HL Deb 22 July 1912 vol 12 cc583-602

LORD RIBBLESDALE rose to ask His Majesty's Government for information with regard to the unofficial Committee which has been formed for the purpose of investigating the question of land reform; and farther to inquire into the special qualifications of the members of the Committee for the purposes of this inquiry.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in anything I have to say to-night I will spare you any comments of my own on the past or present taxation or rating of land. As Mr. Gladstone wrote to Lord Tennyson— Taxation and all that belongs to it forms rather a painful chapter in human affairs. Neither do I mean to say anything as to what we hear a good deal about just now—the Single Tax on land. I see that Mr. Hemmerde, fresh from all sorts of electioneering exploits, now says that he does not want to embark on anything so complex as this owing to the present conditions of the country, and that all that he himself is in favour of is a good fat tax on land values. As against this, though, I see that the Master of Elibank, the Official Whip, disclaims altogether a speech which his brother made last week in which he said that he thought the Single Tax was a phantastic notion. The Master of Elibank says it is all very well for his brother to say that, but he is speaking entirely for himself and in no sense for His Majesty's Government. I have not the slightest objection to serious-minded persons who hold views of their own getting together and deliberating and favouring His Majesty's Government for the moment with their views on any particular subject or upon any particular institution. After all, this is a free country. But I hope to show your Lordships that this so-called unofficial Committee is very different from anything of that sort.

This so-called unofficial Committee appears to be animated and inspired by Mr. Lloyd George; according to The Times it received a most cordial welcome from the Prime Minister in another place; and it has quite lately been reinforced by Mr. Wedgwood Benn, one of the Party Whips, becoming a member of the Committee. I confess, my Lords, I think the sudden appearance in our common affairs of this unofficial Committee is quite as mysterious and almost as disquieting as that of the Trojan horse. These, perhaps, owing to recent events, are no longer the walls of Troy, but still I think this House would like to hear a little more about what it all means from His Majesty's Government. I confess that all I can learn about it is a little disquieting, though I do not consider myself at all of an apprehensive disposition. In fact, I labour too much under a tendency to think that nothing tremendous is going to happen the day after to-morrow. Still I notice that these Single Taxers have formed themselves into a league, and they met together in Essex Street, Strand, the other day, the occasion being a convivial dinner at which speeches were made and toasts honoured. The Lord Advocate, warming to his work—I think he was speaking to a resolution of applause on all they had done about land—declared that land was a quite different commodity from any other property and therefore it should receive quite different treatment. It is a self-evident proposition that land is not like whisky, and that it is not like coal. One great difference was pointed out by Mr. Lowe, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said— Capital is a coy nymph; and, remember, she has wings. Land, we know, is leaden footed and cannot get away. That I admit is a. great difference. The Government have the land of this country, as the French say, sous la main, and if the State chooses to treat land in a particular manner the land cannot get away.

I feel that I need not make any apology to your Lordships for bringing this matter before the House. I say that for three main reasons. In the first place, we have lately had the Parliament Act passed, and under that Act this House was specially invited to become, as it were, the family solicitors of the country. We have been specially invited, I think, under the Parliament Act to inspect and scrutinise most jealously the prospectus and the contracts of any new issue. The second reason why I think it is proper that this discussion should come on in this House is that this House, in spite of the democratic tailor and hosier and hatter, to some extent at all events, however inadequately, represents the "shackles of feudalism" which was a picturesque phrase in Mr. Lloyd George's speech at Woodford, and which the Prime Minister on July 9 said he thought rather well of, and though it might be a little over picturesque he said he accepted it as a sound definition. The third reason is that this new land policy, if Mr. Lloyd George is to be believed, appears to be the new Liberalism. It is the new electioneering ticket, at all events. Mr. Lloyd George the other day wrote to Mr. Outhwaite stating how pleased he was with that gentleman because he was making land taxation a living issue in the politics of the day.

Mr. Lloyd George is not only an attractive but an exceedingly powerful Minister. I myself have a great weakness for Mr. Lloyd George. His imagination captivates me, and his eloquence enchants me. I think sometimes what I will call the class case may be a little overstated, but taking Mr. Lloyd George all round I believe that his devotion to what he thinks the cause of the less fortunate people in this troublesome world is quite as sincere as his disapproval of your Lordships' House and his mistrust of what we know, to use an old-fashioned term, as the landed gentry. And while I am on this I should like to express the hope that Mr. Lloyd George will patch up his peace with the doctors or that the doctors will patch up their peace with him, because I personally think that noble Lords opposite are all wrong about the insurance Act and that Mr. Lloyd George some day will get the credit for a very beneficent measure. Now with all these amiable feelings to Mr. Lloyd George 1 stand here to-night as one desirous of saving him in some way from himself. No one knows what Mr. Lloyd George's policy is. I do not think lie does himself, and I am certain the Prime Minister does not. From all I can learn the Chancellor and his friends, and perhaps what the papers call the Ship of State, are in some respects drifting in this matter of land taxation on to the shoals of an economic fallacy. Given, if you like, that it is desirable to get land out of few hands into many hands. I am not personally averse to that particular proposition. But are not Mr. Lloyd George and his reformers in some danger of arresting the processes of supply and demand and sale and purchase by special ad hoc taxation to force existing owners out? May not any such taxation prevent altogether the objects which Mr. Lloyd George and a great many members of the Liberal Party have in view? Although you may get the present owners out of the land, you will have great difficulty in getting other people in.

I will read to your Lordships a few lines from a letter which I hold in my hand from an economist of repute, and not only is he a political economist but a man of the world. He says— There is no reason to tax land more than Consols. A man must be encouraged to invest in both. Already the land bears the whole burden of the rates, which is not the case abroad. The peculiarity Of a Land Tax is that it falls on the then owners, because the purchasers will, of course, deduct from the purchase price the various burdens and buy on the net income. The policy of the Government is to promote free trade in laud, but why make land a luxury of millionaires? Small holders are generally approved. Small holders can only succeed if the ownership of land does not expose the holder to uncertainty in the protection he has a right to expect front the Government. If more and better houses are wanted by labourers, by all means let this be done as in Ireland, but heavy taxation will, of course, discourage capital outlay. You want to attract capital to land. As to the second part of my Question, in which I ask His Majesty's Government what the special qualifications are of the gentlemen who have been appointed on this unofficial Committee, who have been reinforced by one of the Liberal Whips, and who, as I say, start their labours with considerable applause from His Majesty's Government, I find myself in a considerable difficulty. We know—it was stated the other day in an answer given in the House of Commons—that this unofficial Committee is to be equipped by private munificence, and we are also told that no Unionist is to be invited to serve upon it; but I cannot get at the names of the members of the Committee although I have tried. Sub rosa I have learned that the Chairman is a relative of a gentleman possessed of very large landed property; but as far as I can make out from what has appeared in the newspapers the other members who have been indicated as having been appointed to the Committee are all fond of golf, but their practical experience in land seems to stop short at golf links and greens. Mr. Hetnmerde is a prominent member of this Committee; he is a splendid oar and a persevering playwright; but to the best of my information nobody seems to know whether any of these gentlemen have had practical experience of land. So that their labours are to be entirely based on a reference, which they will receive, no doubt, from a distinguished person, and upon their own views as to the position in which the matter ought to be placed in this country.

As a matter of courtesy to the House I endeavoured, when I put this Notice on the Paper, to find out the names of the unofficial Committee, and I wrote to Mr. Wedgwood Benn on the subject. This gentleman is in a very peculiar position. Just for the love of the thing, apparently, he has joined this Committee, but he has not taken the trouble to find out who are going to serve with him. Replying to me from No. 12, Downing-street, Mr. Wedgwood Benn wrote— I am sorry to say I cannot give you the information for which you ask, as I am merely an ordinary member of the Committee recently joined and do not know the full names. He is going into this biggish job, but he does not know the people with whom he is going to work. Mr. Wedgwood Benn added that Mr. Roden Buxton, the secretary, would be able to give me the information. I thereupon wrote to Mr. Roden Buxton, and this morning I received from him a very polite light communication. He presents his compliments, and so on, but— regrets to say that he does not feel authorised to forward the names of the members of the Committee on his own responsibility, but he will With pleasure lay Lord Ribblesdale's letter before the Chairman of the Committee and will communicate further with him. I am afraid the further communication, from the look of things, will come a little too late for this evening's debate, and I can only apologise to the House for my failure to get the names of the members and their special qualification which we should all have much enjoyed investigating.

The question is, Is this unofficial Committee to be taken seriously? It is very difficult to say. I am inclined to think not. I do not care very much about taking things seriously until they are round about one's ears. But still it seems to me that the proceedings of the unofficial Committee and its formation and so on are worthy of some consideration here and perhaps even of our vigilance, and it is for that reason that I have put down the Question to which I now invite an answer from His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, I certainly do not at all complain of my noble friend for having raised this question, which he has adorned with the eloquence which always charms us whenever we have the felicity of hearing him speak in this House. I have no doubt that in his studies of the subject my noble friend has looked at the reports of the various references which have been made to it in another place. A series of Questions on different days were put to my right hon. friend the Prime Minister and I think to sonic other members of the Government, and I am sure that my noble friend will not be surprised if I am not able to add anything of a material kind to the replies which my hon. and right hon. friends gave in another place. What has happened is this. The inception has taken place of this unofficial Committee, as I think my noble friend described it—


It was so described in the House of Commons. It is not an invented term.


It is a quite correct term, if I may say so, and a proper description of the body. That is to say, certain gentlemen undertook to collect within the next few months information upon matters of fact relating to various rural matters—I do not think that I can describe it more accurately than thus, although I do not know that their activities in the matter of inquiry will be exclusively confined to rural questions—upon certain matters of fact affecting land; and when this information has been obtained it will be available for His Majesty's Government. The bringing together of unofficial bodies of this kind is not without precedent, and I do not think that it can be seriously held, if it is properly understood, that it is open to objection. There is no question of any expenditure of public money. There is no question of framing any policy. The whole business, therefore, becomes one of the collection of information which His Majesty's Government may find it convenient at some future time to put to a purpose. The endeavour will be to collect that information as impartially as possible. My noble friend stated that he had not succeeded in obtaining a complete list of the members of this Committee although he had made some inquiries, but he had seen a number of names mentioned in the newspapers. The only name which, so far as I know, has been publicly stated is that of the Chairman, a gentleman well known to many members of your Lordships' House, Mr. Arthur Acland, who has held high office and is generally respected as one of the leading public men of the day. The reason which I imagine prevented the secretary of the Committee from sending a formal list to my noble friend on his inquiry was simply this, that the body being a privately formed one it was not desired to give it the authoritative stamp which would be given by such a reply or by cross-examination of Ministers as to a particular reason why some gentleman or other had joined it. That is the same reason why I do not propose to give a list of the names of such members of it as I have heard of, because, in the first place, I have no reason to suppose that it would be a complete list, and primarily I have no desire, as a member of the Government, to take the responsibility of apparently having assisted to nominate this purely private body for the collection of information.


Is there on the list the name of any single gentleman thoroughly acquainted with agriculture


I should think that some of these gentlemen are. But the noble Marquess will remember that this is not primarily an agricultural inquiry in the strict sense. If we desired to undertake a formal agricultural inquiry such as might be conducted by a Royal Commission, I have no doubt that the composition of such a Royal Commission would have been quite different from that of this small body which is going to collect, as I say, simple information on matters of fact. I venture to think that the value of the information which these gentlemen will obtain will greatly depend upon the fact, which I am informed is to be the case, that quite separate local inquiries are to be made by them—inquiries into the entirely different conditions which, as your Lordships are well aware, prevail in different parts of England, in different parts of Scotland, and in Wales. There can be no question, as it seems to me, of laying down any principle which is applicable either to the tenure or the cultivation of land either for England only or for Scotland or for Wales, the conditions being so intensely and fundamentally different in different parts of the United Kingdom—I ought to say Great Britain, because this inquiry, as I understand, in no way extends to Ireland.

The kind of inquiries—and in this I am speaking not from any knowledge which I possess but from what seems to me to be probable—the kind of inquiries which I suppose these gentlemen will conduct are something of this sort. You hear statements made that in some parts of England the country is being practically depopulated of its rural population; that practically all the younger generation, as soon as they grow up and have a chance of leaving the countryside, make their way to a town. Well, that is a subject into which surely inquiry is worth making, even inquiry of a completely unofficial kind. Then we are told by some that that migration is in many parts of England due to a shortage of houses in which the rural labourer can live. That is one of the points, as I take it, on which the conditions are vastly different in different parts of the country. That, again, is a type of question into which useful inquiry may be made—inquiry of the kind for which everybody has been very grateful when it was made by Mr. Charles Booth in the case of London, or by Mr. Rowntree in the case of York—Inquiry as to the conditions in which the poor live, and, so far as is possible, an investigation of their causes and suggestions for possible remedies. Then we are faced in many parts of England by the slow but in many cases steady decay of small country towns. That is one of the subjects on which I venture to think investigations might be held of real value from a number of points of view.

So far as regards what is called the English land system, relating to purely agricultural land, I do not know how far these gentlemen will be able to make inquiries of a general or of a particular character. But there is one point in relation to that which I confess seems to me well worthy of inquiry. It is this. We are most of us in this House well acquainted with the English land system, with its merits as it is worked on a large scale in many parts of the country and also with its possible defects, and a question which seems to me worth inquiring into is this. Here is this English land system, an artificial one from many points of view, dependent on the contribution of by far the larger part of the fixed capital of the industry by the landowner. That is the main feature which distinguishes the English land system from that of almost any other country. It seems to me a subject worth inquiring how far the peculiar balance of that system, which demands for its success a state of equilibrium, is upset by the extent to which land is changing hands, by the rush to sell agricultural land which has been so marked in different parts of England. I am not going to discuss with your Lordships the causes which may have actuated individuals in putting their land on the market. I am speaking, of course, of agricultural land and not of building land. There have been a variety of reasons, which it is worth while in pursuing this particular subject to discuss. In some cases I dare say the reason has been an apprehension, which I cannot believe to be well founded, of damaging legislation as applied to agricultural land, because noble Lords must in fairness admit that so far as agricultural land is concerned, except as it has taken its share like all other property in paying Super-Tax or being subject to the higher scale of Death Duties, it has been spared any special attention on the part of the revenue authorities. Nevertheless vague apprehensions may have caused some to sell. What has caused others to sell, I have no doubt, is the higher general scale of living which causes people to demand high interest for their money instead of low, and, as we know, there is no form of investment which returns so low a rate of interest to the owner as English agricultural land. But without attempting to go further into the investigation of those causes, it appears to me that the change is so marked and so remarkable a one that it is worth serious inquiry how far the conditions of our and the Scottish land system can be said to be altered by the change of ownership, it being remembered that so much in our land system has depended on the personal relations between the landowner and the tenants of the farms—personal relations which are naturally altered by a sale.

I have no wish to speak with gloom and foreboding as to the prospect of considerable change in the ownership of agricultural land in this country. I have no doubt that, particularly in the case of outlying estates in which owners are not able to take close personal interest, the landlord is very often wise to part with some portion of his agricultural property; but the fact, I think, cannot be blinked that the effect on our land system may possibly be one of considerable moment. A great many of your Lordships remember how unexpected and far-reaching upon the Irish land system was the effect of the passing of a measure which at the time was considered to be of the highest utility and likely to repair to a great extent the unfortunate condition into which so much of Irish land had fallen—I mean the passing of the Encumbered Estates Act in 1849. The consequences of the passing of that Act were of the most far-reaching character, and its passage had an easily traced effect upon the subsequent land legislation which followed in the course of the next twenty and thirty years.

The only quarrel I have with my noble friend is when he spoke of a new policy. There is no such thing as a new policy. The only policy which can in any case be an effective policy is that of those who at the time are entrusted by His Majesty with the government of the country, and to speak of any new land policy of His Majesty's Government is, I beg to assure your Lordships, a most complete misnomer and can only be accounted for by something approaching to an hallucination. I cannot help thinking that a good many people have been now, as they often are, misled by what they have read on this subject in the newspapers. We hear a great deal of talk about the sensation-mongering of the daily Press, but I think it cannot be wondered at that sensationalism should exist when public credulity always seems willing to keep pace with it, or even, if possible, go ahead of it. ft is not, I am sure, necessary to address a warning to your Lordships on that count, but a warning may very properly be addressed to a great number of persons who attach to newspaper paragraphs and newspaper articles an importance which does not strictly belong to them, greatly indebted though we all are to the Press for the information which it gives us and for the manner in which it gives it.

I remember hearing many years ago a story of an observation made by a very wise and witty gentleman of the United States, Mr. Evarts. Mr. Evarts had an English friend who possessed a herd of Jersey cows, and this friend complained to him that although his herd was most carefully got together—no expense had been spared upon it, and it was supposed to be the best that could possibly be obtained—yet he had never succeeded in obtaining the output of milk which he saw recorded as being not uncommon in the United States. Mr. Evarts said— I cannot understand why you should be disturbed in mind at finding that cows give rather less milk in England than they do in American newspapers. And I should be disposed, therefore, to point out to some timid people that there is a most substantial and essential difference between a Land Tax or a demand made by a responsible authority and a tax described on a platform or advocated in the columns of a daily newspaper. As I say, I am sure this warning is in no sense needed in the case of your Lordships, who are experienced in affairs, but it is, I am sure, needed in the minds of a great number of persons. I would therefore tell my noble friend, who was disposed, as he said, not to take this inquiry very seriously, that he really must take it as seriously as he thinks the facts of the case demand, and he must form his own judgment as to the gravity of the matters into which these gentlemen are going to inquire. If he thinks there is no case for any such inquiry, he may be quite sure that a number of others will think the same and no results of a kind which he would consider alarming are likely to follow front it. If, on the other hand, he thinks that there are abuses existing—whether it be on the question of housing, whether it be on the question of rural employment, whether it be on the question in which the noble and learned Earl opposite (Lord Halsbury) has been so conspicuous, that of the transfer of land—on any of these matters if he thinks a case exists demanding inquiry I do not think he would be disposed to complain of this inquiry which is going to be conducted. I hope that what I have said may have succeeded in reassuring noble Lords if there are any here, who have been disposed to attach too much credence to the rather portentous stories which they have heard and read, and that they also will be disposed to agree that an inquiry of this kind may have and ought to have some really serviceable results, of which a Government in some future day may be able to make practical use.


My Lords, the interesting and ingenious speech which the noble Marquess has just delivered was not, I think, entirely successful in throwing light upon the very obscure and somewhat suspect transaction to which the noble Lord on the Back Bench opposite has drawn the attention of the House. The noble Marquess referred us to the answers that had been given by Ministers in the House of Commons. I made it my business to study those answers, but it was precisely because they seemed to me and to others so unsatisfactory and so vague that I was glad to observe that the noble Lord who made this Motion came here to-night to cross-examine noble Lords on the Front Bench. The noble Marquess appropriated the definition given by the Prime Minister when he said that this inquiry was an unofficial and informal one, and added as a gloss of his own that it was not one which, in his opinion, ought to be taken too seriously. I am not quite sure that we entirely agree with him on that point.

Pray do not let it be imagined that we on this side of the House have the slightest objection to any purely informal and unofficial investigation which may be instituted by groups of members of either House of Parliament. Such inquiries may sometimes serve a very useful purpose. But our point here is that this inquiry is not one which can with any propriety be described as merely unofficial and informal. It is an investigation which is apparently to be dry-nursed by His Majesty's Government from start to finish. To begin with, the Prime Minister bestowed his solemn approval upon the appointment of the Committee. Then we find that the members who are to serve upon it are "approached," not by the rank and file of the House, but by the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself. Then we find a gentleman well known to many of us, a Privy Councillor, an ex-Minister, appointed, I presume by the Prime Minister, to preside over the deliberations of the Committee. And finally, to make the story complete, there is added to it Mr. Wedgwood Benn, one of the Government Whips, who appears to think that by simply describing himself as a private Member he can cut all the links and associations which connect him with the Whips' room. The noble Marquess may perhaps ask me whether I am able to draw a sharp line between inquiries which are official and inquiries which are unofficial. There may be some difficulty in that. But of this I am quite persuaded, that this particular inquiry is not one which without great abuse of language can be described as an unofficial inquiry.

Then let us consider a little the composition of this Committee. There has been a singular amount of coyness in divulging the membership of the Committee. In one of the conversations in the House of Commons information on the point was refused by the Prime Minister on the ground that the matter was unofficial; but we know one or two things about the composition of the Committee. There are no Unionists upon it, at any rate. They have not been invited in any way to associate themselves with this important investigation. Then my noble friend Lord Londonderry asked whether the Committee included any gentlemen practically conversant with agriculture. The noble Marquess opposite was not quite sure about that. And then he made this most singular announcement. He said that the inquiry was not really an agricultural one but dealt with other matters. He told us that there were to be separate local inquiries as to local conditions, and then he described the kind of information which was to be sought for by these roving bodies. Does the noble Marquess suppose that inquiries as to the local conditions in regard to such questions as what is usually spoken of as the rural exodus, in regard to housing, and so forth, can take place without reference to the practical conditions of the agricultural problem? The two things are indissolubly mixed together and it is idle to attempt to separate them.

Those who have spoken here and elsewhere for His Majesty's Government are at pains to explain that this Committee is not a Committee of Single Taxers. Well, perhaps not. My own belief is that you will find it extremely difficult to discover any one with any knowledge either of agriculture or of finance who will go the length of identifying himself with the Single Tax in the full sense of the term. The consequences which would result from the adoption of Mr. Henry George's full-blown doctrines are so obvious and so absurd, even to the meanest understanding, that although there may be fanatics who may hold these views I cannot believe that any responsible Government will be found to advocate them; indeed, I well remember the predecessor of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack—I think we were at the time discussing the Scottish Land Values Bill—repudiating with all the earnestness possible, and with evident sincerity, the idea that His Majesty's Government could for an instant entertain what he described as the policy of Henry George. He added that those were doctrines with which His Majesty's Government had no sympathy whatever, and I feel sure that that is the case, at any rate so far as the noble Marquess opposite is concerned, at the present moment. But, my Lords, oar point is that the whole of these Members of Parliament who have been honoured with a place upon this Committee are gentlemen who are identified with a policy involving the transfer, I will not say of the whole of our taxation but of a great part of our taxation, from other sources to the land. About that there is no doubt whatever. We should very much like to know something of the procedure which is to be followed by the Committee during those peregrinations which the noble Marquess mentioned. Are they going to call witnesses? Will they have power to call witnesses? If they do not call witnesses and witnesses representing, not their own views, but the views of those who differ from them, what will be the value of this inquiry with its vast scope and the multitude of subjects which it is to include?

And that leads me to remind the House of another little point which we gather from an answer given in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister. He was asked whether the Report of this Committee would be laid on the Table. What was his answer? He said he did not know. Is it not extraordinary that an investigation of this comprehensiveness and this importance should be contemplated and that we are not even to know whether the results of the inquiry are to be kept secret or whether they are to be made public? There is another matter of which I should like to remind the House. The subject into which this unofficial Committee is to inquire is a subject which has already been inquired into by more than one Committee or Commission. There was, for example, the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes; and there was the Commission presided over by my noble friend Lord Balfour of Burleigh, which heard a great quantity of evidence and submitted very weighty recommendations upon all those subjects of which the noble Marquess spoke a moment ago. Now are you going to take this irregularly-composed Committee, this Committee of partisans—for that is the only way to describe it—and set them to give you a Report which shall overshadow and supersede such documents as the Reports of the two weighty Royal Commissions to which I referred a moment ago? The thing seems too monstrous to contemplate.

Let me say for myself, and I have no doubt I speak for others too, we should welcome an inquiry into this question of the taxation of land, but if there is to be an inquiry let it be an inquiry conducted in the full light of day and by a properly constituted body. The noble Marquess told us that this Committee was to deal with what I think he described as the balance of our agricultural system, with such questions as the movement of the population from the country towards the towns, and with the housing problem. Why, surely, my Lords, if you are to have an inquiry into such matters as these you want a weighty and authoritative body properly constituted and really able to sift the evidence with a thorough and practical knowledge of the matter. There are two ways in which Committees and Commissions are constituted. You sometimes appoint to them representatives of extreme views on both sides, you give them a fairly impartial chairman, and you trust that out of the conflict of opinion some reasonable compromise may be reached. That is one way. The other way, of course, is to appoint to your inquiring body no one but men of a judicial mind, chosen because they are unbiased and impartial. But in this case you have taken neither of these methods. You have made up your Committee of inquiry entirely of men whom I described a moment ago, I think not improperly, as partisans. Can you expect that front such an inquiry any real good will result?

The real defence for the action of His Majesty's Ministers in this matter is one which I think the noble Marquess cannot venture to give. I will suggest it to the House. They have a very motley and a somewhat unruly body of followers, and amongst the most persistent of them are these gentlemen who are addicted to various versions of the Single Tax policy. My explanation of the appointment of this Committee is that His Majesty's Government have found it an extremely convenient way of keeping these gentlemen quiet for a little time. They have given them this bone to fight over, and for the moment no doubt they will be relieved of the necessity of themselves dealing with the matter. I am very glad that the noble Lord on the Back Bench has called the attention of the House to this matter, because it is in my view not, as the noble Marquess supposed, a matter of no importance, but a matter raising very serious questions of principle and one to which the House ought certainly to give its attention.

No Peer rising to continue the debate,


My Lords, if there is to be no reply to the observations of the noble Marquess who has just sat down it is a sign of great weakness on the part of the Front Bench opposite. I fully understand that the Leader of the House is in a difficult position. He does not know whether to declare this Committee an official or an unofficial Committee.


I stated quite clearly that the Committee is unofficial.


Are the Government going to support the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer contained in his letter to Mr. Outhwaite at Hanley? It is difficult to see how the matter can be unofficial when this subject was dealt with so fully by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The noble Marquess opposite says he is tillable to give us the names of the members of this Committee. At any rate, we know there is not to be a single Unionist upon it. From rumours we have heard we learn that the Committee is to consist of gentlemen who are interested in every kind of industry except agriculture. The only member who is acquainted at all with agriculture has property in Austria but has no interest whatever in agricultural land in England. This is to be a packed Committee, packed for one purpose only and packed by men who are supporters of the Party opposite, who hope that by raising this question of land values they will get at what they want to secure—namely,— the Single Tax. The Single Tax has been brought forward at recent by-elections by men who are considered prominent members of the Party opposite. Is this Committee appointed in view of the question of the Single Tax being in future made the policy of the Party at present in office I believe it is, and that is the opinion of the members who are upon it My belief is that this question of the Single Tax is started with a view to making it an election cry in the country. The Government know full well that if they went to the constituencies to-morrow on Home Rule or Disestablishment or against a reform in our fiscal system they would have no chance of being returned. They are therefore anxious to get up a new cry. But the moderate members of the Party opposite do not approve of these violent measures, and therefore the Government have allowed this Committee to be appointed to keep quiet certain sections of their supporters. This, however, is not a policy which moderate men in the Government should allow. I cannot believe, for instance, that speeches like that delivered at Limehouse by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are approved by the noble Marquess the Leader of the House; and I say that it is the duty of the noble Marquess and his colleagues who hold moderate views to dissociate themselves from the violent outbursts to which I have referred and not allow these speeches to go to the country as representing the views of the Cabinet. But the truth is that the country is slowly waking up to the fact that there is no moderate party in the present Cabinet. Thinking men view with scorn the action of the so-called moderate men in the Government in allowing these violent speeches to go unrepudiated. In a paper entitled "Land Values," by Mr. Outhwaite, the recently-returned Member for Hanley, occurs a paragraph stating that the rank and file of the Liberal Party are tired of having to wait for Cabinet pronouncements to know the faith they are to hold; that Liberalism stands for economic freedom; and that when the straight road to emancipation has to be taken an irresistible army will rally, and happily there will be no mistaking those who now retard advance. I cannot imagine that such language will be appreciated by noble Lords opposite. In conclusion, I must again express my surprise that no one has risen from the Government Front Bench to reply to the speech of the noble Marquess beside me.


My Lords, I do not know whether Lord Ribblesdale has derived much satisfaction from the answer he has received. If he has, I think he enjoys the position of being quite unique in the House. Who appointed this Committee? That is what we want to know. The noble Marquess says it is unofficial, but a Committee does not come into existence without having some origin. The noble Marquess told us we must not believe what we see in the newspapers. How far does he carry that? Does he carry it as far as the reports of speeches are concerned, because if the reports are not undeserving of belief we know that this Committee was the direct result of Mr. Lloyd George's speech at Woodford. These were his words on that occasion— We have got to free the laud, to free the land that is at this very hour shackled with the chairs of feudalism. We have got to free the people front the anxieties, the worries, the terrors that their children may be crying for bread in this land of plenty. We have got to free the land. It is a disgrace to the richest land under the sun that people should want. This Act [the Insurance Act] is a beginning, and with God's help it is but a beginning. It is an extraordinary thing that within a day or two after that Mr. Lloyd George gave a breakfast, at which a certain number of persons appeared who I believe are the members of this Committee. If I could only get the noble Marquess opposite into a private room I am sure he could give a great deal more information as to the members of this Committee than he was good enough to give to the House. It struck me that he must know a good deal more with regard to the composition of this Committee, more especially after the two letters which Lord Ribblesdale read, one front a Liberal Whip and the other from a gentleman very nearly in the same capacity. In reality the Government know a great deal more about this question than they will divulge to the House. There can, I think, be no doubt of that.

I believe the guess of the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition as to the origin of this Committee to be absolutely accurate, and I will tell you why. Mr. Hemmerde—I do not think any one will dispute that he is one of the members of this Committee—went to Mr. Lloyd George's breakfast, and he had just previously been returned for a Division of Norfolk. He is a Single Taxer, though I. must say he has lowered his topsails since he went to Crewe. At Hanley he supported the Single Tax, but now he says that he is in favour of it in theory, but that in an old country like this you cannot have it. I think it is largely to keep this gentleman and others quiet that this Committee has been appointed. At the meeting of the English League for the Taxation of Land Values this month Mr. Hemmerde said— I believe that the Government is in earnest. The time has come for very plain speaking to some members of the Party whose voices carry no weight in the country, but who think it their privilege to dictate to the Party how far it is to go. There is no hope for Liberalism in this country unless it moves fast. Look at the Dock Strike, the Coal Strike, the Railway Strike. It is no good talking about a minimum wage to remedy these things. This fight is the biggest fight there has been in English politics for centuries. I admit that language of that sort, if repeated, will be inconvenient for the Government, and it is certain that His Majesty's Government have looked upon the formation of this Committee, if not with absolute approval—although the Chancellor of the Exchequer was the originator of it—at all events in the hope that it will keep some of their extreme friends quiet.

The noble Marquess opposite said there was precedent for this. Is there a precedent for a speech delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer followed by the appointment of a Committee which is said to have been self-appointed? I do not know whether the noble Marquess will admit that this Committee was appointed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If it was not, is there a precedent for a self-appointed Committee suddenly rising into existence who are to collect information not exclusively about the condition of the rural part of the kingdom? I think the noble Marquess knows a great deal more about what they propose to de than he has up to the present time told us. Then he said there was no such thing possible as a new policy, because the policy is the policy of the Government. Therefore if you follow his argument out it comes to this, that as soon as a Government is in power nothing that they propose is a new policy. And he tells us, last of all, that we are not to believe anything we see in the newspapers. Although we may not believe all we see in the newspapers, at any rate we have had a good deal more indication in the newspapers as to the truth of this matter than we have up to the present time succeeded in extracting from His Majesty's Government.


My Lords, with your indulgence I wish to say one word to put myself clear with the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe. He was very kind in the way he treated the few observations I made, but when he said that I was not inclined to take it very seriously I should like to say this, My point is that I do take it very seriously that the Government should identify themselves with this Committee in the way they have done and refuse us all information; but what I do not take very seriously is the Committee itself. Really if I did take this Committee of partisans —and I do not think the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition went too far when he used that word—as serious people, I should have to take seriously an unofficial committee of thieves and ticket-of-leave men who declared their willingness to instruct the Government upon the reconstitution of the Metropolitan Police, or an unofficial body of professed secularists who undertook to remodel the Establishment and to tell us what we ought to do with the Right Rev. Bench.