§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
My Lords, the Bill to which I am going to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading this afternoon is almost identical with the Bill which I introduced into your Lordships' House and which passed through all its stages here in the year 1911. It deals with what seems to me to be a very considerable grievance. Under the Small Holdings and Allotments Act, 19Q8, county councils are empowered to purchase land for small holdings, and when they let this land to tenants they are also empowered by regulations made by the Treasury, and, I think, either confirmed or agreed to by the Board of Agriculture, to charge instalments of the principal as well as the rent to the tenants. But the extraordinary part of this arrangement under the law is this, that when the tenant, besides paying the rent, has discharged all the instalments of purchase, the land becomes, not his, but the property of the county council whose loan the tenant has repaid.
The provisions of this Bill are very short. Clause 1 provides that in fixing the rent to be paid for any small holding purchased by a county council, the county council shall determine the proportion of such rent, if any, which is attributable to the instalment of principal intended to recoup to the county council the cost of the acquisition of the land and of the adaptation thereof as a small holding, and shall keep a separate account thereof. Then, if your Lordships turn to Clause 2, subsection (3), you will see that it is there provided that when the total amount credited to a tenant in the recoupment account is equal to the sum necessary to recoup to the county council the cost of the acquisition of the land leased to such tenant and the adaptation thereof as a small holding, the county council shall transfer such land to the tenant in fee simple.
There is another case. A tenant may be turned out of his holding at a time when he has repaid some but not all of the instalments of purchase. It seems to me rather hard that he should incur that loss unless he has cultivated his holding badly. 380 That is dealt with in subsection (1) of Clause 2, which provides that if the county council without good and sufficient cause and for reasons inconsistent with good estate management give to the tenant of a small holding notice to quit, they shall repay to such tenant, on his quitting the holding, the total amount then standing to his credit in the recoupment account. Then there is a further case—namely, when land is let by a county council to a tenant and when they require him to repay instalments of the purchase money. In that case—it is in Clause 2, subsection (2)— the tenant who is established on the purchase principle may give notice to the county council that he will pay up all the instalments at once, and he thereby becomes possessor of his holding.
This Bill, as I have said, is almost identical with the Bill which I introduced in your Lordships' House three years ago. On that occasion it was strongly opposed by the Government. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, who was then Earl Carrington and filled the office of President of the Board of Agriculture, said that this was "the third time within a week that the land policy of the Government had been attacked." He submitted that there was "no real demand for purchase," and said—I quite admit that it is rather a clever thing to bring in this sort of Bill, and I do not for a moment say that it is not a good electioneering cry.He went on to say—I strongly object, it being included in the rent, to a provision enabling tenants in some cases, but not in all, to recover payment or to claim the land on payment of a sum which need have no relation to the true value of the land. … We object to the Bill and most earnestly hope that the noble Earl will not carry his Bill to a Second Reading, but will be satisfied with having brought what he considers this great grievance before the House.The noble Marquess evidently himself did not consider that there was a grievance at that time. I cannot say that I shared his opinion. Therefore I did ask your Lordships to read the Bill a second time, and you were good enough to do so and the Bill proceeded through its various stages in this House. I need not say that the Bill went no further.
What I wish to call your Lordships' attention to is that the Government at that time did not recognise that there was 381 a grievance. They said that this was an idea of mine, and from that day to this the noble Marquess who was at that time President of the Board of Agriculture has never done anything in Parliament to remedy this grievance, and, so far as I know, he has never mentioned the matter in Parliament since. That was the end of the Bill of 1911. But at the beginning of this year an event occurred. There was a by-election in South Buckinghamshire in consequence of the elevation of my noble friend near me. I am sure we are all very glad to welcome him in this House, and I may say that I am equally glad to know that his successor holds very much the same opinions as he did. At this time the whole position had changed. Earl Carrington had become Marquess of Lincolnshire, and instead of being President of the Board of Agriculture he had become chairman of the Land and Housing Council, which, as your Lordships know, is an organisation for the purpose of forwarding Mr. Lloyd George's land campaign.
In the course of this by-election, the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, made a good many speeches. I read some of them—they were sent to me—and I must say that one of them certainly did surprise me. It was a speech made on February 2, and was to this effect—In carrying out the Act [the Small Holdings Act] a grievance has grown up, inasmuch as the tenants have not only to pay rent but also to contribute to the sinking fund for the extinction of the debt of the local authority incurred in purchasing the land. It is a distinct grievance, and by remedying it we should be removing a very great objection which has been taken by the Opposition to our Small Holdings Act. On Saturday last [January 31] I wrote to my right hon. friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and asked him whether I might state at this meeting that, after June of next year, when the Liberal Government are again returned to power and when they bring in their Land Bill, this charge will be removed from that worthy body of men, that hard-working body of people, of whom England might well be proud, and this injustice done away with. Just before I came into this hall I had put into my hand a message 'On His Majesty's Service,' dated from Whitehall, to Lord Lincolnshire—' Yes, Lloyd George.'It is rather a curious thing, as it seems to me, that the sudden discovery of the existence of this grievance happened to synchronise with the by-election in South Buckinghamshire.
The noble Marquess for the first time appears to have discovered that this was 382 a distinct grievance, but he apparently had been aware all along that this had been brought forward as a grievance by the Opposition—I suppose he meant by myself in my Bill of 1911. Observe the course which the noble Marquess took. Two days before this meeting—namely, on Saturday, January 31, for he was speaking on February 2—he wrote to Mr. Lloyd George and asked the Chancellor whether he would give him authority to state that on the earliest possible occasion he would do away with this grievance. It certainly does seem extraordinary to me that this revelation only occurred to the noble Marquess when this by-election was taking place. I should like to see the letter which he wrote to Mr. Lloyd George, because I have no doubt it would give us some very valuable information as to the manner in which this land campaign is being conducted. I do not suppose the noble Marquess will give me the letter. I wish he would. But, if you will allow me, I think I can, with the aid of internal evidence and this speech which I have just read to you, convey to your Lordships a tolerably good guess of what was in the letter. I should think it probably ran thus—Dear Mr. Lloyd George,—In the course of this by-election I have discovered that there are persons in the constituency who are obliged to pay to the county council instalments of principal as well as the rent of their holdings, and if you will only authorise me to say that at the earliest possible opportunity you will abolish this I am inclined to think that the votes of some of these most deserving and industrious men will be secured to our side.I think it must have been something like that. All I can say in the absence of a satisfactory explanation is that it seems to me that this was an open attempt to bribe the votes of certain electors at that time by making promises to them.
Just see how the thing happened. The noble Marquess sent a tip to the Chancellor of the Exchequer which the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, as he has told us, is always vote-catching, promptly accepted. I think it was in November last that Mr. Lloyd George told us that he pleaded guilty to the charge of vote-catching. In this democratic country it is impossible to do anything without votes; therefore it seems to me that this is a case of "get votes, honestly if you can; if not—get votes." I must observe that this is not a solitary instance of this practice being 383 followed by the present Government in by-elections. We have had several recent instances. For instance, there was the famous case of Wick. You know what happened there. No less a person than the Scottish Liberal Whip went down and made promises to the electors of Wick, for which he has since apologised in the House of Commons. He asked to be excused on this ground, that his speech had been unpremeditated, but, unluckily for him, it has turned out that he delivered very much the same speech in three other burghs. Thereby he made his chief make an apology which was entirely contrary to what had happened. Then there was the case of Bethnal Green, where the late Financial Secretary to the Treasury was standing for re-election. We know that in the House of Commons he always said that the Insurance Act was almost perfect. Well, in Bethnal Green he took a very different line, but in that case it was not successful.
I think really that the noble Marquess ought to give the House some explanation of this speech of his. How was it that it was at this particular moment that he discovered the existence of this grievance? What was it that created his new-born desire to remedy this grievance, the existence of which, when I mentioned it before, he had almost denied? Leaving him and turning to the Government, I venture to express the hope that the Government will adopt an attitude a little more favourable to my Bill on this occasion than they did on the last, because Mr. Lloyd George has now promised to remedy this grievance. If the Government are willing to make good the promise of Mr. Lloyd George, surely they can hardly avoid taking this, the first, opportunity of remedying the grievance in an effectual way. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Camperdown.)
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My Lords, I think that on the whole the House has never listened to a more extraordinary speech on the introduction of a Land Bill than that which has just been delivered by my noble friend opposite. He introduced his Bill, for which certainly there is a great deal to be said, and explained its provisions. Then he launched out on various other topics, such as Wick, and Mr. Gulland, and other matters, which did not seem entirely relevant to the Bill 384 before your Lordships' House, and he was good enough to mention my name and to quote me at considerable length. When Lord Willoughby de Broke made an agricultural speech the other day, I ventured very respectfully to call the attention of the House to the fact that in a speech of twenty-two minutes Mr. Lloyd George was dragged in thirty-two times, which was a considerable allowance; and if I may venture to make a criticism on the speech of my noble friend opposite, I think there was a little bit too much in it about Lord Carrington and too little about the Bill which the noble Earl has the honour to submit to your Lordships. He was good enough to say that I had never recognised the existence of a grievance. I do not know where he gets that idea from, or how he can substantiate it.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Let me read to the noble Marquess his own words when I introduced this Bill in 1911. He then said—I hope the noble Earl will not carry his Bill to a Second Reading, but will be satisfied with having brought what he considers this great grievance before the House.The natural meaning of that is that the noble Marquess, who had attacked my Bill pretty heavily, did not consider this a grievance.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My noble friend must not put words into my mouth. I said that he had brought forward a Bill to remedy what he considered a great grievance. I never stated that I did not consider it a grievance. Then the noble Earl was kind enough to say that the speech of mine which he quoted at considerable length was an attempt to bribe votes.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I hardly think that that is an accusation which my noble friend ought to throw across the House on an occasion of this sort. If the noble Earl wishes to make that accusation, let him have it so. I will leave it at that. Then the noble Earl said that Mr. Lloyd George had never made this announcement before. I beg the noble Earl's pardon. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had made the announcement before that he would remit—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
I have not got the quotation with me, but I know that he had made the announcement previously, and it was in order to verify it that I sent a telegram to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ask whether I might state that he had said so, and he answered "Yes." The statement had been made—I do not know whether it was made at Bedford—
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
My noble friend tells me that it was made to a deputation of Cornish farmers—
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
The deputation of Cornish farmers was received on February 26, but the noble Marquess's letter was written on January 31, and Mr. Lloyd George's reply was received on February 2.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
Then I think there is a mistake as to the occasion on which the announcement was made. But I telegraphed to verify the statement, and the statement was verified. As to the speech that I made, to which the noble Earl referred, I am not going to bother the House with that; but I say this—that every word that I uttered in that speech I stick to, and every word that I uttered in that speech I am satisfied is correct.
Now may I say a word on this Bill. The noble Earl says that I have never admitted that there was a grievance. What really the noble Earl means is that the practice of charging rents sufficient to cover the sinking fund is an injustice and ought to be remedied. But what originated this injustice, if it is an injustice? When I brought forward the Small Holdings Bill I had to encounter a great deal of opposition from the other side of the House. We are a very small body of men in this Liberal zareba, forty or fifty at the most, and we have to stand up to six hundred men on the other side of the House. It is an uncommonly difficult thing to get a Liberal Bill through the House of Lords. The only way to get the Bill of 1908 through was by making concessions and seeing what could be 386 done, and, of course, if there had been the smallest idea that there would have been any charge put upon the rates by that Bill, there would not have been a ghost of a chance of getting the Bill through.
There was a great demand all over England for small holdings. That was denied from the opposite side of the House. It was thrown in my teeth that a lot of correspondents, who had been put into their positions by the late Lord Onslow and were all of an advanced Tory type, were to a man dead against small holdings. The only way to get the Bill through, therefore, was to make it self-supporting, and not to give anybody a chance of saying that by any possibility could any charge be put on the taxes or rates; and on that account, and on that account only, was this injustice done. What was the result? The money was advanced at 3¾ per cent. by the Government—3½ per cent. was for the expenses and ¼ per cent. for the sinking fund. This ¼ per cent. is the injustice which is paraded by the noble Earl, who now comes forward as the great champion of the small holders. What help did he give me when I tried to get the Small Holdings Bill through this House? All he did was, in his own caustic way, to put every possible difficulty he could in the way during the Committee stage. The noble Earl was one of the first to get up and make difficulties. Now he comes forward and poses as a friend of the Act which he did nothing to further. He stands up in this House as a friend of the small holders and pretends that this is a monstrous injustice and that he is the St. George come to slay the Dragon.
THE EARL OF CAMPERDOWN
Can the noble Marquess tell me why, when I tried to get him out of this difficulty by my Bill of 1911, he opposed that Bill?
§ THE MARQUESS OF LINCOLNSHIRE
As the noble Earl has spoken in plain English, I will speak in plain English to him. His Bill of 1911 was a rotten Bill. I am not to-day going through all the objections to it, but if the noble Earl will this evening after dinner be good enough to read the speech that I made in 1911 in answer to his Bill he will see how absolutely useless a Bill it was. It was not in any way the sort of Bill which would have remedied the so-called injustice that 387 he desired to remedy. As I have said before, the small holders were only too pleased to get land under these conditions. It was not my idea. The idea had worked extremely well in London. I do not know whether the noble Earl has ever heard of the housing schemes that were initiated under the Progressive movement by the London County Council. I was chairman of the Housing Committee of the London County Council, and I got three great schemes through, costing some millions of money, at Norbury, at Totterdown Fields, and at Old Oak Common. There was a great demand for houses, and these houses were built for the people; but it was only done by bringing in this payment by the tenants of the sinking fund, which payment the noble Earl opposite holds up to execration and to ridicule.
A good deal of water has flown under the bridges since the Small Holdings Bill was introduced in 1907, and the time has arrived, as people are in favour of small holdings now, to remedy this injustice. But the remedy is not in these—I will not use any epithet—not in these Bills which the noble Earl keeps bringing before the House. The remedy of this so-called injustice is in the Government proposal to relieve the tenant of the obligation he is now under to pay this ¼ per cent. That will be the proper remedy, and I am sure it will be received, not as a bribe, but as a recognition that the principle of small holdings has at last been acknowledged by noble Lords opposite.
THE PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES (LORD LUCAS)
My Lords, before dealing with this Bill may I make one observation in regard to what has fallen from my noble friend behind me. I was responsible for prompting him to say that it was to a deputation of Cornish farmers that the Chancellor of the Exchequer first spoke about this question, but, as the noble Earl opposite has pointed out, I was entirely wrong with regard to that. That deputation was received at a subsequent date. I have since looked up the reference, and I find that there was a discussion on this subject in the House of Commons on February 16 of this year, in which Mr. Lloyd George said—The hon. Member has been good enough to refer to something that I said, and I think at any rate he might have given me notice or called my 388 attention to it. He read my telegram to High Wycombe. He seems to suggest that this is the first time I ever made that statement. On the contrary, when unfolding my scheme with regard to land weeks ago, I made that statement.And later the Chancellor of the Exchequer said—My own recollection is that I made the statement to my constituents in a speech which I delivered at the end of last year.I think it is quite plain from what has passed that the noble Earl opposite was under a misapprehension when he said that the Government had. not before the Wycombe election recognised the nature of the grievance borne by small holders with regard to their having to pay the sinking fund.
We have always admitted this grievance, especially in those cases where the combined interest and sinking fund on land and buildings and the charges for repairs and maintenance exceed, as they do in some cases under the Small Holdings Act, what may be considered to be the fair agricultural rent. I would like to distinguish between the sinking fund on land and the sinking fund on buildings. The grievance is entirely directed, or ought to be entirely directed, though I am not sure that it is—there is a great deal of confusion in people's minds on the subject— entirely against the sinking fund on land, which is not a very large sum—4s. 9d. per cent. The period of loan on buildings, in theory at any rate, is intended to represent the life of the buildings. Buildings arc a wasting security, and the sinking fund is intended to replace them when their life is at an end.
The difficulty has always been a great one with regard to the question of the sinking fund on land, and it has always been recognised as such. The question has been, not the recognition of it, but the method of dealing with it. We quite recognise that the noble Earl has brought forward one possible method of dealing with it. What the noble Earl in effect proposes is, where the tenant quits and has to be refunded the amount of the sinking fund by the county council, that in all those cases the sinking fund should be thrown on the rates. The noble Earl seems to think that there is a kind of sinking fund the payments for which will be made by the tenant and will accumulate as a fund and be repaid to the tenant 389 when he quits. But, as a matter of fact, the sinking fund will have to be paid to the Public Works Loans Commissioners, from whom the money has been obtained to purchase the land. Therefore there will be no existing fund out of which you can repay the tenant, and you will have to throw a burden upon the rates in order to be able to pay off the tenant. That has been the great difficulty with regard to the whole thing.
It has been insisted upon in this House and outside that in the normal working of this Act there should be thrown no burden on the rates. I entirely agree with what was said by my noble friend behind me, who had actual experience of administering the Act during its early years —that it would have been impossible to make any headway at all if you had thrown any charge on the rates. In fact, it was clearly understood—it was an undertaking that was given in this House— that the normal working of the Act should throw no burden on the rates and that the Act should be self-supporting. The term "self-supporting" has been interpreted in two ways. Most counties have taken it that in order to make the schemes self-supporting the sinking fund should be paid by the tenants. Two counties—the West Riding and Glamorganshire—have put a different interpretation upon it, and have paid the sinking fund on the land themselves out of the rates, regarding it as the proper way to pay for property which was in course of time to come into the hands of the county council. But that system has been confined to those two counties only, and there is no sign at the present moment of an inclination on the part of other county councils to put the sinking fund on their rates. In fact, a further obstacle to doing so has arisen. I refer to the decision of the Public Works Loans Commissioners to refuse to make loans unless the county council gave an undertaking that the rent should be sufficient to cover the sinking fund. That, coupled with the fact that the ratepayers quite naturally object to pay for benefits which do not accrue for eighty years, has kept the position as it was at the beginning practically unchanged.
I think nobody will deny that the fairest method is for county councils to pay this sinking fund. The land is going to be theirs at the end of the eighty years for 390 which the loan is made, and therefore they ought to pay for it. If we were dealing with this simply from the point of view of abstract justice, they should be made to pay at any rate in those cases where, owing to the inclusion of the sinking fund, the rent paid exceeds the fair agricultural rent; but, as a matter of fact, this would stop the working of the Act, and we are certainly not going to quarrel with county councils on this matter. On the contrary, our desire is to get them to increase the rate at which they are acquiring land for small holdings. It is the intention of the Government to make a subvention during the coming financial year in relief of the burdens of local authorities, and it is the view of the Government that it would be thoroughly in harmony with this policy to include the sinking fund upon land in this grant to those authorities who administer the Small Holdings Act. It may be necessary to ask for legislative sanction for this, and if, as is to be hoped, such a measure were to prove uncontroversial, it should be possible to make the first payment at the end of the financial year 1914–15.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, has left his place, as I wanted to condole with him on the position in which he stood just now, because it was quite clear to your Lordships that he and the Government which he represents had made a complete right-about-face on this question. The noble Marquess was called upon to explain it. His explanation was the usual one given by noble Lords opposite —that it was all our fault. It was all the fault of the wicked Unionist Party, who would certainly have opposed the beneficent Small Holdings Bill if the Government had recognised the grievance. But the Government always had recognised the grievance in their heart. They never doubted that this was a grievance, and the noble Lord who has just spoken for the Board of Agriculture repeated that they had always recognised the grievance. Well, it was very surprising that in the debate in 1911 that consciousness of the grievance was never allowed to appear.
I took the precaution, which I do not think was taken by the noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire—who, I am glad to see, has returned to his place—of reading the former debate before coming to your 391 Lordships' House this afternoon, and there is not a sign in either of the speeches of the noble Lords who represented the Government on that occasion that they recognised the grievance in the least. The noble Marquess, Lord Lincolnshire, spoke for the Board of Agriculture, and the noble and learned Viscount who is now on the Woolsack also spoke for his colleagues on the Front Bench. But neither of them found that there was any grievance. The noble Marquess proceeded to point out that my noble friend's remedy was impossible and wrong. Why, he said, the sinking fund would fall upon the rates! That was conclusive with the noble Marquess then. He could not endure that it should fall on public funds. Lord Lucas has explained to us to-day that it is going to fall on public funds, though not on the rates. Still, three years ago the noble Marquess thought it was very improper that it should fall on public funds. He went on to say that, after all, the small holder had not any particular grievance. He did not say it in exactly this language, but—
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Marquess's argument was that, after all, the small holder got something for this extra payment. He got more security.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
The noble Marquess assents to that. Then what comes of the grievance in the noble Marquess's opinion? There was not a sign of the existence of a grievance in the whole of the observations which he made in 1911. I will quote the noble Marquess's own words—The tenant under the county council has this great advantage. After all, it is only a matter of insurance. If a tenant is on the Carabas estate, the Marquess of Carabas may find it convenient, for reasons best known to himself, to put the property into the market—everybody knows how it is done and why it is done—and the unfortunate tenant finds himself within a very few months deprived not only of his livelihood but of his home. Tenants under a county council run no risk of that sort.And so the argument of the noble Marquess was that they were very legitimately and 392 properly charged something extra in return for that security. The noble Marquess shakes his head. He asked me to quote his language, and I have done so. He will notice that he did not say one word in his speech about there being a grievance. On the contrary, he brought forward argument after argument to show that the proposal of my noble friend was not founded on a just security, and he showed in the observations I have quoted that the tenant was getting something for which he paid and therefore there was no grievance.
Now the noble Marquess stands up and says that he always knew there was a grievance, and the Government also knew there was a grievance. The fact is that something has happened since to make him alter his view. What has happened? There was this tiresome by-election at Wick. It was so annoying when you had told all your late colleagues that you were certain to do well at the election and you were not quite so certain when the time came. Something had to be done. There must be tome remedy lest one should turn out to be a false prophet. "Well," says the noble Marquess, "it is very shocking that my noble friend should accuse any noble Lord in this House of desiring to bribe votes; I never would do' such a thing." But the noble Marquess certainly desired to induce voters to vote for the Liberal Party. I am sure he did. Why did he make the speech to which reference has been made? For any other reason? He thought that if he told them something which would put money into their pockets the voters would be more likely to vote for the Liberal Party. We do not call it bribery, but that is the kind of thing that is done in politics. It is sometimes a harbour; it is sometimes a little payment for sinking fund; but it is always made at the time of an election, and though it is not proper it is always with the object of getting votes.
The truth is that the Government have found out that this is a grievance, and whereas on the last occasion when my noble friend produced his Bill they criticised and opposed it, now I suppose they are going to bless it and let it go through. I am not quite certain, however, from the observations of Lord Lucas what their attitude towards the Bill is. But I am glad that your Lordships have had this opportunity of judging how the exigencies 393 of electioneering affect the strongest of Governments, and I hope that in the future they will not say, when we bring forward grievances of the agricultural interest, of which we in your Lordships' House know a great deal, that our arguments are not founded on fact, and that the grievances are not genuine ones. I think we ought to be very much obliged to my noble friend for having brought this Bill before the House, and even if this particular remedy may not be the best one I hope that some remedy will be applied.
THE LORD PRIVY SEAL AND SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INDIA (THE MARQUESS OF CREWE)
My Lords, the noble Marquess who has just sat down has devoted himself almost entirely to the question of the grievance which, by common admission, may be said to affect those small holders who find themselves paying sinking fund for the purpose of acquiring a holding, not for themselves, but for somebody else—to wit, the county council. I cannot say that I have followed the various discussions in this House on the subject very closely. I have not the faintest recollection, I confess, of the noble Earl's Bill of 1911. It is possible that I may have been absent from the House at that time. Anyhow, I have no recollection whatever of the debate. But I certainly can say this, that when the original Bill was introduced in 1908 it was fully realised, as it was bound to be realised, that any small holder who was paying a considerable rent was certain to regard this as a grievance; and I venture to say that we were all agreed that as a grievance it could not be disputed if he found himself paying the sinking fund, although the amount, as has been pointed out, in many cases is not in itself a large one. All of us who are acquainted with small holdings in those parts of England in which we live are aware that the sinking fund is regarded as a grievance and always has been since they have been instituted.
I do not think that it is possible for noble Lords opposite to quarrel with the accuracy of the account given by my noble friend behind me (Lord Lincolnshire) of the reason which prevented the Government in their legislation of 1908 from compelling the people to pay the sinking fund who obviously ought to pay it— namely, the ultimate possessors of the holding, the local authority. It is quite 394 evident that the opposition, not merely in this House but throughout the agricultural community generally, which would have been certain to be directed against a measure of which the principal effect was in many cases to cause an increase in the rates, was bound to be almost insuperable; and the conclusion which we reached was this, that it was impossible to deal with this particular grievance until we were in a position to deal with other grievances with which the rates are concerned. It would have been conceivable, no doubt, to make these particular payments out of Imperial funds. It would have been a possible thing to do; but it would have been regarded as a very small and poor tinkering with that great operation with rates which we have to admit—I, not without some humiliation, have to admit— is sadly belated, because I recollect a declaration which I made at this Table which it has been found impossible for His Majesty's Government as yet to fulfil. Therefore it was felt that the shouldering of this particular charge could only take place in one or two ways—either, while the sense of the undue burden of rates exists, it must be taken over by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; or the whole question of the burden of rates must be dealt with, in which case it is quite possible that this might be considered a reasonable charge for the local authority themselves to pay. How the adjustment will ultimately take place I am not in a position now to state, but it is bound to take place in one of those two ways; and it seems to me that the explanation which my noble friends have given of the reason why this grievance has been allowed to stand so far to the detriment of those who have small holdings is quite explicit, and it is one which I think the House may reasonably accept.
I do not wish to go into the whole question of the machinery of the Bill introduced by the noble Earl, and which we do not see our way to accept. It is obvious, of course, that this is one sign of the preference for land purchase as against land occupation which so many noble Lords entertain, and it is no doubt the hope of the noble Earl and many of his friends that this may lead in many cases to the turning of these small holders into peasant proprietors. The only observation I should make upon that and the particular terms of the Bill is this, that it is hardly to be supposed that a public authority 395 owning an estate of small holdings would agree to its estate being, so to speak, chess-boarded by the advent of tenant purchasers; that if it were going to sell it would like to sell in its own way and in the situation which it chooses, precisely as any one of us, if we were going to sell a small holding from any estate of ours, would probably greatly prefer to sell it on the edge rather than in the centre of the property. I cannot help thinking that any public authority would claim a similar right to that which a landlord would claim in such an instance. That, however, is the only point on which I desire to touch in the noble Earl's Bill. I merely rose in order to reply to the observations which were made by the noble Marquess opposite.
§ LORD CHANNING OF WELLING-BOROUGH
My Lords, I have not the slightest desire to claim any share in the crossing of swords which has taken place this afternoon. Lord Lincolnshire is more than capable of holding his own, and so is the noble Marquess opposite. I merely wish, as an old supporter of the expansion of small holdings who has followed all these questions very closely for many years and served on all the inquiries with regard to them, to say that I welcome in the warmest way the assurances we have received from Lord Lincolnshire, Lord Lucas, and the noble Marquess the Leader of the House that the question raised by the noble Earl opposite is now recognised as a real grievance which must be promptly dealt with. I do not want to reproach my friends in any way; but my noble friend Lord Lincolnshire knows that I was a pretty sharp critic of the Bill of 1907, and certainly that not specially well drafted Bill was found defective in two respects. There was one grave defect in not giving sufficient protection to tenant farmers by compensation when they were displaced in order to create small holdings. That defect was remedied by an Act passed by His Majesty's Government a year or two ago. But I do think that those of us who have interested ourselves in this question for many years have some reason to complain that His Majesty's Government have not been sufficiently prompt in dealing with this other grievance, which in my opinion is an inexcusable injustice which ought to have been remedied long ago. In view of the spirit in which the grievance has now been met by my noble friends on 396 this side of the House, I hope that His Majesty's Government will frankly accept the very practical and wise Bill of the noble Earl opposite.
I am one of those who have read the debate which took place in your Lordships' House on this Bill in 1911, and I do not attach conclusive weight to some of the arguments which were advanced against the Bill on that occasion. In my opinion this Bill goes right to the root of the matter here and now. That is its first merit. Its second merit is this, that it does give a further chance to the expansion of the principle of ownership. I voted for that principle in the Standing Committee on the Bill of 1907, and I have always held—I hold now more strongly than ever, after studying the question in New Zealand as well as in this country—that extension of the principle of ownership is a most desirable policy to adopt. The change from State tenancies in New Zealand to direct ownership in the last few years has not only improved the standard of farming but has helped to create a stalwart race of independent farmers there who were able to restore order last autumn when a general strike threatened the complete paralysis of commerce in New Zealand. The principle of ownership is one the merits of which some of my friends on the Liberal side do not recognise as fully as they ought. It is a principle of great importance; and although this Bill only opens a very small door in that direction, it does open a useful door. I have myself seen groups of small holdings, and I have not the dread of the chessboard policy to which the noble Marquess the Leader of the House alluded. I think that a leaven of ownership would be very valuable in the development of the standard of work in small holdings.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.