HL Deb 29 June 1916 vol 22 cc450-61

Order of the Day for receiving the Report of Amendments, read.

Moved, That this Report be now received.—(The Marquess of Crewe.)


On this Motion I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the Question which stands in my name on the Paper—namely, whether they would favour any scheme of education in the agricultural colleges of discharged soldiers and sailors about to become settlers on the land. This is a very simple question, but during the progress of this Bill through Committee there was no opportunity of discussing it. As far as I understood, the noble Earl who was then in charge of the Bill appeared to consider that the directors of the different colonies would, through their assistants, be able to give sufficient instruction so that ex-Service men who had not had agricultural experience might become competent to manage their own holdings. That is my first reason for asking this question now. Secondly, I wish to call the attention of my noble friend the Leader of the House, who is now in charge of the Bill, to the fact that this plan of putting ex-soldiers and sailors who are about to become settlers on the land into agricultural colleges is at present being carried out by the French Government. I hold in my hand a Report by Mr. Arnold Ward, M.P., who is the agent of the Serbian Relief Fund, as to the treatment of the Serbian refugees who are employed in farm work in the French colony of Algeria. Mr. Ward, in this Report, says— It is the intention of the French authorities here that work shall be found for all the refugees (Government officials, those who have private means, and incapables accepted), and in the meantime the refugees are placed in Government agricultural colleges. For a large number, work on farms and in factories, &c., has already been found, and for these further relief work will hardly be necessary. The French authorities only regard the placing of refugees in agricultural colleges as a temporary measure, and they are gradually and continually transferring the refugees to employment in different parts. The number of refugees in agricultural colleges at the present time is 460. We shall be doing a great work if we can settle on the land a large number of the soldiers and sailors who will be left on our hands at the conclusion of the war. Some of these men may have knowledge of agricultural work, but many certainly will not, and unless they are instructed in agricultural operations it will be almost a farce to put them on the land. I have been in communication with the Reading Agricultural College, and I know that they would be willing to give every facility in their power in the direction I suggest; and it must be remembered that in agricultural colleges there are opportunities of instruction—by lectures, experiments, and in other ways—not open to the directors of these small holding colonies, who will be limited to their own areas. I venture to think that it will be a hard measure if we are to say to the great number of ex-soldiers and sailors who have had no agricultural experience but who wish to go on the land that they are to be excluded from this colonisation scheme. Therefore I hope that my noble friend the Leader of the House will be able to give a satisfactory and sympathetic reply.


My Lords, I must first express my regret that it falls to me instead of to my noble friend the recent President of the Board of Agriculture to reply to the noble Lord's Question. My noble friend behind me (Lord Haversham) will no doubt remember that in the autumn of last year there appeared in the Press a Notice issued by the Board of Agriculture on this subject. I need not read the whole of the Notice, but it was to the effect that, as the result of an Inquiry by a Departmental Committee of the Board, an Interim Report had been presented recommending that fifty men discharged from the Army or Navy owing to disablement should be given a course of training at agricultural colleges; and two colleges were mentioned—the Harper Adams College at Newport, in Shropshire, and the Holmes Chapel College, in Cheshire. The idea was, as my noble friend has pointed out, that they should be trained in the elements of agricultural knowledge with a view to their obtaining permanent employment on the land. The training was to be given free of charge, and the men were to be provided with board and lodging for a terra of about twelve weeks; and at the end of the twelve weeks, if it was found that a man showed particular aptitude for the work, there was power taken to extend the term for a further course. I have heard privately at Holmes Chapel College, which is not far from where I live, that the experiment met with no small success, and I have no doubt that so far as possible the Board of Agriculture will be glad to extend the experiment, which was tried on quite a small scale, still further.

The Board is now, I am informed, in communication with the War Office in trying to devise a scheme by which facilities may be provided for partially disabled men obtaining some instruction in agricultural work before their discharge from the Army. The belief is that there are a number of men who might like to spend, and who could profitably spend, some part of their time of convalescence in this manner. The result, it is hoped, would be to start an interest in the minds of these men in work on the land, so that they might favour the idea of taking up work on the land when the time comes for them to receive their final discharge. I think this is a desirable thing, because—as my noble friend has pointed out on previous occasions—not much is known at present, although attempts have been made to discover, to what extent discharged or time-expired men will, when a large number of them leave the Army, desire to undertake work on the land. Diametrically opposite views are held by people most competent to judge of the probability that large numbers, or on the other hand, that small numbers, of men may desire to undertake an agricultural life. I am speaking, of course, principally of those who have not been on the land before. It may be assumed that a considerable proportion of those who had worked on the land may desire to do so again. But the question at issue is how far men who have been of urban habit before they joined the Army but have since led an open-air life will desire to continue a life of that kind rather than return to town conditions; and it is thought—I believe wisely thought—that a multiplication of experiments of this kind will give a chance of showing roughly what number of disabled men, or of men to be finally discharged, are likely to desire to undertake this different kind of work. I can assure my noble friend that we all regard with great sympathy the extension of the experiment such as he suggests.


My Lords, I am glad to hear from the noble Marquess that this question of discharging partially disabled men as quickly as possible in order to enable them to work on the land is being considered. This is one of the great grievances which farmers have. We sec partially disabled man retained in barracks and doing no work at all. If we could get these men sent on to the land, especially just now with the hay harvest coming on, it would be a great advantage. I have been to the Board of Agriculture, but they say that it is a question for the War Office. I have ascertained that the military side of the War Office are in favour of the course suggested, but not so the medical side. If the noble Marquess could persuade the medical side of the War Office to let these men go, it would be a great advantage to agriculture.


My Lords, as the noble Earl below the gangway opposite (Lord Selborne) knows, we have been doing our best lately to come to some satisfactory arrangement by which these men shall be discharged from the Army for civil work, but the great difficulty is the getting of competent medical officers for the purpose of examining the men and giving them their medical discharge. The Adjutant-General is doing everything he possibly can to facilitate the rapid discharge of these men, and he is in hopes that within the next week or two there may be a perceptible number released from their Army engagement for civil life.


As the noble Earl opposite has referred to me, I should like to endorse what he has said. His attitude has always been sympathetic, and Lord Kitchener was also sympathetic to the idea. I have pressed all I possibly could the double advantage both to the Army and to the nation of releasing these men for service on the land, but the settlement has stuck somewhere in the War Office most mysteriously; and the noble Earl who has just spoken would be adding one more to the many services he has rendered to the country if he would see that the obstruction is removed.

On Question, Report of Amendments received.

Clause 1:

Power of Board to acquire land for small holding colonies.

1.—(1) During the continuance of the present war, and a period of twelve months thereafter, the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries (in this Act referred to as "the Board") for the purpose of providing experimental small holding colonies may, with the consent of the Treasury, acquire by agreement any land which, in the opinion of the Board, is suitable for that purpose:

Provided that whore the Board, or a landlord at the request of the Board, terminates a tenancy of land by notice to quit with a view to the use of the land or any part thereof by the Board for the provision of small holdings under this Act, the tenant upon quitting shall be entitled to recover from the Board compensation for the loss or expense directly attributable to the quitting which the tenant may unavoidably incur upon or in connection with the sale or removal of his household goods or his implements of husbandly, produce, or farm stock on or used in connection with the land.

Provided that the total area of the land for the time being acquired by the Board for the purposes of this section shall not at any time exceed six thousand acres, and that in the selection of persons to be settled on the land so acquired the Board shall give preference to persons who have served in the naval or military forces of the Crown in the present war.

(2) For the purpose of the acquisition of land by agreement under this Act, the Lands Clauses Acts shall be incorporated with this Act except the provisions of those Acts with respect to the purchase and taking of land otherwise than by agreement and the provisions relating to the sale of superfluous land.

(3) Where a labourer, who has been regularly employed on any land acquired by the Board for the purposes of this Act, proves to the satisfaction of the Board that the effect of the acquisition was to deprive him of his employment, and that there was no employment of an equally beneficial character available to him in the same locality, the Board may pay to him such compensation as they think just for his loss of employment or for his expenses in moving to another locality, and any sum so paid shall be treated as part of the expenses of the acquisition of the land.


The first is a drafting Amendment. It is to leave out "Provided that" at the beginning of the second paragraph of subsection (1).

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out ("Provided that").—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The words which I propose to insert after the word "quit" [in the second paragraph of subsection (1)] are suggested because it is possible that some notices might have been given before this Bill had passed. I have no reason to suppose that they have been given, certainly not on a large scale, but as it is possible that a notice might have been given, it is desirable, from abundance of caution, to insert these words.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, line 13, after ("quit") insert ("whether given before or after the passing of this Act").—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The effect of the next Amendment is to meet the desire expressed by the noble Lord opposite, Lord Strachie—as to which he moved an Amendment in Committee, but did not press it on the representation of my noble friend Lord Selborne—that the compensation awarded by Section I of the Small Holdings Act of 1910 should be obtainable by tenants who are disturbed under this Bill. My noble friend Lord Selborne promised to move words which would carry out the intention of the noble Lord opposite, but he preferred to insert them in a form explaining precisely what is to be enacted rather than by reference, as was suggested by the noble Lord.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 1, after line 21, insert:

" Provided that no compensation shall be payable under this subsection:

  1. "(a) unless the tenant has given to the Board a reasonable opportunity of making a valuation of such goods, implements, produce, and stock as aforesaid; or
  2. "(b) if the claim for compensation is not made within three months after the time at which the tenant quits;
and in the event of any difference arising as to any matter under this subsection, the difference shall, in default of agreement, be settled by a single arbitrator in accordance with the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908:

" Provided also that compensation under the Agricultural Holdings Act, 1914, shall not be payable in any case to which this subsection applies."—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The leaving out of the words "Provided that" [at the beginning of the third paragraph of subsection (1)], as proposed in the next Amendment standing in my name, turns this into a substantial enactment in the Bill instead of a proviso.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 2, line 1, leave out ("Provided that").—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The next is a consequential drafting Amendment.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 2, line 3, leave out ("that").—(The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I desire to ask the Government whether they will not reconsider the decision taken by Lord Selborne as regards the question of compensation to agricultural labourers. The late President of the Board of Agriculture based his refusal to give compensation as a right to labourers on the Act of 1908. That Act, it is true, only gives county councils permissive power to grant compensation to agricultural labourers. It is equally true to say that in the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908, which was not a very strong measure and was practically, except for details, an agreed Bill in another place, there was no clause to compensate farmers or agricultural labourers. But pressure was put upon Mr. Harcourt, and in the Standing Committee in another place a permissive clause was brought up giving power to county councils, if they thought fit, to compensate agricultural labourers where they lost their employment and their homes owing to the provision of small holdings by the county council. But that provision was considered—I think rightly—to be not nearly strong enough, and a Conservative Member, Mr. Carlile, moved an Amendment in the Standing Committee to do exactly what I am trying to do to-day—namely, to turn "may" into "shall"; but after a short discussion that Amendment was negatived. It was the intention of those who believed that labourers ought to have compensation as a matter of right to move on the Report stage a similar Amendment to that moved in Standing Committee by Mr. Carlile, but it so happened that the particular clause was guillotined and it was impossible to move that Amendment. Therefore this question has never been decided one way or the other in another place, although those who were interested, whether they sat on the Liberal or on the Conservative side of the House, were most anxious to give this statutory right to agricultural labourers.

I hope the noble Marquess now in charge of the Bill has reconsidered the refusal of Lord Selborne to accept this Amendment, that refusal having been based on the principle that as compensation was not given as a right to labourers under the Act of 1908 they ought not to be given compensation as of right under this Bill. I cannot say that this argument appears to me at all a substantial one, and I shall be interested to hear how the noble Marquess justifies refusing to do something in 1916 because it was not done in 1908. The grievance of the labourers will be very great indeed if the Government refuse this Amendment. This Bill is more drastic than the Agricultural Holdings Act of 1908 as regards the way in which land is taken. It is true that very little friction and trouble has arisen out of the Small Holdings Act as administered by the county councils, but this Bill is not to be administered by local bodies but from Whitehall, which is a very different thing. And in the case of this Bill you are going to take a block of 2,500 acres, to entirely denude that area of its present population, and therefore it is certain that a large number of labourers will be displaced. Although this Amendment gives a statutory right to labourers to receive compensation, they will have to prove that they have lost their employment through the land being taken for small holdings. The question of any abuse is most carefully safeguarded. I submit that in the case of a measure of this far-reaching nature it is only fair that those who are affected by it should receive compensation as a right.

In this Bill as introduced the Government had neither provided protection for farmers who were turned out of their holdings, nor for agricultural labourers who lost their employment through the provision of small holdings; but the noble Earl, in Committee, accepted an Amendment giving a statutory right to farmers to receive compensation if they are displaced. If it is fair to give an absolute right to the farmer to receive compensation, is it not equally fair to give the same right to the agricultural labourer, and not let the labourer be dependent on the good will of the Board of Agriculture for the time being as to whether or not he gets compensation? This is not a personal Amendment. I am moving it at the request of the Parliamentary Committee of the Central Chamber of Agriculture. That body is entirely composed of farmers; yet they impressed upon me that they were just as anxious that compensation should be paid as a statutory right to the labourers as that it should be so paid to themselves. I venture to hope that the noble Marquess the Lord President will carefully consider the matter before he refuses to comply with the request of the Central Chamber of Agriculture.

If this Amendment is refused by the Government in this House, it will be moved in another place on behalf of the Central Chamber of Agriculture; and I venture to ask the noble Marquess whether the Government mean to instruct Mr. Acland to refuse in the House of Commons to do what I contend is a mere act of justice to agricultural labourers. And if Mr. Acland, on behalf of the Government, does refuse this act of justice, the House of Commons, I am confident, will not support him. We shall then be in the extraordinary position of this Amendment being inserted in the House of Commons, and of this House being asked to stultify itself, having refused to do justice to agricultural labourers here, by having to do so at the instance of the other House. But I hope that this course will not be necessary, and that the Government will be prepared in this House to give to agricultural labourers similar justice to that extended to farmers. If the Amendment is not accepted I shall feel compelled to divide upon it, as this is a matter upon which the Central Chamber of Agriculture feel very strongly.

Amendment moved— Clause 1, page 2, subsection (3), line 17, leave out ("may") ["the Board may"] and insert ("shall").—(Lord Strachie.)


My Lords, I desire to support the noble Lord's Amendment, and I do so for this reason—that it seems very unjust that what is done for the tenant farmer, who is much better able to protect himself than the agricultural labourer, should not be done for the agricultural labourer. Having come so recently from the other House, I am quite satisfied, having some knowledge of the feeling there, that if this Amendment is not put into the Bill here it will certainly be inserted in the other House; and I think it would ill become your Lordships' House that the Lower House should be looked upon as the sole champions of the rights of agricultural labourers, seeing that so many members of your Lordships' House are deeply and closely connected with and interested in agriculture. I hope the noble Marquess who leads the House will take the same view and agree to the Amendment.


My Lords, the noble Lord opposite has stated forcibly and with deep conviction his belief in the need for the insertion of the word "shall" instead of the word "may." Your Lordships are exceedingly familiar with contests as to whether the word "may" or "shall" should be inserted in Acts of Parliament, and in a great many cases it has been, I think, shown to the satisfaction of the House that the effect of the substitution of one word for the other is not in reality great. But perhaps I might be allowed to protest against the assumption which has been made by both noble Lords that either His Majesty's Government or your Lordships' House can be regarded as in any way indifferent to the lot of the labourer who is dispossessed by these means, or that we would not do anything that we properly could to secure and safeguard him.

I would ask your Lordships to look for a moment at the wording of the subsection. Where a labourer is able to show that he has been deprived of his employment, the subsection runs— the Board may pay to him Such compensation as they think just for his loss of employment. The noble Lord wants to make it "shall" instead of "may." I should have thought that the real force of the words lay rather in the phrase "such compensation as they think just" rather than in the question of whether "may" or "shall" should be the word used.


Hear, hear.


If the words "such compensation as they think just" are retained, in the opinion of the Board the justice of the case might be satisfied by the payment of the sum, say, of one farthing to the dispossessed labourer.

It would almost appear that the noble Lord demands that the labourer should be put in the same position as the farmer in these circumstances—namely, that it should be a matter of arbitration, and not for the judgment of the Board, whether or not the labourer should be compensated—and that is a change which the Board of Agriculture are not prepared to make. They are not prepared, for reasons which I think the House will consider sufficient, to place the dispossessed labourer who loses his employment in precisely the same position as regards compensation by arbitration as the tenant farmer, the whole tenor of whose life is changed by his being dispossessed of his land, is placed in by this Bill. Nor do I think the noble Lord opposite can quite ignore the effect upon those whose interests are affected by the Act of 1908 if he desires to make the change in this particular Bill and to leave the labourers under the 1908 Act in the position in which they now stand.

I am afraid I cannot agree with my noble friend opposite that, whereas all county councils and the small holdings committees of the county councils can be trusted to give liberal compensation to dispossessed labourers, the Board of Agriculture cannot. The noble Lord himself lives in an agricultural county, and it is very likely that in his case, and in certain other cases, the small holdings committee may be highly sympathetic and desirous of giving such compensation, but I should be sorry to say that of all county councils or of all small holdings committees in every county in England. Were I a labourer who was about to lose my employment, I think I would sooner have been placed under the tender mercies of my noble friend below the gangway (Lord Selborne) than under those of some small holdings committees. Therefore from that I deduce that if this change were now to be made there would be loud complaints, and a demand, which it would be exceedingly hard to resist, to place all labourers affected by the earlier Act in the same position.

I cannot believe that the mere substitution of "shall" for "may" in this clause would in the first place have the effect which the noble Lord opposite desires, for the reason I have stated—that the amount of compensation still rests in the complete discretion of the Board of Agriculture; nor, even if it had that effect, do I think it is needed; nor, in view of the fact that by the existing Acts labourers have as a matter of fact received compensation, as I believe, where it is demanded, can I think that a hardship is likely to result to labourers in this case. I therefore hope that my noble friend will think better of it and not press his Amendment.

On Question, whether the word ("may") shall stand part of the clause?

Their Lordships divided:—Contents, 55; Not-Contents, 15.

Buckmaster, L. (L. Chancellor.) Lauderdale, E. Harlech, L.
Crewe, M. (L. President.) Mar and Kellie, E. Haversham, L.
Powis, E. Hylton, L.
Argyll, D. Russell, E. Kinnaird, E.
Devonshire, D. [Teller.] Selborne, E. Leith of Fyvie, L.
Westmeath, E. Ludlow, L.
Lansdowne, M. MacDonnell, L.
Salisbury, M. Allendale, V. Oranmore and Browne, L.
Falkland, V. Pirrie, L.
Albemarle, E. Farquhar, L. (L. Steward.) Rathdonnell, L.
Beauchamp, E. Sandhurst, E. (L. Chamberlain.) Reay, L.
Brassey, E. Armstrong, L. Revelstoke, L.
Camperdown, E. Ashton of Hyde, L. Stanmore, L. [Teller.]
Chesterfield, E. Beresford of Metemmeh, L. Sudeley, L.
Coventry, E. Blyth, L. Sudley, L. (E. Arran.)
Cromer, E. Brodrick, L. (V. Midleton.) Suffield, L.
Derby, E. Chaworth, L. (E. Meath.) Sumner, L.
Eldon, E. Colebrooke, L. Wimborne, L.
Fortescue, E. Elphinstone, L. Wrenbury, L.
Harrowby, E. Faringdon, L.
Rutland, D. Elibank, V. Kenry, L. (E. Dunraven and Mount-Earl.)
Peel, V.
Rathcreedan, L. [Teller.]
St. Audries, L.
Lichfield, E. Channing of Wellingborough, L. St. Davids, L.
Mar, E. Harris, L. Strachie, L. [Teller.]
Mayo, E. Joicey, L. Weardale, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 10:

Application to Scotland.

10. This Act shall apply to Scotland, subject to the following modifications:—

  1. (a) The Board of Agriculture for Scotland shall be substituted for the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, "easements" mean servitudes, and "small holding" means a small holding as defined in section thirty-three of the Small Landholders (Scotland) Act, 1911:
  2. (b) Paragraph (b) of section four and sections six and eight of this Act shall not apply:
  3. (c) Section one shall be read and construed as if two thousand acres were substituted for six thousand acres.


The words which I move to insert in Clause 10 are small verbal amendments which are needed in the application of the Bill to Scotland.

Amendment moved— Clause 10, page 4, line 19, after ("Fisheries") insert ("'arbiter ' shall be substituted for ' arbitrator ') ' the Agricultural Holdings (Scotland) Act, 1908,' shall be substituted for the ' Agricultural Holdings Act, 1908 '")—The Marquess of Crewe.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Bill to be read 3a on Tuesday next, and to be printed as amended. (No. 56.)