HL Deb 04 July 1916 vol 22 cc511-20

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)


My Lords, it is not my intention at this stage of the Bill to make any serious opposition to it, but I cannot help expressing my surprise that at the present time His Majesty's Government should have thought fit to bring in a measure of this kind, entailing a large expenditure of money, simply as an experiment. All municipalities and companies which require increased capital have the greatest difficulty in obtaining permission to get that money, which is needed to carry on what are in many cases very necessary works. Therefore it is, as I have said, surprising to me that His Majesty's Government should have brought in a Bill of this kind, which, so far as I have been able to learn from what has been said by noble Lords who have taken part in the debates upon it, is to cost at the least £300,000. I am certainly in favour of doing all that we can for the unfortunate men who come back from the war incapacitated; but when I look at the expenditure involved in this Bill, and the fact that it will deal with only something like 300 men in all, it does seem to me an extraordinary thing that your Lordships should be asked to pass a measure of this nature at the present time.

I heard with interest the speeches made at previous stages of the Bill regarding what is to be done with the men who come back from the war. In my opinion, most of the men who have been taken from the industries of the country, and whose withdrawal has led to our industries suffering seriously, will return to those industries—it would be a great misfortune if they did not—and with regard to the land, so far as my experience in Northumberland and Durham goes, I am satisfied that there will be no lack of employment on the land for experienced men. It is little use putting men on the land who have not had agricultural experience. Many people seem to think that anyone can cultivate land with advantage. But my experience leads me to the conviction that it requires just as much expert knowledge to deal with land as to deal with any other industry; and if you place men on the land who are not competent to deal with it, you may rest assured that the scheme will be a failure.

My noble friend Lord Sheffield, in the course of the Second Reading debate, protested against this as a very bad Bill. I agree with him in the main. The principle undoubtedly is a good one—to provide for men who return from the war and to get more men on to the land; but I do not think this is the best means of doing that. I have some striking cases in my own experience, where men have started with small holdings and by degrees have got those small holdings up to large ones. In my judgment, our present system of land occupation is as good a system as we are likely to get from any legislation. It is a sort of graduation enabling small tenants to become larger tenants, and eventually to become large farmers; and that is the class of man who, in my experience, has been most successful on the land.

I was astonished, looking at the statistics the other day, to see the number of small holdings that there are in this country. From the statistics of 1915, which take no account of mountain and heath lands, it appears that there are 90,000 holdings of from 1 to 5 acres, 120,000 of from 5 to 20 acres, 78,000 of from 20 to 50 acres, 59,000 of from 50 to 100 acres, and 32,000 from 103 to 150 acres. These are what I consider small holdings, and they represent no less than 12,580,000 acres. Surely, with so many small holdings as this His Majesty's Government might have had an opportunity of testing the value of co-operation without spending £300,000 to create a colony. I had a property in Wales some time ago where the average size of the holdings was 100 acres. We had the co-operative system there, but it applied only to purchases. The men co-operated to purchase their manures, lime, coal, and things of that kind, but they would not co-operate to sell their produce; and I am afraid that if you do not have compulsion there will be considerable difficulty in getting the small-holders on the colonies proposed to be set up under this Bill to agree to the sale of their produce by other people. Co-operation is a good thing, and I would like; to see it tried; but there are many opportunities of trying it without going to the great expenditure proposed in this Bill.

Now, have small holdings been a success in this country? I had hoped to hear from the noble Earl who introduced this Bill (Lord Selborne) figures with regard to the great success of the small holdings which had already been established. I know the small holdings in Northumberland and Durham, and I cannot say that they are a success. The country has spent over £5,250,000 on small holdings. I admit that there may be exceptions, but if you take them as a whole I do not think that the Small Holdings Acts have been a success. This Bill appears to be an experiment, I presume in the hope that the proposed small holding colonies may possibly lead to success. I am doubtful about that. In the discussions that have taken place I have heard noble Lords say that one of the objects principally aimed at is to increase the produce from the land. I do not pretend to be so experienced regarding this as many noble Lords, but so far as my experience goes I have found that the largest produce in proportion comes from the large farms. Small farms do not produce anything like so much per acre as do large farms. I am sure that this small experiment will be a failure. The principle to which I have referred is the same in every industry in the country. Small shops have disappeared owing to the larger shops; small ships have disappeared owing to the larger ships; small collieries have disappeared owing to the larger collieries. The same principle obtains with regard to farms. You will find that the large farms can produce more per acre because the large farmer has more capital, has a better knowledge of his business, and can work his land to greater advantage. I am therefore not in favour of small holdings for ordinary agricultural produce. You may, however, change the produce. You may have poultry; you may grow vegetables; but that is not an ordinary agricultural holding. It is a specialised condition of things, and it is only those people who have knowledge of these special things who are likely to succeed in connection with them.

This Bill involves a very large expenditure. I have heard the sum of £1,000 mentioned as the estimated amount required for a small holding. My noble friend Lord Grey, speaking on the Second Reading of this Bill, expressed the wish to see the number of small holdings largely increased. He alluded to Canada, where men who had been fighting in the South African War had received grants of land. I do not know what may have been my noble friend's experience, but my experience, so far as Canada is concerned, is that a large portion of the men who had grants of land have since sold their land and gone into the towns. It is no use giving land to people who do not desire it. That is clear from the experience in Canada and in other Colonies.

I see, further, that the scheme under this Bill is to be controlled by the Board of Agriculture. I am not in favour of any industries being controlled by Government Departments. My experience of departmental control is that Government Departments harass industries. They deal with questions which they very often do not understand; and I doubt, indeed, whether any Government Department has ever given real assistance to the industries of the country. My experience is that our industries have been developed and made successful by the individual efforts of the men who controlled and managed them. Government Departments make all kinds of regulations which hamper and restrict the operation of those people who have possession of the various industries; and I feel quite sure that when the Board of Agriculture come to deal with these small holdings they will act very much on the same principle, and that instead of being an advantage it will be a disadvantage to have this scheme controlled by the Board.

I was rather surprised to find that His Majesty's Government propose in this Bill to buy the holdings and to make the State the owners of them. I look with considerable suspicion upon that proposal, particularly when my noble friend Lord Grey says that we shall eventually have 250,000 small-holders instead of the 300 to be accommodated under this Bill. If you create a further 250,000 small-holders on the principle contained in this Bill, it will mean an expenditure of £250,000,000. Are you going to sanction a great scheme for the expenditure of public money to enable the State to become the owners of the land? I think it is a very dangerous proposition to enter upon. We hear a lot of talk about nationalising this and that. Many people seem to want to nationalise everything they do not themselves possess. I think it is a dangerous step, and I regard with some degree of anxiety and surprise the bringing in by the Coalition Government of a Bill of this description. I find, however, that it has not been the custom for your Lordships to reject a Bill on Third Reading, and therefore I have not moved the rejection of this measure; but I have such an objection to it—I think it is a dangerous Bill and one which is economically unsound—that I have felt compelled to enter my protest against it before it leaves your Lordships' House.


My Lords, one interesting feature of the debates on this Bill has been two speeches from noble Lords sitting on this side of the House and owning allegiance to my noble friend the Leader of the House. Lord Sheffield, on the Second Reading of the Bill, made a speech which was an interesting reminiscence of the tenets of the Manchester school in the 'forties. Now the noble Lord who has just sat down has made a speech which I should imagine the Daily News and the Daily Chronicle would associate with the Toryism with which they would taunt me. But I do not hold the noble Lord's views. I am afraid that he has left me far behind in the principles of Conservatism. Let me briefly touch on some points that he has raised. He says that the minimum cost of these small holding colonies is to be £300,000.


Judging from what has been said in the course of the debates.


If the noble Lord had conducted his business on that principle I am afraid he would not have achieved that success on which we all congratulate him and for which he is famous, because he has substituted the word "minimum" for the word "maximum." The sum of £300,000 was the maximum cost to which this scheme was to run. The noble Lord will be relieved when I tell him that, with the assistance of Captain Bathurst and my colleagues at the Board of Agriculture—before I had to resign the position of President of the Board—we had already secured two of these colonies without purchase; that is to say, there will be no capital expenditure for the land. We are getting them on a very long lease; so that the £300,000, which was always a maximum, has now begun rapidly to dwindle.

In the second place, the noble Lord said that I had not, in my speech in moving the Second Reading of this Bill [on May 25], brought forward any statistics to show that small holdings had been a success. I regret that the noble Lord either did not hear me or did not understand me, because what he has said necessitates that I should repeat the figures which I then gave. I said that under the Bill introduced by a Conservative Government many years ago, and under the Bill introduced by the noble Marquess who sits on that Bench, nearly £6,000,000 had been spent on the creation of small holdings, dealing with something over 200,000 acres, and placing on the land 15,000 small-holders. I stated that this had been such a success that out of all the schemes of all the county councils throughout the whole of England and Wales there had been only four deficiencies. Of those four deficiencies, one (in Norfolk) was caused by the bursting of the banks of a river which laid the land, not only of the small-holders but thousands of acres of the land of big farmers, under water for many weeks; and another (in my own county) was caused by a waterspout that literally swept the whole of the soil off a certain area, including the area occupied by the small holdings, into Porchester Creek. Those accidents could not possibly be ascribed to any fault in the scheme or in the Act. In the two remaining cases the deficiencies might fairl[...] attributed either to extravagance of management or to bad judgment, but in both cases they were very small. The fact remains that the State and the county councils have invested £6,000,000 in the creation of small holdings, with no loss to the public at all; and therefore the economic success of the small holdings policy is, I submit, already proved.

What I set out to do, with the assistance of my colleagues, was to try by this experiment, which the Cabinet sanctioned, to put the small holdings policy on a still better foundation. The noble Lord said that the more small holdings the less produce from the soil. I am not prepared to accept that dictum as a fact. But I do not put forward small holdings mainly or principally on the ground of an increase in production from the soil. I do not think they entail any diminution, and where intensive culture replaces extensive culture they certainly imply an increase of produce. But what I do base them on is this, that there is no more urgent political or social necessity in England to-day than to increase the rural population. I put that before all the schemes which the noble Lord mentioned. There is nothing which any municipality can desire money for, nothing that any corporation may contemplate in the way of public improvement, which is so urgent as the increase of the number of men and women and children who live on the rural land of England. And if I did not believe—as I do believe—that this will be a useful and successful experiment economically, I should still think it worth trying because of the paramount and overshadowing importance of that great national question.

I have only one further word to say. As I have explained previously, this is not a part of the demobilisation plans of the Government; but so far as it does go, this experiment is to be utilised to assist in settling on the land the seamen and the soldiers who have saved our nation. When I first spoke to your Lordships on the subject of this Bill I had not the information with me that I have now. Sir Douglas Haig very kindly undertook to make inquiry on this matter from several Divisions at the Front when they were resting from the trenches. Every man in those Divisions was asked whether he contemplated, after leaving the Army, settling on the land. A great number of men said they had no such idea in their mind; a certain number said they had not thought about it; but the number of men who answered quite definitely that they did mean to settle on the land, if they got the chance, somewhere in the Empire, was far larger than I had anticipated. The question which the noble Lord has to face is this. Are we to tell these men, "You may go to Canada, you may go to Australia, you may go to South Africa, but in your native country the Government of the day will do nothing to help you"? I should, indeed, be sorry if this House followed the lead of the noble Lord and let it go forth to the Army that not only had we no sympathy with an increase of the rural population but that we would try no experiment, and raise not a penny of public money, in order to assist some of these men to settle on the land which they have saved.


My Lords, I venture to express my hearty approval of what the noble Earl has just said about small holdings. Perhaps I have some little authority to speak on this matter, as I have from 2,000 to 3,000 acres under small holdings and small farms. With regard to what the noble Earl said about increasing the population and the produce of the land, I can give your Lordships two instances. The first is of a large farm of 500 acres, which was cut up and four farms created. There is now treble the population employed on that area, and the produce has more than trebled also. The second case is that of a farm of 200 acres, which was equally cut up. There is now milked on half of the acreage twice as many cows as the larger farmer kept.

My quarrel with the Board of Agriculture's proposal is that the Board have given this House very little information as to how they propose to deal with the creation of these small holding colonies. I quite agree with their proposal with regard to market gardens. But with regard to the creation of small farms, I think that one mistake they have made is in under-estimating the cost. I agree with Mr. John Burns that what we want to do is to build cottages which will be a pleasure to the owners. We do not want to build a lot of barracks at a cost of £200 apiece; and I venture to state that no cottage can be built in these days at a cost of under £300. Yet in the Report of the Departmental Committee I notice that the sum of £200 is stated. Then, again, there is the cost of farm buildings. I have spent £20,000 on the creation of small holdings during the last few years, and I can state with confidence that you cannot erect farm buildings for a holding of fifty acres at a less cost than £200. Together with the house, and the drains, roads, and fencing, I estimate that the cost of creating a small holding of fifty acres cannot be less than £600. Therefore the figures in the Committee's Report ought, in my opinion, to be amended.

I agree with the noble Karl who has just spoken that there is a great future for small holdings in this country, more especially in the case of land near our large centres of population. There are to-day hundreds and hundreds of large farms running right into the large towns which could and should be cut up into smaller farms, because there is a strong demand by a large number of efficient and able men who would be only too glad to take these farms; and the net result would be an increase in the rent to the landowner, an enormous increase in the agricultural population on the area, and, consequently, an increase in the amount of rates paid to the locality, and in the amount of Income Tax paid to the Exchequer.


My Lords, after what fell from my noble friend Lord Selborne it is only necessary for me to say a very few words in finally commending this Bill to your Lordships. I also felt, as he did, that Lord Joicey took a somewhat needlessly gloomy view of the Bill itself and also of the possibilities of increasing the number of smaller farms and small holdings in this country. It is, of course, perfectly true that our system in relation to certain kinds of farming is not likely, and ought not, to be superseded by the creation of small holdings. Speaking broadly, sheep farming, whether on hills or on downs, or on what are known as turnip and barley farms, is never likely to be carried on by a system of small holdings. But that does not, of course, preclude the fact that there are a great number of branches of farming, some of the most interesting and the most lucrative, which can unquestionably be carried on quite as well, and in some cases better, on the smaller class of holdings.

As regards co-operation, my noble friend (Lord Joicey), speaking from his own experience in Wales, pointed out that although farmers generally are not averse to a system of co-operative supply, yet it has not been easy to bring them either to a system of co-operative labour or of co-operative distribution. That is quite true. We all know that the farmers of Great Britain are not easy people to move into new paths, but that surely is no reason for not trying. And knowing what co-operation in all its branches is able to do in other countries, how farming is intensified by it, how production is increased and how profits are made, it surely is wise not to neglect an experiment such as this.

I am sure the House recognises what my noble friend (Lord Selborne) all through has enforced—that this is an experimental measure, and that the particular series of projects which it is intended to carry out have, as a matter of fact, not been tried under any of the previous measures for the encouragement of small holdings which have passed through Parliament. That, again, is surely a further reason for not neglecting an experiment of this kind, which can be undertaken, as my noble friend has pointed out, at a quite moderate cost in the first instance. My noble friend opposite, Lord Harrowby, whose experience in these matters I fully recognise because I have had occasion to know something of what he has done in his own county in the encouragement of small holdings, gives us a word of wise caution as to the possibility of the experiments costing more than the Board of Agriculture have been disposed to believe. That is no doubt a matter which is not to be lost sight of, particularly in view of the express desire and intention of my noble friend that these schemes should, to the utmost extent possible, be self-supporting. Personally I do not hesitate to say that close attention ought to be paid to such cautions as those made by Lord Harrowby. But all that only further points, I venture to think, to the desirability of making the experiment, and also of recognising that it is an experiment. Without troubling your Lordships more, I will merely congratulate my noble friend on the fact that, with the two notable exceptions to which he drew attention—of my two noble friends who sit on this side of the House—the reception of the Bill has been thoroughly favourable by your Lordships' House, which is so competent to form an opinion upon it.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.