§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH rose to call attention to the Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Agriculture to inquire into the position of tenant farmers, and to ask what action His Majesty's Government propose to take in relation thereto.
§ The noble Duke said: My Lords, I desire to draw your attention to the Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the late President of the Board of Agriculture. This Report has been in the hands of your Lordships for about a month. The Committee which issued this Report was composed of very distinguished individuals. There were upon the Committee members of this House and some members of the other House, all individuals whose practical knowledge and experience entitle them to express an opinion on agricultural problems, and, furthermore, the chairman of the Committee was a distinguished member of your Lordships' House—Lord Haversham. Agriculture is one of the most important industries, if not the most important industry, in this country, and knowing full well that there are a great number of noble Lords in this House who take a deep and profound interest in the welfare and prosperity of all those associated with agriculture, I felt that it would not be considered wrong on my part if I brought to your Lordships' notice at this early stage of the session this very interesting and comprehensive Report.
§ The Report itself is of a somewhat complicated character, partly because land tenure in itself is complicated, and, furthermore, because land tenure is complicated owing to the recent legislation which His Majesty's Government have, if I may use the phrase, inflicted upon us during the last six or seven years. We have had the Agricultural Holdings Act, we have had the Small Holdings Act, we have had the Housing and Town Planning Act brought in and passed by Mr. Burns, and last, but by no means least, we have had the land clauses in the Budget of 1909. The Report to which I am calling attention is at once very limited and also a very far-reaching document. It is limited to this extent, that the Committee were appointed to consider the position of tenant farmers. Now the position of tenant farmers has been more or less defined and consolidated by the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908, and the 337 Report contains some specific recommendations which would amend that Act—recommendations on which I shall have a word to say later on. The Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908 consolidated what I might call the position between the permanent landlord and the permanent tenant. But the Committee were instructed to go a bit further. They were instructed to report on the questions arising out of changes in ownership, These changes the Committee found to be very numerous indeed. On Page 5 of their Report the Committee say that in the year 1911 the value of agricultural land which exchanged hands exceeded £2,000,000. This fact, of course, promptly raised in the minds of the Committee two definite, broad, comprehensive points. In the first place, the Committee asked themselves, Why had these changes taken place? and, secondly, What would be the result of them, and would, indeed, tenant farmers exist in the future any more? So we get really, in perusing this Report, into rather a paradoxical position. For while, as far as I can gather, the Committee seem generally anxious to adhere to and remain within the Reference to which they were invited to pay attention, a majority of the members of the Committee at the end of the Report recommended the transformation of tenants into owners by the aid of a State Bank. Therefore in reading the Report you will find, first, an attempt to amend the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908, and at other times there is an attempt to indicate the future land policy of the country.
§ Perhaps your Lordships will permit me to take the small points first. The Committee make four recommendations with regard to the position of tenant farmers. Those recommendations are to be found in Paragraphs 26, 27, 30, and 32. These recommendations are made on the assumption of giving longer notices to tenants in various cases; but my concern, and, indeed, so far as I can understand, the concern of the Committee itself, is in the case of the sale of land. As to this let me remind your Lordships what the Committee recommend. The Committee recommend, in the case where a tenant receives notice to quit for the purpose of sale, that the tenant should be empowered to serve a counter-notice claiming that the notice to quit shall not take effect until one year after the original notice would have expired—that is to 338 say, in all cases tenants are to have two years' notice instead of one, and that in case of a sale the tenant, by serving what, is called a counter-notice, can claim an extra two years over and above the ordinary year's notice. So, in practice, the tenant in the event of sale is to receive two years' minimum notice, and possibly, under certain conditions, a maximum of three years. The question will at once be raised by noble Lords in this House, Why should a landlord be forced to extend his notices and thus possibly see the selling value of his land considerably reduced?
§ For the moment I do not wish to discuss the position of the landlord. I will do that at a little later stage. Let me draw your Lordships' attention to the position of the tenant. My concern for the moment is with the tenant. Do these extended notices, as recommended in this Report, really give what the tenant himself requires? In other words, does he get what he wants? Clearly not. The Report says that what the tenants want is not change of ownership. In Paragraph 10, Page 5, the Committee say that the witnesses before them were practically unanimous in expressing the view that the tenants farming on the large estates of England and Wales desired nothing better than to remain as tenants under their present landlords. In other words, these sales of land, to the value of £2,000,000, are events which are strongly deprecated by the tenants themselves. The recommendation in this Report, instead of gratifying the wish of the tenants —that, of course, might not have been possible—simply makes tenants uncomfortable for two or three years instead of one year. So much for the position of the tenant.
§ What about the position of the landlord? Let us for arguments sake take an estate of 40,000 acres. The principle holds good whether the estate is 40,000, 20,000, 10,000, or 5,000 acres. Under the Finance Act of 1909–10, at the death of the owner of an estate of 40,000 acres duty has to be paid according to the market price at the time of the death of the owner. Let us assume that his estate is worth £1 an acre, and that it is valued by the Government at twenty-five years' purchase. You at once arrive at the fact that the corpus of the estate amounts to £1,000,000 339 Under the schedule of the Death Duties the owner of an estate worth £1,000,000 has to contribute to the Exchequer 15 per cent., but in addition to that there is the Succession Duty, which I believe is 2 per cent., and the Settlement Duty, which is 1 per cent., making the full contribution by this estate 18 per cent.—in other words, practically one-fifth. If the landlord himself was not insured, if he did not possess any other resources than those in land, this one-fifth of the estate has to be sold in order to meet the liabilities to the Exchequer; and, what is much more serious, one-fifth of the tenants have to be dispossessed or have to submit themselves to having their farms sold to a new landlord. The questions ask at this stage are, What will be the effect of this on the value of the land itself? Surely that is a point which we are entitled to put. Again, Who is likely to purchase this land? Are the tenants likely to purchase it? We know very well that already they have very slender resources, and the Committee in this Report continually say that it would be very unwise for tenants to take the money which they have now got in agriculture and invest it in land. The effect of that would be to reduce the sum total of the money now invested in agriculture and place it in land, and consequently the prolification of the soil would be affected. Are county councils likely to buy it? We know, for reasons which I will refer to later, that they are not.
§ Then I ask, Is the fact that, in the event of purchase, the prospective owner cannot take possession until two or three years after he has purchased the land an inducement to citizens to embark their capital in agricultural land It used to be the custom for tenants when taking a farm to inquire into the stability of the landlord, into his character and general administrative capacity, but I do not think tenants are any longer going to make this inquiry. They will ask, Is the landlord insured, and, if not, has he any means of paying his liabilities to the State on his decease? For, if he has not, it is clear that part of his estate will have to be sold to meet the obligations to the Government, and the tenants will at once be dispossessed and made uncomfortable. I am bound to add that the Report does nothing to remedy this state of affairs by any suggestions or any 340 proposals. I venture to say this to Lord Haversham, with the most profound respect, that if he had really had the courage to go to the root and bedrock of the matter he would have recommended that the Death Duties should be considerably diminished or abolished altogether.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I bow to the noble Lord's reply. No doubt that is quite correct. But the question of the Death Duties is at the root of the difficulty. At this point the Committee open up a much wider issue. This was the consideration presented. It was said, Supposing the land is sold by one landlord to another and the tenants are given security of tenure for a period of two or three years, what about a public body? What is to happen in the event of a county council buying land? Are the tenants in that case to have an extended tenancy of two or three years or are they not? And the Committee unanimously decided that the tenants should not have an extended tenancy; but they said that instead of the extended tenancy the public body should pay the tenant proper compensation for being dispossessed of his farm. That is fully pointed out in Paragraph 38, on Page 9. This is the point I want to bring to your Lordships' notice—How is this recommendation going to affect the tenants of the public body themselves? Who is going to pay this compensation? Are the ratepayers going to pay it Certainly not. Why should they pay it? There is no moral authority or reason for imposing this liability on the ratepayers. Are the small holders themselves going to pay it? Every one knows that the small owner cannot afford to pay compensation to the tenant for being dispossessed. The compensation arrangements recommended in this Report, or as they are set out in the amending Small Holdings Act of 1910, have really helped to render inoperative the original Small Holdings Act of 1906. The policy recommended by this Committee is parallel to that which has vitiated so much the agrarian policy of the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire. The noble Marquess originally gave security of tenure to tenants against landlords, but no security to tenants against public bodies. Now the tenant is safeguarded 341 both against the landlord and against public bodies, and the burden is thrown on the back of the small holder. The noble Marquess knows perfectly well the overwhelming difficulty the small holder has to find compensation for those who leave a farm for him to go there, and, since he cannot pay, the effect of these provisions is stifling the operation of the original Act of 1906.
The various enactments of the present Government have brought about a most extraordinary confusion in the state of affairs. First of all, we have the Agricultural Holdings Act passed by the noble Marquess in 1908, to which I have alluded. I know that the noble Marquess himself is extremely proud of that Act. Personally—and I say it with profound respect—I always regarded that Act as a most disastrous piece of legislation. What does that Act permit a tenant to do? A tenant on a holding is given full right to practice any system of cropping of the arable land and to dispose of the produce of the holding without incurring any forfeiture or liability. It is true that if the farming is very bad the landlord can bring an injunction and can bring in arbitrators. What has been the effect of that Act? Perhaps the noble Marquess will not mind my telling him what the effect has been in the locality in which I live. Oxfordshire is the second county in England to demand small holdings in point of numbers, and it is the second county in England to give small holdings in point of numbers. Under the beneficent legislation of the noble Marquess the tenant is permitted to farm as he likes. What does he do frequently? He finds an arable field which is difficult to work and costs him a considerable sum of money. He thinks to himself, "I will reduce the sum total of the capital on my farm and convert this arable field into somewhat indifferent and bad grass and I will run a few sheep over it, "and he forthwith proceeds to do so. What happens? The labourers are dismissed, and what are they to do? They may drift into towns; but the towns do not want them. They may emigrate; but noble Lords opposite are not going to advocate a policy of emigration, for that would be tantamount to admitting the failure of their social policy. Therefore all he can do is to make an application to the county council for a small holding. And what happens? The county council apply for a small 342 holding in the same locality where these men live. They probably select the very field in which these men have been working as labourers; they take it away from the tenant farmer and give it to these small holders, charging them in rent 5 or 6 per cent. more than the tenant had been paying. In addition the small holder has to compensate the tenant for his bad farming, and the money has to be found out of the small holder's pocket. That is what happens as a result of this clause in the Agricultural Holdings Act.
There is really, I think, a complete confusion of ideas by this Act of 1908 introduced between the tenants and the labourers. It all comes from the Government's pernicious and vicious habit of insisting upon legislating by departments. In the first place, we had the Agricultural Holdings Act. That gave security of tenure to the tenants against the landlord. Then came the Small Holdings Act, which gave no security to the tenant against a public body. Then we had the Finance Act, which incidentally came along with its land clauses and said by the operation of those clauses that there was no room for the landlord in the general hierarchy of agriculture. Then we find the Small Holdings Act amended so as to grant compensation to tenants if dispossessed by a public body; and last, but by no means least, we find agitation to the effect that the small holders themselves are unable to pay this compensation, and a debate is raised in another place in which the question of involving the rates is discussed. The question of involving the rates is discussed for the reason that the whole basis of your agrarian policy has completely broken down. The financial basis is unsound, and the Government are driven, as a last resort, to discuss the most dangerous principle whether they can employ the rates to bolster up and make effective their bad financial administration.
May I be permitted to say one word with regard to this question of rates, because it is just possible that what occurred only two nights ago in the House of Commons may have escaped the notice of many noble Lords in this House. I deeply regret that the noble Marquess is no longer at his post as President of the Board of Agriculture. Although we did not see eye to eye with him in many 343 matters, yet we know perfectly well that he was a strong, capable, and active administrator and understood all the problems which were presented to his notice. I wish I could say the same of his successor. What did his successor admit only the other night in the House of Commons? He did not lay it down as a general principle; he did not state it as part and parcel of the policy of the Government—it was wrung out of him in a negligent unwilling manner. He said he saw no reason why, when county councils buy land, the sinking fund which the county councils have to pay to the Government for the purchase of that land should not be made a charge on the ratepayers, and he added that if county councils chose to do that, he for his part, as head of the Board of Agriculture, would instruct the Auditor-General not to surcharge those amounts. I think I have accurately stated what the President of the Board of Agriculture said the other day in the House of Commons. Let us see what the effect of this dangerous and pernicious statement would be. I am bound to point out at this point that when the noble Marquess introduced his Small Holdings Act he gave a deliberate pledge that the rates should not be employed for the purpose of administering the Act. I am sorry I have not his words at hand, but I know he made a most definite statement that on no account should the rates be employed for the purpose of making the financial arrangements of the Act successful.
But now what has happened? The Government now say that the rates may be employed for the purpose of paying the sinking fund. My Lords, it is not going to stop there if the rates are to be employed for the purpose of paying the sinking fund, why should they not be employed for the purpose of paying the compensation which the small holders have to pay to tenants who are dispossessed? As the noble Marquess knows, bad prices and a bad agricultural year frequently go together. What is to prevent the small holders going to the county council and saying, "We have had a bad year and have lost money and cannot pay. We desire you, the public body, to make good the deficiency from the rates of the county." There is a long vista of gross mal-administration ahead of us if the disastrous principle is admitted that the rates can 344 be employed to bolster up the unsound economic administration of the Government. That point I do commend to the notice of His Majesty's Ministers, and I sincerely trust that the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture will use his endeavours to prevent his chief from embarking upon a policy fraught with so many dangerous consequences.
There is a sentence in this Report which I should like to refer to before I leave the subject of the Agricultural Holdings Act and the noble Marquess. It helps to pulverise that Act if that has not already been done. It occurs in the passage in which the Committee consider a scheme of State-aided purchase and lay down certain points to safeguard the State as interim landlord. Among the various provisos, the Committee lay down this: that it is essential that the land shall be farmed "in a husband-like manner." But, as I have already reminded your Lordships, under this beneficent Agricultural Holdings Act a tenant when he farms under your Lordships is entitled to farm as he likes, and the noble Marquess makes action on the part of the landlord to prevent the deterioration of the farm a most intricate, cumbrous, and troublesome business. I cannot help asking the noble Marquess this question, How are you going to reconcile the safeguards which this Committee thought necessary to be imposed if the State became an interim landlord dealing with interim tenants with the somewhat loose, and, if I may use the phrase, "sloppy" statutory enactments contained in the Agricultural Holdings Act in their relation between us as landlords and the tenants who serve under us?
We come really to this question, What have Ministers done in the six or seven years they have been in office to help and make prosperous the first industry of the country? Let me take the landlord first of all. The noble Marquess, under the Agricultural Holdings Act, has destroyed the administrative powers formerly possessed by the landlord by giving the tenant the right to farm as he likes and more or less security against any interference on the part of the landlord; and by the land clauses in the Budget of 1909–10 the landlord is slowly but surely going to be dispossessed That settles the landlord. Now as to the tenant. The tenant wishes 345 to farm and to hold under the landlord, as is clearly laid down in this Report. Your legislation is making that impossible. The Report shows this over and over again. The tenant does not want his land taken away for small holdings, and you have legislated exactly contrary to his wish. That settles the tenant. Lastly, What about the former labourer who becomes a small holder? It is quite true you have given him a small holding. Some 9,000 small holders have been created within the last three years. Well and good. But observe what you do. You force the small holder to pay compensation for acquiring his land from the dispossessed tenant, and, if he farms land which the county council have bought through money advanced by the State, to pay not only the sinking fund but the interest on the borrowed money, and, incidentally, he is invited to serve under a landlord whose administrative charges the present President of the Board of Agriculture says may amount to a maximum of 20 per cent. and to a minimum of not less than 6 per cent. I am not sure that, so far as the financial aspect of the case is concerned, the small holder is in a specially agreeable position.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Yes, the repairs made by the county council. That is the present chaotic state of affairs, and I think we are entitled to ask what the Government intend to do to improve it. Now there are four possible policies laid down in this Report. In the first place, it is suggested that the landlord shall be retained. That is in accordance with the wishes of the tenants. Then there is a pious expression of opinion that the county council might be the landlord. As far as I can make out, that view was regarded rather benevolently. Furthermore, there was the suggestion to turn the tenants into owners by the aid of State banks. And, finally, there was a strong recommendation that the State itself should be the landlord to acquire the land and allow the tenants to farm under it. I know that many noble Lords hold various and different views as to the manner and method by which agricultural problems should be solved. The Committee seem rather to have felt that, because they showed a fine impartiality in incorporating in their Report all the different recommendations suggested to them. That 346 in itself may have been very wise and proper. But what I want to know this evening is this—What is the policy of the Government themselves? Have they a policy? If they have, will they allow that policy to be made known to noble Lords in this House? I really do think, if I may say so with due respect to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House, that the time has come when the Ministry should make a full statement of their land policy. Although it will be a source of great interest to us to hear the views of the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, yet I feel in a sense that his views will be those more or less of the Department.
What we would like to hear to-night is the broad general policy which the Government propose to pursue with regard to the first industry of the country. I ask this, not because I personally feel that I am in the least entitled to do so, but I would draw the attention of the noble Marquess the Leader of the House to this fact, that the Departmental Committee was appointed by one of his own colleagues. It was at the express request of the Government themselves that they were asked to report, and in this Report the Committee say that the present uncertainty is militating against agriculture. Now if a Committee which you have yourselves appointed says that as a result of your policy the present uncertainty is militating against agriculture, I do think that in all fairness to the agricultural community the noble Marquess is bound to give some expression of opinion to this House as to the future policy of His Majesty's Government with regard to this difficult and complex problem. It is in the hope that we shall be able to extract some definite statement at the hands of His Majesty's Government that I have ventured to bring to your Lordships' notice to-night the interesting and admirable Report made by the Committee over which Lord Haversham presided.
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
My Lords, I venture to ask your Lordships to accord me the privilege of intervening between the able and exhaustive speech of the noble Duke opposite, which I heard with the greatest admiration, and the necessary reply of my noble friend who represents the Board of Agriculture in this House. My claim to do so is that for ten months of last year I had the honour of presiding over the 347 Committee which presented this Report. We heard evidence from every large agricultural association and club in the country and a great number of tenant farmers, valuers, solicitors, and others, and I think I cannot do better than commence by congratulating noble Lords on the opposite side of the House, who represent large properties and have numerous tenants under them, upon the universal testimony of the tenant farmers as to the excellent relations which exist between their landlords and themselves. I cannot express this better, or more concisely, than in the words of the Report itself—Witnesses before the Committee were practically unanimous in expressing the view that the tenants farming on the large estates of England and Wales desired nothing better than to remain as tenants under their present landlords, and, in view of the remission of rent by landlords in had seasons and the execution of repairs and improvements over and above the strictly agricultural requirements of the farms, the position of tenants under good landlords is apparently a satisfactory one.I think we shall all endorse that. But I am afraid this very happy state of relations is within an area which is gradually, year by year and almost week by week, becoming narrower.
We had the advantage of having on our Committee Mr. Howard Frank, a member of the largest firm of auctioneers in this country especially concerned with the sale of landed estates, and he assured us that £1,500,000 worth of agricultural land was sold in 1910, and that last year the amount would be £2,000,000. I agree with the noble Duke that there is a great deal to be said for the operation of the Death Duties. I think it is quite clear that it is found necessary to part with portions of estates to find the large sums of money which are payable at a particular crisis. But the policy of Death Duties has been endorsed by both sides in politics and by Chancellors of the Exchequer of both Parties, and we cannot go back upon that. I think I ought to mention that considerable apprehension and alarm exist, not as to what has been done, but as to what is going to be done in the future. I refer to the new valuation. I think it is more that and what is to come which causes unrest among landlords and leads to the sale of estates than any Act which can be pointed to as having been injurious to the agricultural industry.
But that is not by any means the whole story. There are a great many other causes 348 which have led to landed estates going into the market. I ask your Lordships to consider what a very great change there has been in what are called the amenities of landed property. I dare say many of your Lordships have read the recently published "Life of Charles Fox," by Sir George Trevelyan, in which he shows that at that time the greater part of the Lower House was composed of landlords, and that landed property then carried with it representation in the Commons House of Parliament certainly in all the counties and in most of the boroughs, except the King's. All that has passed away, and I myself remember hearing the late Lord Salisbury say in this House, before I was a member of it, that we must all admit that the landed interest is not the powerful interest in the House of Commons that it once was. I need not remind your Lordships that in those days nobody but landed proprietors were made magistrates or deputy-lieutenants. The status which landlords had in the counties has materially altered. A still more powerful reason for the sale of estates is the existence of an immense number of other funds in which capital can be invested and a higher rate of interest obtained than in land. That is, to my mind, the greatest cause of all. No doubt these are concurrent reasons, and I do not think it would be right for the noble Duke to assume that it is fear of legislation only which has induced landlords to sell. There is also a boom in land which has induced people to part with their estates. A very creditable reluctance exists on the part of landlords to raise the rents of old tenants. They prefer to sell their estates rather than raise the rents. All these reasons, of course, have led to great unrest among the tenants, and it was with the object of endeavouring to find some means of allaying that unrest that the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, appointed this Committee.
The suggestion most popular with the tenant farmers who gave evidence before us was a system of State-aided purchase. They all thought that that would relieve matters much more than any of the smaller changes to which I will in a moment allude. The proposal we make was suggested by a member of the Committee, Sir Edward Holden, a very experienced financial authority and banker. Our proposal is that the State should advance £500,000, and that the tenants should be 349 assisted out of this, which would be managed by a Land Bank. The tenants, we suggest, should have money advanced at 4 per cent.—3¼ per cent. as interest, ½ per cent. for management, and ¼ per cent. for sinking fund. I do not know whether that will find favour with His Majesty's Government, but it found favour in the eyes of the tenant farmers. We thought it better not to adopt the policy of giving the whole sum to the tenants, and we propose that they should provide one-fifth of the purchase money, and that the State should find the remaining four-fifths.
I should like to be allowed to say one or two words with regard to the smaller changes to which the noble Duke alluded. In the first place, the most powerful alleviation next to State-aided purchase was the proposal to extend the notice to quit. I will state a concrete case so that the House can see where the shoe pinches. Supposing that a man who has a Michaelmas tenancy is given notice to quit. That notice would operate at the following Michaelmas. It happens that the sale of farms almost always takes place in June and July, and it is not possible for the tenant to know until June whether or not he will be allowed to stay on. He cannot before then negotiate with the new man, who has not yet purchased the farm. He cannot negotiate with his old landlord, because the latter does not know whether he will sell or not. The tenant, therefore, goes on until June in absolute ignorance of what his fate will be. When the farm is sold he has only two or three months until Michaelmas in which to look round and get a new farm. That is an intolerable hardship. We must remember that these men have very often created an extensive business. They may have established milk rounds, they may have got together a cheese industry and may have a number of labourers whom they desire to take with them to the next farm. But it is the most difficult thing in the world to find another farm in two months. We propose that in case of a sale the tenant may serve a counter-notice, which shall have the effect of extending his tenancy by one year—not by two years, as stated by the noble Duke. I think that is a very fair thing. We say in the Report—The majority of the witnesses were in favour of a longer notice to quit in all cases where the land is intended to be put up for sale, and with a view, therefore, to mitigate the injury and possible hardship inflicted at present on a tenant the Committee 350 recommend that, in cases where a tenant receives notice to quit for the purpose of sale, the tenant should be empowered to serve a counter-notice claiming that the notice to quit shall not, take effect until one year after the original notice would have expired. … The Committee think that the suggested clause would give a tenant time to negotiate with his new landlord or to make, arrangements for obtaining another farm, and would go far towards removing any grievance under which he labours at present.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
I was rather at pains over that paragraph to make out whether the minimum term was two years or three years.
§ LORD HAVERSHAM
The term is two, years from the first notice—that is, one year longer. But either party, the landlord or the tenant, may terminate the tenancy at any time he pleases, provided he makes an arrangement with the other. Our object was to secure by legislation that the tenant might claim by counter-notice an additional year. Then we say that where there is no time specified in the agreement two years shall be taken as the term. We think that that would have a very good effect in making tenants when they enter upon a holding claim two years at first, and that would be a great solution of the difficulty. The noble Duke spoke, I think, with some contempt of our proposal about small holdings. The effect is this, that if a landlord at the impulsion of the county council or of his own accord sells land for small holdings, then compensation is to be paid to the tenant whom he turns out. But the case is different if the land is sold at public auction. Then the county council are not to pay any compensation at all. All we propose is that the thing should be made equal, and however the land be obtained, if it is destined for small holdings, there should be compensation for the farmer who is turned out.
The Committee make another small recommendation which I think will commend itself to your Lordships. It is to alter the time at which a man may put in his claim for compensation. As the law stands at present, a man must make his claim for compensation within two months of receiving notice to quit. I put the question to a great many of the leading witnesses, valuers and estate men, and they all said they saw no reason whatever why this particular period was taken. We say—and all the witnesses agreed with us—that it would be fair that a man should 351 be allowed to put in his claim for compensation at any time within two months of the date when his tenancy expires. That is our recommendation. We did all we could to find the best possible means of assisting tenant farmers. We shall be quite satisfied if the smaller recommendations are, as a preliminary, adopted. Of course, we should be very glad indeed if the financial scheme which we propound could be adopted by the Government. That would be the most effective remedy of all; but, apart from that, I am quite sure that considerable good would be accomplished were some of the smaller recommendations contained in the Committee's Report carried into effect.
§ LORD CLINTON
My Lords, I gladly associate myself with the remarks which fell from the noble Lord opposite, because, having sat with him for some ten months on this Committee, I know that it is very largely owing to his careful management of the Committee, which was composed of people representing almost every possible view, that he has been able to get them to produce a practically unanimous Report. I also fully associate myself with his half-expressed, but, I think, almost withdrawn, expression of regret that the Government should have launched into a system of financial policy which has caused such serious evil. What he and the noble Duke have said in that direction has made more clear than the Report makes it that the sale of estates and the consequent difficulties in which tenants find themselves are due, not only to past legislation, but to a fear of legislation that may be to come, and very largely due to the operations of the Small Holdings Act under which a large tenant no longer feels himself safe in his holding. It has been the purpose of almost all Agricultural Holdings Acts passed in the interests of tenant farmers to make their position as secure as possible, and every agricultural authority will, no doubt, lay down that security of tenure is a first essential. Consequently anything that acts against that must be against agricultural interests in this country. And this Committee, appointed to look into the position of tenant farmers who are dispossessed owing to Government action, have taken fully into consideration that it is the obvious duty of Parliament to, as far as possible, restore to tenants that security which has been taken away.
352 There are some minor recommendations put forward by the Committee which are in no sense a remedy of the evils of which we have to complain, but which yet may alleviate the difficulties. The noble Lord who presided over the Committee has told the House very fully the position in which the tenant would be after giving a counter-notice to his landlord. I do not agree with the noble Duke that that will make land unsaleable or lower the value. If a man buys an estate in a large plot the last thing he wants is for the tenants to leave. He wants to enter into an estate which is fully equipped with substantial tenants. The case is slightly different when land is sold farm by farm and there is a possibility of occupying owners coming in; but, even then, I do not believe that the term of notice will really prevent a good sale taking place. It has been my fortune to sell a large number of holdings, but in no case have I given notice before sale. It has always been after sale for the purchaser to make arrangements with the tenants. The recommendation of the Committee will extend that notice to two years, and if that recommendation takes effect and is acted upon by tenants it is obvious that no land will be sold with vacant possession. Therefore nobody will expect to have vacant possession, and consequently it cannot in any degree affect the value of land. At the same time it will give a most important safeguard to the tenants themselves that they will not be turned out at a moment's notice and without having sufficient time to find another farm.
But the really important part of this Report is undoubtedly contained in the recommendation for State-aided purchase. I believe that almost every witness who came before the Committee expressed himself strongly of opinion that some form of State-aided purchase was necessary under present circumstances. It was laid down very clearly, both by witnesses and by members of the Committee, that it was essential in any scheme of State-aided purchase that it should be run without any risk to the Government who aided the purchase, and that it should be run on commercial lines and the interest of the State safeguarded in every possible way. At the same time it is obvious that the rate of interest and the sinking fund must be such as the tenant can pay without dipping into any of his capital now employed in 353 farming, his land. The Committee were agreed that it was essential that the combined rate of interest and sinking fund should not exceed the present net rent which is being paid for the land. In Sir Edward Holden's scheme, which was adopted by the Committee, it is presumed that 4 per cent. interest will be sufficient to pay interest, sinking fund, and other charges and pay off the loan within seventy-five years. They adopted, I think, the 4 per cent. rate because they were of opinion that, generally speaking, land was now selling at twenty-five years' purchase, but it is obvious that the number of years' purchase must vary according to many considerations, and I do not think it would be difficult to have a scheme whereby the sinking fund might be varied.
My view is that 4 per cent. is unnecessarily severe on the tenant. I think that in most cases the State could afford to lend at a lower rate than 4 per cent. I do not think that it is in any degree necessary that the State or the banking institution should take ½ per cent. for interest and management. As a matter of fact, the risk in a scheme of this kind is very small indeed. It is not proposed under this scheme to lend more than four-fifths of the purchase money. Consequently the security is a tolerably good one from the beginning, and by the operation of the sinking fund is improving every year; and while it may be thought, perhaps, that some charge should be made for the risk at the beginning of the period of the loan, I think it would be unfair to continue that charge for risk right through the number of years during which the loan remains. One should recollect also that, if ¼ per cent. is charged for sinking fund and will pay off the loan in seventy-five years and another ¼ per cent. is charged for risk right through that period, the tenant in effect is paying for his farm twice over.
There is, I think, a further objection possibly to the actual scheme which the Committee have adopted, and that is in the requirement to pay down one-fifth of the purchase money. I know that noble Lords opposite and members of the Government point to the fact that no tenant wants to buy in this country because they have not taken advantage of the purchase scheme under the Small Holdings Act of 354 1892. I am absolutely certain that tenants have not taken advantage of the purchase provisions of that Act on account of this very requirement which is put into Sir Edward Holden's scheme—that a percentage of the purchase money has to be paid down. It is tolerably certain that although a certain class of farmer might be able to pay down one-fifth of the purchase money those would be the farmers who could buy without assistance. I venture to criticise Sir Edward Holden's scheme in those two particulars, though I signed the Report as far as that scheme was concerned. It appeared to me that those were particulars that might be amended, and it seemed to me very essential that the Committee generally, almost every one of us being in favour of State-aided purchase, should be as unanimous as possible on that point.
There is one feature of the Report to which I take great objection and I have signed a reservation to that effect. I refer to the proposal as to State purchase. I cannot believe that any scheme of State purchase is either financially, politically, or agriculturally sound. I can imagine it possibly of advantage that the State should occasionally step in and purchase land for immediate re-sale to a tenant, but that is merely a moderation or extension of State-aided purchase. But I disapprove in the strongest possible way of the paragraph in the Report which suggests that the State should step in and buy large blocks of land and occupy them, I suppose, as an ordinary landlord. If the State buys large blocks of land there must be included in those Hocks much land which will be of an unremunerative nature; consequently a proper return cannot be got on the money expended for the purchase of that land, and a burden will be entailed on the ratepayers. We hear of the evils of absenteeism. The State itself would be a permanent absentee; its management of the estate would be by an official. And while I believe that State-aided purchase, if properly carried out, would of itself be a real remedy for the evils which we found were increasing, I cannot believe that State purchase would be of advantage. I await with anxiety to hear what view the Government themselves take of this Report, and how far they are prepared to take up the scheme of State-aided purchase which we recommend.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, in the speech in which he began this discussion upon the Report of the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Haversham, the noble Duke opposite made a somewhat bitter attack upon the general agricultural policy of the Government, and under cover of that attack he somewhat skilfully evaded discussing the more important parts of the Report. In that I do not wish to throw any blame at him. He himself reminded me that the position of Under-Secretaries is a somewhat insignificant one.
No; but what he said meant very much the same thing. The noble Duke used so many adjectives in the course of his speech that if I apply the wrong one in this connection I hope he will forgive me. I do not wish to blame the noble Duke. After all, he is only following the policy of the other occupants of his own Front Bench and of the official leaders of his Party. While they have to a certain extent dallied or flirted with the general question of State-aided purchase they have never committed themselves to the policy, and I hope that this debate to-night is going to have this result, that we are going to draw from noble Lords sitting on the Front Bench opposite some definite statement as to what their intention is with regard to this very big question.
Before I proceed to deal with the points raised in the Report I would like to make one or two remarks on what the noble Duke said. I hesitate to again try and quote his adjectives, but he certainly condemned very strongly the policy of the Government with regard to its various Acts. He made an attack upon the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908, but failed entirely to show what harm it had done to agriculture, which is the only test that can be applied. He quoted cases where the powers of the landlord had been curtailed, and it is quite obvious that that was the intention of the Act in certain respects. Our contention is that curtailing the powers of the landlord in certain respects, as that Act did, has not militated against or done harm to the interests of agriculture. In fact, it has had an opposite 356 effect and its general effect on agriculture has been good. Since the passing of that Act—I do not say it is due to the Act, but the Act has been a contributory cause—agriculture has been in an unusually prosperous condition. The noble Duke referred to the question whether or not it is desirable to place the sinking fund charges on the acquisition of small holdings upon the rates. He seemed to think that that was a dangerous and wasteful policy. After all, what is the position? The position is this, that the land is being acquired, and at the end of the period of eighty years when the loan is completely paid off the land will be the property of the county council. At the present moment it is being paid for by the small holder. He is, in fact, purchasing the land for the county council; and I cannot see that it is dangerous for the county council, if it chooses, to pay for the land of which it is at the end of that period to become the possessor. We do not express an opinion as to whether we think it desirable or not. That is a question which the county councils have to settle for themselves, but, if they do choose to do it, it is a policy which is neither wasteful nor can it be described as dangerous.
The noble Duke spoke of the break-up of some of the great landed estates and the sales that have taken place as a disaster, but a great many people hold an absolutely opposite view. A great part of the land that has been sold consisted of outlying portions of large estates. We know perfectly well from experience that the ownership of large outlying estates to which the owner and his agent can at the best only devote a certain portion of their time is not an ideal system of ownership. That some of those outlying estates should pass out of the hands of their present owners into the hands of other people is not necessarily a disaster. When the noble Duke tries to make out, as he did, that under present conditions nobody would wish to buy the land, I can only remind him of the good prices reached in the market, showing that the apprehensions which exist in the minds of some people are not shared by everybody and that there are plenty of people who are ready to invest their money in land. In these circumstances I do not see why we should suppose that the passing of the land into a greater number of hands is necessarily going to have a bad effect on agriculture 357 as a whole. It was the sale of these estates that led to the appointment by my noble friend behind me of this Departmental Committee. One cannot help noticing, and the Committee themselves noticed, that as a matter of fact the cases of hardship which the Committee were specifically asked to inquire into have proved of extremely rare occurrence. In paragraph 16 the Committee say—Several witnesses stated, either that no hard cases of dispossession kind inability to obtain another holding had been brought to their notice or that they were comparatively rare, and it would be impossible to maintain, in the face of this evidence, that the grievanees, however acute in individual cases, are widespread.I think there is no question about that. The cases are comparatively small in number. No doubt when they do occur they are hard cases, but hard cases make bad law, and one has to proceed with a good deal of caution when trying to legislate on grounds of this kind.
The recommendations of the Committee divide themselves into two parts. There are, first of all, the earlier recommendations, which suggest remedies for what may be called allaying the fears of the tenant; and in the latter part of the Report come what are more in the nature of heroic remedies to deal with the case. This Committee is by no means the first Committee of the kind which has advocated a system of State-aided laud purchase. That the grounds for so doing appeared a little insufficient is an opinion which I think a good many people who read the Report will themselves hold. After all, the main point in this Report is the definite recommendation of land purchase, and we cannot discuss the Report without first of all dealing with that particular case. Land purchase is suggested, as I have already said, in order to meet a very small number of hard cases. The Report does not go deeply into the question of finance. I do not say it does not suggest methods of finance. But every one who has studied the matter knows what an enormous undertaking a policy of State-aided land purchase would be. It is only suggested here that it should apply to those tenants who are in danger of being dispossessed, but I do not think any Government would be justified in embarking on that scheme on such a footing. If the thing were a success, pressure would be brought to bear on the Government which the 358 Government sooner or later would not be able to resist. We know what has taken place in Ireland, and I do not think any Government could go in for a system of State-aided land purchase without contemplating that it would sooner or later have to undertake a general system of assisting the purchase of all land at present held by tenants. That raises an enormous financial question which I am not competent to discuss, and I do not wish to do so, but the figures of Irish land purchase disappear into insignificance by the side of the figures which would be involved in any scheme for land purchase in this country.
After all, is land purchase really asked for or required in this country? The whole of the evidence taken before this Committee goes to show that it is not required. There is no real demand for land purchase qua land purchase. There is a demand for land purchase as being better than being turned out of a farm, but it is the undoubted desire of the great majority of farmers in this country to remain as tenants, and one has further evidence of that in the very small extent to which opportunities of land purchase are taken up by tenant fanners. Yon have the evidence, already mentioned by Lord Clinton, of what has taken place in connection with the Small Holdings Act, where under 2 per cent. of small holders have availed themselves of the opportunity of purchase. I believe that what tenant farmers attach much greater importance to than purchase is security. If they cannot get security, then they are prepared, on terms which they are capable of meeting, to purchase their holdings. But given the requisite amount of security they put tenancy as the best thing and ownership as the second best thing. Even supposing it were desired, is ownership a suitable thing in this country? If one looks at what has taken place here, if one examines what has been the history of the men who have held land in this country, one cannot but be forced to the conclusion that, for some reason or another which one cannot explain off-hand, ownership is not suited to the farming population of this country.
The three best instances of that are, first, the yeomen farmers of this country. As a class yeomen farmers were wiped out by the bad times of thirty and forty years 359 ago, and they have practically disappeared. A more remarkable case still is that of what were called the statesmen of the North of England. They have all disappeared as a class, and the curious thing about them is that the majority of them disappeared, not in bad times, but in good. They were bought out at a time when they could get good prices for their land, and those who remained disappeared when bad times came. There was another class—the freeholders of the Isle of Axholme, in Lincolnshire. They farmed some of the finest land in this country. The majority of them have disappeared, and of those who remain many are seriously hampered with mortgages. Whenever there has been a system of ownership in this country it does not seem to have lasted long; during recent years it does not seem to have survived, and one is reluctantly forced to the conclusion that for one reason or another the ownership system is not suited to the farmers of this country.
There was a question raised by Lord Clinton as to the desirability, if you are going to have a system of purchase, of asking some deposit from the tenant. With regard to that, I think that the Irish analogy, which is often quoted, for asking for no deposit at all is rather a false one. The Irish system is quite unlike the English system, and the Irish tenant's stake in his holding is so much greater that he has to a large extent paid his deposit. But at any rate opinion, as far as it has been officially expressed, has been very strongly in favour of the deposit system. The three Committees that have sat on the subject—the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1889, presided over by Mr. Chamberlain; the Departmental Committee in 1906, presided over by the late Lord Onslow; and Lord Haversham's Committee—have all reported, though in the last two cases there was a dissentient, in favour of the deposit system. As Lord Clinton pointed out, that is one of the great difficulties. If you adopt that system, as it is practically universally recommended that you should do, you do undoubtedly lock up a much greater part of the money of farmers in the land than they can afford. Farmers as a class, considering the amount of land they farm, do it on comparatively small capital, and are not as a class capable of putting their capital into the land and 360 still farming as well as they do at present. I think that is a very strong argument—you cannot get a stronger—against the system of State purchase. Therefore, you are forced to one of two things—either to the system where you extract no deposit, where, although the land is nominally the tenant's, you have no hold over him and he has no obligation to you and can if he likes farm his land out or quit and leave the land on the hands of the State, or to the system where the tenant has to pay a deposit. That is the position that people who are in favour of State-aided purchase have to face and get over.
The position that we are asked to face in regard to this particular sale of estates is, I think, this. We are told that owing to the feeling of insecurity that exists among tenant farmers at the present time they are in a considerable number of cases buying their own farms, not because they want to, but because they are afraid of being turned out, and that because there is no machinery for enabling them to purchase they have to raise what they can by mortgage or loan at high rates of interest in order to remain on their farms. That may or may not be the position. I cannot say. But I think the real point we have to get at is this. How far is the fanner really justified in his fears? He may be merely doing this out of more or less unreasonable fear of being turned out. Lord Clinton stated that in the cases which had come under his personal notice the tenants were not given notice to quit and therefore did not buy their farms. What we have to do is to try and allay the fears of the farmer as much as possible, so that he shall not be driven to the extremity of buying his farm when he does not wish to do so. As far as you can gather from the Report and from the experience of such people as Lord Clinton the actual number who will really be dispossessed will be very small indeed. It is to meet that part of the difficulty that the earlier recommendations in the Report have, I understand, been framed, and I must say I think that, on the whole, they are the most valuable part of the Report. I think that, as has been pointed out, there is a great deal in them that will help to tide the farmer over the period of uncertainty. The suggestion of the counter-notice seems to me to be a very good one. The noble Duke appeared to think that it would merely double the 361 period of suspense under which the tenant would rest. I do not think he quite understands the usual conditions under which these sales take place. As I understand, what happens at the present moment is that a man receives notice to quit, and that three months or a few months before the notice expires the sale takes place.
I agree; but that seems to be what is taking place. Instead of having only a year to look round and try and find another farm, the tenant is to have, if he likes, twice that time, or, if the sale takes place within let us say nine months of the time that he received notice, he would, under the recommendation of the Committee, still have fifteen months to remain on the farm, which would give him time either to come to terms with the new landlord—and in the majority of cases we have every reason to believe that he would come to terms—or to look round and make other arrangements. Another good result will be that this will to a great extent do away with land speculators, people who buy estates and then try and turn them over as quickly as they can at the best price they can get. In those ways I think the Committee's recommendation would probably be a distinct help to the tenant farmer. The second, third, and fourth recommendations of the Committee all appear to us of value as tending to allay the anxieties of the tenant farmer. The Government are prepared to legislate along the lines of those three recommendations.
The second, third, and fourth recommendations are the ones which are at the present moment specially selected. That is the policy which we have marked out for ourselves. We are definitely opposed to any system of assisted purchase. But, on the other hand, where we can give the tenant a greater feeling of security than he has at present, where we can fairly and legitimately increase the tenant's security, we are prepared to do everything we can along those lines. We believe that security is a much better panacea for the evils farmers suffer from, and it is that part of this Report which makes recommendations along those lines that we think the most valuable, and on which we are prepared to take action.
§ VISCOUNT ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, I certainly am not surprised that the noble Lord who has spoken on behalf of His Majesty's Government should be unwilling to go further than the points which he has just stated to your Lordships. He has undertaken, I understand, that the Government will legislate on the following lines—First, that in the absence of agreement, two years' notice should be required to determine the tenancy of an agricultural holding; secondly, that except when notice to quit is given for one of the purposes referred to in Section 23 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908, or where the tenancy is for a period of twelve months or less, notices to quit for less than twelve months should be made void by Statute; and, thirdly, that the tenant should be empowered to demand extended notice in the case of a sale. I confess they do not seem to be very important points, and I am afraid they will not meet the desire of the noble Duke who raised this question or of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton, who has taken such an active part on the Committee which devoted so much time to the subject. But though I should not wish to oppose the minute legislation proposed, I doubt if it will do anybody very much good.
I doubt whether the second recommendation of the Committee—that in the absence of agreement two years' notice shall be required—will have any action at all. Agreements are almost universal, and they will continue to be, as they are now, for one year's notice. I also doubt whether the second recommendation—that except when notice to quit is given for one of the purposes referred to in Section 23 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908, or where the tenancy is for a period of twelve months or less, notices to quit for less than twelve months should be made void by Statute—will have any practical effect. I think it is very rarely that notice for less than twelve months is given, and I agree it ought not to be less than twelve months. Therefore what the proposal of the Government really amounts to is this, that where an estate is to be sold a sitting tenant is to be allowed to give a counter-notice which will give him a year's further occupation. That will be of service, I believe, to the sitting tenant, but it may prove of considerable disservice in the sale of estates, especially if the sale, as is so common nowadays, 363 is in comparatively small lots. The purchaser of a large estate is not likely to desire to occupy it himself, and may not at all care how long it may be, within a reasonable period, before the sitting tenants leave. In fact, he may desire to keep them, and very often does. But where an estate is broken up into lots and sold to small purchasers, some of those small purchasers will desire to occupy the lots themselves and to that extent the change will be a disadvantage to that very sale of estates which the noble Lord on behalf of His Majesty's Government desires to promote.
Then the interference—for it is an interference so far as it goes—with the present administrative rights of the landlord as to the notice which he can give to his tenants does, to that extent, diminish his power over his estate, and is another step tending to diminish a landlord's power over his property and therefore his interest in it and so sap the very foundation of the English agricultural system, which is that the landlord should do the repairs and keep his property in order for his tenants. Therefore it is not with any great feeling of satisfaction that I have listened on this matter to the speech of the noble Lord, but I quite admit the defence of the Government. They have appointed a Committee, and the Committee has not made one recommendation, but has made what I think I remember Mr. Gladstone described on one occasion as a "litter of reports," and it is almost impossible for any Government to legislate where there is such a wide difference of opinion as there is in this Report.
I listened with interest to Lord Clinton, but I would venture with all respect to him to say that when he advocated a system of advancing Government funds for the purchase of farms by tenants generally he advocated a very dangerous policy indeed. He almost took it for granted that the State could always lend at 3¼per cent. I do not think anybody who has watched our finances for the last ten or twelve years can possibly believe that you can fix a limit of that kind to the rate at which the State can borrow. Just look at the history of the Irish Land Act of 1903. There never was a piece of more unsound finance than that Act, and it has proved to be so. It had to be altered by the Government opposite two years ago. 364 The 3¼ per cent. which was laid down in the Act of 1903 as the annual instalment for principal and interest had to be raised to 3½ per cent., and looking at the point at which the Funds now stand, producing to a purchaser as much as £3 4s. 6d. per cent., who can say that the credit of this country may not soon sink to 3½ per cent. I would venture to point out that this really is at the root of the whole matter.
There seem to me to be two points which are essential to remember in any scheme of purchase by tenants of their farms with the aid of the State. The first is that the tenant will not give more, or at any rate more than a trifle more, as the annual instalments for both principal and interest, than he has been accustomed to pay as rent. That was true in Ireland and it will be more true in England, because in England the tenant wishes to remain a tenant farmer; he does not wish to be an owner, unless the estate is sold. Therefore you may take it as absolutely certain that except in that case he will not nay more for the instalments of capital and interest than he has been in the habit of paying in rent. This cannot be arranged unless the State is able to borrow money at a low rate. It is only when we can borrow for our existing engagements, as we could a few years ago, at less than 3 per cent. that it is possible for a system of purchase by tenants with the aid of State loans, to be at all widely carried on in England. And remember that if such a system were inaugurated by Parliament every million that you borrowed to carry it further would increase the rate of interest which the State would have to give for its money. At the present moment the continued increase of Irish Land Stock is a material factor in the fall in the price of Consols, and I think any one who compares the values of Irish land and English land will feel that any large system of purchase by tenants of their farms in England, bearing in mind the two great factors to which I have ventured to call your Lordships' attention, is practically impossible. It is no use inaugurating any such system unless it is widely availed of, and I say it cannot be widely availed of because you cannot bring to-together the rate which the tenant will pay and the rate at which the State can borrow, unless you are advisedly to make such loans at a loss to the State, a policy which I hope no Parliament will ever adopt.
365 The noble Lord dismissed the idea of aiding tenants on estates which are sold to purchase their farms because he thought it involved the necessity of extending a system of aided purchase to all tenants all over the country. I do not see that necessity. I think it might be possible, with adequate safeguards to secure that no price should be given for a farm that is above its real market value, which, of course, could be done by commissioners or valuers appointed by the Board of Agriculture, to advance money to tenants on farms which perhaps they and their ancestors before them had occupied many years and which were being sold, to enable those tenants to become purchasers, without going any further.
Remember, my Lords, what the position is. The noble Duke alluded at considerable length to the causes—increased taxation, want of confidence in your general legislation with regard to land, and causes quite apart from Government or Parliament—which have decreased the value of land (for it is nonsense to talk of a boom in agricultural land at the present time); and have made many owners of large lauded estates desire to get out of at any rate a large portion of their property and invest the money in securities which would bring them in a larger income and not be so liable to be interfered with to their injury by the State. Landlords are selling outlying properties. That is the position. Are there any persons you would more wish to see purchase them than the farmers who with their ancestors have been on the farms for generations? I do not venture to dogmatise on the subject. I know the dangers; I know the financial difficulties; but I do think that if His Majesty's Government, in place of their negation of any possibility of dealing with the subject on these lines, would devote themselves to the consideration of that part of it, and examine whether it would not be possible through the organisation of the Board of Agriculture to make reasonable advances—if you like requiring a deposit—to tenant purchasers in such cases, I think they might do something to undo the mischief which they have done and to assist the tenants in that which they themselves admit to be an undesirable and unfortunate position.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, the noble Duke in his interesting 366 speech claimed, and rightly claimed, that Oxfordshire had done extremely well in connection with small holdings. I entirely agree, and I say that it is to a great extent owing to the example and the public spirited conduct of the noble Duke himself that that very desirable result has been attained. After all, hard words break no bones. The Duke of Portland, the Duke of Bedford, and the Duke of Northumberland have all given land for small holdings. I do not in the least mind what these noble Dukes say about the Government or any member of it, past or present. What I do mind is what they do, and I must say that the aid which has been given by these noble Dukes to the small holdings movement shows that a Duke's bite is much less dangerous than his bark.
The noble Duke has attacked our policy; he has described himself as having "pulverised our sloppy enactments," and he has told us that on account of the Death Duties there may be no landlords left, and it is questionable whether in consequence of the work of my noble friend behind me any tenant farmers will exist at all. I really think the noble Duke, after what he has done in aid of agriculture, has no right to pose as a sort of agricultural Solomon Eagle. Things are not so bad as he tries to make out. If they were, there would be a panic. If the condition of agriculture were as bad as the noble Duke has represented, and if noble Lords in this House, who own one-third of the land of England, regarded the Committee's recommendations as dangerous, is it conceivable that only thirty-nine Peers would have been present when the noble Duke began to speak? Why in that case noble Lords would have come down to the House tumbling over each other in their anxiety to voice their denunciations. I think such indifference as we see here to-day must be held to show that, on the whole, the members of the House of Lords, the great landowners in this country, are to a great extent satisfied with the proposals which have been recommended.
I was called to account by the noble Duke on the subject of the "atrocious and unfair" proposal that small holders should pay for the fee simple of their land with the rent, and he also said that it would be unfair and atrocious that this 367 charge should be put on the rates. Well he cannot have it both ways. That point, however, has been so well treated by my noble friend Lord Lucas that I will not detain the House upon it. Then the noble Duke asked what the Liberal Government had done for the agricultural interests in the last six years. Well, I will tell him. We have passed twenty-one agricultural Bills out of twenty-two which were brought forward. That is not a bad record, especially as one or two of the Bills were not exactly framed to the taste of noble Lords opposite; and noble Lords will remember that those Bills were passed at a time when the House of Lords was omnipotent and irresponsible and in a somewhat truculent mood. Besides that, we have provided grants amounting to £500,000 annually to the agricultural interest. Is not that something? And since I have resigned the Presidency of the Board of Agriculture my right hon. friend Mr. Runciman has shown his zeal and energy by obtaining another annual grant of £80,000 for the Agricultural Department, following the recommendations of the Committee presided over by my noble friend Lord Reay. That is a further considerable benefit to this great interest. Then we have 150 square miles of land let in small holdings; and as regards the Crown lands, which are now under the Board of Agriculture, the rents have in the last three or four years been reduced in one instance from £18 or £20, around Scarborough, to £4 or £5 an acre, and cottages that were let at 3s. 6d., 4s., and 4s. 6d. have been reduced to is and 1s. 6d. a week, and land which was in hand and which was cultivated at enormous expense by the State has been let to tenants, with the result that at the present moment some thousands of pounds a year more are paid into the Exchequer than were paid in three years ago.
Then by the Budget of 1909–10, which was denounced by the House of Lords as atrocious and iniquitous, agricultural taxation has been relieved by £417,000 a year. Honestly speaking, I do think that this record compares very favourably with that of noble Lords opposite during the twenty years during which, with the exception of three years in between when a Liberal Government was in office, they were in power. The Unionist Party were practically in power for twenty years, and what did they do for the agricultural interest? We 368 have it on the authority of the late Lord Onslow, whose death we all sincerely deplore, that during the last five years that the Tory Government were in power agricultural affairs were only discussed for six hours in the Commons House of Parliament. The Land Tenure Act for which I was responsible has been strongly attacked by the noble Duke. Perhaps I may be forgiven if I say one word as to how that Act was introduced and how it was carried. When the Liberal Government came into power in 1905 Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman said to me, "We must tackle the land question and tackle it in earnest." He referred to the abortive Tory legislation of the previous twenty years and to the land hunger which he asserted existed in England at that time. Noble Lords will remember the sarcasm and the howls of laughter from the Opposition Benches when the words "land hunger" were used. "Land hunger," they said, "why we have it on the authority of agricultural experts—the old Tory agricultural correspondents—that there is a great deal too much land and that nobody wants land." The reason why nobody asked for land was that they knew they could not get it. We have it on the greatest authority that the meek should inherit the earth, but I do not know whether your Lordships saw in the newspapers a very caustic remark of a reverend friend of mine, the silver-tongued Sylvester Horne, who said, "Is it any use telling the landless men to be meek when there is no earth left to inherit?"
The land six years ago was in the hands of a very few people in this country. The object of the Liberal Party was to put more people on the land, and the first thing that we had to do was to break up the great estates. That is being done to the great advantage of the people who are getting on the land, and of the landlords who, either because they have encumbered estates or because they want a little more pocket money for themselves and their wives, desire to get out of the land. I do not think there is anybody in this House who would maintain that the old system of big estates was one that was conducive to the welfare or the peace and prosperity of the community at large. What had we to do? We had to devise a plan to put more people on the land. That was the great object that we had in view, and the next object was to give 369 security of tenure at fair rents to existing tenants. To do that, of course, two things were necessary to be done. The first was to give compensation for disturbance, and the second was to get a Land Court to fix prices when land was sold and to fix the rent when it was hired. I am glad to say that in six years we have obtained both those things.
Our scheme was opposed in the House of Commons by the Surveyors' Institute, that great conservative body which is held in such high estimation by the public, and if I had not had at my back the Farmers' Union which was started at that time we should never have got the compensation clause through. Words strong enough could not be found by the landlords to anathematise the proposed Land Court. Yet we have it in the Scottish Bill which my noble friend Lord Pentland got through Parliament with your Lordships' permission last session. We there have a Land Court of the most extreme description. Your Lordships passed a clause in which you allowed this Land Court to fix the price of land that was to be sold or the rent at which land was to be let, and this was to be fixed by one single man selected by the Minister who held the office of President of the Board of Agriculture and against whose decision there was no appeal. Can you conceive anything more monstrous than that? How on earth that ever was allowed to be passed in a House composed of sensible men I do not know. Yet how right you were to pass it. For what has been the result? All the prognostications of failure which we heard have entirely fallen through. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Alverstone, and other noble Lords got up in this House and called attention to imaginary grievances, but there has not been one noble Lord in this House who, when he was brought to book, has been able to prove a single case of hardship.
As an independent member, I can most honestly congratulate my noble friend Lord Haversham upon the result of the labours of his Committee. It shows that in spite of what has been said on the other side of the House the land policy of the Government has in no way depreciated the value of land. I challenge anybody to contradict that statement. There is a keen demand for land all over the country, 370 and though the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, was good enough to say that it was nonsense to state that there was a boom in land, how does he get over this—that farms have fetched from twenty-eight to thirty years' purchase? I myself sold not long ago a 200-acre farm for £8,500. At the same time I bought four farms in Buckinghamshire that were paying 3½ per cent. That shows what an excellent thing it is that land should be able to be transferred from one person to another, of course under proper conditions and without inflicting hardships on the tenants. Mr. Long has admitted in the House of Commons that the new Land Taxes have not affected agricultural land, though they have in some cases, he says, caused hardship to the sitting tenants. On that I need not detain your Lordships, because that point has been admirably dealt with by my noble friend Lord Haversham.
I am extremely glad to see that my right hon. friend Mr. Runciman approves of the extended notice, because this was one of the unanimous recommendations of the Welsh Land Commission over which I had the honour to preside in 1893 and 1894. We proposed that in cases of death or of sale or transfer of estate the tenants should be protected in their holdings for three years certain. It was said that that would be too long a time, that it would interfere with sales, and now two years' notice instead of one has been suggested. I think this extended notice to two years will go very far to remove the grievances that now exist. I should like to ask, Are the Opposition prepared to support this? It would be very interesting to have an answer to that question. All the farmer witnesses without exception approved of it; but a reservation against it was signed by my friend Mr. Howard Frank, a great auctioneer, and by Captain Weigall, the only Conservative Member of Parliament who served on the Committee. This Committee has also rendered a signal service to the country at large by driving the last nail into the coffin of my old and valued friend Mr. Jesse Collings's land purchase scheme. Nobody can now say with any semblance of truth that there is any desire among the farmers for purchase for its own sake. That has gone by the board for ever. The Committee rejected by 12 to 1 Mr. Jesse Collings's proposal of requiring no deposit and of advancing the whole of 371 the purchase money. That was most satisfactorily denounced by Lord Faber and other practical persons in the last session of Parliament. Yet though these proposals are denounced in this House they are trumpeted, placarded, and advertised by Conservative speakers all over the country. The noble Duke who initiated this discussion' has asked a question which no doubt will be answered by my noble friend and Leader below me when he replies on the whole debate. The noble Duke asked, What is the policy of the Liberal Government as regards agriculture I should have thought that any person who had passed the fourth standard would have been able to answer that question. We have laid our cards on the table. All our Bills have been brought before the House, most of them have been passed, and I should have thought that the Liberal policy was plain enough to any one.
But perhaps the noble Duke will permit me to ask him—and through him perhaps we may get some information from the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition—two or three questions. Do the Opposition really intend, as stated on almost every platform in the country, to offer Irish terms to English farmers? Yes or no. Do they consider that the cases of the two countries are at all parallel? Yes or no. How do they propose to find the money for State-aided purchase without disarranging and dislocating the Money Market? In the face of the recommendation of Lord Haversham's Committee, do they propose to advance all the purchase money or not? Lastly, does Mr. Jesse Collings's Bill and do his proposals represent the Conservative policy? After the speech of the noble Viscount who sits on his left I should like to ask the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition whether it is right for the members of the great Conservative Party, with all its glorious traditions, to delude the farmers with base hopes which they know can never be realised. Ought you not to abandon the pretence that you intend to carry out a great scheme of land reform on ownership basis? I hope I may get answers to these questions. We all value the fact that the Opposition is led by the noble Marquess, who has all the old traditions of both sides of the House at heart, and to him I make my appeal. I ask him, Dc you seriously intend to adopt what 372 is called in the country the Verdant Green policy—the policy of the aristocratic rural labourers' league? If not, then some one on the Benches opposite ought to have the courage to disown it. To the noble Marquess I appeal for an answer, and knowing him as I do I feel confident that the appeal will not be made in vain.
THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY
My Lords, I do not wish to intervene for more than a moment in this debate, but many of us are grateful to the noble Duke for having raised this important question, especially those of us who have been interested in the position of sitting tenants where sales have been taking place recently. Indeed, many of us have watched the deliberations of the Departmental Committee with much interest, and have looked forward to the Report that they were about to issue, and naturally we were anxious to know what His Majesty's Government intended to do with regard to that Report. I think we may gather from this debate that certainly on two points we find general agreement. One is that there is an increasing amount of land coming into the market, and the other that the position of the sitting tenant, in consequence of the sale of land, is precarious.
The noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture seemed to belittle the danger accruing to the sitting tenant, and relied rather upon Paragraph 16 of the Report. But, my Lords, it cannot be denied that the fact that land is changing hands is a danger to the sitting tenant. It may be a small one, but it is there; and the question of dispossession is not the only danger the sitting tenant has to face. The change of landlord may be an equal danger. A man who has farmed for many years under what we may call a beneficent landlord would look askance at the idea of coming under some unknown person who may purchase the land. I am quite certain, from the sitting tenant's point of view, that the danger arising from a change of ownership is quite as great as dispossession. Therefore it is important that he should in some way or other find relief from that anxiety. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn, in thinking that some system by which money could be advanced for the purchase of his holding by the sitting tenant need not necessarily mean a general system 373 of ownership throughout the country—although if some sound financial scheme were brought forward which would enable a general system of ownership to be extended throughout the country, I, for one, would welcome it.
But we are not here this evening to discuss the question of ownership as against tenancy. We are here to discuss the position of the sitting tenant when the land that he is farming is going to change hands, and I was disappointed, I must confess, with the lines indicated by the noble Lord as those upon which the Government were going to act on this question. It is small comfort to the sitting tenant to know that all that is held out at the present moment is an extension of the notice to quit. It is a small boon, I admit. I think there is something in it. But I am certain that if you are going to make the position of the sitting tenant secure the only way you will be able to do it to his satisfaction will be by enabling him, if he chooses, to buy outright the fee simple of his land.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, we have listened, as usual, to an enlivening, though perhaps I may be forgiven for saying somewhat irrelevant, speech from the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire. When address him by his new title, will be allow me to say that although we miss his genial presence on the Front Bench opposite we are glad to think that he still takes an interest in the affairs of the Department over which he formerly presided, and to-night, perhaps it was pardonable, he fought his battles o'er again. The greater part of his remarks, so far as I was able to follow them, were directed to a vindication of the agricultural policy of His Majesty's Government. May I be permitted to point out to him that at one point, at all events, there has been a somewhat marked departure from that policy as it used to be expounded to us by the noble Marquess. I very well remember that, in one of our discussions last year, he told us clearly that he denied that the practice of charging the small holder with the sinking fund as well as rent had in any way hampered the county councils, either in getting land or in letting land for small holdings, and he ridiculed a noble friend of mine who sits behind me for bringing forward a measure which was intended to relieve the small holder of 374 that particular hardship. Now we find the noble Marquess explaining to us that it was atrocious—I think that was the expression he used—that the small holder should be saddled both with rent and sinking fund.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I quoted that as an expression used by noble Lords on the other side. It was not my expression.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
At any rate in practice there is no doubt as to the intentions of His Majesty's Government, for we have it formally announced that that policy has been abandoned, and that in future the cost of the sinking fund is to be thrown on the long-suffering back of the ratepayers of this country.
I do not think my right hon. friend went as far as that. He only said that, if county councils chose to do it of their own free will, they would not be surcharged. I should not like it to be thought by county councils that we intended that this should be put on the rates.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
There is no real difference between me and the noble Lord opposite. The thing is going to be permitted by or connived at by His Majesty's Government, and, as the small holder has no intention of paying rent plus sinking fund, the effect will be in the long run that the ratepayer will be made liable for the charge. There is no doubt about that.
The Report of the noble Lord's Committee is a somewhat distracting document, but it is full of valuable matter and to my mind the fact that there was such a wide divergence of opinion between the members of the Committee adds not a little to the importance of those recommendations upon which they were unanimous. In the few observations which I mean to address to the House this evening I propose to concentrate upon what I conceive to be the real question raised by the Report of the Committee and by the noble Duke behind me, and that is the position of the sitting tenant who finds himself disturbed through no fault of his own but because his landlord has found it necessary to put the estate, or a part of the estate, into the market. There is no use pretending that the sitting 375 tenant has not a grievance. There is a grievance, and it is a growing grievance. The sales of land reached £1,500,000 the year before last, and I think £2,000,000 last year, but it is a matter of notoriety that those figures do not by any means include the whole of the sales. There are other sales which take place privately. It is within my knowledge that one single firm of auctioneers has at this moment something like 1,500,000 acres upon its books.
We have heard something as to the causes which have contributed to bring all this land into the market, and, of course, it is quite fair to say that the causes are more than one. Land no longer carries with it the political influence which it used to carry. I think in many parts of the country sport counts for less than it used to. Then there is, as has been truly said, an upward movement in the price of land. The noble Marquess insists upon the appropriateness of the expression "a boom in land." I should put it rather differently. I should say there was a slight recovery from a disastrous slump in land. That is very much nearer the mark. But, my Lords, the main reason for all this land coming into the market is, beyond all doubt and dispute, that, whereas at one time people were taught to believe that land was the safest investment of all, you are now teaching them year by year that it is one of the most dangerous investments to which you can resort. It used to be said that land cannot run away. No, but you can make the possession of land subject to such intolerable conditions that owners will run away from the land. The Report of the noble Lord's Committee is conclusive on that point, and I cannot help thinking that His Majesty's Government must themselves be beginning to realise it.
My noble friend behind me, the noble Duke, has referred to the effect of the Estate Duties. But while land gets hit by the Estate Duties, as all other kinds of property get hit, land is now subject to differential taxation to which other kinds of property are not subject. There are apparently two separate lines of attack upon which His Majesty's Government have proceeded in their hostility to the ownership of land. There is, in the first place, this gigantic network of Land Taxes which we are constantly reminded 376 is only the beginning of what we may expect—Land Taxes which originated with persons who notoriously look forward to the time when all taxation will be thrown upon land, and whose views have been appropriated by His Majesty's Government. That is one line of attack. The other line of attack is to be found in the tendency of all recent agricultural legislation to attach to the ownership of land conditions which render that ownership not only less attractive than it was but extremely embarrassing and dangerous. I refer to changes in the law which tend to deprive the landlord of the power of effective supervision, which deprive him of the right of free contract, and which enable an outside tribunal to decide to whom and under what conditions he is to let his land. To my mind the culminating point in that legislation was reached when in your Scottish Small Holdings Act of last year you introduced, in reference to holdings which had been managed on a system wholly different from the Irish system, conditions drawn from the Irish Land Law of the present time.
But, my Lords, it is not only the legislation of His Majesty's Government that has created this feeling of insecurity in the minds of the landowners of this country. Landowners are constantly—I am glad that the noble Marquess who leads the House is attending to me—are constantly abused, denounced, held up to execration by his colleagues. You find in speeches delivered by the colleagues of the noble Marquess charges of greed, rapacity, selfishness—charges to the effect that it is the landowners of this country who obstruct beneficent legislation and public improvements, and that it is those same landowners who have been instrumental in driving the people of this country off the face of the soil. My Lords, can you be surprised that a class which is held up to execration in this way for no other reason than that it happens to be largely interested in this particular kind of property should seize the first opportunity to get rid of, at any rate, a part of that property and should desire to substitute some other form of investment less likely to attract upon them the kind of abuse and vituperation to which they are now subject. The result of all this has been to bring about that breaking-up of estates which the noble Marquess on the Second Bench opposite 377 (Lord Lincolnshire) apparently regards as a great blessing to the country.
Whatever one may think as to the desirability of such a change, it must surely be evident to all of us that it cannot be accomplished without a very serious disturbance of the agricultural system and great changes affecting all those who in one capacity or another are concerned in the agricultural life of this country. It affects the owners of land as well as the farmers. It affects the labourers not a little. The noble Marquess probably knows, as I do, of cases in which labourers have been driven from their cottages by the action of the county council for the simple and avowed reason that the county council were not prepared to face the expense of providing new houses for their small holders, and in order to introduce these small holdings on the cheap actually went the length of evicting perfectly blameless people from their homes. But, my Lords, the particular sufferer whose case we are discussing this evening is the sitting tenant. The land changes hands; the person who purchases it wishes to have it for himself; he, perhaps naturally enough, has no particular sentiment for the sitting tenant, and the sitting tenant has to go. That may, perhaps, not be a great misfortune so far as the agriculture of the neighbourhood is concerned. The noble Marquess seemed to think so. But it is a great misfortune for the sitting tenant himself if he is a man who is happy in his holding and wishes to remain in it.
I think noble Lords opposite have discovered that the sitting tenant has a grievance; but there is another discovery which I cannot help thinking is beginning to dawn upon them. They are, I hope, beginning to find out that the sitting tenant was, upon the whole, a very fortunate individual. The noble Lord who was Chairman of this Committee gave an emphatic testimony to the excellent relations which had been found to exist between the owners of land and the tenants upon it, and I do not think that is contested. After all, what has been the position of these sitting tenants? They have been partners with their landlords under very honourable and not unattractive conditions. The greater part of the capital of the concern has been found for them by their landlords, sometimes at a low rate of interest, sometimes without any charge for interest at all; and the one desire of 378 these people, as the noble Lord admitted, is to be let alone and to be allowed to remain in occupation of their holdings. When I heard that witness borne by the noble Lord to the manner in which these people have fared at the hands of their landlords, my thoughts travelled back to one of that memorable series of speeches delivered a few months ago by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. What had the Chancellor of the Exchequer to tell his audience about the present land system? He said it required a thorough overhauling; he dwelt especially upon the insecurity of agricultural capital; he said that money spent on land often required ten, fifteen, or twenty years to recoup the person who spent it; and then he said, "What can you expect with only an annual tenancy and one year's notice?" And he held up the miserable farmer who occupied his farm under those conditions to the pity of his audience as an ill-used and downtrodden serf. Yet when we turn to the Report of this Committee what do we find? The Committee say—The evidence the Committee have received proves that tenants do not ask for leases and that they prefer to enter into a contract by which the tenancy, save in special cases, can be terminated by the usual twelve months' notice.What becomes, then, of this diatribe of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? These dispossessed tenants are beginning to say hard things, not of the land system which was thus furiously denounced, but of the statesmen whose inexperienced hands are pulling down that land system about their ears.
It does seem to me that there is a question which His Majesty's Ministers have got to face—namely, what are they going to do to case the position of those farmers who are going to lose their farms through no fault of their own. A grave responsibility, to my mind, rests upon His Majesty's Ministers, because, as I have shown, it is their action which has brought these sitting tenants to their present pass. Upon what terms, then, if we desire that these men should remain in occupation of their holdings, are we to keep them? The Report is conclusive upon this one point, that if they are to remain they prefer to remain as owners rather than rent their land under the local authority. I believe you will find that to be the universal feeling of the farmers of England. They would remain under their old landlords if 379 allowed to do so, but, failing that, they dislike the idea of occupying under the official landlordism of a public body. I hope that before this debate closes we may get some indication, a stronger indication than we have yet received, that His Majesty's Government are prepared to show a little more courage in dealing with this most important question, although I think it would be unfair to press them, so soon after the publication of the Report, for a categorical statement of the action which they might take in the direction of securing these sitting tenants in their holdings.
The principles laid down for the guidance of the Government by the Committee are, I think, sound principles. They are enumerated in Paragraph 64 and are to this effect—that in any arrangement for facilitating the purchase of their farms by the sitting tenants the State should be protected against loss; that the business should be conducted upon commercial lines; that the price should be a fair market price; that the tenant should be carefully selected—by which, I suppose, is meant that precautions should be taken to ensure that none but competent farmers should be allowed to acquire their farms—and that the farmer himself should be protected against an unduly onerous bargain. We have heard a good deal about the merits and demerits of a system by which the occupiers of land in this country would be converted into owners of their farms. I am bound to say—and here I feel much sympathy with what was so well said by the noble Viscount, Lord St. Aldwyn—that I fully realise the great danger of anything like a wholesale and indiscriminate measure of that kind. But I do put it to His Majesty's Government that it would be perfectly possible to do something for the relief of the particular class of people of whom we are talking to-night without committing yourselves to anything like a wholesale and indiscriminate measure of land purchase. The dangers of a wholesale creation of small holders owning the farms which they occupy would undoubtedly be immense, not only financially, but because you probably would find yourselves saddled with a great many tenants who might be quite unable to hold their own when placed in an independent position. In this case, however, you are dealing with men who are already upon the land, whose forefathers have been perhaps for generations on the land, who know what can be got out of 380 the land, and who are not the least likely to play tricks with it. If the four rules laid down by the Committee were carefully observed, I believe it would be possible to go great lengths in facilitating the acquisition of their farms by carefully-selected men of this class.
The noble Marquess put to me just now a kind of catechism of questions designed to elicit from me a complete statement of the land policy of noble Lords who sit on this side of the House. We are not quite yet at the point when it will be our duty to deal with this question, and I am afraid I cannot completely gratify the noble Marquess's curiosity. But I will make one or two admissions in reply to him. I entirely agree with him in believing that it would be unwise to substitute for the present system of land tenure some vast system of land purchase under which every occupant of a farm, every person in occupation of a farm at this moment, might by a stroke of the pen be converted into a small landlord. I agree that that would be a great misfortune to the country, and it would be a greater misfortune still if by a stroke of the pen you could convert all the farmers of these islands into tenants holding their farms under county councils or local authorities of any kind. I believe the effect would be deplorable, whether regarded from a political or from an agricultural point of view. I make a further admission to the noble Marquess. I quite agree with him that the Irish analogy is not one which can be pressed when you are talking of the system of land tenure in this country. As we all know—I have often heard it said by the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack—we have had in Ireland to pass through something like an agrarian revolution. We had to find a way out. Our legislation was, as I conceive, not very well devised in its earlier days; we had to find a way out, and we found one by resorting to State-aided land purchase. In Ireland, however, the agricultural system had broken down, while in this country it has not only not broken down, but it has been wonderfully successful, and it has been one which has tided landlord and tenant over extremely anxious and difficult times. I, for one, should infinitely regret to see that system disappear entirely, as I am afraid it will tend to disappear if you continue your policy of singling out land for special attack and for differential treatment. I say, then, by all means proceed cautiously; 381 by all means remember, as the noble Lord who spoke for the Board of Agriculture told us, that you are dealing, not with the whole class of tenant farmers, but with a comparatively rare and limited class; and I believe that with regard to that limited class you may safely proceed with a certain amount of courage, and go a considerable length in offering facilities to those who desire to purchase their farms.
I have said nothing, and I shall say only one word, with regard to the minor suggestions made by the Committee. I entirely approve of the spirit in which they are made, but I think they will require considerable scrutiny; the proper time for that will, however, be when they come to be embodied in a Bill and are before the House. I will only say this, that any changes in the law of that kind can only be palliatives, slight mitigations, of a great grievance. They do not touch the grievance itself. The only legislation which, in my opinion, is likely to go at all to the root of the grievance is legislation of a much more far-reaching kind, such as that which has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Clinton and others. This really is the question which I should like to put to the noble Marquess who will follow me—Is it not the duty of His Majesty's Government, to whose action, remember, it is due that these men are dispossessed of their farms, to find some means of enabling them under carefully-thought-out conditions to remain in occupation of the homes from which they do not desire to be parted
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lards, the noble Marquess complained of a certain degree of irrelevancy on the part of my noble friend behind me, Lord Lincolnshire. It seemed to me that as the debate has been conducted, everything that fell from my noble friend was strictly pertinent. I cannot deny that the debate as a whole has from time to time been distinguished, which is not altogether an unknown fact here, by a certain departure from the terms of the Motion on the Paper, but I am bound to say that the noble Duke began it himself, because he covered the whole field of agricultural policy, past, present, and conceivably to come, in the very interesting speech which he made. Before he sat down the noble Duke challenged me very seriously to 382 state what the land policy of the Government really is. As the noble Marquess behind me observed, the general trend of the land policy of the Government has been sufficiently obvious in the measures which we have been fortunate enough to pass since we came into office at the end of 1905. Speaking generally, I should be disposed to say that the condition of agriculture in this country is not such as to oblige us to consider a policy of a large or revolutionary character such as the noble Duke seemed to contemplate when he so solemnly asked us to inform the House what our policy really is. He himself offered no solution as to what the policy of himself and his friends would be if they were in a position to enforce it; but the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition, in response to an exceedingly definite challenge from my noble friend behind me, has stated at any rate various points of policy which he would not be prepared to include in any agricultural programme supposing that he was sitting on this Bench.
I am, I think, relieved by the speeches which have been made from attempting to discuss at any length the whole situation with regard to agricultural land. It has been mentioned in almost every speech that extensive sales of agricultural land are taking place throughout the country, and various reason; have been advanced by different noble Lords to account for that fact. The noble Marquess opposite and also the noble Viscount beside him very fairly included a number of causes which they consider to be subsidiary causes, such as the diminution in the amenity attaching to the possession of land compared to what existed in a former generation, the diminution of the political influence attached to it, and also to some extent the diminution of opportunity at any rate for those simpler forms of sport with which our forefathers used to be content. But I think they might also have added what seems to me to be the strongest of all the reasons which produce these large sales in land—namely, the prevalent desire, indeed almost the necessity which exists, to obtain a higher rate [...]o" interest upon any investment. The cause which induces a man to sell a landed estate is of the same character as that which prevents him from investing the proceeds in such a security as Consols. Owing partly to the greater expensiveness 383 of life, the more costly standard of living which obtains in all classes, people are determined to get a higher rate of interest for their money; and when a man recognises that his expenses are increasing all round he begins to look at his landed estate and to realise that he is getting only a fraction of the income which he might possess if he at any rate curtailed the amount of his holding in land.
Noble Lords opposite, however, ascribe these large sales of land, if not exclusively at any rate mainly, to the action of His Majesty's Government and to alarm as to the future which that action is causing. As to the second of those reasons I am not altogether in conflict with noble Lords opposite, because I am bound to say that the impression which they have endeavoured to create by the debates in this House and by the speeches that they and their friends have made all over the country—that political and social changes of the most terrific character are impending, and that we who sit on these Benches have adopted and are prepared to put into force the whole Socialist theory in relation to property—has, I have no doubt, met with a certain success in the minds of simple people, among whom I have no doubt many owners of land are to be included. The result has been, I quite agree, a certain degree of that alarm which noble Lords and their allies have done so much to propagate.
The noble Duke who introduced this subject spoke quite fairly of the Death Duties as a cause of the sale of land. He did not attempt to saddle us with responsibility for the sale of agricultural land in respect of other provisions in the Budget of 1909–10. But the noble Marquess who spoke last seemed to go somewhat further, and he accused us of having brought about some of the sales of agricultural land by the provisions which then became law in relation to land which is in no sense agricultural. It is very difficult to prove a negative, and I cannot say that a case may not exist here and there of a man who, finding himself bound to pay a half-penny Land Tax or facing the possibility of paying increment Duty, may there and then have proceeded to sell an agricultural estate, but the connection between the two things must be exceedingly remote. I do not see how it can 384 possibly be maintained that those provisions in our Budget which related to land of a quite special character have had anything to do with bringing about sales of agricultural land. Nor, I am bound to say, so far as my personal knowledge goes, can it be held, as the noble Duke seems to think, that the increases in the scale of the Death Duties which were made in that Budget, although substantial, were such, except perhaps in the case of the very largest estates, as materially to alter the position of heirs. I can only say that so far as my own experience goes I cannot recall an instance, speaking of the neighbourhood I know best, in which it is possible to associate the sale of an agricultural estate with the fears of an existing owner that his heirs might be in some difficulty with reference to the payment of the Death Duties, and I should very much doubt if such cases can be discovered.
I think it is only fair to remind noble Lords opposite that in the whole of the discussion of the Budget of 1909–10, and ever since, the greatest care was taken to keep apart the position of agricultural land and the position of those who owned that land from the special cases of particularly valuable urban land with which that Budget dealt, as noble Lords thought, hardly. Therefore when we come to the main point of this discussion—namely, the position of the sitting tenant in cases where land changes hands—I feel bound categorically to deny the statement made by the noble Marquess who has just sat down that the Government is responsible for the fact that these sales took place. They are, as he quite fairly said, due to a multiplicity of causes, but I do not believe that the action of the Government has in any direct sense been responsible for the magnitude of those sales. I now come to the main proposition—the case of the sitting tenants where these sales take place and how their interests are to be safeguarded. I was glad to observe that the noble Marquess opposite spoke with sympathy of my noble friend's attitude as explained by him in relation to Recommendations Nos. 2, 3, and 4, and I quite agree that a close examination of those proposals had better be deferred until a Bill is introduced which embodies them.
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
I must consult my right hon. friend the head of the Department before I can answer that question. The question at this moment is whether the principle of State-aided purchase ought to be admitted in these particular cases. I cannot help saying that there has been a great degree of levity in the manner in which the question of State-aided purchase generally has been spoken of by some people throughout the country. It is a question of the most tremendous gravity involving, for all one can see, a possible liability to the State of something like £2,000,000,000 sterling, and I confess I have been somewhat amazed and even scandalised by the manner in which people who were not altogether irresponsible have gone about the country advocating a general system of the purchase of all the agricultural land in England as though it were a matter which could be settled simply by a stroke of the pen.
We have never on this side of the House admitted that tenant farmers as a rule desire to purchase, and that is also the view of the noble Marquess opposite, who would prefer to see the maintenance of the landlord and tenant system provided that it can be maintained on something of the existing lines. There is one objection which a great number of farmers feel to the purchase of farms, which has not, I think, so far been mentioned in this debate, and that is that on large estates the smaller men or the men who have the middle-sized farms look forward to the time when they will be able to get a larger one. That is one of the general practices on well-managed estates throughout the country, and therefore there are at any rate a very large number who would dislike the idea of being perpetually pinned down to a particular holding. I think it will be noted that those who gave evidence before this Committee and who advocated a system of purchase generally belong to the class of holders of large farms—men who in no circumstances would desire to change to a larger farm; that is to say, they are tenants of farms of the largest class in the particular district to which they belong, and consequently I think their views on this particular point might prove to be misleading if they were regarded as the views of farmers generally.
386 But as regards this particular case, there are one or two considerations connected with it which I should like your Lordships to consider. The case in which I understand it is contemplated that purchase should take place is that of a piecemeal sale of a considerable estate where land is bought in small lots and the sitting tenant becomes at the mercy of a small purchaser. But, my Lords, would it be possible, even if you wished to do so, to confine the advance of State funds, supposing you admit the desirability of advancing them at all for such purchases, to cases of that kind? Take the case of an estate sold as a whole. What guarantee have the sitting tenants got on an estate that is sold as a whole that their rents all round will not be raised? It is quite true, as the noble Marquess who leads the Opposition pointed out, that on a great many estates farms are let not merely below their extreme competitive value, but at a value which can hardly be called even a commercial value, and the fear which agitates the tenants when the land is sold is by no means always that they will be turned out, but that their rent will be screwed up at any rate to the commercial standard. When an estate is bought as a whole I take it that the purchaser, being a man of business, will often desire to recoup himself for the number of years' purchase which he has had to pay. The number of years' purchase, after all, is not fairly represented by the number of years' purchase of the gross rental—that is to say, if a man receives the very moderate amount of twenty-five years' purchase on the gross rental of his estate he probably receives thirty-one or even thirty-five years' purchase on the net income, and therefore one cannot be surprised if the purchaser takes the opportunity of raising the rents after he has made the purchase.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
Do I understand the noble Marquess to suggest that twenty-five years' purchase of the gross rental is a usual price in these days?
THE MARQUESS OF CREWE
Yes. I have known cases where twenty-eight, twenty-nine and even thirty years' purchase of the gross rental has been paid. I was speaking of estates sold as a whole. I should like to put this to noble Lords opposite. What are you to do if in such a case one of the sitting tenants desires to buy his farm or if several of them desire to buy their farms? Why is it only to be in the case of a farm being sold singly that this advance is to be made? How are you to prevent, once the principle is admitted, its being extended to individual tenants on estates sold as a whole? Then it seems to me that you will have to extend, or may be called upon to extend, the application of the principle of State purchase to other cases where no actual sale takes place but where an estate is in the hands of mortgagees or even in the hands of an owner who remains in nominal possession but who is so hampered and embarrassed that he has to starve the estate and get as much as he can out of it. I cannot help looking at the matter from the point of view of noble Lords interested in land. If we were to make a proposition of this kind they would be tempted to use that favourite old argument of the "thin end of the wedge," because if you once begin advancing public moneys for these purposes I do not think you will be able to differentiate the particular case of the man whose rent is raised or who is given notice to quit when a farm is sold singly from a great many other cases in which the interests of the sitting tenant are injuriously affected.
I feel sure, therefore, that while my right hon. friend will, in view of the fact that this proposition is put forward by two noble Lords so experienced as the noble Marquess and the noble Viscount, give the suggestion the best consideration in his power, he will be impressed by the difficulty, completely opposed as His Majesty's Government is to a general system of State-aided land purchase, of embarking upon it, even to the moderate extent which they suggest, in view of the extreme difficulty of suggesting securities against a much wider application of the same principle. It seems to me that the ordinary critic would say there is no doubt that a man who sits as tenant on a farm at a special rent which, owing to old associations or to the dislike of the landlord to raise rents on his estate, is a low and 388 altogether uncommercial one, is unlucky, and, if you like, has a grievance, if his rent is raised and he is told that he must either pay the increased rent or leave. But I think the ordinary critic not interested in land would say that though that is a hardship for him it is not a case where grants of public money for the benefit of that particular tenant would be justified. I cannot help thinking, therefore, that the subject is one which bristles with difficulties, and I am not hopeful myself of a solution being found which involves the advance of public money in such cases as these.