§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether they can produce any instances of tenant farmers or agricultural labourers who have been evicted on account of their having voted for Liberal candidates for Parliament; to call attention to allegations made to this effect in public speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Radical candidate for the Rugby Division of Warwickshire; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, before asking the Question which stands in my name I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for the civility that he extended to me in calling my attention to what was a mistake on my part in the wording of the Question. I am much obliged to him for having done so. The allegations to which I desire to call your Lordships' attention this afternoon are to be found in speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer reported in The Times of October 13, 1913, and December 1, 1913. On the first of these two occasions the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reported to have said, at the Bedford Skating Rink, that—
Within sight of my house—
I do not know whether by "my house" he meant the house which he has put up on a golf course near London or some other house, but I let that pass—
Within sight of my house I can see three farms that men within my memory were turned out of purely because they voted Liberal.
And in the second speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer is reported to have said at the Holloway Empire, in London—
Cottages which a man holds from the landlord at a week's notice. If he votes Radical, he will be sent ten miles away in a week.
That is a sufficiently extravagant statement. But the example set by Mr. George has been followed by the Radical candidate for the Rugby Division of Warwickshire, Mr. George Peel. I have placed this correspondence in the hands of the noble Lord who will reply to me and of the noble Marquess who leads the House. Mr. Peel was reported in the Warwick Advertiser of October 25 to have said—and he does not deny having made this statement—
Another thing which oppressed the agricultural labourer at present was that if he wanted to vote Liberal and it was found out, then somehow he was told that he must leave his house.
It is possible that there may be isolated cases of this kind, cases which might amount to political persecution, but what I am calling attention to this afternoon is that, if they exist at all, they are used by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose action is presumably assented to by the whole of the Radical Party, as if they were of almost universal application, and they are used as a means of directing an attack upon the land system of this country.
I have not come here this afternoon to make a speech about our system of land tenure, but I will go so far as to say that, even with the best intentions, you are not going to do any good in this country by addressing yourselves to a few cases and upon them founding legislation to limit the power and the responsibility of owners of land. The ownership of an agricultural estate is essentially a business affair, and it is absolutely necessary that those who are responsible for its management and control should have full freedom to say who shall live in their cottages and farmhouses and who shall not. The most potent way of controlling that freedom and preventing its abuse is the power of public opinion. We are in a position to prove that public opinion has prevented that power being abused in the past, and as long as Englishmen are Englishmen it always will prevent it in the future. The land tenure system, as we know it, really needs no defence. If it is a bad system, then it will go under; but, as a matter of fact, it is perfectly capable of looking after itself. It has grown up through the 302 ages; it has evolved side by side with the system of agriculture that has grown up in this country; and the finest guarantee that this or any other country can have in regard to the ownership of a landed estate is that it is owned by a man who has received it from his ancestors, who desires to pass it on to his posterity, and who in the meantime considers that he is holding a trust for his country. That is the strongest influence that you can possibly imagine, and that is the influence which has kept our landed system together for so many hundred years and tided it over so many bad times. Your Lordships probably remember that when the farmers themselves had an opportunity of giving evidence before a Departmental Committee they came forward and said that all they wanted was to be left alone to enjoy the friendly relations which had hitherto existed between themselves and their landlords.
§ We all know that the sight of an agricultural landlord, particularly if he is a Peer, getting on well with his tenants and on friendly terms with all the employees and everybody else who lives on the estate, fills a certain type of Radical mind with alarm and dismay. They cannot bear it, those people who live politically by setting one class against another class; and this frame of mind is particularly virulent when it is brought into contact with those friendly relations between landlord and tenant and labourer which have always prevailed, and, whatever Mr. George says, always will prevail in the country districts. I am not going to waste time this afternoon by attacking the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Everybody knows that he is out to destroy the landed system if he can. Nothing would give him greater pleasure than to see me and my son and you and your sons begging their bread from door to door. I can draw no other conclusion from the speeches he has made. I do not believe that he will succeed in bringing about that consummation. I should think that if you asked the ordinary man in the street, whom I see something of, he would tell you that Mr. George, taking into consideration—I am not going to bring up the Marconi affair—taking into consideration recent incidents in his career together with that amazing amount of rubbish, about pheasants and mangold-wurzels, and all that sort of thing, which he has recently talked on political platforms, and 303 the lamentable exhibition he has made of himself this autumn—the man in the street would tell you that Mr. George's bolt is pretty well shot; and if one-tenth part of the things which Mr. George has said about agricultural estates had the slightest semblance of truth in them, it stands to reason that agricultural landlords and fox-hunting and everything else would have been done away with, and quite rightly, long ago.
§ All that Mr. George can do is to bring forward certain vague charges with regard to capricious or wanton evictions. I do not believe in any of these charges. I do not believe that His Majesty's Government have got any cases. But if they have, my object in moving for Papers this afternoon is to bag the noble Marquess and his friends to produce those cases and lay them on the Table, so that we may examine into them and, if necessary, have the parties up here, if we can get their attend- anc3, and sift the matter to the very I bottom. I do not care in the least whether these cases exist on the estate of a Radical landowner or on the estate of a gentleman who votes for the Unionist Party. But there is one set of estates on which they do not exist at all. I refer to the estates of people who are known as Tories, for that sort of thing is absolutely foreign to what we know as Toryism. But whether I the political complexion of the landowner is Unionist or Radical, all we ask is that we should have the opportunity of getting chapter and verse of these cases and examining into them. If you want to put a stop to them, the bringing of them before the bar of public opinion is by far the best method that you can employ for the purpose. Nobody can deny that Mr. George's very highly-coloured statements during the autumn have been animated by something which we in this country have hitherto not regarded as statesmanship, and on more than one occasion he has been proved to have been animated by something which hitherto we have not associated with what in the days of our fathers and grandfathers used to be called the truth. All that I can understand from the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am not going to say much more about Mr. George, because, after all, the fact that we have a man like him in the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer is partly our own fault in being so supine as ever to have permitted such a person as Mr. George to hold a 304 portfolio in the Cabinet of the King of England; and ones we get rid of him, if I have anything to do with it, it will be a very long time before he gets back again.
§ I submit that we have a right to a categorical answer, Yes or No, from the noble Marquess who leads the Government to this question: Do you or do you not associate yourself with these calumnious attacks which Mr. George has made upon your own class in his platform speeches in the country? It is pitiable enough to see the Chancellor of the Exchequer get up and make these speeches; it is a disgrace to England; but to my mind for a Peer landlord, who is, after all, associated with us, sometimes by ties of relationship and, as we would well wish it, by ties of friendship—for him to sit on the same platform and to countenance and sometimes to cheer the slanders upon his own class, seems to me to be an act infinitely more contemptible than that of the demagogue who utters them. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, whom I am glad to see in his place this afternoon, has taken a very active part in backing up the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is perpetually telling us that his own tenants can "pray where they like, shoot where they like, vote as they like, and farm as they like." I should like to ask, Are those conditions in the agreements between the noble Marquess and his tenants?
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
They are? Well, all I can say is that it shows the small amount of confidence which the noble Marquess's tenants have in their landlord when they wring out of him by means of stamps and printers' ink and all that sort of paraphernalia conditions which always exist in a friendly and traditional manner on all well-managed estates. To go about and say that your tenants can shoot where they like is really cant. I remember travelling down in a train from the Great Central Railway station to Wycombe, and there were two gentlemen in the carriage who were going to shoot the pheasants, which Mr. Lloyd George is always talking about, at the noble Marquess's country seat at High Wycombe. Does the noble Marquess mean to say that all his tenants were allowed to go through the covers before the shooting 305 party went out in the morning? Of course, they were not. Everybody knows that all this talk about "shooting where they like" has no real foundation. It must be brought forward for some purpose or another. Is it brought forward by the noble Marquess because he wants to pose as a landlord who gives exceptional benefits to his tenants which our friends on this side of the House do not give? In this House we know the measure of support that we gave to the very amusing speeches which the noble Marquess used to deliver from the Front Government Bench. I am awfully sorry he is not there now, because it really used to be great fun. But outside, in the country, it is perfectly possible: that the noble Marquess, with his genial manner, enjoys a great deal of popularity and influence, and although we take his statements at their proper value other people may not do so; though I should; say that the noble Marquess's reputation as a prophet down at High Wycombe has undergone a severe shock, for the other afternoon he informed his friends that the Tory Party were "on the run," and it subsequently turned out that his idea of the Tory Party being on the run was that the Tory Party won the seat by 2,331 votes.
I have no doubt that the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture will give a consoling and very well phrased reply to my Question; but I put it to the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that we have a right to ask whether or not he associates himself with this scurrilous campaign of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That is a question to which I shall press for an answer. It is quite easy for him to give an answer Yes or No. If he says No, then I hope he will renounce and disown the Chancellor of the Exchequer and all his works here and now. If, on the contrary, he does associate himself with it, then I say, my Lords, we shall know where we are.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to allegations made in public speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Radical candidate for the Rugby Division of Warwickshire that tenant farmers and agricultural labourers have been evicted on account of their having voted for Liberal candidates for Parliament.—(Lord Willoughby de Broke.)306
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, the speech which we have just listened to from the noble Lord—and may I, in beginning; thank him for his kindness in sending me a copy of the correspondence to which he referred—has painted what I may perhaps call the usual Conservative picture, in contrast to the Radical picture to which the noble Lord alluded, of the state of country life. The noble Lord talks about the contented life which labourers, farmers, and their landlords enjoy together and the happy relations that exist among them. If that is so, then I suppose it is for pure love of their landlords that labourers are prepared to work for only 14s. a week in a great many parts of the country and to live in houses which have been condemned by the sanitary inspectors as unfit for human habitation. The noble Lord asked us to produce evidence as to the kind of intimidation that has at times been used to influence votes at elections. As far as I followed the noble Lord's arguments, his contention is that unless clear and convincing, and, I suppose, documentary proof—
That unless such proof that this particular thing exists can be brought forward, the evil does not exist. May I suggest that that is rather an ingenuous line of argument. In the noble Lord's well-stocked debating armoury no weapon is more formidable than the extreme ingenuousness which he knows well how to assume, but I am sure that no one who has the pleasure of listening to him will really accuse him of any such thing. The fact is that there are a certain class of things which are not to be measured by any outward and visible proof that can be brought forward. I would ask you for one moment to consider the character of this particular offence. When giving notice to a tenant there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why the landlord should give him the real reason for his action in getting rid of him—any other reason will do just as well. The reason must be connected with agriculture, and politics are not connected with agriculture. That is one of the reasons why the real ground for taking action is not often given.
307 But there is another and much stronger reason—namely, that if you use this particular reason for giving a tenant notice you lay yourself open to heavy penalties and to great odium. Is it reasonable in these circumstances to suppose that a landlord is going to give the true reason, which may be political—which, as I say, would lay him open to these liabilities—when it is perfectly possible for him to give other reasons? It would be just as unreasonable to suppose that anybody who commits an offence is going to give the actual reasons why he did it. You might just as well expect that a burglar is going to supply evidence as to the methods by which he did the burglary. In fact, in all cases of that kind the general procedure invariably lies the other way. Can any one quote an analogous case to this in which the real reason is habitually given? Everybody knows that the world is full of analogous cases in which the real reason is usually suppressed. How often does one find out the real reason why a candidate is blackballed for a club? How often is it found out why a subaltern has his life made unendurable in a regiment till he quits the Service? How often do people tell the plain and unvarnished truth to their servants when they dismiss them? In how many of the great political or industrial struggles which go on do we get at the real and the underlying motives of the case? Does anybody suppose that we have heard the underlying motives, for example, of the South African labour trouble? I doubt whether we have heard the real underlying motives of the Ulster movement. But, according to the noble Lord, these motives do not exist simply because you cannot produce evidence which is immediately forthcoming.
We had an admirable example of what I am saying only last night in this House, when we were discussing the subject of Party honours. Lord Selborne said—If you asked me to prove in a Court of Law one single case I could not do it.And Lord Milner said a little later in the debate—It is impossible to produce absolute proof of the sale of honours; some plausible reason is always given instead of the true one.If we had taken the line of argument adopted to-night by the noble Lord opposite we might have replied, "How dare you bring forward these charges 308 which are baseless because on your own admission you cannot prove them?" and nobody would have been quicker than the noble Lord opposite in accusing us of trying to ride off on a mere quibble. It is perfectly plain that because you cannot always produce absolutely clear or documentary evidence that does not necessarily prove that the kind of injustice we are discussing does not exist. I do not put my case any stronger than that.
Now I will give some reasons why absolutely clear or documentary evidence must necessarily be so rare. In the first place, as I think the noble Lord himself said, if a man evicts one of his tenants for political reasons he incurs, and rightly incurs, a great deal of odium. He stirs up a storm of indignation in which not only the opposing side but all the broadminded men on his own side join. That is one reason why, however bigoted he may be, a man will conceal the real reason. There is another and much stronger deterrent, and that is Section 11 of the Agricultural Holdings Act, under which a man who displaces an agricultural tenant for other reasons than those of good estate management lays himself open to being mulcted in heavy compensation for disturbance, and he also may lay himself open, according to the nature of the offence, to a prosecution for intimidation which might lead to imprisonment.
I agree. But is not that a sufficient deterrent to a man when it is perfectly open to him to produce some other reason for giving notice to his tenant? It undoubtedly is the case, that when this notice is given the man who gives it keeps the Agricultural Holdings Act and the prosecution for intimidation well in his mind when framing the notice to quit.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
Can the noble Lord give us any instances of tenants who have complained of being removed in this way?
I will give instances where this has actually happened. That is a thing which, as I say, is sufficient to prevent these kind of notices from being put in writing. They are usually given by word of mouth, and in regard to cases of that kind I at once admit that I am not 309 going to bring them forward in evidence, because when you have to take one man's word against that of another it requires a Court of Law to decide between them. There is this other difficulty, and anybody who has legal experience will, I know, confirm it, that where cases of this kind exist you always have enormous difficulty in obtaining confirmatory evidence, for the simple reason that people are afraid to come forward and confirm the evidence of the injured man because they know the power that is held over them and the danger they would be in of being similarly treated. That is why in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred there is no mention of politics when a man is given notice; but there often remains some sort of un- reasonable disturbance. That is the usual form which a political eviction takes—some kind of unreasonable disturbance. Will noble Lords opposite contend that unreasonable disturbance does not go on in this country? Notice is given for various reasons, but all notices have one common feature about them—the feature of unreasonable disturbance; and I would like to quote evidence to show that it does exist. Lord St. Aldwyn, speaking in the House of Lords on December 13, 1906, said—But there were cases, he was afraid it must be admitted, where landlords had capriciously given notice, to the loss of the tenant.Lord Barnard, also speaking in this House on December 19, 1906, said—He was perfectly convinced, after making considerable inquiries upon the subject that there was a strong feeling on the part of agricultural tenants that in some cases they were unduly displaced.My contention is that a number of those cases, though the word "politics" does not occur, are political evictions.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Will the noble Lord tell us whether the cases he has quoted were not previous to the Land Tenure Act which the Government passed in 1908?
If I remember right, it was in the discussion on Section 11 of the Agricultural Holdings Act that these statements were made.
§ THE DUKE OF MARLBOROUGH
Therefore all these grievances have been remedied by the Act which was passed in 1908.
The Act has altered in a great many cases the form in which the notice is given, but it has not altered much the kind of disturbance; and I will give you a case a little later on to prove what I say, as the request has been made to me for cases.
I have endeavoured to show that in cases of this kind it is the exception to get clear, especially documentary, evidence, and I have also shown that there exist extremely strong reasons for suppressing the political motive of an eviction. To say that these things do not go on is to assert that a general and widespread feeling which I believe runs almost throughout the length and breadth of the country is based on an entire fallacy. The noble Lord opposite shakes his head. One of the great difficulties of the landed system at the present time is, if I may say so without disrespect to this House, the zareba of ignorance by which so many landlords are surrounded with regard to matters of this kind. I dare say that is a presumptuous thing for me to say.
But during my life I have seen the thing from both sides. Before I became a landlord I was in the position of a poor man and a Radical candidate in an agricultural constituency, and one does in that case learn the thing from the point of view of the agricultural labourer. As a result I do say this, that the landlord is surrounded by a sort of hierarchy of agents, foremen, bailiffs, and persons of that kind, and though he may make the very best endeavours he possibly can, and although he may be on the best possible terms with all the men who live on his property, it is a matter of enormous difficulty for him to find out what is the true state of things existing in the lowest ranks of rural society. This is due to the social system under which we exist. If the noble Lord opposite would leave those parts in which he lives and is well known, and would perhaps disguise himself as a Radical and go to another part of the country altogether, he would hear a very different tale from that which is told him now. I am not trying to make out that there is a system of organised hypocrisy, because there is nothing of the kind. But I think he would hear under those conditions an entirely different story from that which he hears as a landlord living in the middle of his own estate and in a county in which he is extremely well known. 311 I would like to recall to your Lordships' recollection the Report of the Welsh Land Commission of 1896, in which the following passage, signed unanimously by the Commissioners, occurs—In our chapter on the history of the land question we dealt with a long series of evictions and other instances of the differential treatment of tenants on account of their attitude on political issues, more especially in Parliamentary elections.And they went on to say that a great deal of evidence to the same effect was placed before them by witnesses. Then if your Lordships will look at Sir Frederick Pollock's book, "English Land Laws," you will see the following passage—The landlord, in return for rent abatements, expects a certain amount of deference and compliance in various matters from his tenant. Not only does the farmer meet him half way on questions of shooting rights and allow free passage to the hunt, but his political support of the landlord is not unfrequently reckoned on with as much confidence as the performance of the covenants and conditions of the tenancy itself. In the case of holdings from year to year it may be not unfairly said that being of the landlord's political Party is often a tacit condition of the tenancy.
But is there any reason to suppose that those things which have gone on for centuries have entirely died out? I do not wish to overstate my case. I do not desire to make a general accusation against the landlords of England, but I do say that there are a certain number of landlords under whom cases of this kind do take place, and that probably more cases take place than we know of; and also that probably a large number of these cases take place without the landlords knowing about them. Does every landlord know the actual reasons why every cottager on his property is displaced? Indeed, he does not.
Then the noble Lord is very much to be congratulated. I am sure there are a great number of landowners—I regret to say I have to include myself—who could not answer that question in the affirmative. I do not propose to try to make anything like an accurate estimate 312 of the extent to which this practice goes on, because it is impossible to do so. In a great many of these cases, even when they are taken into a Court of Law, no decision can be arrived at. But there are an enormous number of cases which do not find their way into a Court of Law. They may be coincidences or they may not, but when you get coincidences coming together in large quantities they cease to belong to the category of coincidences and become something very different; and I have had brought under my notice a large number of cases of this kind where men have been in one employment for a considerable time, periods of from five to ten years, where they have actively supported a Liberal candidate, where they have had words with their employers about it, and where, after the election was over, they received notice to quit, and there has been absolutely no mention whatsoever in those notices of anything to do with politics. I know that is not evidence and I am not going to produce it as evidence, but there are so large a number of them brought forward from time to time and they have such a striking similarity of character that one is entitled to draw certain conclusions from them.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
Does the noble Lord mean that this is entirely confined to Tory landlords? Are there no such persons as Liberal landlords?
There are, of course, but naturally those cases are not brought before me with the same prominence that these cases are. I shall expect the noble Lord to bring forward cases of that kind. But I am not going to maintain for one moment that my Party is blameless in this matter. Human nature being what it is, people of this kind are bound to be found everywhere.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Mr. George and Mr. Peel have said that these men were turned out of their cottages because they voted for a Radical candidate. That is what we are talking about.
The legislation which we are proposing in regard to these matters will deal just as effectively with a Liberal landlord who evicts in this way as with a Conservative landlord. I have been asked to produce cases and I will endeavour to 313 do so. May I, in this context, refer your Lordships to a book called "The Case for Land Nationalisation," by Mr. Joseph Hyder, who devotes a chapter—chapter 9—to a number of these cases, and I have every reason to suppose that those cases are authentic though I cannot pretend that I have tried to verify them myself. Now I will give your Lordships some other cases which I have authenticated. I do not propose to give the names. Enough trouble, discomfort, and loss has already been caused in these cases, and I do not wish to make matters any worse, which is what would be bound to happen if the names were mentioned. But I have the names here and shall be perfectly prepared to show them to the noble Lord or to any other noble Lord who would like to see! them. I have chosen cases where there can be no question about the evidence. The two first cases came into the Courts of Law; the second two are cases where the letters written by the landlord are in existence. Here is the first case. The tenant was a well-known Liberal and placarded his cottage with posters during the election of January, 1910.
Yes. His landlord was a Conservative, and wrote on January 16 threatening that unless the bills were removed within twenty-four hours he would receive a week's notice to quit. The bills were not removed, and the tenant immediately received notice to give up possession on January 24. In addition to sending this notice the landlord entered the premises without permission and removed the bills, erecting an advertisement hoarding instead. The tenant had some difficulty in securing another house and remained in the cottage nine weeks after the notice expired. An ejectment order was applied for and granted, and later the tenant was summoned in the County Court for arrears of rent, which had been tendered week by week but not accepted by the landlord. A counterclaim against the landlord for trespass and damage was also entered and heard. The Judge, in referring to the landlord's conduct, said—A more wrong-minded, he was going to say improper, course of conduct he could not conceive.314 After deprecating petty political differences, the Judge said—In his view, so long as the bills were not indecent and improper and were not offensive personally to the landlord, the defendant had a perfect right to put the bills on the house. There was no expressed covenant, and it was entirely a matter for the defendant whether he would put the bills up or not. There was no suggestion that there was any damage, permanently or otherwise, to the building of the house, and the plaintiff had no right whatever to remove the bills. The mere removal of the bills was a trespass, and he could not help thinking that it was done merely as a little bit of political spite. It was a very high-handed proceeding, and that it was taken for political reasons he had no doubt.On the claim for rent the Judge gave judgment for the plaintiff without costs, and, on the counterclaim, for the defendant for £2 10s. with costs, I do not know whether the noble Lord will agree that that was a political eviction. Here is another case. This tenant was a that her. He was a Liberal and a supporter of a Liberal candidate. During the election in January, 1910, he had some posters in support of the Liberal candidate put upon the outside of his house. The following day he received a letter from the owner of the cottage. It is curious that in a considerable number of these cases the landlord is a lady. Ladies seem to be more truthful when it comes to stating the real motives for their action.
§ LORD WILLOUGHBY DE BROKE
Is this lady the owner of a landed estate? Is she an agricultural landlord in the full sense of the term?
I cannot say; but I do not see that that has much to do with it. That was not what the noble Lord asked in his Question. The letter from the owner of the cottage in this case was to the following effect—I was surprised to see my door placarded with Liberal papers. I hope you won't allow this to happen again, and I also hope you won't support the Liberal candidate against me as a landowner, as I would not have any tenant who went against me.Subsequently, as he declined to remove the posters, he received notice to quit and left his cottage. The owner was prosecuted on a charge of "undue influence." She was committed for trial by the local bench of magistrates. After an exhaustive hearing of the case at the Assizes held on October 27 the grand jury found a true bill, and she stood her trial before the 315 common jury. After a consultation the jury returned a verdict of "not guilty." Her counsel applied for costs on her behalf, but the Judge said—I think it was a most foolish letter, and I do not think the lady ought to complain if she has to pay the costs, at any rate her own costs.This case illustrates, among other things, the extreme difficulty of securing convictions in actions of this kind.
I have given your Lordships the cases of two labourers. I will now give the cases of two farmers. The tenant in question was a farmer of 400 acres. His farm was said to be one of the best cultivated holdings in a part of a county famed for the quality of its agriculture. He had held it for sixteen years, and the rent was always paid with strict punctuality. There was no complaint about game. He entertained the Liberal candidate, and was his most active supporter. His landlord as actively supported the Conservative candidate. And the very next day after the election, when the Liberal candidate won by a big majority, the tenant received notice to quit. It gave no reasons. That is, perhaps, partly an answer to the question of the noble Lord opposite. However, in this case the tenant wrote and asked for the reason, and received the following letter from his landlord—The reason that you have received notice to quit your farm is that I am anxious to have a tenant who would act on more friendly terms with his landlord, and also one not so hostile to the clergy and everything connected with the Church of England.
1900. But my next case refers to 1910. Here, again, the tenant had received notice. He asked the reason for it, and received the following letter—I am in receipt of yours of September 28. As you are doubtless aware, there is a great demand coming along for small holdings, for which I am in duty bound to prepare for. Many of my tenants who are not supporters of this Government and do not think the scheme will work I am not giving notice to—I would like to say that I looked up this particular landlord in Who's Who and find that he was educated at Eton. The letter continues—but those who are active supporters of the scheme I think should practise what they preach. 316 I do not believe that small holdings are going to help the working man one bit, but at the county council election in which you took part, and in which I was unsuccessful, I promised the people I would do what I could to help them over the small holdings if it was their wish. I hear the shooters did not find a sign of any game on your farm the other day.This letter does not come strictly in the category asked for because this was a county council and not a Parliamentary election, but the case occurred in one of those counties where I believe the county council elections are fought on Party lines.
The noble Lord challenged me to produce these cases and I have produced them. I have only to add this. I know as well as anybody else that as a general rule these cases do not exist under most landlords and that the great majority of landlords in this country are to be held entirely blameless in this matter. I would like to say that as fully and as unconditionally as I possibly can. But that these things do exist I am equally convinced, and there is no doubt about it that one case of this kind more than undoes the good done by a thousand cases of fair treatment. The noble Lord spoke as if the kind of legislation which is going to be instituted will press hardly on the good landlord and destroy his relations with good tenants. I see nothing in the proposals of the Government which can bear that out in the slightest degree. The intention of the legislation which we propose is to deal only with cases where landlords do not treat their tenants fairly, and as far as those proposals have been laid before the country I say with confidence that there is absolutely nothing in them which can be construed as likely to interfere with the relations existing between good landlords and good tenants.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I think the noble Lord opposite mistakes the object of the Question. My noble friend does not ask what legislation His Majesty's Government are going to propose, but for some justification of the attitude which Radical speakers throughout the country have been recently taking, notably the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now, how did the noble Lord opposite acquit himself of the task of answering the severe indictment which Lord Willoughby de Broke brought against him? Let me remind the noble Lord 317 that Mr. Lloyd George for political purposes indicted a whole class. It was not the case of isolated landlords, as to which I shall have something to say in a moment, such as was cited by the noble Lord opposite; it was a whole class which the Chancellor of the Exchequer attacked.
The noble Lord said frankly just now—and I think the House was pleased at his candour—that the great majority of landlords were blameless in this matter. But let me read what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, speaking of a tenant who is a labourer—If he votes Radical he will be sent ten miles away in a week. Now, that is the sort of housing they understand. But houses built by the State, which will be a city of refuge for a man who is turned out of a tied house, No! The landlords are not going to have them in the rural districts—Landlords as a class he refers to—It disturbs the serenity, the calm tranquillity of village life. There must be no State-erected cottages where a man can call his soul his own. Oh! if you lived in the villages! You think I am exaggerating. I have lived in a village, and just you ask any villager in England.Any villager in England! Observe the difference between the statement, the innuendo which the Chancellor of the Exchequer made, and the sort of defence which the noble Lord has been put up to make on his behalf. Every village in England is, according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, under the heel of a tyrannous landlord who will not let the villager call his soul his own. That is the language. The picture drawn is of a despotic and cruel class oppressing the poor. That is trumpeted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on every platform, and is imitated by his henchmen in all parts of England. Now what has the noble Lord to say to this? He began by saying that it is quite incapable of proof, and he positively challenged us to prove that it is not so. Can any method of argument more unreasonable be conceived than to ask us to prove that there are no unreasonable landlords in England?
I think by general admission, certainly by the admission of the noble Lord who spoke first, this kind of thing used to go on to a great extent, and the contention—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I certainly do not admit that it went on to a great extent so far as agricultural landlords are concerned. But I would remind the noble Lord that it is his business to prove it. What kind of proof did he give? He quoted the Report of the Royal Commission which sat twenty years ago. Next he quoted a book which my noble friend had read but which I have not read and which was published twenty years ago. Then the noble Lord came to his specific instances. What were they? They were most of them ten years old—only one, I think, was of recent date.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
I am not going to deny that there are unreasonable landlords. I know very well there are unreasonable landlords as there are unreasonable members of all classes. But what the noble Lord has to defend is the attack which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made on the whole class of landlords in every village in England. I beg the House to observe the extent of the charge. I deny it absolutely. I do not appeal to sparse instances here and there. I appeal to the experience of every noble Lord who hears me. I appeal to the experience of the noble Lord himself. Does he believe that the oppression of tenants and labourers by their landlords is a widespread thing? He says that we are all surrounded by a sort of hierarchy of individuals who keep the truth from us. I do not agree with him. I am sometimes driven to wonder whether the noble Lord and gentlemen who speak like him really pay a close attention to their estates, because the sort of charge made certainly does not correspond in the least with my experience.
The noble Lord says I am surrounded by a hierarchy who keep the truth from 319 me. I happen to know that the leading Radical of Hatfield lives in one of my own houses. No hierarchy keeps that fact from me, nor does it disturb me in the least. On another estate which I own the great majority of my tenants belong to the Party to which the noble Lord opposite belongs. When I go into their houses I generally see the not very flattering but still perfectly unmistakeable portraits of the leaders of the other side on the walls, and very often the portrait of the Radical candidate. No hierarchy prevents me from knowing the fact and does not lead me to evict the tenant the next day, or anything of the kind. One of my tenants said, "Has it ever occurred to you that you have no right to your property at all?" This is my own experience. We all know quite well the character of our tenants. There is no such concealment as the noble Lord makes out. We also know that it is not the habit of ourselves and our friends to evict people for political reasons, and our own experience is worth all the sparse evidence which the noble Lord can produce. These charges are not proved and they cannot be proved.
What Mr. Lloyd George has said of the landlords of England as a whole cannot be characterised in Parliamentary language at all. It is absolutely untrue. It is a base slander upon political opponents. And the charge made in this House against your Lordships on the Government Bench is that you sit and work and profit by the men who make these charges; that you are returned to power and sit upon that Bench because Mr. Lloyd George utters these things which are slanders, and you do not repudiate them. That is the charge made against you. Noble Lords opposite are all, of course, honourable gentlemen—I am proud to call many of them my friends—but I think this is a matter in which they ought to seriously consider whether their own honour is not involved. They put up one of their colleagues to defend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he does not defend the charge; he says there are one or two cases: an old lady has behaved badly, and there is a Report twenty years old. No answer is given to my noble friend, and we consider, both as politicians and as belonging to the landlord class, that we have been badly treated by His Majesty's Government, and we call upon them for redress.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, as my name was most courteously but somewhat prominently brought forward by the noble Lord opposite, I am sure you will forgive me if I say a few words on the matter which he has brought forward. The noble Lord's Question is divided into two parts. He first asks His Majesty's Government whether they can produce any instances of tenant farmers or agricultural labourers who have been evicted on account of their having voted for Liberal candidates for Parliament, and then he calls attention to allegations made to this effect in public speeches by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Will he forgive me if I suggest that in his most interesting speech we had, perhaps, a little too much of Mr. Lloyd George and too little of the subject which he intended to bring before the House. I noticed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer's name was mentioned by the noble Lord opposite thirty-two times in twenty-two minutes—a very liberal allowance.
I hope I may be permitted frankly to state that I heartily hate personalities, and I quite agree with what was said by Lord Selborne last night that ducal squabbles are really becoming somewhat of a bore. But I am bound to admit that no Chancellor of the Exchequer in the memory of any one in this House has ever done so much as has my right hon. friend Mr. Lloyd George for agricultural interests or has ever been so liberal towards them. Mr. Lloyd George, as is well known, is a solicitor. He knows the wants and the needs and the difficulties of farmers, as a solicitor, perhaps more than a good many people, and I am bound to say that in all his speeches and in all his actions he has been most sympathetic towards tenant farmers and the toilers on the land.
The air has been for the last ten months very full of rumours, venomous and somewhat malignant. And noble Lords opposite in consequence of these rumours, which have been repeated so often that they are very generally believed, have started, in a most honourable way, of course, a purity crusade. Last night we had the opportunity of listening to a speech by Lord Selborne which I think was approved of by every member of this House. It was one of the most remarkable speeches that I ever listened to, and I think it met with 321 the general approval, not only of this House, but of the Press and of the country. The noble Earl, standing forward with everybody at his back, represents the twentieth-century Cardwell determined to abolish purchase in the Peerage. And everybody wishes him well. Not only is the crusade led from the Front Bench opposite, but we have also had speeches from the crusaders on the Back Benches. It was only last week that Lord Ampthill, with characteristic impetuosity and courage, carried the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition straight off the fence on which he had been sitting, and we now have the edifying spectacle of the Leader of the Conservative Party in your Lordships' House racing for the lead with the saintly Strachey and the leonine Maxse, of the Spectator and the National Review, in full pursuit of a fresh Marconi hare.
Rumours of a different sort have arisen, but the rumours this time do not relate so much to noble Lords on this side. The rumours now rather point to the Party to which noble Lords on the other side belong. I do not mean to say for one moment that the Radical Party are not tarred with the same brush, but I think, the indignation that is felt by noble Lords opposite shows that these remarks do apply to the opposite side of the House as well as to our own. Rumour, somebody said, is a lying jade. Lord Willoughby de Broke is evidently of that opinion, because he gets up and says that you have no right to circulate rumours and no right to insinuate what you cannot legally prove. We on this side of the House say "Hear hear" with all our hearts. I was very much relieved in my own mind when I listened to the speech of my noble friend Lord Lucas, in which he brought forward four or five individual instances. He had a great many more, but he did not trouble the House with more than a few. I noticed that during the reading of those instances there was a hush and a quiet which was not noticeable at other times while he was speaking. He mentioned the Welsh Land Commission. I was chairman of that Commission, and some shocking cases came out. I recollect one terrible case, that of a farmer whose family had been 600 years on the land. It was a mountain farm, and they had built the house and the walls and had reclaimed the land and were happy and comfortable 322 there. This farmer was a Liberal and a Nonconformist who voted according to his convictions. He was turned out, and it practically broke the poor man's heart, and what became of him I do not know. I knew the landlord well. He was one of the best men I ever met. His agent was a very stern, bigoted Tory, and a violent Churchman. I am convinced that that eviction was carried out by the agent, and that the landlord went to his grave without ever knowing what a terrible thing had happened. The case was given in evidence; it is recorded, and unfortunately the landlord, innocent though he may be, must bear the odium of that catastrophe for all time.
It is not at all easy to prove such cases in a legal sense, though they are pretty obvious from a common sense point of view. We all know how this thing can be done and the methods by which these operations are carried out. May I give one single example, not concerned with land, to prove what I mean? A casual worker goes to the docks on a Tuesday and applies for work. The foreman asks him for his insurance card. If the card is stamped the man is taken on at once, hut if it is not stamped nothing is said, but the man finds that his mate who has taken the precaution to stamp the card himself is engaged. You cannot prove that the fact of the card not being stamped is the reason why the first man was not engaged, but when one finds that unstamped cards and rejected men are closely associated we may call in the theory of coincidence to establish our contention that one is the cause and the other the effect.
The noble Lord did me the compliment of referring to my own agreements with my tenants. I know that he has brought forward this question not in any way to discredit the Government or as a Party move, but simply and solely from a desire to put an end to any undue suspicions or rumours that have been promulgated. I honestly think that he could stamp all these rumours out at once himself. How many of your Lordships ever see your own agreements? Some of the old agreements are very curious things. I knew of an agreement—it was done away with only nine years ago—one of the clauses in which insisted that every tenant on the estate must be a Churchman and a Conservative. 323 I do not suppose that the landlord knew that such a thing existed. But it was in the agreement, and it was signed by the landlord and tenant, and, as I say, this clause in the agreement was only done away with nine years ago. Is it not time that we landlords did something to stamp out old shibboleths and look into our agreements ourselves? Is there any reason why there should not be put into these agreements in writing, signed by the landlord and the tenant, the independence and the liberty of the tenant farmer, which everybody desires should exist, which is generally argued does exist, and which raises extreme anger if any statement is made that it does not exist? Why should there not be a clause in the agreement that the tenant has a right to pray where he likes and to vote as he likes? What possible objection is there to that? On my honour I cannot see.
Why should it not be inserted in the agreement in black and white that every man who runs can read: "It is hereby declared that notice to quit shall not be given on account of difference of political or religious opinions"? I mentioned this to a friend of mine the other day, and he said that to insert such a clause would be an insult to every landlord in England. I replied that I failed to see where the insult came in, and he said that it was absolutely useless and unnecessary, as no good landlord would be guilty of conduct of this description. Of course, he would not. It may be useless and unnecessary as far as members of your Lordships' House are concerned. From my small experience in Wales and in England I know that that is so. But human nature being what it is, it seems to me desirable to prevent some people from venting their spleen on their tenants who have crossed them in politics or in religious belief. That such things have been done in the past is certain. It is acknowledged from the other side. It has been done over and over again in days gone by. Are you so certain that these things are not done now? At any rate, I may say that we do thank Lord Willoughby de Broke, because if his action in calling attention to the subject does nothing more than make such proceedings, I will not say impossible, but more dangerous, more risky, and more difficult, he will have earned our gratitude and the discussion to-day will not have been in vain.
§ LORD HENEAGE
My Lords, the noble Marquess has been rather like the turtledove to-night, very different from what he has been on political platforms in the country and in his letter to The Times. The noble Marquess asks why the conditions he referred to should not be put in agreements. He says, "Is it because it is insulting to the landlord?" No, it is a gross insult to the tenants, and nobody feels it more than the noble Marquess's own tenants in Lincolnshire. I am sure that his is the most unpopular agreement in the whole of the county. I should like to call your Lordships' attention to the letter which the noble Marquess wrote to The Times the other day. Mr. Bathurst had said—and I entirely agree with him—that most landlords would deem it superfluous and absurd to incorporate such covenants in their agreements; and in reply to that the noble Marquess wrote—Mr. Bathurst's statement as to freedom for shooting, voting, and praying obtaining on every estate of which he has any knowledge proves merely that his acquaintance with estate conditions is as narrow and restricted as h s knowledge of the economic and humanitarian principles of Liberal legislation is defective in extent and inaccurate in detail.That is a deliberate statement that if Mr. Bathurst was not so ignorant he would know, what the noble Marquess professes to know—what the Government profess to know, on the basis of their secret inquiry—that this oppression, this coercion, is very prevalent throughout England, and, I suppose, Scotland too. The noble Marquess's reply was not very courteous and it certainly was not very illuminating.
What are the economic and humanitarian principles of Liberal legislation? Are they what he and Mr. Lloyd George have been putting forth on platforms at Bedford and elsewhere; or are they the proposals set forth in the speech of the Prime Minister or in the speeches of the President of the Board of Agriculture?—because they are very different indeed. Mr. Lloyd George throughout the whole of his speeches has been endeavouring to set class against class. He has been trying to prove that what are exceptions are the rule, and he has been backed up by the tame landlord who sits behind the Government Bench, to paraphrase the expression that was used about a tame elephant and Irish landlords some years ago. Mr. Lloyd George has been backed up by him throughout. The noble Marquess has stated that he saw no harm 325 in anything that the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed, and that, as a matter of fact, all that he proposed was embodied in his (Lord Lincolnshire's) own agreements. Now Mr. Lloyd George's orations have been mere tub oratory and systematic foolery and inaccuracy; but the speeches made by the President of the Board of Agriculture have been extremely able speeches, and as far as I have read them I have not seen very much to find fault with in them, though I should not, as a practical landlord, agree with all that he has proposed.
I may say, in passing, a word in reply to the statement of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture to-day, that landlords know nothing about their affairs and are surrounded by a zareba of ignorance. I am not surrounded by such a fence. I have managed my own estate entirely without an agent for forty years, and I think I know all the men on my estate and what their politics are. And a good many of them are rank Radicals. Therefore I entirely decline for one moment to admit that landlords are misled. I also know a good deal about other people's estates and about the opinions of a good many agents and tenants. Two months ago I presided, at the request of the Farmers' Union, over a very large meeting which was called not only by the Farmers' Union but by all the other farmers' associations in the neighbourhood of Louth, near the noble Marquess's estate in Lincolnshire, and I there gave my opinions pretty freely with regard to the agreement of which the noble Marquess is so proud. But I was not the only person who expressed his opinions on that agreement, and I am bound to say that the remarks that were made were received with enthusiasm by everybody in the room, which showed the feeling that exists with regard to such agreements as these.
I do not believe that a single case could be brought forward in Lincolnshire where any coercion has been used to tenants; and as to the couple of cases by ladies which were put forward to-day by the noble Lord the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Agriculture, we do not know whether those ladies simply hold the cottages as property or whether they are agricultural landlords. The old lady referred to may have been the widow of some person who had built cottages in the 326 village and may have nothing to do with agriculture at all. We all recollect that we were told the same sort of thing on the occasion of an Amendment brought forward in this House by the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, and after having given him three weeks in which to find cases it all terminated in the case of an old lady in Bucks. Now, what are the provisions which the noble Marquess thinks that tenants would like to have in their agreements? He says in his agreement that tenants can shoot "hares, rabbits, and all game other than preserved game."
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
Those are not the words in my agreement. Here is my agreement, which I will hand to the noble Lord if he likes.
§ LORD HENEAGE
At any rate, I understand that it is "other than preserved game." Of course, I accept anything that the noble Marquess says if I have been misinformed. But have not the tenants on every estate the right of shooting all ground game?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My tenants have the whole game themselves; there are no shooting tenants.
§ LORD HENEAGE
Then with regard to their voting. Surely all tenants can vote as they like under the Ballot Act. So far as I am concerned, I should be ashamed of the man on my estate who would not profess what he was, and I am sure that is the feeling of other landlords. I like to see men absolutely honest, and if they have a political opinion let them declare it. Therefore I cannot see any necessity for such a Condition as this in regard to voting. Then they are to "farm as they like." Well, cannot most tenants farm practically as they like under the Agricultural Holdings Act and under the custom of the country? The noble Marquess, by the way, has a covenant that they shall "leave their farms under the four-course system." If a tenant has to leave his farm under the four-course system he cannot farm as he likes during the few years previous to his leaving. As a matter of fact, the noble Marquess's tenants are in no better or worse position with regard to farming than are the tenants of any other landlord in Lincolnshire. I do not profess to know what is the custom in Bucks, and I do not like talking about 327 things of which I know nothing; but I do know that there is not a tenant in Lincolnshire who would willingly sign the noble Marquess's agreement of which he is so proud. I do not know what are the other points which the noble Marquess thinks Mr. Lloyd George brought forward at Bedford which he said are embodied in his agreement, but I do know that nothing that was brought forward there will be of the slightest benefit either to the landlord, or to the tenant, or to the labourer. But we are to-day dealing with accusations that have been brought against the whole body of the landlords of England, and the noble Marquess in his letter to The Times says that Mr. Bathurst is ignorant of what obtains on most estates in England because he does not know that this oppression and coercion does go on and that it is necessary to prevent it.
My Lords, I shall try to keep a little to the original point of this discussion, because I do not think that the details of the noble Marquess's agreement are very material to the question whether or not there is in this matter intimidation or apprehension of intimidation. The Question put by Lord Willoughby de Broke is divided into two branches, and I do not propose to say anything about the second branch. It may be, of course, that the colleagues of the Chancellor of the Exchequer are bound more or less to stand by him and have a certain responsibility for what he says, though I cannot help remembering in that connection Mr. Burke's celebrated description of a Coalition Government. He described it as a sort of tessellated pavement, and there is no doubt that political exigencies sometimes bring people together who are not in perfect harmony in private life. But, at any rate, private members have no such responsibility. I have responsibility to this extent, that I support the Liberal Party and therefore I sit here; but I do not feel any responsibility to defend what any Cabinet Minister may have said in controversy.
I am only concerned with what I think is material matter, and this becomes material matter because we have had foreshadowed the prospect of very sweeping legislation dealing with the land question. In regard to a subject which involves in itself so many questions—tenure of land, incidence of rates, compulsory acquisition, 328 and so on—we ought to reserve perfect liberty of action until the Bills themselves are laid before us, and not commit ourselves prematurely with regard to speeches, whatever may have been the actuating motive which led to their delivery by members of the Government. I should like to say this with reference to what I consider is the main question under discussion. I think that probably there is not one person in your Lordships' House who does not agree both with the noble Marquess and with Lord Lucas, that the general action of the great landowners of England is fair, just, and considerate. That I think we have a perfect right to affirm. I would not affirm that forty, or fifty, or sixty years back there was the same sense of justice and consideration among the land-owning class towards the people who lived on their property; and if we go still further back, I know that the overwhelming power of the land-owning class was felt very oppressively in the country. But landowners are like other people—they march with the times and are subject to public opinion, and public opinion is the force to which we must look.
I do not myself attach a ha'p'orth of value to the Act passed four years ago which was supposed to protect the tenant from eviction for political reasons. An unfair-minded man wanting to take an unfair advantage of somebody else has plenty of ways of doing it without showing his hand and revealing his motives. Therefore I look upon these safeguards as paper safeguards. But I think that on the other side you do not adequately appreciate that, although undue interference on the part of the great landowners is very minute in quantity, yet it operates in the minds of people in the country much more extensively than you imagine. Noble Lords opposite are not familiar with this matter from the point of view of Parliamentary candidates who come forward as Liberals in county constituencies. I will undertake to say that anybody who has fought a county constituency as a Liberal will have constantly found that leading farmers and other people among their supporters will not go on their platforms at a village meeting. They say, "We will support you all right when it comes to the poll, but we would rather not be seen on your platform, as it would make bad blood." I know a case in my own county where a substantial 329 body of supporters of the Liberal candidate on a rural estate begged the candidate not to hold a meeting on the estate at all, but to keep away. They said, "We do not want to be seen at your meeting. We mean to support you, but we cannot afford to be identified as supporting you." Even now I believe you will find that there are estates where Nonconformists do not get as readily accepted as tenants as Churchmen. It is true that these cases are diminishing, but the recollections of past oppression last long after the oppression itself becomes insignificant.
There is, I believe, at this time a timidity and apprehension among humbler rural people which make them not courageous in proclaiming their opinion. This state of things, of course, is not exclusively rural. We know quite well that it obtains in towns. We know that tradesmen and even professional men are very unwilling to come forward and actively identify themselves with politics. Tradesmen in towns will not put election bills in their windows for fear of offending their customers, and professional men will not put their names on committees because of the risk of offending their clients. You may say that that is cowardice, but you have to take people as they are. We were debating last night the question of corruption in connection with political honours. But corruption in politics goes far lower down than the matters we were discussing yesterday. For one case of corruption in connection with the getting of a Peerage or a knighthood, there are throughout the country many cases of paltry corruption on the part of persons who wish to rub shoulders with county society through appointments to the magistracy or some other public position. Of course, this operates more in the interests of your side than ours, because the dominant social forces are all on your side. But whether it is a question of honours, whether it is corruption, or whether it is intimidation, I am sorry to say that I think the want of independent self-respect goes very deep into the character of the people of this country. The ballot and all these things have helped to make people independent, but the old forces still work for the degradation of the self-respect of man. I think that to a great extent the present state of things in which the upper classes have such an overwhelming social influence makes this mixture of snobbishness and cowardice more dan- 330 gerous in England than in any other country. If we can do something to increase the self-respect of men we shall do a great deal to put down those forces, which, although diminishing, I still believe have a substantial influence on the imaginations and feelings of the humbler classes, especially in the rural districts. You do degrade a man when you make him conceal his political feelings, and you cannot degrade men in that way without creating a rankling feeling of injustice. It is the duty of all of us rather to allay passion than to inflame it, and to apply to these questions an impartial and judicial mind with a keen desire to do the best we can for the welfare of all classes, and especially for those classes who have not had the best of life hitherto, remembering at the same time sound economic principles which we cannot afford to forget in a mere gushing enthusiasm of philanthropy.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down properly recalled the attention of the House to the subject which my noble friend Lord Willoughby has brought before us this evening, but he presently himself wandered rather far a field, for the concluding part of his speech was a criticism of the structural faults of modern society, a matter which is hardly dealt with by the Motion of my noble friend. The noble Lord, however, gave us one piece of advice which was, on the face of it, sound. He said, Why don't you wait for the Bills which the Government are going to produce and in the meantime not pay too much attention to the speeches delivered by Liberal Ministers. That sounds reasonable. But, after all, landowners are human like other people, and they would be superhuman if they were not moved by the kind of speeches which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has lately been delivering throughout the length and breadth of the land. I venture to express my conviction that the noble Lord who has just spoken does not approve of the tone and temper of those speeches any more than I do.
But, my Lords, with regard to these speeches of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the House will recollect that my noble friend Lord Willoughby, in the early part of his speech, threw down a very distinct challenge on the floor of the House. He invited from the noble Marquess who leads 331 the House a statement whether he associated himself with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the kind of language which that high official has been using. We shall not expect the noble Marquess to tell us that he agrees with every word that his colleague has spoken lately; but, if we may adopt the simile of Lord Sheffield, assuming that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the noble Marquess inhabit the same truckle-bed we should rather like to know whether they are quite friendly bedfellows.
Let me remind the House for a moment of the substance of the complaint which we make. I do not wish to trouble your Lordships with lengthy extracts, but I should like to read at least a couple of passages from speeches which have been lately delivered by Mr. Lloyd George. In October last year, speaking at Bedford, he said—The landowner can devastate the countryside. He can sweep every cottage away and convert it into a wilderness. He can do what no foreign invader is permitted to do now by the laws of civilised warfare—destroy cottages and drive the peasantry away into exile, convert the land into a desert.And then he ended with these remarkable words—You may say that those are purely imaginary powers they have got by law. Not at all.That is a distinct statement that it is not a theoretical grievance but a practical and substantial one. Speaking again on the same day he said—The landlord has the power—I do not say he will do it, but he has the power—to say to a man: 'You have been in this farm for thirty or forty years. You farm it very well. Your fathers have been here before you, and it is your own home, and I have no doubt the tenderest associations of your life are interwoven with it. You have made it a much better farm than it was, and as a farmer I have nothing against you, but I do not like you, or I do not like your politics.' … So he says to you, 'You have to go; it is a great loss to you, you are too old to start afresh, all the labour of your lifetime goes. I cannot help that. That is my power.'Then Mr. Lloyd George said—There must be an end to that.You cannot "end" a practice which has not begun. Therefore this is a clear admission that the thing is a practical and substantial and live grievance.
332 I pass to the Swindon speech, in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised that if a small holder got notice to quit an official would be sent down from Whitehall to find out why the man was turned out. Mr. Lloyd George proceeded—And if the answer is 'He has voted Radical, the Commissioner will say' That is not yet in the category of offences against any moral or legal code, human or Divine.' If they say, 'The parson does not like him; he goes to the Methodist chapel—That was received with "prolonged cheers"—the officer will say, 'My good fellow, these ways are gone for ever.'I have quoted these passages because they seem to me entirely incompatible with the defence of the noble Lord who speaks for the Board of Agriculture. The passages which I have quoted from Mr. Lloyd George's speeches are a general and indiscriminate attack upon the landowners of this country, and it is no answer to such an attack to produce, as the noble Lord on the Front Bench did, four cases hunted up for him by his Department or quotations from books which have been for many years on the shelves of his library. The obvious meaning of the passages which I have quoted is surely this, that the tenants and agricultural labourers generally throughout the country are haunted by a sense of insecurity and by the constant fear of losing their homes either for political or religious reasons. People are not afraid of things which do not happen; people are not afraid of earthquakes in countries where earthquakes are not of common occurrence, and the noble Lord's statement amounts to this, that the farmers and labourers of this country have good reason to be afraid and are constantly threatened by the danger of disturbance in their holdings, owing to the caprice or the vindictiveness of their landlords. I believe that to be—I can use no other expression—a very gross and wilful exaggeration. The noble Lord was challenged to produce cases, and although he produced very few he asserted with great confidence that what he called political evictions were of usual occurrence in this country—
I do not think I used the word "usual." My whole argument was that it was impossible to state how many of them there were.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
What the noble Lord said was that political evictions were not of uncommon occurrence, but that owing to the astuteness of the landlords they were so cleverly masked and concealed that it was impossible to get any record of them. May I suggest one or two considerations which will, I think, make the noble Lord pause before he commits himself to the doctrine. In the first place, he will know, because he is familiar with the management of an estate, that where you have a good tenant who farms his land well and pays his rent punctually you will not find any agent in the United Kingdom who will advise the landlord to get rid of him. And when the noble Lord talks about landlords being surrounded by and kept in ignorance by a crowd of agents and bailiffs, I say confidently in reply that I believe that the agent will be found on the side of the good farmer whatever the good farmer's politics may be. Secondly, the astute landlord who wishes to get rid of a tenant for political reasons and assigns other reasons—that is, bad farming—will get very badly caught out when he goes into Court, because, ex concessis, he will not be able to show that there has been bad farming and he will be mulcted under the Act for gratuitous disturbance. A noble Lord opposite said that this Act was no real safeguard to the improving tenant. I think he is wrong; in my opinion it is a very considerable safeguard. If you can show that it is not a sufficient safeguard and that the tenant farmer requires further protection, I am ready to examine that question with an entirely open mind. Then, thirdly, does the noble Lord really think that this artifice of the astute landlord will deceive anybody? If on any estate with which he is familiar half a dozen tenants were suddenly dispossessed of their farms, farms which they had been farming well, because they had put Radical posters in their windows the thing would be found out, and the landlord would be exposed to a burst of indignation which no landlord with any common sense in his disposition would be prepared to face. I believe that in all these cases public opinion is really the greatest safeguard you can get. I will not deal with the four cases which were cited by Lord Lucas. My noble friend Lord Salisbury dealt with them. Lord Lucas's main case, so far as I was able to follow him, was that of a very injudicious lady with strong political views.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
At any rate, I hope he will not press too strongly in a case of this kind what a furens femina may do when her political feelings are strongly aroused. But I did notice with satisfaction the frank admission of the noble Lord that the great majority of the landowners of England are wholly blameless in this respect; and when we are asked to consider these wholesale assertions made week after week by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and when it is suggested to us that drastic legislation will be founded upon arguments of that kind, then I think we have a right to appeal from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and those who imitate him to the admissions of the noble Lord and those made by Lord Sheffield just now. There is another argument that runs through the speeches-made on the other side of the House. We are told that these threats of political intimidation are effectual although they are not carried out, that they are so effectual that the threatened people, rather than run the risk of losing their holdings, are influenced by these threats and do what is expected of them. What an appalling argument to put forward! It really amounts to this, that in the view of noble Lords who use that argument there are at this moment throughout the country numbers of farmers and numbers of labourers who go to church when they would like to go to chapel, or who vote Unionist when they would like to vote Radical, because they are intimidated by the prospect of losing their homes. I believe that a charge of that kind would be resented by no one more than by the supposed victims of landlord intimidation.
We cannot insist too much upon the importance of this matter. I believe myself that the speeches to which attention has been called this evening are a, very cruel libel upon all concerned—upon landowners, tenant farmers, and labourers. But I condemn these attacks for another reason. The Chancellor of the Exchequer makes no secret of the fact that he intends these attacks to be the means of catching votes, and what I object to is this attempt to catch votes by what I cannot characterise otherwise them as false pretences. The audiences who listen 335 to these speeches and the people who read them are not in a position to verify all the statements. A man in one village who hears these arguments used may know perfectly well that so far as his village is concerned there is no cause for complaint, but when he hears these arguments put forward by a person in the position of the Chancellor of the Exchequer he will, of course, say to himself, If these things are not true here they are true somewhere else. And it is not to be forgotten that when so distinguished a member of the Government as the Chancellor of the Exchequer adopts this tone, it is imitated by all the rank and file of the Party and the dii minores of His Majesty's Government. Lastly, I object to these attacks because I believe they have the effect of doing a great deal to poison public life in the rural districts. They are intended to sow class hatred, and that is the effect that they are bound to produce. I hope that when the noble Marquess or some other member of His Majesty's Government rises to follow me, we shall be told distinctly—we have not been told so yet—whether for all these wild words which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has lately been uttering he has the support of the noble Marquess and his colleagues.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (EARL BEAUCHAMP)
My Lords, it is very interesting to those of us who sit on this side of the House to note that there is a certain amount in common between this debate to-night and the two other important debates which have taken place in this House lately. On each of these occasions we have been considering the question and the value of evidence, and I was very much struck by what fell from the noble Marquess just now when he condemned the practice of making charges without sufficient proof. But the noble Lord who introduced this subject to our notice to-night seemed to expect that His Majesty's Government would come down to the House with a quantity of documents, signed, sealed, and delivered by the proper people, in order to support their various contentions. That, at any rate, was the course which he thought we ought to adopt. I wondered to myself whether, when the noble Marquess made these charges against a member of this House only last week, he had documents of a similar kind in order to support the charges which he made, and I could not help 336 thinking that if he had documentary evidence of the kind to which I refer, it would have been unnecessary to appoint that Committee which, if we are to believe the public Press, will soon be appointed. Not only was there this difference in the attitude of noble Lords opposite with regard to the recent debate and the debate which is taking place now, but there was also, as was pointed out by my noble friend Lord Lucas, a difference between their attitude yesterday, when we were discussing the question of honours, and their attitude to-day. My noble friend quoted, I thought with effect, sentences both from the speech of the noble Earl who introduced the Motion yesterday and from the speech of the noble Viscount below the Gangway, who supported him, in which they said that although they believed the practice of which they complained existed they were not able to produce proofs.
The noble Marquess who has just sat down has challenged my noble friend behind me (Lord Crewe), who has authorised me to speak on his behalf as well as on my own with regard to the charges which have been brought by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is nothing in the circumstances of this case, speaking of the policy advocated by His Majesty's Government, to differentiate it from any similar case. We associate ourselves wholly and altogether with the principles and the policy foreshadowed by our colleagues, but nobody has ever suggested at any time in the political history of this country that every member of the Government is bound by every word of the phraseology used by every one of his colleagues. Some of us, indeed, I may tell the noble Marquess, would go a great deal further than my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and although it may be the opinion of noble Lords opposite that some of us would not go so far, I can at any rate assure him that there are some who would not be sorry if others went further.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
I leave that to the noble Marquess, who is quite able to guess and needs no assistance from me. Surely we may remind noble Lords opposite that this kind of attempt to differentiate between the phraseology of individuals and the policy of the Government is a 337 very old thing. It has been done frequently before. No one who reads the political history of the middle of last century and the later years can help remarking how very much the same kind of thing used to be said by Conservative Peers at that time against what they thought the exaggerated language which was used by Mr. Bright. Indeed, political history is full of the same kind of complaint being made by noble Lords opposite, and I think it is fair to call to your Lordships' notice the parallel of the Southern States and their position when in such books as "Uncle Tom's Cabin" they felt that they were being unfairly dealt with. On that occasion it was alleged that flogging and cruel treatment of slaves took place. It was admitted that there was that power, that the slave-owners had the power to treat their slaves in this way. Nobody pretended that every slave-owner did it. The complaint which was made was that although there were only isolated instances of it, it was within the power of slave-owners to treat their slaves in this way; and that was the reason why so many people in the United States were anxious for the abolition of slavery.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
In this matter, as in every branch of the land policy, it seems to me that it is most important to remember the differences which exist. I do not know of any subject upon which it is more difficult to speak unless one keeps constantly in mind the fact that there is an extraordinary difference in all sorts and kinds of ways in different parts of the country, not only difference of climate, but difference in leases—there are long leases, short leases, annual leases—and amongst all these differences there, of course, exist the differences between individual landlords; and there is no doubt that while some farmers and labourers who live on the estates of noble Lords opposite can never believe that there is any such thing as a bad landlord in England, so it is that a certain number of people who live on the estates of bad landlords are very difficult to persuade that there are good landlords anywhere to be found. People are far too ready to be influenced by their personal experience and their knowledge of the little corner of England in which they themselves happen to live, 338 and noble Lords in this House, knowing of no instances in their own personal experience of treatment of this kind, are perhaps too ready to believe that it is not to be found anywhere in the country.
The personal experience of noble Lords opposite is experience to which we attach full value, and to which we give every authority. On the other hand, I say that any impartial person discussing the question which we are debating to-night would be bound to take into consideration the fact that it is the opinion of nearly every single man who stood as a Liberal candidate that there is political intimidation of this kind. It is impossible to come to any fair conclusion on the subject without taking that into consideration. Why, it is a commonplace with a great many Liberal candidates that they have to speak of the secrecy of the ballot. In some districts agricultural labourers do not realise that they may vote as they like, but have a lurking fear that somebody will find out how they have voted and that therefore they cannot act with entire independence.
I was interested in one special passage of the speech of the noble Lord who introduced this Motion, because I was not quite sure at one period that he was not going to accuse noble Lords who sit on this side of the House of being at least equally guilty of these practices, and that he would not allege that there were instances known in which Radical landlords had themselves intimidated people who had voted in a way which was not agreeable to them. But I am glad to think that on the whole we who sit on this side of the House may consider that we are absolved from any such charges. Is it not perfectly obvious that a single instance of this kind, even if it is exaggerated, would be more than enough, by itself, to terrify a very large number of people? The mere report of it would be enough to do it; and for my own part I would say that on the whole I agree with that passage in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which when it was read again by the noble Marquess just now he condemned.
The noble Marquess quoted a passage from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in which he spoke of the position of the agricultural labourer. I believe that nothing is more necessary in our villages to-day than that there should 339 be such a revolution as will enable the agricultural labourer to feel that he is wholly independent, not only independent politically, but, even more important I venture to say, independent economically of the landlord, and independent also of the farmer. To explain what I mean I will take the case of a tied cottage. How is it possible for an agricultural labourer who wishes to strike for higher wages to do so if he knows that he will be turned out of his cottage, which, perhaps, is the only place from which he can find work? He is not in a position of economic independence, because he knows that he is liable to be turned out by the farmer and will have to find work somewhere else, and may not, indeed, be able to find a home. I do not wish, of course, to condemn immediately and off-hand the system of tied cottages, because it is obvious that on some farms you must have men who are themselves looking after and tending horses and cattle. But still I do say, where you have a system of universal tied cottages—
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
A system of universal tied cottages in any village, that is to say, where every cottage in the village is within the control of either one individual or a small knot of individuals who think alike—that there you have need of a very real revolution which will enable the agricultural labourer to be in a position of real 340 economic independence. There was one other remark which fell from the noble Marquess with which I was unable to agree. He seemed to think that if a tenant had no fault in him save that he was of a different political persuasion from that of his landlord, no agent could possibly be found who would give him notice. Generally speaking, I agree with the noble Marquess. But I am not at all sure, if a farmer, even though he paid his rent regularly, was found to agitate in the district on behalf of the farmers, or if an agricultural labourer was found to agitate on behalf of his own class, however regularly he paid his rent, that I should be willing to put a large sum of money on the prospect of his being in the same holding several years afterwards. The campaign in which we are engaged is a campaign against the system which makes these things possible. It is possible for these things to happen, and our object, when the proposed legislation is introduced, will be to put in such provisions as will make them impossible in the future. I am glad to think, after the debate this evening, that in that respect, one of the most important respects, we shall have the support of noble Lords opposite.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at five minutes before Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.