceedings.Are those judicial acts? I own that the word "final" did not attract my attention so much as it ought to have done; but, at all events, it was merely mentioned as showing that there was no appeal. In the first place, how is this Land Court going to be constituted? That is the important point. The noble Lord said it was to be composed of skilled persons. There is nothing whatever in the Bill to say that. The only thing in the Bill is that one of them is to be able to speak the Gaelic language. That is the only indication, so far as I know, of any requirement being necessary from any individual.
Then we are told that the Chairman is to have the rank of a Judge, but, as Lord Balfour pointed out, that does not give him any of the qualities of a Judge. I can supply an answer to Lord Balfour—at least I think I can—as to why those words were inserted in the House of Commons. There was a proposal put forward that the valuation Judges should be the Court of Appeal. The Lord Advocate said that to appeal from this 344 Court to the valuation judges would be to appeal from a higher Court to a lower Court. I suppose the words "the rank of a Judge" were merely inserted for the purpose of giving the chairman the sort; of status and position of a Judge. It is most important that we should know who the chairman of this Land Court is to be, because as the Bill now stands you are giving to this Court, without any appeal, without any check of any sort or kind, the absolute right of disposing as they choose of practically all the holdings in Scotland up to £50, because the statutory tenant is brought under the Land Court as the Bill stands very nearly as much as the new holder. On the appointment of that chairman almost everything may turn. The noble Lord has grave responsibility attaching to him in the appointment which he makes, because if this Bill is to be administered by anybody having the status of a Judge he ought to have the qualities of a Judge, he ought to be a person who is perfectly impartial, with no bias either on one side or the other; he ought to be prepared to carry out this Bill just in the same way as it would be carried out by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack. If a person is appointed who has before now expressed and carried into action strong views with, regard to the points which come up in the administration of this Bill, all I can say is that it seems to me such an appointment as that would be much to be deplored.
For the plan of the Bill there is, so far as I know, no precedent in any country in the world. The result must be to divert capital to a large extent from creating small holdings. I suppose there are many noble Lords in this House who have created small holdings. I have created some myself. When this Bill becomes an Act, shall I ever create another? Certainly not. What a foolish thing it would be, because if I created another holding the only result would be that it would fall under the Land Court in the end. Therefore it seems to me that no prudent person will ever think of creating a small holding. There is one thing which struck me as noteworthy—namely, what the noble Lord said about voluntary holdings. The noble Lord tells us that there is in this Bill a power left to the landowner of creating small holdings at his own expense which he can let to whomsoever he chooses and which will not come within this Bill. The 345 noble Lord will, I think, agree that at present there is nothing in the Bill to say so. If he does not agree, perhaps he will kindly say where it can be found in the Bill.
§ LORD PENTLAND
No; but there is nothing in the Bill which in any way impairs the right which landlords have at present to do that.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
If there are people as thick witted as I am who do not happen to see that, I presume the noble Lord can have no objection to words being put in, in the form of an Amendment, to make; that perfectly plain.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
What is worse than unusual is uncertainty, and if the noble Lord's intention is what he says it is, then I do not see how he can object to the insertion of words to make it clear.
§ LORD PENTLAND
The noble Earl will, perhaps, put an Amendment down. I shall be very glad—with it or without it—to consider the suggestion.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
I am much obliged. I do not think I need detain your Lordships with more than one or two further words. With regard to optional purchase, the noble Lord says nobody wishes to purchase. How does he know that? He says, "Because they have not purchased in England." But, on the other hand, he is always appealing to the authority of Members of Parliament. One of the Members for Aberdeenshire said that that was not at all true in Aberdeenshire, and that there were a great many people in Aberdeenshire who would like to purchase. We are not proposing, and nobody has proposed, to put into the Bill that people shall purchase; it is simply to place it at their option if they wish to purchase. What objection can there be to a proposal of that sort? But that also is a matter for Committee. Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I am anxious, and have been for a very long time, for a settlement of this question, and I have gone so far as to say—the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack knows it—that though I still believe that the 346 county councils would be the best persons to administer this Act, yet at the same time I am not going to insist upon that point. But that does not mean that I accept a Land Court which is to determine all these things in any way that it wishes and without any right of appeal. I am sorry to have troubled your Lordships so long, and shall reserve my other remarks for Committee.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, I imagine that the House will expect a few words to be said from this Bench upon the important measure which is before us, and I am the more tempted to say something because I cannot help hoping that by doing so I shall elicit from noble Lords opposite some kind of reply to the series of instructive speeches to which we have listened from this side of the House. Those speeches should, I think, have sufficed to convince the noble Lord in charge of the Bill that our attitude towards the Bill is anything but one of obstruction. We have, however, a right to be critical because the measure, as the noble Lord, I am sure, will himself admit, is one abounding in provisions which lend themselves to criticism. I should have been very much inclined to say something upon the form of the Bill had not that point been dealt with by my noble friend who has just sat down. I will only say that I agree with him in believing that a more complicated Bill, a Bill containing a greater jumble of provisions, never was laid upon the Table of the Houses of Parliament. I should like to put it to the noble. Lord opposite in this way. Supposing you were to take this Bill and put it into the hands of a small Scottish farmer, the man whom it is intended to benefit. I will undertake to say that if you were to lock him up for half-a-dozen hours with that Bill in his hands, he would at the end of the time understand as little about it as he did at the beginning.
I will pass, however, to one or two questions of substance about which I think something should be said. In the first place, there is the proposal that this new Board of Agriculture should be created for Scotland. I confess that I look askance upon these frequently repeated proposals to create new Boards. They are always expensive, and involve a heavy charge to the taxpayer. They also have this feature about them, that 347 they tend to increase the amount of Government patronage; and I am bound to say—I say it quite without reference to the fact that. His Majesty's present advisers will have the patronage of this Bill—that this constant increase of Government patronage is a bad thing for the country as a whole. These proposals are always defended on the ground that they involve decentralisation, a blessed word in the estimation of many people. But is it not the case that decentralisation may have the effect of conducing to anything but efficiency and consistency of administration? And I must say that a more unfortunate instance in which to apply the principle of decentralisation than the administration of the law with regard to the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act in my opinion could hardly have been selected. This is not a Scottish question. It is a question which concerns the whole of the British islands. By all means let us recognise those racial peculiarities upon which the noble Lord opposite dwelt; by all means let us recognise local sentiment whether it be that of Scotland or Ireland or this country; but there is no local peculiarity in the different varieties of contagious diseases with which our authorities have to deal. A mad dog, for instance, in Scotland is very much the same kind of mad dog as a mad dog on the South of the Border, and pleuro-pneumonia is, I fancy, exactly the same whether it attacks a Highland steer or a Jersey cow in the South of England. What reason can there be for bringing in an administration which will no longer be uniform, and which because it will no longer be uniform is bound to be less efficient than the administration which we now enjoy?
Noble Lords who have spoken on this side of the House have proved beyond all dispute that agricultural opinion is solid against the noble Lord and his Bill at this point. What is the noble Lord's answer? "Oh," he says, "agricultural opinion is well and good; but give me the opinion of the House of Commons." This is precisely the kind of matter with regard to which I trust agricultural opinion and do not trust the House of Commons. I will tell you why I trust agricultural opinion. It is the opinion of men who still remember what this country went through in the days when the whole of it, or a great part of it, was ravaged by cattle plague in the 348 'sixties. I can remember the time when as one travelled through the country one saw on every side the great mounds in the fields which marked the places where these wretched animals had been buried; and since those days there have been other outbreaks of serious disease. These things are not forgotten, and the farmers do not want to run any risk of these misfortunes recurring amongst us. There is a rather striking example which I think the noble Lord might bear in mind. I am told that in South Africa the administration of the laws affecting cattle disease has been placed in the hands of a Union Minister, and that Union Minister happens to be no less a person than the Prime Minister. I hope that, as we are promised, there will be a due examination of our suggestions at the Committee stage, and that the alternative suggested by my noble friend Lord Lovat and by others who have addressed the House will be considered by the noble Lord opposite at any rate with an open mind.
I will deal for a moment with the provisions of the Bill regulating the future tenure of land in Scotland. They seem to me to be needlessly complicated, to involve at many points quite unnecessary interference between parties, and to be novel and altogether opposed to the principle by which we have hitherto been guided in dealing with these matters. What is the plea which is urged in support of these proposals? It is the old argument founded upon the fact, for it is a fact, that rural depopulation has been going on in Scotland. The noble Lord opposite inundated us with statistics, and I have no doubt his statistics are perfectly trustworthy. But he took no pains whatever to connect the statistics which he gave us with regard to the large area under deer forests and otherwise reserved for sporting purposes with the movement of the population, and he did not in any way attempt to show, or succeed in showing, that the two things stood to one another in the relation of cause and effect. There are other reasons, of which the noble Lord must be perfectly aware, reasons which apply not to Scotland alone, which have led to the concentration of the population in the large towns. It seems to me that the noble Lord might as well expect to stop a flood with a mop as expect that anything to be done within the compass of this Bill is likely 349 to change the face of the country in Scotland and to bring back to the regions at present held as deer forests and sheep farms the population that has left them. What are the reasons that have led the people not only in Scotland to leave the remoter parts of the country? It is because they would not tolerate the conditions of existence, the drudgery, the dull surroundings which they had to face so long as they were engaged in cultivating little unremunerative plots in these wild and inaccessible places. There is no doubt about that; and does the noble Lord really think that by such legislation as this he is going to convert the Highlands of Scotland into a country resembling Belgium or Denmark—the two cases which he cited to us? My Lords, this is raising false hopes and expectations; and I cannot help thinking that the noble Lord would do well to avoid importing into these arguments what I cannot help calling a certain amount of prejudice by the citation of these examples.
I pass to the different classes of tenants who, if this Bill becomes law, will emerge under the new régime. In the first place, we have tenants above the limit laid down in Clause 26—tenants whose holdings are over 50 acres in extent or whose rent is over £50 a year. I am grateful to the noble Lord for leaving these tenants at any rate to take care of themselves. They are perfectly well able to do so. They are no doubt vulnerable under this Bill in other respects, because they may be despoiled of part of their holdings in order to satisfy the demand for smaller holdings; but so far as freedom of contract is concerned I understand the noble Lord leaves them alone. Then I come to the great class of so called "landholders" created for the first time under this Bill, which class I understand includes the present crofters and the smaller tenants who have been in the habit of themselves executing their own improvements. So far as the proposals of the Bill have reference to this class, I do not greatly quarrel with them. As I understand the principle of the proposal, these are men who by executing their own improvements have relieved the landlord of what is usually regarded in this country as a landlord's obligation, and who have, therefore, become entitled themselves to some of the incidents of ownership. By all means, therefore, let us recognise that fact, and let us secure their position as we have secured it in 350 similar cases in other parts of the United Kingdom.
Then I come to another variety, and this time to an entirely new variety, of tenant—the statutory small tenant created under the second clause of the Bill. These tenants, I understand, are men whose improvements have ex concessis been made for them by their landlords. The noble Lord nods assent to that. In spite of the fact that that is so, they are merely on the ground that their holdings a re below a certain limit of size, to be given a new and extremely privileged position such as has never yet been accorded under any of our legislation in Ireland or elsewhere to tenants whose improvements have been made for them by their landlord. There is no question whatever, I believe, as to that fact. I am bound to say that the noble Lord's proposal is a better one than the proposal in his former Bills. His former Bills would have swept into one net all small holders, whether they had executed their own improvements or not. That proposal was so monstrous—that is the only word I can find for it—so utterly indefensible, that I am not surprised that His Majesty's Government should have thought it wise not to adhere to it. Having made that admission, I am bound to say that the treatment of this particular class of tenants under the Bill does seem to me, nevertheless, to be extraordinary and indefensible.
In all our land legislation hitherto we have kept three objects in view; the stream of our reform has flowed along three well-defined channels. We have, in the first place, attempted to strengthen the position of the tenant who has executed his own improvements and has thereby assumed some of the responsibility which usually belongs to the landlord. In the next place, we have endeavoured to facilitate the creation of new small holdings where there is a genuine demand for them; and, in the third place, we have sought to secure all tenants, no matter where found, against anything which could be termed the confiscation of the improvements they have executed. We are passing now, under the proposal of the noble Lord, entirely outside and beyond any of those principles. What this Bill does—outside the crofter areas, remember, and amongst tenants who have Dot executed their own improvements, tenants who, perhaps, have deteriorated their holdings—is to give 351 for the first time fixity of tenure, and fair rents fixed by one of these new-fangled Land Courts. That is, I venture to say, a very violent and extreme proposal. What was the justification of our legislation with regard to Ireland? It was justified entirely by those who belong to the Party opposite upon the ground that in fact Irish tenants were in the habit of making their own improvements. So far is this the case that in Mr. Gladstone's Irish Land Bill there was a clause specially exempting from its provisions those farms upon which it could be shown that the English system had been followed and that the landlord and not the tenant had made the improvements.
What is the justification of this new departure? I see it justified—I am quoting from, the Lord Advocate—upon the ground that "it is necessary to destroy the landlord's right of arbitrary eviction." Have His Majesty's Government any information to give us as to the frequency of cases of such arbitrary eviction? The noble Lord gave us abundant statistics for other purposes. Will be get up presently and tell me that he is able to show the House that it has been a usual thing for Scottish landlords to arbitrarily evict tenants below the limit of this Bill? I believe nothing can be further from the truth. Does the noble Lord suggest, for example, that the refusal of the renewal of a nineteen years lease is an arbitrary eviction? I should say myself that it was not. But supposing the noble Lord thinks otherwise, is it not a much more usual thing that at the end of one of these leases it is the sitting tenant who squeezes the landlord rather than the landlord who squeezes the sitting tenant? No landlord, as far as I am aware, would ever think of gratuitously getting rid of a solvent tenant who paid his rent punctually and treated his land decently. It is all the other way. It is the tenant who says, "Unless you execute improvements for me or improve my position, I will not remain on." There is at least as much pressure on the tenant's side as there is on that of the landlord. And pray let your Lordships not leave out of consideration the fact that supposing the landlord were inclined to take an extreme view and to deal hardly with his tenant in a case of that kind he has, under the Act which we have already placed upon the Statute Book—the Act of 1908—to pay 352 very heavy compensation to the tenant who is disturbed.
Then, my Lords, I would like to say one word upon the question of the limit. The limit is a rent of £50 and an area of 50 acres. A 50-acre farm favourably situated may possibly be a farm let at £100 a year. A farm of 60 acres may, on the other hand, be a farm let at, say, £60 a year; and yet under the noble Lord's Bill the man who pays £100 a year gets the advantage of the Bill whereas the man who pays £60 a year does not. The noble Lord will correct me presently if I am wrong. But does the noble Lord seriously intend to defend this limit which he has set up? We have already had quoted the remarkable statement made the other day by the Lord Advocate, who, if I remember right, suggested that, although this limit was in the Bill, the larger tenants had only to ask for its removal in order to obtain it. Is that really what His Majesty's Government intend? Do they mean this limit and do they mean to adhere to it, or is their view the view expressed by the Lord Advocate?
One word as to the proposals with regard to the creation of new small holdings. These new small holdings, as my noble friend behind me said very truly, are going to be created mainly at the expense of the sitting tenants. There is no doubt whatever about that. I have more than once in this House ventured to raise my voice for the purpose of imploring the Government to proceed with a certain amount of caution in this policy of a wholesale creation of new small tenants. What they are doing is this. They are going to impose upon all the parties concerned—upon the landlords, upon the sitting tenants, upon the labourers and other persons employed in connection with the present farms, upon the ratepayers and the taxpayers of this country—a system which has broken down in the past, and which, unless it is handled with the greatest possible care, will break down in the future. What I ask the noble Lord to consider is whether he really is proceeding upon business lines or upon lines of pure philanthropy. Let us distinguish between the two. I am ready to admit that there are cases where we may well allow philanthropy to prevail, cases, e.g., where you have already on the spot a number of people perhaps leading a very miserable. 353 existence in a congested district. By all means let us to something to extricate them from their difficulties; by all means let us do what we have done very successfully in Ireland by the action of the Congested Districts Board. But what I am afraid is that where these circumstances do not exist already you are going to create them with your eyes open, and to deliberately lead to their extension in regions where those conditions are at present absent. What did the noble Lord tell us during the course of his speech? He said the great difficulty arose out of the provision of buildings for these new holdings. His words were, "The cost of them is very often prohibitive." We know that is so. If buildings are to be provided in spite of the cost being prohibitive you at once place the whole transaction upon an uneconomical basis. We know what happens. The noble Earl, lately the Minister of Agriculture (Earl Carrington), told us in the summer when we were calling attention to some of his small holdings that he supposed we should have to "cut our losses." That, no doubt, is the recipe which will be resorted to in this case—the public will have to cut its losses.
Then, my Lords, I venture to call attention to the wide difference between the lines upon which you are working in Scotland on this point and the lines upon which you have worked in dealing with this same question in England. What happens in England when it is desired to create small holding? The land is bought or rented by the county council and is then sub-let or resold to the new occupants. The landlord has between himself and the new tenants, as it were as a buffer, the local authority, which relieves him of responsibility and probably, as things go, is not at all a bad tenant. But you are not doing that in Scotland. You are compelling the landlord, as I understand, to accept these small tenancies on his own account. You carve out of his property, or out of the property of his tenants, a small holding upon which you place a man whom the landlord does not know and does not want at a rent fixed arbitrarily by a Court against which there is no appeal, and you compel the owner to accept a rent which can be revised every seven years. You invite the landlord to sit down under that treatment. My Lords, the case is entirely different from the case with which we are 354 familiar in England, and that, after all, is a question of principle.
May I say that I heard with satisfaction the intimation made by the noble Lord, in reply to a question by my noble friend Lord Camperdown, as to the position of new tenants who might be created for the first time by any land-owner upon vacant land that happened to be in the owner's possession. Those, he told us, would be altogether outside he scope of this Bill—that is to say, they will neither be landholders nor will they be statutory small tenants. That is a satisfactory answer to my noble friend's question. But look at the extraordinary inconsistency in which you are landed. You will have a man to whom a landlord let a small farm let us say five or six years ago on a nineteen years lease. That man becomes a statutory small tenant; there is no doubt about that. A man to whom the same landlord lets another piece of land under exactly similar conditions two years hence will not become a statutory small tenant. I am grateful for small mercies, but if you can sec any consistency in that proposal, I, for one, fail altogether to see it.
Much will no doubt depend upon the spirit in which this law is administered, and upon the tribunal which will be called upon to administer it. It is a tribunal which will be entrusted with tremendous powers. Its functions, we were told this evening, are to be strictly judicial—those are the noble Lord's words. Its powers will, however, include the power of creating new holdings, of turning existing tenants either into crofters or into statutory small tenants, of fixing fair rents, of fixing the conditions of tenancies, of prohibiting a landlord from dealing with a vacant farm, of awarding compensation without appeal, of permitting assignment to say nothing of the enlargement of holdings, and the conversion of statutory small tenants by a stroke of the pen into landholders with all the privileges of landholders. All those powers are to be exercised without any appeal. The Courts of Law are to be superseded by a tribunal which I should describe as an amateur tribunal—a tribunal to my mind wholly devoid of the attributes which we associate with a judicial tribunal. I always regard with suspicion these attempts to oust the Law Courts of the country and to give the powers which naturally and properly belong to them to these ad hoc tribunals, 355 tribunals created deliberately for a political purpose. As one of my noble friends truly said, you may give to the members of a Court of this kind the highest judicial titles you please; you may give them the emoluments of a Judge, you may give them the pensions of a Judge, but you cannot give them the real characteristics or the antecedents of those who fill high judicial places in our Courts of Law, and you never will obtain for them the confidence which our Courts of Law at present enjoy. I much fear that if this Bill becomes law it may greatly disappoint the expectations which may be formed of it. That it will be the means of introducing into the remoter parts of Scotland that expert cultivation of which the noble Lord spoke I entirely disbelieve. But the Bill, n spite of all that, contains a number of proposals which we regard as reasonable and which we are ready to support, and our only regret is that you should have added to them, as we think gratuitously, other proposals full of danger and quite insufficiently thought out. To some of those proposals we shall certainly call your Lordships' attention in Committee, and I can only hope that the conciliatory spirit exhibited by the noble Lord opposite this evening will be displayed again when we arrive at that stage of the Bill.
§ LORD PENTLAND
My Lords, I am loth at this late hour to detain your Lordships for a single moment even in the task which I very readily undertake of answering or attempting to answer some of the questions which have been put during the discussion. The Government have no reason to quarrel with the reception which your Lordships have been good enough to give to this Bill, and on their behalf I readily promise full consideration of all the suggestions which have fallen from the noble Lords who have spoken in the course of this debate. I quite recognise that this Bill is not likely to bring about the millennium, and I accept the rebuke which the noble Marquess offered to me that possibly I may not have connected very closely the facts and figures I gave and the deductions which I wished to draw with the policy of the Bill. Let me say this also. I have registered a solemn vow never again to mention deer forests without most carefully guarding myself against the supposition that wheat might be grown on the slopes of some of our hills in Scotland.
356 I quite recognise that this Bill travels over a very large field. If I may be allowed to say so, a great deal of the criticism which has been offered upon the Bill to-night has consisted of an argument against small holdings in any shape or form. Far he it from me to say that all the criticism has taken that form, but a certain amount of it has, and I should like in one sentence to put the position of the Government. We are faced with this great evil of depopulation. It is not disputed that the population of this country is a very valuable national asset, that it provides a most vitalising influence upon the towns of this country; and, on the other hand, it is not disputed, because Census after Census bears it out, that that country population is dwindling fast. That feature is not common to this country alone; it is common to many other countries; but the peculiarity is that in almost every other country they are taking active steps to combat this evil. You may go to Denmark, to Canada, to Belgium, or to France or Hungary, or to any agricultural European country; or you may go even to the great country of the United States of America where they have a much larger proportion of their population living in rural districts. That country is leading the way among the civilised countries of the world in an effort to combat this evil of depopulation. His Majesty's Government have never put forward the notion that this is the specific and the safe remedy for any evil of this kind, but it is a remedy which in the opinion of the Government is worth trying, and which has been tried in every one of those countries to which I alluded just now. We must, if we are to meet this, make some changes.
It is inevitable that when you make an adjustment of this kind that the present arrangements must be altered in some respects, and the contention which I venture to lay before your Lordships to-day is that the adjustment outlined in this Bill is the adjustment which most suits the peculiarities and conditions not only of Scottish habits and customs and life but of Scottish land tenure and agriculture, and also that it is the solution which will least interfere with the relations between landlord and tenant. The noble Marquess has asked me how it is we have adopted the limit which is in the Bill of £50. The 357 answer to that is simply that we have followed the limit of the Small Holdings Act of 1892. It is stated in that Act, which was not passed by the Government of to-day or their predecessors—The expression small holding' means a holdiag—I am transposing the words—which exceeds one acre and either does not exceed 50 acres or, if exceeding 50 acres, does not exceed £50 rent.That is the limit which we have adopted, and that is really the reason for adopting the limit which Vs. C put in the Bill.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am anxious to get an answer on this point. Do the Government agree with the Lord Advocate in saying that any one of the larger tenants can get this limit removed if he asks for it?
§ LORD PENTLAND
I will come to that in a minute. In the first place, let me say the reason why we adopted this limit is that it is in the Small holdings Act of 1892. We have simply followed that definition. It is a purely arbitrary definition, as any sum must be. Yon may take 50 or 60 or 100 acres or £50 or £60 or £100. We have adopted the limit in the Bill because we are legislating for small holdings. There is not only an absence of small holdings in the country but there is an absence of the conditions upon which alone we believe Mad holdings can exist and thrive. We therefore proceed in the Bill to propose security of tenure, upon which can be based that form of activity which is common to small holders in every country—co-operation, organisation, clubbing together, and so on. There must he, we believe, in some form conveyed to the small holder by the tenure a sense of security that what he does he is doing for himself and that he will reap the full benefit of his endeavour. In one sense a small holder has less security than the larger tenant, as the noble Lord said. I remember him saying in a debate in this House on similar proposals that it is much more difficult for a landlord to get a good tenant than it is for a tenant to get a farm; but as a matter of fact the larger farmers have a better security of tenure than the small farmers. There is less competition for the larger farms, and 358 there is more risk to a landlord if his large tenant is displaced than if his small tenant is displaced. There is much more competition to fill the place of a small tenant, and therefore this Bill is confined—and that is my answer to the noble Lord—solely to small holders, their economic position being, in the judgment of the Government, the most vulnerable and the most needing a remedy.
As to the position of the statutory small tenants, this portion of the Bill applies to the vast majority of existing small holders in Scotland. In the opinion of the supporters of the both in Parliament and out of it this is a very large and important concession. I quite understand that the critics of the Bill do not think it goes far enough, but, so far as it goes, it applies to the vast majority in every county in Scotland of, so far as I can ascertain, the existing small tenants; for it is the fact that ever since the year 1886, even in the Highland counties, the tendency of landlords has been more and more to make their own improvements, even for the small leaseholders who before that date were hardly distinguishable in that respect from the crofter who was admitted to the benefits of the Crofters Act in 1886. This is a very important concession, and in the opinion of the Government it is the maximum of concession, because we reduce by this concession the security of tenure which is left to these small holders to the very lowest limit. It is not the least good, in the judgment of the Government, to place these small holders on any other basis than sufficient security of tenure to justify and encourage them to group themselves with their neighbours, possibly under another tenure in working out their economic salvation as small farmers. If you impair security of tenure you simply leave them in the existing economic position which time has shown is not sufficient to enable them to make a living.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
I am sorry to interrupt. But does the noble Lord not see this, that the maximum of the concession is entirely done away with so far as we are concerned by the fact that the Lord Advocate declares, on behalf of the Government, that the moment any one of the larger tenants wants it he can get the limit removed, so that there is no concession at all?
§ LORD PENTLAND
if people want a thing and it commends itself to public opinion they ultimately get it. But so far as I can ascertain there is no sign of any such demand as the noble Lord suggests. The Lord Advocate expressed his opinion, entirely in accordance with the way in which this country is governed, that if there should be such a demand and it should be supported sufficiently to claim the attention of Parliament, Parliament would at any rate consider it.
LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH
Is the judge of the concession to be the House of Commons or the agricultural community?
§ LORD PENTLAND
I do not wish to differ from my noble friend, but I cannot dive into the future. It is sufficient for me to have this Bill before me, and this Bill is confined, without any further intentions such as those which have been suggested by the noble Marquess, to those with whom it deals. I would say a word, if I may, about the Land Court. The noble Marquess alluded to the Land Court and said it would he engaged in creating new holdings and in turning tenants into landholders or into statutory small tenants. In a sense that may be true; but I would ask the noble Marquess to observe that the only duty which the Land Court would have in such transactions would be to fix fair rents and the compensations to those from whom the land is taken. It is not the duty of the Land Court to initiate such schemes, and so far as clauses can carry it out they are not the Department which can have behind them the stimulus of carrying out the policy of this or any other Government. They are really, in effect, a Court of arbitration, although a judicial Court. I will not argue the point to-night, although there is a great deal to be said against the arguments adduced by the noble Marquess and other noble Lords favouring the employment of arbiters for this purpose.
Lord Lovat mentioned forestry, and deplored the fact that no Forestry Commissioner was actually named in this Bill. That is not for the reason that the Govern- 360 ment have a small estimate of the great importance of forestry to Scotland. I can give an assurance now to that effect. It is impossible to label all the Commissioners without making the administrative body so rigid as to leave no room for elastic working; but it is the intention of the Government that there shall be under this Board of Agriculture, as an integral and vital part of its administrative machinery, a department dealing with forestry which shall be developed as the needs of forestry may justify in Scotland, and which shall be fully equipped with competent and efficient advice in the matter.
The noble Marquess and other noble Lords have spoken on the subject of the Contagious Diseases (Animals) Act. I need not repeat the assurance which I have given already on that point. I will only say that I recognise the strong feeling which has been expressed to-night upon that subject. Further, in regard to the Board of Agriculture, I hope that noble Lords will recognise what I said in the earlier part of the evening that in the first place this is a proposal which is based on purely business and administrative lines. It is for purely business and administrative purposes that we wish to set un this Board of Agriculture in Scotland; and we must regard—I say this again with emphasis for the reasons which I explained at greater length earlier in the evening—we must regard this separate Board of Agriculture as a vital part of the proposals which have been laid before your Lordships to-night. I have not attempted to argue these matters, as it is far from my wish to suggest that the Government are not grateful to the House for the reception which it has been good enough to give to this Bill.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.
§ House adjourned at half-past Eight o'clock, till To-morrow, half-past Ten o'clock.